By John Pendall
August 7th, Afternoon
Standing on the dirt and rock parking in Raton, New Mexico, looking at the Spanish style buildings, I say to a fellow traveler, “I feel like I’m in a different world.”
“You are,” she said. She’s right. This is truly a different world. A world that I’ve never experienced. A world of mountains, arid plains, stoic life and creeping death.
You can feel it (I can still feel it). You can feel a sense of ancientness in this land—a sense of something that no human can ever quite dispel with our buildings and cars. There’s something of the untamed spirit here. Sometimes, there aren’t even any roads in sight, just the land. I can’t even describe the mountains or even accurately capture them with my camera. They’re surreal sentinels that seem to be guarding wordless secrets that are older than we.
To live off this land requires will, patience and perseverance. Seeing into things as they are without being blinded by our ideals or views. Because to give into fantasy here would spell only hardship.
You can feel that this land will take you if you do not have the will to stand on your own feet. This land is “Who?” This land is Zen—particularly Rinzai Zen, the rough and tumble Zen.
The slicing-through-delusions-with-a-diamond-edged-sword Zen.
It’s so dry here, yet there is also so much life. Hardy life. Strong life. This land emanates joriki, which is energy and discipline. I am in love with this place; even the baking heat is invigorating and just so…
When I left I was full of fear and trepidation. Now there’s only excitement. I’m completely enveloped in the journey; the same way we become completely enveloped in the journey of self-realization.
The train slows to cross over an old bridge. The mountains give way to sloping plains. There is a stillness that pervades this place—a stillness beyond time, a stillness that can’t be moved. Cattle graze by a tree; even when they run it’s as if everything is still.
This is the heart of America.
I noticed one peculiarity; there seems to be a lot of cast off objects along the railroad—old vehicles, barrels, busted and corroding garbage. It’s as if for some reason people gravitate toward the rail as a way to cast off the things they no longer need. Isn’t that what we’re doing as travelers, all of us on this train? We’re letting go of where we were and what we were doing and completely diving into something else.
Some of us have rode this train before and been to these places before. Others, like me, are completely out of our element.
Whether we’re familiar or unfamiliar, it still involves a letting go of what was to embrace what’s happening right now. If I hadn’t let go, I’d not be witnessing these wonders and meeting these people.
I spoke with a couple earlier and they said, “Sometimes things go smoother when you know that you can’t understand them.” I couldn’t agree more. I can’t understand my koan intellectually any more than I can understand the feeling that this land gives me.
This trip is waking up something deep within me, and this is only the second day.
Editor: Dana Gornall