Swat That Song!


The benefits of meditation being well known, and we being in India, what better opportunity to partake? So we hopped on our scooters and after getting a little lost, arrived at the guesthouse where a session was being held from 9 to 12, novices welcome, under the guidance of a Frenchman, Pierre. I thought Pierre would give us a brief tutorial, Meditation for Dummies sort of thing, but he said there was nothing to know. He placed a flower on the floor and about a dozen of us arranged ourselves on small cushions in a circle, cross legged.

Ten minutes in, Mrs. B. had a coughing fit, which she bravely tried to control, but it got the better of her and she left. 14 minutes in, I developed pins and needles. Then my legs went completely numb. Afraid they might drop off altogether, I stretched them out. This was actually OK – you’re allowed to prevent your legs dropping off. In fact, at one point or another, most of the other participants did the same, even Pierre. I know this because I was peeking out from the corner of my eye. Peeking isn’t so good, though, nor is wondering what the others are up to, so I went back to looking at the flower.

23 minutes in, I took a peek at my watch. I should have taken it off before we started. Pierre said we’d have a break at ten. 37 minutes to go. It would be good not to peek at my watch between now and then. It would be good not to think all the time, “I mustn’t peek at my watch.” I stopped thinking about my watch and thought instead about my back. I was slumping. It would actually be quite nice to lie down. I sat up straight. My mind, for a while, was empty of thought. Then it filled up again, not with thought but a song. Specifically, for some reason, a really old hit by the Hollies. I can’t make it if you leave me, I’m sorry Suza-a-anne, believe me… I swatted the song away but it kept coming back like a Top of the Pops mosquito buzzing around in my brain. It could have been worse, I suppose. It could have been Boney M. After about 15 encores the Hollies finally accepted to leave the stage and my mind went blank again. The flower was very pretty.

“Ten o’ clock,” said Pierre. “Time for a break.” I went outside, where Mrs. B. was sitting next to a fountain. She looked very peaceful. “It’s lovely out here,” she said. I thanked Pierre and we got on our scooters and returned to the tumult that was India.

Zen and the Art of Mosquito Murder


The neighbour was burning leaves again. Driving us crazy. ‘What’s the point of having a garden,’ I said, ‘if we can’t sit out in it?’

‘If he does it again, I’m calling the police.’ When it comes to the neighbour, Carole’s fury runs even deeper than mine. The smoke, she says, gets into the sheets on the washing line. At times it’s so thick we can hardly see our beautiful Aleppo pine.

Bruce, an old schoolfriend come to visit, smiled and nodded in that soft, placid way of his. He’s been a practising Buddhist for thirty years, and apart from his bony, ascetic appearance, everything about him is placid. I watched him watch a frenzied Carole massacre mosquitoes – he didn’t say anything, but it troubled him.

I found that intriguing. ‘Yes, I know all life is precious,’ I said, ‘but a mozzie? You just let it bite you? And turn the other cheek, I suppose.’

‘Oh, no,’ he said, pouring himself more wine (the asceticism only goes so far). ‘If it was really bothersome, I’d kill it. In a Buddhist way, that is.’

‘You mean there’s a Buddhist way of killing? Meditate for an hour first? You’d be bitten all over by then.’

‘No, quite the opposite, really. One sharp slap and think no more about it.’

That was a couple of days ago. Now we’re sitting in the garden again, and a glorious Indian summer bathes the Aleppo pine in a golden glow. The mozzies are out in force, though, and Carole’s getting all jumpy. ‘Still,’ she says. ‘At least there’s no smoke this evening. That’s a blessing.’

‘Oh, I don’t think we’ll be bothered by smoke again,’ I say. ‘That problem’s settled now.’

‘Really? You called the police? That’s good!’

‘The police? Good heavens, no.’ I smile placidly. ‘That’s not very Buddhist.’