Perfect spot. I’m laying in my hammock, a pillow behind me. The water’s to my left, lapping the rocks in a rhythmic way. They look like they have hair, the rocks do. It’s this dark brown, seaweed-y stuff that grows up on them, like lopsided bangs, or a bad toupee. Anyways.
About an hour ago I was having lunch with Brig. The restaurant is a little open-air bungalow perched high on the rocks over the sea. There is a little pregnant cat who lives there. She’s black, with white paws. She’s really small, with sharp shoulders and bright green eyes. She’s also very sassy, as cats tend to be. I walked over and picked her up, carrying her back to the mats that Brig and I were sitting on. Her front paws were sticking out, and her feet were dangling down. I set her down gently, feet first, and let her get acclimated to the ground. She seemed to shake herself out, and if she was a human, she would have tossed her hair over her shoulder indignantly. Then she proceeded to wash herself vigorously. After her washing, she looked around, noncommittal as to what to do next. Brigitte knelt down in front of her.
Cluck, cluck, cluck… She made soft little sounds to lure the cat over. The cat looked at her briefly, then looked away at the ocean. Brigitte made more soft, enticing sounds, and then the kitty seemed to shrug and say, “Well, I have nothing better to do.” She got up and walked over. Brigitte picked her up and looked into her eyes. “Look, Say, her eyes are so green,” she said. I watched Brigitte’s face scrunch up, white lines appearing on her nose. “I just wanna squeeze her!”
I know the feeling. I used to get that with babies a lot. I would be holding a newborn, a tiny little thing, and I would have the overwhelming impulse to squeeze it, crush it, smash it in my hands. It was so soft, so tiny… I could! But I never did. I always thought I was crazy, until years later when someone else told me they felt the same way. And then another person, and another. Interestingly, it was always women that vocalized this to me. I suppose I never asked a man.
As Brigitte was holding that cat today, fighting the urge to squeeze it, I began thinking about the teachings of Buddhism. I know that sounds ridiculous, but give me a minute. Buddhism tells us that the nature of the world is ephemeral, always shifting and changing. Nothing stays the same. It teaches us that the harder we try to hold on to something, the greater our suffering will be, because the thing, or person, or idea we are clinging to is not permanent. The mere fact of its impermanence causes us to suffer when we try to cling to it as if it was a stable, eternal thing. Nothing is. So don’t cling.
I look around the world, and I see these ideas in motion everywhere. As far as I can tell, Buddhism is pretty right on. I see it in the way the water is moving over the rocks right now. It never holds still. It is constantly shifting and changing. When Brigitte and I were snorkeling today, I would swim out of a warm patch, and into a cold one. If I stayed in the same place all day, the water temperature would change, the sunlight would shift, different fish would swim by, and my skin would get darker. Everything in motion.
Even things that appear to hold still are in motion. Scientists can look into the densest stone, and see that it is made up of particles, of atoms, that are constantly vibrating. This is the nature of the physical universe. It is huge areas of space dotted with small bits of matter. And the matter is always vibrating. It is always alive, shifting. Great mountains slide into the sea, and stars that are billions of years old explode. Our sun won’t always be there.
To end our suffering, Buddhism says, we must stop clinging. As soon as we let go, everything falls into place. Exist in the moment, and you will be free. When I stop bemoaning the fact that prices in Thailand have gone up three-fold since the first time I was here, I might actually enjoy that hundred baht yellow curry. When I let go of the things you’ve done to hurt me, I can appreciate your gorgeous smile, and a million doors of possibility open between us. When I let go of fear, and dive off that rock, I sail into crystal blue water.
A couple of years ago, I had a dream about Brigitte. I suppose you could call it a lucid dream, but it wasn’t exactly that. I was living in Switzerland at the time, working at an international school, and on that particular night, I had laid down early. I fell asleep on my back, with my arms behind my head. And then, Brigitte was there. She was laying on me, her head tucked into my neck, and she was crying. She was crying very softly, and I wondered if she knew I was there. I knew I was there, and I knew that she had come to see me, but I wasn’t entirely sure that she knew she was with me. It was almost as though she was in a different dimension, crying to herself in a quiet corner, but she had willed some aspect of herself to me. So we lay on that bed together, her on top of me, and I held her while she cried. At one point I squeezed her- I wanted to make her feel better- and she was gone. She slipped away like a water slinky between my arms, shot out in the direction of my feet, moving so fast that I didn’t know where she had gone.
Then she was back. She continued to cry into my neck, and I continued to hold her, but suddenly my impulse to squeeze her came back and so I did- and again she shot out. When she came back a third time, I had learned my lesson. I stopped squeezing her. And she stayed right where she was.
Nothing likes to be squeezed. Nothing likes to be captured. When we are holding newborn babies, or cats, we want to squeeze them, squeeze their sweet, breath-taking essence right out of them. We want to swallow it, absorb it, take it into ourselves- but we can’t. The most peace I have ever had is when you were laying on my chest, or I was laying on yours, and we just breathed together. No one trying to contain anyone, no one trying to squeeze. Just togetherness. Just right now.
But it is human nature to squeeze, to hold on, to contain. And yet, it’s futile. It only causes suffering. The Buddha was right. I mentioned this in an earlier bit of writing, but the same phenomenon is present when trying to transcribe experience into art, into words. How could I ever explain to you the walk I took yesterday through a charmed coconut grove? I have pictures, gorgeous pictures, but you could never know what was in my heart as I took those. Those pictures are sly, they are fleeting, they only allow you to you were there. The essence of the coconut grove as I walked through it is ephemeral, wordless. And that is what baffles me, that is what makes me feel as if I am on the edge of something great and something terrible all at once- as soon as I let go, of you, of then, of everything (oh my god, how terrifying that is), I am free. I am now. It’s all good. And really? That’s probably when I’ll find you again.