I was thinking about heaven today, and about a woman who stopped me on the sidewalk a few months ago and said, “Jesus loves you.” She went on to say that if I didn’t love Jesus back, accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior, then I’d burn in eternal hellfire, along with the Buddha who was already down there enwreathed in flames. “He’s got snakes all in his hair, like all over his head,” she told me—one of her prophets had had this vision, and she took it to be true.

I wish I’d asked her a few questions: Would you really want to spend eternity in that heaven, knowing full well that in some faraway hell there were countless souls suffering unimaginable torment? How could you really enjoy your bliss? How could you truly rest in peace? How would that heaven be any different from this life on earth, right here and now?

If that hell were next door to your heaven and you could hear all the screaming, wouldn’t you be bothered? Of course you’d be bothered, because your peace is tied to everyone else’s. You’d spend eternity begging God to soundproof the kingdom, or to build higher walls, or to move heaven elsewhere. And if God acquiesced, would you finally be at peace? Wouldn’t the memory of that screaming haunt your paradise? How could you enjoy the cherubic choirs with all that screaming in your head? You’d have to numb it out, or forget altogether, and so enjoy the rest of eternity in a state of delusion.

Give me hell over that heaven. I’d rather live in the truth, even if that truth is painful, than in a fantasy held together by anesthesia and amnesia. May that my afterlife. May that be my life.

Rest

Right before I set out to walk across America, one guy offered me some sage advice: “Remember, if you get tired out there, take a break.” Feeling tired this week, taking a break from the wordy world. Peace, all!

Worst weatherman

not coming home small.jpg

The mind is the world’s worst weatherman,

always forecasting the future,

always wrong.

Poor thing can’t keep up with now.

Poor thing doesn’t realize it doesn’t have to,

doesn’t know how to not know,

doesn’t see it can just be.

Don’t tell me it might rain tomorrow, blind meteorologist mind.

Tell me how the sun feels on my face right here,

and if it does rain tomorrow,

tell me how it feels on my face right here again,

when we’re there then,

if you want to tell me anything at all.

*Not Coming Home Small by SamDakota

dinner for one.jpg

Most nights I eat alone. Best learn how to eat alone, I figure, since death is a feast for one. I want to be a king at that feast, not a paranoid prisoner railing against his sentence, so I practice. There’s definitely something sad about my little solo dinners. Beautiful, too, but there’s no denying the sadness. And yet, I think that’s the point of them: to feel the sadness of being here as I am now, a human who loves so many and will love so many more, and who will have to let them all go someday, every single one. Dining with that grief by candlelight, inviting it in and keeping it close, this is how I practice belonging. I belong at this table, the king will say at the feast, breathing easy. I am no stranger here in my kingdom. I say the words into the silence of my kitchen, watching the slow twilight flow of the liquor store outside, dozens of kings and queens buying wine for their dinners and beer to share. I share with sorrow, in the chair to my left. And at my right hand sits gratitude, whispering thank you to whomever else joins us. They come and go as they please, each thought and emotion, like the kings and queens outside. I bar none, during these dinners for one. All are welcome at my table.

*Dinner for One by SamDakota

Born to burn

I bought a beeswax candle last week. It was in the shape of Gautama Buddha’s head, a long, thick wick sprouting out his golden crown. I set it on my coffee table, where it was perfect. “It’s too beautiful to burn,” I thought, which was the moment I realized I had to burn it.

I put the head on a pedestal, a Ball jar. It was staring directly at my heart. I considered it for a while, silently in the dark – how it was made to burn, to feed the very flame that would melt it into nothingness, that would bring light to the room for a few good weeks or months. Or maybe it would take years to disappear. Regardless, that was the head’s purpose, the reason it was here: to shed a little light by its burning, and so melt, and disappear.

The beeswax Buddha couldn’t light himself. I had to do it, and as I did I wondered at the light of my own life in the flickering flame, and at my death, this unspeaking stranger waiting patiently to be seen, and met, and welcomed inside. “And am I born to die?” the hymn sings, “To lay this body down! And must my trembling spirit fly into a world unknown?”

This morning, the snow is swirling outside on great waves of wind, eddies in the air, invisible streams all flowing as one. It will all melt soon, this afternoon perhaps, or tomorrow. The Buddha head is on the coffee table, unlit. Only its crown has melted. An unlit candle is an unfinished thing, no matter how beautiful. That which was made to burn is most beautiful in its burning.

gameforfools.jpgWhen you’re sick, your doctor can’t prescribe the proper medicine until she’s made the proper diagnosis. She uses your symptoms to identify the disease. Without symptoms, you’d never have gone to the doctor in the first place because you wouldn’t have known you were sick. The disease would’ve killed you before you even realized you were dying, before you ever got the chance to do something about it. Thank God for symptoms. They hurt, but they are not what’s hurting you. It’s the disease that’s hurting you. The hurt is telling you to get help. Sometimes it howls, sometimes it whispers, but its message is always the same: we need medicine. You have to listen to the hurt if you are to survive the disease, and then you must find the medicine as soon as possible and take it immediately.

Hatred is the disease. It’s an expert at disguising itself as something else – righteousness, morality, reason, justice. It knows how to hide its symptoms, too, and if it can’t, it knows how to convince you that they’re not problematic, that they’re sensible, even. Hatred can seem so rational, which is why it’s such an insidious and efficient killer.

“Yes,” it says, “look at those hateful terrorists, blowing up innocent people in Brussels and Baghdad. I hate them. And here, look at Donald Trump, preaching such hateful things. Goddamn I hate that man. And I hate all of his hateful followers, too, sucker punching and spitting and screaming. Hate them with me. You certainly shouldn’t love them. You’d be insane to love them. It’d be negligent and naïve to love. Dangerous, even. No, you have to hate them. Why would you do anything else?”

And slowly it starts to makes sense. Why would I ever love Donald Trump? Like, really love him. Even crazier, why would I ever love ISIS? Only a madman would love a murderer. “Sure,” I find myself thinking, “It’s just the logical thing to do. I hate all those hateful bastards.” And that’s the first moment of infection. The disease has now taken hold, because hatred is hatred, regardless of what or who it projects itself upon. A most lethal, contagious disease. It is never for life. It is always for death, even its own, as it will eventually kill the host that keeps it alive, and so die with it. The human mind is its host, and since the human body hosts the human mind, the body and mind are both at stake, and since we’re all living together in the same world, none of us is fully immune so long as any of us are sick. We are one human body, infected with one disease, and there is one medicine that will save us. We each must take this medicine and apply it personally, individually, bearing our part in this global course of treatment and healing.

But what does it mean, to bear our part? And what is the medicine?

The response to hate’s temptations must always be a categorical No. Unconditional refusal. Absolute rejection. This conviction must be unshakeable, immovable, implacable, and ever-present. I do not hate you. I will not hate you. I have taken my medicine well and this disease has no home in me. Cultivating a state of invulnerability to the satanic snake’s silver-tongued slitherings, a state where I’ve become so profoundly uninterested in the snake’s apples that it has stopped peddling them to me altogether, where there’s no temptation whatsoever, only the abiding understanding that the apples are poisonous, regardless of the form they take. Apple pie. Apple crisp. Apple crumble. Apple bars. Applesauce. Sliced apples with peanut butter. Sliced apples with apple butter. Apple juice. Apple cider. Apple anything, it’s all poison. The snake, which is my own mind’s capacity for hatred, has tried everything, and I want none of it. That’s the state I must learn, we all must learn, and it can only be learned by apprenticing ourselves to the betrayals and tragedies that befall us, the suffering, the fire, those moments that say, “Now this atrocity, this violation, surely you’re allowed to hate them for this. Surely love has no place here.” And yeah, you’re allowed to do whatever you want. We’re all free to be as diseased as we desire, or as free.

The medicine is free, if not easy: a love that has been tried and made true. This love is not passive. It doesn’t mean rolling over and doing nothing. It means changing why we do what we do. What we do and how we do it will change naturally once love is the why. Each of us gets to spend our lives understanding that why. We get to live this medicine.

To put it plainly again, in case the deluded logic of hate is creeping into your consciousness as you read this, or in case you think these words are the fluffy stuff of kumbaya fantasy: hating that which hates is hate. When I hate that which hates, I’ve become that which hates, a different manifestation of the very same thing I’m abhorring. I’ve become hate’s puppet. I tied the strings to my own limbs, and now the puppeteer moves me however it wants, and it only ever wants one thing: to make war with its other puppets, little wars and big wars, emotional wars and physical wars, wars in all ways. The puppeteer has millions of puppets, maybe even billions. It has so many wars to make, and an endless urge to make them. The puppeteer will never cut the strings of its puppet. Somehow, the puppet must.

Hate will never heal. That is what love does. That is what love is. It is the surest way to freedom, the only true healing, the final medicine. Often it’s bitter. Often just the thought of it makes me gag. But eating this medicine in the sick moments of my own little life is the only way the big blue world will heal. To anoint my mind with this ointment each morning is to bless each person that comes into my experience that day. Rubbing this salve onto my body, into my wounds, over my aches and pains, this is rubbing the body of the world with love. If I don’t start here, with me, now, how can I be expected to start anywhere else, with anyone else, ever?

We must love, absolutely. This is not lunacy. It is lunacy when one human being kills another, or strikes another, or hates another, regardless of the context. It is lunacy that such a statement would be considered lunacy by so many in our world today. This is the disease. We are infected, so profoundly that most of us don’t even know it. We must pay attention to the symptoms before the disease destroys us all. We must find the medicine and take it immediately, a big-ass dose, over and over again. There’s no need to seek out a doctor and no need to wait in line, because the doctor is you, the medicine is here, and the treatment starts now.

*Game for Fools above, by SamDakota

Stop

heartstring.jpgWhat would it be like for you to stop reading, and to just be read instead?

Could you stop writing, and be written?

Could you abandon all theories and analyses? Each and every interpretation?

Banish your precious questions, your beloved search.

You once had to find great courage to set out and seek.

Now, great courage is required to stop,

the courage of a mother in labor, and of her child being born.

Do children worry as they move from the womb to the world?

Do mothers ask how to give birth as they give birth to their daughters and sons?

What would that be like, to stop?

To stop asking questions?

To stop wondering, and waiting, and wondering why you’re waiting?

See, there’s no such thing as waiting.

There’s only this eternal arrival.

You can trust it.

You can stop. Not because you’ll never get there, but

because you already are.

*Heartstrings by SamDakota
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