The air of the room is held captive by a stillness only meditation can summon. The older meditators are sitting in chairs, as still as stones. The rest of us are on the floor, kneeling, with our butts supported by little wooden stools or cushions.
Addison and I had ridden the bicycles we’re borrowing from Tellman and Jodi over to the meditation hall with minutes to spare. The driveway leading up Solar Hill is steep and long, and I could feel my lower abdominal muscles straining to hold my big, pregnant belly in place as I heaved myself uphill. While parking our bicycles, we attempted to calm our breathing down to a reasonable pace as quickly as possible. Meditation had just commenced and we didn’t want to enter the room gasping like a couple of land-locked fish in the midst of their glorious silence.
Apparently a couple of the other attendees had ridden their bicycles to the morning sangha as well, and no-one had appeared to bother themselves with locking their bicycles up. The entrance to the hall is hidden from view and the building itself is set up in the woods, well away from the main road.
This is amazing, I think, as I begin to settle into my meditation. My back doesn’t hurt!
Being almost 8 months pregnant means that I have been experiencing the unpleasant visitations of back pain, which feels not unlike the an overwhelming visit with relatives who are easier to love from a distance.
After a moment however, I noticed that although my back wasn’t really hurting, there was a different concern that had arisen. I can’t really breathe. I wonder if it’s just because the room is stuffy and open my eyes to see if the windows are open. They’re all closed. A plastic tree stands in the corner, wearing a fine layer of dust. And that ‘tree’ sure isn’t helping with the oxygen levels in here.
I shift my weight around, trying to give my lungs more space. But my belly now swells up almost to chest level, so there just isn’t a whole lot of extra space to be had. I should just be present with whatever is happening, I remind myself. Even not being able to breathe properly is something I can be present with.
I can feel my hands getting tingly. I imagine falling unconscious suddenly and falling to the floor. Would everyone remain unmoving, silent statues while Addison tried to revive me? No, everyone would probably leap up to help–albeit meditatively perhaps. But then I’d be responsible for cutting everyone’s meditation short this morning.
The thought of interrupting everyone’s meditation practice by passing out on the floor prompts me to adjust my position. I lower myself down to a supported child’s pose, with my cushion propped under my chest so that my belly has space to hang above the floor. This helps a little. Now at least I don’t feel like I’m going to faint. I take some deep-ish breaths. In, out, I say silently with each in-breath and out-breath.
I hear the sound of softly shifting gravel outside. Perhaps someone is walking up the driveway. A very late meditator coming to join us?
No…I focus in on the sound, my imagination kicking into gear. Someone coming up to check out the bicycles? If someone was going to steal a bicycle, which one would they pick? Mine. Though it’s not really mine. It’s Tellman and Jodi’s. But it’s the one I ride around right now. Mine looks the shiniest. And it would be easy to grab, since it just parked at the foot of the steps with a kickstand.
Shhhhhh… I tell myself. You’re being silly. You’re ALWAYS worried about people stealing your bike… or someone else’s bike that you’ve borrowed.
But there it is again, the crunching gravel sound. I am becoming all but the sense of hearing.
There is a distinctive metal click, like that of a kickstand being released, and then louder crunchings, as though wheels are rolling over the gravel.
I am standing up now and waddling to a side door in the room I’ve never used. If I’m imagining all of this, than this will be a moment of embarrassment to be remembered forever. I wrestle with the door handle for a second, unlock it and then wrench it open. The meditators have turned to watch me as one.
“What’s up?” Addison is asking, but I am hurtling across the deck. A figure wearing a white wife-beater and a backwards, black baseball cap is rolling away, down the driveway, past the pine grove and towards the road. Whoever it is appears to be riding my–no, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle. I crash through the tiger lilies and grab Addison’s–Tellman and Jodi’s–bike, which had been leaning on the side of the building. The seat is so high I can barely reach the pedals. But Addison is moving too slowly and time is of the essence, so I point the handlebars downhill.
“Someone stole a bike!” I manage to bark to Addison as his head appears out of the open door. I am flying down the hill, my pregnant belly bouncing in time with the bumps.
“STOP!” I scream at the receding figure. I hear Addison yelling something as well, but I’m concentrating so hard I don’t pay attention. “Give me my bike back!” The whites of the bicycle thief’s eyes flash briefly before he takes a left onto Western Avenue, pedaling awkwardly. The seat is too low for him, and his knees poke out at odd angles as he labors.
I focus on turning without wiping out, and stand up to pedal more easily, since the too-high seat is preventing proper contact between my feet and the pedals.
“That’s my bike you’re stealing!” I holler with air reserves I didn’t even know are available to me. “I’m PREGNANT!”
Somehow this last bit of information seems important for me to relay to the thief. Because stealing a bike is a bad thing to do, yes, but he might still be able to sleep at night after selling it and doing his best to forget about it (and being chased). But stealing from a pregnant woman? That could haunt his dreams for a good long while.
A man in a dress jacket is getting back in his car holding a freshly-purchased cup of coffee.
“He’s stealing my bike!” I call to the man, pointing to the gangly bicycle thief who is now making a wobbly turn down one of the steepest roads in Brattleboro. Union Hill…! “Call the police!” I don’t have time to explain to this guy why I’m still able to chase the thief, who is supposedly riding away with my bicycle, using another bicycle, and I don’t know if he’s actually going to call the police, but I keep pedaling as though my life depends on it.
I’m watching the bicycle thief disappear down the hill and hoping that he might crash thanks to the lack of front brakes on my bicycle. I’d released them earlier that week as they’d been rubbing against the rim of my wheel and I hadn’t taken the time to adjust and reconnect them yet.
My breathing is a heaving, erratic horror story, but I plough on. I’m heading down Union Hill and I see that the young man has wasted precious time by trying to divert onto a side street halfway down the steep hill. The missing front brake has indeed caused him some trouble, and he is now finishing a cumbersome U-turn onto Beech Street.
Chickens are roaming the edges of this little back lane like tiny, modern dinosaurs, their head crests wobbling with each jerk of their necks. They watch the bicycle thief approach with expressions of blank terror punctuated by ear-splitting squawks.
One of the chickens barely escapes being run over, and emits a “bok bok BOK!!!” of alarm. She races out of harms way on T-Rex legs.
“STOP!” I gasp, swerving around the chicken mayhem. At this point I don’t know who I’m talking to… the guy stealing my bicycle… the chickens… myself??
Ahead there is the tall, metal fence that surrounds the playground behind the Green Street School. A steep, non-bicycle-friendly path goes around the side and up into some scattered trees.
The gangly-legged, white wife-beater wearing, backwards baseball cap sporting bicycle thief launches himself from my bike, using the momentum of his sudden exit from his vehicle to hurtle up the path. He careens across the hillside above the school, dodging trees, slipping on loose stones and scrambling for the cover of the bushes at the top of the hill.
I stop to watch my bicycle–well, Jodi and Tellman’s bicycle– slowly fall over on its side, wheels still spinning. I hear the sound of sirens.
I lay Addison’s–I mean, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle down and take a seat in the dirt, focusing on my ragged breathing, while the chickens slowly reappear, suspicious, but grateful for the restored peace and quiet.
There is nothing but my breathing for a few minutes.
Then the bell sounds and I raise my head. The other people in the room begin to stir from their statuesque positions. Addison is shifting and straightening his cramped legs. I pull myself up out of my child’s pose and back to sitting.
The meditation leader, a small woman who’s eyes are magnified by her thick glasses, pulls forth a paper.
“This is a poem that was written in the 14th Century,” she says.
And the poem goes like this:
“What is this mind?
Who is hearing these sounds?
Do not mistake any state for
Self-realization, but continue
To ask yourself even more intensely,
What is it that hears?”
And perhaps I will take the liberty to add to this poem…
What is it that hears the sounds of crunching gravel outside of the meditation hall?
And who is it that went on that bicycle-thief-chasing-adventure?