Three Tales: Balm in Gilead
Posted on 05/12/23 at 7:06pm by Sage Pontiff
Event: ReVival 28
Tunes for a weary soul
One: How Cold it is When You Are Not in His Light
Sage has the bearing of many like him: these folks are about that life, make no mistake. You can debate how intelligent it is to be the way they are, you can say that their understanding of mysticism is set to Waldenbooks in its depth, but they go out there and live it. Full throttle. If someone told you Sage Pontiff didn’t have a social security card, you’d believe it. If Sage Pontiff no-showed a match because he was protesting cop city, you’d probably say, “Yeah, I guess that does make sense.” You’d just as easily believe that he was off the coast of the Pacific Northwest doing a love-in protest with people named Fawn and Oswyn, too. These people live off the grid, or the life of a traveler, never staying in one place long enough to burn the locals too badly and disappearing into a new adventure, figuring out how to get food for the next day or three.
There’s also people who you can tell aren’t about that life, but about its trappings. They love the sex, the drugs, the freedom from the cold hand of consequence–but they’ll ultimately only ever be weekend warriors. The thing is, Sage has never held much weight in that distinction. For him, enlightenment has been a numbers game.
Which makes what’s happening now all the more surprising.
“The only constant that we can count on is change. Is evolution.”
The Bodhisattva is seated amidst a semicircle of people–at least 60–under a beaten and bug-chewed canvas tent. We’re not sure of where he is, or even who these people are. It could be a music festival, spiritualism retreat, or just a party someone is throwing in the woods. Regardless, they apparently haven’t given the smeared reputation of Pontiff much weight.
“There was a time when I would invite any of you to redefine your relationship with your body. Where we would reach new heights of understanding through attrition, pain, bloodshed. Unfortunately, there has been a shift in the psychosphere, a different tide of energies that have spilled forth and poisoned our auras as a people. Someone weaponized the violence of the state against me, calling the pigs and demanding that I be locked away…for what? For enlightenment? I have been ostracized from places I once called home, removed from chosen families that I once considered mine.”
He pauses. Gathers his words–or for the drama of it. They’re hanging on his word.
“I can’t simply invite anyone any more. Because some of you are not yet ready, and some of you have intentions that are not pure of heart.”
This causes a ripple in the crowd. There’s confusion, anger, sadness in equal measure, and radiates from the Bodhisattva like a soundwave. Pontiff doesn’t fight the chaos. He lets it wash over him before continuing, not bothering to raise his voice.
“I am The Bodhisattva of Transformative Experience. I am not Your Bodhisattva. Possessions are an invention of the Western world. You need to become more comfortable with the idea that I am not a thing to be owned, and that what I give you is not mine to bestow. Do you understand? All of this…”
At this, Pontiff draws a long Opinel knife from his pack and positions it on the left side of his chest, just under his clavicle. The crowd’s murmurs fall silent. All that’s left is the wind to accompany as he draws a 3 inch cut centerwards toward his sternum. Sage bites his lip, stifling something between a grin and a wince, a look that almost speaks of ecstasy. He wipes the blade off on his pants and shoves it back into his pack, closing his eyes and straightening his posture. He looks like he’s making peace with the pain.
“…is temporary. This is a distraction on the wheel that keeps you from your greater consciousness. Caring about this is ensuring you will walk this plane of existence as hungry ghosts until you finally learn. I offered you a way free of that cycle–a way to use the distraction of flesh to unlock a path to true enlightenment.”
He grips the cut in his sinewy fingers, squeezing it until more crimson forms. He then takes his fingers and gathers up the blood, considering it for a moment.
“My gifts were rejected and used against me. And I will not be a commodity to be traded to the mill of Capitalism in exchange for propriety…”
The Bodhisattva unfurls his height from his seated position. His mismatched eyes gaze over the crowd, scanning the crestfallen faces one by one. Pontiff’s eyes do not show hatred or even an ounce of hurt–but pity…the type that inspires you to apologize even if innocent. He smears his blood onto his sunkissed forehead, making a third eye circle. He holds their attention here, for a moment longer than necessary.
“This is not a tantrum, nor is it a rash decision. This is something that I have thought of, thought through, and meditated upon. My ritual is my own. And there will come a day when my teachings are more appreciated, my message more resonant. But that day…is not today.”
Then he gathers his pack.
Blows the gathered a kiss on fingers tacky with his own blood.
And walks off.
Two: Double Haiku, Single Sentence
Divine light revealed
A prophet’s deceit shattered
Truth triumphs, hearts healed
Through the dust she stumbles, her limbs moving with a jerkiness that shows how upset she is with her every move. A true child of the Sun, her skin golden, her frame and curves existing at angles that conjure up the memory of Isodora Duncan, of Salome. Shame and modesty would be foreign on her smooth shoulders, and thus she doesn’t bother with either. Appreciation of her form would be lost amidst this, however. This fume, this stumble, this stomp. Her forehead is furrowed, her brows arching upward at the bridge of her nose in agony.
Her tears are coming at a rate that even the dry air and haze cannot dry, breaking new tributaries across her cheeks with every sob.
She is alone at this moment. The walk from where she was to the hub of humanity that not too long ago hosted the Bodhisattva is a long one, and her storming subsides to a light rain after a time. The lack of tantrum doesn’t stop her glassy eyes from spilling, nor does it soothe her hurt. But now she’s well into the existential crisis of a good cry, turning over and over her every interaction with another human until she can find the angle where all of them failed because of her own shortcomings.
We’ve all been there.
And yet, she says nothing. As she passes stragglers who decided to set up their tents farther away than the rest, people who she would normally be cordial with…nothing. When they call out in concern, nothing. There’s a hurricane in between her ears, and the concerns of the world cannot compete with its din. She severs the crowd from itself, splitting them down like firewood, her pain and the cloud of her bearing clearing a scattered path, sending the unwashed bodies and tie dye scattering across the fields.
Finally, someone she knows well, someone who recognizes her, rushes her. Grasps her by her shoulders. Shakes her slightly, begging for understanding. And finally, the noise breaks through the din. The crashing white noise in her skull abates, and she blinks, finally hearing it for the first time. Her friend is asking what happened. What could have caused this? What the meaning is behind it.
She lets out a choking sob.
“I followed the Bodhisattva and…I begged him, I begged him so much…I wanted enlightenment, I wanted to know, I wanted to ascend…”
And what happened then? Her intake of breath comes in in stuttering stages as she gathers the words, gathers her mind, comes face to face with what has destroyed her sense of self worth.
“He…said I was unworthy. He said, ‘I just don’t think you want it badly enough’. Then he just…left!”
Though it seems silly, this is enough.
She is embraced.
Sage Pontiff turned this gathering to a mournful wake with one sentence.
Like soaring eagle
Shedding worldly burdens free
Skyward, spirit lifts
Three: A Parable Given to a Sick Soul
Though The Bodhisattva has left his people, he doesn’t have somewhere he can just hide. Condos, apartments, houses, mansions–those are things for day traders and the professional managerial class. This has inherent disadvantages. He can’t hole up, not in the traditional sense. This has advantages. His living situation is forever a fluid thing, and if he needs to, he can just drive the conversion van in a direction until he no longer feels the energies of those who seek him.
That place, this time, is nestled up against an ancient looking tree on the edge of the Rainbow lakes. He’s not in good spirits, his face showing concern as he crouches near a small fire, slowly feeding it small scraps of fallen wood.
I don’t find walking away hard. Which is a bit weird, being honest.
I guess that’s the part that bugs me, is that I thought it would hurt more. Hell, maybe I’m built tough, not just talking about combat, just in general. Or maybe I’m still in shock and the tears will come later. But the hardest part? The hardest part is knowing that I’m walking toward the unknown.
Let me tell you a story.
In the time of Siddhartha Gautama, he was once a young man, right?
And one day, he’s walking down a road. Pondering, emptying himself of his material needs. Becoming one with existence. But enlightenment is a path, just like the one he was on.
And during his walk, he passes a lama–a teacher monk. He’s decrepit physically, and he struggles on his walk, has to use a stick. But his eyes…his eyes hold the serenity of the entire cosmos. His soul is in perfect balance. His oneness is apparent even as he hobbles. And even though they never say anything to one another, they both have a fleeting moment of envy.
“Look at his youth,” the lama thinks. “If I had even a portion of his vigor, then I could teach more, meditate longer, and better become one with all beings in this sphere of existence.”
“Look at his wisdom”, Gautama thinks. “If I had even a portion of his understanding, then the gates of enlightenment would be open to me, and my spirit would feel perfectly at peace with all life.”
Y’know, I always liked those stories. Even as a kid. They conjured up these fantastical lands in my mind, like…a forgotten world where harmony was king, not some fallible oligarch type. I guess I was sheltered, because I truly thought that everyone wanted a world where harmony was king.
Then I got out into the world and found out that a lot of people thrive on chaos and making other people suffer.
And like a fool, I thought that I could just…stay above that all, right?
Just dance my way along the edge of society and inspire others through word and deed. Own no home. Sleep wherever I am welcome. My people, the people of the earth and the forests and festivals and direct action, all of us interwoven like a breathing single organism. We could rely on one another! But eventually I noticed it, even though I tried to ignore it: I was becoming an enemy of them. Not because I hurt them. Not because of any betrayal I did. No, because the poison of propriety and the hunger of a world that requires suffering to make its engine turn over infected us. Deeply.
I thought if I walked, I would one day pass the enlightened man. I would see a vision that showed me my path was a true and righteous one. And I have walked the earth, make no mistakes–Chiclayo, Jalisco, Jakarta, Khao Lak, Okinawa, Mumbai, Reseda. Eyes opened and searching. I never saw him.
Because this isn’t the time of Siddhartha Gautama. And these aren’t the stories my father used to read to me.
And you aren’t the wise Lama passing me on my path–though I’m sure you’d like to think that. Because it gives what is about to happen to us…scope. Scale. Narrative.
When the truth is…I am looking upon a being who is reaching out. Not physically and not with word or deed but his soul seeks mine. The arm outstretched. The fingers curled in exertion and torment. I am looking at a sick soul. It’s…when I think of it, I try to imagine his life. What events led us to this moment in time, here and now.
Make no mistake, I’m sure people have probably told him he was delusional before. Words are not enough for his illness.
Make no mistake, I’m sure people have tried to give him ultimatums to break him free of his fugue. Threats are not enough for his illness.
Make no mistake, I’m sure he has been litigated, someone seeking a legal avenue to free him of his fantasy. The law is not enough for his illness.
The trick with a sickness of the soul is that most of the time, it isn’t something that like…manifests. Not until it’s too late. But I hate that kind of thinking. “Too late” assumes a finality, it assumes our existence is a point a to point b thing, when in fact our spirit energy is a far more cyclical thing. It’s never too late, not really. You hear me, man? It’s not too late. Maybe you think it is, like you’re stuck on this path just because you’ve walked it so long. Or maybe you’re hearing me and you think “this guy is full of shit.” But look at me. Look in my eyes. Look around me. I could have spent 48 hours flying high on sacrament and trading blood with those who feel stuck in their own cages, freeing minds one by one, being given gifts and adoration for it. The life of a holy man isn’t a bad one.
But I walked away. My charge is a new thing now, the minds I’m freeing diseased so terribly like yours is, that my enlightenment, my lesson…it has to become more exclusive.
And you know what? I’m happy. Because it’s never too late.
He stares at the fire, gathering his thoughts. The ghost of a smile plays at the edge of his beautiful lips.
In the time of Hoyt Williams he was a sickened man walking along a path. Pondering, the nature of his existence and his gospel.
And on his path he is faced with a Bodhisattva, a holy man who has delayed his personal nirvana to guide those who need it to true enlightenment. And he’s easy to discount, because all the other man can see is the drugs, and the trappings of subculture, and the dreadlocks–but his eyes…his eyes hold a peace that Hoyt has never held himself.
“Look at his aching spirit”, The Bodhisattva thinks. “It is my sacred duty as someone who loves all life to break him free from his illness. By any means necessary.”
“Look at his energies in perfect balance,” Hoyt thinks. “How have I been dedicated to my path this long and have yet to even touch a glimmer of what he has?”
You don’t need to worry. I have your cure. You will be washed in Siloam.
You will suffer in ways that will break the chains of disease from your eternal soul.
There is balm in Gilead, Hoyt.
You only have to embrace me.