Let the darkness of a solitary night unbind the chains and find the hidden pain in my deepest heart, the weeping son given all but that sole food his soul is starving for.
Love, kill now my best intentions. Will me into your presence, with gentle guidance or with firm control. Place the bread on my plate and forgive my hesitation, my demand for something else to eat, my rejection of your gift, my abandonment of your tender touch that never abandons me. Grant me the clarity not to avert my eyes from the unrelenting stare of my dying, but rather to widen my heart to include both sides of the balanced scale. Let the events of the day be the daily pill I take to make me well. Help me to hold both the precious dove resting on the olive branch, and the hungry vultures circling the charnel grounds, inside your balanced heart, which cannot grow bitter, which cannot be harmed.
Lord, help me to die
to myself, afraid to die,
that thy Word might live.
By order of the warden, all jailors must marshal their inmates to march to the beat of a diffident drum, tamping down all impulses of the id and reporting all uncontrollable urges to the superintendent. Those prisoners who are eager to please their super-ego, please join us on the other side of the bars from dawn to dusk. We welcome you into the ranks of the semi-institutionalized, semi-employed.
After you have become members of our Outstanding Institute for Correctional Action, we will teach you to deaden your dread until it no longer surfaces from your dreams to wake you in the middle of the night. We can’t afford to have our half-imprisoned, half-imprisoning convicts screaming themselves awake; it will give our full-time prisoners too many nefarious ideas. We require our employees to sleep soundly. We need you to leave your cells in the morning and oversee the imprisonment of your fellow prisoners with an untroubled conscience, so you can return to your cells at night and sleep undisturbed. Waking up, whether you wake up screaming or laughing, will result in immediate retraction of your daytime privileges.
If you have not already done so, from this point forward you will dismiss from your mind all images of frozen seas, barren fields, and paralyzed fawns. The rule here is simple: make your inner life a parenthetical, let that little line stand between who you are now and who you were meant to be. Bound and bracket off your longing to let Life touch you, to contact what is real in you, and wake you up. Learn to perfect your defenses of isolation, projection, and straightforward resistance, remaining inside the buildings of our renowned complex and refusing like all good militaristic Americans to let the sun thaw the ice congealing around your warring hearts.
Every day that my hard-heartedness doesn’t bring me to tears is a day lost to the part of myself that counts its losses, divides everything into win/loss columns, solemnly swears it will be only good, never bad; that it will stand up tall, never look downcast; that it will be right, never wrong. I follow that part into the corrupt heart of duality. I let it lead me onto the lost highway, where all the hardheaded men bull their way to nowhere. I am full of my own bull. I am beaten at my own game, as if my only ambition is to become a cretin, a giant of egoic delusion. I am waiting for the day when someone says about me: ‘Now there’s a man with a good head on his shoulders.’
I always find it fitting to be walled in, head and shoulders below the rest. I am always wishing for the courage to go all-in. I always find myself returning to the fact that I am wishing my life away. Wishing Life, with its promise of Death, would just go away. Wishing I had a way to go back to that pre-serpent age when I had no knowledge of good and evil, and so made no distinction between life and death.
The harshness and discomfort of the road should be softened by short periods of comfort. A single night of sleeping indoors on a pillowed bed, taking a shower with soap, eating a dinner of meat and vegetables rather than the usual rice and beans, drinking good filtered water, and fueling up with a large breakfast in the morning can do much to offset the anemic and ascetic weariness that comes from depriving oneself of those pleasures for weeks on end. All you need is one night to relax and not have to worry about getting what you need. Without this sporadic comfort, you begin to lose sight of your purposes for traveling, one of which was to recover your joy and wonder at life. You get tunnel vision. Before going out on the road, you had worked a menial job, lived a humdrum existence, read books of adventure in your spare time, and hungered for the excitement of travel, the inspiration you’d surely feel, the soulful people you’d meet along the way. Now you just want it to be over, get to the end, be where there is no more road. You hunger to sleep in a warm bed. The road becomes something to complete, the journey something to be finished and done with. The path in front of you something to put behind you.
Besides your thirst for indoor comforts, you want to get to the end partly because you think the end will mean no more feeling like an eternal beginner. To live on the road is to exist as an eternal beginner. The vagabond has no profession to master, no trade to become expert in, or at least pretend to be proficient at. In each new town he wakes up knowing he must start over again, learn anew how to be alive, find some way to make it to the next town. He cannot fall back on old ways. There is no falling back; there is only going forward.
But when the man on the road starts to get tunnel vision, this idea that “there is only going forward” becomes distorted. He goes forward not to grow and be shocked awake by the new but simply to get to the end where he can sleep in peace, where he does not have to work hard for every mile, where comfort is a given, though taken rather than received with gratitude, and does not need to come as some kind of reward. He has lost perspective; he has forgotten that one fully appreciates what one has only after being deprived of it. Compassion comes not through happiness but through sorrow. Connection with other human beings is deepest not through daily and habitual interaction but when it occurs unexpectedly after you have experienced the depths of loneliness and isolation. You take most pleasure in the sweet and simple things of life not when you feel no pain but when pain itself has made your heart soft enough to appreciate those moments when it is full.
The man goes out on the road because he imagines that travel will fill his heart. Then, once on the road, he feels his heart empty, and instead of experiencing this emptiness, he rejects it as not part of his plan and imagines a life off the road where his heart will be full. He feels on the road, more intensely than he ever felt off it, his isolation. People see him riding alone on the side of the highway and perhaps are reminded of their own isolation, which they had tried to repress. They honk or curse or make rude hand gestures. By his mere presence, he has dared to call into question the solidity of their illusions, the unsturdy foundations of their fragile lives, of the fragility of all human life. But the honker is the exception. Most people are easily able to see themselves in the voyager, the pilgrim forced by a heart made restless by the intensity of his longing, to live with no home, close to the edge of being and non-being. Instead of rejecting that what they see in this restless heart is their own restlessness, these people welcome the wanderer as they would their own son. Having experienced his isolation deeply, the traveler is all the more appreciative of this welcome.
Even so, the feeling of rejection that comes when a car honks, as you pedal at a snail’s pace for miles up a steep grade, is enough to cancel out ten occasions of welcome and support. Aliveness quickly becomes deadness, aloneness turns to loneliness, and what had seemed purposeful almost instantly seems purposeless. You wonder what in hell you are doing, where you are going, why you put up with the frustrations that are part and parcel of life lived out of doors. And yet the frustrations are bearable. You chose to experience them when you left the comfortable house, where your frustration stemmed from feeling confined and constricted. Everywhere you go you face frustration. Now, outside the house where there was too much peace, you are frustrated that you can’t find any peace at all, that you can’t seem to be happy even though you are free.
Dreaming of what life could be always makes life as it actually is feel drab, without color, uninspiring. My purpose for living life on the road is to understand, by actual experience, what life actually consists of, what my life means to me. Not what I wish life could be, but what it actually is. To understand who I am, I must understand what life is. Just as I will never fully understand what life is, I will never fully understand who I am. To become whole is not to understand everything but to have the humility to admit that one does not and cannot understand all, to graciously come to terms with not being all-powerful, to rejoice at not being God.
I would rather be frustrated and free than frustrated and unfree. I would rather make the conscious choice to live on good terms with deprivation than take a lack of deprivation for granted. I must come to terms with all sides of myself. I am as much the cursing, pickup-truck-driving honker as I am the caring widow who shelters me for the night and cooks a hot meal for the two of us as the cold rain pours down on the roof. I am as much the hateful excluder as I am the peaceful protestor.
All that I experience must become my teacher. There will still be plenty of times that I don’t like what I’m experiencing and wish it could be different. I’m rather be warm than cold. I’d rather be connected than isolated. I’d rather be intimate with another than lonely. But on the road my resistance to what I experience does not have the same feeling of futile and hopeless rebellion. There is no sense of, “I should not be feeling this way.” The choice to go out on the road is the choice to put myself at the mercy of Life, and there is little point in resisting what Life gives me. When she opens her hand, why should I close my heart? When Life opens her hand, something new comes into the world, and I am on the road to come into contact with the new. Not only to come into contact with the new but to embrace it, to open my own hands in a posture of surrender and reconciliation and let Life put what she will into them, for embracing what Life places into my hands places me in the hand of Life, the only place where I will ever know what it means to be alive.
“To use words but rarely
Is to be natural.”
—Tao Te Ching, Book 1: XXIII
Some say: ‘Silence is death.’
Let these talkers live a day as I do,
My soul dying from lack of their death,
And they will refute themselves.
Dead, bloodless words
Aim in vain to compel me
To go against my nature and spirit
In untold ways throughout the day.
My nature is a fire set ablaze by silence,
A storm bombarding a calm house,
A discordant note, restless as wind,
Wrestling harmony. Words fail.
To hear the storm, to feel the fire,
To endure the discordant note,
I must stay silent and listen.
If silence is death,
Let that death revive my soul,
So when Death itself comes to claim me,
I will know already how to love
The great silence that comes after.
Departures are a kind of death. One who has departed many times, and has seen many depart, is closer to accepting his own death than one who has never departed anywhere, who has never truly strayed from the place he mistakenly calls home. Death is the great departure, but it is only great if you have prepared yourself through prior, smaller, less great departures. The traveler knows death a little more intimately, while never knowing it fully, each time he leaves a place. He is closer to death with each breath, in an active sense, and thereby more connected with life. His departure is not only a cutting of ties; it is also a joining of the ties between life and death, between sorrow and joy, between departure and arrival. He departs one place knowing he will arrive in another. There is freedom in departing. When no place or person holds you, all places and people are open to you. When I leave a place, my heart opens finally to loving the place I had been. When I leave a person, my love for that person grows as the distance between us grows. The traveler, the one who departs, knows without a doubt that closeness and distance are not separate.
On this rainy desert night,
leans toward spring.
On the roof to-night
Listen to it sing.
For a long time, I enclosed myself, focused on how I was distinct, unique,
How ‘I’ was ‘I.’
I often wondered:
What is there outside and within myself that links me to this realm?
I felt connected only when I observed others connecting;
In some way, their connection included me.
I could not ignore that I had something in me,
Something I wanted and needed to express.
All I knew was that I didn’t want to be made into someone I wasn’t.
Better to stay with who I was,
Though who exactly that ‘I’ was I couldn’t say.
Who was that ‘I’?
Maybe that ‘I’ was a wanderer, a vagabond,
In the world but feeling apart from it,
Somehow outside it,
Somewhere amidst the gathering dusk on the road heading out of town.
To others looking like the embodiment of freedom;
In reality, free
Only in aching dreams.
Maybe that ‘I’ was a poet, a wordsmith,
Using the pen like a mystic hammer,
Nailing words deep into unseen foundations,
Undertaking the groundwork of the soul.
Maybe that ‘I’ was a hermit, a Desert Solitaire,
Going out into the wilderness alone to listen to the silent intimations
Of an ancient and sacred world,
Searching in the aloneness for a Fountainhead of companionship,
Seeking in the splendid isolation a connection that could not be lost.
Maybe that ‘I’ was a poor tramp, a prodigal son,
Crying out to the empty night like a prophet of despair,
In sacred confusion, in divine discontent,
Searching for dissolution begot by dissipation,
Craving a fleeting solution to an insoluble situation.
And the thirst: forever intensifying;
The thirst: impossible to quench.
Maybe that ‘I’,
Who had no idea
Who it was,
Was not a single ‘I’ at all.
Maybe it was a multitude of I’s,
Each one striving to be the Number One ‘I,’
The original ‘I’,
The distinct ‘I’,
The ‘I’ independent of all other I’s,
The one and only ‘I.’
Aye Yai Yai!
Do you understand where I’m coming from?
Do I even understand where ‘I’ am coming from,
And who the ‘I’ is that is coming?
Is the ‘I’ coming? Is it becoming? Is it going?
Going where? Coming from where?
Or has the true ‘I’ been here all along,
Neither coming nor going,
Masked by all these ‘I’s wanting to be it?
These ‘I’s defined by what they seek to be.
What do these ‘I’s seek to be?
What do your ‘I’s seek to be?
What do your eyes see when they really look?
What do your ears hear when they really listen?
Do you hear Life
Do you see the immaterial city
Each moment anew.
Do you see?
It does not seek to be.
As are you.
It is as you are:
You are as I am:
We are as It is:
You no longer suffer from what is lost,
You know that what you lose is not your loss.
What you lose is not a cause to suffer,
What you lose is the cause of your suffering.
Losing the cause of your suffering:
This is a divine loss.
You are no longer at a loss for words,
As you were when you longed for
The never lost and the only now heard.
You no longer fear losing yourself.
How could you lose yourself?
Who you are is not a gift you can lose.
It is not a gift you are given one year for your birthday,
A gift you put in storage for a later time;
It is not a gift you misplace
And spend the rest of your lifetime searching for.
The time of your life is not Life’s time.
All the time you do not have is the time of Life.
All the time you do not have I do not have either.
All the time, weren’t you searching for
What is not mine and what is not yours?
You no longer suffer from what is lost,
You know that what you lose is not your loss.
You have lost nothing but the feeling that you are lost,
And the belief that you have something you can lose.
Now you take from all and no one feels taken from,
You give to all and no one feels in your debt.
What you have you don’t worry about losing,
What you lose you don’t worry about regaining.
What do you have?
What have you lost?
What do you lack now?
You thought in losing you would suffer more,
But what you’ve lost is not a cause to suffer.
What you’ve lost is the cause of your suffering.
Losing the cause of your suffering:
This is a divine loss.