“My teacher explained it by saying, “It’s as if you are going along a winding mountain path to get to a town. You’re not sure this path does actually lead to this town. You are not even sure that the town exists. But you’ve heard that it’s there. So you have confidence that eventually the path will get you there if you keep on going. There are a few signposts. Then one day you turn a corner, and there, in the distance, is the town. This is an enormous breakthrough on your journey. You now know the town exists. You now know the path leads there. Maybe, because the path is winding, there will be times when you don’t see the town any more. But each time you see it, it gets a bit closer. However, you are not in the town yet. You are just getting glimpses of it. But one day, provided you keep going, you will arrive at the town, and you will be able to live there. Then you’re a Buddha.””
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo*, Reflections on a Mountain Lake
In the story I am writing, the narrator is faced with a choice, in his fifties, of taking a great risk by entering into a landscape that is unknown and that he may possibly not be able to return from. He struggles with this decision because he very badly wants to go but is fearful.
In our society, adventure is increasingly only found in the inner life. Risk and exploration in the world are limited as every corner is mapped and experienced and that experience is shared. My narrator only recalls one instance in his life where he took a leap into the unknown. In his case, it was taking LSD as a teenager. But the caveat is that, at the time, he had no idea of what awaited him after taking that tiny pill. It was a true leap but limited by his experience. Now he is fully aware of the potential consequences of the unknown and he struggles with it.
When I started writing I did not know this was the path I was following. Like Tenzin Palmo’s teacher’s tale, it has been unfolding of its own accord. But I have to write it to see it unfold. Meditation and right livelihood are things I struggle with in my life but they are also the unknown country that I want to at least glimpse.
*Tenzin Palmo is a British woman who, at age nineteen in the early sixties, became a Buddhist and moved to India to find her teacher. She spent 12 years in retreat in a cave in the Himalaya before coming back into society to start a Buddhist nunnery. Her books, which are transcripts of lectures, are, I believe, the best introduction to Buddhist thought to be found in the West. Unlike writers with limited experience, Tenzin Palmo has done the deep dive and come back to tell us what she learned. Highly recommended.