“Roadside Koan, 02/01/23”, Uploaded to YouTube by account PontiffBodhiSage
Wherever he finds himself, he finds embrace.
One could argue that he’s always had it easy. He has, after all, been blessed with lean good looks and the type of eyes that would mark him as the tribe’s conduit to God in the ancient times. He’s charming, witty, and he looks like his but is cut from hardwood. But he also is a member of something that could be termed a community. Though it lacks much in the ways of strict doctrine or even a coherent belief system, his people–crunchy granola hippies, fire dancing freaks, off the grid environmentalists, psilocybin shamans, hangers on, jam band devotees, artists, craftspeople, couch surfers–are literally everywhere. And that means that in a situation like this, broken down in the PNW, don’t stress him. Hell, to look at him, he lacks a care in the world.
We’re watching a static view of him flying a sign on the side of a highway. In the distance, we see the biodiesel van, clearly not operational. Though the entire field of view is coated in a sort of wet haze, he doesn’t seem to have dressed for the cool weather, content with a thin tie-dyed hoodie as his only concession towards the elements. We can hear a car rumbling in the distance, and he faces the road, holding it out.
“VAN BROKE DOWN – NEED RIDE – BLESS YOU”
The car passes. They don’t even pause.
He shakes his head and sets down the sign, walking towards our view. It’s then that we realize he’s been recording this entire time, as he gathers his phone up and then shoulders the backpack it was resting against. His smile is so easy, so brilliant, and the scars from his wars only seem to frame him better. It’s honestly sickening. But when he talks, his voice does nothing but soothe. Not an ounce of rage, not an ounce of disappointment. Just the eternal cosmic float and a committed bongripper’s fry.
“Sat Sri Akal. It’s been probably…what, like a month or two since my last upload? But I definitely heard the rumors, they travel along the digital ether, and in a lot of ways, i kind of felt them, y’know? The psychosphere was coursing with a current to get my attention. A lot of folks wanted to know if I was retiring since I lost. I honestly like thought that maybe some of my teachings would have taken better hold, you know? Wins, losses…you have to divorce your mentality from these rigid concepts. That’s eurocentrism, it’s patriarchy, it’s white supremacy. What is a win?”
He pauses to rummage in his pack and pull out a hydro flask. He guzzles from it deeply before reaching behind his ear into his forest of blond locs and retrieving a rolled cone joint like a magic trick. With a practiced motion, all muscle memory, he pops it in his mouth, pulls a lighter from his pocket, and ignites the spliff, fluid. Taking a deep drag, he holds it in before exhaling slowly.
“A number in a column on a website? A data point in an excel document? Why would you, as an enlightened being, ever chase that? That’s playing the game that Western capitalism wants you to play. A soulless game. What’s a loss? Less money in your bank account, someone calling you a flash in the pan? Why would you ever let things so sterile and loveless bind you? Do you not aspire to Khalsa, the path of divinity? Which is not to say I’m disappointed, far from it. You are all children of the cosmos, and you have within you indescribable power to transform. But unlearning your indoctrination…that’s a lifelong process. I’m still learning new things every day. But that relentless pursuit? That’s what makes you, me, us, so vital to the World right now. Because this is a world in crisis.”
Another deep, deep lungful. He settles down onto his backpack, smiling that easy, brilliant smile.
“I do wish that she would have learned more from herself, from me, from what we were. There’s a chasm inside you when you devote so much to giving someone a happier life, spiritually. But sacrifice is an ancient, ancient tradition. In the time of stone tools, we gutted animals. Now we carve our spirits open as offering. Some return that offering twofold and it fills us like we’re about to burst, right? Sometimes people are…selfish with the sacrifice we have made. That’s what Ria was. But that’s just for right now. There’s gonna be a day when she seeks me out. And on that day she’ll thank me, and we’ll embrace as enlightened beings together. Sacrifice is always worth it, cosmonauts.”
As he’s staring in the distance, a vehicle approaches. He holds up the sign with an easy grin, and this time, the three ton fish takes the hook. A Jeep wagoneer pulls to the side, and Sage stands up, shouldering his pack and tucking his sign under his arm.
“Looks like my ride’s here. Stay peaceful and always pursue it–life isn’t a destination. Gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā.”
With a movement of his thumb, the video is over.
Any concerns about getting along with this blessing have been deeply squashed. They are good naturedly passing a blunt between one another, “Zombie” on the radio, and the vibe in the ancient vehicle is positive. The driver sports a long beard and a clippered head, his hands a roadmap of stick and poke tattoos, his septum ring frankly oversized. But he has a jolly nature, and he and Sage seem to be vibing in the right way.
Driver: Heading back towards Nevada, then?
Sage Pontiff: Gotta make it to Florida. I guess they want me to compete again–though if I’m being real transparent right now, it feels a bit…hollow? Does that make sense?
Driver: Sure. You like a scrap–but now it’s a job, y’know? I love building furniture, but I’d probably hate it if my paycheck depended on it.
Sage Pontiff: Yeah, I mean there’s that, for sure. But I put a lot of myself into my last real opponent and, frankly speaking, it’s exhausted my spiritual receptors. My psychic attunement feels dulled, like I have to squint my eyes to see the sacred geometry of everyday life. And they just want me back…to fight. To beat someone up, maybe bleed a little. They’re not interested in the elevation of experience.
Sage Pontiff: I shouldn’t be complaining, but it can be frustrating. People like me, people like us…we’re not built for the square world, to borrow a term. We’re concerned with the great expansive unknown and the health of the spirit and mind–all they’re looking at is data points. It poisons them. So they can’t grasp why I’d feel trepidation or need time to recover and rediscover, reattune. To them it’s as simple as they pay me, I fight. But what stings the most is that they’re confused as to why I’m not thankful. As if money is the only thing that can sustain me.
At this there is a long pause. The driver takes a big hit before angling his head toward the cracked window and blowing the smoke out. As he hands Sage the blunt, he clears his throat.
Driver: Can I ask you a question, dude?
Sage Pontiff: Always. Questions are essential.
Driver: Do you consider yourself fortunate?
Sage Pontiff: Hm. I would say so, yes.
Driver: See like…I do a lot of community work, right? My steady gig is at a nonprofit, I help to run a mutual aid group. I see people every day getting ground to nothing by the late-stage dying thrashes of Capitalism’s bloated corpse. It’s not me discounting your lived experience, far from it, but like…you know you’ve got a good life, right?
He chews his lip and looks out the window for a long time.
Sage Pontiff: I am…I’m not blind to that. Ever since I was a kid I had a perception that was different. Not better, or worse, just different. I couldn’t hold myself to the grind no matter how hard I tried–there was always something out there to find. Some new horizon. I went to India when I was 16, I was in Peru by the next year. I needed the journey to truly open myself to enlightenment. I needed the journey to know that there was something outside of those dying thrashes, something to strive for, something we could all touch and…ascend with. I grasp that I have the privilege to pursue that, but shit…some of us have to. Guess that sounds a bit self-important, doesn’t it?
Driver: I mean…yeah. But also, I get it.
Driver: But let me ask…If you’re always seeking out a new horizon, why not just let this be another one? Why be morose that people who aren’t ever going to “get it” don’t get it? Isn’t that holding you back?
The Bodhisattva looks at the man for a long moment, studying him. Finally, he cracks into a brilliant smile and begins laughing. The Driver good-naturedly chuckles, but he is clearly waiting on the joke. Finally, Sage exhales and dies down to a chuckle.
Sage Pontiff: Oh man…the universe asks and we provide for one another. The magnetism of human lives is something truly, truly wonderful to behold. Because I was ready to think like them! In metrics and success and…quantifiable things. And things are death. But then I break down, you pick me up, and you ask me the one question I needed to be asked–I’ve been thinking so uptight, man! Of course they want me to fight. And every fight is just another opportunity to show the person across from me the true expansive nature of our energetic connection as beings. That we can share flesh and blood and sweat and break one another down so that we may then rebuild ourselves shining and golden. Thank you man, thank you. You are a blessing.
Driver: We’re just talking, man. But I’m glad to see that smile on your face.
Sage leans back and stretches, before reaching out and smoothly running his hand along the driver’s cheek. There is tenderness in this act, and we can almost see the electrical current between them.
Sage Pontiff: Yours too.
Interior, the Biodiesel Camper Van
She’s moving along nicely, now.
Whatever it needed, he was lucky to have broken down in Oregon–plenty of mechanics that specialize in this shit were around. And two days in Ced’s apartment, two lovely evenings with one another, certainly helped soften the blow. Still, he left the remainder of his big show payday on the dresser in a wrinkled envelope. Not for services rendered, but for the mutual aid group. Maybe he still felt a sting of guilt.
But now it’s night, and he’s focused on the wheel. He passes a road sign. Pensacola, 60 miles.
I don’t know your works, but I know you.
You’re meat and potatoes. Nose down, get the work done.
Ever wonder if there was something…more?
More for you, more for your family?
I know that there has to have been a moment, somewhere. Maybe you wer out camping or even just taking the trash out, when you looked at the sky. Looked at the stars. You should have felt small in those moments, and embraced it with joy, but being small is scary. So you shake your head. Rattle those thoughts away.
Nose down. Get the work done.
That moment is going to come again, Matt Ward.
You’ll be gasping for air. Knuckles on fire. Muscles burning. Sweat in your eyes.
I will be, too.
And either I’ll break you or you’ll break me–but ion the process, those stage lights are going to look like stars. And you’ll feel small. But this time, you’ll be ready to embrace it. Be ready to break free. Be ready to become something more than just the plate that you are, be ready to ascend. And I will be there to embrace you, Matt Ward. To show you a new way. We will, together, put our noses down.
And we will get the work done. Together.
He speeds along. Dilated eyes. A Road Warrior on his way to another date under the bright lights, and another date with another fighter. What they do will be more intimate than what he did with Ced.
They’ll bleed together.