I am lying on my bed, wrapped up in a multi-colored Indian blanket I had before my kids were born and a blue blanket with a big ‘C’ given to me by UCLA 50 years ago. I am watching the last blast of rain blow across Little Diamond lake. It came in suddenly and is already leaving, like an giant steam engine thundering through the station.
I am at Little Diamond lake is just south of the Canadian border, north of Spokane, feeling the distance from what is familiar – a market down the street, a gas station around the corner, local news on TV. Up here in the wilderness, I am a long way from everything I am used to.
The days are long. The mind wanders. Memories fade. Plans fall apart and it doesn’t matter. Being here now has a feel to it. A description of it is always too late. It is stillness that appears to be moving.
In Tibetan tradition, a ‘bardo’ is the state of existence between two lives on earth, when consciousness is not connected to a body, but still held to the ground. The present moment – the now – is a continuous bardo, always suspended between the past and the future. If you stop reading this, look up … and then go back to reading, you have created a bardo. If a departing spirit is wrapped up in unfinished business, it drifts in The Big Bardo (between lives). For many, it is a little bardo getting from breakfast to lunch, let alone the whole day. ‘Bardos’ are the valleys between the peaks in the wave. In this case, it is the place between what I was and what I will be.
Last year, I left everything behind in San Jose. Not just my family, but all the stuff, with which I was familiar. I disposed of memories like old medals and trophies, clothes I never wore, a pile of old magazines for which I had photographed the cover, hundreds of books and a collection of old furniture. Signs of a previous life. Now, everything I own fits into my 20 year-old Tioga. That was the beginning of this particular bardo, the start of life on the road.
Another feature of this experience is that the end is unknown. If it were known, you would already be there mentally and you wouldn’t really be disconnected. In the same way, if you haven’t let go, then you’re not really on the journey yet. That experience – letting go of all you know, not knowing what comes next, is pure movement. There is nothing to hold on to. There is only being alive.
As I write this, it is a couple of days later. I am back in the Columbia Gorge, basking in an early morning breeze blowing down the river into my little RV. Waiting out the weather as I creep up the coast.
So often, uncertainty is not resolved in the direction we thought was our way. That is why so many people avoid bardos when they see them coming. People like me, those who like life on the road, will face the uncertainty in order to experience something new. Often, for me, it’s been when I have nothing left to lose … as the song goes.
I made it to Mt. Vernon. The sun is flooding through the trees and warming everything up. Here, there are no magnificent vistas to photograph, no dramatic coming and going of the light or rushing rivers bursting through the green. So I settled down and looked around me. Seems like I’m slowing down as I move further north. Looking closer at things. I wonder if that means I am getting somewhere.
I moved again. To Birch Bay. From here, that somewhere looks like Canada.