Renewal, rebirth, reawakening

baseball-skull-copy

***

What’s happening right now?

Okay, I will tell you.

 

 

We are at Rockhound State Park, just outside of Deming, New Mexico. The park sits at the feet of the little Florida mountains, which wrap around the back of the park. Across a valley are the Florida mountains, not so little. Since we’ve been here, strong winds rip across the desert floor and sweep up the face of the Little Floridas, shaking the creosote and prickly pear and stirring up vast clouds of dust that roll with the wind.

Since dropping off the grandchild with his mother, the two of us are now alone. Together, alone, which is like a dream. A very good dream. All that time when we were building this dream, working on selling the house, getting rid of everything, this was what we’d imagined for ourselves- mornings of meditation and yoga, long walks in the wild, afternoons spent reading, napping, doing art, writing, eating good clean food that we cooked ourselves. Silence. Lots of silence.

The last five months since we started this life on the road somewhat lacked silence. Somewhat lacked peace and quiet. Somewhat lacked space for practice and contemplation. We went from place to place, we traveled and camped, set up and broke down, learned the ins and outs of how to get things done, but we didn’t have this.

Instead, we had death and loss. We watched our son in law relapse into his heroin addiction and abandon his wife and children and end up in jail. We watched him return from jail, get clean, try to salvage his marriage and his family, and then watched as our daughter, full of rage and grief and bitterness at being abandoned, also relapsed in her addiction. We watched them tear at each other and use their children as pawns and bargaining chips in a war of cruel attrition. Watched them lose their jobs and then their homes along with their love, their kindness, their sanity. We took Kaleb from his mother and watched helplessly as our son in law took the baby with him out of state, holding him hostage for drug money while he drifted on the streets getting high. Yolie lost her brother and we had to drop everything to go to Florida so she could bury him and take care of her mother. My grandfather died. Our beautiful bulldog Lucy died. And we were trying to give Kaleb a safe, happy home on the road- all the while grieving our own losses, feeling totally overwhelmed by our unexpected full-time parenting gig, and trying not to be too resentful about the difficult circumstances we found ourselves in. And of course, no matter how much we loved Kaleb, how present we were for him, how much we showered him with love and attention and gifts and small kindnesses, we were not his mother. We were not who he wanted to be with and we were not doing what he wanted to do. He was an utterly lost and sad and angry little boy who didn’t know what had happened to his mommy, or his daddy, or where his little brother went.

 

It wasn’t easy times for anyone.

But this month all of those threads wove themselves into a new narrative. As we drove westward with Kaleb, intent on returning him to his mother come hell or high water, our daughter slowly began to heal, to wake up. She got clean, or mostly clean. She went back to work. She got a new boyfriend, and the two of them saved up and bought a trailer so they have a place to live. She started calling us and texting us again, asking after Kaleb, talking to him on the phone, and saying she wanted him back. She worked with her husband and his family with grace and compassion and did everything she could to get visits with the baby. She tried to work out shared custody, shared visitation, she sent him money and let him rage against her, let him say anything, and tried to remain calm and sane and keep working on getting her boy back.

By the time we hit New Mexico it looked like we were ready, so I rented a car and drove out to California with the boy and took him home. I went into a five day retreat after visiting the rest of my family, and then returned to New Mexico without the boy. Back to my wife and our little tin can and life on the road. And just a few days ago, our daughter got the baby back from her mother in law after her husband left him with her. He’s still calling up, saying he has the baby, demanding money for rent and food- but the baby is back with her. Her little family is reunited. The boys are together and with their mother. All is right with the world.

 

Our joy is boundless.

 

My retreat was powerful and life-changing for me. All the work I’ve been doing on the path has been cumulative. India changed me forever and set me on the path to freedom, helped me decide to retire right away rather than wait another eight years, helped me leap into the unknown with my wife and embrace life on the road, life with fewer possessions and less security, more space, more mystery. And what we’ve been through lately, all that turmoil and chaos, only served to deepen my practice and loosen my identification with my ego. I found that clinging to ego was impossible with Kaleb around. If I kept trying to have things my way, kept trying to make things be the way I wanted, I ended up enraged and resentful. I found myself dumping my rage on the little guy, who had no understanding of why I was so mad and no capacity for accepting even more punishment from a world that was capricious and cruel enough already. So I learned to let go of everything my ego told me was necessary. I let go of want or don’t want. I let go of like or don’t like. I let go of plans, let go of wishes, let go of anger and sadness and resentment and tried to simply be with what was actually happening.

 

Tried to be of help in the present moment, to do what was being asked of me. Again and again and again, letting go. Again and again and again, seeing what was and acting out of that awareness. Moment by moment. Starting out with compassion, then losing it five minutes, five seconds later. Letting go. Taking another breath. Starting again. A day of this could last what seemed like months. But eventually, I got better and better at it. I began to see Kaleb as my little guru- a four year old monk with robes and a shaved head and a big stick he’d hit me with when I drifted out of awareness. He was so reliable! So relentless! And he taught me well. Eventually, I lost the distinction between what was “good” and what was “bad.” Things just were. Everything just was. I could kick against them or I could roll with them. Didn’t make any difference to how things were.

 

So by the time I rolled into this retreat, I was supple. The bonds of ego were loose and frayed and there was room around them.

So retreat was good. Things that had been hidden from me revealed themselves. Something vast and profound shifted in my awareness.

And now I find myself in a new world.

***

So. I am happy. I am filled with unquenchable love for things just as they are. I have no sadness. I don’t feel put upon, don’t feel anything bad at all anywhere. Somehow all my wounds are healed. Or I see that I was never even hurt in the first place. Before, I sort of saw myself and my story as real, and the Dharma and awakening as a kind of fairy tale that I was pursuing- something I wanted very badly, but that I didn’t really understand or know. Now it’s different. Now my self, my story, all of that, is the fairy tale. And awakening is the real thing. I still know myself, still can recite all the plot points of my story- but that no longer has any kind of sense of importance to me. Not that I reject it, either. It’s simply totally neutral. All of these things happened. I did all of these actions as a result of what I thought was happening. I caused all of this pain and suffering. I suffered all the time. Due to ignorance. Due to believing what ego was telling me.

 

And now I don’t listen to that shit any more. I don’t have time for it. I don’t need it. Instead, I hunger to understand this new reality. What is it like here? What’s going to happen next? How can I be of help in this reality? Is there anything to do?

I don’t know. I don’t have anything figured out. What it feels like is that I’ve just continued with the process of letting go that started when we decided to live a life nomadic. Let go of work. Let go of house. Let go of things. Let go of want. Let go of don’t want. Let go of other. Let go of self. Let go of object. Let go of subject. Let go, let go, let go, let go. Let go of Dharma. Let go of attainment. Let go of non-attainment. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.

 

Om gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.

 

***

 

I will keep you posted.

 

***

 

May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you and everyone you love be free from suffering.

 

 

***

 

Namaste.

 

***

 

 

 

Others must see the change

 

 

Here’s a short teaching from Khandro Rinpoche on what the effects of genuine practice looks like. I found this through the website A clear and empty mind, one of my favorite blogs on Buddhism and a constant source of inspiration.

The longer I’m on the path, the more I appreciate this kind of grounded, simple, and penetrating reminder. And the more I aspire to embody the kind of sincere change that is the mark of a good practitioner. Why? Because it leads to happiness. And it opens the door to the possibility of being of benefit to others- true benefit, without conditions or preconceptions imposed by my own ego.

I’m so grateful for everything I encounter.

 

***

I haven’t posted much lately but things have been humming and bubbling all the while. I made it out to Florida and for the longest while we’ve been there, attending to Yolie’s mother and dealing with the aftermath of Yolie’s brother’s death, and taking care of Kaleb, and generally doing stuff that is difficult and unpleasant in a place we’d rather not be in. Staying in an RV park for a month is a special kind of hell for us. Especially one where we’re backed up to the railroad tracks and trains pass day and night, shaking our rig and shattering the quiet. Of course, with a four year old in the trailer there is not much quiet to shatter.

Anyway, there’s a lot to complain about in our situation. Yolie lost her brother. Her mother’s situation is precarious and uncertain and likely to just grow moreso. Our new full-time childcare situation isn’t one we signed up for, and the reason for it is also harrowing and gut-wrenching and unbearable. Our dream of life on the road seems to have twisted and shifted into a kind of ugly and difficult endurance contest. The days of wine and roses, of languid sunsets on the beach sipping martinis are evaporating like the morning dew.

And yet.

We’re encountering wonders and miracles and joyous events left and right that we’d absolutely never have experienced if not for where we are and what we’re doing. Almost every day we bump into someone or something that enriches us, leaves us astounded with its beauty or strangeness or utility. Synchronicity and coincidence abound.  Afnd for me, I am face to face with a skillful and demanding teacher 24 hours a day- my grandson. He forces me to be fully present, fully mindful, fully attentive- and the second my attention wanders, the second my awareness fades, the very instant that I allow for my own ego needs, he turns my world upside down. And the only way forward is to recenter, to wake up, to attend, to let go.

It is a wonderful and horrific gift.

It’s wonderful because it works, it is just what I’ve asked for, and it’s a hundred percent reliable. It’s horrific for the same reasons. But I’m happy that I’m smart enough to ask for and sincerely want that which my ego finds impossible to deal with. It isn’t easy, but it is effective.

At least, I hope so. You’ll have to be the judge of that.

 

***

Right now we’re living in kind of a dream world. We’re in Tallahassee and visiting with Mrs. Moon and her lovely crew. I’m pretty sure everyone who reads here knows her and follows her, so you probably already know through her blog what we’ve been up to. Amazing h0me-cooked meals, exciting alligator filled swamp boat rides, trips to the Jr. Museum, and fresh eggs from her chickens, and long talks and hugs, and the joy and happiness of a deep and abiding friendship.

Her man Glen is acting as our swashbuckling, white-horse-riding, dragon-vanquishing Knight. Our poor Sportsmobile van turns out to have not been the perfect tow vehicle for us- too many miles and too much worry about how long she can hold out. We needed a new tow vehicle and I figured we’d buy one while we were here in Florida- but I had no luck at all on my own. I couldn’t get a truck to save my life- everything was either way, way, way out of my price range, or way, way, way too old and crappy.

And then Glen stepped in and saved the day. Turns out finding great vehicles and putting them together with folks who really need them is his dang business! In just a day or two he found the perfect truck for us, exactly what I wanted, even better than what I wanted, and for less that my top dollar! He put the whole deal together for us, inspected the truck, verified its bona fides, and drove a hard bargin with the owner to get it for us at under the asking price- all things that the Dishwasher is terrible at! Left to my own devices, I am pretty awesome at picking out an unsuitable vehicle and overpaying for it and missing a thousand obvious defects and ignoring any warning bells that are going off.

So, Glen saved my ass. Thank you, sir!

And Kaleb is getting to hang out with Mary’s grandkids, Owen and Gibson. Gibson and Kaleb have established their own inviolable world and it seems no one else exists outside of it for them. They’re thick as thieves.

Mary’s family is just what you’d expect. Kind and happy and easy-going, generous, thrifty, brave, handsome and beautiful, strong and good looking and everyone is far above average in every way. I’ve never felt so at home.

A great blessing!

So, a few more days in Lloyd securing the purchase of our new truck, and trying to sell the van, and dealing with registration and all the paperwork for all of this buying and selling. And hopefully when we depart Lloyd we’ll have a brand new truck, two Florida registered and insured vehicles, the truck and the Airstream, and we’ll be ready for the next phase in our wild, wild life.

Thank you, Universe.

 

***

Namaste.

 

May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.

 

May your fondest wishes come true.

 

 

***

 

 

Ordinary world

Christina's-world

 

 

***

 

So one of the errors I am almost continually guilty of is this searching for something other than what is as a means of escaping from the suffering I experience when I am in the grip of the samsaric realm- when I am longing for nirvana, for limitless love, for peace, tranquility, and happiness.

I have this notion in my own mind that what is needed is some kind of holy intervention, some kind of magic show, some kind of made for television movie where I am contacted by the numinous forces behind the scenes and granted an all access pass to the transcendent realms- as if there is such a place or such a thing different altogether from this place, this thing. A hidden world to which I long to be granted access. What separates me from this holy realm, this realm of bliss, is my own confusion and error, my own blindness, and so I must work away at this detritus in order to gain access, in order to be worthy, in order to be correct and good and so to in a sense earn admittance to the good place, to the thing or experience or mystical state I long for- long for in itself, yes, but also as an escape from the torment of this life right here where I am experiencing all of this pain.

I am told again and again by the teachings, by my teachers, that this approach is deeply flawed and won’t result in anything beneficial at all- I’m missing the point completely and by missing the point, by going off in the wrong direction, I’m very much wasting my time. Or not wasting it, exactly- I am getting the benefit of going off in the wrong direction and seeing for myself the mistake. But I’m going the wrong way. That’s a slow and difficult way to make progress toward the goal. (A terrible way to put it, since there is neither progress nor goal, and yet. One must use words.)

I don’t know. I know that I have had experiences of numinous, revelatory breakthroughs. I have had these experiences and they have given me a profound faith that “it” exists- I know directly, experientially, that what I seek is real. It isn’t imaginary, it isn’t hallucinatory, the quality of these experiences is that they are more real than ordinary reality, not less so. So these experiences I think may have deceived me in a way, or I’ve deceived myself about their nature, or what they mean or where they come from. I understand that they are real, that they aren’t only products of my own wishful thinking but that they are experiences, rather, of connecting with something fundamental. But because these experiences are so different from my normal way of experiencing reality, I have established a view of them as somehow something “outside” of my normal world, behind it somehow- as if the normal existing world is the veil that I must pierce in order to perceive and live in the “holy” or transcendent world behind that veil.

This I think is a common error on the path. It colors so much of my own experience that I find it difficult to understand, to see completely. I keep thinking I get it, that I see the outlines and contours of this false approach and so can avoid it, but I keep finding myself standing smack in the middle of the wrong path time and time again.

Right now, though, I am experiencing the effects of a profound shift in my approach. I don’t know if I can put it into words, or if it’s even beneficial to do so. But that’s what I’m up to here, in this space, so for better or worse I plunge ahead. What I’m experiencing currently is that I’m no longer looking for anything at all. In sitting practice, in meditation and in post-meditation, I’m simply looking at. Not for, not through, not beyond, not behind or beneath or around. Simply at.

Of course this turns out to be a pretty good approach. Since everything that is is right here, looking at it directly is a good way of seeing it. You can’t actually see what is if you’re not looking at it. It’s very difficult to find out anything at all about it if your approach is to try to see beyond it to something else, something that isn’t there at all.

This approach, this new way of looking, results, for me, in the experience of actually piercing the veil. Suddenly nothing is obscured, nothing is hidden. It’s all right there, right out in the open. As clear and as simple and as direct as anything can be. An orange on the table in morning light. The blue of the sky and the whiteness of clouds. This world is that world. This place is the place I seek. I am already home.

Of course, I know this, I knew this before. I knew it, but I wasn’t doing it and I didn’t know I wasn’t doing it. Or I was doing it and didn’t know I was. I was journeying to where I already was and had in fact always been and can’t, in fact, ever leave. You have to go on the journey before you can understand that there is no journey to go on. Now this makes it seem like I think that I’ve made the journey, or that I understand that there’s no journey to make- I mean, that is what I just said. But that sounds like I’ve arrived somewhere, too. I’ve crossed the river.

Well, of course, I haven’t.

But I can see the river. I can see where I am, I can see everything. Or rather, I know how and where to look now. It’s so simple it can’t be understood until suddenly it is. The only thing I can liken it to is those “magic eye” 3d images- you know the ones I mean- some picture of random colors and shapes, jagged and geometrical, ugly to look at, disordered, nothing but junk and noise and pattern- but you hold it so far from your nose and you stare at it in just the right way, and suddenly you’re looking into something very deep, and there’s an image floating in space in front of you- an odd looking bird, or a plane, or a tree or something.

And you try to explain that to someone who hasn’t had the experience and it’s like, “What?”

“Look at it, look at the bird, there’s a bird right there.

And they can look and look right where you’re pointing, and quite clearly you are crazy, or lying, because- there’s no fucking bird there. There’s just random colors and shapes and noise. The bird isn’t behind the colors and shapes and noises, those are what constitute the bird, right? I mean, even when you’ve got it figured out, even once you see the bird and are looking right at it, you can’t really show someone else the contours of it, or even point them out to yourself. It’s just that it isn’t there, and then suddenly, it is.

That’s as close as I can get to it right now. I’m looking at the bird. That’s all that’s happened. I’ve been trying to look behind the picture, through the picture, looking for the bird, looking for the bird, looking for the bird. But you can’t see the bird by looking for it.

Now I sound like a proper goddamned Buddhist, right?

“You can’t see the bird by looking for it.” 

Holy crap.

***

So, clearly, I don’t have anything of benefit to add to this discussion. It turns into gobbledy-gook. It looks and sounds like a koan when it’s supposed to be simple and direct. The simplicity seems to conceal something mysterious and profound, but it’s all right there on the surface. The surface is the depth, the depth is the surface. There isn’t something else at all beyond what’s right there, but it isn’t the case that what’s right there completely reveals itself when you’re not looking at it in the right way. The numinous is the mundane, the mundane is the numinous. But you can look and look and look at the mundane and if you aren’t seeing the numinous it isn’t there for you. It is mundane, and it can be ugly or pretty, soothing or terrifying, based upon how it appears to you. And you react to what you see based upon how you see it, and it has those qualities. But when you are seeing both the mundane and the numinous at the same time, then it changes everything. And nothing. An orange completely remains an orange, a car wreck remains a car wreck, a dead child is still a dead child. Nothing changes.

And yet. With this new way of seeing, with these new eyes, your whole experience of the orange changes. Your experience of the car wreck changes. Your experience of the dead child changes. Each thing remains exactly itself, it doesn’t change at all. The seer and the ordinary person both can agree that they are looking at an orange, at a dead child. And the seer can describe exactly what he’s seeing and the ordinary man will agree with him in every detail. And vice versa. But the two are having completely different experiences of those events, in fact, of the entire field of being in which those events, and they themselves, are appearing.

Buddha nature is our true nature. The veils and obscurations do nothing to damage it in any way. The veils and obscurations are mirage-like, almost imaginary. It isn’t the case that they have to be eradicated, totally worn away, perfectly purified, in order to access buddhanature, in order to connect with it and realize it as your own true self. This is really good news because otherwise there would be no hope at all. But it’s there, it is intrinsic to us. And when you’re practicing and following the instructions, you’re learning to relax your eyes, you’re creating the causes and conditions that will enable you to see the bird in the picture. And once you’ve seen the bird, you’re changed. It doesn’t mean that you’re a Buddha. It doesn’t mean your work is done and you can just chill out and look at the bird and everything will be hunky dory. But it does have significance. It means you know there’s a bird there in all of that noise, that what passes as reality for most folks is only part of the picture- but the other part of the picture isn’t somewhere else, it’s right there in the picture. There’s nowhere else to go, nothing else be, or do. It’s all right there in front of you, embedded only in the present moment, in things just as they are.

Seeing the bird isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning.

***

I offer this primarily as an acknowledgment of my own stumbles and errors on the path. Despite the help and encouragement of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, of my teachers and fellow seekers, I still cling stubbornly to error and confusion. I go the wrong way. I persist in my mistakes and find new ones to make as I go along. And yet, through grace, through love, through patience and persistence, slowly by slowly, things keep happening.

The bird is there. It’s real. It’s really, really, real.

Look and see.

 

***

 

Namaste. May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you make the world better with your goodness, may all of your wishes come true.

 

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ in the Caverns

caverns of sonora

 

***

I am telling you now, don’t read this post.

 

I’m serious.

 

***

 

I make a big deal out of my spiritual path, my journey, my longing for the mystical union with the source of what is, my fervor for enlightenment, the fire that burns in me for the love of God, for the pursuit of the holy and ineffable and numinous. I make no apologies for that. It is in every particle of my being, this longing for union with what is, this desire to pierce the veil of confusion and see the true glory of each and every moment, each and every being, and to give myself in the worship of that glory. I cloak it in the Buddhist garb because that is my language, that is my path, but this is only an artifact, it isn’t the thing in itself.

 

I say this by way of preamble for what I’m about to describe, which is utterly unbelievable and which was given to me and which probably cannot be transcribed.

 

Yet I feel moved to attempt to do so.

 

***

 

Since my wife’s terrible tragedy I have been moving eastward, compelled to reunite with her, to bring her home to her, to be of comfort to her in her loss, and to generally come in and be of what service I can be while she is burning herself on her own pyre of service. And this mission has led me across the nation and I find myself in the near middle of the state of Texas in the near middle of the nation at this hole in the middle of nowhere- the Caverns of Sonora, Texas. An RV park and campground and astounding cavern tour.

I read about it and wanted to go, wanted to be here in a strange way. “Of course.” I said to myself. “This is just the thing.”

So I drove 250 miles from Marfa to Sonora and paid my 25 bucks to camp and my 20 bucks for a tour of the caverns. I was there late so the last tour had already left, and there were two girls there and one of them had to take me on the tour. One was sweet and cute, and it was her turn. But she needed to go home to her babies. The other girl was tattooed and rough and loud and she was all over it- she wanted to take me on this tour of the deep underground. Her name was Arlene.

And I went with her.

 

***

I cannot begin to describe what happened, although I will try. We started on this tour- it’s two miles of caverns, deep underground- hot and muggy and there is a whole well-rehearsed spiel that goes on. But very quickly, since it was just Arlene and me, she opened up and threw out a lot of the script and tried to give me whatever kind of tour I wanted.

***

What happened?

I was transported.

 

***

She talked and talked. Of the limitless, unimaginable time periods for the formation of these strange underground formations. Of the geology and chemistry responsible for what we were witness to. Of her time in prison, of her lost daughter, of her abusive husband, of her love for the caves and her sense of purpose there. Of her love for Christ and her longing to be of use, to be of service. She told me that when she was 13 she prayed to Jesus to be of service, to be a vessel, and Christ told her that she would have to endure these many trials in order to have the life she longed for, and she, at 13, said yes.

She talked of being in prison and touching so many lives that she never would have been able to otherwise. She talked and talked and talked. And as we walked underground in this cavern of wonders I knew that I was experiencing a visitation. Arlene was my Beatrice and I was Virgil. She was Christ incarnate in the form of an ex-con from Louisiana, and I was her student and willing follower.

I’ve never in my life been in such a strange place with such a strange thing happening.

And she saw me. She saw me. She was Christ looking at me and seeing the Christ in me. I mean, what the fuck? I’m a goddamned Buddhist, thank you very much. But I couldn’t utter a buddhist word to save my life. It wasn’t what was going on there. What was happening down there was Christian fellowship of the most ancient and pure variety. A couple of hardened sinners celebrating Christ’s love in the middle of a deep, dark hole in the earth.

You pray and pray for a thing and then you get it and you don’t know what to do.

I’m glad, though, that I understood what was happening- the real thing that was happening, and not the tour. The tour was happening, it was real, but the real thing that was happening was vastly, vastly, vastly more.

 

This is why you shouldn’t read here. I’m nucking futs. I’ve lost it. But i’ll be damned if I can say that what happened was anything other than a fellowship of Christ. Maybe there’s enough broadness and openness in my approach to enfold her Christian beliefs in the vast arms of the Buddha, but maybe that’s just me fooling myself with my own provincialism. What I do know is that I will treasure that encounter as one in which the true Christ came to me and talked with me and held my hand and visited with me. And the feeling was that the whole world had turned in it’s eternity to bring me to that moment, to that meeting.

 

***

 

To be a mystic is to accept the love of God utterly and to abandon doubt.

 

***

 

I feel so impoverished at this attempt in relating what happened. But I offer it to you in the hope and fervent prayer that you open your eyes and your heart to what is being said to you in this moment, in every moment- that you are perfect, that you are loved, that you are needed and essential in this whole endeavor. You are already what you seek and what’s asked of you is only your participation and your willingness and your perfect, essential self with all of its blindness, brokenness, and seeming limitations.

For you are Christ, you are the Buddha, you are just what all of us, what the whole world needs.

 

***

 

I have been blessed by all that is, I have been touched by it and I cannot be now what I once was.

 

***

Namaste. Forgive me my excesses.

 

***

 

The Myth of Things That Happen

campfire

****

 

This was my campfire last night out at Indian Bread Rock state park in Arizona. I had the run of the whole park. No one else was there.

Tonight I’m freezing my ass off in Marfa, Texas. It’s fourteen degrees and I’m up at three in the morning because the heater in the Airstream kept cycling on and then shutting off. I got up out of bed and turned on the stove burner, or tried to, and sure enough it was out. I got dressed and went out to swap the propane tanks over- it seemed like it wa,s too soon for the one to be empty, but I opened up the valve for the other tank and went back inside. I lit the burner. It lit, but the flame was weak and lazy, as if the gas was running out. But the tank I just turned on was totally full, so I knew that something was wrong.

This is my first time camping when it’s below freezing, and I know there are all kinds of problems that can happen with the plumbing freezing and the lines rupturing, but I had never heard of problems with propane lines freezing. I checked the temp inside, which I’d set at 65 just to try to keep the heater running all night. It was 59 inside. 14 outside. I let the dog out to pee and she went to her water bowl- it was frozen solid. She peed and limped back up the steps, settled onto her bed and went back to bed.

I was freaking out a little bit. Watching the flame on the stove burner flicker and dim, and knowing there were five hours until dawn. The temp dropped- 58, 56, 54, 52, in just a few minutes. I tried to light the water heater- no joy. Tried to get the furnace to light again- no joy.

The little stove burner is still going. I know it can keep us from freezing, but there’s the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. So I put a fresh battery in the CO detector. I lit a candle and now I’m going to sit up until morning. I don’t know why. I could just bundle up in the bed and I’d get by. Nothing bad is going to happen. In the morning the sun will come up and it will get above freezing and everything will thaw and things will be fine. The temp in the Airstream has stabilized at 50.

Worse case scenario I can throw the dog into the van and run the van and keep her from turning into a pupsicle. Keep me from freezing, too. It’s silly to stay up all night afraid that you’re going to freeze or your rig is going to explode, or freeze, or both.

Right?

 

***

I’m here alone because my wife suffered a tragedy. I don’t want to violate her privacy here, although she knows you all and I know she wouldn’t mind. It’s not my place. You can keep an eye on her blog and she’ll say what she wants to about it. But she had to fly back to Florida to be with her mother and take care of her, and I’m following- slowly- in the Airstream.

It’s a bittersweet thing to be making this trip without her. I’m heartbroken for her and her family and I miss her already. But I’m finding great peace and joy in being out here all alone, doing everything solo- it’s an adventure. I’m pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and learning, becoming more capable. It’s not bad. But I hate that she’s not here with me, doing it too. And of course I’m saddened about the reason she can’t be here.

Of course, she is going where the need is, and that is what makes me love her. That, and how hot she is. But, you know, mostly it’s her heart. She’s a good woman.

***

Starting to wonder about what’s going on with this whole attempt to break free from our old lives and live a life of freedom and adventure on the open road. Terrible things keep arising for us that seem to mean the end of our adventure before we’ve made a proper start.

Maybe we are doing the wrong thing. Maybe what we’re trying to do is so fundamentally wrong and selfish that the Universe is throwing shit at us until we finally give up and stop.

Maybe these things are totally unrelated to us and are simply happening, as things simply happen. Maybe there’s no message there at all. Or maybe the message is, keep going, don’t give up, show you’ve got the guts to see this through.

I do not know.

At any rate, I am eastbound to follow my loving and beautiful wife to Melbourne, Florida. I should be there in a week. I put on 400 miles yesterday, but that was way too much so I’m holed up in Marfa for a day of rest. Of course, since I’m up all night I’m not resting that much. Still got about a billion miles of Texas to get through. The rest will go more quickly.

I want to go fast and get to my woman, but I also want to experience what I’m doing and seeing fully- I want to be where I am, not where I’m going, if that makes sense.

Whatever happens, doing this has been so good for me. It really is another life already. I don’t have to keep doing it for it to have changed me. I think the change was in the willingness to abandon the known for the unknown, and to do it with fervor and determination. You go along for fifty years, you can dig some pretty deep ruts.

I popped myself out of them.

Not all of them, I know. But a pretty good handful. And it gave me an appetite for more. Maybe it’s wrong and simpleminded to say that all of this ties in to my spiritual life, but it does. I feel it every day. Of course, my life is my spiritual life- there’s no difference, there’s not two things there. But they circle around each other all the same, they feed on each other- maybe it’s better to say that the outside and inside are in relation- the world keeps happening, joys and tragedies, and I simply keep relating to them as both the things in themselves, and as manifestations of the boundless forms that are inseparable from emptiness.

It makes me feel better.

***

I’m reading Thomas Merton’s book New Seeds of Contemplation. He attacks it from the Catholic angle, but his words and images could be plopped down into a dharma talk almost verbatim. He says God but he’s describing the Dharmakaya.

It’s instructive for me to read and contemplate other traditions because it reminds me that as much as I love the Dharma, it is truly just the boat we use to row to the other shore. The rowing is what matters, not the boat. I don’t even know if there is another shore. I believe there is, sure. But I don’t know. I think I know. Or maybe I know there is another shore but I don’t know if I’ll ever arrive there.

For me, right now, it’s just the joy of rowing. If you look back through this blog you can see mentions of this all the time. I have this image of manning the oars, rowing on towards morning. Sick and sore, hands bound to the oars, boat leaking, waves rising. Or joyful, sun shining. Still rowing.

I was listening to Joseph Campbell lecturing (thank you, Google Play!) on my eleven hour drive yesterday, and I was knocked in the head by this realization that I’m so damn happy to have this mystery of being to chew on- how bereft I’d be if I actually knew the answers! It made me happy for the fact of my death. Maybe that sounds strange, but it did. I was thrilled that I didn’t know the meaning of life, and I was thrilled that I was going to die- that I had only a limited time to figure it out! It seemed the perfect thing. Thrilled that I got to be human, got to have consciousness, and got to have the biggest riddle ever to work on. Thrilled that I have had the great blessing to have so many guides and teachers to help me in my impossible task, thrilled that the truth lies concealed in each moment, in every single thing that exists. Thrilled to be alive, right now, for as long as that lasts. And thrilled to see what’s next. Thrilled that I walk a path that is helping me want to be of service to others, that is founded on love, that seeks to turn me into a cosmic machine of love, of selfless love, for others and for everything that is.

That’s why I love reading Merton so much. That guy, he really got it, he had this powerful passion to be one with God, to know God totally, and to love his fellow man as God does. That longing- I have that and it’s unquenchable.

We burn up in this world. Everything does.

Glory.

***

 

Namaste. May you be swept up in your own true raptures.

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

Left behind

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***

Sometimes things line up in the way you thought they might. It’s not common, in my experience, but it does sometimes happen. The past couple of days here have been like that- like the dream that I had about this life when I was sitting at my desk staring at my screensaver of a sportsmobile on some tropical beach and listening to a suspect explain why what he did was the right thing to do given the circumstances. I thought it might be like it was today- listening to rain pattering on the aluminum skin of the Airstream at night, getting up to watch the sunrise and going for a long, long walk. Coming back and doing my sitting practice and having time to do lots of prayers, too, “Calling the Guru from Afar” which I love so much, and long-life prayers for Sharmapa, and Shantideva’s aspirational prayer, and the Heart sutra, and 35 Buddhas, and Chenrezig. Time to let my prayers unfold into a vast space, time to sit, time to chant, time to contemplate. Then lunch. Then doing the washing up. Then taking a nap. Then going for a hike, then a bike ride. Then reading and sitting and watching the ducks in the lake. Then making dinner. Another long walk as the sun goes down. A quiet evening with a bottle of wine and the two of us on our laptops. And later, reading Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley to each other. And into bed very early, in silence and stillness and at peace with each other and the world.

Sometimes this does happen.

I can’t quite get over the fact that we’ve done this thing. That my retirement checks actually arrive, and I can spend them. Money for doing nothing- it shocks me deeply, but makes me quite happy. I know I earned this retirement- just ask my wife, I think actually she’s the one who earned it. But with selling the house and going full-time, we have no debt and we have income and it seems like we’ll be able to do this as long as we want to. I could have stayed another ten years at that job, chasing the dollars, getting closer and closer to what I thought I wanted most of all- safety and security.

I’m so grateful that my beautiful wife knew better all along and was always encouraging me to forego that siren song. And that I found the dharma and opened myself enough to it that I was able to go to India and lose forever the idea that there was such a thing as safety, that there was something that money could buy that was as important as simply being alive, as being present in the moment, as being free to live in the way that you must instead of bending yourself to an ill-fitting rack in order to put food on the table and to stave away the darkness.

And now we are free and we’re living on much less but we’re living.

That is good.

 

***

 

I was on this long walk today thinking about how I stepped out of my old life and a job where I was always, always, always being asked to provide something. Fix a problem, undo a mistake, catch a bad man, find some children, write a report, testify in a trial, investigate a crime, take a statement, give a polygraph, find a witness, what what what. I did that for more than twenty years. Day or night, on duty or off, it made no difference. There was always something I was summoned to.

And then today I’m out waking in the wilderness and there’s nothing. No one is ever going to call me again. I will be asked to fix no more problems- at least, no more problems that aren’t on some level my problem. Strangers must tend to themselves. I am free to put one foot in front of the other for as long as I care to do so.

And it was a nice feeling.

 

***

 

I’m lucky beyond all reckoning. It isn’t everyone who is blessed with these circumstances, I know it.

I want to put it to good use. I don’t only want to wander on my own, I want to be of service. But I think my path to service is going to require a lot of wandering on my own, if that makes any sense.

I’d love to go up in a cave somewhere and sit and practice. I’d love to wander and practice like an old-timey yogi, like my friend Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, like Milareapa. I’d like to go to a monestary and do a strict three year retreat. I’d love to be handed all the teachings and practices and have a teacher tell me what to do. And maybe those things or some of them are in my future. But perhaps not. I am fifty one years old. I am not a young man, not a good prospect for pouring the Dharma into in the hopes of getting something out that others can use.

But I am happy to pour myself into the Dharma, whatever the outcome, no matter how small the benefit. I am happy to wander on my own with my beloved Guru in my mind if nowhere else on earth, and to do what I think I must in order to attain what I already possess. To become what I am.

If I long to be of use, I know I’ll be put to use. I am happy to be where I am, doing what I’m doing. Death is coming for me any minute now, I want to be laughing when he sweeps me up.

 

***

It’s good being outside. It’s good eating clean food made with love. It’s good to look across the table and see the one I love being happy. It’s good to fall asleep tired and content.

 

I wish these things for you, for everyone.

 

***

 

Namaste.

 

***

Moving On

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***

Yolie took this shot of me while we were hiking down from the Coyote Mountains overlooking our campsite in Anza Borrego. I kind of love it.

 

***

We spent Christmas eve rocking and rolling in our little aluminum boat- the winds were howling and buffeting  us all night long. It was like being back on our sailboat. I thought we’d blow all the way to Mexico by morning. It wasn’t that bad. When I got up at six I found Yolie’s shoes just twenty or thirty feet away in a little arroyo, along with Lucy’s food bowl and one of our gallons of water. It took a lot longer to find my flip-flops!d

We got up and packed up in the morning. The first Christmas morning we’ve had with no toys, no tree, no shopping, no opening, no stockings, no nothing. It was glorious! I tngexted a bunch of friends and we made some calls home to family, but that was it. Best Christmas ever.

And it was, really. It was relaxing and happy and totally free from anxiety, stress, worry, and overwhelm. We were where we wanted to be, doing what we wanted to be doing. I was outside just marveling at our beautiful Airstream trailer and our badass Sportsmobile van out in the desert with the glorious desert sunrise all around us, everything scoured clean and vibrant, and the open road in front of us with no end in sight.

A good Christmas indeed.

***

We drove to Yuma and got a spot in a campground with full hook ups. We took long, hot showers that went on and on. We soaked in the hot tubs and turned on all our lights and tomorrow we’ll do laundry. Also we’re going in to Los Algodones Mexico so I can see a doctor for this sinus infection. Maybe we’ll get our teeth cleaned, too! And boob jobs.

We just keep meeting the nicest people. Couples and families doing what we’ve done and really loving it. We all feel like we’ve stumbled upon some kind of strange open secret that no one else has figured out yet. So far everyone has been sweet and open and kind. Everyone seems way too happy. It isn’t like meeting normal people. Of course I’m probably romanticizing it, but it seems pretty nice so far.

We drove all over Yuma looking for a place for some food, but being Christmas day the pickings were slim. We ended up at this place- well, it’s impossible to do justice to it. Yuma Landing Grill. Imagine old desert folks teetering in on walkers for their Christmas dinner. I think there were three things on the menu. I got the rack of ribs and I about died. They were fantastic and there was about two pigs worth on the plate. We had a good dinner.

On our way out these gaggle of old ladies were making their way out to their car, one older gal being supported by another, somewhat younger gal. The older gal, a few steps in front of us, started this slow-motion keel over. I thought the younger gal would catch her, but the old gal knocked her over like a bowling pin and they both went down. Yolie and I jumped in and got them all sorted just as the other old lady pulled up in the car, her passenger door wide open and swinging in the wind.

If they all made it home that’s a Christmas miracle for the ages.

***

There’s so much good and wonderful about this new life. There’s a lot that’s more difficult, too. But I like it, at least for now I do. I like that you can’t take everything for granted, and that I have to pay attention to the details, to monitor and mend and tend to everything to keep it going. I like being in direct connection with the weather and the world, the night sky and the dawn, the wind and the heat and the rain. I like the solitude and I like the occasional company. I like the way we have to learn the grocery store layout and we can’t get the same bread everywhere, or the same coffee, or whatever.

It feels like coming alive again after a long dormancy.

***

Namaste, friends, and Merry Christmas to you all.

 

 

***

Following Bliss

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***

It’s been almost three weeks in the desert now.

I could make a report of my findings.

 

Silence.

Not the kind where it was loud and then it gets quiet for a minute and then it gets loud again and you forget, that moment of silence slips by you. This is a kind of sustained silence that you notice at first, then you forget, not because it gets loud anywhere, but because it doesn’t get loud. Then it sort of sneaks up on you, landing in your body first and then slowly blooming in you and reaching your conscious mind last, like slipping into a warm bath and your head is the last part to get in.

The silence has a quality to it that I can only compare to some meditative experiences I’ve had from time to time. A luminous, spacious, present, timeless, perfect quality. I believe that it is working in my body, opening doors long closed on a cellular level, rebalancing the out-of-wack elements in my blood and bile and humours, purging what’s foul and dank and putrid.

The earth quality is very strong, very forward. It is like standing in the palm of a vast hand to me. The earth energy lifts into my through my feet and joins me to it so I am just like the billion rocks littering the desert floor- not a separate thing. I think that’s the thing here, there’s no way to maintain your physical or psychic boundaries in this space- you are too tiny and the powers are here in such an unimpeded way- your paltry skin is no match for it, it flows through totally. The earth, the firey sun, the limitless wind, the spacious, empty, vivid sky. And water the hidden element whose traces are everywhere in the eroded mountains and alluvial fans and arroyos and washes and cuts.

Practice in this place is effortless and continual. You can’t stop being present, so post-meditation feels the same as meditation, or very nearly so.

We had a big dust-up that really threw us for a loop for a week- a big scare and drama that I won’t go into the details of but it was ugly and it was the kind of thing that could have totally derailed our whole plan and it is going to have all kinds of echoes and reverberations for some time to come, but the nut of it is that we very nearly got drawn back into resuming our old lives in a way, very nearly took the hook- did take the hook, actually, for a few days, before we spit it out and decided we’d stay the course here, no matter the cost.

It’s like that whole escape velocity thing I wrote about earlier- the same thing that doesn’t want you to follow your dreams doesn’t stop testing you just because you took the leap. It didn’t in our case, anyway. We made our escape, we got the taste of this new life, and then a really big test, a huge one, appeared. It looked like every monster that ever blocks the path- hydra headed, dangerous, vivid, real, roaring and scary.

I don’t know exactly that it was this place that gave us the strength to say no to the monster, to stand our ground and to pay whatever price we’ll have to pay for that act, but it feels that way to me. Maybe it’s just as simple as having that taste of freedom was all I needed to make up my own mind, but it feels like I got some help.

I like to believe that so I will.

So, we’re in the big silence and wildness, but we’re raw and shell-shocked and kind of terrified still. But we’ve girded our loins and set our course and there’s an undeniable power in that, I believe. You don’t get to know the outcome of your big decisions like that, if you were right or wrong, or if there is even such a thing. You put your money down and then you go forward. To doom or glory. I think you have to have that mindset, really. You can’t be faint-hearted or the path will remain blocked by the monsters that exist to do just that.

And we blinked, man. We got scared and we turned back, we thought we had to. We were going to lose our dream because we thought we had to give it up to do this other thing.

But something stopped us, too. I guess that blocking force has an opening force in opposition to it.

And now we’re on the other side of it, for better or worse, and it feels like for better. I know in my heart that I’m following my bliss, and I’m finally at a place in my life where I’m willing to face anything in order to keep doing that.

It’s just like getting on the path to me- the difference between the two states of “in alignment” and “not in alignment” is so great and visceral and clear and vivid that I know immediately- this is for me, and I must do this, and if I do not do this I will die.

Not to be all grandiose about it. But that’s how I feel. How we both feel.

***

 

So you’ll continue to see our dispatches from the wilds, although they may be infrequent and ever stranger.

We aim to go and not stop till we’ve got where it is we need to be. Whatever that looks like and whenever that gets here.

 

***

Namaste, y’all.

I hope that you have all you need to keep you whole and happy and safe, and that you are loved, and that you love like the world is ending.

 

Even if it never does.

 

***

 

You Must Have It All, Nothing Can Be Refused

Orthetrum Sabina Sabina

 

***

Today we met a nice lady named Judith. She’s full-timing in her little Airstream Hi-Top Van. We saw her out by our camp last night and then ran into her in town in front of the library today. All the homeless and the van tramps hang out there, getting on the wifi and tending to their electronic lives on laptops and smart phones. Judith said hi to me and I was so happy that she did. I’d seen her face and immediately wanted to talk to her, to hang out with her- something warm and wise and friendly in her eyes, something that radiated kindness. She told me a little bit about her life on the road and what she’d left and what she was doing. She has serious environmental allergies to modern life, so she packed up her stuff and got on the road. She does some kind of quantum vibrational healing that involves a computer and various frequencies and also some body energy work. It sounded woo-woo as all get out, but I sensed that she was sincere about it and in my new openness I guess it might work as well as anything.Hell, all I’m doing all day long is chanting and praying and aligning myself with the five elements and reading about mystics and wandering out in the desert, so who am I to say. I was proud of her for taking the leap all by herself. Her son called a couple of times while we were talking, worried about a weather system that’s moving into San Diego tonight. Yolie came out of the library and joined us and we all had a hell of a nice talk. It was like three best friends catching up after years apart.

Anyway, she was sweet and wonderful and helpful and as we were talking this guy walked by with a backpack on and a boonie hat and he slows down and points and Judith says, “Thomas?” and Thomas says, “Judith!” and that’s how we met Thomas. Judith described him as “a real minimalist” and she was correct. He has whittled his life down to what fits in his backpack. He radiated joy and peacefulness, a wandering bodhisattva if ever I’ve seen one. He applauded us on our own journey of downsizing and then we were all talking about the transformation that life undergoes when you embark on this kind of a path. Kindred spirits all around. Thomas showed us his tattoo on his forearm- “Always now.” I felt like I was encountering a version of myself on some parallel pathway.

And I think this is just an inkling of what awaits us. We have arrived in a new world, one where everyone is kind, and helpful, and mystical, and a little bit wild and a little bit strange and it is a fucking wonder and I want to go and go and go on into it.

 

***

We learn a hundred new tricks a day about how to live in the Airstream. What goes where, what needs to go and what needs to come aboard. The pod talks to us, tells us what she needs. And we listen. It’s a beautiful relationship.

I get deep pleasure from neatening up, sweeping and taking out the trash, doing the dishes with two cups of water and a drop of soap, washing my underwear in the cold water that comes from the shower and then jumping in when it heats up, getting wet, shutting it off, lathering up, then rinsing off under a luxurious eight or nine seconds of hot running water. The shower is so small and perfect that it stays nice and warm with the water off. Maybe two gallons for each shower? I don’t know, but it’s not much. And you emerge clean and happy.

I pee and poop outside. I am like a dog or a coyote in this, and it makes me happy, too.

I am up before the sun and do my sitting as it rises. I sit under the wheeling stars of an evening with my beloved and chat or simply reflect in silence. We are reading Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley to each other every night, taking turns. It’s a sweet and nurturing way to spend an evening. We cook and clean up, we tidy up, we go for walks, we come back and eat. We plan our trips into town, monitor our water supply and foodstuffs. Our battery power and solar. We feed the dog and track her down when she wanders out into the desert.

I want to do this for a hundred thousand years, but if I die tonight I will die happy because I got to do it for a week and that’s pretty damn good.

 

***

May you be happy and at peace. May your obstacles be removed. May all your wishes be granted. May you find what you seek in this very moment- the only moment there is any hope at all of finding anything.

 

Listen to me go on.

 

***

Desert Rats

three-vices-three-virtues

 

.

And day by day, our little ship is getting shipshape.

***

Today we filled a shopping cart with empty gallon water jugs, tooled them over to the water vending machine at the good market in Borrego Springs, and spent three dollars getting twelve gallons of sweet, sweet water. When we were pulling in we ran into Sherie and Dave, who we’d last seen at the town laundry mat. They were wheeling a cart full of water bottles into their car. They’ve got a setup in town where they can park their rig for two hundred bucks a month, full hook ups. But Sherie likes to go into town to do laundry and get water because there’s folks to talk to.

Before we got to the market we hit the hardware store for little plastic organizing bins, and paper towels, and trash bags, and what what what. Everywhere we go there are other rigs pulling in or out. Doing what we’re doing- looking for water, or a place to dump trash, or a free wifi spot, or to simply resupply.

There’s a whole new language, a whole new culture for us to learn. We got a library card and mooched free wifi in the local library. We figured out the right joint to get our martinis and our grub. After a couple times in any joint we are locals. We got our own tables.

We go to the vistor center and learn about the park. We talk to folks out walking their dogs in the wasteland.  No one ever bothers us. We move between the wild vastness of the desert and the fluorescent lit strangeness of the liquor store/deli/market and encounter those who live on the fringes of the known world. We are becoming them.

Our old lives look small and far away. We’ve got the scent of the sea in our noses and we may never see land again. We are out for the journey and none know how or where or when it will end.

By God we’ve done a thing.

 

***

 

namaste.

 

do what you must to be happy. 

 

***

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