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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
34 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2017 the path The Joy of the Lonely Dancer by Judith Simmer-Brown I was drawn to the work of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, because he wrote about loneliness and desolation. He emphasized the experience of hopeless- ness, and he wrote poetry about the stark landscape in which I lived. He spoke a language I thought I understood, and I was eager to meet him. But that first summer of Naropa University, I was unprepared for the actual experience of encountering him face to face. In our first conversation, he reached into my mind, knowing the question behind my question, and he answered it before I could even ask. He recognized my inner desolation, and yet to him it was not tragic. There was no boundary between us, and he neither confirmed nor denied anything in my experience. He had not lost heart, and his joy and celebration were apparent in everything he did. I was shocked, afraid, and magnetized. Still, the ramparts of my desolation endured for years to come. I relaxed in Rinpoche’s presence, but the joy and humor were his, not mine. I rode his cha- risma and basked in his warmth. I practiced and studied and soaked up every- thing I could of his teachings, determined to fulfill his wishes. When he taught on hopelessness, I resonated, feeling vindicated. Yes, I felt hopeless—I must have been a good student of his! But one day he strode into my desolation, eyes flashing with humor, and called my bluff. My desolation became anger and disappointment. The secret hope at the heart of my hopelessness was exposed. Nihilism was a brand of theism. I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes, my disap- pointment was so sharp. But that was the turning point. No concept could cap- ture the true nature of reality or the mind. My mind was pulled inside out, like a sock. And the inner desolation began to melt, like ice in the sun. I glimpsed the basic goodness at the heart of the world, and I was included within it. I still experience the dark shadows of nihilism, but as a visitor. As I pulled up my stakes from that terrain, I asked myself, am I prepared to be happy? Can I allow myself to emerge from the self-imposed exile of my nihilistic pat- terns into the true open space of my humanity? Can I abandon the constant dilemmas perpetuated by a mind escaping from eternalism into nihilism? And then I think of my teacher, how he sat constantly in the nakedness of the pres- ent moment, enjoying himself, doing nothing. He asked us to make friends with our desolation, and to come to know our terror, and to sing. I sing with him whenever I can. Spring 2006