Published: January 2020 in Conceit Magazine
Tall, lanky Fred sprinted into his spiritual sanctuary and slammed the flimsy wooden door shut. It had been another terrible, stress-filled day at work. I hate my boss, Fred thought. When will he realize that when it comes to complex software there’s no magic wand that fixes every problem with a single wave.
Fred felt his tension melting away the second he entered the tiny chamber. The small room was like an oasis: painted powder blue, sparsely furnished, smelling strongly of spicy Nag Champa incense. After lighting the sandalwood candle placed atop his immaculate altar, he settled full lotus onto his Zafu Crescent cushion. Fred loved extreme sports; so, sitting legs crossed with his back perfectly straight (for hours) was as easy as spending his paycheck. He pushed his golden hairs off his handsome face, then closed his denim blue eyes with relief.
He sat silently. Outside he heard a pigeon coo and an occasional honk from the rush hour traffic on the busy city street below. No sweat; he had learned to make these urban sounds part of his practice. When Fred was exhausted (as he was today) he usually worried: will my monkey mind ever cease its relentless chatter? Like all other days his frantic thoughts eventually dissipated, and, in his mind’s eye, Fred saw his body filling with a soft, diffuse light.
A feeling of buoyancy came over him as shards of his internal darkness were chewed away by this wonderful luminosity. ‘Wonderland,’ here I come, was his final thought before his breath ceased and vivid reds, blues, and purples started swirling around his forehead.
Time passed, ecstatic tranquil rivers of light now poured through what was left of his athletic physique. Fred was pretty much gone with no physical consciousness. Deep in meditation, he had become his own peaceful refuge, his best drug; the shadow-filled clouds had parted, revealing his inner sun.
Then, this beautiful experience ended; an awful pounding sound yanked him back. His awareness travelled down a golden shaft of light and returned to his anguished body. Welcome back to Hell, he thought, flinging his eyes wide open.
What the— Holy crap! Vanessa, his psycho punk-loving upstairs neighbor was home? Large Mohawk, black leather, tons of makeup, facial piercings; these are a few descriptions that best summed up that idiot Vanessa. Usually they worked opposite shifts, so he didn’t have to listen to all that vehement music she loved. At this very moment she had her punk rock, full of hatred and curses, pumped up to full volume! In this building the walls were cobweb thin; his entire spiritual sanctuary was now throbbing. Rage oozed through the walls.
How many times did I beg that witch not to blast her music before she finally agreed? Fred thought. And now we’re back to page one. To hell with Buddhist compassion and not harming others. I’ll worry about peace once I’ve won the war.
Livid, Fred leapt to his feet and tore out of his two-bedroom apartment. He raced down the narrow hall, then ran up the staircase two steps at a time. Locked-up memories flooded his mind; he saw his enraged father, sitting in a La-Z-Boy recliner, blasting violent television programs right under his room. How many times had he asked his callous father to stop? No one gives a gorilla’s ass about my needs, Fred thought.
Fred reached Vanessa’s door and banged. “Vanessa, it’s Fred!” he yelled. “Open up!” The hollow door creaked open. I bet she’s drunk again and forgot to close it, Fred thought as he trooped down the punk poster covered hall, trying hard not to smell the stale air, the cigarettes, the booze.
“Vanessa!” Fred yelled as he entered the living room.
Vanessa stood perfectly still, facing her booming stereo speakers. She whipped around to face Fred. She was covered in the glossy black leather she loved, from head to toe, her slender white arms were wrapped tight around her studded jacket. Her otherworldly frail face was pale as a vampire; it seemed she hadn’t slept for days.
“Too much partying, Vanessa?” Fred yelled, his voice barely audible above the pounding sound.
“One sec…” Vanessa yelped, bending over to lower the volume. She straightened her back and winced.
“I thought we had come to an understanding,” Fred insisted.
“Well spit it out, you… you stupid…” Fred screamed. Hadn’t he turned to meditation to avoid becoming like his emotionally unstable father? Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my father after all, Fred thought, painfully.
Fragile Vanessa morphed into a lioness with her sharp claws bared. “No one talks to me like that!” she roared. “Who do you think you are? My old man?”
Fred clenched his fists so tight his knuckles turned white. Am I possessed? he thought. A bad day at work, a little crummy music and years of advanced spiritual practice go down the drain. The headlines flashed before his eyes: Buddhist software developer pummels rocker neighbor into a bloody pulp over music dispute.
“Fred—” Vanessa gasped, her eyelids fluttered. She fell limp into his strong arms. Her studded jacket cracked open, revealing a blood-stained T-shirt.
“Jeez Vanessa!” Fred cried. “What happened?”
“Some derelict jumped me and dragged me into the side alley. Must have been some drug addict; he took my purse, my phone. That creep stabbed me.”
“I’m so sorry!” Fred exclaimed, tears tricking down his shocked face.
“You were always so nice to me. Remember how you helped me move into my apartment. You said if I ever needed anything… I knocked hard, there was no answer. I figured you were meditating, so, I blasted the music. I’ve got no one; I prayed you’d come.”
Tech savvy Fred whipped his cell phone from his pocket. “Don’t worry Vanessa, I’m calling 911. They’ll send an ambulance right over; we’ll get you the help you need. He looked into Vanessa’s attractive emerald eyes and saw her for the first time. Who would have thought such a hell-cat could be so beautiful? he thought.
As the paramedics wheeled her away in the stretcher, Fred realized that like Vanessa, many others were having far worse days than him. Like a captain abandoning his ship before his crew is safe, he had let his spiritual practice capsize with a few waves of troubling emotions. Now, it was back to basics. Once again, he would take refuge in the peaceful nature of his being: his inner sun. In that calm, still harbor he would always find the strength to love, be grateful, and full of hope… especially when life got tough.