By Johnathan Pendall
*See First Entry here.
The Journey Begins
August 6th 7:01 p.m.
It was surreal being at the Mendota train station and watching my future cling and clang down the tracks. The moment was pregnant with possibility; that soft shimmer that races through us when we’re entering into the unknown.
The train grinded to a stop, I walked up to one of the attendants and told him that I had a sleeper car. “You have to hurry,” he said, “We’re only stopping for a few minutes.” I turned to Mom, put down my bags and hugged her dearly. I told her that I loved her a few times and I could hear the emotion in her voice and in mine. I could feel the mother’s love in her embrace. Then I turned and walked onto the train.
It felt like I traveled through miles of a canyon populated by strange faces and straight-backed seats. Walking, and walking, and walking I carried two heavy bags and tried
I was stressed out while trying to figure out the outlet. I think it was just a reflection of the slight stress that I had overall—well I can’t say that it was slight…
We just passed over the Mississippi and I’m sitting here watching the sun. I think things are gonna be alright—a new experience. This is already the furthest I’ve been from home by myself, yet I don’t feel isolated. About a half an hour ago we were called to the dining car for dinner. I enjoyed an excellent vegetarian pasta. I was seated A., V., and T.J., three awesome people.
V. mostly talked about how mistreated she’d been in coach, having to move from seat to seat. Her son is T. J., a respectful and thoughtful kid. A. has a sleeper car like mine. They talked about train rides they’d taken in the past. They both came from out East. All four of us are going to L.A. across the mountains, deserts, plains—40 hours. Now, as the sun sinks lower in the sky I’m sitting here thinking, Who?
Who is this person that met these people? Who are they? I’m being mindful of the hara [spot just below the navel] and placing the koan there while traveling down the rail. “Who?” is my companion, so it’s inaccurate that I’m even without friends or family here because “Who?” is both to me now. It’s a presence in my mind. The koan both soothes me and scolds me, depending on what I need at the time.
Now I’m fed, have water, a packet of smokeless tobacco tucked under my upper lip [Yuck!]… satisfied. Now I’m left with “Who?” and the passing Iowa views.
Thought I’d just chime in with a note that there’s a British woman working at the café.
Just enjoyed a half an hour stop in Kansas City. I was able to get off the train, stretch my legs and have a few cigarettes. The conductor called it a “Fresh air stop,” which I find a little amusing.
It’s interesting seeing the tall buildings and the smog clinging around damp city lights.
There are many other cities to come in my journey. I’ve never been a huge fan of cities, yet there is a beauty in them. Some of the architecture is breathtaking. The convenience and variety are also nice. Cities present so many different options, option that aren’t usually available to a good ol’ country boy who doesn’t get out of the house much. Yet there’s no breathing room in cities, and all the buildings obstruct the beauty of nature. Also it’s sooo noisy. So noisy!
Yet who is it that’s hearing this noise? Who is it that’s sitting on this train right now? Who is it that wants coffee? If I look, all I find are skandhas—all mutually empty. Yet the question “Who?” compels one to uncover long-forgotten secrets. It’s a challenge to search for something that’s not empty, something that doesn’t change, and something that’s independent and beyond the realms of the conceptual.
Tonight, “Who?” sits with the moon. It’s amazing—hundreds of miles away from home yet I’m staring out at the same moon. Yet is it the same moon? It’s changing every instant. I’m at a different angle, my mindset is different while looking at it. By all respects, the moon is different as well because I am different. We only see the world through ourselves, yet who is that’s seeing it at all?
Second Photo: provided by author
Editor: Dana Gornall
John practices the "Outer Way" which he describes as, "I guess it's fundamentally DIY Buddhism and Taoism with a huge focus on autonomy, introspection, experiential learning and real world applicability. It isn't traditional or secular. I only call it the Outer Way for convenience, it doesn't actually have a name since it's just about doing what comes naturally."
Feel free to check out his blog, Outer Way Zen.