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Lions Roar : May 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2012 65 sees: acaryan, matulan, bhratrn, putran, pautran, and sakhin— teachers, uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, and good friends— all divided against one another. In the moment he is called to lift his sword and wage war, he is caught by the known faces gath- ered around him. “Arjuna,” my uncle said, “has to do something. The thing is, maybe everyone is asleep. Maybe everyone is too sleepy to see what they have to do.” I saw Arjuna in the schoolyard, in the snow, in the hospi- tal, everywhere. I saw him filled with anxiety and the pressure to fight. Some kinds of confusion are anxious and some totally debilitating. Arjuna faces the warriors and becomes short of breath—a kind of disorientation mixed with compulsion—for he is a warrior and his training has been to fight the just war. Arjuna turns to his charioteer and says: My limbs sink down, My mouth dries up, My body trembles, And my hair stands on end. Quivering and unable to hold his own bow, Arjuna takes a final survey of the scene and drops his weapon. He feels his skin burn, his mind ramble. Arjuna says to Krishna: I perceive inauspicious omens, O Krishna, And I foresee misfortune In destroying my own people in battle. DURING THE YEARS of grades three, four, and five, I visited Ian every Tuesday. For those three years, Ian only left the hospital on Fridays when we had Sabbath dinner at my grandmother’s. Her house had eleven bedrooms and sat on the top of a hill over- looking a busy street to the west and a ravine to the south. It had a massive central staircase with banisters carved from long pieces of cherrywood, art in every room, and a secret chamber behind a revolving bookcase in the study. There was a makeup room where my grandmother put on her makeup for hours in the morning, and another room, full of windows and long cur- tains that had a record player and an eight-track system, where Ian smoked and listened to records with my brother and I, asking us what the music was all about. My brother has grown up to become a musician. I’ve trained in psychology and have found myself teaching yoga, Buddhism, and social action. In some ways I’ve never left the music room or the hospital or those endless conversations about what to do with a life. Every Tuesday since then is gone. In a way, the past gets swallowed up and can never be retrieved. And in another sense the past actually doesn’t go anywhere. Time doesn’t pass. It can’t. What is it that’s passing? I miss Ian. The real tempo of time is too rapid for a mind to capture. Things are here only for the time being. For the time being, my uncle is schizophrenic and I am not. But sometimes I also feel insane. And sometimes he is the sanest and wisest person I’ve ever known. Sometimes Arjuna is a warrior, but at a confused moment on the edge of battle he is a person and so are all the others on the battlefield—and in the asylum. Arjuna didn’t realize until now that enemy soldiers were people too. Maybe schizophrenia was not an underlying trait sitting in Ian’s brain like damp sand. Maybe in some situations Ian was sick and in others he was just fine. Ian’s brain was like mine: a vast under- world made of tangled thread. But somehow he could think clearer than I could and was saner than my parents, so I spent all that time with him. Cold, damp, alone—these moods move in sometimes. Maybe Ian felt this way too. I light a fire to get warm. Less than an hour passes and the sun grows warm against the spiral chestnut grains on this desk. Maybe “not being asleep,” as Ian liked to say, is the oscillation between the hard feelings of being utterly alone and at the same time interconnected with everything else. Maybe free- dom is sensing the actual foundation of life. Ian was so kind to everyone in the ward, and I entertained the idea that he was mak- ing everyone better just by his kindness. If we are all as tangled I had no idea who the Buddha was but it didn’t matter; everything my uncle read seemed true. True, not because he told me it was true, but because he wanted me to think about it.