By Kiley Jon Clark
It started with a lie. Of course, this is how most truly great adventures begin.
I would sit for hours as a kid, eyes wide in wonder, listening to my older brother and his friends talk about courageous cowboys, pretty cowgirls, and the rodeo life. They told me all about bucking horses that could jump ten feet in the air and bucking bulls that spun so fast, riders got flung over the fence into the crowd.
They spoke of gorgeous women who invited cowboys back to their motel rooms, and in the morning, the cowboys would wake up to find their prized belt buckles gone along with the girl.
In my mind, I was riding those bucking horses and bulls, and tricking those girls by hiding my buckles somewhere in the motel room. I could think of nothing else. I read every book, magazine, and newspaper article I could find about the rodeo.
Someday, I thought, I’m going to be a part of this!
One afternoon, my father told me we were moving north so he could look for work. In an instant, my entire life changed.
At lunchtime on the first day at my new high school, I scanned the yard for a place to sit. Spotting a group in cowboy hats, I walked over and sat down near them.
“Where you from?” Said a voice from under one of the hats.
“South of here,” I responded.
I don’t know exactly why i said it. Perhaps I’d imagined it so many times that I believed it myself, but out of my mouth came the words, “yeah, I’m a rodeo clown.”
It was a lie. I had never even seen a real full-blown rodeo.
“Well hell, we’re riding bulls tonight and we need a good rodeo clown!”
Before I knew it, I was waiting nervously for my ride to the rodeo where I was to be the rodeo clown. My mind was stuck in neutral. All I could think was sheeeee-it.
By the end of that day, I would walk out of the rodeo arena a transformed being. I spent the next fifteen years making good money chasing rodeos all over the state of Texas.
Just as I had “gone hard” at rodeo, so I did when I discovered Buddhism. I read all the books, went on all the retreats, sat with various teachers, visited holy sites and studied in India, and asked a wonderful Tibetan lama, whom I dearly love, to be my root guru.
But to my great surprise, I’ve recently discovered that all of this is just readin’ and hearin’ about rodeo. It ain’t the rodeo.
how could I forget my tennis shoes sinking down deep in the dirt that day when I walked into the arena for the first time, into the center of that great circle?
the cowboy got down on his bull, everything became quiet, he slowly nodded his head, someone pulled the latch, and the chute gate flew open with a crashing sound. and in that moment, everything became crystal clear.
From morning to night, I had been living the fantasy of being a rodeo clown. But in that moment, it was like I’d stepped out of a dream. My ears popped, my eyes opened, and there was no longer the idea of “me” doing “rodeo.” there was only the rodeo itself.
And that is the feeling I’m getting now about Buddhism.
There are no more books to be read, no more lamas to ask, no more places to go, no more practices to do, no more rituals to perform, no more mantras to say, no more retreats to experience—hell, no more experiences to experience.
My inner ear has popped. The chute gate of my heart has crashed open. I see now that I have been living the fantasy of “being a Buddhist” and “doing Buddhism.”
But in this moment, the fantasy of “being” and “doing” is no longer present. There is only what is, a naked awareness in the center of the great circle where everything has become crystal clear.
Kiley Jon Clark leads meditation groups for the homeless in San Antonio, Texas, through his organization, HMP Street Dharma. He is the author of Body of Infinite Simplicity: A Guide for Homeless Meditation Practitioners.
Illustration by Kim Scafuro