When my daughter Alex was in high school, she used to lament that she should have been born in the age of Middle Earth. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and Peter Jackson’s three brilliant films of the same depicted a life that corresponded to a greater Reality–a world where a person could be brave and serve something greater than themselves. When I was in high school, I dreamed about being a seeker like Siddhartha in ancient. According my inner logic, being like Siddhartha was also like being akind of modern Dharma bum. I remember sitting in a big broken down chair in the rec room of a friend who liked to go by the nickname Shiva Gonzo (subtle, I know). Gonzo could always have friends over, and an ever-changing group of us would smoke cigarettes and listen to bands like Blue Oyster Cult and Ten Years After, surrounded by big drippy candles. I once read a line by Leroy Jones/I. Baraka, about being the secret ascetic at the end of the bar. That was what I was like, secretly monkish, hiding among the psychedelic crowd, hiding my extreme idealism under hippie clothes. We would talk about books like Be Here Now by Ram Dass. When I grew up, I would interview Ram Dass for a magazine. I told him that his book had been a kind of life line to me during adolescence. It was proof that a person could seek and find a way. I asked him if he heard that a lot. He laughed and slapped the arm of his wheelchair and basically said that if he had a nickle for every time someone said that to him, he would be a rich man.
How vividly I rememberthat adolescent longing to penetrate to a life that felt more Real. As I said, I would play at being a kind of hippie outlaw. I think for a lot of kids, even now, there is a lof of trying on personas, a lot of seeking extremes–of love and hate, heat and cold–as if that’s what it takes to break through the dreaminess and numbness of the age. Here’s a strange and revealing little story. One day I drove far into the Adirondacks with my then boyfriend. His father owned a hunting lodge along with a small group men. It stood on a vast track of untrammeled woodland. It was an authentic rustic hunting lodge in every way, meaning it contained rifles, and I took one. M boyfriend and I walked and walked through the snow, enjoying the vast solitude, and (in my case) the thrill of having a loaded rifle on my shoulder. To be armed and dangerous and possibly a little under the influence, how real! We sat down on a high ridge and looked out at the untouched beauty around us. Breathing in and breathing out, surveying untouched wintery vastness, like pioneers, right down to the loaded rifle resting across my lap. Without warning, a tiny figure lurched out of the woods and into the open meadow below us. He lurched, hunch-backed, like the abomindable snowman. Without a thought, I raised and aimed the rifle–and I saw myself do it. I saw that I was in pieces, and that the instinctive part of me was quicker than my ability to make out a figure in the distance. I was full of wonderment about this–that I was made of such different and unrelated parts. And who saw this? Who awareness that could take it all in?
The figure drew closer. It was a local mountain boy who had crashed through the ice while crossing a stream on his snow machine. He was shaking from head to toe. We helped him tow it out of the creek and offered him warm clothes, which he refused. Amazingly, he got the machine started and drove off. He said he didn’t live far. I stood there, looking after him, feeling like he had been a kind of herald. He showed me that the quest wasn’t far, far away in India. It was right here and right now. It was in me. The mystery was right here–and so was the path. This is what gets hard to put into words–and it goes to the heart of what Parabola is about. What does it mean to find a true path or a way? It isn’t just subscribing to a particular tradition, like the Middle Way (or the Way of Middle Earth, in my daughter’s case). It has to do with finding the way to Reality, with help (we can’t do it alone), but for yourself.
P.S. I haven’t carried arms since.
Have a great weekend!