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.

What am I doing here?

Like a fusspot, I brought my tea-bags with me. I packed 6 in a flimsy little plastic square box, enough for three days. The nail on my right middle finger shouts out its fragility again. The file is tired of the rate at which the 20 possible keratinous beds declare their inability to cope. The mirror shows a lot of pale scalp shining through sparse, dyed, once thick curly hair.

I woke up in South Wales this morning, in a hillside country house, my window overlooking a valley. Meandering hedges partition the fields semi-geometrically, up and down the slopes. A scaly river shines at the bottom. Not too far, white lines on a newly washed country road glisten too. A few white houses with dark sloping roofs sit on ten shades of green at safe distances, like meditating sages. The panoramic horizon is a multi-coloured squiggly line, cutting right across my window. 6 wind- turbines merrily dance on the west-end of it. The long shadows give away the corner of the sun.

On the balcony a squirrel scrounges under hanging bird-feeders. This morning the birds seem more interested in conversation than food. An errant motor superimposes the chatter periodically. A few streaky feathers lie here and there. One of the twin kittens strolls across the keyboard of my laptop from left to right, following the direction of my sentences.

My mattress on the floor lies 3 feet away from a snazzy red and silver drum-kit and a Djembe. Percussion instruments trail behind me all over the world. I see them wherever I go.

Why am I here his weekend?
I am here to see a ‘medium’.
Never thought I’d hear myself utter those words. 

Day 999

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The G Word

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to significant emotional loss of any kind. Grief is the mixed bag of conflicting feelings caused by the end of, or change in, a familiar pattern of behaviour. Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to find when you need them one more time, they are no longer there.

The following statistics are heart breaking and could be avoided in many cases. Over half a million people die in the UK every year with an average of 5 grievers per death. That’s 2.5 million new grievers each year due to a death. Over 250,000 grievers per year due to divorce. This figure does not include the children grieving this significant loss. 25% of children in the UK are in single parent families1. By the 10th anniversary of moving in together just under 4 in ten couples will have separated. A Harvard study has found that when a husband or wife dies, the remaining spouse’s risk of dying is 66 per cent higher in the three months after their partner’s death.

Unresolved grief is everywhere.

Common myths about grief:

1. Time heals: Time does not heal. Time is an abstract concept – a unit of measurement that has no healing power. We know people who have waited 10, 30 or 40 or more years to feel better. However actions taken over time can heal.

2. Grieve alone: Often this advice is subtly implied “just give her some space” or “he needs a few minutes alone in the other room”. As children we learn that this means sad feelings should be hidden or experienced alone.

3. Be strong: Usually the griever is asked to be strong for others. “You have to be strong for your wife/Mum/children”

4. Don’t feel sad: This is usually followed by an intellectually true statement that is emotionally useless to the griever. “Don’t feel sad, his suffering is over” or “Don’t cry, at least you had him for 20 years”

5. Replace the loss: This is really common with pet loss or the end of a romantic relationship. “We’ll get you a new dog” or “there’s plenty more fish in the sea”

6. Keep busy: “If I just keep busy I won’t have to think about the loss”. This one is sad because some people spend their whole lives with this mentality and never get the chance to grieve and complete what was unfinished with the particular loss.

The G word – Guilt.

The word “guilty” is often used by a griever.
Griever: My son died alone, I feel so guilty.
Grief Recovery Specialist: Did you ever do anything with intent to harm your son? Griever: No, of course not (This is an almost universal response)
Grief Recovery Specialist: The dictionary definition of guilt is “intent to harm” and you didn’t do that. You are devastated enough by his death, please don’t add to it an incorrect word that distorts your feelings. Would it be more accurate to say there are things you wish had been different, or better or that you’d done more of?
Griever: Oh yes!
Source: ‘Guide to loss’ , 61 tips on grief:  free download from http://info.griefrecoverymethod.com/mainpage-ebook

Day 997

Moving home

The experts on the gardening programme  on the radio said that repotting is traumatic for plants. I had never thought about that before. Should it be any different for children and families moving house?

By virtue of my dad’s job, we moved more or less every 2 years. Some of the places we lived in are not easy to find on the map of India. I completed 12 years of schooling in 8 different schools in India. It was normal to be the new girl in class. We went to schools that catered to families that moved frequently. So, often there would be other new kids in class too. It was heart-breaking to leave friends just when our friendships were deepening. As time went on, it became a part of life and although it was sad, I could handle it much better. That was partially because I altered the quality of my relationships. I didn’t allow them to get too deep. I protected myself by holding back a bit of me for myself. That bit would always be safe. I didn’t know I was doing it then but I see it now.

The cycle repeated itself with Saagar. The difference was that he travelled outside India to places where he would be the only coloured kid in class, where they spoke a different language in a peculiar accent, where he had no close friends or extended family, where it was normal for people to live all their lives in one place and be buried in the cemetery two streets away from their primary school.

Grief can come in intangible forms – loss of trust, loss of innocence, loss of safety, loss of childhood, loss of control and loss of faith.  A 2010 study of 7,000 American adults found that the more times a person had moved house in childhood, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and well-being, irrespective of their age, gender and education.

Reasons, timing and location matter. The good news is that something can be done about it.

Day 984

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Wonder what Saagar would have made of Brexit. He would have wanted easy access to France. He was a die-hard Francophile. He loved the intricacies of French language, food and wine, girls… He wanted to work there at some stage, to practice his French.

Trump would have been extremely amusing and concerning for him. I think he would have had fun making a cartoon character of him and imitating his mannerisms and speech. He used to mimic Bush Junior a lot, to our great amusement.

He would have had some strong and interesting opinions about gender  identity politics and ‘safe spaces’ in Universities, which mean different things to different people. I was told that in his first year at University he volunteered as a student counsellor for LGBT students but in the second year he withdrew from that role. Did he not feel well enough within himself? Was that an indication that he knew something wasn’t the same?

Burning Middle-East, migrating populations, global tensions, towering infernos and erratic climatic phenomena – I wonder what he would have thought of all these things.

The passage of time is dragging me away from the point when he was alive. I grieve the widening gap between then and now. That time is receding further and further away like a very low tide. Physically, the current keeps flowing in one direction – away. Mentally, it dances, twirls and circles, touching many points over the past 24 years and gathering up as many gems as possible, folding them neatly and putting them away safely, to be revisited again and again and again… What if I forget everything? What if it goes too far away and then disappears? What if I can’t touch that time ever again?

 

Day 981

For Rene’

Somewhere in the sea
Are you waiting for me?
In that expansive blanket
Of blue
I am waiting for you
I’ve cried these tears
They’ve made this sea
And now I cannot find you
In this sorry mess of blue.

I’ve swam to the edge to reach This tip
Of nothingness where you left your shoes for a dip
From which you haven’t returned
And now I’m left tracing
Across this sparkling blue
Where has it taken you?

My love was pure
It held no bounds
And yet nowhere, anywhere
Can you be found
I try to search with frantic eyes
Where I can turn back the fate
Of your demise?

I hold your shoes pacing
these shores
Wont you be out soon, cold,
and need your soles?
I am here, a lifeguard
Supposed to protect you
Against these waves of blue.

I pray to the Gods and the earth and the creators I don’t know
That they can bring you back here to this spot where I bow
I’ll protect you better
Try harder
Swim faster
Against this tide that pulled you out.

If I can’t find you then what is my life about?

I’m so sorry, my angel
But I’ll never give up
I’ll wait here forever till this blue dries up
I’ll sit here searching until you come back.

-by Rene’s sister, Stephanie.

Day 976

I grieve.

I grieve for his death.
For his guilt, his shame.
His self blame.
His sadness. His silence.
Every moment of distance.
Him, all alone. Forlorn.
His thoughts, torn.
His brokenness. Hopelessness.
His lightless eyes. His vanished smiles.
His hollow form. His shadow gone.
His quite desperation. Separation.
His terror. His fright.
Night after night.
Misunderstood, behind a hood.

I grieve.
For this black and white Now.
For this constant ‘How?’
That wretched day I went to work.
Every time I put me first.
Words unsaid. Eyes unmet.
Holidays unmade.
Jokes and Stories unshared . Games unplayed.
Songs unhummed. Beats undrummed.
Meals uncooked. Dreams unhooked.
Films unseen. Jeans uncleaned.
Hugs unheld. Incense unsmelt.
Cocktails unmixed. Good-nights unkissed.

I grieve and I am grateful
For all that was given
and all that was taken away
And all the nitty-gritty.
For it pushes me closer to Divinity.