On Tuesday, I walked the winding mile through downtown to my studio in Old City Hall. I passed a priest outside the state capitol. I was thinking of my mala, which I have worn every day for over a year now. The easiest way to explain them to non-Buddhists is to call them "prayer beads." I don't pray. I don't count mantras or prostrations or anything for which the mala is classically used. I simply wear it to remind myself of the Dharma, a reminder to be mindfull. And, yes, it is a badge, an advertisement of my practice. If other Buddhists, few and far between here, should pass me by, I would like to know. It has never happened. The only people who have asked me about it are those I know well who want to know "Why do you where that same necklace every day?"
The priest I passed had his head bowed over a book, which looked suspiciously like the Bible, though I could not read the spine. He did not look at me, nor any other person he passed. I suspect had Jesus Christ himself with all twelve apostles walked by, the man would not have noticed. And if all the buddhas and bodhisattvas and tathagathas suddenly opened the clouds and peered down at me, would I? I was so wrapped up in thinking about my mala and its message of mindfulness, it took the unlikely sight of a preist similarly lost in thought to bring me to. The irony does not escape me.
I doubt I shall see him again. The second week of class is almost past. I have my bicycle back and shall no longer be walking to school. The surreal feeling has snuck up on me now and then, showing me the manufactured quality of this life, but not so strongly as it often does. Sometimes I feel like an alien in a new land, or a dream I should remember, like a past life. Oh, I'm making too much of it, surely. It is just a small voice whispering in the back of my head as I dash from class to class.
I will say, I am in much better shape since my summer adventure. I flew by two other cyclists on 14th Street today, something I rarely do, and hit all the lights just right between K and Q, no easy feat. I was hardly winded after, but I'm still tired and sore. I think I shall be in even better shape by the end of the semester. My arms ache from grooming my horse yesterday in equitation class. Who knew horses hooves were that heavy? They gave me Red, a tall thoughtful creature. It took me two tries to throw the saddle onto his back, and much longer to hold his hooves up for cleaning. Then eighty-two steps up and down to my studio several times a day, attending classes in the building of a thousand stairs (Arch Hall), and the many trips up and down to take out the recycling from Richards Hall every Friday, all more than enough to give me legs like tree trunks.
Then I'm late, after having run this errand or that in between, and I take the steps two at a time until I really can't breath, but keep going anyway. Then it strikes me, that feeling of being on the other side of a television screen watching the show that is my life. I think I have lousy writers, sometimes.
I can't seem to cook enough. I can never pack enough food for all day on Tuesday and Thursday, my long days, and end up buying something in between. I can never decide where I'm going. Do I need to stop at studio this morning? Or can I go straight to class? Wait! Studio isn't in Arch Hall this year, turn around. What did I forget when I left the house this morning? I have a thousand errands to run and little time to squeeze them in, which leaves me standing on the street turning this way and that like an idiot, indecisive. Of one thing I'm too sure. I've had too long to think about this design project, all summer, and when asked "why don't you try this?" I think I already have the perfect answer. I'm too married to my own ideas and that is going to make studio hard this year. I haven't sat since I returned. I think I should. I think I am going to need to.
I think I am going to need to remember the lesson of my mala more than ever.