|Revised image: |
Sandstorm by Linda Mead (shared with me, and given permission to me by the artist,
because she thought of this piece she made previously while reading this writing).
I am in the desert. I thought this was an oasis, a placed beyond place, a respite from all the loss, the losses of all these years. Fear kept me here, in this mirage, convinced of that "What you see is what you get."
I have nothing. I’m nowhere. But I’m not alone. In this desert stands thousands of people. Followers of this or that lama or roshi, this or that Buddhist school, this or that ani or venerable or precious teacher, this pope, that priest. We are bewildered, our eyes blown out from the sun, stuck in a Bardo zone. And it fucking hurts. It feels like hell and we wonder – Did we make up the oasis? Did someone else construct this mirage? These questions fly out of our minds at record speed and flip around and around in the dust storm of thoughts surrounding our heads, and back into our eyes to blind us.
This is the valley of death I feared for so long before I began– and it’s only a beginning– to feel, to really realize, we will all die. And at the same time, I am not alone, I have never been alone, I will never be alone. Simultaneously I am also me, a being no other being knows as completely as I do.
Fucking paradoxes fling into my eyes willy-nilly from the sky, the sand - the floor of which constantly shifts beneath my feet - paradoxes emanate even from my incredibly raw, served rare, bloody fucking heart.
I’m in the desert, and it’s storming. The sand makes it impossible to see anyone else clearly, but I can sense them here: an outline of a hunched over, wailing figure, the shadow of a sangha member. I want to run to each individual person, but first I have to check that I can breathe, feel my own feet on the ground, cry and moan.
As I stand in my own experience, I begin to feel more and more of the others, more of them than I could have reached running from person to person for an entire afternoon.
My energy shifts, focuses less on the blister pain of the grain of sand in my left eye, and more and more on the undulating waves of sand around my feet, and the sound waves of love and morning rushing into my heart back out again. I feel some grounding, even as everything constantly shifts.
I vacillate between believing this was all a delusion, this oasis – “Clearly there’s no water here!” – and believing it was confusion, “Well, after all, there waves here” – and believing it is exactly what I thought it was, from the beginning.
Our tears and torn hearts fill up the spaces between the waves of sand and make salty pools, which are no good for drinking but are cool on our feet. And as the sand storm softens, we begin to walk, to gather around those fallen, shading them better than any oak tree. I look around and see Shambhalians, but there’re others here, too: those who’ve been waiting for us without realizing it - refugees from Rigpa, earlier exoduses from Trungpa Rinpoche, and people from so many lineages - nearly all of them, actually. The people who have been here longer are stronger and surer, but still clearly in pain. I see people have set up camp here, made entire lives in this in-between place. People from all Buddhist traditions in the west: especially people of color, gender queer and queer folks, women - all people who were pushed out long ago. Shoved out the confusion mixing with wisdom and on to the shifting hard sand floor of impermanence. They welcome us. They have been waiting, they knew more would come. They weep with us. And then they make us food.
They boil leaves in tears and slide elixir’s down our throats. As we begin to heal, the sand still blows, the sun still burns, and yet somehow it hurts a little bit less. It feels less personal, it stings and stinks less. The other show us how they cook with cakes made from dried shit, how those who die fertilize the next year’s crops. And the tears, which continue, which never stop, water what needs to grow. And the rage hot sun, fierce, gives us food even as it singes us.