It started only the other night when reading Thích Nhất Hạnh in bed. Other than being something ludicrously pompous to tell people, Zen meditation and reflection has had a powerfully soothing effect in my life. Dabbling in a little Eastern mysticism, for me at least, led to more reading, and by all accounts the novice can’t go wrong with some late night Hạnh. At the beginning I must confess that it all read a little wishy-washy with all the ‘breathe in and breathe out’ stuff, along with the constant refrain of pulling ourselves back to the present moment, wherever that is. Over time, and with the ongoing sitting and walking meditation, the words on the page and what was happening in my practice connected. I won’t say they made sense. Sense would be the wrong word. It resonated.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, in one reflection, invites his readers to listen to the child within. The infant not far beneath the surface in us all who kicks off the odd tantrum, feels envious and insecure, and whose sobbing not infrequently breaks into our present grownup lives. Again, maybe a touch airy-fairy, but it must have been three in the morning. I had no better plans.
Five minutes later I had had enough. My inner child turned out to be Chucky the horror movie doll. I wandered off and nodded off, waking up hugging the paperback and being licked by the dog. Something strange happened the next day while out for a stroll in the Phoenix Park, and I can only assume it was a subconsciously instigated daydream; a by-product of the previous night’s dalliance with the Zen master. I found myself walking through the trees beside the childhood me. He, or rather the younger me, was holding the leash and being pulled along by the dog who was on the trail of some deer no doubt. Wee Jason, who didn’t look more than five, was telling me all his stories. They were all crap of course, but fascinating crap because he was fascinating.
Without the least embarrassment or self-consciousness he told about wetting his bed, and how every time it happened he dreamt he had gotten up and gone to the loo only to discover too late that he was widdling the bed. He was convinced that this was proof that he was actually two people at the same time – one who got up and went for a streamie and another who stayed behind and wet the bed. “You cannae hide sheets from yer ma,” he told me. “They’re too big.” He reminded me that he had even soaked Dunkey one night and knew well what he was playing at when he cried the house down all night until his faither went out and rescued him from the bin so his ma could throw him in the washing machine.
He was a crafty wee man was me back then.
After a while I decided to tell him who I was. Without missing a step in his Wellington boots or looking round, he said only “Ah ken that.” This was an unexpected response that forced me to look back hard to see if I could ever remember meeting an older me. I couldn’t. As we broke through the trees into an opening he let me know he was a bit disappointed to end up becoming me. All I could do was reassure him that this wasn’t the end up. There’s still wee plans and big wans. I’m still dreaming about who I’m going to end up becoming. When he spoke again it was to reassure me. He reminded me that I, as who I am or who I am right now, wasn’t the problem. The problem, he told me, was that right now he wanted to grow up to be Superman. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the depths of trouble that that ambition was soon to land him in. He’d have to learn the hard way – the way I did.
“Right,” he says, “Ah have tae get haim for ma dinner.” Then I had to think about getting a child back thirty odd years so he didn’t end up in more strife. Trust me, the younger me never needed to be in more trouble. He was a magnet for it. He handed me back the leash and set off running in the direction of the papal cross and slowly disappeared as his wellies sloshed through the puddles. Just for a moment, standing in the cold of January, I wanted to run to where he was going.