In the Gunman's Crosshairs
I live in an apartment building on the water in Marina del Rey, a small-boat harbor in Southern California. One day I walked out of the house and jumped in my car to go do an errand.
As I was backing out of my parking spot, and shifting from reverse to first gear, I noticed an anomaly – there seemed to be a man with a rifle, hiding in the bushes underneath the eucalyptus tree about 20 feet away, and his gun was pointed directly at my head or heart. My car was pointed almost directly at him.
This got my attention. I stopped everything I was doing, put the car in neutral, and relaxed into the moment. If you are in rifleman's crosshairs, and his finger is on the trigger, you don't want to make sudden movements. Let him assess the situation, don't force his hand. If this was my last second on earth, I was going to enjoy it.
The gunman looked like this. (image courtesy of Raptor Systems, www.raptorsystems.com.au)
Then I checked with my skin sensations and my magnetic sense – I have a kind of proximity sense, that tells me the intentions of people in the space around me for 20 feet or so – and my skin did not seem to think there was any danger. I was slightly amused by the disparity – hey, instincts, wake up, you don't seem to be taking this seriously. But the instincts were there, catlike and aware, and not worried. All this took a moment, and time was moving in that tenth of a second increment that it can when you are totally relaxed and yet alert at the same time and in your senses. Human reaction time is about a tenth of a second, so when you are relaxed and alert a second is actually made up of discrete noticeable moments.
At the same time I was noticing more details about the guy. I took a breath and let my senses zero in on the gunman, and I began to see that the rifle was not actually pointed directly at my head, it was actually aimed over my left shoulder a few inches, and if he had fired without moving the gun, the bullet might have blown off the driver's door rear-view mirror, but missed me by nine inches to a foot maybe. That was my impression. I do know a little about rifles, for I grew up hunting, and I spent years wearing camoflage gear and shooting animals with a scoped rifle.
Then I took in the fact that he was wearing a ghillie suit. He was camoflaged to look like part of the eucalyptus tree he was kneeling next to. Also, he was not moving at all. There was no vibration. That gun barrel was absolutely still. I know that state – he is in a sniper's trance, totally concentrated on the target. He is in sniper Zen.
I thought something like, "This guy is a total professional, so no worries – if he wants me dead, I will be dead, no escape. If I am not his target, this is not the kind of guy to make a mistake. He is a professional killer, not one to waste a bullet on someone who is not part of his mission." Moving my eyes slightly to the left, I noticed there was a spotter a few feet away from him, also focused on me or something near me.
I took a deep slow breath, and let my body go limp, and at the same time projected love in all directions, "It's been a good life," let my shoulders drop, and just sat there, slightly to one side of his crosshairs, poised, looking at the sniper with a "Hey, what's up?" greeting, as if to say, "OK, I am in your crosshairs. Your move." Nothing happened for a few seconds.
It was a long few seconds.
The sniper and the spotter did not move.
So I glanced up, in the rear view mirror, and saw a boat on fire in the marina behind me. At least, there was smoke pouring out of the boat, and there were several people standing in the back of the boat. The boat was not moving.
Aha, I have backed my car right into a situation. Maybe is actually pointing his rifle at someone on that boat, and his line of sight passes just to the left of my shoulder. Then I checked with all my senses again, and I felt no tension in the air at all, no danger. Interesting.
Finally the sniper glanced at me, eye to eye, by moving his head back from the scope a few inches. He slowly put one hand out, and made a slight, "Come on" gesture with his fingers. So I put the car in gear and slowly drove forward, and the sniper gave me a tiny nod and went back to his scope.
This experience was enjoyable because my nerves did not go into fear at all, even a little. I went from the ordinary mode we all know of "going to do an errand," to relaxed alertness without passing through alarm. I was just alert and ready to die if that was what was going to happen, but it all was OK.
If I had been startled, caught unaware, then it would have taken time to get over that fear before my senses starting working accurately again. But my heart did not skip a beat, it just slowed down a little. There was no adrenaline. I rode the wave of alertness up, a tenth of a second at a time, to an interesting state of easy readiness, ready for anything. I do train for this kind of relaxed alertness, and use it every day just in dealing with people on the street, driving, and surfing.
This is why it is such a good idea to meditate before leaving the house. You never know what is going to happen when you cross your threshold. Life is going to happen, and 99% of the time that will be more or less routine, and once in awhile something really interesting is going to happen – people outside your door are going to be in the midst of something, and you can't prepare for that by being tense and guarded. You can only be ready for anything if you are totally relaxed and in your senses.
The bike trail through the marina goes near where I park my car, and there is a woman who roller-blades through my parking lot every day, and she scares me more than the sniper. She is trim and blonde, early 30's, and wears earphones, a baseball hat and dark glasses, and is always pushing a baby carriage with twins in it. I know she can't hear over the music because she does not turn her head if a car right next to her starts up. She doesn't even notice when the FedEX truck is right behind her, it's diesel engine rattling. She has the uncanny ability to zoom right behind my car when I am about to back up. I often write from four in the morning until about ten in the morning, then go out to do errands, and that late morning time, ten to eleven, must be her designated exercise hour. When I back up, it does not matter if I look to the right, look to the left, and look behind me. She still can appear from nowhere. I have backed up a few feet then paused and scanned the environment again, and sure enough, she goes zooming right by my back bumper, oblivious.
If you are alert, you will see people like this constantly, risking their lives and even their children's lives as they zoom around on some mission, distracted by the million thoughts zooming around in their head or distracted by the cell phone or the music they are playing to distract themselves from distraction. You need to surround yourself with extra alertness to compensate for their lack of awareness. It's a gift to the world to offer them a bit of protection. Give them the space. Don't contest the road with them. Maybe they will wake up before it is too late, maybe not.
The sniper was AWARE. He did not ruin my morning because he was in a zen of relaxed focus. I just happened to pass through his crosshairs for a moment.
When I came back, there were a few people standing around in the parking lot, some Coast Guard types, and the sniper and his spotter. I said hello and they told me they had been practicing a hostage rescue scenario. I scanned his patches and insignia and the scopes and other gear they had around them, and he asked me to not reveal his unit or anything about him.
How I Gave Up Shooting Animals
Lorin in Kenya, 1960, with catfish that we were about to eat for lunch.
I was raised a hunter, shooting rifles from age 7 onward, and going on deer hunting expeditions with my father. In 1960, my father and I went on Safari in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. While my dad went after big game, I shot small animals. I had a beautiful scoped rifle, an Anschutz. Then one day, sneaking through the bushes, I got the drop on a warthog. I just materialized near him so stealthily that he did not move. He just stared me in the eye. And I realized, these animals have souls. I have no right to kill them unless my family needed them for food.
After that I gave up shooting anything I wasn't going to eat for lunch or dinner that day. In practice, this meant I only shot the wild chickens - called Mud Hens, and went fishing.