I started smoking cigarettes four months ago, out of the blue. I didn’t question myself about it, just figured that a nasty habit had swooped out of the sky and carried me off in its talons. I’d smoked a few times before, once for two years, rolling my own when I lived in a mountain cabin and wrote; smoking was a substitute for companionship. I never liked the effects of the nicotine, but I loved the ceremony of the roll and the lighting of the end from a candle or oil lamp chimney or splinter of wood from the fireplace. I liked dragging the smoke deeply into my chest, and the burn it gave my lungs. I rolled and smoked about six a day. Every Top tobacco nail made me dizzy. I never adjusted to that. Sometimes I’d wonder why I was doing something that made me reel. Once, my son asked me why I smoked and I told him that it was because I was trying to turn myself inside out. I never understood what I meant by that until just now.
For seven years, Buddhist and Christian meditators have met at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, to understand each other’s religious experience, and to search out what it may have to offer the modern world. I went to the most recent conference, held last July, because the encounter between Eastern and Western spirituality had long been taking place in my own heart.
It was a perfect day, the sky clear, as blue and true as a pledge of love. On the campus, the magnolias were in bloom, the huge, creamy-white flowers richly fragrant. Spring was everywhere, shamelessly beautiful, wet lips laughing, hair unpinned.
a woman comes to the door, wearing a saffron robe, her straight hair in a brown bun, her face stern but capable of merriment. her long robes sway, shine purples and royal blues as you follow her. her thighs belong to an old farmer who remembered his potatoes but forgot his fields, her butt could survive long hours on the polished wooden pews of an un-air-conditioned baptist church. you wonder why she wears the silky suggestive clothes of a beautiful woman. maybe she doesn’t realize, you think, as she motions you to a seat. you smile, you are nervous and suddenly want to feel friends with her. you are tinder on a hot summer day. still her face remains her own. she shares nothing but the swish of long skirts as she sits across from you, and caresses the tarot cards.
One night as I lay in my crib, my tired mother, her patience spent, came into the room and stole my voice. She came into the room, stuck a finger down my throat, and pulled out a voice box that was pink and tender and barely formed, yet already raw from too much use. She came into the room and I remember no more than this, that she wore a white gown falling off the shoulder, that she somehow soothed me.
“I used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long and three wide, in which the laborers locked up their tools at night; and it suggested to me that every man who was hard-pushed might get such a one for a dollar, and hook down the lid, and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free.” Thoreau, Henry David