Beginning about 24-hours ago, on yesterday's morning walk, we have been moistened with rain. Sometimes mere sprinkles, followed by deluges that make the tin roofs rattle. One such deluge kept me welcome company in the hours of the night, as I did my shift on our monthly prayer vigil. The dogs wondered what the new adventure was, that i left home at 12.40 am and did not return till after 5, pouring myself into bed. Of course, by 8 am it didn't matter any more, to them, it was TIME!! So here I sit a little discombobulated by lack of - and broken - sleep. I return for the next 4 hours in a little over an hour, and then all three of us living here will join together in a Tsok offering, a joyful celebration of the chance to share in prayer for the benefit of the world. I am honoured at the opportunity - how many people never even know to pray - although I undoubtedly complain, and my eyes get droopy in those wee dark hours, when mantra and visualisation can swirl in my brain. Of course, we are lucky here, because our lives are flexible, and we support each other in working with the rescue dogs today : we are all in the same boat.
The earth was softened chocolate on today's walk, the air scented with a tangy, citrus promise. The creek has risen several inches, the water no longer clear. Gypsy picked her way tentatively across the sometimes submerged rocks. Nyima and Milo? Well, guess! I had the wellingtons on and, like Gypsy, chose my path carefully. We are two old ladies, who like routine and sleep.
We expected rain, because it had been raining in LA. We are just a scissor snip across the land from that city of lost dreams, and its weather becomes ours within a space of of about a day.
It doesn't take that long for other LA patterns to reach us. Gossip travels much faster than clouds; my computer screen has been inundated with news of Anna-Nicole Smith, since probably the very moment her death became public. Photo after photo, story after story, as the world dissects and feasts on the tragedy of her life, and now the repercussions of her death.
I know very few actual details of her life - saw a smattering of her story once on CNN - knew, of course (via computer), of the birth of her baby, the death of her son. Her presence has been unavoidable, and continues to be so, as fights erupt over her home, her child, no doubt her wealth. People step forward to speak, to argue, to pontificate, to challenge, to define the life of this woman who is considered public property.
In my radical feminist youth, I was angry at the dichotomy of the world view about women - so often to be reviled or revered; damned whores or god's police, in the words of an Australian feminist author. Somehow Ann-Nicole's death reminds me of that, she having reached the pinnacle - Playmate of the whatever - of that which some may consider to be on the side of the fallen woman. I don't feel angry now, but saddened, both for the tragedy and suffering she seems to have endured, and for the society I live in which equally condones and critiques the quest for happiness our society lays out, which she was trying to follow.
We live in degenerate times; this is what the Buddha spoke of. I don't mean degenerate in a holier- than- thou way, of sinner and saint, of evil-doers dancing with satan. We live in a time of great confusion, where we reward desire : for beauty, fame, wealth, to have our pictures on the cover of magazines, and these become the perceived mileposts on the journey for happiness and fulfillment . We measure success by these things, and are taught to yearn for them, so much so that, I read recently, it is not unheard of for people to die because of lipo-suction surgery. To die for beauty, like the anorexic models.
And we feast on the highs and lows of people who make it : their weight loss and gain, their addictions and flare-ups, their betrothals and divorces, the grainy pictures barely discernible, and yet of such great value. Angelina is adored because she adopts a baby; Madonna is criticised for doing the same. In a way, the actions don't really matter, it is the value we place on them that counts, which can rise and fall like the stock market. As long as there is something to print and hang at the checkout.
Some years ago Jetsunma referred to our culture's obsession with the Hollywood sagas; she suggested instead that we study the lives of saints and enlightened beings, who were dedicated not to feeding desire, but to ending the suffering it causes. People who valued the resilient qualities of kindness and equanimity and generosity and humility. People who we know of now, not because they searched for fame, but because they lived humble lives committed to goodness. How much deeper and longer will the enduring qualities they brought into the world be present, than the fleeting image of who has made it on the covers today.
I feel sorrow for Anna-Nicole Smith, because she is not so different than me; i too, have placed beauty and fame, the yearning for a child, high on my list of priorities. It is just that my karma provided me with a chance to make different choices, know different outcomes. All she was trying to do was find happiness in the way she thought best, much like you and me. Instead, her life seems to have been sprinkled with great suffering. And now she has met her death.
That is the great leveller of which she reminds us: whatever actions we choose or pursue, we will all die, leaving behind us those things we placed so much value upon. Her mansion, her child her litigations - hollow victories, or losses - now. All that she has taken with her is the habit of confusion, of not being able to discern what will truly bring happiness. That is all any of us carry past our last breath.
She is in my prayers, as is her baby born into turmoil, the men now jostling to claim what she has left behind, her family - everyone affected by this saga, which accounts for probably the entire media- aware population in this nation, if not the world. I wish peace for her, clarity - that in her future she may have the chance for different choices and outcomes, which bring true happiness, not its tawdry imitation.
What if, instead of tearing her life and death apart to feast on, we all - every single one of us - said a prayer for her, for everyone trapped in the cycle of desire and despair. What a blessing - not just for her, but also for us, for the world. A moment in which our hearts collectively soften and open, not to judge her life or her choices or those now rushing forward in rivalry, but to weep for the tragedy we all somehow share in, and to pray for a world where suffering has ceased. In that moment of quiet and contemplation, the axis of the world would shift. May this be Anna-Nicole's final - and most precious - gift to each of us.