There’s a scene in Martin Scorsese’s mob classic Goodfellas where Ray Liotta’s uber-paranoid gangster is convinced a helicopter is following him.
As the coked-up criminal frantically tries to escape the mysterious chopper, Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire” cranks up on the soundtrack.
I always loved that scene, but recently I got a chance to experience what that guy was going through.
I had gotten up nice and early one morning for my daily meditation. I’ve been meditating for a few years now and I am slowly seeing the benefits of this daily practice.
I set the timer for 20 minutes and do my very best to be mindful and present. And I think it’s helped me a lot.
I’m a little better at taming the anger and reining in the depression. It’s been an extremely slow process, but I’m encouraged by my progress and I want to continue improving.
Now some sessions are better than others and on this particular morning I was really nailing it—if I do say so myself. I was breathing so deeply and slowly that it was almost like an out of body experience.
In this raucous, crazy city a short period of early morning silence is solid gold.
And then a helicopter flew over my house.
All right, I thought, give it a few seconds and it’ll be gone. The pilot is just zipping overhead on his way to somewhere else. It was mildly annoying, but this is New York, after all, and you can’t expect to live in total stillness.
Only the thing didn’t go away. For whatever reason, the chopper pilot double-parked in a patch of sky right above my head and refused to budge.
I tried to ignore the noise and focus on my breathing, but that wasn’t working.
You Can Climb a Mountain, You Can Swim the Sea
Okay, then, I reasoned, since focus is an important part of mediation, I could focus on the helicopter’s noise and still achieve my higher state of consciousness.
But that didn’t’ work either.
I found myself getting angry, which is exactly what I’m trying to avoid when I meditate.
I thought of the old “black helicopter” conspiracy theories that were big in the Nineties, when the tinfoil hat crowd was convinced mysterious choppers were mutilating cattle or taking over the government or some other such conspiratorial chazzerai.
Only this was real.
The timer eventually went off and I was about as close to mindfulness as I was to the North Pole. And the helicopter was still there.
The whole meditation was ruined, I grumbled.
Of course, any yoga or Zen master would’ve gently dismissed such a pedestrian idea.
You can’t ruin meditation. Any attempt at meditation is better than no attempt at all and mindfulness is a lifelong practice, not something you do for 20 minutes in the morning.
I’ve been suffering from a nasty cold for the last few days and the negative thoughts have been roaring through my mind like the attacking helicopters in Apocalypse Now.
These enemy aircraft—anger, despair, resentment—have been buzzing around for years, but they’ve been hovering in my subconscious for so long that I've just tuned out the noise.
Meditation has helped me spot them sooner. It’s just tougher to fight them off when I’m sick though because my guard is down and I slip back into the old bad habits.
Okay. I know this illness will pass, I’ll get back into my routine, and I will continue to improve.
And when the helicopters come after me, the first thing I’ll do is jump out of the damn fire.