BY Lobsong Nema
Chapter One: Emptying the Vessel.
I had my hands in the wound, my fingers searching for the artery that was spurting blood, my heart racing and I couldn’t find it. It no longer existed after the round tore through his shoulder. My brain told me it was hopeless, that he would be dead in seconds, but I couldn’t let go. I didn’t know the man, or his name. He had been in shock when I got there. And clearly in the last moments of his life, he gasped for what could be the last of his breath. I couldn’t let go of my feverish search, the man’s blood warm on my fingers.
“God, please,” I sobbed, and then with a gasp, I was back. My body shook, and I was sweating. I had been deep in meditation. I had also been back to Iraq. This was no longer uncommon for me. For the past several months I slipped from dream to dream. The default dream that I had awakened to each morning had lost it’s grip. Now, there was no reality. I was no longer sure where I would find myself. Vision passed easily into another vision, dream into dream, punctuated by periods of unconsciousness. I would simply find myself here, in this bleak apartment, or there in Iraq, or on the bike, in a bed somewhere unknown often with a fright so severe my heart almost stopped.
And yes, there were times when I would find myself back in the apartment for days, the visions and dreams seeming to stop, for a time. I would tell myself then that it was the meditation, and I was back to reality. It didn’t last, leaving me to conclude a final time that, as the Buddhists say, it was all illusory anyway. Form truly was emptiness. Emptiness truly was form. Form truly was none other than emptiness. And yes, emptiness truly was none other than form.
How had it happened that one day I was simply thinking this, reflecting on these words, and so quickly it was so?
I tried to relax, and immediately felt the familiar, slight nodding of the head, an indication of the slipping, back into meditation. Oh God, where to now.
It was following one of these visions, one of these dreams, now back in the apartment, perhaps not back in reality; that he had appeared, sitting cross-legged on a cushion opposite me. Of course I was startled, but it was still not the biggest scare I had experienced lately. He looked sort of like me, only different. Different age maybe. Different affect. Some things seemed different about him, me. Some things seemed familiar. I asked him who he was. There was no immediate reply, just that eyes wide open gaze that I have come to recognize as the deepest of meditative trances. Was it me? Or was it a reflection of me, lost on one of my journeys.
After what seemed hours, he had replied: “I am the Watcher,” nothing more. And then we sat. Suddenly I began to cry. Softly at first, then uncontrollably. Briefly there was one thought there: “What has become of me,” but really it was just the overwhelming feeling. I tried to tell myself that if I could notice the feeling that I was not the feeling, yet still the tears ran down my cheeks. It was then that I noticed that he was watching me, a look of such gentle concern on his face that I cried all the more.
Finally he said: “Yes, we could say that we are simply the observer of such feelings, but does not that deny those feelings. In this moment are we not that feeling? Do you not have a right to be that feeling?”
“I think so,” I choked, the feeling now jammed into my throat like a giant tumor of pain. We looked at each other, he a reflection of me; me a reflection of him.
“A great man once said that the suffering must be known,” said the Watcher as the words seemed to echo through the small room. I noticed the sun shining through the window, the leaves of the small ivy on the sill standing tall, it’s colors so vibrant that my heart sang out.
“What has become of me?” I asked now aloud. The Watcher looked at me, I at him. We both knew that there was no simple, conclusive answer.
For a time, my life had been relatively simple, or so it seemed. I had survived Iraq, though scarred. It was in Iraq as a medic that I had acquired the nickname, Doc. Many said I was a healer. This did not make up for the numbers that I lost. Back home, I married, tried to raise a daughter, worked as a mental health counselor, for a time successfully. And yet it seemed as if there was always a time limit to my sense of well-being. It was never long before frustration and anger colored my world, and conflict arose. I knew it was PTSD, but did not seek treatment. I had seen the way others who couldn’t handle it in Iraq were treated by the officers, as if the horrors of war were simply to be shrugged off; had seen the way veterans were treated, medicated and classified. I had worked with my program manager, a therapist, for a time, not so much on my PTSD, but rather on his theory of the “Inner Self Helper,” his belief that we all have an observer part that can guide us. I thought for a time that this was helpful, though, in the end, it set me upon this path. Then there were arguments with my wife, accusations, divorce, and finally the pain, missing my family and alienation.
Still I struggled on. I lost wife and child, and wondered how I could be so irresponsible. You could ask me how I could let a child walk out of my life. I don’t have an answer, but I am ashamed. How could I just not care? I could not care. I had lost the capacity along with everything else that was leaking out of the hole in my sinking life. I lost the house, the program where I worked was closed, leaving me to find another job. Not surprisingly I could convince no one that I cared enough to work for them. I found myself finally, in the corner, with every option spent.
In desperation, I attended a lecture on Buddhism. This is where the meditation started. I studied with a Zen monk. For a time, it seemed that I had managed my way out of that corner. I found an apartment, a part-time job working with other veterans, and I devoted myself to meditation, and healing. I even met another vet, a woman, and began a brief relationship. I professed my love for her, and told her how much I wanted her. This, however, is where the slipping began. Following an evening of futile lovemaking, I slipped for the first time into a trance from which I could not be roused. My friend, Ann, was frightened, and very quickly decided she could not deal with me. Several hours later, when I “returned,” she told me that I needed help. Scared out of my mind, I agreed. This started my relationship with the Veteran’s Administration, who for all of the criticism that has come their way, showed surprising compassion for my problem. I began to see a counselor named Mark. Mark was older by about double. He was Jungian, and liked to work with visualization. His visualization didn’t compare to my meditative experience, but we did form a lasting relationship. No matter what happened, it seemed that he was going to stick with me. I was also, at this time, prescribed an anti-psychotic that was supposed to stop my hallucinations, which I denied having-the Watcher hadn’t appeared yet. The doctor who prescribed them said: “Oh well, they should help with your trances.” I didn’t take them for long.
And this is the time that I first noticed reality slipping away. I stuck with the meditation, sitting for hours, often losing myself in what seemed reverie, only to wonder later where I had been for several hours. After a time, it more resembled a blackout. I just couldn’t recall whether I had fallen asleep, or simply stopped all mental activity, including memory. I was just gone. And then I went back to Iraq. One minute I was aware of sitting on my cushion, noticing the nodding of my head that seemed an indication of deepening silence, and suddenly the roaring sound of battle, the screams, the explosions, the bursts of automatic weapon fire, the feeling of warm blood on my hands, another man’s life my responsibility. I was there, so clear, so real, I could taste it. It was not like I was experiencing Iraq in a cognitive kind of way, like I was “imagining” it. I was immersed in it. I was there, living the essence of the place and war. There was not awareness of time, just the exploding sense of it, until some part of my mind couldn’t handle it any longer, and I found myself back on my cushion, back in my body with a jolt.
This became a daily occurrence, sitting in quiet contemplation, only to slip not so quietly into another place, or so it seemed at first. Soon, however, I began to question the sense of where I traveled to being a place. It began to seem more vision like, and then I began to question the reality of this place I returned to. I began to see all places as dreams. I recalled the story of the Zen monk who upon awakening from dreaming that he was a butterfly, wondered if he was a monk who had dreamed that he was a butterfly, or whether he was a butterfly who was dreaming that he was a monk. This became my reality. Oh no, that is not the right word. It became my experience. It became my prison. I also realized that it had always been so, that it had simply seemed more real, more stable.
My only escape, then and to this day was riding my bike. I began to spend most days riding, sometimes counting pedal strokes in order to hang onto the shred of default consciousness that was left. On the bike, I could remember, where I was, where I was going, how long I would be there. There were no such assurances on my cushion. On the cushion, it was watching the breath, reverie, and then God only knew where I was going.
Chapter Two: A glimpse of Reality
Mark’s question seemed to come from some distant place. Another dream?
“So what do you think?” he had asked. I then had to recall what he was referring to. Oh yeah, he had been asking if I kept the gun to keep myself safe from others, or to simply keep them away.
“I don’t know,” I replied. I was trying to go along with this conversation, but two things interfered, one I didn’t really know the answer, and secondly I didn’t really care. I had tried to establish this second point throughout all of our conversations. Mark acknowledged that it was a problem. He also didn’t give up. I’m pretty sure that he thought that I kept the gun just in case I decided to end it.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” he followed up.
“Rishi says that it is a legitimate answer,” but Mark’s silence following this indicated that he wasn’t buying my evasiveness.
“All right,” I said finally, “I think probably I am more weary of people than I am scared of what they might do.”
“Ann comes by sometimes,” I went on, “We talk some. She seems to still care, but I don’t know. I still can’t seem to find motivation to really have a relationship. And John comes by to talk about money.”
John was probably my only other friend. He worked in finance, and managed what funds I had left from investments. I had known him since college. I’m sure he cared, and was concerned. I know too that he was not likely to take the extra step for me.
“So there are a couple of people that you let in,” Mark reflected back to me, “A couple of people that you trust.”
“I don’t know about trust,” I shot back, “Trust is the other guy in the foxhole, the one that hasn’t let you down yet.”
“No not like Jake. Jake let me down!” I was angry and felt about to lose control. I wanted to shout at Mark that he knew nothing of it. But he did. He had been in Viet Nam. He was talking about the night insurgents slipped through our lines. We weren’t in foxholes. It was in a small village, and we had fortified as best we could. Jake had fallen asleep on guard duty. They were on us in an instant, and I had watched several very young men die. This was one of the visions I regularly visited on the cushion.
“You didn’t trust Jake after that,” Mark reflected again. He wasn’t going to let this go, and he was probably on to something.
“I didn’t trust myself after that.”
“What do you mean?”
After a pause I said: “I didn’t trust myself to trust anyone after that.”
I was back at the apartment. The Watcher was there, in the same place he had been since arriving. He had not moved. He just sat, still, and silent with that lost in space gaze.
I sat on my cushion across from him. As I settled myself, the Watcher began to speak.
“You asked what has become of you.”
“Actually you asked: ‘What has become of me?’ What is this me?”
“I guess what I would say is that it is my consciousness,” I replied.
“But that is still here. Isn’t it? The you that you wonder what has become of, that you is your everyday dream, data in data out, eat and shit you. And oddly you miss that you, when, in fact, I don’t think you really liked that you. On some level you wanted to lose that you.”
“Yes, I hated me. But without it I feel as if there is nothing to hold on to. There is nothing here.”
“You are right. There is nothing here. But that does not mean that what you thought yourself to be was of no importance. What did you hate about yourself?”
I needed to think. The Watcher had gotten closer to the “truth” in one minute than Mark had in many months.
“I hated who I had become, the coward, afraid to die, and willing to compromise all that I believe in order to preserve the me that I hated. Pathetic, and disconnected on every level, from all that might love me.”
“You say coward, and yet you have reached into a dying man’s wounds, willing to sacrifice your own safety to preserve the life of another.”
“And yet I could no more connect intimately with another human on any other level, than…”
“Let’s take a trip,” the Watcher said, and began a guided meditation. I did not have time to object.
“Just be in the body. Notice it’s weight, the sensations. You are here. In the being. In the awareness.”
Then the nodding. The silence, and then a rush of light. I opened my eyes to a red to orange to yellow landscape. There was nothing but heat, and red off to the horizon and sky which was only a lighter orangish yellow. Very little separated ground from sky, no trees, no houses, no mountains, nothing as far as the eye could see. And the heat was nearly unbearable.
The Watcher was by my side, yet he seemed transparent. I looked at my hand, and it too was transparent. It was like it had lost it’s living.
“Where are we,” I asked.
I looked around. There couldn’t be many surprises left. Off to my left, at a great distance, was a plume of smoke that must have been very large.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing.
“What is there?”
“I don’t know, it is one place I will not go.”
We walked for a time. I looked down and noticed that the ground was a reddish clay, very dry, and hard. I noticed too that I was not tired, or even thirsty in the stifling heat. It was so hot, that I was sure that we were going to need water, But it seemed I didn’t.
“Why am I not thirsty?” I asked.
“You are pure consciousness. Pure awareness. It cannot be thirsty, in fact needs nothing.”
In the distance I saw what looked like a small pile of rocks. However, when we got to it, I realized instead that it was a person sitting naked on the ground, knees pulled up to chest, head wresting on knees. It or he looked up at me. It was human, but lifeless. Moving, but vacant. It’s hair was as scraggly as any I had ever seen. And the eyes, not just lifeless and vacant but a hole into the deepest of blackness. We stopped.
“Who are you?” I asked.
The being opened it’s mouth to answer, and out came a cacophony of sound, as if a giant choir was singing.
“One voice,” said the Watcher.
“I am many,” it said.
“How did you get here?” I asked.
“I was reborn here, but I think I chose to come,” the beings voice echoed as if close and distant at the same time.
“Why here. What did you do?”
“I was a shape-shifting, flesh eating, murdering, raping, mother-fucking, bottomless hole of an ass. And I loved it. There was no where else that could hold me.”
The being was up on his feet so fast he was a blur, now running off into the distance. I looked for the Watcher, but he too was gone. And then I heard the cry. Oh, hell, the cry of a giant bird. It was streaking my way, and before I could turn and run it had me in it’s giant beak, winging skyward for what must have seemed a tasty dinner.
“Oh, shit,” I said and then I was back in the apartment, dropping from several feet to the floor. I rolled over to look the Watcher in the eye. He was smiling ear to ear.
“You’ve got to work on the landings,” he said grinning.
“You just left me,” I accused.
“Dude, I’m not your keeper,” he said in a voice that sounded like a twenty year old. We both laughed until our sides hurt.
After the shock wore off, the laughter died out, at least mine. The Watcher was still smiling.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“The Hell Realm, upper level,” he responded.
“What do you mean?”
“You heard that poor being. He was reborn there to stop him from doing the things that he had been doing.”
“And he chose to be reborn there.”
“Yes, though likely not consciously. A being of that nature is very unlikely to have the ability to choose where he is reborn. On some level his true nature knew that he had to be stopped.”
“And he is there for eternity?” I asked exposing my Christian indoctrination.
“Oh no. It will be for the duration of a lifetime, or however long it takes to make a different choice. Actually there is no time there. So from your standpoint, he could be back any moment.”
“What is the lower level for?”
“There are worse beings than our friend who have roamed the earth.”
Chapter Three: Choices
While a case could be made for these events to be viewed as spiritual progress, I would also be forced to admit that I was still pretty unstable. For one thing I had begun to question my sanity. After all, I now had a friend who others could not see, I was taking trips to exotic places faster than on a flying carpet such as the Hell Realm, and I was still suicidal. Oh, yeah. I haven’t mentioned that Mark was basically right about that, the gun was pretty much for me. And the best part of all, my ex-wife was still refusing to allow me to see my daughter, even though I had been able to convince children’s services that the “hallucinations” had stopped. Of course, they didn’t know about the Watcher. In addition my employment was on shaky ground. I couldn’t always make it in to work, and when I did, I wasn’t the sharpest employee they had. Looking at all that was going on, I was probably more unstable than my clients.
The truth was that there were days when I sat for periods of equal duration as my meditation sessions with a loaded gun in my hand, thoughts of worthlessness running through my feverish mind. It was times like this that I longed for a journey to the Hell Realm even if it meant ending up as lunch for some sinful beast with two wings. To say that there weren’t moments when that gun was held to my head, a round in the chamber, would be a lie. There were other moments when the plan was simply to lie there until I died of thirst, as irrational as that plan might be.
And where, you might ask, was the Watcher. Right there on his cushion, deep, deep in meditation. He said nothing.
“What is a Watcher,” I asked one day, more out of frustration with his distance than a genuine desire to know, though of course I was curious.
“As best as I can tell I am a sort of mirror,” he replied.
“What, you mean no one ever told you, your mom or dad?”
The Watcher burst into what sounded like good-natured laughter. I did not find it so
“I did not have parents. I was never born. I have simply always been.”
I had to let this sink in for a bit.
“Look here, man,” he was in a street voice now, “It’s all about personal responsibility. Who you is, man. You feel me? About what your core value is. If you don’t live by that your life’s just shit.”
“See here,” he went on waving his hands, “It’s like here are your values,” drawing a line parallel with the floor, “here’s your life,” the other hand drawing a line below it.
“They’re supposed to be the same, or close to it. If they’re not you experience pain.” The street voice was gone, and he was looking at me in the most serious way.
“An Avatar’s life, the circumstances of his life match his core values. He lives always according to his core values. The rest of us don’t. It is what we strive for.”
“Like Jesus?” I asked.
“Yes, Buddha sat under that tree, until he released himself from suffering, let go of his negative Karma, and the inability to believe in emptiness. You’ve seen that tree.”
He was right. I had been to India. I had spent several nights beneath that tree, the so-called Bodhi tree. Next to the stupa, bathed in bluish light, a surreal place of immense power, with my teacher, I had taken refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In that moment I had felt that all was well. Perhaps I should have stayed there.
I looked at the Watcher. He was once again in deep meditation. I closed my eyes, and immediately felt the slipping.
I felt the rush, the blinding light. And then I was in a place of immense beauty, standing before a lake of the richest blue-green color. I heard birds singing, their voices magical, and what seemed to me most mysterious, their songs in words. I heard “gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, Bodhi Shava,” which I recognized as the mantra of perfected wisdom from the Heart Sutra. Looking to the left of the lake I saw a golden colored tree that seemed to be glowing, rich in fruit and flowers. The scent of flowers hung heavy in the air, blossoms from trees fell like rain.
Looking to the right, I saw a blue man sitting on a throne, before him hundreds, if not thousands of beings. Truly his skin tone was blue. His hands were crossed at his heart. In his right hand he held a ball-like object with a handle which I recognized as a vajra or sacred object representing a thunderbolt, or the Diamond Way in Buddhism. His left hand held a bell. He wore ornaments of bone and a beautiful silk garment. He was seated in meditation pose. He smiled joyously when he saw me.
I knew from my studies that this was Vajradhara, or the primordial Buddha, the quintessence of Buddha’s enlightenment. Around him sat what I knew were the lineage gurus all looking just the same, along with other deities, buddhas, and bodhisattvas.
Vajradhara motioned for me to sit before him, and to my great surprise, my parents sat beside me, one on each side. Behind us were many, many beings, waiting, it seemed for some great pronouncement.
Suddenly a light began to shine forth from Vajradhara, engulfing us all. I felt as if something tore within me. And then a ball of blue light emanated from Vajradhara and entered the crown of my head. I looked up to see Vajradhara and all the gurus dissolve in light.
I looked to my parents, and to the multitudes behind me. All were looking at me. In an instant I knew that the I was not ready.
I felt the rush, and was back in the apartment, sitting quietly on my cushion, the Watcher across from me. He smiled gently.
At first I had no words. I tried to speak, but no words would come. A tear rolled down my cheek. Had this simply been another vision, or had I been to India, more importantly had I actually looked upon reality, Buddha in the Dharmakaya body. It is said that this kaya or body represents reality, the very principle of enlightenment, and knows no limits. I wondered if there was truth to this belief. Hadn’t I just looked upon it
“Where was I?” I asked finally.
“No where,” the Watcher responded with a smile, and look of eternal patience.
“There is nothing here, no where to go,” he said, “There is just this being. It has always been here.”
“But, I mean, I was in India, sitting in front of Vajradhara.”
“Truly there is no place to go, no place to get away from. There is only here, only this consciousness. Is that not what you just saw? Is Vajradhara not representative of this?”
“Let’s try a different approach,” he said, “a guided meditation.”
“Simply rest in the silence,” he said, “Be in the awareness. The Being. There is no where to go. This Being has always been here.”
The silence deepened. I felt again that place that had torn within me, only without pain. Instead a soothing, gentle touch like I had never felt. It was like a veil was lifted. I could feel those places of pain and loss being comforted, replaced by a sense of peaceful nothingness; the web of confusion, the thinking mind, the tape loop of words, the trap of this lifelong belief system finally silent. There was simply nothing here but this awareness, non-judging, silent and empty. I was not a thing, a something, thoughtful, decisive and independent of all else. What I had thought of as me was completely dependent, on cause and effect, on parents, the environment, on air. This awareness was not.
And what I was most aware of was being “here,” or simply being. There was nothing else.
Chapter Four: The Web fills the Void
My life did not end here. I thought often of that moment in the vision, the thousands of beings, including my parents looking at me as if I were their hope, as if I would magically lead them to enlightenment. I could not. It was much the same as I felt in Iraq, blood on my hands, and a life slipping away-disappointed and useless, just as I had always been. Again I felt the pull of the web, the familiar surroundings of the corner. I was still working, not full-time, and not with much success. I was now having supervised visits with my daughter. I continued to meditate, and for the time-being was able to confine myself, staying in the awareness, and the apartment.
I also was not stress free. I worried a lot. The Watcher was still sitting there, and I didn’t know what I was going to tell children’s services or a judge if that came up. I worried about me. It’s all well and good to be able to travel through the various realms at will, it is another to care for myself in a way that provided safety and well-being for a child. I did not know what might happen if something really went wrong again. The gun was still waiting like an old friend.
And the Watcher? He just sat in meditation day after day. We rarely talked. I still did not know what to think. Was he real, or was I actually hallucinating. I could not be sure, and I needed to know.
“We need to talk,” I said finally.
“What is this we you speak of,” he responded, extracting himself from his trance.
“Please, stop the Zen bullshit, just for a moment. I need to know about you.”
“Are you real, or am I hallucinating?” I asked.
“Nothing is real, and everything is a huge hallucination.”
“All right. I said that I was a kind of mirror. I also said that I was never born. This I am told. I do not have a memory of childhood, so cannot believe otherwise. I have met many Avatars in the form of light. I could give them names, Buddha, Christ, and others, but that clouds the issue. They appear to me as light. I am given assignments, to be a mirror for certain beings. You are one.”
“This I am not told. Over the many years, I have come to recognize that each has a certain potential. That potential is always the same, an ability to lead the many to the truth. Over and over throughout history mankind has lost it’s way; and many times reawakened, reaching out for the truth only again to fall victim to their own weaknesses. There are those who take advantage, always extinguishing that awakening. The truth is that if once man would take full responsibility for his actions, not just one man, but many, it would forever put an end to Samsara, to suffering.”
“I feel like such a failure. How could I lead anyone to the truth?”
“You are a shepherd. There are three kinds of leaders, three kinds of Bodhisattvas. The Bodhisattva King aspires to become a Buddha as soon as possible, guiding others to enlightenment by example. A Bodhisattva Boatman aspires to become a Buddha simultaneously with other sentient beings, sharing difficulties and encouraging along the way. The Bodhisattva Shepherd delays his own enlightenment until all other sentient beings become Buddhas, and protecting all that falter. You are the later.”
I could say nothing. I simply waved my hand about the room as if to say: “Look at my life.”
“All dreams,” he said, “All dreams.”
“Let me see if I am hearing you correctly,” Mark said, “you are saying that unless we know our core value, unless we live according to it we will feel pain.”
“Yes,” I said, “and we can learn to use that core value as a kind of lighthouse for when we get lost in life.”
“I have to say, I’m a little surprised by hearing this from you. I know that the Acceptance and Commitment therapists are big on core values. How has this showed up in your life?”
“We used ACT when I worked at the crisis program. It’s not new to me, and recently it has become critical that I accept personal accountability. My life’s a mess.”
“You’ve been frustrated with the way things have gone lately,” Mark reflected.
“Yes, but actually things have started to come back together as I told you,” I said. I had already filled him in about visitations with my daughter, and my job. I had not mentioned the Watcher.
“This has brought some satisfaction.”
When I paused, Mark went on. “So tell me about your core value.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” I said, “I think it is honor. If I tell you that I’m going to do something, I show up on time, and give you my best. I’m not always like that. Sometimes I fall short, obviously. But striving for honor I think creates growth.”
There was a pause in our conversation, after which Mark said: “I see, and I think that does describe you, but let me ask a question.
He paused as if thinking, then asked: “Doesn’t it still come down to choice?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you still have to choose to like yourself, not just the part that is honorable, but also the other parts, the parts that are not so honorable, the parts you don’t like, the dark parts, the parts that you would choose to reject. Don’t you have to like yourself to get past this obstacle in your path?”
My heart dropped. He was right, and I was suddenly discouraged.
“Og Mandino, the guy who wrote “The Greatest Story Ever Told” said: ‘God does not pay by credit, he pays you as you earn it, good or bad, heaven or hell, according to your choice.”
It was clear that I still had some hard work. I didn’t like myself, even if I was an honorable man, most of the time.
“So, how does one learn to like oneself?” I asked the Watcher.
The Watcher looked at me with some hope, then asked: “What do you mean?”
“Well I can know that my core value is honor, and be honorable most of the time. I can follow the precepts, most of the time. I can understand the concept of emptiness, and see it function in my life, but if I don’t like myself, I am still stuck in this rut, am I not?”
“You are right,” said the Watcher, “but I would ask who is this you that you would like?”
“Yes, it’s like we are these disparate parts, which is exactly how Dan put it.”
“Dan is a Buddhist. What else did he say?”
“He said that our history is just a story, and if you didn’t like the story change it.”
“He is right. If you don’t like this story, choose a different one. Choose to like yourself, such as it is.”
After a time, the Watcher asked: “What is it you don’t like about your self?”
As I was thinking, he said: “Let’s take another trip, back to one of your lives.”
I did not have time to think about it, or wonder which life. The Watcher had closed his eyes. I closed mine. There was the rush of light, and I found myself in a smoke filled hut. Across from me sat what I guessed was a Chinese woman. She was looking at me, her eyes pleading.
“Please help him, Doc,” she said. The words were Chinese, but I was hearing and thinking in English. I didn’t stop to think about this.
The man was her husband. I knew that the family name was Wong. The man was a peasant farmer. He was lying on the dirt floor, atop blankets. He was also covered in blankets, and shivering. I felt his forehead. He was feverish. I checked his pulse, which was rapid and thready. I whispered in his ear, trying to discern more symptoms. He was unable to answer.
“Get the fire going, and more blankets. Let’s get him warm, and see if we can spike the fever,” I said.
I prepared an herb that I knew would push his fever up. Somehow I knew that this would break this evil, and the man would return to consciousness. After all of this was done, the woman slept with her husband. I sat staring in the fire, and reflecting on this life. I was aware that I was both this person, “Doc” as the woman had said; and I was me from a future dream. I wondered how I could be conscious of both.
The memory in this Chinese Doc told me that I was a shaman from another village. I had been taught to heal, to intuit illness, and the power of herbs by my mother who was also a shaman as was her father before her. I seemed to have the power of clairvoyance and knew that the woman was getting sick as well. My current memory told me that it was probably just the flu, my Chinese memory called it an evil. I dozed.
When I awoke, I was somewhat startled to find myself still in the Chinese village. I might have expected to be back in the apartment. This was the first time I had slept during a dream, and remained in the dream. I told myself that it was necessary, that a man had to be healed. Clearly this Chinese me was a dedicated, honorable healer.
The man was awake, and said he felt much better. I told him that his wife, who was still sleeping, was likely to become sick as well, but to give her the herb that I had given him, keep her warm, and that it would pass. He thanked me, and told me that I was a great healer.
I went outside, and found the Watcher waiting for me, a knowing look in his eyes. We watched the sunrise, then he said that it was time to go. Just like that we were back in the apartment.
Chapter Five: Another Blow
Despite all of this progress, it seemed that two things remained true, one, I really didn’t like myself, despite all that I had seen, and two, I was deathly afraid that something like my custody issue over my daughter might go horribly wrong.
The custody hearing was to determine whether I would remain as a co-parent or lose my rights. I took the stand myself, and I believe was convincing that I had made progress, and was much more stable mentally. My ex-wife, however, expressed concerns that my mental problems prevented me from effective parenting. Mark was called and presented convincing evidence of my growth. The VA doctor was called, and while generally supportive did not stand up well under cross examination. He said that I had PTSD with some psychotic features, that he did not want to go so far as to diagnose me as having Schizophrenia, but was still considering Schizoaffective. In the end, it seems that all he proved was that he was not competent to diagnose me. The child care worker who supervised my visits was called and expressed concerns that I did not often connect with my daughter. The judge too expressed concerns and extended the supervised visitation, not wanting to give up too soon. She said that my daughter needed me. I had not lost my parental rights, yet, but I was devastated.
This began a period of increased drinking, and carousing in bars. I was on the prowl. It also meant a decrease in meditation, and mental stability. My grip on reality lessened further.
Following a night of missed work, and partying, I sat on my cushion, hoping to get back to my “self.” The Watcher was still there, though we had not talked since the China trip.
“I really don’t like myself,” I said.
“I know,” the Watcher responded.
I went on without invitation: “How could I? I screw everything up. I’ve lost everything. I can’t keep a family together. I can’t hold a job. I’m a waste of space.”
“And pathetic,” he added, “Let’s take another trip, this time to the future.”
I started to ask if we could do that, but didn’t get the chance. We were gone.
I was sitting on my cushion, at least my body was. My consciousness, the me taking this trip was watching from across the room. The gun was in the hand of the other me. There was the smell of gunpowder in the air. The other me was on the phone.
“Mark, listen, I just wanted to see what it sounded like,” the other me said.
“No, no one is hurt. I just fired a shot through the bedroom ceiling.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was that or my head.”
“Yes. But a part of me wants to live.”
“I know, Mark. I know she needs me.”
“What do you mean you have to call the police?”
“I know, but I just wanted to know what it sounded like.” the other me was now sobbing.
“I don’t want to go to jail or a hospital.”
“I know you’re trying to help.” The other me laid the gun down. I looked to the cushion where the Watcher sat. He motioned, and then we were back. The other me gone.
I sat for a moment, stunned. Before asking: “Is that my future?”
“It is one possibility,” said the Watcher, “nothing is cut in stone. Life is cause and effect that changes with each new cause. Nothing stays the same, so to say this absolutely will happen is not accurate. However, it very well could.”
“You are not satisfied with your circumstances. You are projecting out, trapped in Samsara, and yet Samsara and Nirvana are the same. It simply depends on your perception. You must find contentment. When you are contented you do not feel anger. When you are contented you do not feel sad. Isn’t it?”
“How do I find contentment?”
“You tame the mind through sitting. Let’s visit the future again.”
I was back in the apartment watching myself again. Only this time I was with my daughter, Emily. We were coloring, each in our own place. From time to time, she would look to see what I was doing. And at times, I would watch her.
“I like your’s Daddy,” Emily said simply.
“And I like your’s.”
It was so simple, so complete, and so perfect. Words could add nothing. Again I looked for the Watcher and found myself back in my go to dream.
“Isn’t this also a possibility? asked the Watcher, “What is different?”
“I am more concerned about my daughter than myself, and I am able to show it.”
“Yes. We don’t find contentment in grasping. We find it in our compassion for others. This is the only way.”
The Watcher closed his eyes again. I did likewise, and found myself back in the apartment with the other me.
“Mark, I know. I just don’t know what to do,” the other me said. He, I, was clearly distraught, the gun back in my hand.
Suddenly from outside a loud voice: “This is the police. We need for you to come outside with your hands up.”
I watched as the other me set the phone down, stood and walked gun in hand to the door as if in a daze. I tried to call out as the other me opened the door, and stepped onto the porch. I watched in horror as a crack from a rifle tore the air around me, a bullet tearing open the head of the other me. I tried to run to me, but the horror was too great.
I was gone, but did not, this time return to the apartment. Instead I found myself again standing before Vajradhara, the primordial Buddha who again dissolved before me along with the lineage gurus. I looked behind and found not just my parents, but Emily and my ex-wife along with everyone I have ever cared about. They looked at me with the same longing for awakening.
“This is the way that it must be," I said, "and will be.” They too dissolved before my eyes, and I was alone.