The Counting Man

I count everything. There are 17 dirty dishes in my sink. My bed has 3 unmade sheets on it. I have 7 pair of shoes in my closet, 11 pairs of pants, 4 jackets and 16 black t-shirts. This morning there were 403 oat grains and 82 almond pieces in my bowl of oatmeal. Outside my window there are 9 trees and one of the trees has around 674 leaves on it. Two days ago I sat by the window of my house from 9am until 6 pm and counted how many people and cars passed by. There were 1,209 cars and 11 people on foot. This is how I keep myself pre-occupied during the darkest time of year. I do not know how my need to count things developed since I never particularly enjoyed mathematics. I prefer words over numbers but for some reason around this time of year I have this very deep desire to count things. When I read the New York Times in the morning I will count how many times certain words are used or how many stories there are about violence or the economic recession. Maybe counting is a way for me to feel informed. I am a solitary man and it could be that counting is my connection to a world that exists outside of me.

Every morning when I awake I do a twenty-minute meditation. I count my inhalations and exhalation all the way up to ten. When I get to ten I count backwards until I reach 0. I repeat the process until twenty minutes is up. My therapist believes that my obsessive counting is the result of my morning meditation. She says that the practice ingrains in me a connection between peace of mind and numbers. Maybe she is not wrong because it is true that right before Christmas, when the skies turn black- I notice that I begin to slip into a slight depression. My anxiety seems to be more active than any other time of year and counting everything maybe a way for me to calm myself down. When I finished the therapy session the other day, I told my therapist that she had 94 books on her shelf, 17 pictures on her wall and 12 wrinkles on her forehead.

Yesterday I killed over 3,035 ants that were crawling around in my bathroom. I had no choice. I am not a violent man but ants all over my soap, my towels, my toothbrush and the toilet paper is intolerable. I felt guilt after I killed so many ants so I set a limit for myself today. There are still ants all over my bathroom floor and ceiling but I have decided that I will not kill them all. I will exterminate 2,000 of them. I will spend the afternoon counting and killing. Once I reach 2,000 ants I will let the rest go for the day.

For dinner last night I ate lentil stew and managed to eat 1,023 lentils. It takes longer to eat when I have to count every lentil that enters my mouth. But maybe, just maybe this is why counting is good for me. Whether I am killing, eating or breathing counting forces me to slow down, to become present in the moment and be completely focused on what I am doing. I can not say I dislike this about counting. Normally I go through my life with very little awareness of my present moment experience. I am pre-occupied by what I need to get done, where I need to go, how I need to be- like a hamster chasing its own tail. Counting seems to wake me up from this never-ending dream and forces me to be here now.

My wife has been exercising in the other room for 41 minutes. I have been writing this for the past 28 minutes. I am using two fingers to type. The electrical heater by my feet has been on for 92 minutes. I have tried to count the rain drops that are falling outside of my window but so far it has been nearly impossible for me to get an accurate count. There are just too many rain drops to capture. Today I plan on going for a walk. I will walk for 80 minutes and during that time I want to count every single thought that enters my mind. I will divide these thoughts into two categories positive and negative thoughts. I want to know how many of my thoughts are negative and how many of my thoughts are positive. I can not take credit for this exercise- my therapist had the idea. She has observed that I tend to be a pessimist who sees the glass as half empty. Her idea is that possibly if I can become aware of the flow of negative thoughts through my mind I will be better equipped to turn these negative thoughts into positive ones. Since I want to be a positive person, who exists in joy rather than despair, I have been doing this exercise for the past few days. Yesterday I had 609 negative thoughts and 98 positive ones during an eighty minute walk.

I am assuming that once spring arrives I will no longer have the obsessive need to count- but for now I am surrendering to the obsession. I enjoy counting in the same way that a person enjoys their work. Counting keeps me preoccupied and distracted from thinking about too many other things. Like the Hindus, I also believe that thought is one of the most toxic elements that exist within a human being. Thought torments us and drives us around in the same way that a motor controls a car. When I am fully immersed in counting I am no longer thinking. I am in what certain scientists refer to as a state of flow. Clarity, peace of mind and focus take the place of habitual thought and it is habitual, unconscious thoughts that cause a person to lose control of their life. So I will continue to count. There are 13 unpaid bills, 8 pens and 2 notebooks on my desk. There are 9 plants in my writing room and 11 sticks of incense on the table besides my desk. There are 6 strings on my guitar, 1,902 dollars in my bank account and now at the end of this narrative I have written 1,083 words.

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