Involuntary Simplicity

“Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life.”
– Richard Gregg, Vhishva Bharati Quarterly, 1936

scaredposter1

Southern France, 1999 ~ The Scared Sacred Journey

Five a.m. My body pulls me out of my dreams, anticipating the wake up bell of Plum Village monastery. I rise up in the trembling half light, gradually remembering where I am: on a train tracing the gentle contours of the Cote d’Azur. I yawn, stretch, and pull out a Yoga book I was recently given. Following the illustrated instructions, I fall into a deep Kundalini meditation, concentrating on sending life energy up my body, from lower node to higher node, building force as it climbs the energetic pathway, from node to node, base to center, heart to throat, until the current reaches the epicenter of my forehead, where I let it pool and stay for awhile, before moving it higher still, to the crown. It feels as if the coursing force wants to continue rising, straining to burst out and up. Although it’s a new technique to me, the practice feels intrinsic. Something new, something powerful, is building inside me.

Sudden jolt. Hiss of air brakes. My eyes flash open: the train is at my stop. I grab my pack and lunge for the closing doors. Too late. I get off at the next stop, smiling despite my goof-up, enjoying the opportunity to stand on the platform in the still morning, under a bright moon casting blue shadows. Soon enough another train appears, and I roll back to the little village of Carri-la-Rouet.

My red Volkswagen Polo is still there, waiting near the station, intact, though reeking of rot from a two week old bag of groceries I’d forgotten to bring with me to the meditation retreat. I stop off at a patisserie and pick up a round of fresh Camembert and a baguette, then drive to a quiet spot on the coast. I settle under an ancient grove of wind stunted pine trees that cling to a crag over-looking the ocean, and boil water for tea on a folding alcohol burning stove. I savour the bread and cheese mouth by mindful mouthful, in the slow chewing manner I’ve just learned from Thich Nhat Hahn, at Plum Village. The sun slowly emerges from a flat expanse of steel blue ocean, drenching the Azure Coast blood red. I breathe in the crisp air, content, and stroll down to a shore of time softened white pebbles tinged with morning light. Strewn with plastic bottles, straws, hypodermic needles, styrofoam bits, and unrecognizable modern industrial poly-carbonic detritus.

I mutter to myself, “How pathetic. This could be a perfect spot. Why doesn’t someone just clean it up. Gawd, it wouldn’t take long that, just a little effort and…”
My Self interrupts. “Good idea. Why don’t you?”
“What?”
“Why don’t you?”
“Well, because…” I search for an excuse, “Because it would take too long.”
“A single little beach?”
“But I don’t have a bag!”
“Go get one from the trash can.”
“You really want me too?”
“I’m telling you too.”
My Inner Voice rarely gives orders, so when it does I try to obey. There just so happens to be a bag of garbage bags tucked under the garbage can. I begin the slow process of extracting endless bits of plastic from the smooth stones. I start with the most infuriating – hundreds of tiny stir sticks, intricately interlaced with the pebbles. I transform the tedious into an exercise in plastic archaeology, teasing stories from deep within the garbage. There are tales of seductions from the sea voyaging condoms, mysterious medicine vials stained with the sad residue of drug addicted lives, the inexplicable comedy of a strange sphere of hair. Echoes of the violence inspired by an array of plastic war toys: soldiers, swords, and miniature hand grenades.

After an hour I move onto the big stuff, breaking into a power run, second bag soon bulging. In one corner of the beach I encounter a pile of stinking organic matter, flies buzzing. The sun beats down and sweat streams off my forehead. It all gets to be too much, and I stop to take a few deep breathes. My gaze lands on a rocky alcove at the edge of the beach. Nestled inside is a plastic Mary with her hands clasped together in prayer. Etched on her base are the faded words, “Genuine Lourdes Water.” I smile and try to refill her with ocean water, but she leaks, no doubt the reason for her burial at sea. Despite this imperfection, or because of it, this ‘Garbage Mary’ will go on to circle the globe with me.

After five hours of hard going I’ve filled three garbage bags and the cove is again pristine. I strip off my clothes and dive into the cool water, floating on my back, refreshed. I stretch out naked under the cloudless sky on the hot white rocks. Clean rocks. I pull my clothes back on and wander back up to the car, parked at the edge of the beach.

The door is wide open. My pack. Is gone. Gone! Inside it was the video camera. The microphone. The tape stock. All my gear. A shock of unreality courses through my body. It’s happened. It’s finally happened. Everything. Everything! I jump into the car and start to drive, mindlessly. I slam on the brakes and sit under a leafless tree, trying to calm my mind, but finding it more useful to wail out loud. My frustration propels me up and back into the car. I floor it, heading for the Italian border as fast as a Volkswagen Polo can go, getting the hell out of France.

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1 Comment

  1. Wow…absolutely riveting! I can’t wait for the sequel.


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