It was ten in the morning. I was sitting at a desk in the Friedl building. I was doodling in the margins of my notebook.
Oh, and I was having a major panic attack.
Why, you ask? Two words: Owen Flanagan.
Don’t get me wrong, Professor Flanagan’s existentialism course is easily my favorite class that I have taken at Duke so far. First off, he may be the smartest person I have ever met. The dude casually canceled class because he had to fly to the Vatican sit in a meeting with the Pope. He engages texts by the likes of Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Camus in a way that gets my brain racing like nothing else before. I’ve never been more personally invested in a class.
And so, Professor Flanagan, please understand that what I say next comes from a place of utmost respect.
You f*****d me up.
I walked into your class a bright-eyed boy excited to experience life’s endless wonders. Two months later and I’ve been turned into a nihilistic shell of a human being.
Nora Ephron writes in When Harry Met Sally, “When I get a new book, I read the last page first. That way, if I die before I finish I know how it comes out.”
I remember when I first watched that movie thinking that was the craziest thing I had ever heard, but now with each day I sympathize more and more Billy Crystal’s character. Death is no longer a fleeting thought that floats in and out of my mind. I spend hours. I spend days.
As time passed this became somewhat of a major issue. I would obsess over death, the meaning of life, aging, you name it. I would loop these questions over and over again in my mind, searching for answers I was never going to find. It was only when I noticed it starting to have a profound effect on my general happiness and motivation that I decided I had to do something about it.
So I made an appointment at student health. In this consultation appointment, I was introduced to a handful of resources on campus that might be useful and together with a counselor decided to sign up for a meditation class called Koru.
Three weeks later, sitting in my first Koru class, I learned very quickly that meditation was not my strong suit.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Our instructor had told us to close our eyes, breathe deeply and clear our minds of any distractions. I tried to do this, I really did, but my mind kept racing:
Crap, I still haven’t watched the Curb episode from this week. Is Mel Brooks still alive? Is Kylie actually pregnant? Why does the Daily Mail Snapstory care so much about that girl from Modern Family? Did I leave my keys in the room? Oh, and God is dead and nothing matters. Can’t forget about that.
As the class went along we learned a number of new techniques, but none of them seemed to help. In the following week we were instructed to meditate for ten minutes every day, using one of the techniques we had learned in class. Every day I would try, and every day my mind would race in the same way. I was starting to think that maybe meditation wasn’t the answer.
I went into the second week of class highly skeptical and about ready to quit if things didn’t improve soon. Little did I know that I was about to be blessed with a mid-October miracle.
About 2 minutes into our first meditation, a gaseous bubble the size of a volleyball began to form in my lower gut. My choice to try the new redder chicken at Tandoor for lunch was coming back to haunt me. It was the kind of gas that leaves you feeling like Violet Beauregarde after chewing Willy Wonka’s blueberry pie gum. The situation was dire.
But I was stuck. Letting it out was not an option. I was sitting in a completely silent basement in extremely close proximity to people I barely knew. Getting up and going to the bathroom wasn’t an option either, as I feared any sudden movement would compromise the entire operation.
Slowly I came to terms with the true severity of the situation at hand: I would have to hold in this fart for the entirety of the hour and 15-minute class.
What followed was a long and grueling individual battle comparable perhaps only to that movie where James Franco has to cut off his own arm. At times I thought about giving in, about letting it all out and accepting the humiliation just to escape the pain. But in those moments I took in a deep breath, closed my eyes, and put all of my focus on that gas bubble, willing it to stay inside of me.
Sure, my stomach let out moans periodically, but I needed to block those out too because all of my focus needed to be on the gas bubble and the gas bubble alone.
And low and behold, I made it. I left the class with a sense of immense pride, but it was only after I had gotten the chance to release the fart that I came to realize exactly what I had accomplished.
For the entire class, all I thought about was the fart, nothing else. Does that mean I achieved true enlightenment? For that hour and 15 minutes, was my mind not completely at peace?
It may not have been what Buddha intended, but my experience with the fart completely revitalized my outlook on meditation. I now know that tranquility is achievable, it’s just a matter of me putting my mind to it.
And from now on, I’ll make sure to always eat the redder chicken at Tandoor before going to existentialism, just in case.
Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.