Sarah Griffiths: The Thought That Counts

‘Make sure you are sitting quite comfortably.’

Oh, for Christ’s sake. I hate this bit, where we all pretend to be serene and spiritual when actually everyone is rummaging through their thoughts for the name of that actor, or what to get the friend they don’t like for their birthday or whether they’ve got quite enough gin left. But it’s all part of improving yourself and, when I tell people I meditate, they’re always impressed. And surprised.

And there is no danger whatsoever of me getting comfortable in this chair. Why the council can’t brighten the place up a bit, spend some money for a change, I don’t know. All it needs is a carpet that doesn’t look like it’s been woven from dog hair, chairs that are designed to be sat in rather than stacked twelve high and something other than those insipid watercolours – no doubt a gift from some doddering councillor and considered too awful to be hung in the Town Hall.

‘Feet planted a little way apart.’

God, my feet are killing me. Hot and heavy, like a pair of Le Creuset pans left on an Aga. I’ve been wondering if that means my arches have fallen. But wouldn’t I have felt something – a sort of giving-way – like when your knicker elastic snaps? I must google the symptoms when I get home. Or ring the doctor’s tomorrow – if I want to wait in all day for the call-back that never comes because, according to the receptionist, called Chardonnay, there’s been an emergency.

Chardonnay.

Hell, I could do with a drink right now. Not Chardonnay, of course, that would never do, but a crisp G and T or a glass of one of those Riojas I’ve been trying out recently. I wasn’t keen at first, but it’s amazing what you can get a taste for if you persist. And not really liking it stops me from drinking too much. Mostly.

‘Rest your right hand in your left.’

I’ve still got nice hands, small and neat. Much admired when I was younger. I remember people used to give gentle compliments like that. I don’t recall anyone ever being offended by being told they had a nice smile or beautiful curls. Nowadays, everyone’s offended all of the time, whether you say anything or not, so I don’t bother anymore.

‘And almost close your eyes.’

My eyes feel gritty. Perhaps I should go to the optician’s again. Not that big chain in the high street where they told me I was imagining things. Or the one where the optician was always too busy to see me, no matter what time I called in. I’ll have to try another one.

‘Let the tension go. Let go of the effort it took you to get here this evening.’

Well, that’s easier said than done. What a day I’ve had! Swimming first thing, which is always an effort – even just getting there at that time in the morning. Then not being able to get back into the house because I’d forgotten to take my keys and Joseph had gone to work. Christ, he’s so wrapped up in himself sometimes. When I eventually got inside and into a hot bath, the phone rang with a call, which was inevitably for Joseph. It was his new assistant – who I hadn’t realised until then was female – and who wouldn’t leave a message.

Later, I had a row with the admin person when I was booking the weekend relaxation retreat. How was I meant to know that the hot stone massage was extra? It may well have been in the brochure, but in such small print I never saw it. Perhaps I really am going blind.

And then I had the yoga lesson with my new instructor, Sadie, who is lovely, but will insist on talking about her cancer diagnosis rather too much, so I couldn’t get away for ages. When I finally got back, Joseph said he had to work late. Again.

I rushed here, only to discover that I’d got pasta carbonara all down my black cashmere. You’d have thought he could have told me but he never notices anything these days unless it relates to himself.

‘Begin by concentrating on your breath.’

My breath. I should really have cleaned my teeth before I came out, but there wasn’t time, thanks to Joseph. And I’m sure I’ve missed my last dental check-up. No doubt they sent me a text message and, because I’ve not responded, I’ll have been struck off their list and left to deal with my own dental problems with honey and poultices like some crone from the middle ages.

‘Clear all other thoughts from your mind.’

I’m clearing away the crone and the honey and the poultices.

‘Focus on the breath entering and leaving your body.’

Oh God, the man next to me seems to have stopped breathing. Should I open my eyes? No, I’ll give him another five seconds and if he’s still not breathing, then I’ll do something. Trust me to get stuck next to the bloke that dies during the meditation.

‘If your mind starts to wander, just bring it back to your breath.’

Actually, he smells a bit neglected, dampish, like old camping gear with a hint of cat-food. I had imagined he lived alone when he first started coming, but I noticed last week his wife met him afterwards and they walked home together, holding hands.

Still, he doesn’t seem the type to be into meditation, not with that shirt and tie and those beige nylon trousers. And where would you even get nylon trousers these days? Mail order? At first I thought perhaps he’d got the wrong room, that he’d been looking for Conversational Spanish or An Introduction to the Internet. The latter, more likely. Then he could order garments in man-made fabrics to his heart’s content. Actually, he looks like he’d be happier filling in a tax return. God, I hope Joseph has done our tax returns. It would be just like him to forget – he’s been so distracted recently.

‘We are going to meditate on what we have just learnt in today’s teaching: increasing our feelings of loving kindness towards other people.’

Nylon Trousers is breathing again. That’s good. How on earth am I expected to meditate when the man next to me keeps forgetting to breathe? That’s the worst of being a people person. I’m always putting the needs of others above caring for myself. That’s why I come to meditation in the first place – to put something back because life takes so much out.

‘Think of someone you know who you find difficult. Maybe someone at work.’
Why does everyone, even a bloody Buddhist monk who lives off charity, assume that everyone works? Work, work, work. It’s all anybody talks about. Particularly Joseph, since he got that new assistant. I just wish I had the time. People are always asking me, ‘And what do you do?’ when they discover that Joseph’s a well-known architect who has written loads of books and goes around lecturing about building design. They never think to ask who makes sure that his shirts and ties are a pleasing contrast and that his cuff links match. God knows what he’d look like if I wasn’t around.

Anyway, I don’t find people difficult. I’m good with people.

Christ, that ghastly woman sitting on the other side of Nylon Trousers is creating a disturbance again. Last week she wore silver lamé as if she’d come out to a nightclub, not an evening institute for a guided Buddhist meditation. Tonight, I see she’s in cowboy boots with long fringes. Silver Lamé told the group before we started that she’s got restless leg syndrome. We all sounded sympathetic, but I bet everyone was thinking :‘Why the hell wear tasselled boots for meditation when your legs periodically shake uncontrollably?’ She’s probably a chronic hypochondriac just trying to draw attention to herself. I thought about dropping my fallen arches into the conversation, but it would have sounded like I was trying to compete. And there is something faintly comic about fallen arches, particularly in an architect’s wife.

‘Sometimes we dislike people we don’t know anything about because we make assumptions based on who we think they are or how they look.’

Of course, my problem is that I like everybody. I’m always trying to see the good in people. But I’m not keen on the current crop of politicians, and everyone hates the French – it’s tradition. And, of course, Americans. And the people who’ve just moved in next door who aren’t American, but have a huge American car that they park carelessly. Mind you, they’re better than the Methodists who were there before, those do-gooding types, forever helping the aged and saving the children, but with no regard for the rest of us.

‘These are not bad people. They are suffering and need our compassion.’

That’s what’s lacking in modern life. There’s no compassion. None at all, as demonstrated by my recent experiences with my optician, my dentist, and even my doctor. They’re all paid to care, and none of them do, so what hope is there? Maybe I should put my people skills to good use. My friend, the one I don’t like, has become some sort of counsellor, so how difficult can it be? I could easily give advice to all those unaware people about their dreadful lives. Let’s face it, I’ve always found that deep down, most people are shallow.

‘And now bring it back to the breath once more.’

Yes, I could quite see myself doing that, chunky necklace, silk blouse, reassuring cardigan, reading glasses on a chain. And we’ve got the space now that Joseph has moved all his work stuff out of the study at home. And, of course, he’s away so much nowadays and always working late, even though he has a new assistant to help him, so it would give me something to do. I’d need a new sofa for my clients to sit on, perhaps something in velvet. And lots of plants. Well, total redecoration actually…

‘Focus on the breath entering and leaving your body.’

Nylon Trousers has stopped breathing again. And I think Silver Lamé’s legs have gone into spasm – both of them. This is ridiculous. I really ought to complain. But I wonder who to? The council or the Buddhists? Or is there a meditation Ombudsman? I’ll find out and send an email when I get home.
‘And when you’re ready, just open your eyes.’

I think there might be something in this meditation thing, which is, after all, based on ancient wisdom. When you do it properly, of course, not pretending or doing it for effect just because it’s fashionable, like some others in the group I could mention. But then I’ve always been more perceptive than most people.


Sarah Griffiths’ first short story appeared in Redline Magazine in 2014 and since then her work has been published by Writers’ Forum, Scribble Magazine, The Fiction Pool and Eunoia Review.