A friend told me about some proper ‘straight edge‘ punks he’d hung out with, who were really into exploring the capability of the human mind and body – or more specifically the concept of ‘mind over matter’. They’d been reading about men who’d been incarcerated in the most appalling conditions and subjected to all manner of inhuman torture and mistreatment. Proper Midnight Express shit.
But rather than suffer in their situation, rather than submit to the horror of it all, they’d affected a change on their own consciousness so profound that they learned to find pleasure in all of the pain, and therefore transformed their experience of life from hellish to heavenly. This is what they meant by becoming superhuman.
During one of our many long conversations about life, love, the universe and everything, my mum and I once got onto the subject of first loves.
My mum’s first love was a Frenchman. I can’t remember what she said his name was, so for the sake of convenience, let’s call him Jean-Luc. This great love came to an end one stormy night, when my mum boarded a ship back to England. Jean-Luc had begged her to stay with him in France, but her future awaited elsewhere.
While she stood on the deck of the boat, crying in the rain, lightning and thunder cacophonous in the midnight sky, she realised that a little part of her was enjoying this moment. A teeny, tiny part of her was loving the sheer drama of it all. Perhaps it made her feel alive.
On a rather less romantic note, this week I have been suffering from a nasty cold. Thank heavens I am not a man, for man-flu is (as we all know) much more severe and in some cases fatal. Nope, it was just a lady-cold, but rather unpleasant all the same.
Anyhow, I was driving to work one morning, wrapped up in layers and layers of fluffy jumpers and scarves, obligatory tissue tampon wedged in my red-raw nose (attractive), when it occurred to me that I might actually be enjoying being ill.
When I thought about this strange realisation some more, I realised it was because for once I wasn’t worrying about anything. I wasn’t projecting into the future or dwelling on the past or making lists, I just was. And I was being extra nice to myself.
Through the experience of illness I had achieved zen! Slap my thigh and call me the Buddha.
One of my favourite authors, Stephen Russell (AKA The Barefoot Doctor) wrote about Superhumanism in his most excellent Handbook for Urban Warriors. He prescribes a thought experiment which is brilliantly named the ‘I love having dogshit on my shoe meditation’. It goes a little something like this:
What follows is the ‘I love doggy-do on my shoe meditation’.
Beset by a self-pity attack of the ‘I hate this’ variety, as in ‘I hate this day, I hate this feeling of dejection, I hate this dog turd on my shoe, I hate feeling lonely and scared like this’, you admit that in your secret heart of hearts, beneath the layers of conditioning, you’re actually loving every phenomenon that pokes it’s head in your face because it’s happening in your life. You love the whole messy, smelly, dark, dingy, rank, mildewed, viral, rancid eeuugh about it because, beneath your surface layer of conditioned (Pavlovian) reflexes, as in…
‘I’m not supposed to like dogshit on my shoe – I’m not supposed to enjoy the smell’, you secretly find the shock of the slide , ‘oh shit’, the mild embarrassment, the fear of being ostracised, and the tartness of the smell, quite exhilarating.
This is what happens when you surrender to the Tao, by investing in the loss of that particular layer of conditioned reflexes (it makes you weird!). Obviously it doesn’t do to get carried away with this investment and go sliding around in dogshit all day, as this would offend others who might not be at such an advanced stage of practice as you.
So next time that dread thing happens to you, simply perform the ‘I love doggy-do’s on my shoes’ meditation, and you may shock yourself with the extent to which you can let go of prejudices and ultimately liberate yourself from the self-limiting realm of preferences.
To practice it now, simply go about your daily doings as usual. During the course of your day/night, you will see, hear, taste, touch and think about many phenomena you’d normally reject automatically. Instead, catch yourself each time, and say ‘I love this’, as in ‘I love this day, I love this feeling of dejection, I love this doggy-do on my shoe (in theory!), I love this noise of drilling outside my window, I love these car fumes, I love having to write this and not being able to go and play outside in the sunshine’.
At first, you just pretend but if you’re really mindful and honest you may, in time, notice how your heart can open to absolutely anything if you strip away that layer of conditioned reflexes which prevents your spontaneous enjoyment of everything in your life.
Of course, when you voluntarily enter a state of suspended judgement like this, you are still free to use your powers of discrimination, i.e. Avoid that slide for a smell free ride.