There are eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “Far Out, Daddy-O”.
Shortly after making the decision to give up alcohol and drugs in the spring of 1983 I was advised to consider prayer and meditation. I was not too keen on the prayer thing, pre-disposed the other way, and have previously covered that state of mind in my blog “One Friday Night”. The suggestion to consider meditation felt different. Kind of like a 60s things. It’s fashionable to rag on the 60s nowadays – most people either not being there then or deciding that plastics were more fun than people – but I hold – always have, always will – a fondness in my heart for that time and what it was and what it almost was, and so meditating seemed okay with me. Cool. I did not know how I was going to do it but I was willing to try.
It didn’t work. I figured maybe I had used up all my potential for meditation – and being incredibly hip – under one alcoholic drug haze or another. I never was any good at it then, and I wasn’t any good at it in 1983 or points forward for a couple of years before I gave up on the idea. My vision of meditating involved me being able to quiet my mind entirely for some period of time; a minute, maybe two. And I couldn’t do it. Sit in a chair, sit on a couch, even sit on a cushion on the floor, it didn’t matter. My brain was off to the races and all over the place and generally more active than when I was doing most other things – like talking, paying bills, ordering pizza. People would ask me, “Are you meditiating?” And I would answer, “Nope, can’t do it. Tried it, can’t do it, never gonna be able to do it, see ya.”
I’m not going to tell you when I was born, it is so long ago I almost cringe to think about it, but in 1959 when I was 10 years old, if I had gone around and told people I was going to meditate I quite likely would have heard, “Far out, Daddy-O.” You know how people talked back then, some of them. If you are unsure of this I encourage you to find a classic TV channel on the cable and look up Dobie Gillis, and in particular Maynard G. Krebs. He was far out. In 1983 and 1984 telling the people I was hanging around with that I was trying meditation was no big deal – that’s cool – how’s that going? And as I have said, for me it wasn’t going. Over the years I did a lot of things right when it came to staying away from alcohol and drugs. Meditating wasn’t one of them.
And then I went to the library. In 2008. I was living at the time with my son Spenser in the very small town of Truro, Massachusetts, specifically North Truro, at the far end of Cape Cod. I was running an HIV/Aids housing program the next town over in Provincetown – which is the very end – and Spenser, who was living with me for a school year, was a freshman at Nauset Regional High School, bused back and forth 25 miles or so each way. Spenser has Down Syndrome, and prior to this had never really been left alone. Who knew what would happen, what he might do. I had decided to begin leaving him alone for increasingly longer periods of time, carefully prepared for, to help increase his sense of independence and confidence. So on a Saturday morning in March of 2008 – and he had been alone many times before that – I told him I was going out for a while and drove over to the Truro Public Library, a mile away.
I was wandering through the book stacks down in the basement, looking for nothing in particular, when my eye caught the title of a book: “Wherever You Go, There You Are”, written by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I pulled it off the shelf and skimmed through it and was taken by a lot of quotes throughout, many from Henry David Thoreau. The first quote in the book was this: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” It was followed by a section beginning with mindfulness. I took the book out and went home and over the next few days I finished reading the book – and I started meditating. For 10 minutes early in the morning, before Spenser got up for the bus, sitting in a lean-back office chair on wheels I had bought for 10 bucks in a used store in Lowell years before. And here is the thing. My mind still wasn’t being quiet. I could still sit there and for most of 10 minutes think about The Red Sox. What was different was I was more aware of what I was thinking, not lost so much in my thinking. I did this every day, and then I stopped for a while, maybe a few months, and then I began again.
That was six years ago. I cannot think of the last time that I haven’t gotten up sometime around 5:30 a.m. and gone to sit for 20 to 40 minutes. Nearly every single day. I bought the book – “Wherever You Go” – on the exact day of my 25th anniversary from giving up alcohol. That book led me to other books – and other people and other doors through which to walk, and other paths to wander down to who knows where – and about four year ago I bought another book: “The Light Inside the Dark”, by John Tarrant. I bought it on Ebay but it was from a place in Portland, where I live, and meditate now. It is without any doubt the most amazing book I have ever read. Almost my entire book is underlined. Here is one quote: “We step ashore in a land that is not externally new but that our eyes, being changed, see in it’s primeval freshness.” New eyes. I have written about that.
In the book John Tarrant says it took him four years sitting twice a day for 30 minutes before his mind began to quiet, get really quiet. So there is hope for me. Still. If I’m lucky enough to wake up tomorrow morning I’ll haul my self out of the warm bed and go sit in the chair. This is another quote from “Light”: “Meditation does not itself accomplish the tasks of life but provides spaciousness, bringing the great background near, so that whatever we do, rising in the quiet, has force and beauty.”
My name is Buddy Cushman. I was born sometime before 1959. And I bring my own self to the meditation chair every single morning, just to see what happens. And that is far out, daddy-o.