Me and the Mountain

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A friend’s house on a mountain has been our home for this week. A little bit of water and electricity flows through it but no phone signal or Wi-fi. It’s more than a kilometre away from the nearest motorable point. It’s made of wood and stone and surrounded by cedars, pines, oaks and rhododendrons on all sides. Every room has a fire place and all the windows are single glazed. It’s about 50 years old, quaint and basic. Since the sun went into hiding yesterday, it has been icy cold and we have been magnetised by the lone wood-burning stove. The overgrown garden around the house still has colour from clusters of wilting maroon dahlias, symbolising the past glory of the house within. Every window looks on to a landscape that could be a picture postcard.

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There is nothing to do but go walkies. Jacob, a neighbour, dropped by to say hello. He is certainly the most energetic 70 years old man I have ever met. An Austrian anthropologist and a tour guide by trade, he has been living on this mountain for more than 40 years. He has a lovely Austrian wife who gave birth to their 4 sons on this mountain. The sons went to the local Tibetan school and then moved on to fulfilling careers.

A Buddhist monk has been living in silence and solitude in a cave on the side of this lush green mountain for the last 15 years. The only visible indicator of his presence is an oil lamp that lights up every evening.

Tea is consumed by the gallons here. It’s milky and sweet enough to float a boat. Its calorific value is high enough to eliminate the need for food. People here have peace, time, clean air and fresh spring water – luxuries for most city dwellers. Stories are exchanged, transmitted and created over cups of tea. They keep the bush telegraph alive and kicking.

There is a distinct beauty and stillness about this mountain, called Dharamkot, in the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas. The sharp contrast between my inner and outer landscapes is unsettling. I teeter closer to the edge of insanity than usual, feeling ill, walking the scenic slinky mountain tracks every day. Good old grief is bubbling up big time, threatening to push me over the edge. I am plummeting down the roller coaster at the speed of light and the only way seems to be down.

Since ancient times sages and sadhus have recognised and chosen the Himalayas as a seat of peace and enlightenment. The Dalai Lama’s residence and monastery are visible down the valley from this mountain. Smiling monks amble in ochre robes, lending an atmosphere of calm and serenity. The spiritual energy here is palpable. It’s doing its best to hoist me out of my slump.

I sit still, struck by the scale and magnificence of the giant Himalayas. What am I in front of these ancient icons? Insignificant. One little turn in the weather for the worse , one slight ruffle in the tectonic plates beneath me, one tiny miscalculation of a footstep on the mountain slopes, one temper tantrum of the mountain breeze is enough to make me disappear.

How big am I?
How big is my sorrow?
How many stories have these mountains witnessed?
How many more are yet to unfold?

What if the answer is to dissolve the ‘me’ in the mountain, in the basic elements that make up everything – earth, water, fire, air and ether. Be nothing and everything.

This and This.

In one hand I hold the joy, excitement and celebrations of the upcoming wedding, the holidays, time with family and friends, the outfits, the outdoors, the sweets, the music and festivities. New beginnings!

In the other hand I hold my devastation over having not seen Saagar for 3 years. Three years! The years made up of unliveable moments. The period that has shown me what’s important. The weeks and months that have seen friendships thin out and flimsy acquaintances grow into pillars of strength. The time when I have met some of the most incredible people I know. The time during which I have come to know more families bereaved by suicide than I knew existed. Also the time I have learnt about being human.

Both are simultaneously and fully present. I am fully present to both. I honour them both and hold them close to my heart. I know that Saagar is smiling. I know he is with me.

After a long time, today I took a chance and bought water-proof mascara.

 

Time is like flowing water.

If you like someone and they like you back, it’s pretty awesome. If over time they come to love you dearly and enjoy spending time with you, it’s a miracle. After a few years if the love grows and they want to spend the rest of their lives with you, it’s quite marvellous, especially if you feel the same way.

3 years ago, we were planning a funeral. This year we are planning a wedding.

Time flows in its water-like way. Asking why it flows the way it does gets us nowhere. It flows in line with its own path, following its own laws. That’s all. It’s a constant effort  breaking away from the time gone by and being fully present to right now – consciously,  with awareness. With gratitude for what was and what is. With gratitude for love.

Lifting a big rock feels heavy. If I put it down it’s not heavy anymore. As soon as I lift it up again, it’s heavy again. Where does the heaviness come from? It comes from lifting this thing. So, I put it down. That’s all I need to do. Just put it down. And stay still. That’s all.

Si and I get married in 2 weeks. 🙂

Three years of nothing

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One morning as I set off to work on my bike, my neighbour bundled up her chatty 6 years old son in her car and drove him to school. In the evening when I got back home, huffing and puffing, she was there again, putting the bins out with her son. I unlocked our front door and walked in with the biggest lump in my throat.

A few months ago, a notice arrived from the Council saying that the rubbish collection day would change from Tuesdays to Fridays. My first thought was, “Must let Saagar know.” It’s not the fancy things, but silly, mundane, ordinary, everyday things that make up the essential fabric of life.

Yesterday was three years since we spent a whole day together, going to the GP, then to the green-grocer and bank, then for a walk and then for an afternoon nap. When he was upstairs in his room, I phoned my brother in India and shared my sadness and helplessness about Saagar’s illness. He said he would come over as soon as his Visa came through, most likely within the next couple of days. I felt re-assured. I cooked a nice meal. We ate and watched TV together. We kissed good-night and went to bed.

3 years ago, today was the last time I drove him to the gym and back. He didn’t spend much time there. I noticed but didn’t make much of it. I asked him if he met any of his friends in the gym. He said no. He did his best to carry on. Today was the last time I gave him a cuddle and kissed him good night.

Last week I happened to walk past the GP surgery where Saagar was treated (or not). It has closed. The GP has retired. A barrage of mixed feelings emerged out of nowhere. It felt good to read that sign. Yet, it marked the end of a career, a vocation. God knows how many people found help and comfort there. God knows how many got lost. God knows how many such practices still exist where GPs work single-handedly and in isolation, hiring locums on occasion.

Walking along the Thames a few days ago, a stream of bubbles glided across my field of vision with the majestic, unshakable St Paul’s cathedral standing solidly in the background. The bubbles captured all the colours of the rainbow hidden in the autumn sun. The breeze sculpted subtle shifts in the shapes of the bubbles as they floated along the river. They danced and smiled as they moved with the wind. They added immense beauty to the world even though they lasted less than a few seconds.

Billions of people have lived and died before Saagar and I. Hopefully, billions will live and die after us. We are like bubbles in the ocean of life, capturing all the colourful emotions and being the best we can for as long as we are here, however long or short.

Saagar’s best friend Hugo shares his thoughts and memories. He also sings a beautiful song for Saagar. We love you and miss you darling Saagar. May peace be upon you!

 

 

 

 

A life sentence.

The best part of being human is to be able to feel stuff. All kinds of stuff. The world seems to be forever in pursuit of happiness in more money, more holidays, more clothes, more children and so on. The elusive ‘happiness’ is put on hold until the ‘more’ arrives, soon to be followed by more ‘more’.

In a week, it will be 3 years since Saagar died. For days I have been feeling this day approaching like a huge oil tanker which is going to squash my dinky little boat. This inauspicious day that should be removed from all calendars everywhere for all the years ahead. It should be obliterated, erased, deleted and destroyed.

I think back on this time three years ago, trying to understand how Saagar must have felt. I try to find words for the thoughts and feeling that he could not verbalise. I lament the fact that no one could read his body language. I admire him for coping with his state of mind with patience and dignity. I look at his face-book post from this night. It was a full moon. He said ‘big ass moooooon innit”. I marvel at his ability to appreciate beauty. I remember how funny he was. I get a smile on my face. I promise myself never to take one moment of those 20 years for granted. Each of them was a blessing. Yes. It’s true that this feels like a life-sentence sometimes. Yet, I know I am blessed.

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“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
― David Foster Wallace

 

Where the sky and the sea merge

 

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Woke up without an alarm at 8. Looked out of the window into the silence. The light was soft but well established. Went back to bed thinking I’d give myself another 5 minutes. The next I knew of my existence was at 10.41.

The day lay like a blank canvas in front of us and all I wanted was for it to stay that way. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Our holiday rental on a sea-facing hillside near Salobrena was made for it. The loungers by the pool, the cool breeze balancing the warmth of the sun, the Mediterranean air, the laid-back ambience was the perfect backdrop against which nothing happens. This province of Andalusia was made for it. In fact, the Iberian peninsula was made for it.

Granada gets its name from the Spanish word for pomegranate which grows in abundance here. Yesterday’s trip to the Al-Hambra replayed on the LCD of my mind. It started with a young enthusiastic car-parking assistant in dark glasses inviting, guiding and gesticulating in every way possible with exaggerated dance-like body movements to make himself understood and to gain our custom. Not knowing Spanish makes for a very interesting guessing game.  As we entered the ornate gardens, the first thing that the audio-guide mentioned was ‘Generalife’. The American voice in the head phones spoke everything including Spanish names in American, all without an “h”!  It was most out of place on ears tuned to Europe, like an Englishman in New York. I wasn’t sure if the word referred to the ‘general leafiness’ or ‘general life’ or something else. Many similar queries arose in my head as the day went on but I didn’t seek clarifications. There were too many question-marks to chase. I enjoyed the Arabic calligraphy and the grandeur of the Moorish architecture.

At the centre of the massive circular Palacio de Carlos V was a spot where people were taking turns to stand and speak or sing. It turned out to be a magical spot, for a song sung at that spot resonated with extraordinary depth for the singer but was for a listener a mere foot away. I stood at that spot and sang one line of a prayer softly and found myself soaked in the vibrations that came back to flood me. Never before had such rich resonance fallen on my ear-drums. My prayer was being answered as it was being sung.

The drive home coincided with the sun going down. The sky was decorated with other-worldly pinks and yellows. A deep masculine stirring Turkish voice saturated the car and converted it into a temple. At once I was one with all creation. The unborn and the dead, the manifest and the non-manifest, all collapsed into that one moment. I had tears in my eyes and all was good.

Like a sandcastle, all is temporary.

Build it, tend it, enjoy it.

And when the time comes

let it go.

– Anon.

 

The basic human right to be offended

A patient attending hospital to get help with conceiving a baby complained that one of the staff members was visibly pregnant. It was offensive to her as she was unable to fall pregnant naturally. By that measure, no one should walk in the presence of people in wheel-chairs as they might be offended. How far are we willing to take our right to be offended?

Wonder where this extreme unhappiness comes from? My guess is that it stems from feeling like a ‘victim’, having a huge sense of entitlement and feeling bitter because what is rightfully our’s is being denied to us.

I often get asked if it hurts to see Saagar’s friends graduate, get jobs and girl-friends, go travelling etc? The answer is that I am happy for them. I do miss Saagar like crazy. I do wonder what his life would be like but I don’t resent his friends living a full life. I still haven’t found the most appropriate way of answering the question, “How many children do you have?” but I am not afraid of it anymore. I take my time answering it.  The answer often depends on the person asking the question and the context in which it is asked. I have the power to choose to answer or not.

The only things we can give to others are the things we have. If we are brimming with anger, sadness and disappointment, that is what spills over. If we live with peace, that is what we present. Do we have a choice? I don’t know. But we can be aware of what’s in our bowl and how it may come across to others.

My bowl has been empty for a while. I have not actively replenishing it for myself. When I am on zero, I have nothing to offer to the world. Of late I have been seeing my therapist regularly, taking time to meditate, going for walks, listening to music and spending time with friends. Now, I feel the difference. I feel good and I can take better care of others. Historically we attach great moral value to ‘selfless’ service, especially to the role of mothers. These values are misplaced. We all need to nourish our spirit for that goodness to flow out.

What are you going to do for yourself today?

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