At the Border

Sansaku: At the Border


In fantasy and life, there’s borders and gates and guardians. The inner world is made outer, and the outer world inner. The concrete walls are symbolic and real. And whether it’s the cell membrane or Mexico, there are watchers at the crossing. Who gets in and who gets out; they tend to ask one question, “What are your intentions?”

It’s the same question the father-of-the-bride asks the groom before he’s given the blessing. “What are your intentions?” There’s really only one acceptable answer, “To love as best I can.”

When I started teaching theory classes in counseling, I noticed the injunction to be open and real, not fake. It’s not a rule, it’s an intention. What makes therapy work is the way we set intentions, like being open and real; it’s why we discuss confidentiality and trust.

Rather than walk a trail from one end to the other, start to stop, Lee headed for the center of the circle and we made basecamp there. We often stayed close to a month.   We wandered in all directions and slowly spiraled out and back each day.

His intention was to get as far and to stay as long as possible in the wilderness. He picked his absolute favorites, those high country benches just below timberline and close to water.

I see Best Slowly as the base camp and Sansaku as the drift we took each day, but I’m reminded of a cartoon. A newly hatched chick looks around and says to the other, “This answers a lot of question.” The other looks around and says, “What kind of a world is this?” They haven’t yet asked the question, “What kind of a bird am I?” I’m the kind who crosses borders.

I watch as the blog emerges and takes on life. Each sansaku is like a new generation of fruit flies. I’m looking for genetics and mutation. It’s a conscious evolution. Reading what I’ve written yesterday and last year, I get feedback, make revisions, and remember my intention.

Last year I read in my journal about wanting to persevere and sustain.   I’d read somewhere that the practice is the path and I wanted to find a good base camp.   I wanted to go as far in as I could and then stay as long as possible. Not to have done, but to do.

Twain said that everyone wanted to have read the classics, but nobody liked to read them. When it came to writing, he gave a similar statement. People want to have written a book, but they don’t like writing them. You have to love the writing.

Candace Pert died four years ago. She’s the one who discovered the opiate receptors in the brain and given all the attention addictions are receiving these days, it might help to review. She helped change the way the brain is conceived by explaining how our thoughts and chemistry communicate with cells and change them. It matters who knocks at the door and what keys are used to enter.

Endorphins are the endogenous bliss-makers in the psyche and we can really screw it up. Since drugs have forged a bliss-like key, they fit the natural receptor, but the intentions are suspect. There’s a crucial difference between ritual and abuse. The border guards will shut the bliss-gates down. To keep out the bad, we keep out the good.

Pert called neuropeptides the molecules of emotion, and when Bill Moyers asked her, “Are you saying the brain talks to the body?” She answered, “What makes you think the brain and the body are different?”




It’s Not About Control

Sansaku: It’s Not About Control


Some spiritual warriors see life as a battlefield that takes place deep in the human heart. Chuang Chou is no soldier and likes to drift and play. It’s called Yu and Wu-Wei. It’s not about control.

When I taught writing at Timberline, most of my students had learned to hate it. They’d been forced into a properness that didn’t fit their souls. And since I wanted them to fall in love with language and stories, I said, “Just go-for-it. Learn to have fun.” It’s not about control.

We’re a contrary species that doesn’t do what it’s told, but gets told all the time to be like everyone else. Dare to be different, be true to yourself. There’s only one way to answer that question, live it.

I have never known a person more terrified of being naked and vulnerable than the Trump. Our local cartoonist has portrayed him as the emperor without clothes and a toddler on a tear. But he looks like some end of the line and low-down Caesar to me. He’s an out-of-control control-freak. But that’s a different story.

Most of the mystics say, “Love and do as you want.” What do you really want? Keep asking that question. It tends towards love.

There were two trees in that mythological inner garden. The fruit of good and evil is a certain kind of consciousness and after the humans tasted it, the gods said, “We’d better kick them out, lest they eat of the tree of life and live forever.”

Trees are metaphors, so are rivers and mountains. They carry symbolic meaning and experience. They’re fractal patterns of perception and stories that keep-on being told. And it’s not just trees or rivers, we’ve got galaxies galore within us and the cosmic wind is blowing.

Like many mystics, Chuang Chou messed with words and logic. He made up shit and deliberately shifted meaning from one thing to its opposite. He didn’t do this to promote misunderstanding, but to free us from the illusion of control.

What’s it like to journey through the tree of life, down the heartwood and into the roots? I’ve often imagined the genetic code a spiral stair we could descend. Chuang Chou calls it the Tao or Way and says, “Breathe through the ‘soles’ of your feet and return to the roots.”

We’ve got a big box elder out front and most of the leaves have flown. The top leaves were the first to let go. The fat ones at the bottom, on the southwest corner, stayed green and hung on. A few are still dancing in the breeze, but it’s all about the underground life.

My friend has a philosophy of nurture and ignore. It’s surprisingly close to my own. It’s not about being in or out of control. It’s about taking care of things as best we can, and then letting go.

There’s a trickster side to humans that gets us in trouble. It’s the side that says, “Just go for it, who gives a shit, act like you have no fear. Might as well swing for the fence.” But there’s that other side that really cares and tries to do its best. It cares what others think. Put those two sides, side by side together, and see what happens.

The last time I saw Lee, my old coyote teacher, he had some advice to give me. I was a counselor and teacher at Timberline and had brought a few students to meet him. It was at the end of the talk. “Their karma isn’t yours,” he said. “Don’t try to control them, let them make their own mistakes. Just expose them to the light of the best minds.”

I told Chyako this morning, my sansaku is out of control. She said, “Isn’t that what you want?” She’s right, of course. Because Chuang Chou had nothing to prove, he was free to be himself.




It All Comes Back

Sansaku: It All Comes Back


Waiting for a friend, I noticed a copy of The Enlightened Mind on the table and looked up Chuang Tzu, since I’d summoned him yesterday.   He was there and on page eighteen I read, “He’s the clown of the Absolute, the coyote of Bodhisattavas.” From my point of view, it’s a meaningful coincidence. Synchronicity.

Coyote has a Chinese cousin who likes to run his mouth. Who knows if Chuang Chou called himself a master, Tzu, but I doubt it. He was far more playful and probably called himself a fool. Those tricksters like to bluff.   And they love to be free. It’s a theme.

Coyotes stand for the wild, the unpredictable, and free.

Chuang Chou’s philosophy reads like one Zen story after another. I’m reminded of a Japanese samurai who goes to sea with his wife. A terrible typhoon threatens to capsize the boat and his wife is terrified. She asks, “Why are you calm?”

At that, he draws his sword and holds the deadly blade to her neck. “Are you afraid?” he asks. “No,” she says, “You love me. I trust you.” With that he sheaths the sword and the two of them, side by side, lean into the wind and lovingly let it take them where it will.

States of being are sometimes divided by tipping or transformation points. The solid turns into the liquid and it happens all at once, a single degree.   And the liquid turns into vapor and essence when it reaches a certain temperature. The higher emotional states are not derived, they emerge. The miracle is not that we haven’t killed each other yet, the miracle is love.

If Stephen Mitchell called Chuang Chou a clown or coyote, I’d call him free. He moves freely in and out of the three states of being. It’s said he rides on the wings of the dragon, that’s his cloud form.

Recently a former student called and tried to get ahold of me, but I’m hiding out in the clouds. She’s the one who gave me an important book that just happens to be a commentary on some of Chuang Chou’s stories. The stories were taken from Thomas Merton’s book, The Way of Chuang Tzu. Another favorite. The first story is the “Useless Tree.”

But I’m digressing. The commentary Rajneesh told in When the Shoe Fits was also a digression. As usual, I’m paraphrasing.   “If you ever meet a very old person and that person is very happy, stop and get to know them, they might have found the way.”

I just happened to meet Lee that night, which was forty years ago. It didn’t take long for me to connect that sentence with the ancient dude who could rap like an enlightened punk. I practically moved in with the old coyote, who looked a lot like a bum. I’ve written about him before.

Interestingly, two random events just took place. First a phone call. I’m expecting. I took the car in today and I’m waiting to pick it up. But the voice isn’t human and I tell her, “I know you’re not real.” But she keeps talking. I talk back, “I’m not going to listen.” Then hang up.

Right after that, the computer chooses to freeze and I’m forced to reboot. I hope I haven’t lost too much. I forget to save. But I’m lucky this time and it all comes back. It all comes back.

One thing that Chuang Chou does I find helpful, he knows how to shift scale, like going geologic or astronomic. Taking a much wider perspective and not getting caught in a small net.

“The Ocean God replied, ‘Can you talk about the sea to a frog in a well? Can you talk about ice to dragonflies?’”












Finding Chuang Tzu

Sansaku: Finding Chuang Tzu


I pulled out two books this morning; they were both from my graduate class in eastern philosophy and I didn’t realize until that moment, they’re the only books I’ve saved from my first sojourn through college. I was looking for Chuang Tzu. He’s my favorite.

While Chuang Tzu transcends the mundane world, he’s always in the midst and depth of daily life. He’s not like Lao Tzu, who wanted to do something, Chuang Tzu didn’t want to do anything at all. He knew what to do, he just didn’t want to do it. He’s a master of being.

While his doctrines have never been taken all that seriously by the scholars, Zen invited him in and I have a book on chaos theory that uses Chuang Tzu for the epigrams. He absolutely defies conventional scales and standards. He’s a mystic and a very good thinker.

I’m astounded at the depth of his creative imagination and the degree of inwardness he’s achieved. It’s a return to the roots.

I’ve gone around the world many times in books. Chuang Tzu is one of those places I keep returning to. I carried the Burton Watson translation with me in Mexico, taught him at Timberline, and just encountered the mystic coyote in that border-town-dream-brain of mine.

Durango is one of those places where two great highways intersect. The Navajo Trail, crossing east to west over the Great Divide at Wolf Creek, ends when it comes to the Grand Canyon. The Million Dollar Highway goes north through the Switzerland of Colorado and south towards the land of enchantment and Mexico. The southwest corner of the state borders mountains, canyons, and deserts. And the Animas, that river of lost souls, was once the headwaters for one of great glaciers in Colorado during the last ice age.

Durango is built on the edge of the terminal moraine, where the glacier pushed the rocks to a stop. It’s a crossroads and a center. A happening place. No wonder it’s an attractor.

Good teachers have the capacity for making connections and Durango is one of those towns where connections come quick. While it wired me up, I’ve watched it burn out others.

I’ve gone looking for better places, but this is the one I chose. It’s like the way I write. I look for a border, a boundary, and do my best, not to cross, but to live there. It’s where the two opposites meet.

If Colorado is a quadrant, I was born in the northeast. I went to school on the border near Wyoming and lived on the edge of the prairie. The southwest was the never-never land of our childhood and the place of mystery on the far divide. Chyako crossed an ocean to arrive.

It’s an ancient place of culture, the four corners, and there’s something young at heart that’s stayed true to the old dreams. People have come and gone, but the stories survive in the wind and rocks and trees. The elders live down deep in the root of things.

We don’t have a train you can jump, like the ones in Yuma. Ours is a narrow gauge that runs on a schedule. Freight trains aren’t like that. They leave when they’re loaded, so time doesn’t count. Our tramps don’t ride their rails, but they hang out in the park by the river.

When Chuang Tzu crossed the border and found Coyote, he was one of many elders who’d recently emerged into the modern world. In the mother tongue he asked, “What the hell happened? What is that?”

If Chuang Tzu watched the news and saw a warbird jet raining down fire and destruction from the sky, he’d have called it a dragon. He’d be right. What would he say about hurricanes, fires, and pollution?









Sansaku: Yuma


Twice I’ve spent the night in Yuma and that’s where the plaza I’ve used to plant Coyote and Gret is found. I met a tramp named Colorados on my first visit. A good talker who looked like my dad. I was as free as it gets back then and living in a much cooler border town, Bisbee.

I’d hitched that day and the omens had been weird from the start. I was supposed to meet up with the van from the school and go with them to Mexico. We agreed on the park in the middle of town.

Some friends of the family were visiting and the next day they passed me on the highway. I was walking with my pack and hitching. They clearly saw me, but didn’t immediately stop. I could hear the conversation. Mitzi said, “That was Colin.” Mike said, “I thought the same. He’s hard to mistake.”

By the time they turned around, a Mexican man named Jesus had stopped to pick me up. I could see the confused look on their faces as Mike and Mitzi returned to find I wasn’t there.   Irma said they talked about it all the way back to Boulder. “Where’d he go?”

Trying to hitch out of Tucson was a nightmare so I bought a bus ticket to Yuma and waited at the station. I didn’t hear the call, but suddenly the ticket master said, “That’s your bus.” It was already out the station. I could catch the next one, but my pack was on board. I went running.

It took a block to catch it. I pounded on the door. I wasn’t about to give up. The whole bus had watched me sprinting down the center of the street, shouting and screaming. They laughed and clapped.

I was dropped off in Yuma in the late-afternoon and went looking for a place to camp, down by the river.   Yuma’s on the border. I’d slept there once before on another trip to Mexico with the school.   It was my first spring trip and thirteen of us made a journey to the beach.

Times had changed. I wandered into the jungle by the river and knew I’d be lucky to get away with my pack. It was dangerous down there. Not all of them were human. I’d rather spend the night in prison.

I discovered there wasn’t a motel room to be had and no one would let me camp. I was contemplating a night in the coffee shop when a cop stopped. Just what I didn’t need but decided to ask, “Is there anywhere in Yuma I can sleep?” Even the jail was full.   He had an idea.

He drove me to the rescue mission and I was accepted after the closing of the door. I’d missed the sermon and bedtime. I need to stress, this actually happened. They took away my clothes and gave me a pair of ill-fitting pajamas. Along with the clothes, they locked up my pack.

I was led into a room with twenty or so bunks and heard the door lock after me. I had to walk down a long row of loudly snoring bums and got the last bunk in the last row. I can still smell the place. I didn’t sleep well and fantasized about some of the bugs that could bite me.

But I survived and in the morning, they led us in a line to the bathroom and everyone took a piss. I helped a couple of guys roll smokes. Their hands were shaking.  Then we gobbled up a breakfast of waffles, bacon and eggs. The guys washed it down with quantities of coffee and wanted my food since I was eating too slow.

I spent all day in the park. Colorados was part coyote. Surprisingly well-educated, he said he’d published a book on the art of tramping. If he hadn’t, he could have. I bought him a bottle of wine and we sat with our backs against a tree.

He shifted my scale of perception. A two-hour movie can time lapse a lifetime or cram a lifetime into a day. It’s all a matter of scale.





Sansaku: Giveaways


Coyote looked like a derelict and was easy to pigeon-hole and type. His hair and clothes were giveaways. People thought they saw him. It’s not at all how he looked to her. Gret said, “They can’t see you, can they?” He said, “It’s the damnedest thing.”

We don’t have eyes for reality, we mostly see self-constructs.

This morning a very small life form was crossing the sink. It wasn’t much more than a speck. It looked like a floater, a mote, and I had to get closer. No doubts about it. A Dr. Seuss character scuttled down the drain, but stopped to look at me. Shift the scale, that’s the secret.

We’re tuned to standard time and space, it’s an agreed upon way to measure reality. We’re conditioned to perceive reality from a given perspective and point of view. It’s assumed to stay the same.

There’s a standard scale to language, and we’re daft enough to believe we know what a word means. And while the standard of trade is money, a dollar doesn’t mean the same amount to a child who finds one as it does to the man with a million.

The standard measure keeps us on the same wave-length and frequency or channel. But it’s not the only channel. Slow it down and enter into the moment, the experience, the consciousness. Or speed it up and watch the seasons and cycles. The seed of the same tree, the soul, turns into the self of the new. The story keeps evolving.

What happens at the shadow gate? I’ve been hanging around with Coyote, Gret and Han. Coyote has his back to the tree in the center of the square and looks like a host.

Fantasy shifts the scale. Instead of looking at reality with pathological eyes, we open the mythological. There’s an old song playing in the background, “Oh, dear, what can the matter be? Oh, dear, what can the matter be? Oh, dear, what can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.” Where did that come from?

Gret and Coyote are at the shadow gate, and it’s an imaginative and creative place. Gret says to Coyote and Han, “It’s perfect.” What she means is not the place, the people, what is happening or time. The word refers to feeling. She’s feeling whole, complete.

When Alice followed the rabbit down the hole, she came to a door. It was very, very small. She was too large to fit.   It’s one of the better parts of the story.   When she drinks the liquor it shrinks her down, but she forgot about the key. But then she eats the cake, in fact, she eats the whole thing. She overdoses.

It gets wilder. There’s a psychedelic mushroom and a caterpillar smoking a hookah. He asks the magical question, “Who are you?”

Gret has not crossed into the Witch Woods since she and Han got out on the back of a bird. Children can shift perspective and cross over, but adults are too conditioned and tuned to the standard scale. Coyote’s come to help.

After the witch baked and her house decomposed, she turned into soil and the tree that grew there had the most amazing fruit. Coyote asked the birds to smuggle some across the border. He offered her a bite.

Gret had one of Coyote’s eyes and he had one of hers. But this was like stepping into a time machine, a rocket ship, or some expansive consciousness together.

The look on both their faces was a giveaway.










An Incredible Intention

Sansaku: An Incredible Intention


Coyote said, “Right here, right now, the tree and ground, it’s the smackdab center.” He hadn’t heard the news, astronomers had a new instrument to measure gravitational waves and detected two black holes that collided some two billion light years away.

There’s a black hole at the center of every galaxy and some are super massive. Light shines in and nothing comes back out. But when I hear about the big bang and the universe being born, it’s an easy association. Sounds like life. Is it conscious?

Alchemists and physicists share a delusion that’s paid off. What they study out there looks a lot like the consciousness in here, but that’s a hard argument to make. Some wise guy said, “We don’t see how the world is, we see how we are.”

Joseph Campbell had a story he liked to tell. When Black Elk returned from his vision quest, he made this comment. “The center of the universe is Harney Peak.” It’s the place where he sat in the dream state. But he added, “It’s the center, just like everywhere else.”

Since Hansel and Gretel are grown, I’m shortening their names. Han now sounds like a Chinese dynasty and Gret has tough gritty sound. Her voice has some gravel and edge. Both are waiting for Coyote to say the word. They’ve come to the shadow gate. Eyes closed.

Coyote’s eyes are open and he’s smiling.   Han and Gret have taken themselves a little too seriously and forgotten Coyote’s a trickster. He’s messing with them now. “You had me going,” said Gret. She’s wasn’t pissed, but a little disappointed. She was ready to cross. Coyote said, “No, you’re not.”

Han felt the boundary and something watching from the far side. “What was that?” Coyote threw the question back, “What did it feel like?” Han said, “Like I didn’t have any clothes.” Coyote said, “I guess you did.”

When I asked Irma before she died, “What have you learned?” She said one word, “Tolerance.” She went on to say, “We are all needed and all belong.” I wouldn’t call her exceedingly self-conscious, but she was very sensitive to what others thought and felt.

If human sensitivity was graphed on one axis and tolerance on the other, three of the four quadrants will have a negative charge to them. Only the sensitive and tolerant are open to everything.

Usually we project and see the evil in others, not ourselves. It’s our intolerance and shame, our unwillingness to face it in ourselves. It can make us insensitive and numb.

We seek comfort and escape from the emotions we don’t want to confront, and these defensive maneuvers build the walls and gates. It’s why most spiritual paths suggest we face the fear and the shame we avoid.

It’s what Buddha did under the tree on his psychotic three-day journey. Jung self-analyzed himself and said, “At the bottom, you can’t fall any further.” It’s the working through and takes determined mindfulness and all kinds of compassion. It’s an incredible intention.

At the shadow gate we ask an unseen presence, “Tell me what I don’t want to know, what I avoid and hide from. Show me what I don’t want to see and have turned my back on.”

The alchemists discovered if you heated a solution, it cracked and separated. The dark and heavy dropped out first, finally the distillate.