That Sunday, Timothy meditated for fifteen minutes at a time, three times during the day. Though it didn’t feel any more like a chore than before—and indeed, if anything, it became more pleasant—he did realize that it was taking more time out of the day. On Sunday this hardly mattered, since it wasn’t as though he had any close friends with whom to spend his off hours, and he was almost always well on top of his schoolwork. He knew, though, that during the week it would be different.
With that in mind, he set his alarm ten minutes earlier than usual, so that he could get up in time to meditate before leaving for class. When he got to school, early as usual, he found that fifteen minutes was going to be about as long as he’d be able to work in before class time and still be able to do the few necessary things he did before first period. He set that limit for himself with some disappointment, but the fifteen minutes certainly did make him feel more equanimity once classes began. He suspected that he was paying attention better, and learning better, than usual, but he was aware that this could be an illusion. He supposed he would have to see if his grades were affected, though that might be difficult, because they always tended to be good.
As for social interactions, Timothy did think he recognized a greater ease with his classmates, and with their socialization. He was pleased to note that he was able to have polite interactions with the girl to whom he’d been so rude before—well, he thought “rude” was too kind a word for the way he’d spoken to her, but he wasn’t able to find a better one—and he exchanged morning greetings with her on a regular basis. Similarly, his interactions with his other acquaintances and minor friends felt less strained than before. He tended always to be a bit nervous and defensive with respect to social interactions, and he especially felt uncomfortable when dealing with people being narrow-minded or snide or cruel in the way they characterized others. He thought, though, that now he was feeling a little less uptight about it, and maybe—just maybe—reacting less severely to the little irritating things people said and did.
In the mornings and twice in the evenings, Timothy continued to increase his meditation by one minute per session per day. He’d started increasing it on Tuesday, so by Friday he was up to nineteen minutes instead of twenty, which slightly bothered his sense of smoothness and roundness of numbers. That, however, he was able to see as a peculiar thought arising within his mind, and he was able to survey it nonjudgmentally before letting it go.
He’d had no altercations since starting meditating, but two weeks was hardly an unusual length of time for him to go without blowing up. If he’d been prone to explode quite that often, he’d almost certainly have been dead or in the juvenile home already. He sometimes found it a wonder that he wasn’t. Still, to know whether his experiment was really working would take a longer time.
He did, though, feel a guarded sense of optimism…which he also recognized as merely a thought arising in his head, and he surveyed it with amusement, allowing himself not to become too attached to it, before letting it go.
The next weekend, he and Mr. Maclean decided, after having a discussion about the thoughts that had occurred to him throughout the week, and about his daily increase in time length, and about his disappointing upper limit on meditation before class, to try for a full half hour. In the silence of the shop, with the scent of incense and the soothing, guiding voice of Mr. Maclean, Timothy found himself going deeper—if that was the right term—than he thought he’d ever been before. He felt a strange sense that he was losing his body, that all inputs from it, apart from the sense of breath in his nose, were fading, becoming transparent and intangible. He was slowly becoming merely a mind, floating in limitless space, a space not entirely equivalent to the physical universe, though embedded within it, perhaps. Or perhaps it merely coincided with it, overlapped it. Perhaps, even, it was a space that was larger than the outer universe. It felt like it might be a larger plane, a greater dimension, of which the ordinary three-dimensional reality was a mere subset, a shadow, like the face of a cube was only one small, lower-dimensional portion of the cube itself.
These thoughts he recognized as arising and was able not to try to hold on to them, but they were intriguing.
This time, he did hear the clock ticking again, at least part of the time, though at first it was unnoticeable. At one stage, however, its sound became louder, a thunderous and yet not intrusive background noise sweeping through the mindscape in which Timothy existed.
He felt very calm and well when Mr. Maclean brought that session to an end. He felt very much at one with his body, which seemed ironic, since he had so recently begun to feel that it didn’t exist, but it was an interesting fact that it didn’t seem to clash with his experience. In his discussion about this with Mr. Maclean, he was told that this was very much a part of the nonduality noted by many types of meditation traditions—that the notion that humans were somehow minds riding around in their bodies, which Mr. Maclean referred to as “Cartesian Dualism,” a term Timothy had never heard before—was an illusion at best, that there was no true separation between mind and body. And, Mr. Maclean added, there were many traditions that maintained that there was no separation between the human mind and the rest of the universe. But this was not on as firm ground as was the clear fact that the human mind was very much a part of the human body.
They didn’t really have time to do a separate, second thirty-minute session, but Mr. Maclean did ask Timothy whether he might want to take part in the group meditation class, either that week or the next week.
At this proposal, Timothy felt a curious combination of emotions. He felt anxiety over the prospect of spending time in the company of a group of adults, all meditating, and at the same time an odd sense of pride and excitement that he seemed to have a bit of a knack for the process, and was being invited into the larger, more advanced group already. He felt a strange tension when he thought of the face of the woman, Rhonda, who had invited him to join on the previous week. He wondered whether her invitation had influenced Mr. Maclean. He didn’t think it probably had, but he couldn’t be sure, and he couldn’t be sure what she might have said later to the instructor after he’d left the previous Saturday.
Still, that wasn’t really all that important, he thought. Or it shouldn’t be. He didn’t like to be unduly influenced by other people’s wishes, but he recognized that this was not really that important in coming to a decision. Still, his immediate sense of minor jitters was at least satisfied in that he was able to give the excuse that, for that week at least, it wasn’t going to be possible, because his mother would be coming to take him home soon. Mr. Maclean nodded soberly, as though he had expected this, and then he asked about the following week.
Timothy thought about it. He had really felt that the guided meditation session, lasting a full thirty minutes, had been significantly more beneficial even than his earlier ones, and that though he planned to do half an hour at a time and possibly more at home, it might be nice—it might be useful—to have an even longer session in the presence of others. He wouldn’t have to worry much about social interactions, since they would be in a group class, and would all be silently meditating. And it might give the process more impact for him to know, viscerally, that he was not alone. It might be nice to feel that he was part of something.
After a bit more thought, during which he sensed that Mr. Maclean was wavering toward telling him not to worry about it, that there would be time enough to consider it later, Timothy quickly said, “Okay. I’ll try it. I mean, if it’s okay with my mom.”
Mr. Maclean gave his tiny smile and said, “Of course. Well, that’s good to know. I think you’ll do well, and I think you’ll get a lot out of it. But I don’t want you to feel any pressure, either. If you decide, even at the last minute, that you just aren’t up for it, that’s fine. It’s no skin off my nose. I want you to feel completely comfortable with this.”
“Sure,” Timothy said. Then, realizing that this wasn’t the most appropriate response, he added. “Thanks.”
“Great,” Mr. Maclean said. “So, if you decide to come to class next week, I think there’s no need for you to get here quite as early…unless you want to go through a whole private session before the group session. But the group course is two hours from start to finish, though we don’t spend all of that meditating—we talk a little bit about some of the subjects you and I have been discussing. Between you and me, you often have deeper and more insightful questions and thoughts than many of the people in my class who are much older than you. So, try not to embarrass them too much, okay?”
Mr. Maclean’s smile when he said this was almost a wink, as though he meant to convey the fact that he was half-joking, at least about the last request, but Timothy got the impression that the other comments were nevertheless honest and heartfelt. He felt a warmth rising in his chest beyond even what he’d felt at compliments from Dr. Putnam. He wanted to guard himself, both against optimism and against attachment with a person he honestly didn’t know all that well, but it was hard not to feel lighter and more positive in response to the man’s words. He felt tempted to change his mind and take part in the class that day, but his concern for his mother had not been an invention. She was already giving up her free time to bring him to the center and to wait for him. He would not spring the possibility of staying on her at the last moment.
So, instead, he simply said, “Thank you. I’ll try.”
“I’m sure you will,” Mr. Maclean responded.
At that moment, Rhonda came through the door, and with a glance, Timothy saw that she had indeed arrived a full three minutes earlier than she had the previous week. It was too small a set of times for him to be sure that it was anything other than coincidence, but he had the sense that she was coming early out of curiosity about him. Part of him felt flattered—he even wondered if she was a woman who might have a thing for younger men, or for teenagers, though he thought this was probably a species of wishful thinking on his part—but part of him felt a bit nervous. He felt that her attitude toward him seemed to carry a hint of hunger. And it was not a hunger of a sexual kind, despite whatever proto fantasies his teenage mind might want to conjure. It was also not physically threatening. But it still made him wary.
The fact that she looked directly at him before looking at Mr. Maclean as she came through the door didn’t help matters.
“Good morning,” she said in general greeting, and it was hard to tell if she was addressing one or both of them. “How’s your day been so far?”
“Very productive,” Mr. Maclean replied, taking pressure off Timothy to respond. Grateful for that intercession, Timothy just forced a smile and said nothing.
Apparently, this wasn’t enough to satisfy Rhonda, who looked more directly at Timothy and asked, “Are you getting used to meditating? I know it took a while for me to not feel antsy when I was doing it. Heck, sometimes I still do.”
Mr. Maclean didn’t try to answer this on Timothy’s behalf, which Timothy supposed was a sign of respect—though he didn’t think he would have minded if the pressure were still off. So, Timothy stammered, “Well, I guess so. I mean, I’m getting used to it. I like it…and, well, I guess I’m not really the antsy type.”
“Wow,” Rhonda said, smirking a little too broadly. “That’s lucky. When I was a teenager, I think the only time I sat still was when I was asleep or stoned.” She seemed to catch herself just then, but something in her demeanor made Timothy think her apparent slip, and her following words—“Oops, sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Don’t do drugs, okay? They’re bad for you, and they’re no substitute for mindfulness”—were very much a deliberate act.
Timothy couldn’t imagine what the point of such an act might be, but it didn’t really matter to him. His experience of both marijuana and prescription medicine had girded him forcefully against the prospects of getting high. “Don’t worry,” he said, feeling less tentative than he had before, “I don’t have any interest in drugs.”
He must have conveyed his sentiments well because Rhonda’s eyebrows went up as if she was impressed. She took a step closer to Timothy and Mr. Maclean, saying, “Whew. That’s good. I’d hate to accidentally contribute to anyone’s delinquency.” She gave a laugh that was obviously meant to be self-deprecating, but it came out a little too loud, Timothy thought. He found Rhonda just a bit too intense, a bit too pressured—like she was trying too hard to give the impression of casualness, which seemed contradictory to Timothy. He didn’t have any idea why she might behave that way, but social pressure, he knew, was not a minor thing, and it probably hit everyone a little differently. He would try not to let the fact that she made him uncomfortable affect his judgment of her character.
When neither Timothy nor Mr. Maclean—who Timothy suspected was just as put off as he was, though he was probably better able to handle it—said anything, Rhonda asked, “So, are you going to be joining the group this week?”
Timothy thought this was the only thing Rhonda had really wanted to say to him from the beginning, and that all her prior words had been an attempt not to be too transparent. That attempt had failed miserably, as far as Timothy could tell, but he supposed he couldn’t fault her for trying. Interpersonal interaction wasn’t always easy, and some people were just better at it than others.
This time, Mr. Maclean did intercede on Timothy’s behalf, saying, “Not this week. Let’s try not to put too much pressure on Timothy if we can. I want to make sure he goes at whatever pace he’s comfortable with, and he can join the larger group if and when he’s ready. Or not, if he decides not to.”
Timothy noted that Mr. Maclean had said nothing about their tentative plans for the following week, and he was deeply grateful for that. He thought Rhonda might have started to drool if she heard such a thing, and though he found that thought amusing, he didn’t want her involved in his decision one way or another.
Rhonda, at least, seemed to have gotten the hint. With an only slightly exaggerated rueful expression, she said, “Sorry about that. I don’t mean to make you feel weird. I just think meditation is great—at least when Bill leads it—so I’m a little too enthusiastic.” With what now seemed a more honest bit of chagrin, she added, “I guess I still have a lot of work to do in getting control of myself.”
“Don’t we all,” Mr. Maclean replied with a tiny breath of laughter and his little smile. “Believe me, I’m a long way away from being anyone’s idea of a bodhisattva.”
Rhonda laughed loudly at this comment, but Timothy wasn’t sure what Mr. Maclean meant. He thought the term Mr. Maclean had used sounded familiar—he probably had encountered it during his personal research on meditation—but he wasn’t sure what it signified. From context, he thought a bodhisattva must be some kind of master meditator, but something in the way the other two laughed made him suspect something deeper.
He was about to indulge his curiosity and simply ask, but at that moment his mother walked through the front door of the shop. Timothy thought that she too was just a little bit earlier than she had been on the previous week, but he hadn’t watched the clock then, having been distracted by Rhonda just as much at the time. Maybe she’d just happened to show up early today because whatever she’d done had taken less time. Certainly, she wasn’t carrying any shopping bag now. He wondered, though, if she had sensed Rhonda’s slightly unwholesome interest before and had wanted to be sure to head it off.
“Hello again,” she said, clearly speaking to Mr. Maclean. “How did everything go today?”
“Very well,” Mr. Maclean replied, his smile broadening. “Timothy is very dedicated to the process, and I think he has a bit of a knack for it.” He had pointedly avoided mentioning why Timothy was taking part in the mindfulness training, obviously because Rhonda was right there, and this reinforced Timothy’s already high opinion of him.
He thought his mother felt similarly, because he saw her glance at Rhonda—who hadn’t backed away this time, unlike the previous week—before saying, “Well, that’s good to hear…though it’s no surprise to me, of course. I’m his mother, so I’ve known him all his life.” She laughed, a little uncomfortably, Timothy thought.
Her discomfort, it seemed, was warranted, for as soon as a moment of silence came, Rhonda immediately barged into the conversation, saying, “Mrs. Outlaw, I just want to say, I think it’s a great thing you’re doing, bringing Timothy here. I’ve gone to a few other meditation teachers, but Bill is the best one I’ve met. I think Timothy is going to get a lot of good out of this.”
Timothy was slightly irritated—tending towards anger—by the presumptuous familiarity Rhonda expressed, referring to him by name and showing off that she knew his surname. He was, however, able to recognize when the thought and emotion arose in his mind, and to observe it, and not to hold onto it. It took a bit more mental dexterity to do this with randomly arising thoughts, but he was pleased to accomplish it. Perhaps he did have a bit of a knack.
His mother, on the other hand, gave clear signs—to Timothy’s trained perceptions—that she was mildly irked, her left eyebrow twitching upward ever so slightly and her lips tightening as she said, “Well…that’s good to hear.”
“I’m Rhonda, by the way,” Rhonda said, waving in a small, girlish way rather than reaching for a handshake. “I’m a student in Bill’s Saturday class.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Timothy’s mother replied tersely. It was quite clear that she wasn’t quite speaking the full truth. At least, it was clear to Timothy.
Now, Timothy expected, having raised the subject, Rhonda would pitch his mother on the idea of having him join the class, perhaps that very weekend. However, it seemed that Rhonda had more sense than he’d credited her with, for her next words were, “Anyway, sorry to get in the way here. I get too enthusiastic sometimes, like I was just saying to these two. Bill, is it alright if I use the restroom?”
“Of course,” Mr. Maclean replied, his relief clear even in his low-key manner. “You don’t need to ask.”
Rhonda said, “Thanks. Nice to meet you again,” waving again at Timothy’s mother before heading toward and through the doorway to the back of the store whose front was Mr. Maclean’s classroom. Timothy watched her until she was out of sight, then turned back to discover that his mother and Mr. Maclean had also been marking Rhonda’s exit, because they all turned back to face each other at once.
Mr. Maclean’s smile looked slightly rueful as he said, “Sorry about that. Rhonda’s a good person, but she’s very…well, like she said, a bit too enthusiastic.”
“I’ll say,” Timothy’s mother agreed. “She seems more like a kid than Timothy does.”
Mr. Maclean chuckled, clearly agreeing with that assessment, and he said, “Well, it’s probably one of the things she’s hoping to master with meditation. Not that enthusiasm is a bad thing, but she sometimes seems a little…well, hypomanic. Timothy, on the other hand, seems to be a bit of an old soul, as they say, though I don’t mean it literally.”
Timothy was surprised to hear his mother give a quick laugh of relief and obvious agreement. “Boy, you can say that again,” she replied. “It can sometimes be hard for me to feel like I’m the parent. I think he’s wiser than I am in a lot of ways.”
Mr. Maclean smiled more broadly, but Timothy thought he felt a bit guilty that he agreed with her statement so much, though he could have been reading too much into things.
“He’s a good young man,” Mr. Maclean said. “Which just makes me feel better about our arrangement here even than I already did. And, speaking of that, Timothy and I discussed something briefly earlier, but I’ll leave it to him to talk over the idea with you. I’m not too sure how soundproof the bathroom is. But you still have my phone number, right?”
Timothy’s mother, obviously slightly puzzled, said, “Yes, I do.”
“Good,” Mr. Maclean said. “Well, after you two talk about it, if you have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to call. I’ll be here at the same time next week no matter what, just in case, so don’t worry about that.”
Timothy’s mother obviously wasn’t sure why Mr. Maclean would give that assurance, but she was also just as obviously aware that he was avoiding saying too much for fear of Rhonda accidentally or deliberately overhearing. Timothy wondered what his mother must be thinking they had talked about. She was probably going to be pleasantly surprised that it was such a mundane subject.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll do that.” Then, seeming to relax a bit, she added, “And thank you again for everything. I don’t know how these kinds of things are measured, but…well, I think it’s already doing Timothy a lot of good.”
Timothy was surprised by this comment—he didn’t see what his mother could possibly have noticed as being any overt benefit so far from his brief practice of meditation. Mr. Maclean, however, did not seem surprised at all. His smile was more relaxed still as he replied, “I don’t doubt it. Like I said, he’s quite dedicated and serious about this, it’s very plain to see. It’s a privilege to work with him.”
Timothy’s mother blinked in clear surprise, and Timothy felt his face must have shown similar response to such an effusive compliment from such a staid and quiet person as Mr. Maclean. Plainly scrambling to catch up, his mother said, “Well, I’m sure it’s quite mutual.”
Timothy, feeling the warmth of the compliment and wanting to repay it with as much interest as he could muster, added, “Yeah, seriously. It’s really great that you’re helping me with this.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Mr. Maclean said, making it sound like simple truth rather than a polite nothing. Then he turned to look over his shoulder at the doorway through which Rhonda had passed, saying, “Well, I guess I’d better start getting ready for the other Saturday morning students to arrive. You two have a good trip home and a good week. And remember, feel free to call me.”
“Thank you, we will,” Timothy’s mother said. “And I will…if I need to.”
“Yeah, thanks again, Mr. Maclean,” Timothy said. “See you next week.”