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Lions Roar : September 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 63 went into my own deep silence and meditated so that I could be clear and calm. I knew I needed support from all the tools of mindfulness I had, particularly deep listening, to remain steady and not be drawn into judging and discriminating. It was a time to take refuge in mindfulness. My hope was that a foundation of mindfulness would enable my actions to come from the consciousness of my heart. The despair slowly receded, and along with it my judgment of his living space. Alexander returned several hours later, badly beaten dur- ing a drug deal that had gone wrong. He admitted he had lied to me over the phone, that his requests for financial support had nothing to do with completing summer art courses. He was deeply in debt to the Glasgow drug underworld. I lis- tened to him very quietly, stayed calm, washed his rearranged face, and learned that he could easily have been killed this night. He had not fought back when he was beaten up by the dealers and their armed thugs. He simply took the beating— perhaps the first smart move he had made for a while, since it certainly contributed to his remaining alive. We went for a walk to Kelvingrove Park, where I introduced him to walking meditation, teaching him to trust mother earth to absorb his pain and distress on each outbreath. As he became calmer, I told him that perhaps the beating was fortu- itous, a stark wake-up call about the life he had chosen, and one that helpfully coincided with my visit. I offered him two alternatives: a thousand dollars in cash, so he could enter the drug world in a bigger way and likely end up dead within six months, or spending the next few weeks living mindfully with me, so that he might see the difference between what he was doing and what he could be doing. Both alternatives were equal in my mind. I did not discriminate between them. He refused the money, so I will never know how much bluff and shock I had loaded into the first alternative. But that was no longer important, as a magical time of living mindfully was about to unfold between my son and me. I HAD THICH NHAT HANH’S book The Miracle of Mindfulness with me. We read most of it together and did the exercises. I invited Alexander to join me in walking and sit- ting meditation, to enjoy silence during mealtimes, and to use his breath with awareness. I focused a lot of the breathing exercises on martial arts training and on Qi Gong exercises. I taught him to coordinate body movement with in- and out- breaths and how to defend himself. His comments were fre- quently very funny—“Hey Dad, this breath stuff is cool,” “I’m getting a buzz off breathing!”—so I pointed out the obvious, that the breath stuff was both cheaper and safer than taking drugs. We discovered that we enjoyed one another’s company. An important turning point for Alexander had to do with my own substance abuse. He had memories from when he was younger of my drinking too much. During a time of great unhappiness I had used alcohol to cover up the pain and disappointment of a failing marriage, and everyone in my family suffered from the impending marital breakdown and divorce. That I no longer drank at all astonished him, and I realized later how important it was for him to see this. I also shared with him my own vulnerabilities and struggles. Step by step I had come to choose a way of life distinguished by a commitment to living mindfully and teaching meditation, but it had taken many false starts to get there. He liked that— particularly the idea of false starts. Our working meditations included simple things like mindful laundry and cleaning up his living space, which I had dubbed “Punk Palace.” I was convinced that the bathrooms and kitchen contained alien life forms and varieties of mold unknown to science. I would walk each morning to a nearby swimming pool for a swim and a shower and return with healthy breakfasts for The Tribe—fruit, juice, cereal, and honey. One morning I returned to find two members of The Tribe cleaning out a bathroom, and they proudly announced that I did not have to go for early morning swims anymore. This bathroom was for me and nobody else would be using it. I thanked them for their consideration. Each evening all the residents gathered in one of the five bedrooms to sit, listen to extreme heavy-metal music, do drugs, and talk. Alexander had given me a commitment not to take drugs during the time I was there, so he would smoke cigarettes. I listened to these young people as they poured out their lives. I didn’t judge them; I simply lived with them. No other parent had ever visited them, let alone lived with them.