Knockaround Boys, Part II

Knockaround-Boys-copy

So. This love for the broken world has me in its grip.

Things are so exquisite.

I listened to this podcast on Radio Lab about these punk rock kids in Cuba in the late eighties, early nineties, who began injecting themselves with blood from people who were infected with HIV. The Cuban government kept all these HIV infected patients in a kind of isolation ward- but while there, they could play their rock music, grow their hair long, and live in this strange kind of imprisoned freedom. Then, of course, they’d die these terrible deaths.

The whole thing made me fill up with light on the inside and weep.

I drove past the low rolling hills north of Cayucos and the fog was in and the grasses were tall and brown and the sea was dark and ribboned with stark, white foam and cattle were scattered along the hillside and the whole world was blown through with this brilliant, diffuse light and this made me tear up and the blood filled my heart and overflowed, ran onto the floorboards of my car and sloshed around.

Yesterday’s walk on the beach was enough to kill me with simple joy.

20150430_174751

I have some sad memories of this particular beach and that sadness tinged the edges of my joy and gave me the exactly perfect emotion, the one I cherish above all others, the one I’m such a sucker for. In the waves was the spirit of Yemaya, the great mother who lives in the sea and whose child I am, and, you know, I could feel her. I could hear her voice in my heart. And up on the beach behind me somewhere are the bones of our beloved Raj, our old dog, and I could feel her and see her so vividly. And I walked the edges of the sea between these two spirits and the whole earth blew its breath through me, through my own vaporous spirit, and there was this great boundarylessness, this limitless interpenetration, that made me weep.

Humans of New York. I weep every single time I go visit that site. Go there now, see if you can keep a dry eye. I dare you.

I’ve been watching this BBC show, One Life, narrated by David Attenborough. Now, to be fair, just the sound of his voice makes me weepy. So.

But that show is just murdering me.

You look at the natural world through the eyes of that show and you’ll be undone. Or you’re made of stone, I don’t know. How can these things be? And we just walk around with our heads up our asses, complaining about our Starbucks order.

When there is this illumined mad gorgeous beauty all around us!

Maybe I’m having some kind of mental breakdown. I’m all peeled open. And when I say “I”, I don’t mean that to say that there is an I experiencing all of this. It feels almost as if I’m a window that is also kind of a mirror, and everything blows through me unimpeded, as if there’s just this opening where I used to be, and if I look within there’s just the reflection of what’s out there, looking back at me.

And what about love? All this love. For The Woman on the Verge. You know, a whole new universe of love that had lain undiscovered in us, despite our love. Like the Hubble Deep Field images- what you thought might be a faint star turns out to be a whole galaxy- and there are thousands and thousands of them in this tiny speck of our darkest, emptiest patch of night sky.

Love is infinite and nested, complex and emergent.

As is life itself.

As are you.

As are we all.

***

So of course I weep.

***

Namaste.

***

I’m asking you to give

20150213_1353081430221316286

So, first things first:

Please take a moment and make a donation to help the victims of the earthquake in Nepal, if you haven’t already done so. If you have done so, please do it again. It doesn’t matter how much you can give, but if you read here I’d be so very grateful to you if you’d do this.

I’ve given to direct relief and International Medical Corps because they were recommended to me by people I trust in Nepal, but there are lots of others who are helping.

The need is great, as it is every time, all over the world, again and again, ceaselessly.

Thank you.

***

Of course I was horrified when I heard about the earthquake and the terrible loss of life and the many who are now thrust into a life even more difficult and frightening than the one they’d already known. And I was heartsick at the loss and damage to the many holy sites I’d so recently returned from.

And I felt the wild and terrible scope of my own selfishness. This disaster hurt. I am not really ashamed at my selfish stance, (although I am ashamed of it) it’s just that I am faced with it so directly that I can feel the discomfort- my own view of myself has been shown, once more, to be more charitable than is warranted. I’m not quite as good as I give myself credit for.

Not by a long shot.

I’m learning, though. Slowly by slowly, I’m taking in the suffering of others with genuine openness and a desire to see that suffering ameliorated. I meditate and pray for an end to suffering. At first, I thought that it was just something to do as a good Buddhist practitioner- that changing my thoughts to charity and helping others, putting others before myself, all that, that although it had no actual effect out in the world, it was good for me, in my own brain, in my own skin, and would work to make changes in me that were beneficial.

And mostly that’s true.

But I know that there are a lot of monks and meditators who do this “work” of compassion who actually do make a difference. I mean, it’s very obvious when you’re around that kind of person, that kind of energy- I’ve experienced it directly. So that makes me think that maybe it actually does have a direct benefit, too, what I’m doing. In my small way.

I’ll keep doing it, not knowing the answer.

***

Maybe that’s a good way to proceed.

***

This world has me by the ears. It’s shaking me back and forth, shouting into my face, showering me with abundant, wild, unimaginable beauty while it kicks me in the nuts and stabs me in the heart and kisses me with its flaming lips.

Like I like.

***

You must have it all.

***

This endless parade of death and disaster is the prom queen letting you get to second base in the back seat of your Dad’s car- it is kind of all the same thing at some deep and primitive level.

There’s just all this stuff happening, and it never stops. Now it’s this thing, now it’s that.

And if you don’t feel bad for all the suffering that’s going on, that’s okay, too.

You’ll be crushed under the wheel with the rest of us.

***

Here is a poem I wish I wrote. My wife shared it with me.

It has something in it.

Know Deeply, Know Thyself More Deeply

Go deeper than love, for the soul has greater depths,
love is like the grass, but the heart is deep wild rock
molten, yet dense and permanent.

Go down to your deep old heart, woman, and lose sight of yourself.
And lose sight of me, the me whom you turbulently loved.

Let us lose sight of ourselves, and break the mirrors.
For the fierce curve of our lives is moving again to the depths
out of sight, in the deep dark living heart.

But say, in the dark wild metal of your heart
is there a gem, which came into being between us?
is there a sapphire of mutual trust, a blue spark?
Is there a ruby of fused being, mine and yours, an inward glint?

If there is not, O then leave me, go away.
For I cannot be bullied back into the appearances of love,
any more than August can be bullied to look like March.

Love out of season, especially at the end of the season
is merely ridiculous.
If you insist on it, I insist on departure.

Have you no deep old heart of wild womanhood
self-forgetful, and gemmed with experience,
and swinging in a strange union of power
with the heart of the man you are supposed to have loved?

If you have not, go away.
If you can only sit with a mirror in your hand, an ageing woman
posing on and on as a lover,
in love with a self that now is shallow and withered,
your own self–that has passed like a last summer’s flower–

then go away–

I do not want a woman whom age cannot wither.
She is a made-up lie, a dyed immortelle
of infinite staleness.

~ D. H. Lawrence

***

I have a friend at work whose child is very ill. His name is Emmett and he is at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. If you pray, say a prayer for him and his family. If you don’t pray, then have a good thought for them. Light a candle.

***

I’m making so many demands!

***

I love you. I hope you don’t suffer too much. I send love, compassion, and all good things your way.

***

Namaste.

***

Spoken To

Regard All Dharmas as Dreams

Normally I write to you sort of conversationally, wanting to share something I’ve been chewing on, and kind of using the space to figure out in my own mind what it is exactly, or approximately, that I’m experiencing. I guess this isn’t any different.

What’s happening to me? I think that’s my question.

What’s happening?

What the hell is going on?

***

I got back from India and at first I thought I’d really come back, that I had managed to get back to where I’d come from. I no longer think that’s exactly correct. I think I stepped off the merry-go-round and when I stepped back on it was a different one. It looked enough like home to fool me at first, but little tells are beginning to accrue.

I shoulda knowed.

I mean, I knew that going on pilgrimage was dangerous. I sensed it. My body sensed it. My psyche got all jittery. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be a whole thing, go on pilgrimage, yadda yadda yadda, spiritual creaminess abounds, yadda yadda. Right?

But, you know, not really.

I thought I’d go and it would be a little bit fun and interesting, and a lot boring and irritating and not hard exactly, but, you know, all day on a tour bus, get off, see a temple, chant, meditate, pray, go to the hotel, get dinner, sleep, rinse, repeat. I thought that since I was a good Buddhist, a devoted student, a serious practitioner, and a little bit of a mystic, that I might get something more out of it. I might get a taste of the real deal, I might get some kind of vision of the Buddha or of Guru Rinpoche or the Sharmapa- something, you know, kind of cool and very deep and meaningful and it could be like a souvenir of my trip, something I could look back on and treasure and relive and feel special about- add to my spiritual collection.

Yeah, huh? I amaze myself constantly.

And, yeah, I did. I did get some of those experiences. Things happened to me, weird stuff, spooky stuff, powerful stuff. It was a big deal to me. And it was way more than I had bargained for. In Buddhist circles, there’s a differentiation between having experiences and having realization. Realization is the steady stuff, the unshakable and profound direct knowledge of how things really are. That’s what the big time masters have- that’s why they’re referred to as “realized beings.” I don’t have any of that. But I had some experiences. Over time, those experiences are supposed to lead to realization. So for me, they are wonderful, I’m so grateful to have had them, they’re kind of what you think the goal is when you’re first starting out- but ultimately they don’t equate to anything too profound. They blow you away at the time, and things shift for sure, but then the intensity fades and they sink back into the place from whence they came and the ordinary world reasserts itself.

So.

So I went and it was great, it was all that and a bag of chips, and I came back and I was really wanting to keep it going, keep that whole vibe and mindset alive in me- not to cling in a way to what had already passed, but to maintain the awareness in my heart and mind and continue to meet what was with that same stance.

But when I got back, things blew up in a big way and I was immediately in a very dark and scary place- I felt under attack and completely unsteady and it was really hard. It was dark and difficult and I did badly with it, I really did. It was for me a little bit like finding myself in the bardos, the land of the dead, that in-between state after death and before rebirth when your consciousness is no longer confined to a physical body and the mind can make all kinds of weird and terrifying shit happen. I was hurt and confused, frightened, just overmastered.

But eventually, things calmed down. There was a new dawn after the storm, and things started to look and feel renewed, alive again- just like the world feels after a big rain. The sun comes out, the birds chirp, it smells sweet and bountiful and there’s new hope. That’s what it was like. My practice came through and helped me cope, but there was also grace, something bigger than my small practice at work.

Something bigger at work.

***

And then once I kind of got back on my feet, things really broke open. Like a frozen river when the first thaw of spring hits- the surface bucks and heaves, great cracks form, the ice groans and shudders, and pretty soon it’s all shattered and rolling away downstream. The kids moved out and took the grandbabies with them to the frozen North (Truckee, CA). We’re engaged in a great clean out, clean up, fix up, paint up and repair of the big tiny house and we’re gonna put it on the market, get it to someone who will love it as much as we have. I’ve crunched the numbers, and I’m going to retire at the end of the year. We’ve got our eye on a pretty little Airstream and we’re going to down-size, simplify, sell-off, divest ourselves of all mortal encumbrances, and hit the road.

Woot.

***

Over the weekend I attended Lama Jampa Thaye’s two day course on an introduction to Shentong Madhyamaka that our center hosted. Lama Jampa is a westerner with serious, serious qualifications, experience, and, I believe, a high degree of realization. Shentong Madhyamaka is a Tibetan Buddhist philosophy that is concerned with the nature of emptiness- specifically kind of whether there is anything at all that truly exists, or if absolutely everything is of the nature of emptiness.

In Madhyamaka, there are basically two streams, two schools of thought. The Rangtong school promulgates what Lama Jampa calls a “Non-affirming negation emptiness” that basically says that absolutely everything is empty of anything one could call a true nature- that even Buddhanature is empty of anything that truly exists.

The Shentong view is what Lama Jampa calls an “Affirming negation emptiness” that basically holds that, yes, things are empty, phenomenon are empty, but that Buddhanature, which is what is left when all conditioned things are removed, does actually exist, and that, further, it actually contains qualities- such as awareness, compassion, love, basically, all the qualities of the Buddha. These are unconditioned- that is, they are unborn, uncreated, unending- and they are the foundation of the display of phenomenon.

It was heady stuff, and my first introduction to pure Buddhist philosophy. I loved it superbad.

What I really loved is that Lama Jampa made it clear that, unlike “normal” philosophy, this philosophy is designed to support your practice, specifically, to allow you to develop certainty of the view, and that without certainty of view one’s meditation practice cannot progress correctly. So it’s ultimately a very pragmatic, very grounded approach that maybe sounds quite esoteric but isn’t really quite that way.

A great blessing for me to attend. Thank you Lama Jampa!

And from my Dharma buddy Cesar over at Pasadena Bodhi Seeds, here’s a little clip of Lama Jampa talking about our beloved teacher, Shamar Rinpoche:

***

On Monday I went down to Santa Barbara for the Science and Buddhism seminar. I met a guy that Jack had been talking about since we first met, John Hoag. John is a serious, long-time practitioner who has spent most of his adult life in Nepal and India, studying with the heavy hitters. The three of us met for coffee before the seminar. What I loved about John was there was almost no chit-chat. He said hi and then he basically started teaching. He gave me some direct instruction on connecting to the guru as a support for correct motivation in engaging in Ngondro practice- and had me do the work right there, so I had experience that I could take with me. Which I have done.

So, thank you, John.

It is always deeply inspiring to me to meet with other practitioners who are fully living the Dharma. It may be confirmation bias at work, but I enjoy being in their company and I sense always a deep joyfulness, sweetness, and love in them, almost without exception. The Dharma seems to have this kind of stamp that it puts on those who commit fully to their practice. Whether it’s truly there or not, I experience it and that experience deepens my own resolve and longing, so I’m grateful for it.

At the seminar there were a couple of new faces. Robert had bumped into these guys and after talking to them, invited them to the seminar. Dr. Gino Yu was amazing. He’s based out of Hong Kong, and he’s this bizarre combination of engineer, psychologist, neuroscientist, video game designer, huckster, and mystic. He shared with us his theory of being able to drive people to an enlightened state by first grounding them in the present moment, then connecting to their somatic awareness, then decoupling from their habitual thought patterns and “framing” (their common world-view)- then driving their energy levels up while maintaining that state so their perceptual bandwidth expands to take in more and more of the present moment…somehow this leads to, or towards, enlightenment or connection with The One. He was brilliant, fast, jumpy, and engaging. It was great fun listening to him, very thought provoking and thrilling to experience the world through his eyes. I think he’s got a lot of good ideas, and I think he’s got some direct experience that is going to guide him in the right direction. And he’s brilliant and entrepreneurial and connected, so he may really bring a new science of enlightenment into the public in the next few years.

The other guy was Adrian Belic. He’s a documentary filmmaker whose most recent film is “Happy”, a documentary on the current science of happiness. It’s a great film, one I enjoyed a lot and highly recommend. He also directed one of my favorite films of all time, Ghengis Blues. Arian was funny and down to earth and a joy to be around. He and Gino had been out to Burning Man, working the mystical angles, and now they were just coming back from camping after a seminar of Gino’s on Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Self-Discovery.

Our topic for the seminar was the recent pilgrimage that I just got back from. Dawa was there and he talked about the pilgrimage while Jack showed some photos from the trip. Very quickly the whole table of various brilliant minds were going back and forth about the devotional aspect of pilgrimage, Gino’s ideas on enlightenment, the nature of emptiness, the role of thought in regulating energy, the dangers of trying to use spiritual awareness based exercises on unmedicated subjects who are experiencing a manic phase, duality, consciousness, blah blah blah. It was, like always, kind of analogous, for me anyway, to an ultra-high-speed knife fight in a phone booth. Nothing more fun than that!

***

Also during the weekend the Woman On The Verge and I got to meet a couple travelling with their four children in a beautiful Airstream just like the one we want. It looks like we may be able to buy their rig when they finish their trip at the end of the summer, which should perfectly align with when we sell the house.

Something bigger at work.

***

So, this is my experience since my return. Everything broken open, all bets off, all landscapes shifted. Deep truths revealed. New paths opening. A deep and abiding happiness, a joyful sense of engagement with this direct experience. And this sense of a kind of burning torch in my heart that guides me in the right direction- when I’m going the right way, it blazes with light and love. When I veer off, it dims and sputters.

I aim to keep it burning.

***

Namaste!

***

Leaving Clyde, and finding you are loved.

leaving-winesburg-ohio-cop

So I got a nice surprise yesterday and I wanted to share it with all of you folks here. I got a nice email from Melissa Bright talking about this picture and how it inspired her to write this song. I gave it a listen and I think you should, too. I really liked it, and I like the cross-fertilization of image and lyric and of course I think the mood is exactly right for it.

***

And you know, the cross-fertilization goes so much farther than just between Melissa and this picture. It’s got Sherwood Anderson in it, for the title of the piece I did, and because Melissa was looking for work inspired by Anderson’s book Winesburg, Ohio. And there are other photographers, the originators of the works that I appropriated to create this one, and the internet that makes it possible for these disparate threads from unknown creators to somehow be tied together- and the mood that infects us when we create or are driven to create….once you start looking at the strands you realize you can’t remove anything at all from the weaving. It’s all one, dude.

Anyway, I wanted to say thank you to Melissa for sharing this with me, and with us.

I hope it brings you some pleasure.

***

Namaste.

***

PS- I know, I need to keep posting stuff from the pilgrimage. It’s coming, just slowly.

***

25 years

Domestic Interior

Twenty-five years ago today the Woman On The Verge agreed to marry me. I’ve been married to her for half of my life. If I could see where we are now from where we stood together on that beach on Maui twenty-five years ago, I think I’d be both pleased and horrified. It ain’t all been pretty. But it is the most significant work of my life: what I’ve spent myself on, what I’ve relied upon, what I’ve abused and neglected, what I’ve bucked against and been blind to, what I’ve bound myself to and bitterly fought, what I’ve lost and regained, what I’ve made bleed and have bled for.

Yolanda, I thank you. I yet pledge my troth to thee.

In sickness and in health. In good times and bad. You can’t yet count on me to be always wise or good, but I will be the last man standing when the lights go out. Up to my knees in the bodies of my foes.

Most of whom are only myself, I know.

How has it been my great good fortune to have loved you, and to have been so loved in return? What great deeds am I being rewarded for? Nothing I have done in this life makes me deserving of your love, yet I am in possession of it.

I am undone by you.

I am proud to have won you to me. Proud and humbled. I stand ever in awe of your great goodness, your matchless heart, your quiet strength, your unerring moral compass, your limitless kindness, your wild fearlessness, your gladness at being in the world. You are my teacher, my guide, my mirror, my eyes and my hands, my helpmeet and best friend, my lover, my destroyer, my salvation, the stone I break myself open upon, the ship that saves me from drowning, the shore I wash up on when I do shipwreck; the one who enslaves me, and the one who picks the locks and sets me free.

I think I’m a better man now than I was when you married me, and I know if that’s true at all it’s due to you and your hard work.

I love you.

I hope you’ll yet bind yourself to me for those days that remain to us on this earth.

How about a big hand for the pretty lady, folks? Don’t she deserve it?

You bet she does.

***

Namaste.

***

emotions

Juliet's Walk

*

I know better, I really do.

*

Emotions are pretty interesting to look at from a Buddhist perspective. And when I can look at them from a Buddhist perspective, I find that perspective very helpful. But I am a poor practitioner who is mostly immune to the Dharma, so oftentimes I find that I get entangled in my emotions and tend to stay right there, like a kid who won’t get out of a mud puddle.

Today I am sad. I feel helpless. Overwhelmed by my many failures.

What’s doing this to me?

My mind.

I know, at least, that there isn’t anything objectively wrong outside of me that is causing me to experience these emotional shitstorms. That’s a Buddhist perspective, and I think it’s correct, and even in the midst of my meltdown I can recognize that as true. Which is helpful. Beneficial.

So. Maybe not totally immune to the Dharma. Just mostly.

Still, knowing this doesn’t shift the mood very much. I am still profoundly sad. I still feel helpless and overwhelmed by my many failures. But I recognize that what’s at the root of this experience of sadness is a mistake in my view, not something wrong with what’s happening. I’m feeling sad because I believe on some level that the experience I’m having is unfair to me, that it isn’t meeting my own expectations of how I think things should be going. I want things to be one way, and they are not that way.

To be upset about this, and to imagine, to feel, that being upset about this will change something outside of me, seems crazy. Because, you know, it is.

This is the action of both grasping and aversion. Grasping at things as if they are real, as if they have a solid existence somewhere out there. And aversion, because not only do I think they are real and solid, I think they are bad in some way, they are something I don’t want, and I push them away. So, also there is the action of ignorance– I don’t understand the way things really are.

Grasping. Aversion. Ignorance.

These are the big three in Buddhist thought, the three big errors, the three factors that lead to suffering and keep us trapped in Samsara. Keep me trapped in Samsara. Where I’ve been my whole life, and many, many lifetimes before, and where I will remain unless I change those factors for good, really uproot them and break their hold on me.

So in this way, these experiences of deep sadness, grief, rage, anger, stupidity- they are actually very good teachers. I can be caught up in these emotional storms and be completely overwhelmed by them- they color my whole world, my whole experience of what it is to be alive- they are very, very compelling. And yet, they arise because I am fundamentally confused about the nature of reality. And since this error is so compelling, I really do know that I’m confused. I can’t remain in denial about it. I’m seriously fucked up.

So, this is a great place to be, actually. I get it. I’m confused. I’m acting out of grasping, aversion, and ignorance, and this leads very reliably to the suffering that I’m experiencing right now. It’s very vivid and clear to me, I’m not confused about that at all.

Which is fantastic, because it means that I can let go of my grasping, stop trying to push away what I don’t want, stop running from it, stop judging it according to my ignorant understanding, and try to figure out what’s really happening. It doesn’t mean that doing any of this is easy for me, but it is at least possible, because I’m no longer completely convinced that how I see things is how they really are. There’s some space around the edges of my delusion. A little crack in the façade where some light can get in.

Right now I’m sad about something and I feel totally overwhelmed, like I can’t fix it and never will be able to. Instead of examining the thing itself, I’m fixated on my reaction to it. The thing itself is neutral, right? It just is. So maybe I can give it a little space to be the thing that it is, and take a breath and not make up my mind about what that means for my ego. What my ego thinks it means for my ego, which seems to pretty much always think the same thing- “This is fucked! This is totally fucked, and it’s not happening- this is NOT happening, we have to change this, this isn’t fair, nobody understands me, I’m being unfairly accused of something, I did it, yeah, but it’s not like they say, they don’t understand what I really meant to do, blah, blah, blah…Oh crap am I sad.”

The facts are unfair. The situation is unfair. The feelings and thoughts of the other person are unfair. All of these factors need to change, right fucking now. Once they have changed, once they are aligned in a way that I don’t find uncomfortable and threatening, then I can be happy again.

This is not a very reliable path towards happiness.

And yet, it’s also not the right approach to try to deny that you feel the way you feel, to suppress the feelings because they are wrong and bad. This is just making the same mistake and turning it inward rather than outward- I’m bad, I’m wrong, I’m mean and selfish and stupid and I need to stop it!

Now I’m real, and important, and terrible, and must be stopped!

So, that won’t work either.

What’s a feller to do?

Well, the instructions are pretty straightforward. On the mundane level, you can kind of just recognize where you are, and that you’re in pain and suffering, not because you are bad or wrong or someone else is bad or wrong, but because you are still a little bit ignorant and confused about things. And you can try to open up your view a little bit so that you’re not only focused completely on yourself and your own suffering, but you can see that everyone else suffers in the same way that you are suffering right now. And this can open and soften your heart, it can be the beginning of Bodhichitta, and you can have the aspiration that since you’re experiencing all of this sharp pain and suffering right now, maybe that can alleviate some of the suffering of others. You ask to take on all of that suffering so that others don’t have to experience it at all.

And you can let go of your attachment to the fantasy you have about how you wish things were. And you can sit in stillness and silence and try to relate to how things really are.  Try to see the other person as just as confused as you are, and don’t focus on getting them to change- focus on seeing their suffering as just the same as yours, and see if your heart softens just a little bit.

And on the ultimate level, recognize your own nature and the nature of all phenomenon as non-dual. There isn’t any you or them, no inside or outside that has any real, solid existence. Not really. There is just awareness and manifestation continually unfolding in the limitless present moment. This can be a tall order, recognizing this, so if you can’t, just let it be.

***

Of course, I am writing this for myself. But I hope it might be of benefit to you today, whoever you are.

***

Namaste.

***

Kathmandu

***

Kathmandu.

The very word feels exotic in the mouth. Kathmandu. You know you’re someplace else when you’re in Kathmandu. Not in Kansas anymore.

It’s true.

I got off the plane in Guangzhou after fifteen hours of flight time feeling groggy and disoriented. I met up with Rosh and Christine on the flight so we hung out together in the airport while we waited for the flight into Kathmandu. We tried to get wi-fi, I remember, and at some point the tiny coffee shop opened next to the baggage claim and they were selling coffee for eight bucks a cup. Some kind of hot-shit Jamaican brand? The guy I sat next to on the flight bought a cup. He was a doctor, going to Kathmandu as part of a Christian missionary program to treat the kids working in a brick factory. Treat them and bring them bibles, the word of God. He didn’t quite know what to make of me on a Buddhist pilgrimage. Not that he was too curious about that. He seemed content to talk about himself, and I was happy to let him. He made it pretty clear that eight bucks for a cup of coffee wasn’t going to make a dent in his financials. I’m making him sound like a dick, probably, and probably he was a little bit. But he really was enthused about going around the world and trying to make a difference. He enjoyed being of service, and he was serious about it. That part made me happy, made me happy to see a guy who, yeah, he was rich and successful and had all the toys, but here he was, on a plane to the middle of nowhere to spend a couple of weeks helping out the poor and suffering. So what if he was peddling a brand of religion at the same time? He believed in that, too. So, good on him. Doing good things, really going out there and doing them. He should have a eight dollar coffee, goddamn it.

We left the terminal in Guangzhou and stepped onto the tarmac. The sun had come up but the sky was hazy and the color of pale brick. We got onto a bus that took us out to the plane and we got on that. All the flight attendants were Chinese women. I know I’m wrong but they all looked about six four and like they had just walked off the set of a James Bond flick in about 1967. They were all business. Probably trained acrobats and part-time assassins who grew up in whorehouses and raised poisonous orchids on the side. That kind of crew.

Six hours later we landed in Kathmandu. It’s hard to describe what that was like. Of course we saw the Himalayas jutting up through the cloud cover on our approach, impossibly tall, way up in the sky where you just don’t think there should be any land at all, really- and broader than they are tall, too, that’s the thing that stuck out in my mind, how thick they are, how massive. Tall is just a part of it. And then the plane banks around and kind of dead-falls down into the valley and right at the end the pilot pulls up on the yoke and we plop down pretty hard and there’s a bit of a yaw for an uncomfortable couple of seconds, then full flaps and brakes and shuddering to a stop and getting off the plane. There’s a low brick building and we all walk into that and it looks like a bus depot in Alabama in 1935 that’s been invaded by small, dark-skinned people who are intent on something- not you and what you’re doing so much as something inscrutable that you’re in the process of interrupting.

There was a metal detector we all filed through but no one was manning it and the thing buzzed and beeped and we put our bags on a conveyor and went through and got our bags on the other side of the barrier- but no screeners, no cops. Serve yourself security screening.

Honor system, I guess.

And there was a desk with a guy in uniform who took my passport, looked at me kinda hard, asked me a bunch of questions in a language I didn’t understand, then when I didn’t say anything, shrugged, stamped my passport, and handed it back to me.

Welcome to Kathmandu.

Rosh and Christine and I gathered ourselves and our bags, changed some dollars into Rupees, and walked out of the airport. There was a noisy throng of folks waiting there, and someone held up a sign with our names on it. We followed him to a van and got in and in a couple of seconds we were zooming around the streets, buzzing with motorcycles, scooters, rickshaws, ox-drawn carts, pedestrians, all flowing around each other in a beautiful, intricate dance that scared the living shit out of us. Every time you glanced up at the windshield it was full of an oncoming truck or had just missed clipping the baby being held by the woman on the back of a motorcycle- woo! it was fun!

Kelsang introduced himself to us, told us he was from Shambala and would be with us until we went to India. We all were happy to be in his capable hands. Of course, we didn’t know then how amazing he was and how much we would come to rely upon him- but he was and we did.

He dropped us off at Hotel Mum’s Home, where we’d booked our rooms. The hotel was hidden in a warren of narrow alleyways, behind tall brick walls, but was staffed with dozens of the sweetest, most beautiful and helpful people you could ever imagine. I think these guys and girls work part-time in Heaven, welcoming the newly departed to their rooms. My room was up five flights of marble stairs. It had a great bed, and a bathroom, and a window, some bottled water- it was perfect. I laid down on the bed and promptly passed out.

I woke up disoriented. Met up with Rosh and Christine in the lobby, I think we had some coffee…then went out to the street and got swallowed by the shops and shopkeepers of Thamel. My disorientation did not abate.

*

I don’t remember much other than the noise and the novelty, and the feeling of deep peacefulness, safety, and joy that I felt. I loved the people I saw, every one of them. I loved the things for sale, and how they were sold. I loved the crush and flow and the smells of it. I felt profoundly happy.

I was in Kathmandu. This pilgrimage was going to happen!

***

Namaste.

***

more to come…..

Notes from A Pilgrimage

I’m back from my pilgrimage to Nepal and India, and I want to start writing down some of my experiences so you can have an idea of what it was like. Of course I feel very intimidated by the task- the trip was so powerful and had such a profound impact on me that I’m afraid any attempt to capture it is doomed to failure. But I will try.

I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Feb. 12th, two days before the pilgrimage had its official start. Lots of us arrived in dribs and drabs in the week leading up to the pilgrimage- it’s a long and difficult flight and there are a lot of opportunities for missed connections and lost luggage, and no one wanted to show up for the first morning directly after thirty hours in the air. So, a day or two early was good.

For me the pilgrimage was fraught with anxiety and fear long before it began. I wanted very much to go to all the Buddhist holy places so I could experience them and benefit from a practice perspective- but I didn’t really give a shit about being in India other than that. I did not want to travel, I did not want to use the time and money, I did not want to have to deal with the ordeal of getting a passport and the necessary visas, I didn’t want to get typhoid pills and malaria pills and all the other shit…I was in many ways an unwilling pilgrim. As the day of my departure descended upon me, I was flooded with fears and regret. I was absolutely convinced that the trip was a terrible idea, that it would be a disaster, that I would die in a plane crash or from some terrible illness- all thoughts that are pretty far from normal for me- I mean, I am a good worrier, don’t get me wrong- but this was an order of magnitude higher than what I was usually capable of generating in the fearfulness area. And this fear built upon itself continually until Yolie dropped me off at the airport and I got in the check-in line with six hundred Chinese people trying to get back home to Guangzhou.

Then my anxiety just vanished into thin air, like so much smoke.

I mention this anxiety and the obstacles to the pilgrimage because I believe that they are not uncommon to experience. Maybe it sounds kind of new-agey woo-woo, but almost everyone I spoke with about this aspect of pilgrimage had a similar experience.

Something does not want us to go on pilgrimage.

I don’t know if it is just a manifestation of our ego’s desire to maintain itself, if our fears about growth cause us to throw up obstacles in the form of all these compelling reasons why we can’t go today, we can’t go this week, we can’t go on this pilgrimage but we for sure will go on the next one- as long as there are no real conflicts, no problems with our health or at work or the kids don’t need us to go to their soccer game or the air conditioning on the bus won’t make us sick…..I am sure that is part of what happens. But there seems also to be a couple of other things that might be happening as well, and that is that the pilgrimage itself wants you to really work for it, it wants to test your commitment to the true voyage- which of course isn’t anything at all about going to India or anywhere else, but about the voyage of self-discovery, of discovery about how things truly are, and what you’re going to do about it. So it seems to me that this is also part of what’s going on. Of course, I don’t have any empirical, factual support for this belief- but I do believe it.

And hand in hand with this kooky belief is this other one: there’s absolutely a force that does not want you to go.

This is the negative force, call it what you will, I don’t have a name for it really, but I believe it’s there and it acts in the world and in our hearts and minds and souls and it isn’t your own personal desire for staying behind, staying stuck where you are, but an impersonal, external one that wants us all to stay behind, to keep doing what we’ve always done, that does not want anyone to seek the light and leave the darkness.

So in order to accomplish pilgrimage, you have to begin the journey by defeating these forces who are conspiring to keep the whole thing from happening. Everyone who went on this particular pilgrimage did just that. To lesser and greater degrees to be sure, but we all had to face down these demons.

And I just mention this in case you’re ever in the position of embarking on your own pilgrimage, because you need to be prepared for it. And if you are, if you kind of expect that the terrain is going to be questionable and sketchy, and last-minute things and first-minute things are going to get in the way, and you’ll feel fearful and nervous and you’ll be convinced that it’s the wrong thing to do- then you’ll be able to just take a deep breath, tell yourself that these obstacles are not real, that they’ll resolve or turn out to be okay and that you’re committed to going forward no matter what, and you’ll end up going on your pilgrimage and gaining what’s to be gained.

If you don’t see the obstacles as part of the path, you’ll succumb to them and your pilgrimage won’t happen. The Buddhist conception of this force that stands in the way is Mara. Mara is the guy whose realm is that of the sense pleasures, of samsara, and he doesn’t want us to leave. He tempted the Buddha when the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree. It’s not that the force is evil, exactly. But it wants us to stay.

And the thing is, the door will open. It isn’t the case that Mara can keep the door closed if you really want to open it. He’s just going to keep telling you that it probably is closed, that even if it isn’t locked, well, it’s way too heavy for you to open it, and in fact you probably won’t like what’s behind the door anyway, and wouldn’t it be nicer to leave the door alone and go over here where there’s a nice meal of your favorite food, and there are some important emails to answer, and this movie you’ve been wanting to watch….

But if you say, “Yeah, that’s okay. I’m going through the door anyway,” then the door will open when you tug on it. The door can’t stay closed to you, to anyone who wants it to open.

Open. Open. Open.

And the journey isn’t safe or comfortable- Mara is right about that. But the journey is the only thing that matters.

***

More to come. Watch this space.

***

Namaste.

***

Before There Was This Place There Was Another

two-houses-copy

***

One of my earliest memories is of being in the backyard of our place in Denton, Texas. I remember watching my old man digging in the yard with his shirt off and I was running around underfoot. It was a hot, sunny day. I don’t know anything about the world or what my mood was, but there was suddenly a big coiled up snake in the dirt and my dad jerked me up off the ground by my arm maybe? set me on a table or something and then raised up the shovel and brought the blade down through the snake’s body maybe once maybe a few times what I remember was he was mad and I was afraid and thrilled and sad and mad. proud of him for killing the snake and sick that he’d killed it, too. scared of the snake and scared of my father’s anger and mad he was mad at me when I’d done nothing wrong and upset that he was so upset. I think I bragged about him killing the snake to my mom but I don’t know if that’s true. Fact is, I don’t know if it even happened. I just know that I remember it, so for me it’s like it did. Like I remember him in his dark policeman’s uniform walking out to the patrol car parked in the driveway, like he was some old-timey gunslinger in the west. I remember my mom in her bee-hive hairdo and a summer dress, cat-eye glasses, the whole shebang. I don’t remember them ever saying anything to me in those days, although I’m sure they must have. What I remember is watching television in the morning before they woke up, and getting in the crib with my baby brother and probably torturing him, hoping he’d go back to wherever it was he came from. I remember dirt and sunlight and long hours of silence and being left to my own devices but who knows. I thought I was alone then and it got more like that after the divorce. My old man kind of was drawn out of my world and loomed ever larger in it because he wasn’t there. And I turned a blind eye to my mother, blamed her for his absence, set myself against her in all ways.

Now I’m an old man and I’m mistrustful of all of these memories I carry around. I am not one to dwell on the past, for me it holds little interest- but it’s unnerving to realize how little of what I have built up as the bare facts of my life ever happened at all. I have no idea what I know and what I think I remember because it’s been told to me over and over again until I swallowed it. I know I’ve layered over them again and again with new interpretations and embellishments, based upon what soothed me to believe at the time or what I felt aggrieved about. I’m still doing it. I don’t guess I’ll ever quit it altogether.

More and more my past is like flipping through the family photographs of a stranger. There’s folks in there, frozen in time, doing what they were doing once and now can’t ever stop doing, but they bear little resemblance to anyone I’d say I know now.

I don’t know if that’s sad or not.

***

Namaste.

***

Prelude to India

Souls IV

***

Countdown time. Six days until take off.

In other news, the Woman on The Verge has returned from her travels! I am a relieved and happy dishwasher. The kid may be even happier to see her than I am- if that’s possible. I don’t think it is.

My cells are happier when the woman is around. They plump up and relax their borders. My brain wants to snuggle up close to her brain and lie around like two dogs in the sun and dirt. Tails thumping lazily.

Food tastes better, too.

I’m lost for her is what.

***

I don’t know what to expect with India. I mean, I guess I expect noise and color and smell and jostling and bumping and craziness. Interspersed with teachings and meditation at various holy sites, and of course, talk amongst the other pilgrims about what we’re thinking and how we’re reacting and what’s next and what what what.

I know most of the people on the trip and I love them already, so that part is good. Comfortable and pleasing. I’ve spent lots of time on retreat with almost all of them and they are without exception good people and serious practitioners. I will have a roommate and him I have yet to meet. So there’s that to look forward to. All I know is that he’s been a practitioner for almost thirty years and he loves to meditate, so I’m pretty sure we’ll get along, and if we don’t, well, we can at least sit together in silent contemplation.

And of course I love Dawa, the teacher that is leading our trip. I’m sure we are in good hands and I love being around him, and he’s a great speaker and wonderful spirit. I feel very blessed to be going with him.

I just want to go with open eyes and an open heart, see everything, experience all of it directly.

Shamar Rinpoche was going to accompany us on the pilgrimage originally, but his death kind of made that impossible, but he will be there in spirit, certainly. I know that Dawa is carrying his spirit and memory with him and this adds a sweetness and complexity to the whole endeavor, as well as a good reminder of impermanence. Our trip ends with a teaching and a private visit with the Karmapa, which is profoundly meaningful for me. I still remember the video he posted after the Sharmapa’s death- it was so moving and it opened my heart to him so much- I wanted at the time very much to see him somehow, and I thought that it would be impossible. Now I will be seeing him in just a few weeks. It means a lot to me.

And that’s what this trip really is for me. It’s not about going to India, not really. It’s more like giving myself to this path- fully and completely. And then witnessing how that commitment profoundly changes my lived experience. I will be in India with my teacher on the spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment- this is, to me, just the most beautiful and powerful manifestation of the limitless transformative power of intention. It seems to me that I’ve managed to jump my life off of one set of tracks and on to another one completely.

I hope that I can meet this trip with wisdom and awareness, and treat everyone I encounter with love and compassion.

Anyway, that’s it from here. Tell your mama I ask how she’s durrin’.

Namaste.

***

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers