You Are Here: *
I have always loved looking at the directories one finds in shopping malls or complicated grand monuments or famous parks. “Vous etes Ici,” “You are Here,” always accompanied with a comforting round red dot reassuring one of one’s existence and physical planetary location, and then indicating all the points west, east, north, south or in between where one wants to go, or should go, or should want to go. It’s a lovely little existential private joke created by companies and institutions who perhaps don’t even understand the meaning of their own creation.
My family is lost in some labyrinthine directory of its own at the moment. The red dot showing where we actually are is a place we would all like to leave as quickly as possible. We arrived there on Saturday night. First, the baby: vomiting, fever, choking, throwing up every 20 minutes from early evening until 4AM.
I was alone in the house, my husband gone, the children unwakeable. Outside, a spring storm of heavy snow. It had been snowing for hours and hours and hours. The baby slept on my chest, covered in a pale peach blanket, and I watched the snow thicken and shine under the single street lamp on our block. Snow-silence – a different sort of silence than any other. The baby would awaken, wretch, settle back in. It was a long night. A hard night. But tender. I was an animal, tending to her animal young. Sometimes life is very simple. One takes care of the sick baby. One watches the snow. The night passes.
And then it is day, and I was the next to arrive at the dreaded point the baby had so recently left. I knew it was coming by mid-morning. Sleepless, nauseated, I would much preferred to have stayed at the point indicating “Zara,” or “Shala,” or “antiquities,” but instead I could not escape “Disgusting Toddler Virus, Origins Unknown.” I am still at that point, despite my mind being restless to move on to the more interesting parts of the map.
And following me, of course, came Eldest Child and then Second Eldest. And now here we all are, feverish, miserable, each of us yearning for some other place that doesn’t involve losing lots of bodily fluids.
But this is practice. This is the essence of practice. “You are here,” says the map. The mind must absorb the fact, even though the map is an ephemeral shifting stream, and even the seeming stasis of sickness changes every moment.
What does the mind want? The same thing as the planning, controlling ego: vigorous practice. Dance. Beauty. Intellectual vibrancy. Health. Travel. Freedom. An unchained being, roaming about the world at will.
The mind does not want to be interrupted by reality. It wants to decide the precise quality and feeling that defines and makes up the location of the self. If the ego/mind could decide, “You are here” would forever be some tightly controlled invention and not, as it is today, the simple reality of a passing (and easily passed) illness.
This is the practice I loathe, and therefore probably need the most: the sort that forces me through the power of its own circumstance to slow down, and to sit (or sleep) and to accept the vulnerability that defines our existence, and that when it comes to the indicator “You are Here,” we really haven’t much choice in the matter. It is all, the wisdom teachings advise, in the interpretation. And so illness becomes stillness, and fever becomes release. For a moment, even a moment…. and then the map shifts and splits again.