Two Campfires- An Existential Fable

Surfer rose long before dawn. In fact it was shortly after falling asleep that he woke again. Thinking to get an early start in the waves, he walked in deep darkness the few blocks to the ocean; new surfboard under his arm. He hardly noticed and did not much care that he was absolutely naked but did notice right away that he not wearing shoes. This made it painful to walk on the gravel path but forgot even that because he soon was standing on the cliff overlooking his familiar secluded beach and ocean.

Tonight was unusually foggy, he thought. Although he could hear waves that sounded like easy 2 footers hitting the beach, he could not see them through the thick mist. However, surfer could just barely make out two campfires on the beach a distance from each other.

“Great! there's a parties going on. I'll check it out” heading gingerly down the stony path toward the party places. suddenly feeling rather chilled from the fog that obscured any moon that might have lit his path, surfer approached the nearest campfire. As he came closer, figures began to appear out of the surrounding fog seated around the fire, warming themselves. This was not a party atmosphere here he thought but rather a strange but familiar hushed conversation going on with the people their features flickering in the firelight. Surfer found an open spot, crouching on his heels feeling grateful to be away from the clutches of the fog,now wondering what was going on. Shifting to a more languid half lying down position, he took the beer offered, noticing that it had several labels on the bottle but it tasted pretty good.

Looking at those gathered around the fire, surfer noticed that they were dressed in amazing costumes, all quite unlike what one would wear to a beach party. Thinking that perhaps these folks are coming from some festival, he happened to glance at his own feet. They were now in a kind of Turkish shoe with the ends curled up. His glance now following up his leg, surfer was interested to note that he was himself wearing some tight fitted, yellow, orange, and green striped pants. Now fascinated, he clutched his own chest, exploring the rest of the clothing that had so suddenly appeared. If he has chosen them himself, surfer could not have made it more unusual, as his usual garb was ripped jeans and an ancient black t shirt. Wearing a fancy long white shirt with puffy sleeves that fell over the hands, his shirt completely open. The rippling breeze moved the thin fabric; he pulled it close around him.

Fascinated with his costume and the similar unusual costumes of the others, he wanted to touch them to see if they were real, but the others looked up from their conversation disapprovingly and surfer settled in to just listen. The flow of conversation washed over him without catching any particular words. Instead surfer had a strong feeling of belonging here, feeling good. He was feeling good about the fire and especially happy to watch how the sparks enjoyed themselves going up, and then another and another. “This was good! Good to be here” he thought as he started a few times counting the colorful stripes on his thigh, lost count, but that didn't matter.

His hand fell away from his thigh, absently touching something behind him. The surfboard. “What was it I came here for?“ The sound of the ocean waves suddenly overwhelmed the pleasant drone of the conversation, entering his ear like an electric shock. Surfer jumped to his feet. “I don’t belong here”, grabbed his surfboard and dashed toward the ocean without looking back.

'Wow, it’s dark out there', he thought as he stopped his scrambling mad dash to the ocean. Feeling cold again and not ready to jump in to the surf quite yet, thought 'I'll just warm myself for a while at that other campfire. There was something strange about the one I just left, perhaps this other campfire will be ok until the sun come up' and headed down the beach toward the glow in the still heavy fog.

Approaching the campfire, what a lot of noise came from the small group assembled there. Surfer could hardly believe his eyes! They were mostly naked, that is, most of the time. Oddly, as they shouted and waved their hands wildly, pieces of armor would appear and disappear on their bodies without the person acknowledging it or perhaps even noticing. Surfer crept closer to the fire, feeling concerned, but needing warmth against the cold ocean breeze. 'These people seem to know each other but why are they shouting?' he thought.

Disquieted,seated with knees drawn up under his chin, surfer just stared at the fire, which burned but gave off very little heat. It would sometimes flicker in a way that reminded him of a fireplace he once saw, reddish orange gauze with a fan underneath that was moving the fabric like a flame. Looking at the flames in front of him he felt an angry determination arising in him. He felt the cold breeze and the fog on his naked body and accepted it. The others hunched around the lifeless fire wore mouths in a straight line, their jaws clenched, nodded and acknowledged surfer as one of them. His energy and thoughts rose and fell in harmony with the felt but unheard conversation, “how could I have been fooled by those others”, “nothing is real and that is that”, “I will have to harden myself”. These thoughts arose and he was satisfied.

His hand touched his thigh and a scrap of bright stripes caught his eye. At that moment, instantly, surfer was at the other campfire, feeling a bit sick to his stomach from the wrenching move. He laid with eyes closed for a while to recover. 'Crap!' he thought, 'This isn't real' and instantly, the painful shouting began. Surfer did not open his eyes, he knew where he was again.

Behind closed eyelids, surfer turned his face away from the cold flames toward the ocean sensing some light. Predawn had arrived! Now opening his eyes and without alarming the others, he moved slowly away from the fire, inching the surfboard across the sandy beach. Even though it was still foggy and he was feeling groggy, he cautiously moved toward the sound of the ocean. Surfer looked down and saw a black wet suit covering him from head to toe. 'Ah!', he thought, 'At least there would be some protection from the ocean'.

And so on and so on.


  1. Wow...this is a extremely thought provoking post Rinpoche. Is this in reference to the two extreme views that one can flip between?

  2. Palden not bardo- no, bardo not have this many choices!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Interesting story concept. It does sound a little bardo-like.


Post a Comment

I appreciate your comments- find a minute or two (for members of this blog) to share your views

Popular posts from this blog

Mental Sinking in Meditation

The Perceptions of Someone in a Coma