Iris Bean got off at the Clybourn bus top to do her usual Wednesday 6 o’clock thing: listen in on conversations at her two favorite coffee shops and count the number of people who run into her with shopping carts at Whole Foods. Iris’ grandmother died five years ago and left Iris, her only grandchild, with a large inheritance, five cats, and a collection of rare hats found in second hand stores. Thanks to the inheritance, Iris was able to leave her job as a paramedic and pursue her life long dream of being a self-employed improvisational investigative writer. Iris was still defining the definition, but, mostly, she had a compulsion to find out what people do all day; what they talk about and what they don’t talk about. How they dress, speak, walk, think, and feel; how people interface with life, she told her friends. On buses, trains, elevators; in restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops, grocery stores, offices, Iris followed what she called, her glorious gut sense and that is how she gets her stories. Iris liked to think of herself, in all practicality, as an Uncanny Surveillance Artist.
On her way to the coffee shop Iris saw an announcement at New Realities Bookstore which caught her eye: Lama Geshye Mizelpa, 6:30 speaking on Transforming the World, Being Compassion. Iris was always curious about men who dress in skirts and the women who dither over them. This, her glorious gut sense told her, will be worthy of your curiosity and time. Iris ordered a mocha mint latte and took a seat near a table of toned and tanned women wearing lulu-lemon and sipping pots of Woman’s Balancing Tea, sharing stories of gluten intolerance and high end juicers. More women began streaming in, some with large brimmed straw hats and Birkenstocks worn over heavy wool stockings. A table of what Iris referred to as “Corporate Carlottas” wearing Vittoni l’ Ricci skirts and blazers gathered near a stack of Wayne Dyer books and coffee mugs which read “Happy Women Unite”.
A tall gaunt man stood up to begin the introduction. Iris caught bits and pieces of his warbling as she kept an eye out for the lama, wondering (sardonically) if perhaps he would be carried in on a velveteen dais festooned with gilded lion heads. The pale-skinned man giving the introduction kept clicking his teeth which irritated Iris, reminding her of her grandfather whose false teeth clicked and clacked whenever he talked about his hatred for republicans and obese children. The lama, originally from Brooklyn, “is one of only very few Americans who have gone to study and live in a Tibetan monastery, a veritable heavyweight in the emerging American Buddhist community,” and on and on about the greatness of the lama he went.
Iris caught a wiff of a lovely earthy smell; patchouli of course. Before Iris became a paramedic she lived in a small Vermont community of hobby cheese-makers, incense makers, and carvers of wooden birds. It was a rustic bucolic life which ended when a fire set off by a very stoned, very cidered-up community member destroyed the old log cabin; pounds of handmade patchouli sticks went up in smokes.
The be-skirted one suddenly emerged from behind a sectional of books on Henna Body Painting and Psychic Body Massage. He was accompanied by a tree fairy, thought Iris of this young woman who looked to be lit up by some anomalous translucent light from the inside. Iris had seen this look before in her Vermont community. Berdetta Boretti, when she stopped eating meat and renounced anger as a toxic emotion, and regularly masturbated to a photo of Babapoogi Rama Hara, she looked like this. This was a fine look for fairies, nymphs, pucks, sprites, and imps but rather alarming, Iris felt, for a human to be so void of mojo.
The lama and the void-of-course young woman sat in folding chairs and giggled as they clutched hands and sipped lemon water. Iris glimpsed the bald spot on the back of the lama’s head where he tried to do a comb-over, it was spotted quickly by the Proficient-Iris-Surveillance-Eye. (These were the little details Iris looked for as an investigative writer.) It was more apparent that he was much older than he looked, and she was quite young. For the next 45 minutes Lama Mizelpa delivered; a jumble of platitudes, stories of life in the monastery, an attempt at analyzing the roots of American violence (too much ego, not enough compassion), and instructions on proper nostril breathing. Iris laughed when he talked about the bathroom habits of Tibetan Lamas (squatting in robes, peeing on feet) but she felt unsettled; a deep current of emotion was being avoided by the lama and the people. She knew this feeling well, had developed a finely tuned awareness as a paramedic; people often need to pretend that things aren’t what they are, and as humans go, we push things away until we’re ready (or not) to open to the deeper truths. Iris wondered, as she looked around at the crowd, what people were wanting, why had they come? She spotted a woman standing near the back and could see grief around her like a fine mist. Most of the people, it seemed to Iris, were here for a recipe to happiness or some obscure technique to bypass the rawness, the confusion of their lives. This is what Iris missed the most about being a paramedic. There was no escaping the reality, the immediacy of trauma, of blood and guts spilled on the pavement, of the cracking and shattering that happened when a loved one suddenly dies. Most often though her days were filled with tediousness; the day to day drum of repetition, of waiting for the next crises. It was the daily encounters with ordinary events, (old people falling in parking lots, a sprained ankle on a golf course, a sliced finger) that shaped Iris’ humanity; bulked up her endurance and steadied her presence. The layers of stories and interesting people she encountered kept her vibrant and curious. During those years Iris’ life was constantly being tilted and jarred and stabilized by the uneventful, by sudden death and miracles; she was both drained and cleansed on a regular basis.
Lama Mizelpa went on about compassion. Does one need to “learn” to be “taught” compassion? Don’t most humans come in knowing this? churned Iris. Those removed from the “real world”, such as lamas, popes, very wealthy people, politicians, they certainly, in their enclosed, well ordered worlds have limited experiences of how most of the people live and struggle, so their capacity for employing compassion is limited. Iris appreciated her own mind, its quality of depth and ability to get beneath the banal. The males who are in charge of the killing fields of the world, that is another breed altogether, Iris felt the rage rushing to her head. These males are talking to themselves, Iris concluded, trying to assuage themselves of necessary guilt. Projecting that which is lacking in their own inner structure onto others. Getting people to believe they are responsible for the sins of the fathers is a several thousand year old plot. Ah, yes, Iris saw this for the psychological operation that it was. She suddenly had more interior space, more wiggle room; her thoughts and feelings were getting untangled from the muddled mess of psychological maneuvering that was, as Iris saw it, a factor in illness and depression and violence.
The crowd was amused when Lama Mizelpa talked about the 20 years of obedience and servitude to doctrine and tradition. Iris flinched at the uncomfortable laughter and subliminal squeaking sounds from the audience when the be-skirted one shared the ways of punishment in the monastery: sticks, belts, canes, slaps, kicks, sleep and food deprivation. A typical patriarchal model of cruelty, Iris noted. He skittishly joked about sneaking a beer into his quarters; caught and punished with hard labor; he impulsively reached for the translucent woman whom he called his soul mate. Iris was curious as to how she managed to hold that endless demure smile, that bashful countenance, hollow gaze. But mostly, Iris felt sadness. For the boy-man punch-lining his abuse, for the young woman dissociated from real time, and for the crowd who wanted to believe this is holy and sacred; the myth of the Savior. Iris knew the psychology of this myth all too well as she too, before her near fatal fall down a mountain, believed the Savior Story.
When the lama’s talk was over, the host of the event, a financial advisor and venture capitalist who was part of the maroon-robed lama’s entourage, began to instruct the crowd on a Tibetan meditation practice. Directions were given to imagine a red rose with a diamond in the middle; “Take in as much pain of the world as you can breathe in to your body; hold it for as long as you can; breathe it out into the red rose. This will begin to help dissolve the world pain,” the banker decrees. Iris wasn’t buying it. Playing on white guilt, she thought, leaving the Crown Royals and Lords of war and genocide out of the equation. Reminded her of the $1,200 weekend workshop she did in Bali with a friend who convinced her that THIS was the way to heal all emotional pain and leave the past behind. For two days Iris sat with a group of about 75 people in a tawdry hotel pulling their fingers and chanting in Sanskrit. They all wanted to believe that this would, like a good suppository, eliminate a lifetime of unwanted, pernicious emotions. Iris did meet a woman on the plane who educated her about feeding cats a raw food diet, and she got a good story about the crank who sold people the finger pulling sham, so it was, after all, a useful wild adventure.
Standing near the Death and Dying section (Iris felt her intestines seizing up; reacting to the oxygen depletion in the room) she gained her distance but didn’t want to miss the spectacle. “Imagine,” says the man, who Iris felt was exceedingly wealthy, “that the world, the entire world, your friends, family, and every single person in the world is now free of pain and suffering. Free of anger. Free of fear. Let this golden light fill you, fill all the people who are at this moment suffering. Take that gold light out into the world. Fill the world with the gold light.” Once the need to defecate passed, Iris did her own meditation. She imagined that all the males (and robotized females) in the world who are responsible for the pain, suffering, torment, drugging, inducing, destruction,killing, poisoning, die-off, stealing, possessing, lying, cheating, and other assorted evil and atrocities would all be rounded up, trussed up, and delivered by apache helicopters into the Caspian Sea to be eaten by bull sharks.
When the guilt-inducing hypnotic meditation-of-omission was complete a meet and greet line formed with the be-skirted one. Mostly all women, Iris observed as the gaggle of seekers hugged and fawned over this boy-man, as if he had just arrived from Saturn with Illustrious Secrets from the Universe. What a shame, Iris concluded as she sipped the last of her latte; all the brilliant and brave women through time whose stories have gone unheard, writings and ideas buried, whose adventures and journeys may never be known. And this, the crumbs and dregs, women will stand in line for, thinking it some precious, crucial, life giving nourishment.
As it is and further more
the closer we look
the deeper the lore
Iris’ little mantra settled her and humored her when she felt herself sinking into the dumps of lonely. She reminded herself that next week was Halloween and something magical, palliative always seemed to happen for her on that day which restored her faith in the world being truly weird and sometimes mystical. Last Halloween she found a black kitten inside of a hollowed out tree. That is how she met Lucretia, an astrologer who understands the nature of evil, and introduced Iris to Ikebana flower arranging. When Lucretia looked at Iris’ transits to her natal chart, she knew she needed more beauty in her life. The year before that, Iris found a one hundred dollar bill on the street and gave it to a man on the street playing Woody Guthrie songs. After a long conversation they realized they were second cousins. Keep following your glorious gut sense and you’ll be a-okay, Iris told herself.
In the bathroom of New Realties Bookstore Iris lingered in the stall to hear the conversation between three women. They all agreed the meditation was useless, and even insulting said one. “We were suppose to laugh I think when he told the story of getting caned for something or other.” Iris giggled to herself, cheered up a bit that she wasn’t the only one who felt what she did. In a world where it was getting more and more unacceptable to speak what one feels, to have the “proper indignation towards that which is ridiculous and duplicitous” as Lucretia says, Iris was encouraged. Now it was time to get over to Whole Foods to hear, perhaps, a tid bit of insurrection, which, to Iris’ memory, was usually around the cheese case.