Meditations on Perkins Paste

Sunday Blog 126 – 10th March 2024

In 1972, my world was a bit of a shit-show. I was 6, going on 7, in a small Grade 2 classroom in suburban Perth, under the expert tutelage of a psychopathic nun. She meted out regular duff-ups to a few of us in the class—there was never really any way of knowing who would be a target, although she only targeted about three of us. I’ll never know what it was about us that incensed her, but something did.

Alongside the memories of the regular duff-ups, there is another strong Grade 2 memory that has stayed with me. This week, it re-surfaced.

In the 1970s, the regulation non-toxic, non-spill classroom glue we had to use was called Perkins Paste. Little purple round canisters with a white lid, and a stick to slather the glue onto paper.

Frustrated with my 6-year-old-self’s inability to sit still in my chair and concentrate, one day I opened up my little purple canister and slathered a good amount on my chair. I was just about to sit on it to ensure that, for once, I wouldn’t get up and fidget, when an eagle-eyed classmate spotted me mid-smearing of glue. She threatened to report my misdemeanour to our psychopathic nun teacher.

I hastily wiped up the paste, and was saved from the inevitable mess on the back of my Catholic schoolgirl tunic. And my long-suffering mother was saved a little on her teetering pile of laundry to do.

So never I could determine if a bit of glue on a chair was just the thing to stop my incessant activity.

Over the many decades since then, I have often tried to apply a similar Perkins Paste approach to incorrigible distractibility, but this time with the less messy medium of meditation. I have hoped that it would prove to be the adhesive to quiet my monkey mind once and for all.

An early experiment in meditation in the 1980s was less than successful. I turned up at a class that had “Yoga” in the title but it was actually a meditation class. Not having read the fine print, I’d turned up with my stretchy pants on, ready to limber up. We sat in a circle and as we all checked in, saying why we were there, I twigged that this was not an exercise class. The woman on my left had a very intense energy and barked in her strong German accent she was “looking for the higher life.” I had to admit shamefacedly that I was there for a bit of a stretch.

The facilitator was warm and welcoming, and as I had driven quite a way to get there, I thought I would make the best of it. I followed along, eyes closed, as the facilitator guided us up and out of our bodies in a long, dreamy monologue, and then back again, but somewhat abruptly. This was fine for me, who hadn’t budged an inch off the ground physically, mentally, or spiritually. My German classmate, however, was stuck way, way up in the higher realm. She could see her body floating down below, but couldn’t get back in. Her fear was palpable. The facilitator remained very calm and talked her back, gently. Suddenly, the woman jumped. Her soul and body were once again re-united. To be honest, that gave me the heeby-jeebies.

But it also taught me that some people can actually concentrate and follow along when listening to a guided meditation. Not me. I get a mega-second of space between thoughts and I’m off again. The monkey mind leaps from branch to branch, now lighting on a childhood memory, next leaping across to what I will eat once this is all over.

It doesn’t stop me wanting to be “better” at meditation, in the same way I fruitlessly hope to wake up one morning and find myself to be an avid gardener. I even thought about trying to book on a Buddhist meditation retreat recently. I had to become a member first, then keep an eye out for when retreat bookings opened. After going through all the membership instructions, I realised I would have to stop eating meat.

This seemed a little rash, not exactly thought-through, even by my standards. But I was game and went ahead, in good faith. I mean, I didn’t eat meat for the whole of the mad-cow 1990s when I was living in the U.K. How hard could it be?

For a week I did well, but I realised anew that dining options telescope down rapidly for vegetarians.

Then, I was, well, completely distracted when bookings for the meditation retreat opened. I was in Sydney, out of my day-to-day routine, hanging out with friends and family. By the time I remembered and tried my luck, the retreat was full.

The wind out of my sails, I wondered just how serious I was about ditching meat. Then I was caught short on the recent flight home – you have to let them know at booking that you need a vegetarian meal. I flew to Sydney on an airline that didn’t feed you, but home on an airline that did. It all gets quite confusing, and I was rather hungry, so I guiltily nibbled away at my spaghetti. I figured I would work out my karma once I landed.

Reflecting on my failed meditation retreat registration as I ate my bolognese, I realised that all those years ago, when I stumbled into the meditation class with my yoga gear on, I was on the right track. It was another ten years before I became a regular attendee at yoga class. Then, I finally realised that for me, the adhesive I need is (ironically) movement. When I am doing my regular yoga practice, focusing on doing all the poses, the monkey mind is still.

At least for a little while. Then I think about all the snacks I will enjoy once all this is over. And whether a little chorizo on an otherwise vegetarian platter will slow down my transcendence that much.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *