I was working in Las Vegas at the annual Consumer Electronics show. I, and many other attendees, had been waiting for the bus hired by the show to run the big circle from the convention center to most of the hotels close by. That particular year some freak of desert winter weather brought occasional showers through the area, and one of those occasions coincided with sixty or so of us standing outside, waiting to get back to our hotels. In short order the lot of us had been pretty thoroughly soaked.
The bus pulled up and we all piled on. Unfortunately it had been designed to carry maybe 20 people fewer than our little mob, but the rain was such that the driver didn't make anyone wait for the next bus.
Crammed together, sweaty and tired from the convention -- and now wet -- this was not a scene which would make it into any vacation promotional material from the Las Vegas tourism board.
Work travel is not like a vacation, even in a city renowned for it's ability to entertain (or distract, depending on your point of view) thus I was already not having a good time -- in fact the city had depressed me.
I was lucky enough to have a seat on the bench that ran lengthwise along the side of the bus, in the front section behind the driver, which meant I was squished by my fellow bench sitters on either side and surrounded by people standing -- more like looming -- above us, gamely trying to keep their balance by holding onto rails and handles as the bus crawled through the rain. Picture the seating configuration and the crowded conditions and you get that I was cheek to cheek with total strangers -- but different cheeks -- and not in a good way.
At that time in my sobriety I was always asking God "why?" Sometimes it was in a sincere attempt to understand something, and other times it was little more than a whine, but in one form or another I was always mentally dashing off a note to my Higher Power: "Dear HP, Why is X happening/not happening to me. Please respond asap. Thanks! xo, Mr. SP" While God has spoken to me directly on occasion, S/He (I'm keeping an open mind) has never been in the business of giving me a "because."
With no Divine Because forthcoming for my bus ride, and the smell of wet people becoming increasingly pungent, I started to get... self pitying. Resentful. Discontent. I had a good job and I was traveling on someone else's nickel, and while the bus was crowded and uncomfortable it was hardly inhumane conditions -- yet my emotional maturity then (and it has only marginally improved over the years, on some spiritually unfit days, anyway) was such that a bit of rough going could dirty my diaper pretty quick.
At this point in my sobriety I had moved on from the sarcastic sponsor to the beautiful sponsor, and she had been talking to me a lot about meditation. Naturally I had many books on meditation on my bookshelf, purchased specifically so that people who came to my home could see from their presence in my library that I was a very spiritual fellow. I hadn't read any of them, of course, but I could sound like I had. I had never really tried to meditate, figuring that before I could even begin I would need the right robe, a dozen organic scented candles made by blind monks from virgin beeswax, probably a prayer rug and possibly a toe ring. I always have lots of school supplies, I just never go to class.
The beautiful sponsor told me that I needed to develop a meditation practice that I could "carry in my pocket." That I could do in just about any situation. She suggested that as a start in my meditation practice I try counting my breaths, and thinking only of the count and trying to deeply feel each breath.
Sitting in the human humidor I thought back on her words, and almost defiantly said to myself, "Fine. Fine! I'll try this stupid meditation thing. Fine!"
God's honest truth: I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and said in my mind, "100." Then I took another deep breath, and on the inhale said (in my mind) "ninety-" and on the exhale "-nine."
And then I lost count.
It wasn't that I had forgotten that 98 followed 99 in my countdown, it was just that some other random thought popped up, and knocked my counting out of my head for a moment. So I started over. 100, 99, 98, 97, 96, 95, 94, POP random thought, lose focus. I realized if I started over after every POP I would never make it out of the nineties, so, remembering some advice I'd heard about meditation somewhere along the line, I decided to just pick up wherever I left off, whenever I got interrupted -- or rather, interrupted myself.
My breathing slowed and got more even. I sat still but relaxed. I became more conscious of my breathing, my heartbeat, my self, and less conscious of the army of fannies hemming me in. I became conscious of my conscious.
Honest to God, I reached 3,2,1 just as the bus pulled up in front of my hotel. The doors opened and I practically floated off the bus.
The 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests prayer and mediation, and in the literature it describes that "prayer, meditation and self examination provide an unshakable foundation for living." Most people see meditation as a good thing, but they also see it as complicated, or requiring some special accessories and uncomfortable poses, or that it will be boring or like homework.
And by "most people" I mean me. That was how I always thought of meditation before I had that experience on the bus. Now of course I have a wealth of experience to the contrary.
From that brief and powerful lesson I have learned how to center myself in some very strange situations, and my spiritual life has been greatly enlarged.
(Which, going back to my whiney "why?" to God at the time, was quite probably the "because," I was asking for.)