Journal: Meditation on the Value of Dirt

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March 31, 2019

(Sunday, 9:30 am)

I’m reading this book called The Monkey Is the Messenger: Meditation and What Your Busy Mind Is Trying to Tell You. Normally, I don’t much like meditation books, but this one is really working for me. I’ve only done one of the meditations in it so far, but it was way more effective than any other ones I’ve tried. More importantly though, the way he explains things makes so much sense to me. 

It’s not about not thinking. You can still think. And he says that it’s not actually possible to NOT think, so there’s no point in trying. (That was always a problem for me — I couldn’t NOT think, so I always felt like a failure.) It’s about focussing on your body, and on the connection between your body and the earth. The earth is telling you that you’re safe and you’re right where you need to be. That really gets me. It makes me feel like crying. Like, if anyone could make me feel safe, it would be the earth, right? It’s like gravity is a giant, gentle but unbreakable hug from the mother that we all deserved to have. 

I’ve always been distinctly disconnected from the earth. For seven years straight, from second grade until after I started high school, I did not go outside without shoes on at any point because I didn’t want to get my feet dirty. If I got dirt on my hands, I would immediately wash them. It always felt like my skin was crawling, repulsed by the dirt. And if it sat there long enough, it seemed to seep in through the cracks and pores, contaminating me, so that my flesh would reject the skin. Eventually, my bones would grow so disgusted with dirt on all the outer layers that they would writhe, almost to the point of breaking, in their attempt to slough off the infected flesh.

Or at least that’s how I imagined it, anyway.

My mother always kept the house neurotically clean. She vacuumed twice a day. She was always dusting and tidying. Nothing was ever left out of place. And then she would make people uncomfortable when they came over by apologizing for the mess. And I didn’t like to play with other kids, so I spent most of my time indoors reading, in this artificially dirt-free environment. 

I also avoided mirrors a lot. My own reflection was, until quite recently, kind of disturbing to me for some reason. I’m not exactly sure why. But my mother filled the house with mirrors, so everywhere I looked, there I was. Whenever she would apologize to guests for the dirt and the mess, she would also apologize for the cracks in the ceiling and her daughter’s appearance. Maybe I didn’t want to negatively impact her carefully manicured decor with my many flawed reflections.

And I didn’t like the thoughts in my head. They were super dark. I had to escape them with music or tv or books. Otherwise they would get really loud and menacing. There were voices and visual hallucinations and a whole lot of incessant, demanding chaos. I couldn’t stand quiet unless I was in a book. Even then, I preferred to have some noise in the room (but not other people), for the moments when I looked up from the book between chapters or something.

So I was rejecting the earth and nature and all of its dirt. I was rejecting the sensations and presence of my body. I was rejecting my own thoughts. I very consciously moved as far away from all of these things, out into some world that someone else had created in their imagination. The more fantastical the better.

I guess that’s why reading books became such an overwhelmingly intense experience for me. I wasn’t really allowing myself to experience anything else, so the contents of the pages of books were the only worlds I knew. Every time I finished one, it was like an apocalyptic end to my most recent home planet and I had to scramble to build a spaceship to get me to a new one, especially since I didn’t like books that took place on this world. So I would jump from Middle Earth to Flatland to Wonderland.

And I think that might have something to do with why I don’t relate to other people. They’re looking at what they think is me, at my body. But I’m not in there. I’m floating way outside, as far from all normal earthly existence as I can get. So it’s kind of like we’re not really making eye contact. That body that they’re talking to is sort of like a remote control robot to me. On some level, I can sort of relate to people who are into fantasy stuff, or sci-fi, or mythology, or other sorts of escapist things like that. Because sometimes we’ve experienced some of the same worlds, although I don’t know if most of them have experienced them in quite the same way as I have. But the people that don’t read or who do things in their bodies, like playing sports or something, just don’t make sense to me.

So the idea that I don’t have to stop thinking, that my brain, and by extension, my thoughts, are a part of my body, in order to meditate, is very appealing. I can THINK ABOUT my body. I’m extended so far out on this long, fine thread, that it’s kind of impossible for me to come all the way back through that thread and fully inhabit my corporeal self. But I could use that thread to pull myself back to earth and back to my body. If I spend enough time hanging out there, I could maybe shorten that thread, winding it up carefully, neatly, like a kite string, grounding myself so it’s easier to get back down to earth where it’s safe, and where I’m right where I need to be.

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