Fleet Maull & Jimmy Santiago Baca’s talk, which is available here, was rich with Baca’s stories about his encounters with disenfranchised youth who attended his writing retreats. One retreat was held at a ranch where previous (wealthy) owners had moved the river that flowed through the property closer to their ranch house so they could enjoy a cooling swim without having to go too far. The original course of the river had dried up and the land became a dead zone.
Baca pointed out that this is often what happens to us. Somewhere in the course of our lives, the river of our growth is re-channeled, sometimes through the direct actions of others, sometimes through unintended tragedy or catastrophe. The ground where it might have nourished a different growth dies and we feel misaligned with our landscape.
I know that dead zone intimately. There are words, scents, textures that evoke a deep grief that runs from the center of my chest up to the edge of my shoulder. I used to think I was having a heart attack but now I know it’s just a flash flood in the riverbed of grief. Both Baca and Maull punctuate their teachings that one way we cope with the dead zone is through addictions that give us the edge of feeling alive; we can be addicts to physical substances as well as the drugs of greed, ignorance, and anger. This is dharma at the edge: the dark edge between who I was meant to be and who I am.
This is also where dharma can slice across the edge to give light to who I am as a creative, generative and prosocial being – if I can remember the antidote practices of generosity, wisdom, and tolerance. Maull speaks of this, our luminous Buddha nature, who we really are, and points out that we lose sight of it because of our tendency to flip into survival mode when we are on the dark side of the edge. I felt that flip over and over through the week as I contracted into the solidifying, narrowing, and rejecting mind to prevent falling into the abyss of the dead zone. Then slowly, I found a way to meet the contraction with respect for its power to dislodge my footing and to say a quiet “farewell and well met, my friend,” as I moved a little less fearfully along the edge, a wobbly but willing warrior.
I haven’t figured out how to move the river home. Perhaps, after all these lifetimes, it doesn’t matter. As I noticed in the New Mexico landscape, there is a powerful beauty in the volcanic rocks that hold up the sky – and on some are tufts of living green.
Thank you for practising,
Note bene: The title of this post is borrowed from Baca’s documentary of the same name. for more information go here.