radical openness

I am, for all intents and purposes, out of money. My experiment with traveling and writing seems to have reached Finisterra, “end of land,” mile marker 0.0 at the end of the Camino in Spain; the last of anything solid under my feet. And yet, this morning, sitting at my 79-year-old mother’s kitchen table, drinking my mother’s coffee, having slept in a bed in my mother’s house, I felt a shift in my mood. I am not miserable or totally beaten, mind you; I’ve just been feeling … confused, with a nagging urge to consult my guidebook, study the map, like maybe I’ve made a wrong turn, taken the wrong road on the Camino. A wrong road leading off my Camino.

My casual, easy defeat by capitalism has had me resigned to re-entering the rat race, having to get a regular job again. The only jobs I can get are back in social work, it seems, and even those — I apply, my resume gets me an interview, the interviews are on Zoom, and, well, I am not young, nor am I a particularly photogenic person. It has been a series of meetings in which I have felt slightly out of place, between worlds. Like I’m faking somehow.

What I’m doing is feigning interest. I’m realizing I am not likely to be hired with my current attitude: that I am selling all those hard years of my working life at a bargain-basement auction. Selling my experience with work, and also my experiences of awakening, in these later years. I’m searching for a job I don’t want, to get money I don’t want to need. It’s buying space in this tightly-wound world, like walking a highway section on the Camino, the shoulder so narrow I have to hold up my walking stick like a roadwork flagger’s sign, hoping not to be clipped by a speeding truck. I prefer the meandering dirt trails. Isn’t there an alternate route here?

This morning, I read the news, then read my Free Will Astrology, because Rob Brezsny, poet-warrior, is one of my spiritual teachers — you never know who your sensei will be. He suggested my plan for the rest of 2021 should follow Virginia Wolff’s guidance: “I will go on adventuring, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped. The thing is to free one’s self: to let it find its dimensions, not be impeded.”

I’m supposed to resist “temptations to retreat into excess comfort and inertia.” And that’s the real fear, for me: that comfort and inertia are inextricably linked. I don’t just fear it; I have experienced this immobility of mind, of spirit, when I have become immersed in a day job. I start to limit who I believe myself to be, becoming an excellent personification of … my job description.

The truth is what I told the people at Upaya, when I interviewed for an administrative assistant at the Zen center: I practice walking meditation. It grounds me. And wandering my unconventional path is what brings me joy.

At the beginning of this writing experiment, I vowed to try it for a year. And I have been — first published in October, traveling since the end of October. But then I added one caveat, as if I knew my own weakness far too well, telling myself, No social work jobs during 2021. See the year out strong.

I’m cheating. Because like all cheaters, I don’t believe I can actually do this. Yet now I see that I can’t go back to a standard 9-to-5 job in a social service agency, either. Somehow, I knew when I started down this road — I can’t return to that work without losing something hard-won. I already quit Denver, to go on Camino, and quit Albuquerque, finding the Traveler writing job. I can’t walk forward if I chain myself to a desk. I can’t free my true self, let it find its dimensions, if I keep stuffing it into a corner office, dressed in business casual.

Or can I?

Sipping coffee so generously provided, after consulting my Free Will, I opened the newsletter from Upaya to read Roshi Joan Halifax’s story, “On the Vimalakirti Sutra: Not One; Not Two.” It made me laugh. At myself.

To quote the great baseball catcher Yogi Berra: When you come to a fork in the road… take it!

Not One; Not Two is a groundless, positionless position of adaptivity, nimbleness, and fundamentally, the positionless position of Not Knowing, of radical openness. Putting it another way, this is the lived experience of actualized wisdom in our everyday lives as we meet the world of suffering and joy.

We’re binary beings by nature; our simple minds try to reduce everything to dichotomies of either/or, fight or flight, friend or foe. Freedom to write or locked down into an office job. But the ridiculous/wise Yogi got it: did you not learn, peregrino, some openness to Life along The Way?

In fact, I am happy to report that I did.

This life, the world, includes suffering and joy. I find myself in the positionless position of Not Knowing what comes next. Who among us can relate to that, eh? This is apparently that lived experience I was so averse to selling to the highest bidder. Seems we get to both use it — spend it, this wealth of wisdom — and keep it, after all.

At the end of her writing, Roshi Joan quoted Antonio Machado’s poem, “Caminante, No Hay Camino.” I remember seeing his words quoted on a billboard in one of the cities along the route, encouragement to us as we pilgrims walked an invisible trail along paved sidewalks, looking for any sign that we were still on The Way. Roshi Joan quoted Francisco Varela’s translation, which uses my soul-word “Wanderer” for Caminante. And so Upaya called to me, a bell ringing, reminding me of who I am.

Here is a version of the poem I love, letting my mind read “Caminante” as both “Traveler” and, under the surface, Varela’s “Wanderer,” a person practicing that unknown wayfinding to somehow travel beyond Finisterra, following the path unimpeded by the marked trail. Where I am going is simply a reflection of where I have been. I’ve reached a fork in the road, and I’m taking it. I guess today, I feel more like myself, temporarily lost and radically open to where I go next. Not One; Not Two.

Caminante, No Hay Camino / Traveler, There Is No Road
by Antonio Machado
translated by Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.
”Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship’s wake on the sea.”