It’s not like I was conscious of it as it was happening but how it worked out turned out to be just what I needed. I mean, it’s not like I had any confusion about New Year’s Eve being something worth planning for but I didn’t make plans anyway. There’s always a bit of defiance that comes up in me around the holidays, considering the conventionalism of it all. This was different though. My lack of planning had less to do with resistance and more to do with discovery. It’s like I wanted to allow for the maximum amount of spontaneity to be available.
One plan occurred to me when I considered actually hosting a party with my friend Angie but when she said she was going to be out of town I went right back to my initial expectations for the “big night”. Intuitively, I may have suspected that attending a 10-day silent meditation course during the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve would probably inform what I would ultimately want to do that night. Sure enough, it did.
This Vipassana meditation course was profound. I didn’t expect to get as much as I got from it since I wasn’t a student this time. Rather than all my time being dedicated solely to meditation, I was busy in the kitchen with the other old students, volunteering by preparing meals for the new students. Even if we weren’t relegated to being completely silent because of our distinction as servers, most of us did manage to respect the instruction to only use “noble speech” purposefully for our roles. Even when it wasn’t so purposeful, since everyone was a meditator, it seemed like anything that was said was gold and no one was obnoxious in the least. The environment was still conducive for deep thought as we all worked on our respective tasks, and brought our full focus to whatever we were doing, it was like meditation in motion.
So much rose to the surface of my awareness throughout this experience. For example, now I seemed to regularly interact with others without the (formerly) ever-present need to be ‘liked’. That’s huge for a recovering people pleaser like me. I also got clearer about why I’ve had that tendency. I realized how much impact the way I was raised had on me. There was such an overbearing, pervasive sense of Catholic guilt emanating from my dad that I felt inherently flawed growing up. My dad always seemed to have a judgmental and angry tone that implied I was wrong. I absorbed that. Any vocal or physical abuse my brother Nate and I incurred from my dad didn’t exactly make us feel safe in the world so I think that’s when I started feeling that the world wasn’t a safe place. Dad clearly didn’t have the benefit of a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. He would’ve had the opportunity to observe his sensations in such a way that they didn’t trigger him to react in such volatile ways. I didn’t realize just how much I had actually inherited from him until I was able to observe just how influential my root sensations were on how I’m being from moment to moment.
Insight like that brings me so much compassion for anyone who doesn’t have that awareness. The way we store abusive and traumatic experiences in our body is very real. It means behavior patterns are constantly being played out from our often traumatized system rather than the wisdom that can come from a calmer mind that isn’t at the mercy of the body’s urges. It’s the mind – matter connection that I can catch in real time now. I can see my cravings and aversions as they spring up. It’s like being able to choose from a new switchboard rather than the same unconscious behavior pattern that would have me go to the bar for a drink even though that really impairs my ability to make the best choices. That became glaringly clear after taking the Vipassana course. My cravings have been the source of most of my misery. I wanted the massive adulation from the TRL crowds that made me feel like I wasn’t as fundamentally flawed as I felt growing up. It occurs to me now that the way I sought out women was a means of subconsciously soothing the deep-rooted feeling that I’m not good enough.
All that was the backdrop for this particular New Year’s Eve but things felt different now. As I drove away from the Staples Center, after watching the Clippers/Knicks game with my friend Scott, his wife Jill and a bunch of their friends, I noticed an urge. It was a pronounced neediness to get to another gathering in order to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It was around 6pm and my friend Preston replied to my text inquiring about the after party he usually hosts after we all hang out on the beach the day leading up to NYE. It turns out this year he and his new girlfriend Alexi were leaving town first thing in the morning so he wasn’t hosting anything. I was sure he would be hosting a party because he always does but a lesson about assumptions is always good too.
Realizing the party was not happening led to an unpleasant sensation. Thankfully, an inspired inner dialogue started that calmed me down. The voice of my blissful Vipassana meditation teacher S.N. Goenka came to mind. His repeated recommendations to remain “equanimous” as sensations come to my attention because inevitably they rise and pass. Remaining equanimous and not allowing those sensations to trigger me, I was actually able to see things as they really were.
The Howard Stern show was playing in my car as I continued to drive away from the game, now going towards my apartment. Howard was interviewing Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. They happened to be talking about how they feel like the world is actually miserable and people occur to them as vampires. I couldn’t help but laugh as I had just come down from craving company on New Year’s Eve like some kind of vampire.
On the other side of that craving now, I brought my attention to my breath flow and noticed as it slowed down, along with a sense of peace washing over me. What’s the big deal anyway? I’m surrounded by amazing friends all year round, now that I’m faced with a night where I didn’t make solid plans with any of them, that reality ought to make me miserable? Absolutely not. In fact, Scott even made a point of inviting me to join him and his friends, who are all married with kids, for a dinner and get together they were having after the Clippers game.
As I continued to drive to my apartment, I considered joining them but something else came to mind then. What would it be like to actually spend New Year’s Eve alone? I’ve never done it but coming off a 10-day meditation experience where it became clear that I actually enjoy my own company now, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to see just how far I’ve come. On the other hand though, I’m also aware of how much of a lone ranger complex I’ve had too. It’s like I’ve swung between co-dependency and defiant disconnection.
Once I got back to my apartment, I put out a few texts to friends about what they were doing and they responded about parties that didn’t quite evoke a desire in me to join them. As the evening was ripening and the clock said 9pm, I sat in the lotus position and meditated for 30 minutes. As I sat there, what came to mind wasn’t a vampire-like need for people at all, instead it was an immense gratitude for the people in my life.
Coming out of my meditation, I felt compelled to text everyone who came to mind with a few reasons why they mattered to me in 2014 and about how excited I am for more in 2015. It was amazing. I sat there blissfully texting for almost 2 hours. My cousins in Toronto, my brother and his wife in DC, one of my best friends Sean in New York, among others, all got showered by the waterfall of my loving texts. Next thing I knew, it was 11:30pm and I could not have felt more fulfilled. I’ve never been the type to send out a lot of texts on holidays. When I get them I usually suspect them to be a mass text, I’d politely reply but I was hardly ever the initiator of that kind of thing. I like this new version of me though. Way more prone to sentimentality.
I contently put my phone down and turned on the TV to see the countdown shows. After a few minutes of watching Carson Daly and a panel of commentating celebrities, I got bored, turned it to PBS for Charlie Rose and there he was interviewing Bill Murray. Yup, just Bill Murray, Charlie Rose and me on New Year’s Eve will be just fine.