William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” as well as the short stories “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman all display the transformation that a human being can go through. Such journeys could be for better or for worse which was exemplified in these stories, for the journeys they partook in lead to peace or anguish. Just as these characters progressed far beyond their original state of mind, my entire experience of Zen meditation has been transformed.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the narrator’s mind slowly deteriorates during her stay at the rental house in an attempt to recover from her “nervous disorder.” Most evident is the degeneration of her mental health. At the beginning of the short story the narrator appears to be only mildly afflicted, mostly suffering from exhaustion. Yet as the story progresses her obsession with the patterned wallpaper, and the delusions she sees, escalate to dangerous levels. At the end it is confirmed that she finally lost all sense of the sanity she possessed, when she believes herself to be the delusion of the woman trapped behind the bars of the wallpaper design. “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back (398)!” Along with the transformations of her mental state, her delusions also begin to change as the days pass. The wallpaper, although grotesque was quite harmless, but in her eyes it soon morphs into something menacing and haunting. “The front pattern does move… The woman behind shakes it... she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern- it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads (396).”
Similar to the grim happenings in “The Yellow Wallpaper” the short story “The Birthmark” describes the transformation of the narrator’s views of his beautiful wife, Georgiana, and his inability to accept her flaws. The narrator, Aylmer, soon begins to obsess over his wife’s birthmark, and what begins as only a slight annoyance, quickly grows to utter revulsion at its presence. Soon he is unable to look past the blemish and see his wife’s beauty, and he quickly surrounds himself in his scientific studies in an attempt to rid her face of the imperfection. However his transformation is not the only one that occurs. Since her husband becomes so fixated on the blemish, Georgiana soon begins to grow embarrassed and self-conscious of the mark; no longer viewing it as a charm bestowed upon her. These insecurities grow to the point where she would be willing to lay down her life in an attempt to rid herself of the mark forever. “I might wish to put off this birthmark of mortality by relinquishing mortality itself in preference to any other mode (476).”
Unlike the previous two stories in which progress was met with terrible consequences, my progress with Zen meditation more closely resembles the transformation of the speaker in “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” In the beginning the speaker is withdrawn, but once he happens upon the field of daffodils and stays in their “company” he reaps the benefits. Toward the end of the poem, when the speaker is once again in a bad mood, he is able to recall his experience with the daffodils and he is soon filled with joy. The daffodils have made a permanent impression upon him, and therefore he can no longer feel isolated.
Similarly to the positive transformation the speaker gained, my ability to meditate has drastically changed for the better. Unlike the previous session where I was unable to maintain stillness of the mind and body, in this session, I found myself able to remain in the seated position for the entirety of the seated meditation. Although I have yet to achieve the stillness of mind required to reach the peacefulness described by my instructor, I found myself more easily counting my breaths to ten and repeating, with less moments where my mind wandered off the task at hand and realized I was on breath thirty-eight. Like the speaker in the poem, I too transformed as a person, for I am exceedingly proud of the improvements I was able to accomplish, when just last week I thought such improvements were impossible.