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Did Buddha have to put up with this?

Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column.

I am sitting in the middle of the living room floor doing my “mindfulness” meditation. This is a new thing for me. Recently, my stress levels have been off the chart. I must have more than a million things to worry about.

First, the condition of the roof struts in the house we are moving in to; where on earth we are going to find builders at such short notice; whether we should be moving at all, considering the house is derelict and too close to a major ring road; how on earth I’m going to pack all the boxes with a baby and a toddler needing my constant attention.

Then there’s whether and how and when I should go back to work; whether if I do go back I will be made redundant; whether if I get made redundant I will find another job before we default on the mortgage and lose our home; whether I should start giving the baby puréed food or follow the trendy new “baby-led weaning” regime; whether the toddler should go to nursery more, so I can do more work, or less, so I can spend more time with the children.

As if the actual things I have to worry about are not enough, I also like to fret over a selection of state-of-the-world issues that are completely beyond my control. The perilous state of the environment, mainly, but there are others.

I realised it was time to take up meditation when I found myself lying awake at four in the morning worrying about the economy and the rise of China.

So here I am, kneeling on the rug, trying to focus on my breaths and count to seven. In . . . and out, in . . . and out. Unfortunately, because our flat is slightly too small and every room other than the bathroom and kitchen has a sleeping child in it, I am having to do this in the same room as Curly, who is sitting on the sofa behind me watching a very violent-sounding film.

In . . . and out. In . . . and out.


I’m guessing that’s an explosion, followed by a round of machine-gun fire. But I will not be deterred. Buddha wouldn’t have been put off by a little background noise, would he? In . . . and out. In . . . and out.

“Oooh, ouch.” Curly remarks, as the horrible sound of crunching cartilage fills the room. But that’s fine. I feel so calm that it really doesn’t matter what he is doing. This is about me, not about anyone else. In . . . and out. In . . . and out.

BOOOOOM, CRUNCH. On the other hand, I bet Buddha did not have to put up with this kind of provocation. Wasn’t he sitting under a nice, peaceful tree somewhere when he reached enlightenment? Would he ever have got there under these conditions?

Suddenly, there’s a lot of shouting and then a man’s voice: “I’M GOING TO F*** YOUR MOTHER’S A*** IN HELL!”

This is more than I can take. “For God’s sake, can’t I get a minute’s peace in this sodding house?” I stomp out of the room, slamming the door behind me. I think enlightenment is still some way off.

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 03 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Christians