I am in the desert. I have come here to read the names on the list of my past lives.
I stand on the sand in bare feet and feel the heat begin to burn. The sand is deceptive because hidden inside are thorns. No one of my tribe walks barefoot in this place.
In this place where all manner of clothes are a weight, heavy boots are a comfort. The sun sets in a blaze of fire that is as much a reflection of the land as the land is a reflection of the sky. This land is worn smooth in its old age of erosion. Yet, looking closely, the small edges are sharp. The rocks all have an edge, and the forest of Joshua trees is clothed in a blanket of thorns.
There is no soft life here; it is all sharp things and poisons.
What that is fat with abundance is consumed quickly. The life you will find on the surface is only a memory —bleached wood, dried thorn, bone, a smiling skull. The geometry of hills and rocks calls to the gods. God is found in the desert, as it always has been. This is not the mystery.
The mystery is this: time does not exist (we all know that,) but in the desert time is worn in vast expanses on the surface of everything. Our thinking is trapped in the box we call time, and by this I mean the box called “sequence.” That is, when we think of something in terms of sequence—this happens then that happens—we are asserting the reality of time.
The biggest monument to time is karma. Karma is the law of cause and effect, and the essential prerequisite for an effect to follow a cause is the structure of time. I look at the bones of the desert and they are time staring back at me.
But they lie to me about time.
Rather, I am lying to myself about the story I think they are telling. In a past life I was a coyote, hunting on the desert floor in the darkness. This coyote has not been born yet. Past and future are just different names for a subtle distinction that we use to lie to ourselves about an idea of something that does not exist. We say that the past has already happened; we say that the future has not happened yet. But neither exists, and never will.
It is so very difficult to talk in precise terms when confined inside a language and a mind constructed out of the assumed irrevocability of time. I have come to this desert to read the list of my past lives. Many of them are individuals whose time lies in the past, but so are just as many of them individuals whose time lies in the future.
It is only my ideas that say these are somehow different. It is only what I think I see in the sand. It is the sharp edges of rocks pretending to be old in order to disguise themselves. On my list of past lives are the names of people who have not been born yet.
This is not the mystery.
Here is the mystery: the list of names of my past lives includes not just names from the so-called past and the so-called future, but also includes names from the so-called present. They are all there. It requires the sparse landscape of the desert to see this clearly; your name is on my list of past lives. As my name is on yours.
We are locked in this lie of sequence and so have no other way to think it through, but your life, the life you are living right now, is a life that I have lived before. My life, the one that I am living right now, is a life that you have lived before. The idea of sequence is just a way to make the reality of this comprehensible to a brain stuck in a certain box.
The idea of “past” lives is just a way of expressing the reality that we are all one. And the law of karma is this—what I do to you now is something I do to myself long ago. The choices I make now condition the experience of my lives already irrevocably a part of my past. I have come to this desert to read the list of my past lives. I stand in the sand in bare feet and remain still. Bleached bones sit on the surface. They lie about their past.
May 17, 2014, Joshua Tree, California (Shaktifest.)
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Apprentice Editor: Sarvasmarana Ma Nithya/Editor: Travis May
Photo: Pixoto/ Ozren Blanusa