Aging & Dying, Zen & Dharma

Should i STAY or should i GO?

sail awayShould i stay or should i go now, should i stay or should i go now…if i go there will be trouble … if i stay there will be double…so c’mon and let me know …  …  … should i STAY or should i GO?
– The Clash

STAY! like a well trained dog, I can hear the command. I stay, just long enough to suss out the situation. But then like a wild dog off i go—i run off the heel, fail to stay in step. Off i go again running after the next squirrel or car or thrown stick. I go, and there is always trouble—but always reward. There is the rush, the thrill of the chase, the wonder of new roads to run and strange new smells, sights and sounds. New challenges, new horizons, new possibilities. My life has felt like a dog running wild, running free. But at the end of the run there is weariness and the firm temptation to just ease off and STAY.

GO! said my good friend Frances, back in the day—just, go. Back when i could have stayed comfy in Toronto, borderline bohemian in my safe little life. I heard Frances’s words, and I put myself on a westbound Greyhound. I planted my feet lightly in the rich west coast soil, and there, I thrived. I grew comfortable. Too comfortable. After ten years I yanked up my roots and went off to Arcosanti in the Arizona high desert, the sound of my leaving like the ripping of cloth. I pulled myself free of my comfy working world  and plunged into the mystery. Arcosanti was insanity and over and over again i tried to leave, packed my bags, bought my plane tickets home. And again and again I stayed, until it all became one big ridiculous comedy. Had a meltdown and epiphany in a scabby Mexican hotel with my crusty jewish godmother, and in the end, in the end– i remained. To face my  confusion and my fear. To make madness into art I STAYED, and the one who left, was no longer me.

I washed up on Cortes Island one day, drifted under the prayer flags at Dorje Ling, threw all my reservations into the wind, and STAYED. I stayed for six months, until the my ears were freezing in my heatless gompa room. The following spring, I returned. I flew to New Mexico, into the utter mundane weirdness of Zen monastic life. Was kicked out of America and fought my way back in. And stayed. And returned. And went away. Without regrets, not ever, not any.

And now here i sit on this vast tiny island, seasons turn, leaves fall down. The ocean beats angry, sky is grey, silence roars in my ears.

There’s this old Chinese story, about a woman who sails off in the night to marry her true love. She leaves, and raises a family far away, but finally goes back to visit her village many years later. She returns to her family hut, only to find herself, still there, asleep in her bed.

Which is the real me, asks the koan—the one who left, or the one who stayed behind?

<<illustration borrowed from>>

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