Monday, October 12, 2009

Meaningful Living at the End of the World

Tokyo, October 2009

When actual beauty arrives I am more scared than hungry. Just as when fumbling in the night my fingers find, instead of the switch, the electric socket. This man, startling me now on the train: he's not beautiful like a smooth skin commercial, or a Bel Ami porn angel. He's beautiful like stepping off a cliff in the dark. Suddenly I'm dangling 100 feet in the air, skewered, vulnerable.

What I want to do now is stare. To stare and stare until I understand, until I get it, this force and how to be free of it. But I can't stare. To stare is to be caught hungry, to be exposed -- he'd holler, someone would push the emergency button, the train would stop, security would hurry aboard, and I'd be shot in the interest of human safety because, well ma'am, nothing can be done with them once they've tasted human flesh.

Beauty's a pharmacy-bright fluorescent. Suddenly there I am, with my jug ears and my sad skin. My face, which a moment before was empty on the way to work, now contorts with longing and posturing. With nerves. Oh Jonathon Mock, why can't you just act natural?

Not for one moment in all my life have I ever acted natural. Shot through with longing, I pin my eyes to my clipboard (these words I wrote as I tried not to stare) and it occurs to me suddenly that this must be what God is like. Or as close as I am ever liable to get. The presence, the pressure of God, that dark radiance, an itch at the corner of one's vision.

Even if you turn to look it can't be comprehended. Doesn't really answer the question. I've looked three times already -- I am not eligible to look again. The contrast of dark lashes stubble eyebrows against that bright skin, the lean intensity of the face, those eyes! Once in my life I want to know what it's like to be born into the body of a god.

Don't look! Once more and he'll be irritated, I'll be exposed for ravenous hunger, caught with this dog-begging-at-the-table face and so I pin my eyes down and I feel that yearning, a pressure at the edge of my vision. I turn to him behind my eyes and silently say Oh Krishna

Storm god Krishna accept my adoration, this oil lamp, garland of jasmine. Krishna who multiplies in countless forms, one for each of the milkmaids and the buffalo boys, one to accost me on the train, Monday morning Tokyo commute, Mita Line to Onarimon. Pray to the longing. Oh Krishna.

Don't look again!

Dear Zot,

Thank you for fielding my questions regarding meaningful living amid environmental catastrophe. I accept, and am highly disappointed you do not have some simple formula for me, directing me instead to my own still voice, pearl of discrimination, whatever.

i don't stay on the positive side. i just keep going, doing what makes sense as i see it from where i am. i also keep doing what last made sense the last time anything made sense, which if i'm saying it well enough means i get through times of nonsense or insensibility or senselessness. Sometimes it's like that. i get assignments in times of clarity. When out of clarity, i make myself continue to do the assignments.

Buddha nature is supposed to be boundary-less. Instead it's like trying to find one wad of gum beneath one chair in a porn theater the size of Yankee Stadium. OK, you're right, maybe the problem is I'm always watching the porn.

You asked me what I was expecting -- I guess I meant a book. Some NYT bestseller I'd overlooked: Meaningful Living at the End of the World. Some handy 1,2,3 guide on how to matter, use less plastic, maintain one's dignity and look great here at the end of human history. Evidently this book has not yet been written.

Perhaps we should collaborate?

It's a lousy picture. When it appears on screen the narrator apologizes and explains it was the best they could do. The camera battery was dead, I think. Someone took it with their phone. Almost all you can see are the riot police with their silver shields and helmets. Behind them is a yellow gate with a plain red banner overhead. You have to peer, lean forward a little, to see the gate is in fact open, just wide enough to reveal a thin woman standing there, her hands before her, joined together in reverence. You can just make out that she is crying.

No, that's not true. I cannot see that clearly. I say that the woman in the picture is crying because I am crying whenever I look at the picture.

Aung San Su Kyi, is there any hope at all?

I found the picture on the Internet, very small. I printed it out and taped it to the wall above my altar. Above the buddhas and the Mother of the Universe. When I see this picture I see the state of truth and justice in the world, peering out at us through a narrow gap in the wall, behind a line of police. Greeting us from a distance. Standing straight and reverent behind a line of thugs.

I dreamt I was back in the green kitchen in New Hampshire. A sheep was there with me in the kitchen. It started talking in a dry quiet voice best described as 'secretarial'.

"The quota of surprises for this year has been exceeded. Therefore, for the remainder of this year nothing expected will occur."

My first feeling was relief. But then I thought, "Can I really trust this sheep?"

Finally they were able to travel but it was too late. Rido and his wife were over 80 by then and not well. They went to Paris and hardly left the hotel. They went on a cruise and stayed on the ship.

Maybe it wasn't too late. The maid had taught him how to count in French, he said. He got up early and watch as the streets were washed. The year before that his great grandchild was born. The year before that he'd found a dead cat on his roof covered in oil. And then there was the time when a policeman accused him of stealing a bicycle!

Rido sits at the table without moving. His eyes are gummy. His last tuft of hair grows long in the back. He speaks only when spoken to. He is so busy finding everything interesting he does not pause to ask what is good or bad.

The cruise ship stopped at Bangkok, but he and his wife stayed on board and watched a movie. Did you enjoy it, I asked. Yes very much. When the movie was finished the lights came on and we saw that we were alone in the theater!

My sister, who is lovely and bored out of her mind with me all the time threatening to kill myself, says there is no point in trying to figure it all out. Instead she asks me to chant AH and imagine a white light, chest-high, surrounded by a rainbow.

There was a time I had spiritual beliefs. I still do. I used to believe in the Buddha. Before that I believed in God. Now I believe in my sister. And so I follow her instructions to imagine a white light (step one) collapse the universe into it (step two), collapse my body too (step three) everything together down to a radiant ball (step four) which becomes a star and (step 5) finally vanishes into space and stillness.

Each time creates the sadhana it requires. A horse sacrifice or a warrior, space man or holy mother. Thus it does not surprise me that we are trying now to collapse the universe and dissolve it all. AH, Nevermind. Start over.

Buddhist teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh have composed gathas -- short verses which aid to practice mindfulness in everyday life. There are gathas for waking and eating, gathas for hugging or inviting the bell to sound. There is even a gatha for using the toilet. However, I have not yet found a gatha to recite upon seeing a really luscious man. So I took the liberty of composing one.

May I always act
To care for and preserve
The beauty and the wonder
Of the world.

You say it silently of course. Otherwise the guy may be alarmed.

I admit I'd prefer a spell of infatuation: Om Ah Snog With Me. (I tried. It doesn't work.) As it is, the best I can do is remind myself that beauty is not an invitation for mindless devouring. There's a lot to be said for enjoying the vistas. Or at least not leaving marks.

The downside of the gatha is that it's really long. So, when there is an abundance of really gorgeous men around, you can just repeat the word "Wonder". Or, in times of extreme incessant beauty, at a South Indian bathing tank, say, or Turkish soccer match, Italian locker room, when you're just about to swoon from awe and lust, it's enough to repeat the holy seed syllable DUH, which is probably all you'll be able to think anyhow.

That gatha, one more time:

May I always act
To care for and preserve
The beauty and the wonder
Of the world.

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