Now, Where Was I?
I spent the holiday weekend looking for myself. It was perhaps the spiritual equivalent of all that strip-searching going on in airports, all that lighting up what’s hidden under clothes. When I started, I could’ve sworn I was here somewhere because even though there was no spoor, I did hear the sound of a toilet flush. And there were tracks of a sort since somebody drove the car registered in my given name from San Francisco to the Buddhist center and somebody carried all the clothes, food and dharma texts in it down to the retreat cabin. But where was I?
There was a body. Disappearing toothpaste, Kleenex and food plus dirty socks were clues to that. And after I figured out how to get the heater going and stuff all the cracks around the windows, the body was a warm one. It was mine all right, certainly not Kim Kardashian’s, but was this assemblage of skin, mucous and bones the real me? Was this collection of jittery atoms really me? Where was I in it? Was I hiding in the hand that pushed a black Pilot pen over a yellow tablet to write this? Or was I somewhere between the eyes reading the words that rolled along the blue lines? Was I the breath leaving as though the party’s over? Or that damned strand of hair that won’t stop curling the wrong way? When it falls out, will I go with it?
These are the Buddhist questions we get to ask, so in that cabin I was on a woman hunt. The book I was reading by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche said: “The question you should ask yourself is, ‘What am I clinging to?’ We should look deeply at this to see if anything is there. According to the Buddha, what we’re clinging to is a myth. It’s just a thought that says ‘I’, repeated so often it creates an illusory self.” And indeed I did seem to be everywhere—in the piles of clothes, the fridge filled with food, the body on the cushion, the hairs in the brush, but what color was I: the color of my hair or my eyes or my skin or painted fingernails? If the thoughts flowing through my mind like cars across the Golden Gate Bridge are me, then where was I when they evaporated, making room for newer ones?
I put out an APB for this MIA. But I already knew people would respond saying: She is the woman who lives upstairs. She is my mother’s sister. She is my American mother. She is my childhood friend. She is the property manager. She is the cookbook writer. To everybody I would be somebody else with a name like neighbor, friend, patient. I get it: sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.
I thought about Thanksgivings past and saw myself a dozen years ago at the table with the 23 people for whom I had cooked. Was that person here now as me? Science has confirmed that our cells constantly change so that every seven years we’re completely new. Guess I wasn’t there back then. So the body in the cabin wasn’t the body that won all those graduation awards from college many dozen years ago. Where did that go? Where was I?
It seems I am like a river. Even though it is forever moving, thousands upon thousands and thousands of molecules of water flowing forward with no cease, spinning and splashing, smooth and serene, white or blue or gray or maybe green, an ever changing array of atoms rolling along courses that slur or subside or swell and hold sway, teeming torrents of locomotion without end, we see a river as an invariable form and give it a solid name. Like mine. In that cabin I say it over and over, like a mantra, like a yoo hoo, like a question until I am so exhausted I see beyond all doubt I am just not that in me.
~Sandy Garson"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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