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.

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.

 

Day 990

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The Hook

Couldn’t believe that Saagar was gone on Day 1 or Day 10 or Day 100 … and soon it will be Day 1000. Still, life goes on. Still struggle with it. A lot!

Everything has changed – the world, me, my relationship with the world. I have been walking, sometimes crawling, up a steep learning mountain. Still am. Sometimes flattened by it. Many of you have been walking with me, keeping me fun, encouraging and comforting company. We have spent a lot of time together and there is so much more to do, share and learn.

This blog has been the hook on which I have hung my days. It has kept me from irretrievably crashing on the floor and getting decimated. It had held me together. It has been an ever-present friend, always willing to listen and receive, the stage on which I have shown Saagar off and poured my love for him, a rubbish bin into which I have chucked my pain, anger and regrets.

Coming up to Day 1000, I am filled with anticipation as I know it is time to loosen my grip, to place a little more faith in life and ride my bike with ‘no-hands’ for a bit. I feel the time is right. It is with trepidation that I make this proposal to myself that after Day 1000 I shall post a blog every Thursday. Or will it be Day 1001?

“You who walk, your footprints
 are the road and nothing else
 There is no road, Walker.
You made the road by walking.
By walking you made the road
And when you look backward
you see
 the path that you will never step on again.
Walker, there is no road,
Only wind-trails in the sea.”

– By Antonio Machado (PROVERBIOS Y CANTARES – XXIX)

 

Day 980

Japanese Floral Art

In ancient Japan it was believed that God lived in the evergreens. That is why they used it as the tallest and the main component of their flower arrangements. God was the invisible line that passes vertically through the centre of the arrangements. So said a senior faculty of Ikebana, Prof. Kurata at his lecture/demonstration this morning.

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Three hours of his talk equalled a year’s worth of learning. He went on to show how nature outdoors is depicted through flowers, leaves and stems indoors. This bamboo vase represents a cliff side and the alcove within it denotes a cave from where plants are emerging towards light, the spectator. Pictures don’t do any justice to the space and the movement created by the study.

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He spoke of beauty. When hidden, it carries intrigue. When hidden, it allows for imagination to flow. When hidden, it can be the most beautiful thing in the world. This is an example.

The Veil

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The shape of the container and the simplicity of the materials combine to create elegance.

Who? Me?

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Rikka is a form that captures a landscape. Each part of it signifies something, like receiving, flowing, supporting and carrying. It has mountains and rivers within it. Find them if you can.

Tatiana

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Clever use of angular shapes and bright contrasting colours to create an uplifting happy slanting mood.

I swear diagonally, Bro.

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The world is sort of round and so is this. Rounds within rounds. Wheels within wheels. Keeping to the theme. Cheerful asymmetry.

Must be Spring

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This last one was for the youngest member of the audience, a 3 year old girl. Playful bobbles and wires hanging out happily with an orchid in a blue bottle of gel balls.

Smile!

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Wonderful to see a true genius at work! It’s calming working with flowers, stems, branches, leaves, berries and grasses. Being with nature. Breathing. Learning. Smelling in the subtleness. Letting the imagination flow. Allowing the Self to heal. Letting go. Dissolving.

Day 979

“Helping others is the way we help ourselves”
-Oprah Winfrey

Simple ideas change the world. A Clinical Psychologist, Dr Charlie Howard was taking a walk around her area. Having recently had a child, she was looking for her next “thing”. She asked random people what would make a difference in their community. “A Problem-Solving Booth right here on my street” answered a young man in the queue in a sandwich shop.  “A place where people can go with the stresses in their head and where we can help each other”. The idea was genius and Charlie’s head built on it quickly. “Maybe we could try one here?” Charlie suggested, “we could do it together”. The young man smiled at Charlie and said “yeah maybe” and then his phone rang and he ran off down the street. No one knows his name and no one has seen him since. He probably has no idea just what his throwaway words have since inspired.

Problem-Solving Booths are a great way to bring members of the community together to have conversations that they might not otherwise have, by helping each other with their problems. One chair is for the “Helper”, the person listening to the problems. The other is for the “Helped”, the person describing their concerns. The aim of the Booth is that people swap roles regularly as we all have both the potential to have problems as well as to offer help.

Thrive London is a citywide movement for better mental health for Londoners supported by the Mayor of London and the London Health Board. Problem-Solving Booths have become the local arm of Thrive and we’re working out what they are, what they do and what they can do, with everyone we meet from street to street, borough to borough and organisation to organisation. It’s cool.

Watch this space!

 

Day 968

Artspace

‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.’ – Cesar A. Cruz

Yesterday’s play on ‘Shifting perspectives’ through theatre and today’s trip to the Dragon café brought this truth home.

The work done by the patrons of the Dragon café was compiled into a big black book called ‘Artspace’. Looking through it was an immersive experience. Some brought me comfort and some disturbed me, making me a mixture of ‘comfortable’ and ‘disturbed’.
I shall let you find out how they make you feel.

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Certain events or times of day are more difficult – like being alone late at night, or having arguments. During these times it can often be more difficult for us to feel a sense of hope, to feel connected to the idea of safety, to feel our own resilience. This is the times when ‘self-care’ is essential – taking time out to be kind to ourself, to find activities that feel good, or allow us to connect with ourself again. Self-care is about caring for ourself, inside and out.

Focusing on the present moment, the present activity, whilst allowing thoughts and feelings to just be – has a long history of helping people with their mental wellbeing. By allowing ourself to become absorbed in the moment it’s possible to feel a sense of calm and focus that can distract from painful thoughts and feelings. No wonder colouring books for adults and kids alike are taking a special place on book store shelves.

Here’s PAPYRUS’ bright idea

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Day 960

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Q: I don’t see how I can be free now. As it happens, I am extremely unhappy with my life at the moment. This is a fact and I would be deluding myself if I tried to convince myself that all is well when it definitely isn’t. To me, the present moment is very unhappy – it is not liberating at all. What keeps me going is the hope or possibility of some improvement in the future.

A: You think that your attention is in the present moment when it’s actually taken up completely by time. You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the Now.

What you refer to as your ‘life’ should more accurately be called your ‘life situation’. It is psychological time : past and future. Certain things in the past didn’t go the way you wanted them to go. You are still resisting what happened in the past and now you are resisting what is. Hope is what keeps you going, but hope keeps you focussed on the future. This continued focus perpetuates your denial of the Now and therefore your unhappiness.

Q: It is true that my present life situation is the result of things that happened in the past, but it is still my present situation, and being stuck in it what makes me unhappy.

A: Forget about your life situation for a while and pay attention to your life.

Q: What is the difference?

A: Your life situation exists in time.
Your life exists now.
Your life situation is mind-stuff.
Your life is real.

Find the “narrow gate that leads to life.” It is called Now.
Narrow your life down to this moment. Your life situation may be full of problems – most life situations are – but find out if you have any problem at this moment. Not tomorrow or in 10 minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now?
When you are full of problems there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. So, whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.

Use your senses fully. Be where you are. Look around. Just look, don’t interpret. See the light, shapes, colours, textures. Be aware of the silent presence of each thing. Be aware of the space that allows everything to be. Listen to the sounds: don’t judge them. Listen to the silence underneath the sounds. Touch something – anything – feel and acknowledge its Being. Observe the rhythm of your breathing : feel the sir flowing in and out, feel the life energy in your body. Allow everything to be – within and without. Allow the ‘isness’ of all things. Move deeply into the Now.

-An excerpt from “The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle