"If this is a bad time..." Elijah said, because the shadows on Orlando's face were unmistakable. "We can cancel."
Orlando's hug was sincere, and he said, nose against Elijah's hair, "No, this is good. Besides I've really missed you."
"It's been too long," Elijah agreed when Orlando let go of him, and he followed Orlando into the condo.
Another bland corporate apartment, anonymously furnished and with excellent security. Elijah knew these places too, right down to the suitcases in the bedroom and the takeout menus in the kitchen drawer. It kind of broke his heart that Orlando was back living in empty rooms again.
Elijah hunched down on one of the couches, and Orlando sat opposite him.
"Tell me what it is you want to do," Orlando said. "And I'll help you."
"I want to stop smoking," Elijah said. "I've tried everything--patches, acupuncture, cold turkey, those stupid electronic cigarettes--but nothing has worked."
"What do you want me to do?" Orlando asked. "Tell you how easy it was for me so you'll hate me? Lock you in a cupboard for a week?"
"Tried the cupboard already," Elijah said. "Only it was a cabin that Hannah borrowed from a friend. Now Hannah hates me just a little bit."
"Well?" Orlando asked, and Elijah looked up at him.
"I was hoping you'd teach me to meditate," Elijah said.
Orlando started laughing, long, loud guffaws right from the belly, and Elijah thought back over the conversation, trying to work out what had been so damned funny. Elijah couldn't see anything that would make Orlando laugh so hard he couldn't sit upright.
"What?" Elijah asked. "What's so fucking funny?"
Orlando wiped his face on his t-shirt and sat back up again.
"No, really," Orlando said. "What do you actually want?"
Elijah stared at Orlando. "I want you to fucking teach me to meditate, okay? You can do that, right, being a Buddhist and all?"
"Um," Orlando said. "Maybe? It's a bit like you just walked into a public library and asked for a book, any book, you don't care which one."
"The anti-smoking book," Elijah said. "Why is this so hard? Am I not making sense?"
"I think you might have unrealistic expectations here," Orlando said. "It's not a straight line connection thing where I teach you a meditation exercise and you suddenly stop wanting to smoke."
"I know that," Elijah said. "Nothing else has worked, so I have no reason to believe this will either."
"Good," Orlando said. "I will happily teach you a mindfulness meditation, and your nicotine and smoking behavior addiction is your own to resolve. Take your shoes and socks off."
Elijah reached down for his shoelaces. "We're starting?"
"We've started," Orlando said. "Shoes and socks off and sit on the floor."
By the time Elijah had pulled his sneakers off, Orlando was sitting cross-legged on a bare patch of carpet, waiting. Elijah tossed his socks on top of his sneakers and squatted down on the carpet beside Orlando.
"Here?" Elijah asked, sitting down and crossing his legs like Orlando.
"Sure," Orlando said, turning around so he was facing Elijah. "This is good."
"Now what happens?" Elijah asked.
"Can you feel the weight of your body pushing down into the carpet? The way the bones in your pelvis rest together, and your knees fold and press down?"
"That feeling is groundedness," Orlando said. "Remember how to find it. Now fold your hands together in your lap, dominant hand inside non-dominant hand."
Orlando's hands were gentle, lifting and settling Elijah's hands, then shaping elbows and finally his shoulders.
"That feeling is equanimity," Orlando said, voice gentle and distant, unlike Elijah had ever heard him before.
Orlando's hands set Elijah's shoulders back a little, so his spine was straighter.
"Now your spine is elongated, your head balanced on your neck," Orlando said, and his hands touched Elijah's face, tipping his chin and lifting his gaze. "This feeling is mindfulness."
Elijah's eyes had drifted closed as he concentrated on the feelings inside his body, and Orlando said, "Open your eyes half way. That's relaxed watchfulness. Think you can find all of those when I ask you to?"
Elijah nodded, slower than usual.
"Then we'll do this for a few minutes. Focus on groundedness... now equanimity... now mindfulness... now relaxed watchfulness, now mindfulness, now equanimity, now groundedness..."
Orlando said the repeated the words in order, and Elijah shifted his concentration through his body, from his knees up to his eyes and back down again, following Orlando's voice, gentle and slow.
"...equanimity, and groundedness, and that's the end," Orlando said. "Listen to your body. It will have things to say to you."
Elijah felt... he felt a lot of things. Sweat matted his hair and trickled down his back, soaking into his jeans. Pins and needles stabbed at his feet. His belly felt hot, like a small sun was lodged inside him. He felt a lot of things.
"What does it mean?" Elijah asked Orlando. "What does it all mean?"
"That stuff you have to sort out yourself," Orlando said. "I'm just here to show you how to get there."
Elijah thought about trying to stand up and settled for flopping back on the carpet instead.
"Is that it? Is that what I have to do?" Elijah asked.
Orlando laughed. "Oh, no, that's the very first bit. Do that every day, twice a day, for ten minutes at a time, and next week I'll teach you the next bit."
"There's more?" Elijah asked.
"That was the body mindfulness meditation," Orlando said. "Next one is about feelings. Do you know how you feel? Do you want to know how you feel?"
Elijah groaned and covered his face with his forearm. "Will it hurt?"
Orlando poked Elijah in the ribs. "I don't think there are any circumstances under which the right question to ask about a meditation practice is 'Will it hurt?'"
When Elijah moved his forearm and opened his eyes Orlando was sprawled on the floor beside him, and the shadows of unhappiness had been chased away from the quiet places of his face.
"Sure, I'll come back next week," Elijah said. "When do I get to stop smoking?"
"Whenever you choose," Orlando said. "As humans we don't have a lot of control over much of anything, but choosing what we put in our mouths is on the list."
"You're mean," Elijah said. "No one would think you used to smoke."
Elijah came back the next week, and Orlando let him into the condo. This time, the condo looked more lived in, with books on the coffee table and posters stuck on the walls.
The hug was warm and affectionate, and Orlando said, "So? How has the week been?"
Elijah sat on the couch and began to pull his shoes off. "You have to teach me something else."
"Bored?" Orlando asked, and Elijah nodded.
When Elijah had taken his socks off he looked up at Orlando. "Is it supposed to be boring?"
"I have no idea," Orlando said. "I doubt that, when the meditation was first devised, the monks forward-planned for your incredibly low boredom threshold, though."
"Monks?" Elijah said, sitting crow-legged on the carpet with Orlando in front of him.
"Monks," Orlando said. "Sit there and breathe."
They sat in silence, and Elijah couldn't even hear Orlando's breathing over the roar of his own breath.
"This time," Orlando said, many giddy breaths later, "I want you to listen for the silent third part of breathing, the pause at the top of the breath. Listen, find it, see if you can lengthen it."
Elijah stared at Orland, and thought about arguing with him, but Orlando took both of Elijah's hands in his own encouragingly.
Who was Elijah to argue with someone as earnest as Orlando?
Also, apparently there really was an empty space at the top of each of Elijah's breaths, and Elijah must have squeezed Orlando's hands when he found it because Orlando grinned back at him in encouragement.
"Now," Orlando said. "Now you're going to do something in that pause."
Two weeks later, Elijah sprawled sweating and exhausted on Orlando's carpet. Orlando, who still sounded and looked exactly the same as he had when they'd started the marathon twenty minute mediation session, said, "Pizza? Water? Something else to help you recover?"
"I thought..." Elijah said, propping himself up to take the glass of water Orlando handed him. "I thought meditation would be all peaceful and quiet, and I'd be all calm inside my head. I had no idea you would make me think so incredibly hard and in such detail!"
"Hmm," Orlando said. "You might be confusing cause and effect here. First you do all the hard detailed work and then you are peaceful and quiet."
"No incense? No tinging bells?" Elijah asked. "Instead, you make me think harder and harder, and about more and more things. My expectations aren't being met."
Orlando nodded. "Sure. I can add incense and bells, you know, if it's an issue for you?"
"Too late," Elijah groaned. "I've discovered the truth. What do you make me do next week, or is it a secret?"
"Nothing. You're done," Orlando said. "You've learned a mindfulness meditation."
"Oh," Elijah said.
"How's the goal of stopping smoking?" Orlando asked.
Elijah could feel the smugness on his face. "Small victories," he said. "Sometimes, instead of smoking, I think of how hard this whole process is and how if I can learn to do this, I can learn not to smoke as well."
Orlando's smile was genuine, the warmth enough that Elijah could bask in it as well as his own smugness.
"Small victories count," Orlando said. "Claim them all."
Elijah scrambled up on to the couch. "So, if I don't have to come here once a week for you to teach me how to slice and dice the inside of my own head, do you want to make plans for next week?"
"Sure. What sort of plans?" Orlando asked.
"Plans that don't involve me smoking," Elijah said. "Come over to my place. I'll organize dinner, you clear all ashtrays from my house?"
Orlando lifted a fist up, and Elijah bumped his own fist against it.
"Done," Orlando said.