In the summer of 2005 I was fortunate enough to spend in China with my girlfriend and her family. They took me under their wing and showed me all around Szechuan from Jin Li square in Chengdu to Le Shan Mountains Buddhist retreat. It was an experience I have yet to surpass. The purpose of this story however isn’t to tell of trip details and tourist destinations, it’s to tell a simple lesson I learned - partially in China, then through bits and puzzle pieces over the next few years as the message filtered its way through time and space.
One portion of China I saw was a Buddhist temple in a very poor rural area known to the locals as the “Green Dragon”. The day was hot and overcast, Szechuan is always hot and overcast because of its mountainous boundaries. Our Lexus, scented with fine lilies threaded elegantly on black red string rolled up into a street filled with young children, the elderly and women, open sewage bisected the road, and the people lived in what we in the U.S. would dare to call poverty. I wouldn’t call it poverty, more like desolation. We pulled up to a girl wearing a white men’s t-shirt, our driver, my girlfriends father asks in his harsh sounding chengdu-nese dialect, “where is the Green Dragon Temple?”
She replied by grunting something with a sly look as she squinted through the window at me, and then pointed to the north. I could see a tuft of black armpit hair reaching out from her shirt sleeve as it rolled back from gravity, “we’re not in Maple Syrup Land anymore” I think to myself.
We drove off and she shrank into the distance behind us in a mustard cloud of dust. We were nearly 5 minutes away Yang says.
We parked around the corner from a concrete building, very state looking construction, plain, lifeless, and gray. Then I noticed a large set of pillars which formed a gate. The gate had ten foot high concrete walls extending from its sides that hugged the entire temple grounds. Inside of the walls it was the most tranquil experience one could imagine. I lit candles and incense (purchased on the grounds) and prayed for guidance and wisdom. Little did I know how prophetic those prayers would be.
When we left, outside of the gates there were many people, It was near biblical in suffering, lepers, the sick, and the starving. Children as young as preteens and elderly as old as 80 winters gone by. And they were begging for money from the rich tourists leaving the temple. A boy approached me with a small cup with some loose coin and a folded note, my instinct was to give, give them the money that I didn’t care about that sat idle in my pocket, more than enough to feed them all. I stopped and as I reached into my pocket my friends pulled me away and insisted it was just a scam, “it’s only a scam, don’t give them anything. They’re scum.”
I listened to my friends and I shuffled passed them and I hopped into the car and we drove away. Each dip in the road made me feel nauseous, my chest was in pain, like a crushing feeling and my heart ached with each beat as though it was riddled with shards of glass, I felt warm liquid on my cheeks, I was crying, my body was aching for the hurt I didn’t realize I felt. I turned my back on people who needed help, help I could give. I failed my own standards, I broke my own heart. Tears were welling up from an unquenchable spring of sorrow, how could I have been so closed off to the needs of others?
During my trip through the temple I had purchased a few wooden bead bracelets that were supposedly blessed. Each bead had a fat little Buddha carved into it. I took them as a symbol or a memento so I could never forget the trip, I am fond of symbols. After that car ride home I played with the beads in my hand and I began to write a poem out on a scarp piece of paper. The beads reminded me that I spent my money in the wrong place, on trinkets and not on food for those who were hungry. But I had a long road to travel yet, the message effected me through subconscious pain and guilt, I felt ashamed for being so closed off to the suffering of others, so I wore one of the bracelets to mark that shame to myself. The lesson manifest physically.
Down to the Green Dragon,
I’m getting nice and clean.
At the temple of the dragon,
they sell Buddhist beads.
There is a temple in the Dragon,
jealously kept by an earthen creek.
Swept moist by summer mops,
and patted dry by children’s feet.
Turn your eyes from the hungry,
the starving and the maimed.
Its easy to light your incense
or count beads while you pray.
Down to the Green Dragon
under lazy willow trees.
I lost my heart in China
with peasants on their knees.
Fast forward a few years, the bracelet is mostly gone; it’s lost somewhere in the 2 or 3 moves I did from apartment to apartment. If fate had wove this tale, then it has done so with a sense of irony, because during this time that the bracelet was lost, I was free falling, from breaking up out of long term relationship to losing my home, to hating my job, to becoming angry and desperate. I made a stone of my heart and no lessons got through, meaning was subverted in favor of gain and pride.
Early in 2010 things began to change for me. I lost touch with the hard shell I was wearing as I noticed it was driving away my family and friends. This hurt so I undertook a massive level of introspection and came to some conclusions. I concluded that I could only ever be myself. I cannot be the cool and calculated person I wanted to be, it wasn’t real to myself and I grew deeper into a depression. After I concluded that I could no longer live that lie, and that I was always going to just be that sensitive kid who wanted everyone to get along and to be happy. And that I had to take that form of myself and mature it into a viable lifestyle. Things turned around.
People from the past have come to me, opportunities have been given to me, when I opened my heart, all frequencies, the universe began to speak to me. Event after event, situation after situation, I see the connections between us all. Maybe we are all electrified impulses in a greater beings head, but we are all the same, all connected. And because of that connection and because I was open to know it and to hear the truth, the message came to me. Bring love wherever you go, love is the wellspring from which life flows, we must cultivate life and guard it. We are gardeners of people and shepherds of love. Days after this realization the bracelet reappeared from nowhere. I literally found it in a drawer I swore I never put it in. I began to wear it and the significance of the lesson back in China remained.
Alan my friend and I decided it would be a good idea to get buzzed up and walk around Manhattan. The Belgian Bar BXL, Aramark office, all around we went. The day was strange, there was snowfall in the air but it wasn’t snowing really, and the wind bellowing down between the buildings was almost tropical and balmy, there was a metallic and electric flavor to the air. I wasn’t cold, but I felt cool and as though I was adrift in the winds as we walked. I sensed that that night was going to be special.
I had been wearing my bracelet for a month at this point. It had a deep significance as I now fully understood the message and why I wore it. Late at night the city was very welcoming but also in great pain. I could feel it. Times were hard, people were in pain. There was a lot of negative energy. One corner we turned and an old black man came to me. His eyes were yellow and his beard was peppered gray and black, his coat was tattered and his voice was low and soft. His skin was weathered, he had been homeless for some time.
“can you help me man?”
Alan gave me a sideways glance and kept walking on, my instinct was to follow him… but my feet were rooted there on the ground and I turned to face him. I reached into my pocket almost like in a trance state and it’s when I made the connection. “my bracelet is missing”. It was gone, I had worn it all day and I last remembered seeing it on the train, but now it was gone. That absence made me think aboutit, it sparked an eternity of connections, bracelet… bracelet, China… It was the cosmos tapping me on the shoulder again. I then came to realize, this is the final exam, I failed my 1st test, and now here, years away on the other side of the planet, the same token I took from China, my cheat sheet as it were, reminded me of the lesson I had already learned.
“I can’t make the same mistake again” I say to Alan, his eyes lock mine and he stares silently. I hand the old man a few dollars, he doesn’t smile, he doesn’t say “bless me” he stares right in my eyes and says “Thank you”. I feel my eyes welling up with tears, my heart shrink wrapped in warmth, and I feel like it’s ok that the bracelet is gone now, it served its purpose and now it has faded into history to effect someone else's life. I am free of my pain and I have concluded that my life has been half full for too long.
For so long I lived in fear of what other people thought. That if I was soft and gentle people would think I was weak willed or that I was easy to push around. It was much easier to hide all that insecurity behind a veil of arrogance and sarcasm. Only I came to learn I couldn’t live such a trivial life, hiding from pain and fear all the time. I had to break free and let myself flow into the world and stop trying to bottle it all up and keep it to myself. I learned that in truth, we need each other, we need to connect. Even though we are all our own people, we are all animated from the same life force that has enriched this planet with the opportunity to experience existence. Existence a gift so rare and incalculable in a universe so grand that it couldn’t merely be an accident, and even if it was, what a wondrous accident.
Through connecting to one and other and spreading real genuine love and caring can we balance the tides of pain and win the fight for mankinds soul. Talent and gifts are abound in all of us, how many times have I used my intellect, my cunning, my physical strength, my beauty as a tool to enrich myself at the cost of someone else, denying my true nature as a nurturer and a keeper of my brothers? How often did I lie to myself and those I loved?
Gifts are meant to be shared, and I am done being the fat kid at the party. The universe takes care of its own, you get what you need, when you need it, and then we die when the lessons are learned and we go on to wherever we go on to. We cannot ever know the true nature of the cosmos, that’s not the point of life. We have been put here into the 3rd dimension to do 3rd dimensional things. That means we live and work in a world of material, and it is through this matter that we must prove our rights to exist through charity, understanding and self actualization.
It is truly our duty to shepherd those around us and to care enough about life to protect it and to stimulate it with love. I don’t know if the day will ever come when all men will see each other as family of the same organism, I can only hope that it does come and participate in bringing it to whichever degree I am capable.
But for now, I do what I can, when I can for who I can and I walk through life with my mind focused and my heart open. I will stumble again, but I have no excuse for giving up.