-My life – somebody else’s death –
A first little bit of light is just oozing up over the horizon when I wake up. I’ve never really checked the clock-time, but I know when it’s time. My body is still reluctant to perform when I gently slip into a waking state. My mind is clean, refreshed, and eager to go to work but not quite in gear yet. I deeply enjoy these moments waking up when all the senses gently open up and perceive sensations without much preconditioning. Innocent like a child I tap into the reality around me, all I see and feel is transparent and pure. I’m utterly still and simply tune in to the orchestra of actuality. I don’t contemplate yet, just listen, just wonder, just sense the dance of life.
For a short moment now I’m really awake: not lost in sleep any longer and not yet lost in endless daytime thought. Later the mind will slowly start to engage again, and the tireless noisy factory of thoughts will resume its relentless production. Thoughts will swarm like ants, pristine reality will be processed, judged, compared, weighed, and ruthlessly manipulated until it looks familiar and safe to be finally taken for real. It is filtered, predigested, censored reality that arrives in our consciousness. We don’t experience things themselves, we see the meaning of things. We don’t perceive what really is, we experience what we think about it. We recognize sensations rather than experiencing them. We don’t say: “Oh, this is so”. We say: “Oh, this is like that”.
But in these precious moments between sleep and wake or, as it appears to me so often, between night-dream and day-dream, lies the chance of a short glimpse of truth. For a brief moment, we can see what really is, like a glance through a forbidden door.
I give Parvin a quick kiss on her sleeping face and step out into the darkness. I get the fishing gear ready and launch the boat. When I sit in my kayak the day begins.
With careful but powerful strokes I pick up speed. Instinctively I try to avoid noise. Noise would distract, would spoil the peace. The paddle gently dips into the water, almost caressing the surface for a fraction of a moment, then digs through it with a long forceful up and down swelling stroke and leaves it again in a cautious regardful way, giving the surface time to close the wound again without much turbulence or splashing. I’m one with my boat. My boat is my body, floating and slicing through the black calm water, spreading a tiny silvery wake to both sides. I’m out of breath when I leave the quiet protected waters of our bay. When I curve into the open sea I grab my fishing pole for the first cast.
In order to really catch fish I have to get out very early, way before sunrise, when there is this crucial short span of time, maybe not more than 20 minutes, when certain fish bite. I use a pretty large spoon lure with a triple hook, which is a long oval-shaped piece of shining metal that makes a wobbling motion when dragged through the water. I troll it at a fair distance while paddling at a moderate pace. I found it most efficient to simply rest the pole on my lap, pointing it backward under my left arm where it least interferes with my paddling. Feeling the pole on my legs, I get a good sense not only for a strike but also for the proper performance of the lure.
As soon as the first cast is out I relax, and the “celebration” of fishing begins – the lure, somewhere behind me in the dark, waiting, performing its secret deceiving dance. With long steady strokes I paddle on. I feel like the jaguar, stalking its prey in the dark. My awareness is wide open. Everything around is somehow part of me. I’m with the flickering reflections of the light on the water. I’m the waves, swelling up and down, moving landscapes of valleys and mountain ranges, all changing, all illusive. I’m my boat and the sparkling water drops dancing on the deck. I register everything with calm equanimity. There is no need to value it or distinguish things as beautiful and less beautiful. Everything is as it is. I’m not looking for something, not expecting anything, and still letting it all in with my senses wide open. Oh these precious moments, when I deeply trust that there is no real need to explain, nothing to figure out, when I can shrug off the old habit of reasoning, when there is this wordless knowing – has been all the time – I only forget.
My mind is there, somewhere in the background, like a sleeping dragon, ready to charge, ready to take over and put it all “into order”. It is functioning but not dominating yet. Somehow, these morning hours fishing are so sacred, and the mind seems to keep a respectful distance for a while, knowing it would only spoil it all. I feel the flow of happiness, this deep joy of pure being that has no reason and is always there when we only pay attention and don’t clutter our minds with unnecessary things.
The eastern sky has filled up with light by now. The dawn is spreading out, the stars are drowning in the light, the night dissolves. Light is flowing over the waves. Flakes of glistening gold float on the black water. Everything is softly moving and changing. Patterns appear on the water and dissolve, images come and go. The ocean is breathing and swaying, and my own motion just melds into the gentle flowing dance. I paddle steadily but don’t pay much attention to it. I’m not focused on anything. I almost feel my lure somewhere out there, vibrating, waiting. But I’m not waiting at all, not really expecting anything. I’m just there, aware of it all.
I’m so completely absorbed in this “being mode”, sometimes, that I’m not even really surprised when there is a strike. My reaction to grab the pole comes by itself, without any effort or excitement. The line zings out, I tighten the brake, the fish is on.
Now the killing takes place – it’s still the same “me” who’s doing this. The pole bends hard and I reel the fish in, cautiously, with short bursts of rapid cranking. Finally I grab the leader of the line and heave the fish in a quick movement out of the water into the cockpit and dump it between my legs and hold it there. I feel its life pulsing, I see its pain; I’m killing it. I am destroying life. I am causing suffering. And – what an incomprehensible mystery – I’m quite unagitated, doing it.
We do kill in order to live. It does not make any difference whether we chew on an alfalfa sprout, still alive under our teeth, or kill a cow or a fish. If we see a difference, it is the result of cultural, moral conditioning. It remains the great question whether such moral conditioning is guided and enforced by a superior entity mostly called God or whether it actually is the result of a natural evolutionary processes that is incomprehensibly mysterious. Life feeds on life; in cannot be denied. We are Life. Inside of us this life-taking and life-giving is going on all the time; our own bodies are an incessant battlefield. And our staying alive is somebody else’s pain and death; why do we see this fact so rarely stated? Often it is in fact merely some trivial, quite unconscious action of us that causes suffering and death to someone else. As long as we are alive ourselves we are participating in this universal, seemingly so brutal and merciless game, whether we like it or not, whether we manage to ”explain” it away or not.
It is deeply exhilarating to see yourself as Life itself and not as somebody dealing with life. It fills you with sublime emotion when you abandon these empty concepts you cling to because you actually just fear for your very own little life, when you realize what a horrific thing Life really is, and when you understand you are it.
This is a moment so full of mystery – the apparent brutality of life – explained to death by too many moralists, by dreaming idealists, and by perverted killers, by people who are in paralyzing fear of it and by people who can’t get enough of it. Is it ethically okay to kill fish, to hunt, to eat living things? When we “think” up such a question and “think” about an answer, both is the effect of endless impersonal conditioning. We will always come up with some kind of opinion, but do we ever know how little it was really made by ourselves? Our thoughts are always conditioned by what happened to us in the past. Nearly everything we think, including preciously rare events of ultimate wisdom, is history, accumulated, processed past. In order to see what it really is, life and killing and all the rest of it, we have to drop this tremendous burden of thought about it, we have to step out of the maze of concepts and take the courage to really look, look through the fear, without flinching, and not change what we see.
Why do I do this? I don’t ask this question now. It comes up later in sleepless nights, this burden of not knowing, when I never find a true answer. Now I may see the problem, but later I have the problem.
This old Mexican woman, out in the Yucatan, comes to my mind. She killed the chicken, we bought from her, in such a beautiful, respectful, and somehow loving way that, just watching her doing it, struck me there with a glimpse of sudden understanding. She held the animal like a baby in her arm and drew the knife through its neck like a sweet caress, and the blood suddenly was not disgusting at all.
But now I’m here in this moment. I look at the fish. Early in the morning before sunrise it’s mostly a Sierra or a Barracuda: Long, silvery, and sleek, with this typical cruel, ruthless grin on its warrior-face. The head armored like a knight; the lower jaw longer than the upper one, like a protruding chin, like the opposite of an overbite. Pointed sharp teeth, sticking partly out like those of a crocodile. Rainbow-colored sparkles shimmering on the tiny scales.
I cast out again and paddle on and maybe catch another fish. Now the sky is on fire. And finally the sun breaks through. Light is gushing over the waves, bathing everything with clarity, and the world around emerges in appeasing familiarity.
When I head home, the pelicans who have watched me the whole time always come flying by to check what I’ve got. And, the moment I touch the beach, they land too on the water and wait for the leftovers from cleaning. But first, there is Parvin, waiting for me with breakfast.
written and revised between the 1990s and Dec. 2010