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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
spring 2006| 24 |buddhadharma The lonely child who travels through The fearful waste and desolate fields, And listens to their barren tune, Greets as an unknown and best friend The terror in him, and he sings In darkness all the sweetest songs. – Chögyam Trungpa, from “The Silent Song of Loneliness” in Mudra: Early Poems and Songs When I WaS fIve yearS oLd, we moved from a Boston suburb to the nebraska Panhandle. as we voyaged westward across the country in our ancient black Chevy, I was mesmerized by the change in scenery. We left the winding roads, forests, and hills for miles of farms with fields, streams, and groves of trees. as we crossed the Midwest, the trees became more sparse, the farm- houses more distant from each other. and then it was miles and miles of treeless prairie, with slightly rolling sparse hills, bleached brown in the September light, with limitless sky – the nebraska Sandhills. Inexplicably, I became tremendously anxious, thinking that we were about to drive off the edge of the earth. as we settled into our new town, pop- ulation nine hundred, in the heart of the Sandhills, I wasn’t able to overcome the feeling of foreboding for the terrain: sparse grass, lots of sand, a few stunted trees, abandoned farmhouses, virtually no breaks in the endless expanse. There weren’t any vistas. and in the winter, blizzards raged for days, leaving sculpted wastes that buried even the ranch houses. a few stranded motorists died each winter in this stark landscape. That first winter, my brother and I were lost in a blizzard in our own backyard, rescued by a savvy neighbor who heard our screams. Back then I began to plot my escape. This landscape became emblematic for me in my teens and twenties, as I grew spiritually. When the religion of my youth did not support my growing questions and doubts, I found myself in that same stark inner landscape. My college and graduate school training in religion and philosophy exposed me to existentialism and modernism, while my inner life became increasingly desolate and lonely. Judith Simmer-Brown iS profeSSor of religiouS StudieS at naropa univerSity and an acharya (Senior teacher) in the ShamBhala community. She iS the author of dakini’S warm Breath: the feminine principle in tiBetan BuddhiSm (ShamBhala puBlicationS). The Joy of The Lonely dancer Too often, says Judith Simmer-Brown, Buddhism’s principles of emptiness and aloneness lead us into the extreme of nihilism. She looks at the pitfalls of the nihilistic view and recounts her own journey from depression and despair to a more profound aloneness marked by celebration, joy, and an experience of basic goodness. Paintings by Cynthia Moku