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Lions Roar : May 2015
was truly “high.” I thought, “This is nice! I’m gonna check Zen out a little further.” Forty years later I’m still checking. * * * IN THE FIRST WEEK of December 2009, I was sixty-eight years old. Infirmity and dying were in the forefront of my mind. Forty-five years earlier I had contracted Hepatitis C from shoot- ing drugs. It had remained undiagnosed until the late 1990s, by which time the disease had been conscripting and destroying my liver cells for all those years. My youth had left, snatching as it exited the firm outlines of my body and my once distinct jaw and un-creased neck. The backs of my hands were dotted with liver spots, and shad- ows pooled below my eyes. My stamina had diminished and like most people who have aged beyond the notice of today’s youthful diver- sions, my acting career had settled into a stasis with no promise of any breakthroughs pending. Sickness, old age, and death had become tan- gible to me in ways that had been only romantic posturing in my twenties. It was now incontrovertible that in a con- ceivable future, everything I held dear, every memory and achievement, every treasure, including my own body, would be stripped from me. That is the central, unavoidable fact of human existence (and a fundamental tenet of Buddhism) and when it changed from a notion into a certainty, my perspective changed with it, particularly my ideas about time. Look- ing backwards, the lengthening succession of dead friends and family disappeared into emp- tiness like a black thread being unspooled into a tub of ink. The only uncertainty in my future was speculation about how savagely sickness, old age, and death would claim their due. With these thoughts as unpleasant companions, I decided to sit another seven-day sesshin. It was December again, time for Rohatsu, the Great Cold sesshin. Sesshins are always rough, and the first three days were particularly difficult this year. Though my shaking and convulsions had subsided many years before and I could sit as solidly as those senior monks I’d once envied, my body was forty years older. The pain in my knees was intense, debilitating, and dis- tracting to the degree that during a private audience with my teacher in the middle of the third day, I con- fessed to him that I would have to leave the sesshin because I could not bear the pain any longer. He was mildly critical of me for not paying closer attention to my body and for trying to bull my way through. “You’re nearly seventy,” he said. “It’s hard to admit that all your cards are on the table now and that you have none left to draw. You’ll have to play the ones you have as best you can. That is the central fact of your existence. That is reality and you’ll have to adjust to that. You are living what we mean when we say, ‘seeing without delusion.’ You Coyote has appeared in films such as E.T., Bitter Moon, and most recently Hemingway & Gellhorn. Sleeping Where I Fall is his memoir of life as a Digger. He is a winner of the Pushcart Prize for literature. ➢ page 70 SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2015 68