Gratitude, creativity, and the “boys in the basement”
Last night I sat without a timer, or rather using a stick of incense to time my sit. Recently I bought some rather lovely Shoyeido Nokiba (Moss Garden) incense, which has long sticks that burn for 50 minutes. It’s a nice alternative to using my iPad as a timer. Sometimes it’s nice not to have electronics between me and my little altar.
The Boys in the Basement offered up some interesting experiences. The “Boys in the Basement” is a term I borrowed from the novelist Stephen King. He uses it to refer to the creative powers of the mind. I write quite a lot, and the term resonated with me very strongly. Writing barely happens at all on a conscious level. Stories write themselves. Or the Boys in the Basement do the writing. I — the conscious I — just witness the words appearing, witness the small twist in the gut that comes when something in the writing doesn’t feel right, witness alternative phrasings appear. “I” don’t really do anything. writing is an excellent teaching on non-self. Actually everything is, but we rarely pay attention to the lessons, because they threaten to upend the way we see ourselves.
And it’s just the same with meditation. The less there’s a sense of “me” meditating, and the more there’s this sense of “me” witnessing the meditation unfold, the better things tend to go. The surprising thing is that there are unconscious parts of the brain that are better at meditating that “I” am.
The boys in the basement often surprise me. Last night they decided that gratitude was going to arise for every experience that appeared, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Observing the breathing: gratitude. Noticing a pain in the back: gratitude. Getting distracted: gratitude.
This may make no sense to you. It probably wouldn’t have made any sense to me until the Boys decided that this was how it was going to go down. Why should I feel gratitude for feeling pain? Some people are paralyzed and can’t feel pain, for one thing. For another, this body turns up and does things even when it’s suffering. What kind of a friend is it who shows up and helps you out even when they’re in pain? And one interesting thing was that pain received with gratitude ceased to be experienced as pain at all. It wasn’t even unpleasant — quite the contrary. Pain turned into bliss.
Right from the start of the meditation I found I went straight into powerful pīti (pleasant feelings of energy in the body), deep joy, and an almost complete absence of thought.
I’d like to invite this gratitude practice into my life throughout the day. I was trying it last night. My son was sick, and I could hear coughing coming from his room. Gratitude. (Why gratitude? Imagine if I couldn’t hear him coughing. Not everyone has hearing. Imagine if it didn’t bother me. Not everyone has empathy.)
I’d like to invite this gratitude practice into my life throughout the day, but it’s not something “I” can make happen. The invitation can be sent out, but it’s up the Boys in the Basement whether they’ll respond to the call.
But I’m sending out the invitation now (although that’s not really me either) and even though I didn’t get much sleep last night I’m grateful to be here, grateful to be conscious, grateful to be a channel for the Boys in the Basement.