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Author of this essay:

Yin Din Shakya

by Yin Din Shakya

I awoke today in a time of which I had no memory or foretaste.

Splashing water on my face I was stunned at the image staring back at me in the mirror. My nose had doubled in size since I last noticed. It now was the predominant feature on my face. Once the shining blue lights of my eyes were what I saw, now they had receded into two darker pools on either side of this bulging olfactory organ.

I thought, "At least I haven't transformed into a gigantic insect, yet."

And yet again, something may be seriously wrong when Kafka is the first thing one thinks of when shaving and gazing into morning's mirror.

Yesterday, when time still had continuity, my boys celebrated Freedom. Their summer jobs had ended the week before, and judging from the way the boys had been sleeping, post-partay, the jobs were ancient history. But still, as they packed for college, they shouted, "Freeee-domm!"

The word freedom came and sank into me, into my gut. It was a light and musical exclamation for them, but to me it seemed heavy and flat. For once, I kept my mouth shut, and I remembered my own going away. But it wasn't the same. They had taken so many things, computers, microwaves, cell phones, video cams and video games, DVDs and iPods. I recalled that when I left home, I just left home. I took clothes and books and the anticipation of change. My house, my permanent address - everything familiar and stable that I identified with - was left behind when I shut the door. I had traded order for disorder, for adventure and the danger inherent in it. The challenge of making things fit into place - by which I meant mostly myself. But I didn't have their sense of freedom. One of those peculiar time oddities occurred at this time, my parents chose the ensuing months to divorce, sell everything and move to different towns. I was so self-absorbed as a teenager I didn't even know they were discussing the possibility. The freedom I began to feel then was colder and less joyous than my boys' seems to be. Oddly, I am happy and grateful I had my experience and they have theirs.

Still, I felt badly misplaced in time. I felt old. I felt sad and oddly homeless again, a displaced person. But I hadn't left my attachments, my attachments had left me. Yesterday I had a family, today I had a huge nose. It was that most common of feelings that all of us experience. Hadn't even Suddhodana attempted to keep his son protected and near? All fathers must fight this yearning to say, "Stay here, the world will only harm you, please stay." All the while knowing nothing will hold them back from exploring their lives. Yet the moment always comes with a deep sweet sadness.

The day before, my wife had gone to visit relatives in another state. The distance wasn't great, but the time and state of mind were. She had looked forward to going. She hummed while she packed. When she left she called, "Take care of everything," but she said it in that offhand tone that could have had "or not" added to it. No life-line there.

So she left me and the dogs to guard the Keep.. or not. I've been told that dogs can smell fear. I wondered if I would soon have that ability. Obviously, my sense of smell would become more dog like and probably my vision as well. The world would soon become varying shades of gray and begin to stink with unfamiliar smells. Perhaps it was already happening to me. Perhaps that was why I was so nose conscious. The more attention we give a thing... a sound, a color, a body part, the bolder it becomes in its demands for attention.

I put on extra after-shave.

Sipping coffee and unwinding a huge cinnamon bun which I buttered piece by piece, I sat outside on the deck and considered the deadly possibilities of West Nile Virus, as I had more coffee with more cream and much more sugar, the imminent danger of West Nile faded. The dogs romped in the yard, ignoring me. I watched them and wondered why being home alone should make me so aware of myself and why this awareness was making me uncomfortable.

When did Gregor Samsa wake up to his predicament? I looked at the crowd of crumbs on my plate and the brave few that had made a soft landing near my bulging waistline. Putting physical carelessness together with the morning's malaise wasn't difficult. When had it started? I tried to fix the time when I stopped living my other life, the one in which I was a good companion to me... when I'd get up and salute the sun and eat cereal and fruit and drink tea, when my eyes were expressive and my nose was small.

Perhaps it is too easy a leap, or too handy an excuse but I think everything changed for me on 9-11. In New Jersey we've incessantly been given alerts and other equally unsubtle warnings to be on the look out for disaster. People around me seemed to brush-off the cautions and advisories. But each affected me in one of two ways: either I preached compassion and education and gentle forbearance; or I vented a primal urge to drop fifty megatons of advice on areas both west and east of Eden.

I didn't see the problem as global. To me it was just everywhere localized. In the three years since the Towers fell, I've traveled extensively; and at each location, though I was supposed to be conducting business, in the back of my mind I was evaluating the place, calibrating its likelihood of being a target of attack. I was looking for a more secure place to raise my family in peace, to keep them safe with me. Yet here and now, however briefly, my family was gone. It was just me and my dogs guarding the Keep... and they weren't registering the triumph of Freedom, guarding it... or not... If they felt responsibility it didn't show. It was clear, as clear as that nose in the mirror, that I had been living in fear. My Buddhist Practice was no armor because I had taken it off, placed it on the floor in front of the TV, an offering to its All Seeing Eye. Everyone around me had a carapace of sorts. I had abandoned mine, replacing it with old unhealthy attitudes and diets. I mistook the condition of Man for the condition of a man, the needs of the many for the needs of the One.

Something sneaked into my psyche like a parasite, nibbling away at my rationality and faith, not painful so as to need immediate attention, but a foreboding shadow on the horizon, not near but not far, like the darkness at the edge of town.

Towers have always fallen. The murders and the quarrels of man have always been with us and have always been rooted in our identification with and confusion of names. We all see with the same light yet because it shows us different colors we think the light is a different light.

It wouldn't be as easy to fool myself now, here in the Keep, with the only beings evincing anything resembling Buddha nature running free in the yard.

I made a vow while fearing the failure of it. I would brush the dust off the Zafu and my life. Take what is needed and leave the rest. Observe and guard my thoughts, diet and exercise the body. Simple things. If I take care of the now, what other time will concern me?

I didn't think my second trip up the mountain would give me too much trouble. The first one took me fifty years, but I left footprints. I can find my way.

Grace comes to forgive and then to forgive again. (Rumi)

I found my way back inside the house. It occurred to me that I could shut off the phones and put some good music on. I could meditate in peace.

Nothing is lost and nothing remains, just surrender to a Most Merciful Hand.

Be diligent and seek salvation.

Humming Bird
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