First of February, I wake up to a bright and fresh morning in Dublin. Today is St. Brigid’s day, Imbolc, the beginning of Spring, and I think of her often throughout the day. I think of Spring, renewal, new beginnings, fresh starts, comings and goings. I go to a funeral – the father of a close family friend. It’s OK, he was 90, he’d had 9 kids, 3 of whom had died young which must have brought awful sorrow no doubt, but the family had also traveled, lived in Spain, hung out with the Rat pack, sang with Frank Sinatra. He had known the full gamut of pleasure and pain, gain and loss and squeezed every drop of life out of those 90 years, in the end refusing to go in to a hospice until the eleventh hour because they wouldn’t let him smoke his cigars there. After the sign of peace in the funeral mass I realise this was always my favourite part of mass as a kid and beyond. As a kid, the sign of peace signifies that mass is nearly over. But today I realise the small physical joy in my chest from shaking the hands of loved ones and strangers around me and saying to them ‘Peace be with you’ and them saying it to me with shy smiles or big hugs. I realise I’ve been practicing Loving Kindness my whole life. We all have. How more natural could it be.
The Little Brother:
My little brother is sitting beside me (little because he’s nearly a decade younger and always will be regardless of his having grown to 6’5 or the fact that he’s getting married this year). I’m aware that he’s choosing not to partake in the mass, he stands when everyone stands but he doesn’t kneel or pray (or pretend to pray like lots of us do). I know this is because he doesn’t believe in it anymore and he feels it would be disingenuous to play along…like I’m doing now. I was 13 when I stopped believing in the Resurrection of Our Lord and the Eternal Life to come, but I do notice my practice in meditation for the last 3 years has opened me up to the common threads in all faiths and the sense of community and reassurance it gives the older generations to see you engage. I feel the sun’s light coming through the beautiful stained glass windows and when I turn my palms upwards, it’s easy to feel love radiating out of me to my family, to the man in the wicker coffin who passed away on Tuesday night, to his daughter who is like an aunt to me. All that I’ve learned since I was my brother’s age is that I know nothing; all that I’ve learned has been an unpicking of my youthful certainty.
I must have done at least 10 meditation retreats by now but after every one I fall out of the routine of a daily practice within weeks if not days. I’m looking forward to this challenge and hope to fail better for longer until I fall out of it again. The first of February is also significant because it marks the end of Dry January. The 273 days of January. The cravings for booze were such that I’d have guzzled gin/vodka/beer/hand sanitizer at 7am. And then, suddenly they passed. Just like that, the utter conviction that alcohol was what I wanted, what I needed, it evaporated. How fascinating. It makes me wonder how much I’ve used alcohol as a crutch in recent years. A miserable job in a team of corporate sharks brought me to the edge 3 years ago, and at that edge I found myself in a Buddhist meditation centre, at the top of 400ft cliffs in the South-West of Ireland, watching my breath be taken away by the light on the Atlantic. I’ve come a long way since then, but I still have coping mechanisms for deep stress and meditation sure as hell isn’t my go-to crutch! Dry January, and the dissipation of engrossing cravings has been a profound reminder that most things in life are grounded in habit…habit can change because everything can change…everything does change and everything passes.