“Climbing up the Mountain” by Laura Ballou

Reading anything to do with the dharma makes me feel less alone in the world. That this complicated, tragic, beautiful life is not mine alone, but is shared with the rest of humanity – that this mind of mine is alike to so many others – this is a comfort. It feels like a warm fire on a cold night.

The human mind and heart are as ancient as dirt itself, as stardust. That the mind is still stardust – what a genius thing! What brilliance, the sacred dharma passing down from generation to generation, from the ancient geniuses, protectors and deities, who we chant about today at our center.

I am re-reading one of my all-time favorite books, Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, for the fourth time. My brother gave me a stack of Kerouac books when I was in high school, and they have survived these twenty years: they each have a special place on my bookshelf. I picked up Dharma Bums again this past month. To read it outside, in the Chicago crazy city at a coffee shop table outside – Kerouac’s words always transport me to this other time, this other life – so unlike our generation, but the same too – we’re the same old moonstruck people. Kerouac understood something about bumping around in life, sometimes finding people to share it with, sometimes being heartbreakingly alone. But the dharma never leaves you. A warm fire on a cold night.

We, collectively, are always hiking up the mountain that is the warrior’s path. This morning I was reading over coffee, how the narrator, Ray Smith, realizes a great truth, while hiking Mount Matterhorn with his fellow dharma bums Japhy and Morley, after being terrified that he’d fall off the mountain – it’s impossible to fall off mountains you fool. Kerouac’s genius touches on these things in a way that is gentle and cutting, like the world itself.

Kerouac teaches me something about the idea of generosity: that those of us on the warrior’s path must give of ourselves. Thank the gods that Kerouac took the time to write down all his thoughts, to sit at that old typewriter and punch out these pages that are so timeless, so precious to me, as I sit alone at the coffee shop in East Lakeview.

And so many people, sitting at coffee shops reading these same words – how we are all connected, and not just through social media. Social media is the least of it. We’re connected because our hearts beat – we all must contend with these tender hearts of sadness, our basic goodness. If we have the opportunity, in this precious human birth, knowing the dharma, we can all rejoice in this struggle, climbing up the mountain to who knows where, together and alone.

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