Offanonda Meditation: Learning flexibility in fits and starts

Absence does not make the heart grow fonder; it reveals the depth of your heart’s fondness. Lately I realized just how partial I’ve been to my PC, which for reasons no tech support person can yet divine has taken to launching into long reveries in the middle of my work. Out of the blue, the arrow becomes an hourglass paralyzing everything for an indefinite time—after which, without apologies for eating into my day and spirit, it resumes normal function.

Fits and starts, the computer working normally then all grayed out with “Not Responding” messages. Through its intermittence and the frustration it engenders, my failing computer reveals the depth of my fondness for basic practical functionality. I mean I REEAALLY wish it worked right.

The rituals of computer repair come in fits and starts too. Everything takes time. You install, uninstall, reboot, run utilities, wait your turn for tech support. If you really want to get the machine running ASAP, you’re tempted to sit there doggedly. You don’t want to miss your cue to do your part.

Meditators sit doggedly too, but they know for how long and have something very clear and specific to do with their time, so they’re happy. Fits and starts are harder to bear. You don’t know how long it’s going to be and whether it’s going to take so long you should go do something else. You don’t know whether to give up or try harder. Offanonda meditation is a challenging, humiliating, confusing, frustrating practice.

Fits and starts are always dispiriting. Walking in museums, malls, or crowded streets, you never get your stride, or you get it and then have to give it right up, get it, give it up. By the end of the day your feet are tired and your mind is dulled.

And an off-and-on romantic relationship is intensely dispiriting. You pour your heart into making it work, but then you’re dumped, or no, you rush back into each other’s, wait . . . no, forget it, it’s over, except, hold on. . . . It’s the transitions between states that kill spirits, not any of the states themselves.

This past week my computer was paralyzed about 30 percent of the time, draining my every motivation for work productivity into computer repair. I got enough offanonda meditation practice that I learned a few tricks.

The first trick was to set up something to do during the machine’s fits of solo processing so I didn’t have to count the minutes. Doggedness is out. I got faster at making the transition between trying and giving up. I made my fluidity the measure of my success. Minimize offanonda meditation. Don’t expect a working computer. Assume you are fixing it, not using it. Don’t sit there champing at the bit hoping you’ll be up again soon. Keep another project going and switch to it the instant the computer hangs. Give the computer the repair attention it needs—but when it doesn’t need you, don’t sit around waiting for it.

But I learned a better trick: when it gets too bad, seek stability elsewhere. I’d been a Mac user for 10 years but left the fold in the early ’90s when Apple seemed doomed. During my past 15 years of PC underperformance, I would complain to friends about my computer troubles. When they cheerfully said, “You know, you really should switch to Mac,” I resented it.

Didn’t they understand, I wasn’t looking for a whole new strategy? I was simply trying to discharge my frustration so I would be motivated to work on fixing my PC some more. How insensitive of them to demotivate me!

They were right, though. In my on-and-off relationship with PCs, I was too faithful, sure that someday my PCs would stop abandoning me. I’d start each weekend with undeserved optimism, thinking that with a full weekend of concerted effort we’d really work out our differences. I could make the machine stable.

Last Thursday during one of my PC’s tedious and unwarranted reveries, I suddenly switched. Robotically, I got up out of my chair, drove to the nearest Mac store, and bought a good solid desktop model. Life seems dramatically different already. I’m so partial to computers—so incomplete without them—that having this new reliable one is like finding a simple cure for 15 years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Why did I resist so long? I thought it would take months to move my work life from a PC to a Mac platform. That’s an old pattern for me; the logistics of a major shift sometimes make the prospect seem inconceivable. When my marriage became untenable for both of us, for instance, divorce was still out of the question. The reason was this: We had arrayed some thirty-five framed family photos on the wall along the main steps in our home. We hadn’t hung them with picture hooks but with sticky-back foam tape. If we divorced, we would have to move out of the house, which meant we would have to take down those pictures. That would tear up the wall. It was inconceivable to me that we would ever make such a drastic move.

I’m serious. That was the thought that stopped me from taking the possibility of divorce seriously. But eventually, as with my PC, the fits and starts of our relationship became so bad that one day it was decided. My wife and I realized it really was over. It took about an hour to take down the pictures and a couple of hours to plaster and paint the wall.

So here’s something I’m increasingly partial to. With practice comes a capacity to recognize and match intermittencies with intermittencies. If the computer is on and off, I can switch on and off with it. If the computer brand as a whole serves me too many fits and starts I can switch brands. With practice I can become increasingly committed to finding the appropriate pragmatically flexible response. Absence reveals the depths of fondness, but then the question to face is fondness for what? In the current case, I realized it wasn’t fondness for making my PC work but for having a working computer.

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