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.

Opposite of speed

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Breathing with awareness, walking with mindfulness, meditating with heart-fullness and intense silence with loving-kindness.

As if life switched from super-fast to ultraslow. Placing the right bare foot gently on wet grass. Bristly softness tingles. First the heel, then the outer edge of the foot. Some green tips manage to tickle the arch. Then the toes grasp hold of the ground. I am aware of tiny bits of the sole between toes and foot which never come in contact with anything. So cool! The entire sole buzzes like a guitar.

An aeroplane whirrs in the sky. Ears catch the Doppler effect. Fluffy shapes in white, blue and grey traipse the space above. Birds make jest. The wind continues to waltz with trees. Eyes watch life sprouting in seemingly dead places. The Being notices the breath.

The left foot lifts off the ground, preparing itself for the excitement of landing. Toes go first. They rub noses with the green tips before plunging in. The ball of the foot descends and the rest of the foot follows. It feels different. The heel hits the grass abruptly. The ground is uneven, not warm, not cold. It oozes the love of Mother Earth. Dew-drops cushion the impact. The green of the grass is a conglomeration. At least 6 different types of tiny foliage lining the ground, masquerading as one. Yellow flowers standing up on tender green stems dot the lush carpet. Some of them are being visited by bees. This luxurious texture invites the right foot back. It’s moving in slow-motion mid-air, presently at the top of an imaginary semi-circle. I put the breaks on and halt its progress as much as I can without falling over. It follows through the curve and makes contact with the earth one milli-meter at a time.

Flowing eastern movements of ‘Swimming dragons’, ‘Cloud hands’ and ‘Lions playing with a ball’ (Qigong) bring into balance the Yin and Yang. The more I slow down, the deeper I immerse in the ‘Now’. I actively deflect all adjectives. I don’t want to call it good or bad or silly or slow. It’s just walking. The rustle of leaves is just falling into my ears, the cool breeze is just brushing across my face, a few yellowed leaves are just falling off trees like twinkling stars descending from the skies. Everything just is.

Never before have I experienced walking in this way. To think that I have been walking all my life! I feel I could walk all around the world for the rest of my life.

Three years ago, at this time of year Saagar was really ill. For many years before that, autumn was my favourite season. Then it was my least favourite. Now it’s just early autumn. Another roll of the dice of time.

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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 998

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Good fortunes.

Today is your lucky day.
She says, ”Why not?”
The traffic cop is sleeping.
Everyone assumes you were just kidding.
You’re upgraded to first class.
Your client is even later for the meeting. Bingo!
You got the good genes.
You win the lottery(and haven’t lost the ticket).
Surprise. It’s on sale!
It’s sunny at Wimbledon.
You bet on the wrong horse, which wins.
Blackjack. It goes in.
The test is negative.
You find 100 pounds in your old jeans. You’re OK.
Your mother-in-law is really cool.
You guess right.
There is no traffic.
You are the millionth customer.
You are proven innocent. Near miss.
Refund. No one got hurt.
You find your cell-phone.
Your kids are healthy.
They accept your ridiculous offer.
The one you love, loves you back.
Your dead, really rich uncle really really liked you.
You have a sense of humour.
It’s just a mole.
No one ever finds out.
Tomorrow will be even better.

  • By John Nieman

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Day 996

 

Tying the knot

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Today my friend and her fiancé tied the knot. 2 individuals and families came together and entwined their love and destinies forever. The sun and the flowers smiled as they poured out blessings. The fragrance of jasmine flooded the air as the pretty little white flowers adorned the hair of most women present. Chanting of Sanskrit verses in a rhythmic baritone meter sanctified the atmosphere. The fire at the centre of the auspicious ceremony bore witness.

The sights, sounds and smells conjured up images from the past. The food and music. The silk and gold. The gifts and festivities. The smiles and promises. The coconuts and beetle-nuts. The salutations and offerings to deities. The hopes and dreams of lifelong friendship, companionship, health, happiness and prosperity. Mischievous traditions of the bride’s friends hiding the bride-groom’s shoes and little competitions between the bride and groom. A reminder of times and people gone by.

In the last 2 years and 9 months I have turned down three wedding invitations. Couldn’t face the thought. Today was the first. It was good.

The last wedding Saagar and I attended was in September 2012. We drove to a small village near Brighton on a very wet day. Our Tom-tom took us to the middle of a field and declared, ‘You have reached your destination’ . We had to laugh. We drove up to the nearest set of houses, knocking on doors of complete strangers to find out more. We finally got there. It was great!

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Day 995

A Path by the River

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(A path by the river: A commentary on modern spiritual search by D. Patrick Miller)

“As a journalist and reviewer in the field of contemporary spirituality I receive an almost daily deluge of books and other media that promise me accelerated enlightenment, total wellness, and sure-fire, karmically sanitised methods to achieve personal wealth and power. If even a fraction of these spiritual nostrums delivered the goods, my life would be a series of ever-brightening explosions of greater consciousness, finally culminating in the full flowering of affluent guruhood. That seems to be the American way of spiritual evolution these days.

Yet my spiritual life has never felt like a fireworks display of enlightenment-bursts building to a grand finale. When I picture it, my spiritual life looks like something completely different.

Imagine that you’ve spent years building a house to shelter you from the inevitable storms, deep freezes, and hot spells of life. The house is far from perfect; in fact most of the rooms seem to need remodeling as soon as they’re finished. But at least you’ve got a home of your own. Call this home the ego, or your normal sense of self, arduously constructed from the raw materials of the psyche following a haphazard blueprint based on your personal beliefs and experiences, your likes and dislikes, your hopes and dreams.

One day you’re sitting comfortably in the living room of your ego- home and the floor suddenly drops out to reveal a rushing river where you thought you had laid a firm foundation. Hanging on for dear life to a shuddering wall mantel, you realize that the house crashing down around you has become a mortal danger, likely to

snuff you out at any moment with a flying shard of window glass or a tumbling timber. Your only hope of survival is to let go of your familiar home, drop into the river and literally “go with the flow.”

This river is the onrushing life of the soul, which cannot be long hidden or confined even in the most spacious of homes built by the ego. Falling into the inner life of the soul is commonly called a spiritual awakening, and is usually precipitated by a profound crisis that shakes apart our usual self-serving foundations, the conventional ethos of “looking out for No. 1.”

But few of us can swim for long in the soul’s turbulent waters. Sooner or later you manage to struggle to the bank of the river and pull yourself onto solid ground, gasping for breath and wondering how you’ll survive in a strange new territory. After a while you may notice that the scenery ain’t bad from this new vantage point. You get to thinking that this might be just the place to build a new, finer house than before, in sight of the magnificent river but wisely removed by a few hundred yards. Who knows – you might even start a school here to teach river-rafting.

If you do stop here to rebuild a home for your ego, it will simply never occur to you that rivers tend to flood every now and then.

If you’re not focused on rebuilding a shelter immediately, you may notice that a footpath runs by the river where you dragged yourself onshore. In one direction the path will lead to the river’s source; in the other direction, to its destination. Without knowing how you know, you realize that the source and the destination of this river are the same, and it doesn’t really matter which way you head. And so you start walking. As the days stretch into months and then years, you learn to live a life in the wild following the river.

Sometimes the going is rough; you get lost in the underbrush, losing sight of the river and discovering that you’ve walked in circles just to get back to where you were days before. Sometimes the path turns muddy and steep, and you fall back two steps for every three you climb. Sometimes you slide into the river and get swept away again for a while. All these trials are part of the spiritual journey toward selflessness, the placeless destination that you started heading for the moment you fell out of the house of ego.

If you’re handy you may learn how to build yourself a canoe out of tree bark. But after a few days of coasting along the soul’s river – justifiably proud of your ingenuity and your determination to get ahead spiritually – you realize that it’s not really the speed of this journey that matters.

What matters is the seriousness with which you are following the route of the river. If you’re really serious, you’ll find yourself laughing pretty often at how ludicrous your situation is. Because regardless of your station in life in the everyday visible world – and no matter what anyone else thinks of you, whether they call you genius, guru, or fool – you know that you are truly an inward, homeless wanderer following a river without end for no reason you can practically explain. On this journey you’ll certainly never get ahead of anyone!

This is how I picture my spiritual life nowadays – stumbling uncertainly along a rocky path somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea, pausing occasionally for attacks of helpless hilarity. Despite the wild rigours of following my path by the river, I don’t miss that old house I once built. When I think back, I remember how alone I usually felt within its walls. Sitting out by the river and watching its complex, ceaseless flow, I know that I am flowing there too, my soul inseparably mixed with all the souls who create the water of life.”

Day 992

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Strawberry Hill

“If you had a carpet bag and an umbrella you could be mistaken for Mary Poppins” one of my colleagues commented as he stopped his car right next to me at a red signal while I waited there on my bike. I often wear a tunic dress with leather shoes to work. I enjoy watching other cyclists in their multi-coloured and multi-logoed breathable jerseys, elasticated and padded cycling shorts, grippy mitts, electric yellow socks, clickity-clop shoes, snazzy sporty eye-wear and fancy headgear. Most of them are very serious.

My cycle belongs to the category of ‘hybrid’. It’s black and silver. It’s heavy compared to some of the feather-weights on the road. The special thing about it is that it is wholly unremarkable. Saagar used to call it ‘old lady bike’. Its first name is Strawberry and second name, Hill.

Space on roads is negotiated between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Cyclists move in packs and sometimes have disagreements amongst themselves. It’s clear from the behaviour of a cyclist if he/she has ever been behind a wheel. Likewise, it is easy to say if a driver is cyclist-aware. Pedestrians are a law unto themselves.

Within 3 turns of my wheels as I start off from a red signal, at least 10 bikes go past me. It’s another matter that a hundred yards hence we find ourselves waiting at the next set of lights. Some attempt to squeeze through the narrowest crevice in the traffic. Being stuck behind a bus is a special treat in terms of the quality of air. Smoking is mandatory.

The morning ride to work is a dream – fresh air, fresh me, very few people out and about, the wind behind me and the way mostly flat or downhill. In the evening – smoky air, tired me, lots and lots of people, riding into the breeze on a steady uphill road. Both, leisure times. Excuses to be a child again. As my quads toil hard to get me home inch by inch, I visualise the tub of Green and Black’s Dark Chocolate ice-cream waiting for me in the freezer. It helps with the speed and puts a song in my heart.