Outlaw’s Mind – the rest so far

[Okay, what follows is the remainder of Outlaw’s Mind as I’ve written it so far.  It’s quite a bit longer than just one section, but I’m tired of posting it weekly, as I am of most things, so here is the rest of what I’ve written so far.  It may well be the rest of all that ever exists of it.  I don’t know that I’ll ever write more of it.  I may also post the entirety of The Dark Fairy and the Desperado as I’ve written it so far, a bit later this week–perhaps tomorrow–with a similar disclaimer.  That will be even longer than this is.  I hope you enjoy it, for what it’s worth.  Sorry if I don’t finish it.]

When Timothy introduced the notion of going to the group meeting the following Saturday to his mother, he wasn’t surprised to see her show relief and amusement.  She told him that she had indeed, as he’d suspected, been wondering what kind of surreptitious thing they could have been discussing that they wouldn’t want Rhonda to overhear.  After laughing a bit, she said that she was fine with the idea if that was what he wanted, but she asked him to be honest in telling her how he really felt about it.

Timothy didn’t have to search his feelings long to be able to honestly reply that, though mildly nervous, he was also excited about the idea.  He told her that he found meditation quite interesting, and enjoyed the process and the experience, and the learning about the landscape of his mind that came with it, and that he thought it might be even more interesting to do it for a longer period of time with the whole group around him.  He didn’t mention Rhonda, not wanting to worry either his mother or himself, but he at least thought that she could hardly be a bother during a group meditation session when everyone was sitting in silence.

Timothy’s mother said that, if he was fine with it, then she thought it was at least a potentially useful thing to do, and if it turned out not to be his cup of tea, well, they could just revert to the current lesson plan as long as Mr. Maclean was willing.  She smiled as she said this, clearly recognizing, as did Timothy, that Mr. Maclean was likely to go along with any reasonable course they desired. Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 17

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.”

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 16

Timothy didn’t try to meditate during lunch or between classes.  The latter breaks were too brief, and he did have a few other boys with whom he tended to eat lunch.  Though he was relatively taciturn, he took part at least somewhat in their conversations, and he behaved fairly normally.  He’d discovered that keeping separate completely, drawing off into a shell, would be more likely to single him out for just the sort of behavior that might lead to him exploding.  So, he cultivated acquaintances with whom he could interact superficially and briefly, but with whom he resisted becoming closer, not planning to do anything after school or on weekends, saying his family situation wouldn’t allow it.

That night, though, after dinner, he once again set his timer for six minutes, sat in his chair and closed his eyes.

He found that having food in his stomach was a real distraction, because it made his mind feel foggy and groggy, almost stupid.  He had a hard time paying attention to his breathing, even when he tried to use the fact of his full belly as a focus.  Still, he was able at least somewhat to keep himself seated, feeling his breathing, feeling the threatening torpor of a large evening meal.

After that meditation, he decided that he would try in future to wait until well after dinner to do so again or try to get it in before dinner.  Or maybe he should simply try not to eat so much at dinner, or to eat different things.  He wondered what might be the best kind of food to avoid the distracting gloopiness in his body.  Perhaps he would ask Mr. Maclean about it.

On Tuesday, he set his alarm for seven minutes, and he did his breathing first thing in the morning, before classes, and before dinner instead of after.  He considered trying a fourth time after, but he again realized that the feeling of a full stomach—though he’d eaten a little less than the night before—was detrimental.

On Wednesday, he set the alarm for eight minutes, and before class started eight minutes before the bell.  If he kept up the increase, he was soon going to need to come to school a little earlier.  Or maybe he would just hit a practical wall and decide only to do so much before class.  There was never quite as deep a sense of focus in class; he always caught himself being more distracted by his fear of social issues than ever by his own straying thoughts—though when he thought about them, he always finally realized that the perceived social issues really were merely his thoughts, and he hadn’t had any issues with his classmates.  This revelation continued to surprise him and to intrigue him.  This was surely something worth learning about, and a habit worth trying to break.  Anticipating trouble could make it more likely to happen; Timothy was not too young to realize that.

On Thursday his timer was nine minutes.

On Friday it was ten minutes.

He found that it wasn’t really any more onerous to try to focus on his breathing for ten minutes than for five; though he continued to catch himself becoming distracted over and over again, it wasn’t too disheartening, and he was even becoming a little gentler with himself when he did catch it.  And he had never found sitting still to be hard, at least not since he’d been very small.

As Friday evening closed, and Timothy finished a last, extra ten-minute session just before bed, which he found nicely conducive to relaxing for sleep, he was also mildly excited to go visit Mr. Maclean the next morning, despite what he had been through after the meeting the previous week.  In his mind, he did not associate his traumatic oath to his mother with Mr. Maclean, though the man had been a kind of trigger for it.  Instead, he saw it as a mere happenstance, something that might have occurred earlier, if Dr. Putnam had spoken with his mother directly about his thoughts, or later in some other circumstance.  And he noticed this as a fact in his mind, and that in itself was interesting, too.


Timothy’s mother was polite and pleasant with Mr. Maclean when she brought Timothy to the Vipassana Center.  He’d been a bit nervous that she would have a negative impression of the man, and would show it, because Maclean had been the one to reveal to her Timothy’s thoughts that had so horrified her.  However, that didn’t seem to be the case.  In fact, she was more relaxed by a significant margin than she had been on their first meeting, which Timothy supposed made sense.  Perhaps she might even be thankful to Mr. Maclean for having revealed to her such an important piece of information, which Timothy’s doctor had not shared.

Timothy told Mr. Maclean that he’d been increasing his meditation time by a minute a day, which had not been specific to the instructions but hadn’t been forbidden.  If he’d worried that the man would be disapproving, that worry was unrealized.  If anything, Mr. Maclean was impressed and pleased, and he asked Timothy to share with him what, if anything, his experiences had entailed that he thought worthy of sharing.

Timothy told him most excitedly about his recognition that he was the source of his own anxiety about people possibly teasing or bothering him while he doing his meditation before class—such as it was—and how interesting it was to realize that his own thoughts could trigger the feelings he so strongly felt.

Mr. Maclean looked at him intently for several seconds after that revelation, and then with his tiny smile he said, “That’s a really deep insight into what’s going on in your own mind, and after only a few days of meditation.  I’m pretty impressed.  And it’s also quite true.  Many of the sources of our own suffering are purely born of things we imagine or anticipate…of thoughts that arise within our minds.  In fact, the Buddhists say that all suffering is born of such thoughts, attachment in particular, and that the goal of meditation is to become free from attachment and free from suffering because of that.  Of course, then they also say that, if you can do that, you’ll break free of the cycle of karma and rebirth, and will be able to avoid reincarnating, but we don’t need to entertain notions like that to agree that suffering comes from how we think about things, not from the things themselves.  Or, as Shakespeare put it…I think…‘there’s nothing good or ill but thinking makes it so’.  Something like that, anyway.  Or as Milton put it, ‘the mind is its own place, and of itself, can make a Hell of Heaven, a Heaven of Hell’.”

Timothy had heard of Shakespeare, of course, and he thought they were going to be reading one of the man’s plays later that year in his English class, but he wasn’t aware of Milton.  However, something about Mr. Maclean’s words and quotes didn’t quite seem correct to him.

“But…people suffer all the time because of things that they aren’t thinking,” he said.  “I mean…if someone gets sick, or if they get in an accident, or someone beats them up, it’s not because of what they’re thinking.  Unless you think that everything that happens is, like, invited by people because of the way they think, but that doesn’t make sense to me.”

“No, nor to me,” Mr. Maclean replied.  “Though there are forms of the notions of karma that really do claim that all suffering in your current life is because of some kind of karmic debt from a previous life.  But I don’t see any reason to take that assertion seriously.

“But there is a real distinction, certainly in meditation practices, and Buddhism and the like, between pain and suffering.  Pain is a physical thing…it’s a message, sent from one part of our body to our brain, and it’s important.  Pain—and avoiding it—helps keep us alive.  But suffering is a subjective state, and it can happen when the body is not in pain at all…it can happen in the physically healthiest person in the world, in fact.  Surely, you’ve heard of rock stars and successful businesspeople who have every worldly comfort and joy that anyone could possibly hope for, and yet are deeply miserable.  Think of the musicians and movie stars and so on who end up destroying their lives through drugs, who can’t maintain relationships, who make everyone around them miserable.  Some of them even kill themselves, like poor Robin Williams did a few years ago.”

Timothy didn’t like to dwell on the subject of suicide, so he didn’t follow the thread of celebrity self-destruction.  Instead, he asked, “But isn’t pain and suffering really just…two kinds of the same thing?”

“Not necessarily,” Mr. Maclean said.  “Physical pain is a signal of dysfunction, at least when it’s working right, and it’s an important fact.  We’re built not to be able to ignore it easily, and for good reason, but when looked at from outside, it’s just a signal, just a message, being interpreted by the brain.  There are meditators who actually are able to use specific feelings of pain as a focus for their attention in meditation, as you’ve been doing with your breath, and it can—in some of them—even become fascinating.  I wouldn’t want to encourage someone to be too enthralled by pain as a focus of experience, though it is intense, but to be able to see it for what it is, as a state of mind reacting to a state of body, and it can be very interesting.  And that can, sometimes, take much of the actual suffering out of the experience of pain.”

Timothy blinked a few times before saying, “That’s…I think that’s way past anything I could ever do.”

“Maybe,” Mr. Maclean said.  “I certainly don’t find it easy myself, and I’ve spent a lot more time meditating than you have.  But at times, on retreat, you can find yourself sitting and start getting an uncomfortable feeling in your back, or your legs, your knees, your neck, whatever…and if you’re already in the right state, you can find that the discomfort is much less difficult because you’re not fighting it.  Fighting against pain, struggling not to feel it, to push it away, is another kind of attachment, or so the Buddhists would say, and that’s what makes you suffer.”

Timothy, worried about offending the man, said, “You don’t sound like you really believe that all the way.”

Far from being offended, Mr. Maclean smiled more broadly and responded, “Well, I may be expressing a bit of sour grapes in my lack of persuadability on that.  I’ve never quite been able to achieve that level of distance from the fact of my pain, at least not for very long at a time, so I develop automatic arguments against it.  Sort of like someone who’s allergic to cats and so decides that they just don’t like cats, they aren’t a cat person, cats are not good pets, and so on.  It’s justification after the fact.  In actual fact, I do find the statements about attachment and resistance to pain being the source of at least a lot of our suffering when we’re in pain to be convincing.  But it’s a very high hurdle to put that fact into practice and use it.  Maybe if I had some kind of chronic pain—if pain were my ‘normal’ state of being, you could say—I’d get enough practice in that I could reach that point.  But I think I’m just not that skilled.”

Timothy tried to digest the man’s point, which he supposed made sense.  Turning things back to his own case, he asked, “What do you think about…about anger or about rage and meditation, or…or attachment I guess?”

The smile disappeared from Mr. Maclean’s face, and he rubbed his lips with a finger a few times before saying, “That’s an interesting question.  I’ve been thinking a bit more about it since we met, and since Dr. Putnam spoke to me about your situation.  It seems to me that we might take a similar approach to your rage and anger—maybe to rage and anger in general—that we’ve just been talking about with pain.”

Timothy, confused, asked, “What do you mean?”

“Well…in general, I would say that anger, for most people, is the equivalent mentally of suffering, not of pain.  In fact, you could almost say that anger is a kind of suffering.  Most of the time, when people are angry, especially when they stay angry about something, it’s because they’re ruminating on something.  They’re trapped in their thoughts about what made them angry, and they identify with those thoughts, they follow them and repeat them to themselves, replaying the events they see as causing the anger, reminding themselves of whatever the perceived insult or injustice was, all the while not realizing that they are the ones who are making themselves angry…or at least are perpetuating it.  No one can avoid ever getting angry about anything—or so I suspect—but it is possible not to stay angry, if a person can just look at their own thoughts and see the ones arising that are maintaining their anger.  And, as you’ve probably begun to learn at least a little, once you pay attention and recognize a thought as a thought, as something just arising within your consciousness, it loses its persistence.  It floats away along with the feeling of anger, though the physiology of anger can take a little longer to diminish.”

Timothy found this at least mildly interesting, but he didn’t think it applied to his own situation.  His experiences were not ones in which he was ruminating on something and staying angry.  His anger tended to be more like an explosion, something that occurred suddenly and catastrophically, and mulling things over and dwelling on the negative was the least of his problems in those moments.

Mr. Maclean seemed to know this, for he went on, “Now, your situation is rather different from that kind of thing.  I mean, there’s a reason Dr. Putnam thinks it’s a medical problem.  You actually don’t come across as an angry person in general.  I’ve seen and met angry teenagers.  At one point, I probably was one.  You’re not.  There’s not a trace of pouting or grumpiness or ‘bad attitude’ on your face, not since I’ve been interacting with you.  Your posture’s open, your gaze is direct, you’re leaning a bit forward.  You don’t seem like an angry sort of person.”

Timothy, embarrassed to be described in the terms Mr. Maclean was using, and not to have realized the little details of his own expression and seated position, fidgeted a bit, but he decided that to try to change his way of sitting would be silly and even more embarrassing.  Trying to focus instead on what the man was saying, he responded, “Well…I mean, I’ve kind of tried not to be an angry person, you know?”

“Yes, I think I do,” Mr. Maclean said.  “It’s rare to see such a young person who’s obviously been thinking about self-improvement at such a level, but I know your situation, your issue, has made that important to you.  And to go back to what I was saying…I think your ‘rage’, your episodes have more in common with physical pain than they do with suffering in the Buddhist sense.  They seem to be something that arises on its own, in a way, almost like…like a mental cramp, maybe, like seizure of some kind.”

Timothy said, “They checked me for seizures before, though.  I guess I don’t have them.”

“No, of course, I didn’t mean that literally,” Mr. Maclean said with a small laugh.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be unclear.  I just meant that they seem to happen to you, at a different level to the way thoughts just happen, though that is what thoughts do.  Maybe they’re more akin to…to a feeling of nausea, say, when something’s bothering your stomach.  A deep process that intrudes itself, much more so than ordinary thoughts do.  If you want to hear a silly analogy, which probably betrays more of my own nerdy background than I might be wise to share, your situation reminds me just a little bit of The Hulk, the comic book character.  Are you familiar with those comics?”

“Uhh…not with the comics,” Timothy said.  “But I’ve seen some of the movies.  He’s the big, green, super-strong guy, right?”

“Right,” Mr. Maclean said, chuckling in a way that was clearly self-deprecating.  “And though he’s obviously just a fantasy character, there are interesting parallels.  The man, Dr. Banner, is a scientist—pretty level-headed, very smart, all that.  But with the right triggering events, something that makes him particularly upset or agitated or, of course, angry, the Hulk comes out of him, a creature almost entirely defined by rage, and completely outside of Dr. Banner’s control.  And he is incredibly destructive, powerful, not able to be reasoned with.  And his actions utterly disrupt Dr. Banner’s life.  But he certainly doesn’t cause them consciously.”

Timothy could see where Mr. Maclean’s point was, but he didn’t really like the comparison.  He thought that comparing himself to a comic book character sounded in some ways too egotistical and in other ways too dismissive.  He was worried that Mr. Maclean, or he himself, wouldn’t be able to take his issue seriously when thinking about it that way.  And his situation, his problem, was terribly serious, especially since the oath he’d taken the week before.

He considered telling Mr. Maclean about that, but decided it wasn’t really a good time.

Habitually deferential to authority figures, which he considered Mr. Maclean to be, Timothy said, “I guess I see what you mean.”

“Okay,” Mr. Maclean said, watching Timothy closely.  “Well, not to try to stretch the analogy too far, but I think in one of the movies at least, Dr. Banner tried to engage in various kinds of meditation or something similar, to see if he could control and prevent his anger from ever occurring…or at least of putting it more under his conscious control.  Now, it’s not a good idea to generalize from fictional evidence, of course, since fiction is fiction, and may have nothing at all to do with the real world.  But I think that perhaps meditating, as you’ve already begun doing quite well, might at least let you learn to identify mental states that tend to trigger your personal…well, ‘rage monster’, I guess, might be a valid term, though I don’t want to make you feel too negative.”

Timothy, sensing that the man wanted some real feedback on that point, said, “No, it’s fine.  I…well, it’s not too wrong, anyway, so whether it makes me feel bad doesn’t really matter much.”

With a thoughtful frown, Mr. Maclean said, “That’s a very…well, thoughtful attitude to take, at least, though I wouldn’t want you to be too dismissive of your own feelings.  In any case, hopefully we can have you learn, though meditation, to recognize and identify those mental states…those thoughts…that tend to trigger your rage and learn to avoid them.  Because correct me if I’m wrong, they don’t just happen out of the blue, am I right?  They happen in reaction to events in the world around you, don’t they?”

“Yeah,” Timothy admitted.  “They don’t just pop up out of nowhere.  I mean, usually, it’s when something happens where…where someone’s teasing someone else, or bullying someone, or doing something stupid and mean, either to me or to someone else.  I get, like, just so mad at them for being jerks, and then I…I kind of just take off from there and it goes sky-high.”

“I see,” Mr. Maclean said.  “So, in a way, it’s almost a response to your sense of personal justice, or vengeance, or whatever you might call it.”

Timothy preferred “justice” if it came down to it.  He would rather not think of himself as motivated by a desire for revenge, because that seemed frankly wrong.  However, he didn’t think it was a point worth dwelling on, since something else was more pressing.  He asked, “But you don’t think that we…that we’re going to have to, like…activate, or trigger, or set off one of my…fits, or whatever, to be able to learn what causes it, do you?  Because I don’t know that I really like that idea.”

“No, I can understand that, and I don’t blame you,” Mr. Maclean said.  “I’m not really interesting in trying to poke a sleeping bear in order to try to figure out ways to train it not to get mad when poked.  Quite apart from any harm you might do to my place, or to me—which I’m not really worried about, anyway—it would cause you suffering, I’m quite sure of that, and that’s exactly the opposite of what I’m all about here.”

Not particularly liking the analogy to a sleeping bear, but honestly unable to find fault with it, Timothy simply said, “Well…that’s good.”

Mr. Maclean gave his tiny smile, which looked a bit rueful to Timothy, as though his discomfort with the analogy had been plain to read on his face.  With a nod and a breath, Mr. Maclean said, “What I really hope is, that as you learn to meditate and become more aware of how your own mind works, you’ll come to two situations.  First, you’ll come to recognize that everyone in the world is just as much a victim of identification with the substance of their thoughts as you are—and not just to know it intellectually, but to feel it in your bones, so to speak—and that therefore you won’t tend to feel quite the same kind of indignation at wrongdoing that seems to trigger your rages.  After all, you wouldn’t become enraged in response to…I don’t know, a bee stinging you, would you?”

Timothy thought with great discomfort back to the alien mindset he’d had when he’d encountered the wasps building their nest on the back of his house.  He didn’t want to bring it up with Mr. Maclean, because it was terrifying in a different way than the other aspects of his problem.  But it did lead him to wonder whether he might not, under the wrong circumstances, really react to a bee sting with rage.  It would be silly and childish, and probably dangerous for him—at least he’d be in danger of attacking a hive, and possibly getting stung to death in response, which was not a death he would ever have considered a good one—but it wasn’t impossible.

Still, he got Mr. Maclean’s point, and it was true that, when not under the influence of medication, he’d never gotten angry at anything other than his fellow humans.  He didn’t know if that was good or bad, but people did seem more culpable for their deeds than other creatures did.  He said, “I don’t think so.  A bee is…just an animal.  And not a very smart one, I don’t think.”

“Right,” Mr. Maclean said.  “And from the proper point of view, every human being is just an animal, too.  And, when you get right down to it, though we’re smarter than the other animals on the planet, it’s fair to say that we’re not all that smart, either.  Most people would never choose to be in a position where they do things they know to be wrong, I’m convinced of that, but we are so lost in ourselves, so filled with the suffering that entails, that we do many irrational things, and they cause further suffering to us and to those around us.

“The other thing I hope we can achieve is that, even if you don’t quite reach a metta type sense of lovingkindness toward all your fellow beings that allows you honestly not to become angry about their deeds—which is a very high hurdle, to be honest.  I’ve never gotten close to it.  But if you become able enough to know yourself, to be familiar with your own mind, you’ll recognize and see the dangerous patterns of thought, and you’ll not have to do any trial-and-error type experiments to prevent them, because…well, because the ones that trigger your rage simply won’t ever gain traction.  That’s what I hope.”

Timothy liked the sound of that, even if he thought it too was quite a high hurdle in its own right.  He tried to smile, himself, recognized that it was an effort and so stopped trying too hard, and he said, “Well, it sounds like it’d be worth a try, anyway.  And it’s gotta be better than the Paxil.  At least there aren’t any side-effects to meditation.  Right?”

“Well…not many,” Mr. Maclean replied.  “And usually not anything like what you might experience with pharmaceuticals.  But it is possible to find oneself in disquieting places in one’s own mind.  But that’s one of the reasons its beneficial to have guidance, and even to meditate in groups.  The support of others, and of guidance, can help steer you away from places you might not want to go.”

Timothy thought of the icy landscape he’d experienced after his confrontation with his mother the previous week.  That was a place he preferred not to visit if he could avoid it.  And he certainly didn’t ever want to meet the thing whose face he’d had a flash of there again.  It was no effort now for him to smile when he said, “That sounds like a good idea.”

“Excellent,” Mr. Maclean said, his own smile broadening.  “Well, I think I’ve bored you enough for the moment with the discussion.  Do you want to try a little more guided meditation today?  Do you feel up to trying fifteen minutes at a time already?”

“Sure,” Timothy said with a shrug.  “But won’t you be kind of bored?”

“Boredom tends to be a state born of being lost in thought,” Mr. Maclean replied with a laugh, “so if I get bored, it’s a good thing for me to become aware of in myself as something to work on.  But I’ve done plenty of guided meditation sessions that are longer than that, and it’s not a problem I usually have.  I won’t be talking constantly, but I’ll chime in occasionally just to try to assist you in staying focused and mindful.  I don’t think you’re going to get bored, at least, which is refreshingly unusual for a new meditator.”

Timothy was frankly surprised by that as a possibility.  He said, “No, I don’t think so.  I haven’t felt bored yet, and I don’t see why five more minutes would make a difference.”

“Brilliant,” Mr. Maclean declared.  “So, if you’re ready, why don’t we get going?”

With that, Timothy sat back in his chair—once again noticing that, as Mr. Maclean had pointed out, he’d been leaning a bit forward during their entire conversation—and he closed his eyes.

For the next fifteen minutes, he underwent the same process he’d been going through a few times a day that entire week, and he was pleased to find that it was no more difficult there in Mr. Maclean’s shop.  If anything, it was easier to focus with Mr. Maclean’s voice directing him, reminding him of the things to which he might pay passing attention, to which he might give notice.  He again noted, as a passing thought, that Mr. Maclean avoided mentioning his bottom when describing the way the chair felt against his body, the pressure of gravity, but he recognized the thought for what it was, and even recognized the combined embarrassment and amusement he felt as thoughts triggered by that thought, and he noticed them and let them go, returning to the breath in his nose.  This time he was able to do so without feeling much tension, perhaps because he was able to be amused by it, and so less angry at himself.

And he noticed himself noticing that amusement, and his own curiosity about the different reactions, and he briefly focused on them and let them go.

He sat quite still for the fifteen minutes, and as before, he found that he experienced the interior of his mind as a kind of multidimensional landscape.  It was, thankfully, less physically real seeming than the icy cold one he’d felt when his mother had confronted him the week before, and it was also less placid.  It felt akin almost to some volcanic surface, turned into higher dimensions, with various unpredictable things bubbling up here and there at random intervals, colors, sounds, feelings, memories, utterly imaginary people and places, and a sense of floating through a space that was as infinite, perhaps, as the universe, but far less empty.

And noticing himself noticing these things, he returned to the breath in his nose, but not without a bit of resistance.  He enjoyed experiencing that internal space, that multidimensional universe, more elaborate and unconstrained than any computer simulation.  Perhaps at some point at home he would allow himself more time to explore its ins and outs.

The feeling of the breath in his nose, when he remained focused on it, became hypnotic.  His sense of time became difficult to put a finger on.  It was true that fifteen minutes felt no more difficult than ten or even five minutes—fifteen was merely three fives in a row, after all—but with Mr. Maclean there, present, it felt different, deeper but also shorter, quicker to come to an end.

They finished the fifteen minutes much to Timothy’s surprise.  He hadn’t even noticed the sound of the clock ticking as he had before.  He felt he had somehow gone deeper than before, and he told Mr. Maclean about that feeling.  They discussed some of the trivia, some of the ins and outs, some of the theories of meditation that various scholars and mystics had looked at in the past, and then they decided that Timothy would have one more fifteen-minute guided session.

It went as well as the first, if not noticeably better, and Mr. Maclean’s smile was broader at the end than it usually was.  He told Timothy that, though he didn’t like to be unreasonably optimistic, or to raise false hopes, he thought that Timothy’s facility with meditation made it seem like this really might be a good thing for him, might really not just help him avoid and control his problem with rage, but could really help him have a better life than he might have otherwise.  Who knew where it would lead?

Before Timothy’s mother or anyone else arrived, they discussed the possibility that—not the next weekend maybe, but perhaps the weekend after that—Timothy might decide to arrive a little bit later and try to join the Saturday morning group meditation session that followed the time of their meeting.  Timothy felt a bit anxious about the prospect, not sure how he would feel with a roomful of people who were all older than he, all meditating together.  He worried that some of them might see him as strange, and he also worried about feeling judgmental about them.  He realized that this was a prejudice—it was surely no worse to go to a meditation session on Saturday morning than it was to go to a church on Sunday—but he felt a kind of knee-jerk thought that such people might be very woolly, very New Agey sorts, and that he might find them irritating.  He didn’t want that.

But he recognized this thought, at least, for what it was:  an unjust assumption and condemnation of a group of people, sight unseen, and he was able to hold it in his mind as what it was and let it go.  It took a bit of effort—that part frustrated him slightly—but he was able to do it.

He told Mr. Maclean that he would think about it.

Before his mother had returned from whatever it was she was doing that Saturday morning, the young woman who had arrived first the previous week showed up.  Timothy thought she was earlier than she had been the last time, but he couldn’t be sure.  She couldn’t have been much older than her mid-twenties, he thought, though perhaps her slender frame made her look younger than her years.  Timothy guessed—or wondered—whether she might be a vegan.  She certainly was thinner even than most young people seemed to be.  She was even thinner than practically every girl at his school.

After she put her bag down and greeted Mr. Maclean, she turned toward Timothy and said, “So, you’re here again this week, huh?”

Surprised to be addressed by her directly, unused to young adult women paying him any attention at all, Timothy said, “Uh…yeah, I guess I am.”

“I’m Rhonda,” she said.  “Rhonda Hollis.  I’m a student in Bill’s Saturday meditation class.”  She held a hand out, almost masculine in her assertive attitude, at least to Timothy’s impression.

Having to force himself to shake her hand, and quite self-conscious about whether he was applying too much or too little pressure, or whether his hand was damp or dry, warm or cold, Timothy said, “Uh…hi.  I’m Timothy.  Timothy Outlaw.”

“Ooh, cool name,” the woman said with an unaffected smile.  “You should star in an action movie.”  She released his hand, which Timothy felt she’d held for an uncomfortably long time.  Then the woman—Rhonda, apparently—asked, “So are you going to be joining the Saturday session?”

Timothy stammered a bit, and Mr. Maclean rescued him from his awkwardness by saying, “Not this week, I’m afraid.  Timothy is a private student for the moment, though he may decide to join the group later on.  But that’s entirely up to him.”  He smiled at her as he said it, but Timothy felt that he was trying subtly to encourage her not to pressure him, and he was grateful for that.

“Well, I hope he does,” Rhonda said.  “It’d be nice not to be the youngest person there.  Not that I really mind, but…well, it’s good to have people trying to learn about mindfulness earlier in their lives.”

“I do agree with that,” Mr. Maclean said.  “But everyone has to go at their own pace.

“I guess so,” Rhonda said, but Timothy wasn’t sure she agreed.  He felt a curious intensity in her gaze, as though she suspected there were more to his being there than simple curiosity and desire to learn.  This was correct, of course, and it made Timothy feel slightly defensive.

He was rescued this time by the arrival of his mother, who walked through the door of the shop, this time carrying a small shopping bag, with a logo Timothy didn’t recognize.  She looked happier than she had the previous week, and she greeted Timothy and Mr. Maclean with a smile, asking how everything had gone, saying that she didn’t need a whole run-down, that she would talk with Timothy about it later, and then asking if Timothy was ready.

Timothy noticed that Rhonda Hollis made no move to introduce herself to his mother, and indeed had worked her way back toward the corner of the shop, reaching for her bag as if to get something out of it.  He did see her glance up at them a few times, but he couldn’t read her expression.

After leaving that weekend, Timothy and his mother stopped at a diner downtown—Timothy wondered what the difference was between a diner and a more general restaurant, or if there was one.  The prices were not bad there, but Timothy didn’t think it was someplace they could go every week sensibly.  Still, his mother seemed happy to indulge this time, and she seemed unconcerned with the minor expense.  Perhaps she was trying to make up for the unpleasantness of the previous Saturday.

It still being fairly early, Timothy ordered a breakfast-type meal, but his mother got a sandwich and a soda.  They ate together pleasantly, his mother talking about the shops she had visited.  Timothy guessed, based on her happy response this week, and the fact that she’d bought something, that she’d been too distracted last Saturday by the revelations of his thoughts of self-destruction to enjoy herself.  He wondered whether she’d even gone inside any stores before, or if she’d just wandered about, trying to process the revelation.  Perhaps she’d only sat in the car, waited for the time to pass, and had gotten out at the end.

Timothy felt guilty about having put her through that.  And now that he had promised, albeit under duress, that he would never take advantage of his previously imagined emergency escape hatch, Timothy knew he had to be as serious as he could be about learning to control himself.  There were no other acceptable options.

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 15

Timothy tried to put his mother’s ultimatum and her reactions—as well as his own feelings about the interaction—out of his head.  He didn’t quite succeed, but at least he was able to become calmer about the situation.  His mother, too, seemed to revert to at least a simulacrum of normalcy for the rest of the afternoon, a simulacrum that gradually morphed more and more into the real thing over the next day or so.  She didn’t bring up the subject again, though for the rest of Saturday, at least, she didn’t seem to be trying to force herself to be cheerful.

Timothy, not able to forget for long, or to ignore the change those few minutes in the car had wrought, was pensive.  His situation had subtly but drastically altered.  Before, at an unconscious level at least, he had taken a species of comfort in the knowledge that, if things should become too much, if his rages became too frequent and more uncontrollable even than they already were, he had what his mother had called “an escape clause”.  If he found that his rage was too completely the center of his life, stealing all deep pleasure from every other aspect of it, he could escape into permanent oblivion, choosing some method that would create the least possible mess and fuss, and his problems would end.  It was not a happy notion—it never had been—but there were times when it was a profound comfort, and as he’d gotten into his teenage years, it had become more and more attractive.  There had previously been no moral impediments to the idea, at least.  He was not religious, though he knew there were religious people who considered suicide an unforgivable sin.  He did not fear being consigned to Hell for having ended his own life; surely any kind of benign and compassionate God would have recognized the meaning behind his action and would at least not have punished him permanently for trying his best to protect others from harm. Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 14

[Minor Warning:  The latter part of this section gets a little emotionally tense, at least to me]

Timothy discovered that he was a reasonably good meditation subject…he had at least a modicum of what Mr. Maclean referred to as “talent”.  He found it easy enough to sit still and not fidget, and to listen to the sound of his breathing—which he discovered he felt most sharply in his nasal passages, just beneath and behind his eyes, something he’d never noticed before.

As the silence began, broken by Mr. Maclean’s guidance, Timothy noticed now the faint ticking of the clock on the wall, something he hadn’t even heard before.  He tried to ignore it and focus on the breath in his nose, and then he followed Mr. Maclean’s instructions in paying attention to the feeling of gravity holding his body in the chair, the pressure on his back, his legs, and so on.  This led him to notice that Mr. Maclean had neglected to mention his butt, and the thought both amused him and made him frustrated, because he was supposed to be focusing on the feeling, not on the awkward omission of a potentially embarrassing part of the body.  He turned his mind back to the breath in his nose, only peripherally even aware of the pressure of the chair.  He felt a strange, almost floaty feeling in his thoughts as he centered them on his breathing, as though the space inside his mind was far larger than the space outside, and that somehow the breath in his nose was a portal into that space.  He noticed that there were colors swirling behind his eyes in the blackness…just faint smears and clouds of it, shifting everywhere, but present. Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 13

The weather on Saturday morning was cool and overcast.  This suited Timothy just fine, since he wanted to guard against getting his hopes too high, and a bright, sunny, unseasonably warm day might have been hard to resist as a harbinger of blessings.  His mother seemed to share his guarded spirits as she drove them downtown in her twelve-year-old Corolla.  Gone was the amused attitude from Thursday evening.  Her mouth was set in a near-grimace, and her eyes were as intent as any hunter’s might have been who was searching for game to feed his family.  Timothy found himself more comfortable with this aspect of her, that seemed ready for anything at all, than with her lightheartedness after her conversation with Dr. Putnam.  He felt guilty about feeling that way, but he thought it was more painful to lose one’s hopes than never to have them in the first place, and so he was forced to want her not to be any more optimistic than he was.

They found a street-parking spot not too far from the address his mother had jotted down; it was an unmetered space on a semi-major road off one of the bigger thoroughfares of the heart of the city.  Though tall office buildings loomed not far away, this was a more reserved commercial zone, with various shop-front style businesses, some of which did apparent retail selling, but the majority of which seemed to offer services of one kind or another.  Most seemed not to be open on Saturday mornings, which Timothy thought was a strange business choice, since surely there were more customers available at that hour than at nearly any other time in the week.  Still, what did he know? Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 12

Over the course of Thursday evening, and into Friday evening, Timothy spent at least a bit of his time online, trying to see what he could do to eke out his understanding and knowledge about Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, and Taoism—this last he had trouble spelling, but Google was quite helpful with such things, so he was able to correct his misunderstanding quickly.  He wondered with somewhat disgusted confusion why people had ever spelled Taoism with a “T” when they pronounced it with a “D”.  It wasn’t an English word originally, after all—it was a transliteration from what must have been a Chinese character or characters.  They could have just used a spelling that reproduced the original sound in English in as straightforward a way as possible.  Were they trying to be cryptic, or to sound impressive, or to convey the fact that it was a foreign word by not simply writing the name of the original book as “Dow Day Ching”?  All the reasons he could imagine left him feeling minor contempt.

At least the spelling of Hinduism, Buddhism, and atheism made a bit more sense. Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 11

Timothy didn’t tell his mother about what had happened, but he was all the more eager to hear word from Dr. Putnam about this mindfulness meditation person, hoping as fervently as he could allow

himself to hope that he or she would be available, affordable, and useful.  The very kindness of the police officer—and of the boy he had pulled out of traffic—was harder on Timothy’s conscience than would have been the most unfair abuse from the most hardened and cynical of lawmen.  He hardly felt that he merited the kindness; it felt to him like just one more debt that he owed to the universe.

He did not speak again to the boy he’d pulled out of the way of the errant car.  He never even learned his name.  In fact, for the next several weeks, he pointedly took a different route both to and from school and waited five extra minutes before leaving in the afternoon, just to avoid any possible encounters, any shows of gratitude, or—God help him—any wish that might be expressed by the boy to become his friend.  He felt a bit guilty about this, since he was quite sure that the boy would want to convey positive thoughts and feelings and would probably feel bad that he wasn’t able to give a formal thank-you to Timothy, but if he knew how self-hateful Timothy would feel in receiving such a thing, the boy would probably have been willing to let it go.  This avoidance might have hurt the boy’s feelings in some minor way, but that was just another bit of—relatively minor—damage that Timothy chalked up to himself.

Word from Dr. Putnam came late that Thursday evening, almost at a time that was unreasonable to call.  Timothy’s mother—home and already having finished dinner and, with Timothy’s help, having cleaned up—answered the landline in their apartment, saying the doctor’s name in greeting when she recognized who it was. Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 10

His mother did, in fact, want to hear how the appointment had gone.  Timothy guessed, based on her body language and tone of voice as she asked, that she’d been somewhat worried that Dr. Putnam would disparage her unilateral ban on psychopharmacology.  When Timothy told her that the doctor had been entirely on her side with respect to that issue, she seemed so relieved that Timothy felt the time was ripe for him to share the notion of meditation.  He couldn’t recall the foreign word Dr. Putnam had used, but the concept of “mindfulness” seemed, at first glance, rather straightforward.  His mother appeared not skeptical but rather more at a loss when Timothy told her, as best he could, what Dr. Putnam had shared with him about mindfulness meditation.  She had, of course—like Timothy—heard of the term “meditation” before, but she had, if anything, less real awareness of it than he had.  It was not that she had anything against it in particular.  She was not religious, and so had no spiritual objections to the notion, though she would later tell Timothy in passing that she’d had an aunt who proclaimed with all seriousness that meditation and yoga were practices designed to leave one open for literal demonic possession.  She quite frankly simply had no basis on which to evaluate the usefulness of the practice.  So, in the end, she shrugged and told Timothy that she’d wait and see what Dr. Putnam said if and when he called.

While waiting for that call to come, Timothy had an episode that produced his first—though not too severe—run-in with the police. Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 9

That day at school was difficult for Timothy.  He was troubled by the disquieting thought that there was something hidden behind the façade of reality that seemed to be laid before him.  The real world felt hazy, thin, and grainy, like an old, faded photograph, such as he’d seen in a collection of stuff from his grandmother’s house after she’d died.  The real world, if that was a proper name for it, seemed stitched together from cobwebs, and if he simply reached his hand out and brushed it aside, the truth of reality would be revealed—a reality of moiling monstrosities that lurked in bedrooms to crouch atop sleepers at night…and a swarm of things far worse even than these.

Needless to say, he would never seriously consider moving those cobwebs aside.  Not really.  Not seriously.  If anything, there was just a tiny little morbid curiosity, a trace of self-destructive fancy, like the temptation to stick a knife into an active toaster to see if it really was as dangerous as people said.

It was just a weird figment of his imagination, anyway.  But if it was real, he still would never have tried to move it.

Would he?

Of course not…

Such bizarre thoughts were interrupted—and thankfully banished—by a sense of significant guilt and distress when Timothy saw the girl he had so berated a few days ago.  She too looked mildly stressed, as though perhaps she was still having trouble coping with the changing fortunes of her favorite music group.  Timothy realized that this probably wasn’t really the cause of any angst that she felt.  There were countless possible sources of disquiet for a teenage girl, some of which were probably similar to things that bothered Timothy himself, and others of which he probably would have never guessed.  It didn’t really matter.  The sight of her brought up memories of that event, only a few days before, but which felt like things that had happened to another person.  Timothy was horrified, not so much by what he had said then, but by what he had felt.  His words, the terrible things he’d said to the girl, had been the truth of his heart at that moment.

He didn’t recognize that heart now.

“Hey,” he said quietly to the girl as she sat down, her head bent slightly forward.

She glanced at him, but she didn’t seem to recognize that he was addressing her.

He couldn’t remember her name, which was shameful enough for him, since he saw her every school day and she sat diagonally next to him in class.  He was forced simply to repeat, “Hey.”

She looked up, seeming to recognize now that he was trying to get her attention.  She didn’t say anything, but she looked suspicious.  He could hardly blame her.

Timothy was much more embarrassed by this situation than he would have been about asking his mother if he could crawl into bed with her last night, but he was much more motivated to fight his embarrassment here.  He said, “Look, uh…I’m sorry about what I said the other day.”

The girl lifted an eyebrow, gazing at him warily.  “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean, what I said about…about what you said,” Timothy replied, knowing he was being vague, hoping that the fact of their limited interactions made it clear to what he must be referring.  “I mean…I mean, you were just…just talking to your friends and everything, and I was…well, I was really a dick.  I’m sorry about that.”

The girl looked at him with frank surprise, but the suspicion at least began to fade from her expression.

When she didn’t say anything, the awkwardness forced Timothy to speak a bit more, and he said, “I just…I mean, I want you to know that it…it wasn’t about you.  You know?  I mean, I know, it’s obvious it wasn’t about you.  How could it be, right?  But…anyway, I was really…I wasn’t feeling right that day, and…and that’s not an excuse or anything, I know, but…but anyways, I was a real asshole, and I wanted you to know I know that, and I’m sorry.”

The girl tilted her head, and her expression was difficult for Timothy to read.  Her face softened visibly, and there might have been the slightest hint of a smile there.  Maybe.

In some alternate future of that moment, it might have happened that the girl finally did smile and said that she didn’t mind, that it hadn’t bothered her all that much—though it had bothered her.  But she would say that it meant a lot to her that Timothy had made it a point to apologize.  Then, a bit jokily, she would reach her hand out to shake and declare that there were no hard feelings, and she would formally introduce herself.

And in some versions of that future, she and Timothy would first become friends—would start talking to each other in class on a regular basis, and eventually would decide to go out together, and would become a couple.  And in some versions of that future, they would stay together after high school, and would eventually get married, and have children, and live a long, mainly happy life together, occasionally reminiscing with amusement about their inauspicious first interaction.

In the world Timothy experienced, though, at that moment, when the girl opened her mouth to reply, she was interrupted by a sudden, minor crash from the front of the room.  Another student, who had just been walking into the room, had bumped into and knocked over a globe near the doorway, and the globe came loose from its base, rolling across the front of the class like a badly kicked ball.  Minor chaos, with laughter and confusion, followed, and the unlucky student was still trying to fix the globe when the teacher returned to the classroom, only a minute or so before the start of that lesson.  With good humor, the teacher reassured the student that it was fine, that there was time to fix the globe later, and the student went to his seat, embarrassed but smiling at himself, his friends ribbing him good-naturedly.

Timothy never expected to share another significant interaction with the girl in his class.  He expected never to know just how well they might have gotten along if they had just by chance come to know each other better.  Unfortunately, given the dark nature of what had led to their first shared words, he thought it was simply not acceptable to the universe for good to come of it.


Timothy was called in to see Dr. Putnam early the next week, since his mother reported to the doctor that she was not going to let him take any more antidepressants or anything like them.  That weekend, Timothy made it a point to go out and scrub the back wall of the building, to get as much of the burn markings off as he could.  The wasp nest had further disintegrated even in the few intervening days, and the surviving wasp was nowhere to be seen.  Timothy found himself hoping—weirdly enough, he had to admit—that it had found or would find another mate, or whatever, and built a new nest somewhere, and that it would have whatever passed for a successful life among wasps.  He knocked the remains of the burnt nest off the wall with a rake handle, scooping it into the garbage can with a dustpan, unwilling to look too closely at it.

The burn mark did not come off completely, but it was noticeably improved.  Weather and time would gradually wear it down, but as long as the building stood, there would be a faint residuum of the fire that Timothy had lit in the charcoal starter fluid along it.

His appointment with Dr. Putnam on Tuesday, which took him out of class again, was a long one.  At his age, it didn’t occur to him that the doctor was spending more time with him than he must spend with other patients, and that he often saw him in his proper office rather than an exam room, but he would think about it later.  Dr. Putnam asked him to tell him more about what had led his mother to flush his meds away and to declare categorically that no further such trials would be attempted.  Timothy, who had come to believe that his mother’s wisdom in this was unassailable, told Dr. Putnam about things his mother could not have known, including his interaction with the girl in school, and the thoughts that went through his head when he decided to burn the wasp’s nest.  He also told him about the general character of his mind on those few days, how dark but calm, how sinister—how evil, from his own point of view—it had been.  Dr. Putnam received this information with clear surprise and plain curiosity, as well as undisguised alarm.

When he asked if there had been anything else, Timothy hesitated.  It was stranger, more difficult, more worrisome to tell of what had happened the other night.  He didn’t honestly know whether it had anything to do with the medication—as far as he could tell, it had been completely real, not a state of mind.  But he felt that Dr. Putnam would want to know about it.

So, with hesitancy, with embarrassment, and with real, recollected fear, he did his best to describe what had happened when he had awakened to find the unearthly monstrosity lying atop him, and how he had felt afterwards.

Dr. Putnam watched him intently, not interrupting, allowing Timothy to tell the tale himself in his own words and his own time.  Timothy was good at such things, despite being a boy with few close friends.  Perhaps because his interactions had tended usually to be more with adults than with others his age, he was surprisingly more articulate than most of his peers, at least about matters such as this.  Though, to be honest with himself, his ability to convey that night’s experiences, thorough though he was, could never truly explain the profound terror he’d experienced, the fear that had undermined his very sense that he knew anything at all about what reality was.

When he finally came to an end, Dr. Putnam eyed him closely for a moment, then said, “Interesting.”

Something about the tone of that word surprised Timothy.  He would have expected the man to say something more along the lines of, “What the hell are you talking about?  Are you crazy?”  Though, to be fair, Dr. Putnam would probably have been more diplomatic, but the doctor’s lack of deep surprise was startling to Timothy.

“What’s interesting?” he asked, though he had to admit it was a silly question on its face.

“Well,” Dr. Putnam said, “it sounds to me like you experienced an episode of what’s called sleep paralysis.”

“Huh?” Timothy said, quite unable to articulate anything more intelligent.

“Well, it’s a phenomenon that happens to a surprising number of people, if only once or twice in their lives.  It’s…well, let me start at the beginning a little.  When we sleep, and particularly when we dream, our brains set up a kind of…interference, or interruption, in the signals that normally go from our brains to our bodies.  This seems to be a protection, so we don’t act out what we’re experiencing in our dreams.”

“Oh, okay,” Timothy said.  “I…guess that makes sense.”

“And you’ve probably heard of sleepwalkers, haven’t you?” Dr. Putnam asked.

Not sure where the man was going, but trusting his guidance, Timothy said, “Yeah, sure.  I mean…in cartoons and stuff, mainly.”

Dr. Putnam gave a tiny laugh, saying, “Well, yes.  It is something that’s played for comedy at times.  But it’s real.  It happens when there’s a kind of…slip-up in that movement-blocking system, and people move and behave as their dreaming minds lead them to.  There have even been…well, anyway, people do things they would never do in their regular waking lives, though usually it’s a more or less benign process.  The biggest risk is mostly that someone will injure themselves by tripping or falling, or falling downstairs, when sleep walking.  The official name is ‘somnambulism,’ which more or less literally means ‘sleep-walking,’ but we doctors can charge more for talking about it if we use Latin words.”

Timothy laughed, appreciating Dr. Putnam’s self-deprecating humor.  In his turn, Dr. Putnam smiled, and Timothy suspected that many of his adult patients wouldn’t be as quick to appreciate such jokes as he was.  Then he berated himself internally, if not all that harshly, for getting too full of himself.  If he was so clever, why was he the only one in his high school who had to see a doctor because he couldn’t control his rage?

Dr. Putnam went on, “Well, in any case, just as sometimes the sleep movement shutdown system can malfunction so as to let people move about while sleeping, sometimes it fails in what you could call the opposite way.  People become conscious—or semi-conscious—but their bodies are still in a state of paralysis, with their movement inhibited, even though they are becoming aware.  But generally, they aren’t fully conscious when this happens.  They’re still in a near-dream state.  After all, the reason their bodies are unable to move is because that system is there for dreaming.  But when they return to near-consciousness, and are unable to move, the brain, which is still more or less in dreaming mode, seems to…create or invent reasons for that lack of movement.  Often this involves the presence of something or someone sitting or lying upon the sleeper’s body.”

Timothy’s mouth dropped open as he recognized some of what Dr. Putnam was saying.  The doctor continued, “These images are often terrifying, because the…the victim of course finds the inability to move frightening and assigns its cause to some malevolent force.  It’s thought that, in ancient times, this is the source of many myths such as the succubus and incubus, and other nocturnal demons and spirits.  Some people used to see witches and so on.  In the modern era, it’s thought that many experiences of so-called ‘alien abductions’ are attributable to sleep paralysis.  I’ve even heard one neuroscientist describe her own experience of waking to find herself beset by a Cylon centurion from the old Battlestar Galactica program.”

Dr. Putnam smirked, but Timothy did not really know the reference.  He was too overwhelmed, in any case, by what Dr. Putnam was saying, for it described his own nocturnal experience so well, but in such normal, ordinary, real terms.  It was both reassuring and frightening in its own right.

Apparently recognizing Timothy’s disturbance, Dr. Putnam stopped smiling and said, “Anyway, one thing that seems almost universal is that these experiences are terrifying, and that they seem extraordinarily convincing.  The fear they engender can last for hours even after the victim wakes up…even when they recognize what’s happened for what it is.  For some people, even when they are told that there is a very clear, and reasonably well-understood, explanation for their experiences, they feel that what happened was real.  As witness, the many people who really continue to believe that they’ve been abducted by aliens.”

A pause followed, while Timothy struggled to absorb the doctor’s explanation.  Finally, he asked, “So you…you think that’s what happened to me?”

Dr. Putnam shrugged, but the gesture somehow conveyed certainty rather than indecision.  Timothy wondered how he pulled that off, even as he listened to the man say, “I’m pretty darn sure.  I could practically write your…experience up as a textbook description of the phenomenon, based on what you told me.

“Also, interestingly, I’m pretty sure that I’ve read case reports of people who’ve come off SSRIs—that’s the kind of medication that Paxil is, by the way.  The case reports might actually have been about people coming off Paxil, come to think of it.  Anyway, I’ve read of people who’ve abruptly come off this class of anti-depressants—which is not the recommended way to stop them for people who’ve been taking them for a long time—who’ve experienced sleep paralysis, among other symptoms.

“What’s odd in your case, though, is that you were taking the medications for, what, three days?  And at the very lowest dose.  To be honest, most adults wouldn’t have even noticed that they’d taken any medication at all one way or the other on the dose we started you on.  But it looks like I was right to be extremely cautious in your case.”

“Yeah,” Timothy said, certainly pleased about that caution in retrospect.  He couldn’t even imagine how he might have reacted when taking a larger dose, what sort of atrocity he might have committed.  And even more terrifying, if coming off three days’ worth of a tiny dose had made him see and feel what he’d seen and felt the other night…well, Jesus, he couldn’t even imagine what he might have felt suddenly stopping a larger dose.

Probably he would have simply gone insane with fear.  God knew, he’d felt close enough to that as it was.

“Of course,” Dr. Putnam went on, “this just convinces me even more that the source of your bouts of uncontrollable anger is something very much innate, something biological.  Anyone who’s had any real interaction with you for more than a few minutes, on anything but a superficial level, would know that it’s nothing about character.  I’ve known seventy-year-olds with less emotional maturity than you.  Though, to be fair to them, I don’t tend to see people at their best.”

Dr. Putnam smiled as he tried to rescue the reputations of what Timothy felt sure were real people of whom the doctor was thinking when he made these comments.  Timothy, however, found the statements oddly disquieting.  If he really was more mature even than people who had lived for seven decades, and if such people were common, then what did that say about the human race?  No wonder the world was such a mess, if Timothy, at his age, with his problems, was above average in maturity level.

Dr. Putnam sighed and said, “Unfortunately, as your mother has clearly recognized, this…this fact, this very powerful aspect to whatever triggers your bursts of anger, makes it extremely tricky to know how best to manage it.  If even that tiny dose of Paxil can make you become almost…sociopathic in your thoughts and actions, then I’m not sure how safe it is to try anything else, and I think your mother would make a categorical statement about that possibility.  And, unfortunately, I think she’s right.  No matter how much research has gone into making them, and how much data we ought to have about them given the huge number of people who take them, antidepressants, as well as the other psychotropics, are fantastically blunt instruments, and we’re dealing with the most complicated thing in the known universe.”

Timothy was trying to keep up with Dr. Putnam, who very much seemed to be speaking to himself out loud at the moment, but he thought he might have lost track somewhere.  He asked, “What is?”

“Sorry?” Dr. Putnam asked, reinforcing Timothy’s impression that the man had been merely speaking his thoughts as they arrived.

“What’s the most…complicated thing in the universe?” Timothy asked.

“Oh!” Dr. Putnam said, seeming almost embarrassed.  “Sorry.  I meant the human brain.  Or the human mind, if you prefer.  Of all the things we know about in the universe, it’s by far the most complicated thing, and we are a looong way from understanding it fully.  And we hardly put any effort into trying to understand it, at least relative to its importance.  Which is impressive and everything and gives us a nice excuse to pat ourselves on the back for how smart and how complicated we must be, but…it means that when we have troubles like yours, we have a really hard time finding the best way to deal with them.”

“Oh,” Timothy said.  He now understood what the doctor had been getting at, but it didn’t make him feel better, as understanding something usually did.  All it made him feel was that he had an issue that was so difficult—because of that fancy, complicated nature of the human brain, apparently—that there was no obvious way to fix it.  Except, of course, the option that he’d long ago decided to give himself if it looked impossible for him to avoid hurting other people.

Dr. Putnam appeared to recognize Timothy’s threatening despair, for he leaned forward and gave a bracing smile, saying, “Don’t get too discouraged.  I meant what I said about how sharp and how together you are, and that’s going to make a big difference here.  I think you’re capable of handling problems that other people might not be able to deal with.

“Just because we can’t use antidepressants to help your problem doesn’t mean we’re out of tricks.  Maybe we were trying to use artillery on a problem when we should have been thinking of using a scalpel.”

Timothy, far from completely reassured, was at least distracted by the fact that he didn’t follow Dr. Putnam’s metaphor.  “Huh?” he said, recognizing that he probably sounded stupid, but not really caring.

Dr. Putnam chuckled.  “Sorry,” he said.  “I just mean that, maybe we need to try something more subtle.  I’ve been thinking for a long time about this in your case, but I thought we’d try some more…well, conventional approaches first.  Still, there’s a growing body of data on some other things, and I thought maybe it would be worth giving something less traditional—or, well, in some ways more traditional—a try.”

Timothy thought the doctor was beating around the bush a little too much, possibly because of a personal sense of insecurity with something.  It was a little irritating, but he could handle it.  “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well…have you ever heard of mindfulness meditation?” Dr. Putnam asked.

Timothy didn’t have to search his thoughts very hard before replying, “Well, I’ve heard of meditation…or read about it, or whatever.  But I don’t really know anything about it, other than that it’s people sitting around really still and like…humming or chanting or something.”

“Well,” Dr. Putnam said, “that’s not far from right.  Well, actually, to be fair to you, that does actually describe some types of meditation.  But mindfulness meditation is something rather specific.  I’m not an expert in it, and I wouldn’t presume to try to give you any real detail about the practice, but it’s really about training your mind to simply experience whatever you’re experiencing, to focus on it without expectation, without reacting to it emotionally.”

Timothy didn’t think this sounded any too fancy, despite the talk of the complexities of the mind.  Still, if it were possible, and if it was useful, then it might be worth a try.  “Okay,” he said.  “I guess that sounds good, and everything.  If it works.  I mean, it’s not just…like superstition or something, right?”

“No, no,” Dr. Putnam said.  “Not at all.  I suppose there are some people who think superstitious things about it, like the Transcendental Meditation people who thought they could influence world events or whatever just by meditating about them, but mindfulness meditation’s ability to produce changes in the actual, physical structure of the human brain—good changes, by the way—has begun to be demonstrated in some studies that I’ve seen, and more and more of these are coming along all the time.  No, its benefits seem to be very real.”

Timothy nodded, still quite unclear about any specifics.  After a moment, he asked a question he thought might be rude, but which he couldn’t resist.  “Have you tried it?” he said.

Dr. Putnam gave a smile that looked a bit like a wince, hunching his shoulders, and he replied, “I’ve…thought about it.  It sounds very intriguing.  But I’ve never taken the plunge.  However, if you’re willing to give it a try, and depending on what you find…well, I think I may give it a go as well.”

“Oh,” Timothy said.  He wasn’t sure how he felt about that answer.  It seemed to him that he was some kind of experimental subject here, being used to test out some process for the doctor’s own personal curiosity.  However, he also didn’t think Dr. Putnam would have recommended such a thing if he didn’t think it would help, even if it was also a matter of personal curiosity.  And Timothy supposed that being able to kill those two birds with one stone—helping himself and being helpful to Dr. Putnam at the same time—might be a pretty nice thing to do.  Who knew, maybe he could do something that would really make a difference to Dr. Putnam in some meaningful way, and it would change his own life as well.

Then, abruptly, a more adult sort of thought—unpleasantly more practical and mercenary—intruded, and he asked, “Is…is that sort of thing gonna be covered by my mom’s insurance?”

“Ah,” Dr. Putnam said, clearly impressed by Timothy’s recognition of this concern, though at least he didn’t seem put off by it.  “No, it’s not,” he said.

Timothy, rapidly feeling discouraged and recalcitrant, was stopped from making some nonspecific, hesitant comment by Dr. Putnam’s upraised palm, and the man said, “However, this is a big city.  Which has its disadvantages but also its advantages.  And I know of a vipassana center—‘vipassana’ is the original word for mindfulness meditation, in…Hindi or some other far eastern language, I’m not sure which one—that’s recently been opened by a friend of a friend of mine.  And, however spiritual and transcendental this person might be, he’s also, I think, shrewd enough to know that if he treats you—my patient—well and does you some good, that you won’t be the last person I’ll be sending his way.  And recommendations from a local doctor who has a pretty good reputation, if you don’t mind me saying so, it definitely not going to hurt his business.”

Timothy sort of got Dr. Putnam’s point, or he thought he did, but he wanted to be sure, so he asked, “Does that mean he’d, like…teach me for free?”

“Well…maybe not free,” Dr. Putnam said.  “He has to be at least somewhat practical about short-term costs.  But I think he could probably be convinced to give you a very good rate.  It might end up not being much more expensive than the copay on a prescription would be.  And the other good thing about it would be that you wouldn’t need to keep going over and over.  Once you’ve really learned how to do it—or so I understand, though I I’m not much more expert than you are—you don’t need anyone else to be around to do it.  It’s a bit like going to a class to learn how to do some kind of exercise properly, but once you’ve learned it, you could just do it yourself.”

“Oh,” Timothy said.  “Sort of like learning to play music or something, huh?”  This comment stemmed from a regret he held hidden deep inside him that he’d never learned how to play an instrument of any kind, and was unlikely to learn in the future, since his school had no band or orchestra program, and private lessons were expensive.  They were also nothing that would have occurred to his mother to seek out, she never having had a musical education nor any particular fondness for any version of the art form.

Dr. Putnam seemed surprised by the comparison, but the set of his face told Timothy that he took it seriously, though it seemed never to have occurred to him before.  “Well…maybe so,” he said.  “I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you may be exactly right.  Your mother certainly hasn’t raised any stupid kids, has she?”

Timothy, far from comfortable with what seemed to him an unmerited compliment, said, “I don’t know about that.”

Dr. Putnam’s face became more serious, and he said, “I do.  I know it very well.  Trust me, I’ve known a lot of bright people in my life.  I mean, I did go to a good undergraduate university, and then to medical school, internship, and residency.  I wouldn’t think any of those people would have IQs below a hundred—though there were some who couldn’t have been much above that, God knows—but you would easily fit in amongst some of the best of them.”

Rather distracted by this unexpected level of compliment, and feeling surprisingly gratified and hopeful about it, Timothy said, “Really?  You think so?”

“Absolutely,” Dr. Putnam replied.  “I’m not a fan of blowing smoke up people’s…rear ends.  Which, by the way, was once thought to a life-saving technique against drowning, apparently, and that’s where the saying comes from.”

Not distracted by this peculiar tidbit of information, Timothy asked, “So, you think I might be able to go to medical school, even?  That I might be able to be a doctor?”

Dr. Putnam looked surprised, almost completely thrown off his train of thought, but he recovered quickly and said, “Well…I don’t see why not.  If that’s the sort of thing you decide you want to do.”

Timothy honestly told him, “I’ve never really thought about what I want I do.  Mostly I’ve thought about what I don’t want to do.”

“What’s that?” Dr. Putnam asked.

“I don’t want to hurt people.  I don’t want to make my mom’s life harder than it is.  I don’t want to make her feel bad or sad.”

“Ah,” Dr. Putnam said, apparently thinking he should have known all that without asking.  “Well, that’s all very good, and I couldn’t disagree with you that those things are important.  But you also deserve to think about what you want to do with your life for your own sake, not just what you don’t want to do for other people’s sakes.”

“Maybe,” Timothy said.  “But you’ve gotta keep from starving before you start worrying about…about buying fancy clothes or…or getting a tattoo or something, I don’t know.”

Dr. Putnam grimaced, and he said, “Well…I guess that’s true, though I don’t like the notion that someone as young as you has to be troubled by it.  Which, I guess, means that we really do have to try and get this process going.  So, with that in mind…I’m going to call that friend and then that friend of a friend this evening, and I’m going to talk about my proposal.  And if that goes well, I’ll be getting in touch with your mother and seeing what she thinks about it.”

“Okay,” Timothy said.  Then, as the notion occurred to him, he asked, “Do you want me to hold off before talking to my mom about it?”

This thought seemed to surprise Dr. Putnam as much as it did Timothy, but he quickly replied, “No, no, there’s no need for that.  I mean, you can if you want to, but don’t feel like you need to.  I imagine she’ll want to know how the appointment went, particularly considering recent events.”

“Yeah,” Timothy said.  “I guess you’re right about that.”