Stoplight Mystic

20171126_142929The veil seems to lift at the unlikeliest of times.

It was only a stoplight, a pause at an intersection towards the end of my morning commute, one that I’ve stopped at a dozen times this month alone… The guy in the Range Rover in front of me, who’d been driving like more or less of an asshole for several blocks, tried to beat the light then changed his mind; the car came to a lurching halt halfway across the stop line.  I could see his face reflected in the driver’s side rear-view mirror of the Range Rover.  He looked less than pleased.  In fact, he looked irate, banging his fist on the steering wheel and yelling at the windshield.  I have no idea what he was yelling, but I know that there was no one else in the car for him to yell it to, or to yell it at… he was the very picture of rage.

Perhaps it was because I was overtired from working long hours and sleeping short hours, which always leaves me a little unguarded, but as I watched the scene unfold inside the vehicle in front of mine, my heart melted into what I can only call pure compassion.  Not sadness, mind you, or pity, and certainly not the derision that I’m prone to feel toward one in the throes of a public tantrum, just a deep sense of non-judgmental empathy with this fellow human being who was experiencing whatever he happened to be experiencing in the moment.  Turning my gaze to the left, I saw a young man wearing a backpack and a baseball cap whose broad smile seemed to indicate that he really enjoyed standing at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change; whatever he was thinking about, it was good.  The tone of my emotional response to him was identical to what I felt toward the road rage case in front of me.  The same was true of my feeling toward the woman who jaywalked – or jay ran – across the opposite crosswalk; would she  stop running when she reached the sidewalk?  She didn’t.  Was she running for exercise or because she was late?  Don’t know.  Just watching the scene unfold with curiosity, with love, but without judgment or attachment.  These three characters, who I would ordinarily regard with aversion, attraction, and neutrality, respectively, were regarded with simple, unadulterated compassion.  I say “were regarded” because there wasn’t a whole lot of “I” in the equation, and there was no overwhelming need to go searching for my concept of self.

It’s easy to be here, there’s no pressure, no responsibility, only witnessing,  The weight of the subtle and insidious need to conceptualize has somehow been lifted, and the fascinating thing is that I didn’t ask for that to happen.  All I did was show up at an intersection on the heels of years of zen practice and a lifetime of moments that culminated, as they always do, in the present moment.  It’s easy to forget the role of Grace in spiritual progress; I tend to think that I’m making something happen, when, in reality, I’m just creating conditions, just preparing myself to receive a gift that may or may not come.  There’s no guarantee; nothing is owed to me.  There is no earning Grace.  It’s a gift, not a paycheck, and that becomes abundantly clear when that unmerited gift is received.

Apparently, this is the way the world looks when I’m up before my preferences are, when I’m too tired or too lazy to be bothered with pounding my experience into the pigeon holes of my preconceived notions.  This is the flavor of the universe when I drop out of my head and into my body simply because I’m not up to the task of thinking up things to think about.  Zen Master Bon Haeng once told me that “we begin to become present when we stop preferring our fantasy to reality.”  I’d add that I sometimes begin to become present when I’m a little off my game and I forget to pay attention to my fantasy.  Unfortunately, I’m generally pretty good at paying attention to my fantasy.

The interesting question is, what is it that I find so compelling about the Great Filter, about the web of likes, dislikes, and concepts that I constantly and unconsciously throw over a Reality that needs no interference from me?  It’s really a control thing, isn’t it?Perhaps the more appropriate question is, why do I fear unadulterated Reality?  What is it that’s safer about the fabrication and deception of my fantasy?  An anonymous friend of mine likes to say that when we lie, it’s because we’re protecting something.  I would offer that when we cling to our delusion we’re also protecting something, and, in this context, it seems pretty clear that I’m protecting nothing less than my ego.  What would happen if I just let go, if I shattered all of my precious pigeonholes with one great, sweeping swing of the sledgehammer of complete and unflinching Trust and gratefully accepted whatever wild and unforeseen consequences that might entail?

A little too much to glean from a minute and a half at a traffic light?  Probably.  I’ll try to get some more sleep tonight and we’ll see how things go tomorrow…


view from art installation at Frederick Church’s estate, Olana.


view of said art installation, Penetrable, by Jesus Rafael Soto, Hudson, NY

2 thoughts on “Stoplight Mystic

    • Thank you for visiting! Mr. Soto does a lot of work in that medium to create veils or illusions that the viewer is invited to step into. As Mark Epstein writes in his new book, “It was as if the curtains in my mind had parted and something more fundamental was shining through.” Soto’s large pieces, I think, point to that experience.

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