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August 2015
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In The End

In the end, I became a Buddhist years ago because only three things matter. I also had the profound experiences of having a Buddhist sherpa save my life 15 years ago (nearly at the cost of his own) and of meeting His Holiness The Dalai Lama in India a year later. I actually shook His Holiness’s hand and saw the reincarnation of his extreme compassion for myself. I will never forget it. However, I truly became a Buddhist because of this: Siddhartha Gautama, known to us as “The Buddha” (which means “The Enlightened One”), got it right. He understood the true nature of life. It’s a short journey, but Siddhartha knew how to make it count. That was his gift to us.

In the end only three things matter.

Calling Me Home

Calling Me Home

How well I remember the call that woke me out of a deep, restless, and dream-filled sleep. In those disturbing nocturnal visions, you were already slipping away. Sinking into a destiny that would soon define us all.

I could not have known then that your death was a lesson in impermanence, a mere tracing of the manifold losses that would soon follow; that for the next 13 years we would watch mummy sink into her own nightmare of shock therapy, antidepressants and psychiatric hospitals; that daddy would lurch off the deep end, soaked up in booze and the self-hatred that would mask itself as antipathy of everything within his hardened field of vision, that the solace he sought in blame, recriminations and justifications would ultimately shatter the paradigm by which he defined his life; that we would lose Sarah to a prolonged adolescent spring, a rebellion funneled through rage, until she disappeared into herself, finally rejecting me too, because I reminded her of them. I could not have known either that without you as the rudder in my life I would lose myself, collapsing into a lethargy and despair so austere that I would eventually cease to feel at all, existing only to think, shuddering and shrinking into the long darkness of the night, crying only when I was certain no one could see or hear me. Always the stoic, terrified of tears, of breaking open, of weakness. The shame of it. They had taught me well.

It is often said that when people face death they see their own lives flash before their eyes, but I never saw those fractured shards of my own mortality, even when I stared down death at 15,000 feet in the Himalayas, sick and hopeless and vomiting and wanting to die. No, I only felt peace and a willingness to surrender to the Long Sleep. But when you lay comatose in the ICU, it was your life—your precious, too-short, truncated life, a life you had claimed yourself—that flashed before me in a myriad of colors. Your face when you graduated Magna Cum Laude from Bowdoin, shaking the dean’s hand; as a child when you whispered in my ear at the dinner table, “I say to beats, BEAT IT,” united in solidarity against our mutually detested purple vegetable, or at Pineknot in the silly sun hat, cocking the croquet mallet jauntily back behind your head, ready to pound it down into the soft earth like a hammer.

My adoration and idol worship only caused more pain for you, only added to the suffocating burden you already endured. My singular desire while you lived was to lie on a chaise lounge, comfortable and sequestered in the protection of your shadow, watching and gaining strength from you as you nobly accomplished great feats. The adoration of a sister for her brother.

You didn’t ask to be anyone’s hero, to be the sole star radiating brilliantly in a lonely sky. We wanted you to be something for us rather than for yourself. An unfair request, yet you dedicated your life to answer it, allowed it to claim you even as it stole your glitter and dragged you down into its unfathomable depths. You strove to be something for them, a servant to wait upon their frustrated dreams, until those dreams pulled you under, deep into the tide of their unquenchable thirst.

Why should I hate them? Sometimes I think you did it because you hated them, couldn’t stand the hypocrisy. They met at Harvard, expected nothing less from you. Before that it was Oxford, Bowdoin and Smith, and afterwards Yale. I won’t blame them, won’t be the one to cast the first stone. It was expected for me to fail, but not you. They were the product of their generation, and we of ours.

Ah, the British Isles. As Rudyard Kipling wrote so famously, “There is a corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” It saved me. I retreated into it for the next five years, seeking refuge in endless cups of tea and British civility. The distance. Safe in my ancestral home. But even that couldn’t save me. I fell apart anyway, collapsed from exhaustion, spent and ruined, and presently, my light went out, and stayed extinguished for the next 20 years. There was nothing left.

What if someone had told me that it would take my own family to become untethered from the unbearable agony of your absence, and would I have believed them if they had? Could I have believed that I would need to give birth to my own son before I could grasp the endless depths of her grief—a sadness that would envelop her so completely that she would abandon her two surviving children, until she found her way back to us many years later?

I know now that you are still here, embedded deeply in my heart, the best part of me. At times I am delighted to realize how much I remind myself of you, either in a turn of phrase or sprinkling of ironic humor. I can see your red hair, hazel eyes and freckled white face mirrored back in my own reflection. I long for those few friends, far away, who understand and cherish that humor, and I adore them, fiercely and wholly, for in loving me, they love you too. And those are the times I like myself best. It is when I am aware that the undiminished part of you lives on in me.

I had lost my way, but I had not lost my voice, or the sound of their voices either—those angels circling overhead with their sonorous song of life, levitating high above the heavens in a place where our dreams lie sacred and suspended, where the past, present and future meld together as one. Their voices growing ever sweeter, ever nearer. This time calling my name, calling me Home.

My Twin Soul

Mary and Jack


A lot of emphasis is placed on the concept of the “soul mate,” or one’s ultimate romantic partner. It’s become almost cliché. There’s another soul connection that many people think is just another expression for the “soul mate.” The expression is that of “twin soul,” or “twin flame.” However, twin souls or “twin flames” are not doppelgängers of one’s most coveted romantic self. Instead, a “twin soul” is a person with whom one often shares both genetic and psychic material. Siblings can be “twin souls,” for instance.

My twin soul was named John Wenham Alden, but we called him “Jack.” He was my older brother by two and a half years. He was the person I most revered in life for his extreme brilliance and sense of humor, but also because we shared a symbiotic relationship. Again, the word “symbiotic” has become one that is often disparaged in our culture as akin to “codependent,” but that’s an erroneous and incorrect use of it. Rather, a “symbiotic” relationship is one that is *interdependent* in many deeply meaningful ways.

Jack died tragically 27 years ago. A part of my soul seemed to die the day he left me, and I had a very difficult time recovering from his loss for many, many years. Strangely, after my accident I had no memories for some five weeks. I don’t remember the fall from my horse, the trip to the hospital, or even my time in the ICU. Later on, I was discharged and we left for Albuquerque. I don’t remember that either. Finally, my first real memory arrived in the form of a dream. It was Jack. He looked exactly as I remembered him 27 years ago, when I was 22 and he was 24.

“Mareda,” he said (he always called me “Mareda”), “ignore these idiot naysayers who think you won’t survive. You WILL survive, because it isn’t your time to go. I was there when you fell and it wasn’t your time then either. However, your recoveryA lot of emphasis is placed on the concept of the “soul mate,” or one’s ultimate romantic partner. It’s become almost cliché. There’s another soul connection that many people think is just another expression for the “soul mate.” The expression is that of “twin soul,” or “twin flame.” However, twin souls or “twin flames” are not doppelgängers of one’s most coveted romantic self. Instead, a “twin soul” is a person with whom one often shares both genetic and psychic material. Siblings can be “twin souls,” for instance.

My twin soul was named John Wenham Alden, but we called him “Jack.” He was my older brother by two and a half years. He was the person I most revered in life for his extreme brilliance and sense of humor, but also because we shared a symbiotic relationship. Again, the word “symbiotic” has become one that is often disparaged in our culture as akin to “codependent,” but that’s an erroneous and incorrect use of it. Rather, a “symbiotic” relationship is one that is *interdependent* in many deeply meaningful ways.

Jack died tragically 27 years ago. A part of my soul seemed to die the day he left me, and I had a very difficult time recovering from his loss for many, many years. Strangely, after my accident I had no memories for some five weeks. I don’t remember the fall from my horse, the trip to the hospital, or even my time in the ICU. Later on, I was discharged and we left for Albuquerque. I don’t remember that either. Finally, my first real memory arrived in the form of a dream. It was Jack. He looked exactly as I remembered him 27 years ago, when I was 22 and he was 24.

“Mareda,” he said (he always called me “Mareda”), “ignore these idiot naysayers who think you won’t survive. You WILL survive, because it isn’t your time to go. I was there when you fell and it wasn’t your time then either. However, your recovery is up to YOU.”

“Some of these people don’t seem very convinced,” I said. “So I’ve tuned them out. Most of them think I’ve tuned out because I’ve had to go somewhere else.”
“This is the problem with living people,” Jack said, laughing his most endearing laugh. “They’re so attached to their egos. They believe what they think, so therefore…cogito ergo sum. Remember your Latin; you had three years of it. Now ignore these people. Do you hear me? IGNORE them.”

“And then what do I do?” I asked.

“That’s up to you. It’s all up to you,” he replied. “You know, one of the great things about being dead is that I’m not attached to my ego. I don’t need it anymore. So just do what I say and ignore the rest.”

From that day forward, I slowly and gradually became better. The fear left me, and I either blocked out the naysayers or confronted them directly. I even corrected and fired my speech therapists. I told one of them that she’d given me an *incorrect* English construction to try to enunciate. Next!

With my dear brother Jack at our grandparents’ house in Princeton, New Jersey. Just enjoying being together.

Our House

The never-ending saga of our unfinished house goes on and on (insert Celine Dion’s crescendo singing voice here), as we buckle down for yet another week of many at this odd “long term stay” motel in Albuquerque (hey, it’s close to Jamie’s school). This time the offenders aren’t New Mexico building folks, but rather, an inordinately ill-managed company of stair makers in Pennsylvania who, despite employing engineers and CAD operators, can’t seem to get the thing to scale. My husband has sent them better drawings than the ones they send us.

We can’t go with a traditional staircase because the second floor of our house is a loft. We’re installing a spiral staircase, which is a completely different animal, because a regular stair case would hog up far too much room in our beautifully tiled living room.

It’ll come as no surprise to most of my friends that I prefer the western U.S. and have fairly well retired permanently from living on the east coast again, except to visit. The last time I was in Pennsylvania was to work as a massage therapist at the “Tour de Toona” cycling race. It was a singularly miserable experience, and apart from cruising through the miles that separate the east from the west, I have not been back to that fair state since. I think that’s a good start. No offense, Pennsylvania! (Well, maybe a little…)

On Being a Liberal

Susan B. Anthony/Harriet Beecher Stowe, originally uploaded by feserc.

I must say that at times I grow tired of politics. I also grow tired of some of the petty, one-dimensional (partisan) discussions I see on Facebook and in other places. On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of political rhetoric and the way it has shaped our nation, and other nations. The more I study rhetoric the more I love the voices who stood for the disenfranchised. In my opinion those voices were and are liberal.

The word liberal, simply defined, is as follows: “Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” There’s nothing dirty or shameful in that, and there never will be.

It was Susan B. Anthony who cast aside traditional values to demand suffrage for women. She voted and it landed her in jail. She demanded to stay there so her case could go to the Supreme Court of the United States, but her lawyer bailed her out, much to her chagrin. Surely one of the great spirits to walk the earth.

Martin Luther King told of a dream in which we will all “…one day live in a nation where [we] will not be judged by the color of [our] skin, but by the content of [our] character,” at a time when segregation of minorities was accepted, particularly in the south of America. His expansive notion was a liberal notion.

FDR was a privileged American who chose liberal thought over easy affluence: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little,” said he. He too, was a liberal.

These are some of my heroes, and also the reason I’m proud to be a liberal–not a democrat. If we broaden our minds, the world will broaden also. In the end, this is not a political, or even intellectual paradigm.

It’s a matter of the heart.

Davy Jones & The Homecoming Queen

Davy Jones & The Homecoming Queen, originally uploaded by elefanterosado.

RIP Davy.

I Will Sing a Lullaby

Downtown, originally uploaded by lovine.

Once there was a way
To get back homeward
Once there was a way
To get back home.

Sleep, pretty darling,
Do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby.

Golden slumbers,
Fill your eyes
Smiles await you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling
Do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby.

—John Lennon and Paul McCartney

For the better part of the past 24 years, I’ve been trying to find a way back home. A way to inhabit and relive my childhood, replete with its manifold painful memories and rousing tragedies. To study, memorize and memorialize where the road splintered and brittled and eventually veered off into horizons unknown. To pick up the threads of my own inertia and bear witness to the subsequent empty years spent wallowing in a profound grief that nearly undid me.

But I’m getting ahead of the story. I have lived an entire life in the interim since the road turned crooked. We outlive our childhoods and then spend an eternity trying to return to them. We think if we reshape and hone them in our minds, the rolling and bleeding rough-hewn stones will begin to glitter a little more brightly. They never do.

In reality, what I’ve really been after are the memories once shared by the dearly departed soul who dwelled there. He’s gone now, as is the pellucid quality of those mementos of a childhood also departed. And while the remembrances are fragmented, he somehow holds the key to all that was steady and constant during that long-ago realm of Never Never Land. That someone is my older brother, now deceased for a near quarter century. He seems more solid in form than the other survivors of his suicide—my sister and parents—even still.

The irony, of course, is that our very mortal existence and the consciousness that breathes life into it is never static—it only seems that way from our transient and limited human perspective. And while there remains a solid core of truth within me that feels and knows this intrinsically, never far away is the grasping hand that continues to grope for the past. For him.

Several months ago I sat down to steady myself against the onslaught of a fresh sorrow that washed over me after a new ending. That ending was a serious falling out and bitter estrangement from my surviving sibling.

Our false childhood story—guarded by her and reinforced just as deceitfully by me as an unspoken way to safeguard the past and circumvent further suffering—finally exploded like an overly helium-ated balloon. The lie we had fought to safeguard suddenly overwhelmed me with its malevolence and unsupportable premise. It wasn’t anything life-threatening or truly sinister. It was not a sordid tale of base abuse or child neglect. In fact, the issue that  pulled us together and apart like a pair of alternately attracting and polarizing magnets was ordinarily mundane. It was only this: that I had gotten more and she had gotten less. More stuff, more love, more—whatever. In truth, we were both equally impoverished and emotionally deplete children, but the fable seemed to work to our varying advantages in a way that always defied logic but never toxic family function and survival. It became a knight’s shield of protection between us as well as one, ironically, that kept us emotionally, spiritually and physically separated. In fact we had been separated in all those ways for many years, but neither of us would admit it. I just kept on playing the role of coddling enabler, desperate for any scrap of time or attention she would throw me. She upped the ante to make me pay for my perceived ill-gotten gains until the price grew so high it staggered me. Before this event the crumbs she had thrown me had grown less and less. I hung on as though to a lifeline. Then the mirror shattered. I could no longer embrace the gilded illusion. The truth was ugly but needed to be faced head-long. I wondered why I had guarded the illusion for so long when it had so obviously served no useful purpose.

Although, in a way, I did know.

I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of high school working as a buss girl and waitress at the Nonantum Hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine. I lived in a rough barracks across the street from the old statuesque hotel. Though a decidedly singular building, this shed-like accommodation was inexplicably dubbed “The Dorms” by the lowly employees who dwelled therein.

My boyfriend that summer was the hotel restaurant’s pastry chef. The son of a prominent local psychiatrist, he lived in a real house in town but spent most of his off time in “the Dorms” with the rest of the hotel’s staff. His sidekick in the kitchen was an affable, plain-spoken Kennebunk local by the name of Jimmy Lapointe, who happened to be dating the high school friend who had found me the job. There was something endearing about Jimmy’s rough Maine speech and rooted ways. He was the sort who, as my mother might have said, “wasn’t going anywhere.” There was a comforting feeling in that, at least for me.

And as a matter of fact, he didn’t. Go anywhere, that is. Seven years later I found myself living with my mother in the apartment of a beachfront mansion overlooking the ocean. I was sick in body and soul, having recently returned from a grueling and disastrous year in England where I’d attempted to complete a Master’s degree directly on the heels of my brother’s death. Within months—horribly homesick and miserable on the desolate and isolated Northern England campus—I was diagnosed with “glandular fever” (the British moniker for mononucleosis) and began to shrink into myself. The days passed in a torpor of lethargy. I would often crawl into bed at 8 p.m. in my cramped room and sleep until 11 a.m. the following morning. I’d drag myself through the day listlessly, still exhausted. Lectures were a cruel torture and were exacerbated by the fact that I understood almost nothing I was being taught. I was ostensibly studying Shakespeare, but the Bard’s name was seldom mentioned by my “tutors,” the British word for a university instructor. Instead I learned about the various maxims of H.P. Grice, who had, by coincidence, been one of my father’s professors at Harvard. That was about the only connection I ever made to Grice. The other part of the course was made up of Foucauldian rhetoric and the theory of a new-fangled British literary theory by the name of “Cultural Materialism.” I tried to stay awake in seminars and murmur something intelligible. Mostly I was aware of how odd and unrefined my American accent sounded in a room full of English intellectuals.

I returned stateside as a shadow of my former self and ill from three months spent laboring on a dissertation that I eventually failed and for which no degree was granted. Although I would eventually rewrite my dissertation and receive my M.A. three years later, I was broken, body and soul.

I lived with my mother in Kennebunk and we became partners in depression. Mostly mine went unnoticed as it was perceived that hers needed constant tending to. I had merely lost a brother—she had lost her son and first born child.

It was not long after meeting up with my old friend from the Nonantum days that Jimmy LaPointe resurfaced. He was no longer my friend’s boyfriend, but he looked more or less exactly as I remembered him from seven years before. For some unknown reason, the terrible dread and apathy that had consumed me for the past 18 months or more momentarily lifted whenever I casually bumped into him. We didn’t know each other well, and would never be more to each other than casual friends of a mutual friend. Inexplicably, however, there was something about his rootedness to the world, the tenor of his Yankee accent and jaunty stride that transported me. While there was no way to convey my gratitude to him for this occasional but much welcomed reprieve from my continuing sadness, I nevertheless felt a weight lift in his presence.

So, Jimmy,” I greeted him with practically audible relief. “You’re still here.”

Oh yeah,” he laughed. “Where else would I go?”

In fact, he had tried—albeit briefly—to go somewhere else. It didn’t take. A year or so earlier he’d somehow or other gotten the gumption and the money together to buy a plane ticket to the west coast. He wound up in Southern California, wondering if he might improve his fortunes. Instead he found himself hiking alongside one of the Golden State’s innumerable Interstate highways. He watched the tangled spaghetti junctions of Interstate traffic intermingle above him. Beside him cars blew past  with dizzying speed. The fact that he’d put himself almost squarely in the arms of death didn’t seem to resonate with him—either then or later. What did resonate with him was the fact that this wasn’t Maine. There were too many buildings and not enough space. The smog suffocated his vision of a quiet country life. No longer could he lope along a roadside and stick out a thumb until a friend in an ancient, rusty and non-descriptive truck stopped to pick him up. Los Angeles and its environs were surreal and artificial in a way that made Jimmy shiver. He packed his bags, flew home, and never looked back.

There was something pure in his demeanor and purpose. He knew who he was and where he belonged. He smiled a smile of beatific eventuality and shrugged. Our brief intersection on the road of life was about to end again—at least for the time being. I watched him jauntily walk away down a road that was as much a part of him as his well worn workman’s fingernails.

I blabbed that I admired him and the life he had made for himself on the rugged Maine coast. That it was brave. It was then that he turned around and shrugged, that crooked smile lighting up his face.

I’m not so sure about it being brave,” he said. “But it’s the only life I know.”

The words seared into my consciousness and stayed there. The ordinary extraordinariness of Jimmy Lapointe left a lasting impression. I returned to his casually thrown, over-the-shoulder sentiment many times over the years.

Months after my sister and I fell out, I abruptly realized that I did understand why. Our relationship, built on the sand of an unstable childhood, had finally vanished into a dust bowl storm. The roles we had played for so long had wearied us and broken us down. We weren’t ready to redefine and recreate them with regard to one another. We held onto what we had, preserving it even when it no longer served us. It was the only life we knew.

In the terrible first weeks of our estrangement I called out to the one person who I felt would understand, who had always understood: my brother. With keening sobs I called for him and asked him to show me a way back hometo where the crooked road was familiar and the elaborate play acts of family dynamics allowed one to survive.

I closed my eyes and saw him—wavy red hair, gold rimmed classes, penny loafers. He was wearing his favorite white Aran sweater and standing in the front room of my grandparents’ Maine beach house. A heavy shadow framed him and I could only make out his silhouette. I spoke to him from the depth of my soul, without words.

Step into the light,” I pleaded. “Please, I can’t see you.”

“I am in the light,” he responded kindly. “Now it’s your turn to step in.”

His tone was unhurried and steady. Tears streamed from my eyes.

A flashbulb of purple ignited in my mind’s eye as his beloved vision faded. The room around me became quiet and still. As usual, he had understood me as no one else could. His wisdom, which was really the light of consciousness, shone through his departed form.

He had invited me to keep my mortal flesh but to join him in a place where there is no sorrow. Into the light and joyful life that our temporary forms have forgotten but our immortal souls have always known.

Photo courtesy of Paul Lovine under the Creative Commons license.

The Metta Bhavana

Lotus Flower, originally uploaded by Ryan C. Y. Lee.

I have found the Metta Bhavana practice to be extraordinarily grounding this week. Loving Kindness truly is a journey into the heart of our essential selves. I imagine the pool near my heart fill to brimming with the sweet essence of pink Lotus flowers. The pool is the Unmanifested. The petals represent the incarnation of the Manifest.

I love the beautiful, mellifluous and extremely peaceful Irish accent of the voice on the guided meditations. The voice of Bodhipaksa. His voice is very transportative and has a tangible quality that helps me to form peaceful mental images—especially of the friend he asks us to envision and wish well.

I am finding this practice of Metta Bhavana to be fortuitous and timely, particularly this week. I’m coping with sadness and disillusion caused by the thoughtless and selfish actions of someone close to me, and this practice gives me an opportunity to give myself gentle attention and refrain from creating an ego or victim identity around the event. I felt as though—even though my mind wandered quite a bit—I was able to be guided back to a place of peace and tranquility during the practice. The most useful methods for me included the dropping of emotions into the pool near my heart, and imagining the image of a dear friend. In the first instance I imagined a friend who has been in my life for more than 20 years and who has shown great compassion during this difficult incident in my life. The second time I practiced I envisioned my older brother, who has been deceased for more than 20 years. He was a soul who suffered greatly in life. Now that he is part of the Unmanifested again, however, I was able to wish him peace and freedom from suffering in his new form, just as I had during his actual life. It felt good to send out my love to these individuals. During this difficult time I miss my brother especially, and wish I could seek his counsel.

Some angry thoughts did pass through my mind, though. I had some hard thoughts toward the person I feel betrayed by. Even in the midst of these harsh thoughts, though, I was able to recognize that my criticism is a result of my feelings toward this person rather than about the person him or herself. In the middle of the fictional illusion that we are all separate, isolated beings, it is possible through this practice to tell oneself gently: “Oh yes, that’s just the mind making up stories to entertain itself again.”

Years ago I received some meditation guidance from a counselor who also happened to be a practicing Buddhist. At that time my mind fought mightily against meditation. I’ll always remember one thing she said during her guidance: “Don’t hesitate to watch the stick float by in the river. Just don’t invite it in for tea.” These words have taken on a profound significance over the years. I understand now that “tea” is the practice, and that we are gently encouraged to watch our thoughts rather than indulge them and give them a separate and distinct identity. When we detach from our thoughts—which often involve criticism and judgment—we also detach from the illusion of our separate identity from the world. I’d say I experience this profound truth as satori at this point, yet I am still grateful for those ephemeral moments of truth.

The Metta allows me to smile at the stick and say gently: “Ah, you rascal. No tea for you today. I indulged you enough yesterday, and the day before. I’ll see you later, my devilish friend. Namaste.”

The Raisin Experiment

Dried Grapes on the Vine, raisin, originally uploaded by Otto Phokus.

I tried the raisin experiment today as part of my meditation class. It was an interesting experiment for me because I’m not a big fan of raisins, particularly in food such as cookies. However, it occurred to me that I had once upon a time liked raisins, so I plucked one out of my trail mix and spent some time observing it.

Looking at its wrinkled, diminutive form I was reminded of the Wheel of Life. All things are born into life and eventually die. A raisin starts out as a grape, wizens in the sun prematurely into old age before being consumed (death) by a human. I like the fact that a raisin has no particular attachment either to its life or death, which is the type of evolution I hope occurs for me along the Buddhist path. The peaks and valleys of the raisin remind me of the journey of life–that is to say that life is always a voyage rather than a destination. The indentations seem like many small roads, each one insubstantial in itself. In harmony with one another, however, they become a directed arc or pathway.

Once I popped the raisin inside my mouth I made a point of feeling all of the grooves (or paths) with my tongue. They felt more pronounced than I thought they’d be, as though they had a firm, yet flexible purpose. My raisin also tasted salty; a consequence of having been in the bag of trail mix. Yet the flavor was not unpleasant. When I bit into the raisin it seemed to explode into a different form which was flavorful and pleasant. The pathways and roads were gone and had taken on a new life. After I swallowed it, the experiment and the raisin both were gone, but I was left with the temporal memory. I was reminded that all things are temporal and eventually fade away. I was immediately grateful that the experiment reminded me of one of the great tenants of Buddhism. We may enjoy every experience, but if we don’t become attached to it, we will experience something far more profound, which is the fullness of the moment.

Perhaps I spend too much time theorizing on life’s experiences. This is where I hope to evolve–into knowing without so much thinking. However, whenever I have an experience that reminds me of the Dharma I am profoundly grateful. Just as I am always grateful when I experience the joy of pure Being.


The Edge of the Desert

Tucumcari Mountain, originally uploaded by POsrUs.

He who loves with passion lives on the edge of the desert. –East Indian Proverb

The mountain rises like a vast ignoble specter in the sky. A broad tabletop mesa juts its ragged indentations every which way. A flat cleft has been shaved off the east side, exposing a dark pink patina. Its final tier stands like the misshapen top of a wedding cake. Below it the trail quickens into thick brown adobe dirt. Out near the highway the big rigs roll by in a cloud of diesel exhaust. Here, an ancient Prowler motor home inches up the road, there a tricked-out Lowe’s semi—splashed with glossy paint in a cornucopia of colors—idles past.

I drive as far as I dare on the deeply rutted roads before putting my ancient VW in park. The vista is a pastiche of brown and golden in the early October sun. The sun shines hot on my shoulders as my feet sweat and squeak in my plastic Crocs. A few pricklers insinuate their way under the soles and shoot up to stab the soft underbelly of my uncalloused feet. I trudge along the arroyo, hopping through the jagged high points. I am wearing summer Capris and a light sweater over my t-shirt. I remove the sweater and pause to swig a drink of water. Silence pulses around me. The sky is a medley of crystalline cornflower blue with its white spun-sugar coating of candyfloss clouds. It seems too perfect to be real. Its ethereal splendor is rudely punctuated only by the miles of crude barbed wire so ubiquitous in this country. The continuation of my walk is abruptly aborted by a green panel fence that warns me to go no farther. I turn around without protest and continue down the eastern path. From my peripheral vision I spy a fence opening. It opens onto a path that wends its way toward the broad jutting mesa and blue sea of expansive sky. I nod toward it with a smile and murmur “Oh yeah, I’ll be back.”


I’ve been asking for weeks if there’s anywhere to ride around here—that is to say, on horseback. My nearest horse-owning neighbor informs me that he’s lived in this town for ten years and has all but given up riding his tough-terrain capable Missouri Fox trotters despite owning nearly 40 acres of pasture land. The problem is, he can’t ride beyond it. Folks in agrarian Quay County, New Mexico are circumspect about giving others free rein of their land. It’s a “fence out state,” I’ve been told more than once.

“Boy, they sure like their fences around here,” my husband observes en route to the thriving metropolis of Clovis, a small city due south of here. Acre upon acre of brownish-green grazing pasture is fenced by sharp reams of wire. Barbed wire has an element of violence about it. The clotted little knots remind me of a pit bull’s snarl and the ensuing blood from its bite. The fence line continues on, ad infinitum, along this bumpy little washed-out road. There are no cattle to be seen, no dwellings, no water. Just mile upon mile of empty windy expanse and sparse grass. It is open, unfettered land. But it is jealously protected and fenced—every last little bit of it.


The man at the chamber of commerce greets me with a smile. His hair is snow white, his face darkened and creased with sun.

“I have an odd question for you,” I say. “Can you tell me if there is any public land available around here where people can ride their horses?”

“Well, some of these cowboys that come to town just ride right along 209,” he replies, considering.

It’s clear I’ve stumped him somehow.

“You mean right along the highway?” I ask.

“Yes, but there isn’t much traffic.”

All the same, it’s a highway. I don’t feel like taking my chances, even with my quiet, well-trained ranch horse.

“What about the mountain?” I ask. “I’ve heard it’s private but that it’s possible to get permission to ride there.”

“Oh yes,” he brightens. “You can ride up there. Just be sure to stay to the easterly side. It’s owned by three people, and the gentleman who owns the western side is—how should I put this? Well, he’s stingy. If you aren’t doing any work for him that’s free, he doesn’t want you up there.”

“But there’s a locked gate,” I remind him.

“Well, if you head in from Mountain Road, the gate is generally open,” he says. “And if it’s open, that means you can go on up.”

“Well, if you say so…”

“Have a good day,” he says kindly.


My friend swings the stock trailer in a wide arc. We unload the horses.

“Settle down, little missy,” he advises his mare.

My own mare snorts and observes her surroundings in her usual sensible, French Canadian fashion. She isn’t shod, and the terrain looks steep and rocky. But I’m riding with a farrier, and his horse isn’t shod either. I lead my horse over to a rock. I haven’t ridden in awhile and I’m not feeling limber. I’m not in the mood to “cowgirl up”—in other words, scramble into the stirrup from the ground.

“I can give you a leg up if you want,” my friend the farrier/cowboy suggests with some amusement.

“No, no, that’s okay,” I mumble, discarding my inflexible leather gloves on my mounting block rock.

I swing a leg up and spur my mare gently. My friend, who hasn’t ridden in over five years, looks at home on his sprightly Fox trotter.

The air is fresh and cool and the smell of sage is pungent. The sky is a herald of blue sea foam, awaiting our climb. I pause a moment to feel the weight of my stirrups, to let these sudden waves of homesickness wash over me. This homesickness of the past, of longing for this landscape I now inhabit. These raw elements of nature and the pristine tabletop of beauty above seem to await my long unfinished journey.

“You ready?” my friend asks.

I pause a moment, remembering the epigraph of Mabel Dodge Luhan’s novel, The Edge of Taos Desert.

“He who loves with passion lives on the edge of the desert.”

The desert. I am on the edge of it now, once and for all.

I turn to my companion and smile.

“I’m ready,” I say.