Youth will carry your ass a long way.
But sometimes, even the toughest of us need a break. Breather. Rest.
Two matches, and both pretty big ones, truth be told. That would probably be enough of an excuse to need to heal up, but the fact that they were nearly back to back–and our man’s propensity for creative uses of his body as a careening, 200 pound cannonball regardless of the inherently danger–have left him…broken. Physically. His mind and spirit soar above the clouds and in planes not our own, though.
He’s made sure of that last part.
A lot of people wouldn’t suggest a regimen of psilocybin and sacrament as part of a physical therapy routine, but oftentimes Sage doesn’t see himself as ‘people’, at least not in the macro sense. ‘People’, to him, means the square community: cops, day traders, human resources professionals, managers of a western union office. Sage ain’t people, and his people ain’t people. They’re fringe, all of them, and even if some have regular nine-to-five clock punches, it’s understood that their time there is temporary. The lust for expansion and experience is too strong. That’s what a lot of folks don’t get, Pontiff is certain. It’s not just about fun and fucking and substances and djembes. It’s about living, full throttle, seeing things and being places and meeting people, always pivoting to prevent the cement of the modern world from entombing you.
Sage can’t pivot too much, not yet.
The Bodhisattva has seemingly made some manner of base camp in a national park or wildlife preserve. Though there isn’t a chyron to explain where, the scrub brush and clear desert air point him somewhere due south, possibly Tijuana River Valley. He has parked the biodiesel camper and erected a sun shade from a blue tarp and some sticks. Well, to say he did it may be a fib. Though Sage has publicly made it a point to say that he’ll no longer be giving attention to those that would worship his path, he appears to have made two exceptions. One could hardly blame him for a number of reasons, chief among those that they followed him in their own vehicle. He also, though he’d be hesitant to admit it, needed them.
Because you can’t be an all-powerful Bodhisattva and have trouble getting out of bed.
Because you can’t be an all-powerful Bodhisattva and nearly cry every time you cough.
Because you can’t be an all-powerful Bodhisattva and show that you’re just some mortal. Just some scrub-ass kid from Joshua Tree who reads the right books and smiles the right way.
These things plague him in his quietest moments. When he’s up at three in the morning and no amount of sacrament can bring him slumber, he wonders if this has all been for naught. When he tries to do something that was once routine–reach for his phone charger, wash a cup–and his ribs give him a pain sharp enough to stagger him, he wonders if he’s been going about all of this the wrong way. His self-loathing can’t last, he’s got too sunny a disposition for that, but his self-reflection never seems to abate. It’s just now, the accumulated agony of the months having caught up to him…seems to have made him a bit more honest. And his relationship to pain is complicated, at best. There’s a high greater than anything he can ingest in the middle of combat. His adrenaline turns the pain during a match into a comfortable numbness with sharp shocks that dance along his chakras like an electric current. It’s so damn seductive, and when he gets into a rhythm of receiving and pain and giving it, they dance together, flames of two colors margin into one massive column of purification. He feels like he can fly, and he does, often. Crashes just as much, too.
But the fight is heat. Sweat, exhaustion, full color, the roar of the crowd, the sound of bodies hitting the canvas and steel. Sweet music. Vibrant.
And this? This is cold. A waking dream on the edge of nightmare, the merciless consequences of his actions mounted on his shoulders like shades trying to drag him into hell.
They’ve put him to something resembling a routine. Both of them androgynous with severe cheekbones and eyes that look like they see the totality of time all at once, they’re clearly his sort of people–the outside of the lines level of their existence and bearing, their collections of tattoos, their septum rings. The taller of the two has been helping him from bed to sun bleached camp chair–the shorter handles the meals. They both take turns lovingly bathing him in the river, as if he is a treasured artifact or a small animal that was victimized by an oil spill. They scrub and anoint him like he is something holy, and to them, he very much is. They look eerily similar, possibly related, possibly they’ve just spent so much time around one another that their styling and looks have gravitated towards the middle between the two of them until they operate and appear as a single unit.
And for days, this has been it. Not much said, leaving time for quiet reflection. Sage is worried that if he turns to his natural inclinations–namely, talking at length about all things material and immaterial–then he’ll rope them in by accident. Make them fervent adherents to a path that even he sometimes doubts. This is the bad edge of his reputation, of spending over two years giving out his thoughts and attention to anyone who needed something to cling to. This is the bad edge of that million dollar smile and his Fight Club body. Threaten him with chains, have a gaggle of pigs come at him with mace and nightsticks, tee off on his skull with a steel chair and he will face each with a serene smile and the calm of the Buddha. But at the prospect of this, at the prospect of these two attendants expecting some great lesson from him and finding it in mundane speech?
Of that, he’s actually afraid.
“Juniper, do you have the plates?”
“Right here, Assata.”
We’ve reached the evening hours, and the sun hangs low on the horizon, starting to lend the sky some vivid coloration that chemical exhaust hasn’t turned into Fanta orange. Sage sits in that chair, hardly a throne for a king, but then again, he has never claimed to be. He looks small, which is no easy feat given his lanky frame, but the oversized baja hoodie and the sarong he’s in practically swallow him whole. He gazes to that sunset, paying little mind to his companions, his eyes scanning for something, Some hint of meaning or direction from the furies, the energies of the world.
He doesn’t find any, but still looks annoyed for a flash when Assata–the taller of these two genderless seraphim–hands him a plate loaded for bear with what appears to be some manner of Indian food. At minimum there’s a brick orange slop, some rice, and a manhole sheet of naan that’s been folded over twice into a triangle. As they sit down in their own seats, large overstuffed meditation pillows, they begin to eat wordlessly. Sage silently takes a few bites, not that he is particularly hungry,
“So…what event did you see me at?”
Juniper affixes him with a curious stare.
“Yeah. Show at Turtle Mound, Rainbow Family Gathering, Midwest Yogafest…?”
Assata and Juniper look at one another now, entirely confused. Finishing a bite of naan, the shorter of the two leans forward.
“Respectfully, Bodhisattva…we don’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about.”
“You didn’t follow me from some kind of elevated consciousness retreat?”
“Oh! No, not at all, we never had the chance. We sought you out because we saw you wrestle.”
Now it’s Pontiff’s turn to look confused–or maybe more nonplussed. While he’s used to adherents from his many speaking/drug/meditation fighting engagements, or from when he might more privately hold court in a geodesic dome or farmland, he has yet to even consider this as a possibility. He takes this moment to pop another bite into his mouth, the color seemingly returning to his cheeks now that his self-imposed silent meditation is up. Though he still moves gingerly, when he holds out an arm to point, he doesn’t wince.
“Because you saw me wrestle.”
“Yeah. We saw your message on a YouTube compilation, then we followed you on social media. Then Assata got the cool idea that we should follow you on the road–like The Dead, you know? Cause there really wasn’t anyone like you ever talking on what’s really important before, not in that kind of…arena. Not on that stage. No fuckin’ joke, man, you’re inspiring.”
Sage chews on this for a moment, nodding and casting his gaze back to the darkening sky. Maybe if he were the same man he was almost a year ago, this would lead him into something more entangling. Nights of passion, sermons about the nature of the universe itself and our place in it as spiritual beings. He hadn’t once considered before that things he said on camera or his antics in the ring might actually…well, reach someone. And somewhere, he worries that this adulation is only enabling his worst impulses.
But that thought fizzles fast.
“I’m inspiring, eh? What’s so inspiring? I’ve hardly been able to keep myself fed and clean for the last five days. Very inspirational.”
He winces at his words–he knows they came out more bitter than he wanted them to.
“Not that I don’t appreciate what you’ve done, far from that. I owe the both of you greatly. But I’ve been questioning my place in things, questioning where I fit and what my path really looks like. I stopped speaking at those events, stopped fighting anyone who wanted to ascend past the flesh. I needed to take care of myself, to be kind to me, and I was…starting to see too many familiar faces.”
Another bite. He chews, while Juniper thinks on this. Finally, they speak.
“Why is that a bad thing?”
“Mm, well. Start seeing too many faces and then structures start forming around you. Those structures turn into faith. Faith becomes a prison because faith can’t be questioned. I didn’t start doing what I was doing because I wanted to be adored or seen as a messiah, I really didn’t.”
The Bodhisattva sets his plate on the grass, wiping his hands together in satisfaction.
“I think it started as a calling. And as I saw how much I was helping people, it became seductive. Cause acts of service can be like that, right? You get addicted to doing it. Addicted to the rush.”
Pontiff trails off, closing his eyes for a moment. It’s clear he feels something at least in the family of remorse about this, but how he’s squaring with that, how he’s settling that, remains a mystery. This begins a long silence, that Juniper finally breaks with their smoke-croaked voice.
“Bodhisattva, I totally understand. We both do. But…you have to understand that you’re reaching a wider audience now.”
“I mean, yeah! Look I’ve been, we’ve been, fans for a long time. The violence, the pageantry, the energy, right?”
At this, Sage can only smile and nod. The Bodhisattva has traveled all over the globe and experienced some dizzying highs, but there’s absolutely nothing that compares to the crackling energy in an arena.
“Thing is…we’re like you. We care about larger things than just the next energy drink or reality TV. Ask yourself, before you, who was there…for us? Who spoke to us, who did we see as a champion of our causes? And you never do it in a virtue signaling way, either. To you, there are facts of the world, just like there are facts to us. Capitalism is consuming the planet whole. Cops are the authoritarian wing of the status quo. The spiritual stagnation of the Western world is the greatest threat to existence at large, like…do you know what that means for us? At all?”
Sage sits back, looking well past surprised. Shocked? His eyes are wide, and his mouth slowly curls into an agape smile, as if his mind has been blown. His companions smile with him, nodding. He finally places his hands over his face, rubbing his eyes and chuckling.
“It’s occurring to me that it doesn’t. Or that I hadn’t considered it. Wow, my…my thinking has been so closed off, so uptight, hasn’t it? Like consider those words I used. ‘Acts of service.’ But acts of service don’t have to be personal, one on one things–they don’t even need to be me personally addressing a group, right? They just need to be. Inspiration and recognition can heal the world just as sure as a fist.”
They all nod their heads now, the warmth of their connection apparent. And, to his great relief, they aren’t looking at him like he’s something to be worshipped. They’re looking at him as fans, as friends. As people who care about him. He snaps his fingers.
“Go into the glove box, would you? I’ve got an Altoids tin in there containing some very, very special strips of paper.”
He creakily gets to standing, seemingly overcoming his pain and forcing himself erect without so much as a strained grunt.
You know what, man? I’m not here to save you.
It feels so foreign to say that, it really does.
Because that’s just…what I do, right? I’m the Bodhisattva of Transformative Experiences, it’s what I’ve always done.
But is ‘that’s just what I do’ a good enough reason to keep doing it? Especially when the returns are so minimal?
Nah, if your circumstances aren’t feeding your soul? You change your circumstances.
So I’m not here to do anything for you, Rezin. I’m not here to elevate you, make you spiritually whole, or show you the path to enlightenment. Because the truth is, I can only lead you to the waters of nirvana. You have to decide to drink. And right now…I am free of worrying about whether you decide to take what is being offered.
You do, you do. You don’t, you don’t.
You know how…free I feel? How weightless?
I was pressed against a canopy, man. I could feel my skin flattening against it, my bones ached, my ribs compressed. I couldn’t even breathe.
And then in one glorious moment I burst through. Just like that! And on the other side of the barrier, I was met with a great vision from the cosmos. I was awash with the sensation that I needed to embrace how powerless I was. And in that, I would become more powerful than I have ever been.
See, I spent so much time worrying. Was my message even reaching you? I could have a bloody war with someone like Paxton Ray–was he the better for it? I could elevate Coral Avalon to finally ascend, to finally take his crown–was he happier or more enlightened? I am wreathed in immense power, man. Not because I struck a deal or because I’m blessed, but because I listen. And my ears were open wide, but I wasn’t hearing anything. Every one of you on the roster were just white noise, static. Not being heard, being seen as some sort of sideshow–that kind of stuff does hurt. Microaggressions, over and over, it’s like death by a thousand cuts. That’s why I stepped away from teaching. That’s why I withdrew and had more internal journeys. If you all wouldn’t hear me, if you all just saw me as a joke, where could I turn, y’know?
In the ancient days there was a master of martial arts. A student went to him and he said, “I am going to devote myself to studying your art. How long until I become a master?”
The master thinks about this for a second and tells him, “Ten years.”
The student doesn’t like that. He’s impatient, right? He says, “I want to master it faster than that. What if I work really hard, and practice over ten hours a day, more even. How long will it take me if I do all that?”
The master says, “Oh, in that case, 20 years.”
You feel what I’m telling you? I was trying so, so hard. So hard that I was getting in my own way. Law of reversed effort. I was no longer an empty vessel for the message of the universe, I could no longer claim to be looking with the eyes of the beginner.
I cleared everything from my vessel.
My plate is now bare. My cup empty.
And I don’t need to worry about giving you a new perspective, Rezin.
Because my mere existence is my act of service.
Because now…the world is watching me.