Last night around 7.30 I received a phone call from Megan, who wanted me to deliver a message to Cian up at the ranchhouse before he left at first light today to take Khen to the vet to be snipped. I grumbled; I had just lit the fire and put chicken soup on the stove to warm. It had been a cold drizzly day, and now was a dark, cold night. The thought of walking the 1/2 mile or so was unwelcoming, to say the least. I pulled on my boots and jacket. I discarded the first torch I picked up, the batteries were weak. I idly contemplated taking Nyima- the cold weather increases her energy factor by a zillion - but decided alone would be more efficient. Thank goodness!
The drizzle had ceased, but the sky was impenetrable with cloud, and vision limited. I walked briskly up the small rise past Jetsunma's driveway, and started on the long, straight treeless stretch to the ranchhouse, where in the distance a single speck of yellow illuminated my destination.
Suddenly to the right I heard a grunt. Javalina. I turned and saw a darkened mass amidst the pale, long grass. I kept walking, knowing that to panic or move quickly entices them to charge. I hoped it would keep on its way. A few steps later, however, I understood what was actually happening. I had waded into a sea of javalina crossing the road, and was completely surrounded. I stopped. The odour penetrated my senses (they smell somewhat like skunks), there was grunting from several directions. I could see forms, barely discernible, arising and dissolving in the grass. More closely, in the light from my flashlight, were large males, maybe 4 feet distant from me.
I uttered "Du sum Sangye", the first three words of a potent protective prayer we say, but then a more primitive response set in. I began, in my large, loud voice the javalina war-cry, well practiced from attacks on my dogs. A constant gutteral scream of "aaaaarghh", modulating slightly, but never ceasing. I swung the flashlight back and forth in an arc, hoping the strobe effect would bewilder their nearly blind eyes. The males did not back off in fear, but moved around, clearly visible in the beam - one a few feet to my right, its large snout twitching in the air - took steps towards me. I was fearful, but not panicked. Clear, sharp thoughts flashed in my mind. The yellow light of the ranchhouse, the idea of calling for help, but who would hear, the imagined sensation of those serrated tusks tearing my flesh, the need for rabies shots, the sense of total vulnerability, aloneness. I stood and screamed and waved, focussed only on that moment, that place, that event. I looked around for a tree to move to - the single one was 10 feet back towards Jetsunma's . The javalina were unsure of me, and no attack had begun. I moved towards the tree, only to realise that they were at its base as well. The banshee scream continued to rise from my throat, the arc of light to slice through the darkness, as I walked in a measured, steady pace back towards Jetsunmas. After the crest I was silent. No-one followed.
I was shaking by the time I retreated inside. I called Megan and told her of the event, and that the message would never be delivered. We chatted and laughed. Afterwards, I sat with the feeling, it had been an extreme and direct experience. Javalina are vicious, and ours are no longer fearful of humans. Even a local cowboy - a real-life, horse-riding, cattle-hustling man of the land -told me he climbed a tree when caught in their path, so it is not some imagined danger I had tasted first hand.
I contemplated a teaching Jetsunma recently gave about the bardo experience - that after death event where the chaos of karma arises, and you experience light, sounds, images in a bombardment of confusion. So much of what we do on the Path is to prepare us for that, to subdue the reactiveness of our minds, so that there is a deeper awareness and understanding, a calm to endure the storm, and see it for what it is, just the echo and reflection of our habits. Did I pass the 'bardo-test' on my walk last night?! I cetainly did not generate myself as a deity, or remember the ultimate emptiness, I was very much in the relative reality of the event. But I am glad that I did not react with panic, as I once may have done. There was a clarity in dealing with the drama, of responding with fear in a way that got me out, not deeper in.
I was most aware, as I stood on the seemingly endless stretch of road - the ranchhouse so far away, the javalina so close and encircling, cloaked in the vast darkness of night - of how alone I was. Not a 'wish someone was here to help me' feeling, just an acute, stark awareness. We are taught again and again, that in our lives, on this Path, we are ultimately alone. We have friends and family and beloved pets who comfort and support us, but in that moment of death - or perhaps in many moments in our lives - we will be faced with the realisation that there is nobody who can help us. We cling to the familiar because we fear this - it is too big, too hard, too sorrowful to accept. But last night I glimpsed it just for a moment. I cannot say this one event will shift the way I live or practice, but I hope it serves as a contemplative reminder of how vulnerable we all are. There is no true place of refuge to be found, except in the kindness, wisdom and compassion of our deep, abiding nature, always present in our hearts.