fif te e n .

THE ILLUSION OF GRACE T O U N R AV E L T H E M Y T H O F P E R S O N A

‘ve unhooked from the play of events through concentrated effort, but I did not expect this. I had no idea what liberation meant, how it felt — and now the daunting task of illustrating it. There’s a constant hustle to this work. The train blasts through the tunnel. I can tell we’re deep because the pressure changes. Not to worry, the engineers put a lot of time into this. We drift under the bay to Embarcadero with mechanical ease, the train spacious, carpeted. Christmas Eve, the subway nearly empty. I send the day alone, with the camera, the same process as writing, though much less heat. My nose takes me to Haight Street, down another node of desperation, more colorful than Skid Row but the same malaise. There are a lot of homeless in San Francisco, a lot of them in pretty good shape, a lot of good old–fashioned drunks and the more common drug addicts. The camera has me trigger happy. Whenever something moves I want to pull focus, dial in the light. When I write I’m in a tunnel, tuned to the shit frequency waiting for the signal to continue. It doesn’t work if the hopper’s empty. I have to continually fill it, with anything, life. When the reserve runs low, when there’s not enough heat to catalyze it, there’s no use picking up the pen. I’ve know a few men, great for their own reasons — one

I

AND DIG UP SOME OF ITS INHERENT PROBLEMS

a Zen master, one a public figure — through the entire arc of their lives. I was fortunate to witness the devolution of their psyches. The old man is nothing like the one in his prime. Vitality is lost long before the road ends, and what is left is only a husk. The personality is organic. Like a fruit, it has its moment of perfection and quietly rots. The season, the tide; the land glowers with a whole range of emanations, now all kindness and harmony, street thugs and criminals. I can’t count how many I’ve encountered lately. Not that I seek them out, but that’s where the beauty is, for me. I’m forever driven to the abandoned areas in cities that are large enough, old enough that the built up core, what was once manufacturing or some other waning industry, collapses, leaving a hollowed–out desperation that gets repurposed as an art district. Whatever founders made the metropolis have long gone, and with them the dreams that held their companies there, disintegrated into the empty bones of days past, gone to more profitable spaces. The Blade Runner effect. It’s not only how you build complexity in an urban environment, but in people as well. The broken soul is the poet, show me one who is not. But downtown is not a place to dwell. There is no place. The curtain falls and the rats and vagrants emerge, the true dharma of the street revealed: booming voices with their pleas, bizarre statements, threats cascading like the notes of a minor key, all of them out of tune. The thundering bass is the city bus, the violin the wail of the siren and honking horns of those in a hurry to leave the show early. Unlike the wilderness, you have to enjoy it at a fast pace, or risk becoming part of the production, this modern relapse. Where do you go? We all have our archetypes, themes. I always go to the sordid places, by instinct. Kye Soen brings me to Macy’s, where I’m left to pace the floor under the halogens, through clouds of heavy perfume; the steely chatter of

gazelles as they leap from aisle to aisle, the clatter of hooves and hangers. In UC Berkeley housing, I take several blocks looking for a café, the second time I’ve done this, in different directions. No luck. The place is run by savages! You can get a good coffee here, but only on a particular street that branches off from another in a direction I wouldn’t normally go. My own instincts here prevent me from this simple convenience. I come back with a dry mouth, bleary eyes. *** Security checkpoint. Since I’m not a criminal I eventually pass through, sit in an overly–heated chair behind the A–line. Again I’m struck by the different strain of citizens here than the bus depot, like two separate streams that run oblivious to each other. In the seat next to mine a blackberry left behind. A few minutes later a woman comes to collect it, who was surprised that it was still there. If it had been a bus, the thing would’ve sprang into someone’s pocket instantaneously, who would then boast to everyone about the prize they’d found. It’s a privilege to know both, to encounter these alternating currents with hardly a thought to my own welfare, or how I’m being perceived, but I’m not immune to their pressings: the noise and dust and turmoil. You don’t think of the risk until the 737 guns it at the end of a mile of asphalt. How long it takes before the beast is airborne! The back of the cabin is full of fumes. Blasted back into my seat, we drill straight across the bay into the God–fearing blackness of our inevitable end, then the thing rolls its belly and I can see nothing but cabin lights reflected on the glass. The jets vibrate through the floor, driving us to what incredible height, velocity only the captain knows. There were dips, shimmies, sideways lurches, drops, but the beast was remarkably stable. The madness waited on the ground at LAX. Though only

7PM, the info desk was shut down, and no one on the floor knew how to catch the 232 down PCH except a maintenance guy in a yellow vest who had me going down a bus lane to save time. I eventually staggered to the other side of the airport dragging my luggage, where I was informed there was no 232. I had to pack it down to area 6 to catch the shuttle to lot C. I stood under a sign that posted which shuttles were arriving. Unfortunately, it was dead wrong. Whenever a C bus was due, it was simply wiped from the board, or steamed past on the other side of the street. I asked several bus drivers about it, who assured me I was standing in the right place. Los Angeles is a dirtbag city if you’re on foot. It’s hard to detune, the long fit of activity a blur of some kind of shut–down mode that travelling seems to induce. I can’t recall much of it. I remember saying goodbye to Kye Soen. It wasn’t like a Zen master disappearing silently by night, but a complicated shaking of limbs, promises and last minute details. I was happy to be away from all the uncomfortable things she secretly carries, secret to her anyway. We exist together for a short time, move together, but how different our worlds! Outwardly it seems we are the same, the illusion of grace. There’s nothing complicated about transcending the self. It’s old technology, well proven. No one can do it because there’s no reason to take apart what has been so carefully wound, like a tourniquet. Only someone who’s untied the knots, and does so continuously, would be aware of this. When I’m around her, most people, I sense all the suffering tightly bound to her, to them, and it pains me. Here is the face of the devil, the real one. I’ve weathered through so many years beside nearly catastrophic failures, and with all my insight and lifelong devotion to dharma I haven’t been able to staunch the flow. They’re coming apart before my eyes, the illusion of self broken into myriad aspects, which they count and worry over as if they were their own children. Surviving your own igno-

rance, suffering through it, is remarkable in a way, but why not strive to become liberated from it? Not only I, but everyone you meet will thank you, throw flowers at your feet. *** My mother has a pond on the back of her land, which is never full enough, according to her. As the water evaporates through the summer, her worries increase to a frenzy. It’s a great concern for her. As for me, it never occurred to me to judge the pond. It seems to operate correctly, within the laws of nature. I spoke to her about it. “The pond has its own way. It’s OK for it to be low.” I don’t know if this had any effect, but I assume that it didn’t. It’s rare that a mind realizes its weaknesses, its hindrances, and corrects its behavior, especially for the older ones whose habits are so deeply ingrained. What is it about our world that it must be painted over in vivid colors, when truth alone, in its bare essence, is limitless and profound? It’s not art that is at fault. The artist isn’t trying to exist in some heightened state. Art is observation, communication, wisdom. It’s the schoolyard dream that dooms us all, the longing to be something we are not — to the extent, the degree. If we could lean, instead, toward the pursuit of knowledge, understanding — toward a greater harmony, a deeper continuity between the thought and intent and the play of things… which is why I stay out of relationships, why, I’m sure, all saints are singular. Because everyone is so complicated, so many things needed to keep their illusions aloft — a colossal waste of time and energy. It‘s like taking daVinci and putting him to work in the sewer. The more I see the beauty of existence, the less inclined I am to filter it through whatever colored glass. It has to be authentic or it infuriates us, whether we give voice to it or not. A great friend of mine, the very elegant and well–spoken Nick Perl, just posted this on facebook:

NP: WARNING WARNING!!! New Agers are serial killers waiting to happen. Do not trust anyone that is manically happy on wheatgrass and Reiki, they can snap at any moment and go on a killing spree…. seriously. Repression anyone? A few responses: * I have meet some angry “new–age–peace–love–pink–cloud– around–the–head” … scaaaarry!!! * I thought new age was dead? I’m not up on all the fairies and what not. * I call them “uptight liberals” — I love Berkeley but it’s full of ‘em — why I had to cut. Today we hate everyone, especially the good guys, because it’s all fake. Layers after layers of deceit we hide even from ourselves, but to anyone who cares to look at it plainly, who isn’t following the program, it’s blatantly obvious.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful