The shaman came and took me far away, deep into the wilderness and the farthest reaches of the human mind. I was losing the battle within and needed assistance from a different breed of master. Some of this is metaphor and some of this is literal; you decide which is which. I drank from his cup and entered the sweat lodge. Soon, the heat and billowing steam combined with the chanting and the spirits emerged from the cloud and took form.
“I am hatred,” spoke the first.
“I am anger,” seethed the second.
“I am regret,” hissed the third.
“And I am the one who is with you always,” whispered the fourth. “My name is sadness.”
Silently, with shut eyes strained, I demanded the evil entities leave, but to no avail.
“You created us,” all four echoed repeatedly.
Their cacophonous laughter assaulted and echoed within my aching skull.
“You are the one who gives us life, gives us form, and keeps feeding our existence,” shouted the angry ghost.
I felt nauseated, confused, extremely frightened, and I resigned myself to die. Suddenly, the shaman’s powerful voice sliced cleanly through the storm, a burning sword of strength and defiance: “Fight to the end! Remember who you are!”
I opened my eyes and the world melted away. Images of the past, present, and all probable futures collided into a phantasmagoria of indescribable sounds, smells, and a tangled web of mystified thoughts. The entire universe suddenly melted into a formless, stench-emitting, brackish puddle and instantly bounced back into shape. The laughter intensified in volume and magnitude, seemingly coming from all directions, but mostly from within.
“You’re already dead! You die every time you call me and the other malevolent spirits into existence,” anger taunted as I knelt face down and defeated in a pool of my own tears, sweat, and what smelled like urine. The taunts of infinite enemies, both real and imagined, rained down and crushed by body into a powdery dust, which then melted softly, soothingly, into mud. Death felt so good.
“Get up stand up / Don’t give up the fight…”
“What the hell?” I thought. Bob Marley? The unmistakable voice and music of the late, great Rastafarian momentarily moved in like an unexpected cool shower. An unseen prod delivered a slight electrical shock to my lower back, directly into my spine, and I involuntarily jumped to my feet. “Who am I? How did I get here? I want it all to stop! I want everything to stop!” I noiselessly screamed, mouthing the words, tasting the salt on my lips, feeling my body reform as I reached upward. The hideous ghosts of animosity wrapped their sinewy tendrils all over me, reaching inside, trying to possess the essence of my being while telling me I had already been overcome.
Then I remembered. I went to the shaman for help to defeat the inner demons of self and the elixir of truth was doing its work. Realization continued to flood my mind. I thought I could inwardly hate those who have wronged or hurt me while I outwardly sought the guidance of esteemed Buddhist monks and reached for higher principles…but that is wrong; it is self-defeating and it is hypocrisy. Hatred and resentment cannot be compartmentalized and tucked away like pornography hidden in the garage. It’s still there even when one is not thinking about it and we never know when or how it may be brought out for others to see.
“You didn’t really renounce hatred. I am still here,” sneered the fiend.
Then I did exactly that. I honestly renounced hatred. I renounced hatred loud and clear, over and over again with an apocalyptic sincerity that had never been felt before. Just because you don’t like someone for what they have done to you does not mean you have to hate them. It was liberating and clarifying. The voice of the Thai monk spoke the words he said to me many years ago when dishonest manipulators took over the board of directors at his temple: “I do not like the bad people.” See? Even a living Buddha does not like some people, but he does not succumb to hatred. Rather, he packed his bag and left the temple. “This is my gift to them,” he said with genuine sincerity as he walked away. Eventually, the esteemed Phra Ajaan returned to his rightful place once the corrupt members of the board were removed by fate and legal consequence; karma is inescapable. We all get what we deserve.
Slowly, the shaman’s potion wore off. The monsters retreated, but not back into the crevices of the mind where I had conjured and harbored them. Rather, they dissolved into the nothingness from whence they came. Whenever the distressing events of the past are brought to mind, it would be all too easy to bring them back, but it takes effort not to do that. This is my gift to those who harm and laugh at the pain of others. I will walk away in both body and thought. It is a waste of time and energy to give thought to negative people and hurtful events that are now nothing more than phantoms of the past.
Silently, I thanked the shaman and left his sweat lodge. I told him I would remember what I had learned there. Funny thing, he disappeared too. There was nobody there but me. There was never anybody else there but me. See the painting above. We are shaped by reality. We are the shapers of reality. We are both the creators and the created.
Some months later, after losing round after round of chess, I began to see that even though the metaphor is extremely well-worn, life really is like the game of chess. It is an ever-shifting puzzle of strategy, risk, and sacrifice. Failure to think and consider all possible outcomes will result in the loss of something important and the game may be won or lost with a single move. At a particular point in the game, you may come to discover you are losing and there is no possible way to win. Still, you keep playing anyway. Why? Because even though you may have lost your queen, the game is not over. There are still infinite moves to be made. The opponent might make a fatal mistake or you can at least struggle for a stalemate. Even when defeat is inevitable and there is no possible way to escape the certainty of checkmate, never resign. When life is too difficult to bear, when all hope is lost, when giving in to death seems to be the best option, keep playing anyway. You still have pieces to move. Make your adversary work for it. Make yourself work for it.
Fight to the end.
Write to Marcus at: [email protected]