"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

01 November 2011

Eyes of a Stranger

Sometimes, I like to joke I've always been Buddhist, but the realization didn't dawn on me until my early twenties. With that joke, I've gone as far as to say Siddhartha stole my perceptions, therefore breaking one of the precepts. Never mind that, if there indeed was ever such an individual, he was around some twenty-five hundred years before I ever drew breath.

Thinking back, my first meditative zen moment was probably was probably when I was seven or eight. I was sitting in class at that private school I went to for whelps with special needs. Retard school, the neighborhood si li nan jen called it. I was seated by the window on what was either a nice autumn or spring day, watching the clouds.

At that age, clouds to me where these landmasses, which lumbered across the sky that sometimes resembled shapes. On this particular day, I noticed a puffy one, which kind of looked like a ram. Suddenly, right before my eyes, I saw it start to change shape. To dissolve, and, finally, fade away altogether. I was mystified. It was the first time I beheld impermanence. I began to watch the other clouds, noticing the same thing, and began to lose myself in the singular moment between the memories of the past and the dreams of the future.

A sharp tap on my shoulder broke that moment. My teacher. I had been staring out the window. Daydreaming. It got me in trouble. Still, there was a calm I felt, a similar sense of peace I would get during moments afterward, the larval stages of my reptile zen, which no one, not a teacher or even the si li nan jen could take away.

"You saw god," a neighbor kid, of more religious upbringing than I, told me later when I described the moment.

As a child, god, well, the Christian one, bore a striking resemblance to a puppet on one of those children's telly shows. King Friday, as I recall. Even as a kid, it was more than a little difficult to take that deity seriously.

Now, when I saw the film Clash of the Titans, and beheld Zeus for the first time, I saw a god I could at least be a little leery of. By molding clay, he could turn a mere mortal into something that looked like a satyr. I found that to be pretty impressive. Sort of like how Darth Vader could choke someone with just a look. It was the first time I found myself wondering if there might be more than one god, and some of them might be far badder than the one I thought looked like a fucking sock puppet.

But, I have always had a questioning streak of heresy in me, so I have never been god-fearing, no matter what deity it is. And, nowadays, the idea of one, or many, anthropomorphic beings that look upon Homo sapians with kindness, malice, or indifference is laughable. We would hardly rate in that kind of context.

Ever had one of those moments, looking back, when what you think was you is a total stranger? When you wonder how or why you were where you were or why you did what you did? Sure, it looks like you, but you cannot identify with that being whatsoever.

I have. Sometimes, during those moments when reality shifts and warps and reforms on me. I see that stranger, who looks frighteningly like me, and wonder just what in the name of almighty fuck happened. How or why. It feels like, from the standpoint of a perpetual watcher, I am observing someone else's life and trying to make sense of it.

Of course, there was a lesson and story in it. Those what-was-I-thinking-and/or-doing? moments helped shape this monster that is me. It was all important in some form or fashion. Part of how the story goes. I have long since let go of the concept of guilt. Guilt, like anger, is something, which can feed a dragon.

"What if I'm not the same person you met five years ago?" Someone asked me once.

"Isn't that a given?" I wanted to say, but it was a cold night. The words, hot in the back of my throat, froze and caught at the tip of my tongue. But perhaps those words did not need to be said. Such a concept should simply be understood.

In looking through the eyes of stranger, through my waxmoon reptile eyes, I realize the phantasm of self. During such meditations, I realize, in the singular moment between the memories of the past and the dreams of the future, it is kicked the fuck down to make way for a rebuilt and reinvented construct of the illusion we all call me. Such an insight gets me to give a little more allowance to the shape-shifters and chameleons of the world. They do the same thing all of us do in the cycles of samsara, just on a larger scale.

I can never be that little boy who was so amazed by a changing and dissolving cloud ever again. The one who thought there might just be many gods after seeing a film. The being who first purged these words will be slightly different than the one who proofreads and revises them. Such is the way. Every moment brings a new incarnation and perspective that wasn't there a moment before. We all revise and renew with every heartbeat and breath we take.

All things change in a dynamic environment. Even those who so stubbornly cling to a rose-colored incarnation, lifetimes before. They change too, as their ch'i rots, slowly drifting toward entropy. Unfocus your eyes, even if they are the eyes of a stranger, and, in the singular moment between the memories of the past and the dreams of the future, you will see it.


  1. This is a fantastic piece of writing. I saw life much like you as a child - I was a big dreamer. Although I still am in some respects, I like the way you see life and your faith, and like you, I know that change is necessary - although sometimes incredibly difficult. We move and change, and with it grow far more complex and beautiful.

  2. Thank you. Truthfully, my belief, heretical as it may be, is as much a part of me as breathing or walking. Change is one of the few constants, along with chaos.

  3. Rudolph Steiner, teacher of Anthroposophy (I think I spelled that right), has an interesting theory about the seven year cycle.
    Sometimes, you remind me of his teachings, other times, not, but it's an interesting concept that is very easy to agree with.
    I'm certainly not that same person I was seven, fourteen or twenty-one years ago, Thank Goodness.
    My personal motto, "Everything Changes."

  4. I'm a believer that stagnation leads to extinction. Later on, after streaming some episodes of Through the Wormhole I might go researching Rudolph Steiner, for I am now curious.

  5. This point, that whatever we are (and we never know what that is) changes from breath to breath, is central to the Buddha's teaching. The whole tale of Angulimala is about that. Sadly, society, all societies, remain at amœbic level about this; thus we have America, for example, where radical Christianity is kingmaker but forgiveness is considered radical and wrong. Try explaining to a rightwinger that capital punishment is murdering an innocent man; virtually all of those guys are someone completely different, and much more godly, by the time the State gets around to killing them.

    It's basic Buddhic (and Christic) teaching in action, but it flies right over the heads of whole congregations.

    Good on you for a great post, Robbie!


    Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit.

  6. Thank you. I'm flattered you enjoyed it.