dancing a jig on the edge of a cliff.

Buddhism talks about "falling into hell". Hell and Nirvana aren't places (barring the salvationist sects who kind of ignore what the Buddha actually said): Nirvana is right where you're standing. It's a state of being, the way that you move through the world. Hell is a place of your own devising, where your eternal suffering comes from your constantly searching to quench your insatiable desires by throwing more stuff at them, whether it's money, sex, or food. It too is a state of being, and sadly one that I think most people live in.

In Nirvana the enlightened one moves "without hindrance in the mind", unbound by rules and worries, clearly perceiving the world in its essential form apart from the labels we give to it.

Karma is the accumulated baggage of our actions, the repercussions of our deeds, good and bad, selfish and selfless. Somewhat perversely, and I think this is not generally communicated in discussions about Buddhism, the way to be free of your bad karma is just to let it go. Karma is real, and our actions have ripple effects that do come back to us, but in the end "karma" is only as real as the idea of "red", a piece of thinking that gets put down with everything else.

(The obvious question here, which I ask repeatedly, is, "What is the difference between a bodhisattva [an enlightened person], and a sociopath, since they both act freely?". The answer is that the bodhisattva has realized she is one with reality, and to act in a way that harms the world, harms herself. I'm not the least bit qualified to discuss the origin of morality in Zen, though, because I don't understand it, so I'd suggest finding a friendly neighborhood Zen teacher--they're everywhere these days if you look carefully--and ask him or her. S/he will likely be happy to help you out.)

The reality of the thing is that the difference between hell and enlightenment really and truly is a matter of approach. If I do something for all people, in the pursuit of wisdom and Big Love (universe love, not yay-somebody-massaging-my-ego love), I'm following the Way; if I do the exact same thing for any number of egoistic reasons, I'm in hell (most easily distinguished by constantly going after and getting what you want but being unhappy and dissatisfied anyway). Bam. That's it. And, if you're caught in the tangle of hell, it's hard to get out.

The line between enlightenment and hell is the edge of a knife, a twisting and turning path where a step in the wrong direction sends you spiraling down.

I am walking the edge of that knife. And smiling.

Today I did not have what I would generally call a "good" day. I am filled with an impressive amount of emotional turmoil, as last week I decided to reconnect with someone I knew would push a lot of buttons. I've been doing that: I isolated myself for a little while, and left a variety of people behind so I could clear my head, and now I'm wanting to backtrack and slowly pick up the pieces and find out who all these people actually are, now that I can see them a bit more clearly. Of course, I isolated myself for a reason, namely that these people bring up a lot of odd psychological foo from the corners of my mind, and there's no reason that should change with time, so reconnecting brings up the same stuff. Now, though, I have a basic grounding and some perspective and tools for dealing with this sort of thing, so while it's not necessarily fun in the moment, I can recognize the emergence as a good thing (and identify what I'm feeling, even) and manage my way through it. It was kind of a challenge to keep working, but I did, and now my software is deployed in production (even if it's not doing useful work yet), and no one has called me to say that the datacenter is on fire.

The path along the edge of the knife is a powerful draw, and in a lot of ways I'd like to run down it. But I've been down that road before and fallen into hell, and I just recently got out and I'm in no hurry to go back. My choices have consequences, and I have years of bad choices and bad consequences to guide me forward. Walking slowly, one step at a time, with awareness of what I'm doing and why. Why am I even walking this path? It seems worthwhile. It'll be fun. It will be...nice. And cuddly. And warm. I could use some cuddlywarm in my life.

Because it feels like it should be a great deal of something, or nothing at all, and nothing doesn't make any sense when there's a lot of great something that can be had in a healthy way. I don't think hiding is really effective.