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Lions Roar : March 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 81 was good and not fancy. Its gray walls be- came a refuge. The waiter recognized me each time I came and knew what I would order: shrimp fried rice. Two dollars more for extra shrimp. I sat in the booth at the back. I felt transported out of sunlit, jazzy California to an old place on Cedar Av- enue in Minneapolis. Something ordinary and comforting. My partner and I were growing distant from each other. Where had she brought me? More importantly, where had I brought myself? My source of inspiration had been grounded in a solid, rather un- questioning connection to Zen practice. Back in St. Paul the lineage had crumbled for me. I was in the midst of writing a book about betrayal and failure, about the indiscretions of my teacher. A lot of people I knew didn’t want me to write this book. I was on my own. How could I tell anyone what was happening? I was falling backwards off the diving board. I didn’t choose to lose my footing. One noon I even found myself on my knees under the tall eucalyptus on Stanford campus. Right here is where we want to hear an epiphany, some grand realization to give meaning and relief. But no understanding shot through my cells to rectify my birth, my family of origin, the life I was living. I continued to write my book, to have sleepless nights, to feel biologically out of sync with this new cutting-edge world. In June, six months after I arrived, I left, driving out through the Sierras, across Utah, dropping down to New Mexico. I remember staying overnight in a barren motel on the California border, sobbing into the early morning. Nothing was the way I thought. Not a single thing was the way I wanted it. As I descended into the northwest cor- ner of New Mexico, a single lane of traffic piled up for miles. On all sides was open sage flatland. Nothing broke the horizon. My car inched along. A deep gray began to enfold us. The sky was no longer sky—the smoke from fires hundreds of miles away, burning up thousands of acres of Arizona forest, was coming our way. The air was unbreathable, filled with a suffocating fog. I could almost hear the high-pitched to make time busier, more complicated, faster, as if the functions of the mind, the beat of thought I’d come to depend on for my years of sitting and writing prac- tice, no longer applied. I understood how the brain made poetic leaps; how it could juxtapose seemingly dissimilar objects, people, rivers, fruit; how you could reach into the center of the source and discover a vast emptiness that was full and abun- dant. But the rhythm of the minds partak- ing of this Caribbean meal set before us felt jagged, even severed in some places, as though natural mind waves had been bro- ken. Some neuron had gone astray from staring for so long at computer screens. They were lovely people, but America felt askew. This was what everyone was so excited about? All over the heart of Sili- con Valley I sensed some human channel burned out. IN THE AFTERNOONS I took long walks along a creek that wound between Palo Alto and Menlo Park. I sat on a stone bench to meditate as whole fami- lies biked by and couples jogged. From a house across the way I could hear some- one practicing the cello. The person was a good musician. These were not beginning chords. I wanted to knock on the door: take me in, I’d demand. Eventually I found an old Chinese res- taurant that had let time pass by. The food In Kwan Yin’s Garden