When I grow old, older than I am now, when I am an ancient, sparse tree with roughened bark for hands and bones that possess a brittle, sad dignity, I hope to live in a small house made of glass and stone. Somewhere, I predict, in the wilds of Southwestern France, where the land itself is ancient and tough and beautiful and wise.
There is an emptiness I lean toward, and the emptiness is a refuge, which of course means it is not yet a true emptiness but an escape, a fantasy. Fantasies are beautiful and necessary, but they are alluring trails that lead away from the easily lost vision of Shunyata, formless form. Realization of emptiness does not come from being old and having taught yoga for 50 years, or from living in a glass home that connects one to cloud and sky and sun – as appealing as that life might be. It comes instead, I suspect, from an infinitely brave and terrifying recognition that the ego, the self, are phantoms, cloaked illusions; they are the demonic yet necessary shape shifters that constitute the entire trajectory of the human story.
For now I do not live in a sparse room by myself. I live with three children, three animals (soon to be four), a few pieces of art to which I am probably too attached, and an enormous wardrobe of clothing I am in the process of donating and selling. The great divesting must begin somewhere, and why not begin with the center of one’s primary addiction, which in my case is fashion and clothing and yet more clothing. As much as I cannot really stand my own body, I know I have a good silhouette for clothes, and I have indulged for years in the pleasures of silk and good cashmere. The pleasure isn’t really a pleasure anymore, but a hope, which is of course a mask for a need; time to let it go.
In a wonderfully ironic twist, however, my deepest object-attachment in this house lies with a small bronze statue of a seated Buddha. He has his right hand in abhaya mudra, which is the gesture of fearlessness, and his face is passive, peace beyond peace. He is small, feminine looking, and I love him. I placed him on a decorative triangular teak plate, and positioned the statue in front of a large antique bronze pot that is many, many hundreds of years old. The three objects together sit on a large table from Sicily that was used in the dining hall of an 18th Century monastery. It’s my corner of treasures and age and wonder, but the little Buddha is my favorite, a lovely reminder of awakening in the face of fear.
Then he disappeared. A few days ago, he was gone. I suspected at first a wild neighborhood boy who hangs out with my son. Then I found him in a laundry basket. Today he was gone again, a doll for my two year old. I finally located him in an undignified dirty corner by our shoe shelves next to the front door.
At first I was bereft. My beautiful statue, my friend, my Object of Reverence! I looked everywhere for him, convinced of some horrible fate. And then, in the looking, I started to laugh. Of course the Buddha would not care about being stolen or shoved into a corner or used as a doll or a prank or anything else. Buddha is empty, the mudra, although a reminder, is also empty, and emptiness cannot be grieved. My sadness was an imposition, and suddenly I saw my statue, vivid in my mind.