I don’t have enough body fat to float, never have.
So this is a first. And it is awesome. My face is safe. I can breathe.
We drove six hours to be here. It was worth it. Maru, my woman, was raised in Mexico City by a single mom. She knows life isn’t fair. She is not given to histrionics. So if in this story, she should either cry or beg God for mercy, well, just know who she is.
I can rest my hands wherever I want, no need for little disturbing pushing moves to stay up. Real floating is fantastic.
Weightlessness invites wakefulness. The clouds are white as a fresh tube of titanium on the blue sky field. Where do the clouds stop? Where does the sky reclaim its emptiness? The edges are blurred.
My woman doesn’t care for blurry lines. She’s a black and white lady. She coined the phrase “Shanti Shanti My Ass” as a sideways teaching aid for yogis who eat meat. We keep meaning to make bumper stickers. I love and admire her convictions, even while seeking out grey areas and places where we all connect. Places where you are me.
As I float, parts of me go into the water, and parts of the water enter me. I am more like a cell membrane than an acrylic cube. I am porous and vulnerable, open even in my closed places.
Lynne McTaggert in The Bond says that we emit light particles constantly. So if you believe science, I don’t stop at the edge of my skin, or at least, the edge is blurred.
Thich Nhat Hahn said:
“I was a cloud once. One time I was a star. This is not a poem. This is science.”
The two collapse. The line between science and poetry grows cloudy.
I float and know freedom from concern. Our guides are content to let me be. I am safe to stay in the red water. The danger to my eyes is eclipsed by Maru on the shore. She will get me out in time. She is fiercely loyal. She has my back. The water, salty to the point of toxicity for so many life forms, allows me in.
We were listening to dharma talks on the way here. In his “Be Here Wow” and “Fool’s Journey” lectures, Wes Nisker levitates me still. I am thinking about what he said. He traffics in causes and conditions, and mentions:
“My meditation’s most forgiving lesson was to tell me that who I am is not my fault.”
Floating like an ice cube, drinking in concepts which allow me to melt and dissipate, I repeat and repeat, without lather or rinse: “Who I am is not my fault. Who I am is not my fault. Who I am is not my fault.” That it is by reverse definition also not my accomplishment seems like a fair trade.
Maru’s degree is in nutrition, which informs her viewpoints on eating animals and human health. How can I explain to you how grounded she is? When I am worked up about something, she pulls the invisible string tying me to the planet by saying, “Nobody died, Karl.” But for all that earth, her true textbook is her heart.
Scientists at Heartmath say that our hearts emit electronic frequencies. Other people receive and interpret these before we speak a word. Most of our communication is performed in silence.
Maru doesn’t get in the water. She came here before, and is protecting her eyes. For her, the trip was all about being with the hundreds of pink flamingos. Maru is often guarded with people. With animals, her soft spot is everywhere. She is pure bodhicittha.
Maru calls out her shoulder tap, it is time for me to quit the water and re-emerge. I cannot open my eyes for the stinging, and make my way to her partially blinded.
Our eyes are so important. Colors exist only as an interactive event. Take away our eyes, and color is gone with them. We make color unconsciously. Without the rods, cones and ocular circus, color just isn’t there.
On the shore, our boatman hands me a bucket of white mud. I’m told to smoosh it all over my skin in some form of exfoliation ritual. I do so happily, having always held mud in fairly high regard. It feels fantastic, like rubbing mud on your skin.
We took the boat ride back to shore. We shared a delicious dinner of rice, beans and salsa, and there, unknowing, we told each other the high point and low point of the day. Full, we got in the car for the trip home.
An 18 wheeler plowed the air in front of us at a really good clip. We were floating, laughing and happy. Maru abruptly shifted to alert when three street dogs, oblivious, wandered into the path of the truck ahead.
She screamed “Oh, please, no!”
The dog on the left walked under a huge pair of merciless wheels. Then the truck was gone and we stopped. I went to the dog, surprised that his friends didn’t show interest. I approached with some fear, an injured dog will bite. He was beyond injured. His insides weren’t. There were tracks on him.
Sometimes the line between life and death is anything but blurry. He had crossed it. As Leonard Cohen would say, it was in the realm of things that could not be disputed.
I said “I’m sorry, boy,” and dragged him a little ways, then lifted him up, away from the road. What else could I say? A prayer? My actions were all the praying I could manage. I laid him under a tree, Maru watched, crying openly, feeling the part in her that I was reflexively hardening in me.
We drove away from there, sobered.
Nobody tuned in likes to see the sacrifice of an innocent. Pema says that when it happens, the work is to open your heart to it and feel it. Avoiding it, you grow harder and more rigid. Opening to it is cultivating bodhichittha. I try.
“I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness,
And transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow.”
~ Thich Nhat Hahn
We are silent in the car. I think that the little dog dying under the trucks wheels is so different from an innocent pig at slaughter. The dog unintentionally created his demise. The pig had no vote.
In the same way that color happens only with the help of our eyes, we kill an innocent pig when we choose pork instead of lentils. The second victim in the killing of a pig is the eater. Removing ourselves from feeling this fact is hardening us. Opening our hearts to this truth makes avocado taste like mercy.
Dharma Mittra says that animals are our inferior brothers. Science is with him on this. One of the most fascinating aspects of the genome project is its revelation of how many chromosomes we share with fish and animals. We are so much more similar to other species than different. Life is like life: the edges are blurrier than we think.
Recently, humans thought it was our rightful place to own slaves because the color of their skin made them so different from us. A similar mindset prevails today, allowing us to produce and eat animals as if we own them. We do not.
Dharma says that animals fear violence, and look to us for protection. I wish I could give away the compassion with which this great teacher makes that statement: people spontaneously convert to veganism on hearing him speak it. At the risk of redundancy: nobody tuned in likes to see the sacrifice of an innocent.
And who we are is not our fault.
Humility, I’m told, is knowing where we are, and aiming toward where we want to be
In the documentary movie “I Am,” we are given a glimpse into how skewed some of our thinking has grown regarding material existence. It is valuable to see this—because much of what we believe to be so, isn’t. Eating mass-produced meat is a dangerous form of materialism. The misuse of our given dominion expresses itself constantly in our lives. Having a salad is so much more than having a salad. It is an act of love, a path. Pema tells us to practice generosity in order to learn generosity.
There are no flamingo tacos. Yet.
One thing I remember we saw. Hundreds of flamingos at peace, standing in shallow water, not a sound in the air. When they rise up to fly, it looks like they are running across the top of the water. My eyes turn it into a festive mix of blue, white, black and pink, but in reality, it is a composition in black and white. It is beauty, free of excess human entanglement. It is in the realm of things which cannot be disputed.
Editor: Brianna Bemel