By Ty H. Phillips
The job I was working last month quickly dried up.
His recent hires, including myself, were let go for the season and I was left searching for work again. As luck, fate, or hell would have it, I found a plumber in need of an apprentice or more accurately—a tunnel rat. Wanting to learn a trade, I jumped at the opportunity and laced up my work boots, donned my dirtiest, smelliest cap, grabbed a shovel and started trenching for sewer pipes.
I left after my first day feeling like I had been jumped and beaten by a troupe of drunk circus midgets.
As the days went on, I started picking up little pieces of information such as concrete work, fitting work, jackhammer techniques (yes, there really are techniques), and the few early quits where he would take us out for lunch and a beer quickly made for a job that although brutally physical, was also immensely enjoyable.
My Buddhism practice tends to be more intellectual than applied. Even being, I always try and find a way to introduce it to people in ways that are subtle and useful for them. Breathing from the belly, perspective changes that allow them to relax a little or even ways to grab a shovel and approach the process in an engaged manner.
This may seem trite, but after you have dug several dozen trenches that are 4′ deep and dozens of feet long that lead to broken sewer pipes, every little nuance change about being ankle deep in mud and well, shit, helps.
The lot of us—boss, me and our other helper—are all large men. Everyone is 6′ or taller and the lightest of us is still 250 lbs (me). As you can imagine, trying to change, seal and level pipe in a cramped tunnel that stinks, has wire poking out that cuts and scrapes you, and collapses every time our shoulders hit the edges, can get frustrating. More than a few F-bombs explode in those tunnels and men being men, more than one of us have been crop dusted in a tight place with no escape.
While these situations can be hilarious, they can also be extremely frustrating and we have all wanted to chuck our shovels through the wall and march off in red faced, blood pressure-spiked fits of anger. This topic came up today between myself and my fellow tunnel rat.
We started talking about books and science when he dropped a bomb on me. He had downloaded audio books on meditation. I was a little shocked, but probably no more than the average person that meets me and finds out that I am Buddhist. I don’t fit the stereotypical, white, hippie, vegan image that most people imagine.
Anyway, we started talking about meditation and instead of telling him I was Buddhist, I mentioned the Harvard and Stanford studies that were done, repeatedly showing the efficacy of meditation and its impact on the brain’s gray matter.
He smiled and growled, sounding almost exactly like John Goodman. He looks at me and says, “Yeah, we need that shit man. We need to know how to calm the fuck down and shit!”
He continued again, “Yeah, man, we need to know how to calm the fuck down. That’s what that shit is for.”
Seeing my opportunity arise, I shared some breathing techniques and the basic principles of shamatha meditation. He spent a few minutes trying it while I was down in the trench again. He stood up a few minutes later, hopped down into the hole and said, “Go take a break, I’m like Buddha now.” I laughed again.
As I climbed out of the hole, I said, “Buddha says, learn to calm the fuck down!” He looks up and laughs, “Yeah man, that’s good shit.”
Maybe one day, I’ll teach him to use a mala. Who knows, that might be some good shit.
Editor: Dana Gornall