WHO AM I IF I’M NOT A BALLOON?

“What’s your true nature, Aussie?”

“Being a balloon.”

“What?”

“My true nature is being a balloon.”

“For a while there, Auss, I thought you were a wild hunting dog. For months all you seemed to want to do was escape, run to the woods and chase prey.”

“Those were the days.”

“And then things changed. You’re not so wild anymore, Aussie. You don’t go out to sniff out holes in the fence—”

“You and Tim took care of that, didn’t you?”

“But you were different even before we re-fenced the areas where the wires were loose. You seemed more settled, Aussie, more at home in this home.”

“That’s because you fed me more, Boss.”

“Was that it? I can’t keep on increasing your food, Aussie, I don’t want you to get fat.”

“That’s going against my true nature.”

“Which is what, Auss?”

“I told you, being a balloon. That’s what I want to re-discover, my balloon nature.”

“Aussie, every Buddhist knows that our true nature is not being balloons.”

“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?””

“Aussie, our original nature is to be empty of an imagined self.”

“I mean, without clothes. Those jeans and sweaters hide so much!”

“Our original nature, Auss, has nothing to do with jeans and sweaters or the body underneath, and certainly nothing to do with what our brain tells us is us. That’s just an imagined construct.”

“Well, my brain tells me that in reality I’m a balloon. And I know that’s true.”

“How do you know, Aussie?”

“Because the more I eat, the better I feel. I’m becoming my real self, I’m growing into my real skin, bigger, better—”

“Fatter—”

“More beautiful. My real self is balloonness.”

“Define balloonness, Aussie.”

“The state of being a balloon.”

“Your true self is not balloonness, Auss. Your true self is empty—”

“A balloon is empty—”

“Not that kind of empty, Aussie. Emptiness refers to not having ideas about who and what you are, which restrict your basic freedom. So even insisting that in reality you’re a balloon already limits you.”

“A balloon flies in the air. Do you fly?”

“No, Auss, and neither do you.”

“I run a lot faster than you. A balloon is light as a feather. Are you light as a feather? Don’t make me laugh.”

“Aussie, your original nature is not balloonness.”

“I say it is. I don’t care what your books say, I don’t care what the teachers say. Aren’t you the one who says we should depend on our experience?”

“Let me ask you this, Aussie. Now that I feed you more, you say you’re a balloon. What were you before I fed you more?”

“Unhappy.”

“Not a balloon, Auss?”

“Not a balloon.”

“But your true nature shouldn’t change depending on circumstances, Auss, that’s what makes it true nature. We say it’s empty because everything else we can point to—being righteous, being a sinner, being a writer, even being a dog or a human—depends on circumstances. Right now you’re a balloon because you get more food and more treats.”

“Food and treats are my path to realizing my true nature.”

“If you keep on eating your true nature will be a busted balloon.”

“Why?”

“Because you’ll get hip dysplasia and kidney disease, you’ll get arthritis. Believe me, Auss, it’s not worth it.”

“So what should I aspire to be?”

“True nature has nothing to do with aspiration. Be yourself, Auss.”

“Who am I if I’m not a balloon?”

“That’s your koan, Aussie.”

“Tell me the answer.”

“Can’t do that, Auss. Zen teachers never give answers. Answers are the death of our practice.”

“I don’t like this practice.”

“Where are you going, Auss?”

“To steal Harry’s food. He’s sleeping so maybe I’ll get away with it. Being a balloon feels a lot better than an empty stomach.”