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Aug 01
Community Articles, Scene and Heard
Never Give Up, even when…

By Lois Lungta, for the column Tracking Jewels. Photographs courtesy of Mauricio Londondo.

When I feel abandoned, I like to imagine a world –- and a sangha — in which we never give up on anyone. I guess that in Buddhism there is not such a thing as excommunication, which is a good start. We can never take away someone’s basic nature – their essential Buddhahood or primordial goodness –- but we sure can doubt it, be stymied by it, and refuse to see or acknowledge it.

The slogan, “Never give up on anyone,” comes to mind. But then I wonder, how far are we to take this instruction? We set limits, and if violated, we do not hesitate to excommunicate people from our lives, from a given situation or environment. Here are some of the boundaries I’ve heard: if my safety, or that of my loved ones feels threatened; if they are causing enough harm; if they engage harmful behavior continuously and can’t seem to step out of the loop – no matter how hard they try or how good their intentions.

I am being generous here. Usually we cut people off for much more inane reasons. When a boyfriend of mine called me from jail, asking me to bail him out, I didn’t talk to him for a year and a half. I didn’t have $10,000 in cash for one thing, but mostly I just couldn’t bear the thought of dating a jailbird –- even if the charges were eventually dropped.

Even though our eyes face forward, we can't miss the view along the way.

Even though our eyes face forward, we can't miss the view along the way.

But here’s the important point –- after that year and a half had passed, he called me. And we picked up where we left off. In fact, we enjoyed each other’s company tremendously for the next two years, until I moved away. You see, people just don’t go away. Ever. Not only do the cycles of samsara, or birth, death, and rebirth tell us this – so does experience in this lifetime. When there’s still karma, and especially if we accelerate or strengthen it through our actions, people usually show up again in one form or another. Even if it’s just in our conscience or our memory.

Let me pause here to recount an innocent little moment on Boulder Creek. As I write, I’m sitting by the water on a 98 degree afternoon, watching people riding a fast current on innertubes. Someone must have been separated from their tube, because I have been watching one of these black donuts bob and surf in a hole for over half an hour. The back spin of the current keeping it in place. Just now, along floats a boy who spots the river booty and kicks like mad to get to it. He takes a chance by leaving the main current, and after being scraped by rocks and tree branches, off he goes – downstream with two innertubes.

Now, while this was happening I reflected that, similarly, when we’re stuck in some spinning rut, eventually something or someone new comes along and sweeps us away.

But even as the boy is still in sight — a full 20 seconds after his acquisition –- a man makes the tremendous effort to wade across the river. He stands where the tube had been idling for so long, and looks across at me for an explanation of its absence.

“Was it your tube?” I yell. He nods, and so I point downstream at the quickly disappearing double-decker raft. Then together, we shake our heads in disbelief that the timing of his arrival could be so off… and so close.

A vast, but solitary, view.

A vast, but solitary, view.

There you have it – we don’t forget about the situations, things, and people we have lost. We always return or revisit them, most frequently in our minds. There are true losses, and then there are instances in which we give up, or our return is ill-timed. The only one of these circumstances that is under our volition is the giving up.

A few paragraphs ago, I ran from a sudden rainshower and took refuge under a large cottonwood tree a few steps away from the rock I had been sitting on. It is an ideal rock – actually shaped like a lounger. Now that the shower has abated I walk a few feet and return. Did I ever really leave? That’s the question we always as ourselves when we give any situation time and space – and then do make the effort to return.

I imagine it is much more difficult to return to a person we have separated from, or a damaged situation we would like to re-enter. Because the situation must be receptive and the situation’s circumstances amenable. But what happens when we stick to a relationship or situation and never give up? There are periods of a smooth ride, there are descents into rapids and canyons, and even waterfalls at which we can either go over or pull out and walk around. There are eddies to rest in and holes that at times we may surf quite expertly. Other times the circulating current forces us under water like what just happened to one creek tuber in front of me. But though he suffered the rock’s bruises, he kicked to the river’s edge, flipped over his tube, and hopped back on.

I know the river ride can get wild – as a kayaker I often scouted rapids and decided to carry my boat around them. But I have never abandoned a river mid-trip, because I knew how high and fast and rough the water would be before I ever got in.

Recently, I was pulled from a river. Then driven –- boat and all –- to a scenic overlook where many rivers were in view. It was impossible to find the water source from which I had been pulled because everything looked so different once I’d left the situation. This is, of course, and metaphor for a recent experience within the sangha. So what did I do? At first, abandoned, I was truly pissed off at having been given up on. I decided not to bother finding that particular river, and instead took my boat to another, hopped in, and began to cruise this new trajectory. Just as committed to its canyons and rapids as before.

Am I sorry to have done that, and hardly looked back? No. Am I happy on the new river? Yes. Will I ever go back? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you – I will never forget that particular current, or what happened when I was pulled from it. Though it was one of the roughest rides of my life, I had been committed. I was ready to ride and port and jump back in. But someone doubted me. I still haven’t given up –- on the river or the people –- because life is long and not finished yet. Also, sanghas are small and we can’t escape each other.

The beauty of the inner world's nightvision.

The beauty of the inner world's nightvision.

The ride’s not over, however parallel our courses. And even if I was given up on, I will never do the same because I know that doing so is basically impossible.

That leaves us in a state of absolute responsibility, even if we relatively run and hide and expel and exile. If our basic nature, as well as our confusion, is mirrored in our lives there will never be any giving up.

An hour later, I saw the same man walking up the river trail with a new innertube in his arms. His plans for the day could have been shot: blaming the boy’s greed and eagerness and letting it ruin his adventure. But he marched to the gas station 5 blocks away and bought another tube. He experienced loss, but he did not abandon the river.

If only we were all so resilient.

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