Being Here

Sitting on the porch. Photocredit: Gail Horvath

Sitting on the porch. Photocredit: Gail Horvath

The only place to start is here, which is to say, in the middle of a life that has no true markers, however much you might try to find or create them. Here has no need for markers.

It’s a center with no perimeter. Which is a relief actually—to not have to worry about patting down one’s edges (that are always fraying anyway), or pulling them in or otherwise having to keep track of that fictional construction of I that we’re always fussing with, checking in the mirror to see if it’s still there and how much it has deteriorated since we last looked.

When did I start to notice that all this fussing and checking and tending was such a chore? I think it happened backwards. It was after the walls that were keeping here boxed in relaxed themselves, as if the tension that had held their molecules together couldn’t be bothered to get it up anymore.

It wasn’t dramatic. It was, in fact, a very gradual and tender sort of process. But at a certain point I noticed that my usual sense of hurtling through the backyards of life on a Bullet Train was gone. Evaporated. And here was the only place to be. I was going to say, The only place I wanted to be, but it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t a choice. Here was, and is, what is real and everything else seems to be beside the point.

I hope I’m not driving you crazy with this. I’m just trying to tell you how it is these days over here in Cronehood or Cronedom or Elderville or whatever you want to call this most interesting time of being alive in my late sixties. And to explain why the idea of my making a map makes me feel like the handless maiden. Because there isn’t anyplace to go. Imagine you come up out of the subway and you’re looking at one of those maps with a big red dot that says, YOU ARE HERE. And that’s it, the whole enchilada: the beans and salsa and avocado and whatever else they put inside. You don’t need to, you don’t want to, there’s no point in trying not to be where you are because then you have nothing. Here is the only place anything happens.

I suppose you could just as well call here something else. Like now. But you get the idea. It’s a matter of not forever doubling back on a self as the center of the universe. Eventually, all that effort can come to rest. And then you can be anywhere because you’re always here and it’s always now.

Well, maybe not always but a lot more often than ever before. It’s as if all my life I’ve been walking on paths laid out like concrete sidewalks, orderly and irrevocable, and now the paths have disappeared. Become a meadowland and the path is anywhere I care to walk.

Not that there’s anything wrong with path. It’s just that it’s gone. The right way to live. How to spend my time. How to succeed in the business of life by really trying. The old certainties have disintegrated like old concrete crumbling. And what is left…

What is left?

I don’t know. I haven’t lived here long enough to find out what it’s like to be where the meadow spreads out everywhere and there are no signs saying, Do Not Walk on the Grass.

I want to find out because this kind of exploring is fun. Fun? Glee, giggles that just burst out of you and you can’t and certainly won’t try to stuff back—my sidewalks hardly ever had room for so much joy. But I was attracted like crazy to people who could laugh like that. My Zen Master, Soen Sa Nim, had the best laugh in the world. When I first met him, he was fat and when he would laugh, which was about every other minute, his belly would shake like jello. I was enchanted. How do I get to be like this?

So he tried to show me. But somewhere on the way to following the path to get to the freedom in those great laughs, I got stuck. Or lost. Preoccupied with not wandering off the path, earnestly trudging upwards, eyes downwards, I was determined to get There. Which wasn’t Here even though it was supposed to be.

Doesn’t it make you tired thinking about all that trying? You probably have to sit back and let your belt out a notch, if you still wear belts, and just burp or sigh and let your belly go.

I finally learned to do that, let my belly go and befriend myself, get interested in myself instead of making a Major Project of myself in order to get somewhere as natural and free as Soen Sa Nim or wildflowers in a meadow with no gardeners in sight.

These days there doesn’t seem to be any trudging left to do. And what remains makes me want to cry because I never imagined I could live this way. What remains is being here, savoring the life I’m given, the world we’re given, things as they are.

I want to keep a journal of discovery like the explorers kept when they were entering new territory. Amundsen. Shackleton. Hillary. The British women who disguised themselves as men and rode across the Sahara on camels. They all took notes. What else can you do when everything is new?

While at 68 I’m not scaling Everest or mushing huskies through the Antarctic, I feel every bit the explorer/adventurer. One word. Because the exploration of how to live now, at this time of life, pathless, is venturing into an unknown world. Taking notes in a territory for those like me who are going in, as we always are, for the first time.

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With boundless gratitude to webmaster Alla Gringaus (email: alla.gringaus@gmail.com) who not only designed and built this site but has been the most inspiring of teachers in her meticulous and gracious guidance into the mysteries of the internet. And, also, a special thanks to Heather Preston, whose work on the cover of Ripening Time inspired the artistic theme of my site