When I walk down the ramp to Walden dazed from a night lacking sleep such that withdrawing from migraine medication provides, I do not notice her. Where the eyes go the brain fails to follow. What I am thinking of, is coffee. The haste with which I must swim if I am to get coffee before my dermatology appointment. Getting that worrisome looking mole on my back looked at.
Will a biopsy keep me out of the water for part, or all of the next week?
And I am thinking about wind waves, the gusts rustling through the treetops, the calling of the wind through open windows in my kitchen early this morning. Whisking cold air around my shoulders. Too cold for a mid August. The premature closing of summer, the cooling water. Winter’s anxiety settling in.
I am busy wishing for strong coffee and a brew that awakens cells in me so I can cope…
Coffee is where it begins. Last Sunday. Making that detour to Peets on my way home from the pond.
Only then, I did not know there was anything to begin.
I didn’t know his name at the time. The big man sitting opposite my friend on Sunday morning when i joined their conversation over coffee.
“Who is that anyway?” I ask my friend as the big man heads out the door.
I look at the mala beads the big man has just moved from his wrist to mine as we shook hands. Him saying they had been blessed by the Dalai Lama. Me, dazed and suddenly feeling I had just fallen into a galaxy. My head spinning. For a moment I wonder when he wants them back. Before I realize he doesn’t.
A Tibetan Buddhist Lama.
I am not expecting such a gift after a Sunday morning swim.
So when from behind me on the ramp leading down to the pond three days later, bringing me out of my stupor, I hear, “Excuse me,” I turn around. It does not “click” that the woman who has heralded me is dressed in a maroon robes, with a saffron cloth necklace hanging almost to her waist.
Until she speaks…
“Excuse me, I am a Tibetan Buddhist Nun.”
A Tibetan Buddhist Nun.
She tells me she has walked through the woods to come here to Walden. I see she is carrying a ziplock bag. She holds it up for me to see the contents. They are at once familiar, and unfamiliar. A bag of grey chalky clay, broken up into pieces of all sizes and shapes. I especially notice one piece shaped like a cone, only the sides are curved. This piece is about two inches high.
This is the piece I later think I want for my own. I dismiss this thought, disgusted I should think it, a moment after it passes through me.
She tells me how these pieces are the remnants or casts left over from making altar offerings….at least that is what I think she is saying, as I am now so surprised my glazed over feeling becomes double glazed.
She is telling me that these fragments are used to bless waters such as this pond. I think… Walden is blessed, it is a spiritual place. I know this. I have experienced it in my own small believing ways, these blessings of Walden. Years ago in the December waters when the dark corners of my mind stenciled ice inside my cells. I was delivered to the shores of Walden safely. And since then, when the sudden superpower of my stroke has allowed me to sail over the waters of her most sacred deep.
The nun continues. The pieces must be scattered in the water. She looks down at her sneakers. I look down at them revealed by the hem of her robes. She is not dressed to wade into the water. I wear only my swimsuit, my old black crocs on my feet, carry goggles and swim cap, and my towel flung carelessly over my shoulder.
I know what she is about to say. It is then that the first fleeting thought of doubt wanders through my mind. Are you allowed to do this? Should you not ask? And I think about the fact that at 55 I still bear the scars of an domineering parent. At 55 I am still afraid of authority. Of doing something wrong. Not that I think this action is wrong, just that it is not what is typically done.
I shrug the domineering parent off my shoulder.
Honored to be able to help.
To have been chosen.
She tells me these fragments have been blessed by the Dalai Lama...blessed by the Dalai Lama... and there is a mantra I am to say as I release the clay fragments from the bag. Three times. Om Ah Hum. It is the mantra of blessing, of purification.
My brain is imperfect, so stunned am I with these pieces of information. I almost forget what comes next or what came before. Except for the mala beads I wear since Sunday on my right wrist. That that I have carefully placed in the cup holder of my car before I came down the path to the pond.
I am trying to remember all that I am learning so I can write it. It is the blessing or curse of the memoir writer. Trying to remember so as to write.
Buddha teaches to “let be”, not “to try” but to “allow”. I remember this from previous dabbling into Buddhism, and Hinduism which I know to have grown out of Buddhism.
By the time we part, I with the ziploc bag of clay like fragments, she with her knowledge that the blessing will be executed, I am trying to remember details such as what the fragments are known as and where she has come from.
Swimming one armed out past the buoys as she suggested, I release the neck of the bag that I have been holding above water like a bag of gold. I hold and shake it under the water. I do not remember the mantra. I think only to say a prayer, words in my own imperfect doctrine, that these fragments will bless all the summer pond users.
I watch with amazement as the galaxy of grey dust and fragments are released from the bag and float like stars absorbed into the atoms of green water. I dive underwater and hold my breath to see this magical sight. The atoms of my physical self tingling inside my skin.
When the bag is emptied, all except the grey dust that clings to the plastic, I stuff it under my swim suit and turn and swim into the center of the pond. It is then I remember the mantra. The mantra I have forgotten. Om Ah Hum. So I say it under my breath swimming across the canter to the other shore and all the way back across the center again. Hoping that this is enough. Trying to heal my imperfection. My chance to be the vehicle for Walden, to allow her to heal humankind. When i swim in to the beach i look for the fragments that have now landed near the place I released them. Entranced when I think I can make them out amongst the sand and submerged bracken of the pond floor.
I am tempted to look for the nun once i am out of the water, but i know i will not see her. So I inspect the shrunken plastic zip loc bag that I retrieve from under my swim suit. Where is has lain next to my right ribs. I see that it is clear, the remaining dust somehow expelled from it as i crossed the pond.
And I resume my day as if it is like any other normal Wednesday. Knowing it is not.