Thursday, July 10, 2008

Flashback Friday - Cliff's Words


I didn't know what I was going to write about so I went trolling around My Documents to see what was there, and I came across a paper written by a man who is now deceased. He was living in a homeless shelter when I met him. He was a student; I was a teaching intern. It's weird because I thought about him just the other day. I freaked out because it took me a moment to remember his name. His name was Cliff.

As I skimmed through this paper, I came across these paragraphs. As I'm in the process of moving, these spoke to me. I know we all know this, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded every now and then.

While traveling, I began to look for a way to understand my life and experiences. I became a Buddhist and tried to find enlightenment along the road. I met many Buddhas on the way. They were also homeless, traveling, and working their private truths. One of them was a man named Greg, who traveled with me for years. Every week, the food section of the newspaper featured a recipe for a special gourmet meal, and we made it as a ritual, like a Japanese tea ceremony. We would go to the store and get all of the items listed. Then using only a ground level barbeque with briquettes we would cook and eat a gourmet meal as pictured in the newspaper. This was Greg’s private truth---to cook a gourmet meal once a week even though homeless.

The life of a traveling Buddhist Monk has much in common with homelessness. First, there is the lack of possessions. When you own nothing but what you can carry, it is very limiting. In no time at all, a heavy backpack is filled and then there is all this other stuff that doesn’t fit and just has to be left. Choosing what was absolutely essential was a constant process of self-examination. I would always first have to let something go before I could pick up a new thing to take with me.

There were Buddhas among me all the time while I was traveling. Until I became homeless, I couldn’t see them. This is because it is not their job to point themselves out. It is only their job to work their truth. Either I was aware of them or I was not. But my awareness didn’t change the path they were walking. They continued irrespective of my awareness. My becoming conscious was of most benefit just to me because it allowed me to join in this cosmic dance.

Buddhism carries itself on two pillars: compassion and detachment. To be homeless is by its very nature to be detached. Compassion was the heart of my travels. Traveling the country through all kinds of weather, I became mindful of how hard everyone has it, no matter who they are. You can’t be too rich, too slim or too young. No matter. From everyone’s point of view we are all having a hard time of it. Traveling with the carnival and rodeo circuit but staying homeless, I saw all kinds of country and people up close. I saw the common threads of humanity in nearly everyone I met.

...Falling asleep with next to nothing every night taught me that we all are travelers and truly take nothing with us but ourselves.

Thank you, Cliff.

Got a Flashback Friday post? CableGirl has asked me to host, so add your linky love here!


Kori said...

Two of the three posts I have already read this morning have made me tear up; this would be the second one. That is amazing, April, and I am so glad you posted that this morning.

Jen said...

What an extraordinary piece of writing and an extraordinary man.

A Persian proverb that I keep by my desk:

"Every man goes down to his death bearing in his hands only that which he has given away."

Meg said...

Wonderful post! Two of my closest friends are Buddhist. I am totally with the compassion, but the detachment thing takes work daily. It's extremely hard in our consumer-oriented society.

But even harder, are the identity issues, personal letters, one's history--letting go of these things seems impossible (and not much fun). Still, I envy people who can do it.

Anonymous said...

This really touched me, April. Thanks for posting it.

Laski said...

His words put so much of life in perspective. I'm sad he's gone. He clearly was a wise soul.

Tara R. said...

It isn't just material things that we should give up, there is lots of emotional baggage that also needs to be left behind. Thanks for sharing Cliff' story.

OHmommy said...

Wow April... what an amazing man. So many things I am going through right now can help me relate. Thanks for posting this.