Taurus Winter

taurus_fotoStars exploded across the night sky. Among them the giant V, the horns and nose of the bull, an arrow pointing to the earth you’re heir to. Oh, Taurus slave to this winter, lonely, driven, dark and chained to your domain, even as you dream of Venus, ruled by her, but shunned, a beast of burden of the dirt and rocks and dust of the earth. Born in May, I was always lonely. And I carried a load as though I had to save the world itself. But no one knew. My burden. My story. And, yes, Venus always above me, just out of reach. My grail. My love unloved.

I had been assigned a tutor and a meditation teacher. Both patient, and hard working. I had left New York, and a girl to come to this place and find myself. All I found were fragments of a picture I couldn’t see. Images of someone I knew and glimpses of a stranger waiting in the shadows of a future that now seemed far behind. I ran a comedy club, and had some incredible roster of talent. I fell in love with the waitress there, and she and I dreamed of finding something deeper in our world than the canned laughter of that Greenwich Village stage. We read Kerouac, and the Dharma Bums thrilled us. She introduced me to the man who introduced me to the Dharma for real. I walked into the New York Shambhala Center and was given a tour. There were pictures of men on the shrine from a lineage of teachers who al had teachers back to the time of the Buddha. I wanted peace in my life. I wanted depth. I realized looking at the pictures that I would have to go to the source. If not, Tibet, then Colorado at least. And I knew as I stood there that my time in the city had closed. Only when I decided to leave, she balked. I’ll never move to Boulder, she said. What would I do there? Become a hippie? Sure, I said. Learn to relax. I imagined us baking bread, eating vegetarian, barefoot in the garden, drinking homemade wine. Only, she had other dreams. She moved to Paris to dance. I moved to Colorado to grow a beard.

I lied about my name when I came to the meditation center. I didn’t want hippies following me. I wanted no part of a cult. But, a hippie lady to take my pain away, and help me forget Joan, would be okay. That led me to a roominghouse. I lied about my tenure in meditation. Sure, for about three years now. Only, I had dabbled a bit here and there after seeing a demonstration from a Zen priest, but really knew nothing about meditation. I liked the idea, though. And, I wanted what those folks seemed to have. I became the kitchen manager for a summer and fulfilled a dream by studying with Alan Ginsberg and Anne Waldman at Naropa. But, I wasn’t long for Boulder. I was too restless. I needed something else. I lied again about how much meditation I had been doing, and got a job as a cook at a retreat center in the Rocky Mountains. Step by step closer to something. Step by step farther away from everything else. And, here now in this wild country far away from everyone I knew, from show biz and the wild streets of 80’s New York noise to this open and quiet, oh so quiet space high above the world.

Problem was I was asked, and agreed to, dong a “dathun” a month long meditation retreat. It was nine hours of meditation a day, very basic meals in held in silence, work in quasi-silence, with no drinking, or parties, except one day off in the middle.  I had joined that community right after a three foot snow fall in the worst winter they had seen in a decade, learned to work my wood stove, and where the spices were in the kitchen, and had to jump into the most challenging month of my life, where in that awesome silence, I learned how loud my mind could be.

Constrained and constricted by vows, rules, rituals and tradition my life became controlled by a pre-dawn  morning conch, the freezing 15 minutes walk down from my cabin to the shrine room in the main building, a calling gong inviting us to line up in silence outside the shrine, the gong that invited us in, the clack that invited us to sit, and then a series of conches, gongs, clicks and clacks that described the rhythm of the day. Day after day. I worked in the kitchen for breakfast and work period after lunch.   I tired to work in the near silence that was the custom, and to keep my eyes down and my heart open and attuned to my feelings. But, I hadn’t had the requisite training others had. I was still feral, and slumped around like a caged beast all day in that lonely frozen silence. Trapped in the rhythm of the routine and surrounded by mountains that b=eckoned but were still off-limits to me. Days were hard.

But,it was the nights that came alive for me.  Free of the relentless blue blanket of the colorado winter, the sky would open in an amazing display, star studded, as they say, from horizon to horizon.

The nights without moon were so dark here. Stars everywhere. Unbelievable in dimension. And like ancient mariners, I learned to wander away and find my way home by the stars. Taurus pointing the way. I was so alone then, only then I realized, perhaps for the first time, that I always had been. Searching the earth, one step after the next. Looking for home, for love, for a place I never found.

The truth of the seeker is that we will not find. If we found, we wouldn’t be seekers. The Buddha left his home, his wife his child and his country to learn and search. He moved through compounds, communes and communities, learning from each, but carrying on when he’d seen what he needed to see, knowing there was still more to learn. Finally, in exhaustion and hopelessness he sat. And, then he left himself.

Without the blanket of knowing, of “me” the Buddha finally understood. He saw finally that his seeking had led him to travel inward. And that travel inward led to the vastness of the open sky beyond.  Without himself, all that was left was everything else.

Seekers only stop seeking when they learn finally, there is nothing to find. And this gives them everything.

But, I was still looking. Still believing there was something there. The vastness of the night sky called, but I still fell prey to the shadows and the dim lights of expectation. Once, I was hiking in these woods in daylight and saw an eagle. That was thrilling beyond anything New York had shown me. I got excited and told my tutor, how I wished I could just move someplace in the mountains and just meditate until I knew the secret of an eagle. He laughed. I was insulted. What’s up with that?

“Where do you think you are?” he said.

Oh, yeah. I was so used to looking I hadn’t even seen that I was already where I had wanted to be. Of course it didn’t seem to be where I wanted to be, as I was here. And where I wanted to be was always someplace else. Even when all I wanted was where I was. Except a girl. But, when I was with a girl, I wanted to be free. So, I began to learn to love the loneliness. To love the sadness, and the darkness. I began to love everything about this wild land, which was loneliness itself. It was so dark on a moonless night here. And that Taurian arrow in the sky pointing home. Here. Only here. There is only this.

The teacher had been a lonely man. He had many loves, and many students, but in his heart his loneliness was always with him. He had said, enlightenment wasn’t a big deal, as we’d imagine it would be. In fact, it might be more of a cosmic shrug. “The lowest of the low”, he said, debunking, as he would do, all of our grandiose ideas about spirituality. Spirituality to Trungpa Rinpoche was right here, with all the hereness of right here. Here with all the shit and dross, and mud and dirt of the earth. Here with the gold and the greatness and the joy of the sky. Here with our actual experience, moment to moment in every breath. Nowness, he called it. Being in community with the present means nothing is excluded. And none of it means anything at all, except it is as it is. And that’s it. Here. Now. The ultimate sacrament is our own expectation. Once that is offered, the deity is revealed as quite ordinary, and here all along.

Here under the stars in the vast darkness of this wild land, shadows reveal all. I would love to walk this earth in the utter dark, without flashlight or device. Listening to the silence. Emptiness is the great equalizer. It removes the expectation and leaves only the shadowed reality of a becoming world, becoming on its own terms. How exciting to let go into this. To allow the world to become as it does and to find yourself in synchronicity with creation in each moment. In each breath.

And in the vast dark of the moonless night, its easy to see what’s beyond. And in the bright blue sky of a Colorado day, its easier still to become distracted and believe again and again the illusions that befall us. Believing somehow that we exist in a way that supersedes creation. To chase our own tail even as we chase the tails of others who elude us again and again. And to forget that beautiful sacred aloneness, and believe the lie of loneliness that somehow we are incomplete alone. And so grasp, rather than seek, and believe again in the blurring daylight the myth of our freedom as we sell ourselves into slavery on the wheel of samsara again and again.

I remember passing a town in the winter with a senior student. We were walking together and trying to fall in love for want of a better conversation. It didn’t really happen, as we both wanted to be in love with someone else. We looked into windows of the houses off the dirt road, all seemed warm and complete with families and furniture tucked inside.  “They are all trapped”, she said. And I looked at her. I had been thinking how I wished I lived in each of these places. Each home another fantasy of what my life might have been.Each fantasy another dim light of hope for a home I would never find.

“They are all trapped”, she said. And in that way these folks had, looked right at me and nodded her head without further explanation.

But, in the goddess darkness again, safe from the patriarchal oppression of logic and light, I learned to sense my way home under the exploding night sky. And the shadows reveal the truth. Everything is as it is. And there is nothing else, but here.

The cabin always appeared out of nothing sooner than I expected. I’d walk up the steps and open the door, and enter into the cold dark space.





Across a Night So Wide

images-2Snow had covered the ground and frozen bright, reflecting trillions of diamonds in the night. The sky was clear, ringing into an aura of a full moon. Stars nonetheless stood out in that amazing black and completely ice lit sky shining above the glistening earth, reflections of a moon reflecting its sun 93,000,000 miles behind us.

The air was so brisk it seemed to cut. Clean and sharp and energizing despite my weariness. I stood in the doorway of the cabin, my back hot from the fire within. A fire I built, with only a little lighter fluid cheating. My mom and sister had cried when they dropped me there three weeks earlier. “He’s an actor from New York,” they tearfully told each other as they drove away leaving me to the worst winter the Rocky Mountains had seen in a decade. “He can’t build a fire.” But, I learned. I lost some facial hair and had my eyebrows singed together a few times, but I learned. I was determined. I had come to face myself in the ice castle of the sky at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center. I had learned to build a fire, grow a beard, drink sake and hold my mind to the breath. And every day there I became not more enlightened, but more broken and raw.

I had moved to this small meditation outpost only months after the passing of the teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. The community, a rag tag bunch at once harden and softened, sat around the wood stove in the common room of the main building trading swigs of sake, snippets of songs, anecdotes, teachings and stories about the master. Their hearts were torn and they were worn and tired from the winter. But there was heartiness to them, and a richness I admired. It was the first time I had ever seen adults cry in a way that seemed not only natural, but inevitable. It made me feel uneasy and very deeply settled.

Shivers bolted down my spine with each razor breath as I stood in my cabin doorway that night. It was hard to take in, and hard to take. Something stirred in me so deep I couldn’t stand still. I wanted to run into the cold. I wanted to roll in the crystal snow. I wanted to scream, to rip my heart open, to cry and to die right there in that endless night.

Danny sat drinking sake on the badly unstuffed couch just inside. I turned and tried to explain. It’s so beautiful, I said. Look at that. “Yeah”, he said. But really, it’s heartbreaking. What am I supposed to do? I feel like I must do something with all this. What am I supposed to do?

“You’re supposed to do nothing”, Danny said.

Can I cry, I asked. “Sure”, he said and filled another glass. But I couldn’t cry, as my face was frozen. Can I scream? “Sure” he said, “no one will hear.” And I yelled from the porch, but my pain was muffled in the snow filled emptiness. I felt alive and dying, virile and impotent, greater than myself and vastly unimportant. I stood shirtless in the below zero night, panting. This world was bigger than I was. I wanted to fill it. But I never would. I never could. I stood there ruined, sad and somehow happier than I had ever been. The knives of cold had become crystal swords down my back. I turned to Danny who sat in the darkness. He had been a model and actor heartthrob in LA. He was very smooth, and very processed in the ways of meditation. Patient, quiet, kind and, like all Trungpa’s children, cutting when need be.  I was a comic from New York, a brutally dull sword hacking through the world with little regard for my own sanity or other’s safety. I had been hired as the camp cook. But, I was more like a mascot to them, a wild beast in need of taming. Danny was the first of many patient teachers, themselves students, who took the time to sit by me, as I ranted through my paces, snorting and pawing the earth until I found my true teacher.  But, that night, I had little sense of that. I stood beneath the frozen sky panting. I turned to Danny, but it was so bright out, I couldn’t see inside the cabin. I felt a million feet tall and still not able to touch this night. His voice called from the warm darkness, “come back inside you idiot.”

I came in. My face was numb. My feet were numb. He poured sake. What should we do? I asked. Cards? “Do nothing”, he said.“And sit.”

Sit?. “Meditation”, he said and pointed to my cushion. It had to be three in the morning. Now?

“Of course now. Now is all there is.”

imgres-1And, I looked to him. He had to be joking. But, his eyes were like coals, dark and cold and even and looking right into me.  He looked for a moment like a picture of his teacher I had seen. So, I sat and turned my mind back to myself and the breath. And, I just sat.

The night was very still, save the occasional gust of wind and the hiss and crackle of the slowly dying fire.