A Pilgrim’s Year, 2004:  Week 2


Woolly Home


Week 1, 2, 3,

Week 4, 5, 6

Week 7, 8, 9

Week 10, 11, 12

Week 13, 14, 15

Week 16, 17, 18

Week 19, 20, 21

Week 22, 23, 24

Week 25, 26, 27

Week 28, 29, 30

Week 31, 32, 33

Week 34, 35   Sermon

Week 36, 37,    Sermon

Week 38, 39




  Siem Reap

Week 44, 45, 46

Week 47, 48, 49


Week 50, 51, 52


Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme:  pilgrimage.  It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along.  It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis


We closed the retreat on Sunday morning as snow began to blow in from the northwest, an Alberta Clipper.

An anointing again, this time Bill reads the story of the magi and then reads it again, modified so that the pilgrimage each Woolly takes is, like the Magi, to the newly born Christ, but in the Woolly’s instance to the Christ born within.

The last of several memorable meals, a brunch cooked and served with affection by (Cheri?) and her helpers, Marie and (?) and (?), finishes the retreat and we go back to our cars, now covered in snow, scrape them off and head home.


A Personal Reflection

On the drive home I start by listening to a Tom Clancy novel, but the retreat keeps my thoughts on the pilgrimage idea, so I turn Tom Clancy off and put on the Silk Orchestra, Chinese music.

A new snow plowing program has taken effect and I’m treated to an old-fashioned, white-knuckle drive on the two-lane, snow covered Highway 65.  Soon, the haunting Chinese melodies play in time with micro-blizzards blown up by passing trucks and cars.  Headed south a long line of pick-up trucks with snow-mobile trailers combine with SUV’s to slow traffic down, I like the pace.

I retold my story, trying to locate the mystery as much as the pain, the sparks more than the pathos.  I discovered, or, I should say, re-discovered the underground children’s library where I read for so many years, the darkened room where I recovered from measles, the magic of a 10 year olds perspective.

A strange mixture of the present and the past filled my inner vision—we had TV early, in 1951, while, at the same time our milk came by horse drawn wagon .  Ray Carver would take a wire milk basket, load it with four quarts in glass bottles with paper caps.  He ran up to a house, deposited their order in a small insulated box on the front porch.  Meanwhile, the horse had dutifully drawn the wagon near the next customer. 

At the 500 mile race in Indianapolis men still wore helmets with leather chin straps, glass goggles, and sat high above the track in cars powered by Offenhauser 4-cylinder engines.  Sam Hanks won the race, for example, in 1957 at the landmark speed of 135 mph for the whole 500 miles.

We had a 1957 Ford that year and I lay on the front seat, the radio switched on, listening to the race as rain pounded the metal roof.  I read comic books, ate popcorn, heard the vrrooom of the unmuffled cars.  Paradise.  A room of my own.


Pilgrimage.  A loaded term for me.  Mostly positive, but still loaded.  Full of juice as Robert Moore, Jungian analyst and theoretician, says of faith.  Why loaded?  Because pilgrimages head toward the numinous, the mysterium tremendum—the sacred.  And I have, since early in childhood been drawn toward the sacred.  Not only in story or in churches, but deep in my own soul and in the faith journey of others.  It is a pull I cannot ignore, nor one I can set aside, though I’ve tried many times; so, to focus on pilgrimage for a year means remaining near the burning bush, wrestling with the angel, maybe for longer than the occasional night. 

On the one hand. Yes!  On the other, no.  Let me slink away and forget, banish the power and the mystery to yesterday or to the bookshelf or to someone else’s house.

The pilgrim path demands inner work, work not of the easy, casually introspective kind, but work of soul nourishment, life transformation.  Inner change.  Can I stand it?  Again?

Cars and trucks whooshed past, blew more snow.  The road disappeared for seconds, a long time at even a modest 55 mph.  Not unlike my spiritual journey.  Traveling the ancient road at life speed, then whoosh, blinded by a job, love, political rage. Unable to see for weeks, years at a time.  How to keep the car on the road?

Over the last year I’d let the writing slip.  I’d given myself over to the path of writing rather than the destination of publication, a spiritual victory in itself, but I’d lost the incentive to sit and write. Had I really given up a lifetime’s focus on achievement, or had I just given up?

It’s simple in one sense.  Words flashing across the temporal lobe don’t count.  It’s not writing.  It’s thinking. Writing every day. No other way.

Writing as pilgrimage.  As meditation.  As clarification.  As necessity.

Priming the pump. Sit down. Click on Microsoft Word and hit the keys.  The only way.  Write.

The question of definition.  Of particularity.  Of the unique getting lost in the whole.  If all of my life is a pilgrimage—and I believe it is—then, what parts of my life are pilgrimage?  The grocery store?  Cooking?  The garden?  Time with Joseph?  I guess in some way, all of them.

All right, let’s see.  I have found the divine realm within, I’ve visited it often in prayer, meditation, and sacred reading.  I believe each of us has access to the door of that realm, that we are all citizens of the God’s realm and that the door lies within, never locked, though often lost, perhaps covered over with vines or despair.

So.  Why not commit myself to a couple of thousand words or so a week for a whole year?  I’d end up with over a 100,000 words, plus the re-drafting, revisions I want to do on my retold story.   Those little books that show up in the meditation sections at bookstores aren’t even that long.


Here I am, writing. 

This wasn’t my only idea.  I tried, for a brief while, putting on a costume for the three aspects of my pilgrim self:  poet, scholar, and monk.  I put on an Irish vest for the poet, a black scarf for the scholar, and my greenman necklace for the monk.  I felt good about it at first.

Charlie Haislet and Mark Odegard had both mentioned special garb for pilgrims.  I know about the special dress pilgrims wore in the middle-ages, and on the Hajj. 

Still, it seemed a little corny; though as I tried it out, it did have the effect, which vestments do, of setting the moment apart and dedicating it to a certain attitude, or, as James Hillman might say, to a God or Goddess. 

In the end it didn’t seem organic enough for me.  I might find ways of indicating the different part of me I’m emphasizing, but these initial ideas didn’t work so well.

The medieval pilgrimage was originally a journey that people made so that, combining prayer, sacrifice and devotion with an element of physical discomfort, they could become closer to God. It also fulfilled many of the functions of a modern holiday - a change of scene and a time to make room for something above and beyond the daily grind. Walking these ancient ways not only offers the opportunity for spiritual renewal, but also provides us link with our past.

http://www.irishheritagecouncil.ie/projects/project5   (Irish Pilgrimage Paths)



The Great Wheel, a pagan commentary on and celebration of seasonal change, is a pilgrim path, too.  As I write this on the afternoon of February 1st, 2004 snow comes down at a steady pace, as it has for the whole day.  Enough new snow has fallen to round off the sharp edges revealed by melting or the harsh sculptor’s hand of high wind.  This soft, white landscape changes not only the view, but the experience of our yard, and the regional parks in Anoka and neighboring Isanti Counties.


An element of physical discomfort and devotion

Snowfall brings snow removal; layers go on, boots on feet, gloves on hands, hat on head.  I have a Mad Bomber hat made in China, a leather helmet with flaps covered in rabbit fur.  The Mad Bomber goes on. 

Due to our long and sloped driveway we have a snow blower, a Simplicity purchased in October of 1994 before our first winter here in Andover.  Eleven winters have come and gone; the Simplicity works.  I have used it so often it has become second nature.  Prime.  Open the choke all the way.  Accelerator to rabbit.  Hit the electric start.  Back off the choke.  Move the shift lever to reverse and back the orange, noisy metal object out of the garage.

A quick hit of the augur sends out a test jet of snow to determine wind direction.  Since the winds usually blow either east or west across our driveway, it makes sense to start on the same side from which the wind blows, working with mother, not against her. 

When the wind is high and the air very chill, as it was last week, the discomfort factor can become obvious, under normal Minnesota conditions though, our winter dress makes the time outside a pleasure. 

Still, it is meditative.  The snow and cold, alone, clearing a path.  Repetition has softened the edges of snow removal much like the new snow softens the landscape.  The routine makes the time outside available for experience. 

A cold wind brushes the cheekbone, snow melts off the rabbit fur over my forehead.  The snow flies in a smooth arc out of the chute.  A task with clear boundaries gets done.  A joy.

As I finish the walk up to the house with the shovel, I go past the mounded snow on one of the beds in Kate’s purple garden.  The junction of winter and spring pleases me.  I understand the term flower bed; the crocus, allium, hemerocallis, and echinacea tucked in and covered up for a long sleep. 

The fallow season, the dead season joins, for just a moment, with the warm, breathy colors spring will unlock.  The Wheel turns a bit for me alone. 

A snow clump slides off the roof and I’m back.  Winter.  The crisp, clean season.

The Great Wheel image suggests a truth, I suspect, about pilgrimage.  Most of the retreat presentations, especially Charlie Haislet’s, suggested pilgrimage was about the journey, not the destination.  True, in part, I suppose, but Charlie suggested, I think it was Charlie, the pilgrimage wasn’t done until the pilgrim arrived back home, threw off their cloak, sat down at the tavern or dinner table and began to tell the stories of the journey.

Later, as I drove home from the retreat, this image of the returning pilgrim fused with the notion of the Great Wheel and its cyclical, rather than linear view of time.  It hit me.  Of course.  A linear view would focus on the destination.  At, say Santiago, the top of Croagh Patrick, Lourdes you stop, pray, refresh yourself.  Made it.  Pilgrimage complete.  Now for the return trip home.

No.  The Great Wheel suggests arrival is only half-way, winter is only half-way through a complete turn of the Wheel.  When the Wheel has turned again, the journey from Winter to Winter will be complete.  There will be a stop at the opposite season, yes, celebrated at the Summer Solstice or Lughnasa, but the turning of the Wheel does not stop at that far destination.  No, it moves on, loops back home, completing the journey.

Pilgrimage, seen this way, might have several distinct periods.  A time of preparation, of selecting a destination, deciding on provisions, logistics, setting out, stops along the way, traveling with other pilgrims.  Arrival at the sacred site where special prayers, worship, devotion, acts of piety happen.  Then, a journey home.  A pilgrimage, too.  I like that idea.  Returning home is a pilgrimage, too.  Pilgrimages are loops; not Triple A strip maps, but large oblongs from home to home with interesting stops along the way.

We have begun this trip together in the winter, an appropriate time for Woolly Mammoths.  We know how to trek in the snow, how to light a fire, and make rock tools, find caves.  We will tell stories to each other, unexpected things will happen, sometimes the journey will prove perilous, at other times humorous, occasionally serious, but always sacred.


“You have a wonderful crypt in your left iris,” said Jane West, “I blasted through it.  A beautiful hole.”

“Oh,” I said.

“But your right iris.  Remember I said your irises are fluffy?”

“Ummm. Yes.”  Fluffy irises. Who knew? 

“Well, your right iris is velvety.  No crypts.”

I could tell she didn’t mean tombs, wasn’t making a veiled reference to, say, tombstone eyes, but I couldn’t keep the analogy out of my head.  After all, I write dark fiction.

“So, I had to just blast away. Like shooting a cotton ball with the laser,” she stopped, concerned her violent metaphors might make me uneasy, “Anyway, I didn’t open up a hole.”

I’ve had my irises pierced.  Medically indicated.  An anatomical dilemma, narrow angles in my liquid drainage system. Glaucoma. Problem: too much aqueous fluid, pressure build up, and fluid dynamics (physics and you) takes out your optic nerve.  Which you need.  Solution:  pierce the iris with a laser, a hole opens up, and drainage proceeds, pressure goes back down to safe levels.

Much better than the other option, a surgical procedure using real knives, needles piercing the eye to numb the nerve, that sort of thing.  Yecchh.

Still, if you have fluffy, velvety irises sans crypts, narrow valleys in the iris which gives an eye shadings of color, then the laser has a tough job.  Back to the cotton ball.  Things get pushed aside, but they don’t stay pushed aside, so the hole closes up.

Surprise.  It hurts.  When the laser pierces the iris, a sharp pain goes directly to the brain.  Not bad, but enough so you notice.

Anyhow, this is a solution I can’t see to a problem for which I have never experienced a symptom.  I’ve looked and looked for the hole in my iris, but I can’t find it.  They are very small, microscopic holes are big enough, Jane says.

But we didn’t even make a microscopic one with several bursts of red laser light. 

The laser machine itself has a key.  Nobody but key holders can turn it on.  A comfort, I guess.

No, I haven’t forgotten about pilgrimage and gotten lost in the wonder of my own velvet, fluffy irises.  Eyes, are, after all, the windows to the soul...or the visual cortex, depending on the metaphysical dimensions of the conversation.  Pierced eyes.  Eyes with too much pressure.  Pressure capable of producing blindness.

I know it’s obvious, but I think important anyhow.  As life goes, especially as we traverse the first half of the spiral, pressure builds up.  We want to succeed, to achieve, to demonstrate potency in the world.  Our actions and, often, our self-assessments revolve around an estimate of how much power we have, how many or how big or how high a quality an impact we’ve made.

If our inner vision stays stuck in this external focus, our angle of self-awareness narrows, the pressure in our interior builds.  Result:  spiritual blindness.

Often this blindness proves self-healing.  The blindness creates obstacles in our lives, obstacles so painful we have to go in with our own laser, cut away at our inner irises, drain off the pressure.  A mid-life crisis often provides the high energy necessary to generate an inner laser, a ruby red beam of intense spiritual light.

And unlike the physical eye, the inner eye heals itself. 

If, however, the pressures prove overwhelming, yet find no hole, microscopic or otherwise, for relief, then a person can walk on, blind to the depth and intimacy with self necessary to navigate the final pilgrimage, the only pilgrimage which does not loop back to home.  We all know such people, dead to nuance, caught in an obsessive need to do more, have more, be more.

Who is the ophthalmologist for the inner eye?  Often it is a spouse, a close friend.  Sometimes a book, a movie, a play.  A glance toward a beautiful sunset, a passing family on the street.  Or, it can be a Woolly Mammoth, trainees in care of the soul.


The Mind as an Eye

“When April with its sweet showers has pierced the drought of March to the root, and bathed every vein of earth with liquid by whose power the flowers are engendered..., then, as the poet Geoffrey Chaucer observed many years ago, folks long to go on pilgrimages.  Only, these days, professional people call them conferences.

The modern conference resembles the pilgrimage of medieval Christendom in that it allows the participants to indulge themselves in all the pleasures and diversions of travel while appearing to be austerely bent on self-improvement.”  Small World, David Lodge. Prologue

Pressure can build in the mind’s eye and blind the soul, of that I have no doubt; but, the mind itself also functions as an eye.  You’ve noticed this yourself, I’m sure.

You take up a casual interest in, say, astronomy or the Renaissance and for days, weeks, perhaps even months and years items germane to those topics appear as if by magic.  Books, magazine articles, TV shows, movies, museum exhibits.  Even the familiar can become new again.  The Weatherguide calendar picked up for its precision with regard to meteorology has astronomical information, too.  The book on your favorite dog breed has a chapter on genetics. You skipped it first time through, now it jumps off the table of contents.

This is the mind working as an eye, seeing former chaff in your perceptual field and noticing with fresh attention many things there before, but prior to your new interest, not visible.

Pilgrimage has my mind’s attention.  When I picked up David Lodge’s second novel in his Changing Places trilogy, Small World, there it was, right there in the prologue: conference as pilgrimage.  This reminded me of a quote from a website on pilgrimage, something to the effect:  There are pilgrims everywhere, perhaps more now than ever in history.  They are often hidden among tourists, distinguished only by intent.

Lodge’s work has a satiric lean, yes.  High-minded intent though, even in the middle ages, did not deny the physical and intellectual pleasure of new experience, which may, in the end, I suppose, render a pilgrimage less spiritual than hoped; though, it might well go the other direction, too, the physical and intellectual sidelights of the journey may open places in the soul unintended, and often, when caught off-guard, the soul learns, as it may not when approached head on.

Lodge’s reprise of Chaucer led me to a field of investigation I want to keep open for the year, and I hope those of you who take the time to read this can help, i.e. pilgrimage in the arts.  Pilgrimage literature.  Literature as pilgrimage.  Pilgrimage poetry.  Pilgrimage paintings.  Pilgrimage folk art.  Pilgrimage music.  Are their photographers who record pilgrims at their destinations?  I suppose travel photos and videos.  Movies.

A few thoughts came to me right off:  The Wizard of Oz, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Eliot’s “Wasteland”, The Odyssey, Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, many Ukiyo-e prints—Edo Road, Mt. Fuji.  “Pilgrim’s Progress” as Charlie Haislet referenced in his retreat presentation.

Here’s a poem I found at www.poets.org.


The Subalterns
Thomas Hardy              


"Poor wanderer," said the leaden sky,

     "I fain would lighten thee,

But there are laws in force on high

     Which say it must not be."        



--"I would not freeze thee, shorn one," cried

     The North, "knew I but how

To warm my breath, to slack my stride;

     But I am ruled as thou."



To-morrow I attack thee, wight,"

     Said Sickness. "Yet I swear

I bear thy little ark no spite,

     But am bid enter there."



--"Come hither, Son," I heard Death say;

     "I did not will a grave

Should end thy pilgrimage to-day,

     But I, too, am a slave!"         



We smiled upon each other then,

     And life to me had less

Of that fell look it wore ere when

     They owned their passiveness.

I’m interested in what your mind locates as you wander through this pilgrim year. 

The mind as eye reminds me of an analysis I read years ago about the function of the press in a free society.  The theory presents agenda setting as the purpose of journalism.

What does this mean?  Simply this.  The particular accounts and the content of the stories are not so important, as are the frequency and type of stories.  The stories we see most often tend to be the ones we assume are the most important, and, therefore become the agenda for debate at the state and national levels.

Note this does not mean these are, necessarily, the most important or salient or crucial agenda for their time.  Just that their attention in the media gives them visibility.  

This is analogous to the mind as eye.  When we choose, we can focus the mind’s agenda, alter the kinds of data it sees.  To the extent this is true, it may illuminate the old saw, Be careful what you wish for...  And, seek, and you shall find.

All this is to say that the choices we make about what’s important reinforce themselves, so when we choose something like pilgrimage, it can effect our soul.  But, so can a decision to focus on, say, sex, drugs, or rock and roll.

Be careful what you wish for...


As usual, once I get into the writing groove, my mind keeps racing ahead, doubling back, checking for new material and revising the old, or rethinking what I’ve just written.  Writing does have a certain meditative, pilgrim nature to it, at least for me.  As I journey down the page, the way seems clear ahead, then, suddenly, a curve.  Or, a steep hill.  An unexpected town.  A kid runs out in the traffic.  I might fall asleep at the keyboard/wheel.

The last couple of nights I’ve gone over this mind as eye metaphor and dredged up a word from the black and white period.

Remember gestalt?  As in gestalt therapy especially?

It dawned on me that when I say mind as eye, what I’m really describing is the mind’s capacity to capture things in a gestalt, as a whole, while, at the same time, parsing the gestalt into items germane to our current curiosities.  This is mind functioning as a sense organ, yes, equivalent to the eye, the ear, the nose, but in this case, rather than discrete sensory data like sound-waves or photons, the mind captures what I’ll call gestalts, that is, snapshots of everything encountered moment by moment.  This is like, I imagine, Henri Bergson’s snapshot theory of time, perhaps it’s even the same thing.  That is, time does not come in a linear flow, rather in a series of images, bolted down whole, and only later processed by the brain—or, is it the mind?  Never mind.

Immanuel Kant said there are certain givens our mind uses to organize data from the world outside us, the unreachable ding an siche (thing-in-itself), and make it useful.  Two of those, and the most important two, are space and time.  Note the critical move Kant has made here—space and time are not out there, they are in here, constructs of our mind used to allow us to grab onto information and manipulate it for our benefit.

Another favorite thinker of mine, Henry Nelson Wieman, a theologian in the liberal religious tradition, said God exists, for sure, and that God exists in the relationships among and between persons, for that is where we know and experience love and justice and truth and beauty.  I mention this to suggest a reality I have felt for a long time about the Woolly Mammoths, and what many of you may feel about your families, too.

As a group we Woolly’s have a mind’s eye, the gestalt of our gestalts, so our individual focus on pilgrimage makes our collective perceptions enhance, reinforce each other.  I imagine it is in this sense that groups:  the Woolly’s, families, cities, states, nations can become God-with-us, emmanuel.  As we decide, together, what aspect of our common life will hold our attention, grab our awareness, we steer our ship.

The ship can sail into dangerous waters, i.e. the holocaust, or the oppression of the Palestinians, or, into armed terrorism, but this only underlines the critical, though often unconscious, function of agenda-setting happening among us every day. 

The agenda shifts, flows, moves.  Today aging captures us, tomorrow the DOW, later in the week, perhaps the latest fashions, or thinness, or health. 

I’m glad we’ve chosen pilgrimage; our gestalts—our minds-as-eye, individual and collective, will scan our entire worlds for relevant information.  What a gift to give each other.


As I finish this, I’m listening to a jazz station located in Moscow.  The hour nears midnight and the music has a plaintiff, lonely quality, a perfect reflection of the moment.  Kate’s in bed, the dogs are asleep and I’m here writing, open as only the lateness of the hour can make me.

I don’t have much more to say this week, yet I cannot close without reflecting on two long pilgrimages, lifelong in my case.  This week found me still on them, headed toward the end of life.

The first sacred journey is political. 

I’ve told the story in the Woolly’s about riding with old Mr. Gaither in his green 1950 Chevrolet.  I was 5 or 6 and he asked me, while we were far out in the country on a gravel road, “Charlie, are you a Democrat or a Republican?”

“A Democrat,” I said.

“Well, I don’t allow Democrats to ride in my car.”

“Oh,” I said, “Well, stop the car.”

He did.  I opened the door and got out, headed back toward town.

“I’ll make an exception for you, Charlie.”  Mr. Gaither said.

I knew I was a Democrat because Dad and I talked politics at home and we sat up together to watch the defeat of Adlai Stevenson, our candidate. 

Since then the political pilgrimage has at times dominated my life, taken all my attention, been, for years at a time, the focus of my energy. 

To some extent I have wandered off the political pilgrimage, taking paths marked, “What does it matter?”, or “No one else is on the road, why am I still out here?” 

This week, though, I agreed to facilitate a dialogue based on Paul Wellstone’s book, Conscience of a Liberal, an intentional reference, Frank Broderick and I decided, to Barry Goldwater’s, Conscience of a Conservative.

The dialogue, held at Andover City Hall, has got me back on the road, my pack slung over my shoulder, walking stick to hand. 

As we discussed our values and dreams, the passions of our political journeys, I revisited the deep river of conviction in which I have long bathed, a political Ganges with its headwaters high in the Himalaya’s of the Jewish prophets, the social implications of Christian thought, the democratic revolutions of the Reformation and the American Revolution, and, more recently in the progressive movements led by African-Americans, women, laborers, socialists, students, and war-resisters.  These are my people and I am of them.

The river has burst above ground again.  I cherish the political discussion Charlie Haislet bravely surfaced at the  retreat.  I know political life gains its intensity and power for change from the friction between competing ideas, competing groups, yet, in the end civility, in all except revolutionary situations is crucial—even if difficult. 

Why?  Because it is exactly what we seek on the political pilgrim road, a civil society, a place where all can expect fair and respectful treatment.  As we do unto those with whom we disagree, so shall it be done unto us.

This is not easy, perhaps, in fact, it is part of the discomfort and difficulty which makes the political journey a true pilgrimage.  Mr. Gaither flagged this part of the path for me very early.

Second pilgrimage and last thought for this week’s diary:  the religious quest.  I met Mark Odegard, fellow Woolly, for lunch in Stillwater, a small upscale town on the St. Croix River.  He introduced me to a restaurant with exceptional food, we spent time talking as friends do, then he wanted to show me a shop, Klimtsch Dolls and the Heart of Tibet. 

This is a strange place.  Imagine a brick building perhaps a store front and a half wide, with dolls and toys arranged everywhere.  Up front are some very old dolls with porcelain heads and silk dresses, above them on a shelf doll houses: Gothic, Victorian, Suburban Rambler, more.  Yet there is also a small rack with pouches made of silk, dragons dancing on them, strange script embroidered across their backs.

Mark asks a new sales lady where the Tibetan material is, “Oh, all over, but the furniture is in the back.”

A slim brunette she leads us past displays of doll house accessories, toys, doll clothes until we get to the very rear of the building.  There, I notice first a stone Buddha, seated in the meditation position.  Just below him is a jumble of what at first seems to be cast off furniture, but at closer examination is charming folk furniture made from unsawn tree limbs, crude boards joined with dovetail joints. 

Other pieces, more finished, include a raised bed/couch, a long, low table, and in the next room, stacked floor to ceiling, furniture painted in bright colors. 

A Tibetan woman comes up to help us.  Her hair, a grey stubble, graces a lined, happy face.  She has on an almost floor-length woolen skirt, a deep red tucked high and cinched with a belt I can’t see.  A woolen top completes her garb.  Her attire would be exotic on the sidewalk just outside the store, but back here in the rear corner of Klimtsch House of Dolls, in the shop named Heart of Tibet, her dress is congruent while Mark, the clerk, and I are those in foreign clothing.

Since I learned about the purba, a sacred dagger or tent peg used to cut the fabric of confusion in our spiritual life, I’ve wanted one.  I’ve looked several places, but found only objects made for tourists, the workmanship poor.  Here I found a range of purbas, some of the tourist variety, but others made with the love ritual artists use. 

One, more expensive than the rest, more than I wanted to pay unfortunately, had the patina of use, gave off the vibrations of a sacred tool.  It was probably made from meteorite iron, as the best purbas are.

I looked at several, finally agreeing with the Tibetan woman on one made well, but priced within my range.

Then, I looked up over the door and fell in love.  Over the low door hung a yamantaka, a Tibetan Buddhist painting on silk, a mandala, an aid to meditation.  Yama is a wrathful deity who helps us fight our fear of death, since death, too, according to Tibetan Buddhist thought, is an illusion.

I asked the price. 

“Ahh.  Hmmmm.”  The Tibetan woman looked up, crinkled her face.

“Maybe I should tell you it’s terrible, looks bad,” I said and smiled.

She laughed, gave me a playful hit, her eyes dancing in the old gold of her wrinkled skin. “We don’t sell Thangka.  Many people come, ask, Do you have Thangka?  But my brother, he won’t sell.”

“Because of respect?” I asked.

She smiled and nodded.  “Maybe I could get price for you.  Call tomorrow.  My brother’s gone.”

I don’t know if she’ll call, it may have been a polite way of saying no, but I felt that frisson I feel when a work of art strikes into my soul, much like a purba, and cuts away some confusion I didn’t even know I had.

Now, I’ll hunt until I can find a yamantaka.  Though not a Buddhist, I find ideas in Tibetan Buddhism useful for my own journey.  The frisson I felt connects my spiritual path with my path in the world of art, both brought together in this moment by the pilgrimage of friendship, forged on the Woolly’s ancient road.

              Charlie Buchman Ellis             Top                         < Previous      Next >