Nepal

Silenci Bonica...

Time...illusory and unreliable...barreling or crawling unbearably forward...forever tricking me out of being present. These last weeks have fallen into the former category...days spilling into each other like streams into rivers...becoming a soft blur of moments passed. Observing the rivulets of inspiration that weave themselves through my various creative facets has been sort of entertaining. I'm doing my best to just hold on, as some unexpected momentum propels me...as songs spill forth with the greatest of ease, while my previous impulse to write has calmed to a nearly imperceptible trickle and my pens lay unused, half-finished sketches teasing me. This dance between outlets has caused me much grief historically, but now I watch with bemused curiosity. What next?

I feel like I'm on the grandest ride...rising over breath-taking crests and plunging into and through tunnels and valleys...easing gently back over smooth terrain before lurching skyward again. I imagine those sweet little swallows that so cautiously spread their delicate wings into the crisp Nepal skies for the first time must have felt something like this. My muse is a bit like those thermals...carrying me to unknown heights. I'm letting it take me...learning how to trust it.

•  ...droplets... •

30 April: F2, Bed 2...Middle...2.5'x6' of pseudo personal space. Yep...this is going to challenge me. I arrived a couple hours ago, reporting for Dhamma Service one day early to discover that this centre is a bit ill-appointed... incomplete. 3 Female dorm rooms housing 6 beds each...3 to a side...with about 6 inches between them...the only conceivable place to stow belongings is under the bed. I was asked to take one of the middles as the corners are preferable for meditators and also to serve as a bit of a barrier between them. Yes...the learning begins immediately. I'm here for selfless service. My comfort is of little concern. Thankfully, I'm here before anyone else, so I have a little time to adjust to these truths...time to gently accept and embrace so that all the students observe in me is quiet equanimity. *My last few days in Pokhara proved interesting, running the gamut from losing a full memory card and somehow being okay with it to writing a really sweet song in just 6 hours to finally drawing a proper Nepal-inspired mandala...I'd say my time has been well spent. Today, the world looks bright...feels light...and I'm smiling. All day...sitting...riding... walking...the smile has remained...directed at no one...at everyone...out and in...toward myself. I entered room #105 for the last time at 10:30am and by the time I emerged at noon, another song had come into being, just shy of complete. In my sweaty head the lyrics bounced playfully during each of the three local bus rides it took to reach Dhamma Pokhara. They walked with me the remainder of the way, anchoring that smile that so newly adorns these lips. Now 'Traveler', so new itself, has a sweet little sister...'In My Pocket'. *Yes...I'm ready for the challenge that lays before me....ready to put down pen and strings and be present ...ready to dive headfirst back into relative silence. Excited to learn how serving influences my own practice. Quite honestly, I am in a far better space than I was for any of my previous Vipassanas. Entering Happiness...

12 May: Lakeside once again...exhausted on myriad levels...hot. Midday sun escorted me and my heavy house disguised as a backpack on my reverse trip to Pokhara...leaving me sticky and spent...taking the last bit out of me. Dhamma Service proved challenging in ways I could not have anticipated...teaching me much...pushing me finally over my limit this morning, after all the students had gone. As the only female server, I was stretched quite thin. I did my best to spread myself over 10.5 hours of meditation and the need to be present in the Dhamma hall while making it to the dining hall in time to help with meals. Between making the rounds at 4:30am to rouse sleepy ladies without touching or speaking to them to dealing with ant and termite infestations to pulling leeches and stopping blood...mopping excess water into ill-positioned drains no less than 4 times a day to avoid mosquito population explosions...locating maxi pads and tampons for unexpected menses...rushing through torrential, monsoon downpours to close windows and pull laundry from lines...sweeping and mopping the Dhamma hall entry daily...admonishing and policing students found with books and peanuts and cameras...and any number of other little, unexpected tasks.....I had little time or space for myself. For the most part, I found it to be incredibly rewarding...watching the girls settle deeper into their separate, silent spaces...feeling so proud of them as they obviously progressed...as they sat in determined stillness through their sittings of Adhitthana or 'strong determination'...getting to know each of them, somehow...all 14 of them...who takes her tea black, who prefers sugar...what portions to serve...who takes chapati, who prefers rice...who forgoes evening tea but is happy for two slices of lemon...all their little quirks...their human personalities. Yesterday, many of them were calling me 'mama'...so sweet! And the centre itself.....WOW....I can say with confidence that I believe no more beautiful location exists. It rests upon the crest of a hill above Bengas Lake, flanked by lush, green, terraced slopes, looked after and over by the Annapurnas...those mountains that defy description. On day three, I saw them for the first time as the clouds drifted. I was so moved by what my eyes beheld that I dropped to my knees and cried. Just one tear actually fell, but I have never felt something so intense. Even now...I can't even try to explain the majesty of the Himalayas. I'll never forget that moment...the instant I recognized them...so impossibly massive I might've mistaken their snow-covered peaks for clouds...the catching of my breath as we met from afar... and the clear thought that I have to get closer...someway ...somehow. 'Beautiful' does not come even remotely close to encompassing them. There is no word...so seeing them for the first time while in silence was absolutely perfect. :)

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Tomorrow, I'm heading for those mountains, going to meet those beautiful peaks up close. I'll be out of touch for about a month. If ya miss me, hop on over to my youtube channel and sing along to one of my new songs.

*hearts*

Inward Trekking...

Still in Pokhara...easing into a rather solitary routine here. It's rather unlike me...but I've realized over the last few days that wandering out and making new friends is really not what interests me right now. Nor am I inclined to make the lengthy trip out to visit the few friends that stay in the next valley over. Though nearly every other foreigner in this sleepy little town is either preparing for or returning from treks...The Annapurna Circuit...Machhapuchhre...ABC...I'm in a bit of a world of my own. Having no suitable shoes (perhaps I'll explain that laughable reality later) venturing out into the Himalayas hasn't been on the top of my list. Instead, I find myself increasingly introspective...trekking inwardly over equally formidable terrain.

I've uploaded every last shot from India, relieving myself of what felt like a considerable weight. And, though I would've expected myself to then stow this laptop and wander out into the nearby hills, something else has sprung forth to keep the screen in front of me and the keyboard beneath my fingertips.

For most of my adult life, I have half-heartedly joked about writing a book. One of my closest friends has joined me in that jest, pestering me from time to time...'so...when can I read that book of yours?' Well ...dear Elizabeth, perhaps sooner than you might think, one day you may actually find yourself turning those long awaited pages.

Simply put...it occurred to me the other day, clear and unmistakable...'Time to start writing.' Something told me to just begin...without context or implied meaning. So I did...and I have been...and it has been amazing. The words have been spilling out of me, bleeding through fingers that type furiously...laden with typos... meandering through subjects and sentiments like water making its way through valleys, over rocks, flowing from some elevated source. It feels good...like some tremendous release of torrents that have been pressurizing behind some self-imposed dam for years.

The name of the file that houses these ramblings is 'Cultivating Loneliness'...a working title, of sorts. Here's an excerpt...a teaser, if you will...the first few paragraphs that emerged with such ferocity in those first moments of vibrant inspiration.... 


'...sometimes the burden of loneliness weighs so heavily upon you that the way out of it seems impossibly far...like traversing the slippery, algae covered walls of a deep, deep well...scraping at the sides and finding nothing to hold onto...no perceivable way of pulling yourself up and out.....

But then something unexpected happens....some tiny glimmer reaches your eye and you suddenly know to extend your hand in a certain direction...and BHAM!!...just like that...in a universe-altering instant, you realize that the distance between you and your liberation is no wider than the space between two palms as they meet in a spontaneous high-five.

There I was....peddling along the main road in Pokhara, feeling rather shell-shocked...disappointed that this familiar old, worn out loneliness had returned, once again, to drape itself wearily upon my shoulders ...lamenting my habitual return to this place, by my own doing. As a means of dispelling such counterproductive energy, I was just pointlessly cycling until it felt necessary to turn around and cycle back towards....that most inescapable of places...my own bruised heart and the strange humiliation of once again being misinterpreted...misunderstood...misread.

I'd circled round and was headed back, unenthusiastically aiming myself towards the centre of town. I was coasting along at a decent clip...feathers blowing...head cocked slightly to the left...when I took necessary notice of a bus ahead of me, overflowing with smiling school children.

I slightly corrected my aim to veer around the right side and was just rounding the back of the bus when a tiny hand shot out the last window of that side. Without a moment to even consider, my left hand raised itself to meet that tiny palm. As it did, the sound of our joyful clap combined with the jubilant giggles of the children, instantaneously lifting me out of that deeply agitated space.

I passed the bus, smiling wider than I have in weeks...suddenly, inextricably happy. Moments later, the bus passed me again, putting the gleeful, waving children right in front of my own broadening smile. As the bus accelerated, so did I...peddling faster and faster to keep up...causing the children to laugh and wave me on...'Come, Come! You can do it!' they gestured...their bright eyes egging me on like perfect little life coaches.

I matched their speed as the bus slowed, once again rounding the back right side. Out shot that same, expectant little paw....SLAP!! as my own hand happily lifted to meet it once again in the most perfectly executed, thunderous sounding high-five.

I rode on...sweaty and grinning...out of breath...unable and unwilling to stop smiling. It's still there...this deep stretching of my mouth's corners...like a jump-rope held firmly...swung expertly between playful hands.

And just like that...the frown in lonely's middle flipped itself upside down...or finally right side up...the well of 'lonely' filling up with 'lovely'...echoing with the innocent laughter of carefree children...'

Peddling Poetry in Pokhara...

Pokhara...perhaps a bit less noisy than Kathmandu, but not necessarily more enjoyable. I've hired a bicycle for the next two weeks...loving the feeling of being self propelled. Peddling through town during the nightly torrential downpours makes me oddly happy...like a child in muddy puddles. I'm also working on a new song...sweet and lighthearted. Sitting at the lake's edge and tinkering with lyrics is a lovely way to pass the time.

Other than that, I can't say that I'm terribly impressed with Pokhara. So many people told me I'd love it...but, in actuality, unless you are preparing for or returning from a trek, it's not the most exciting of places. So...I'm continuing what I started in Kathmandu...slowly catching up on my endless stream of photo uploads. Amazingly, I am just a few days away from being to able upload current images. If I really give it a good push, I might finish even sooner. Hard to imagine! Such a prospect excites me more than I can say and might help to renew my inspiration...re-open my eyes to the magic around me...help me to enjoy the next two weeks a bit more.

The learning continues:

16 April: Here again...though what I feel is hard to name, I've been here before...this quietude is familiar. It returns upon arrival in each new city...a tentative sort of watching...curious observation. How does this place feel? How does it sound? Each place has its own rhythm...subtle patterning. So I watch...as though studying the rise and fall of a skipping rope to better time my jumping in...matching my step to its beat to ensure the smoothest integration...finding the spot where I'll most easily fit. I've never really given it much thought, but I realize now that I've been doing this for most of my life. It most definitely predates this trip...most likely arising out of necessity...a child's need to belong in a world that was forever changing around her. The constant moving between parents...between cities and states...between schools...friends....forever starting anew...forever saying goodbye. It was a survival instinct, really, that made me so good at making friends... learning the subtle art of NOT standing out as the new kid...becoming adept at seamlessly fitting in quickly ...without betraying the inherent vulnerability of such a groundless existence. Along the way, I've accumulated many 'friends', but the vast majority of those don't run so deep. While I may be skilled at charming people into liking me when first we meet, I don't let many people in...not past a certain safety zone of easy acquaintance. Now it's simply habitual, but I'm sure it was just too difficult to continuously leave people behind. Easier to do so if their influence on me was shallow...no more difficult to remove and discard than a garment I'd outgrown. In light of such tendencies...those few amazing souls who have dug themselves deeper into me are clearly incredible blessings. They've battled it out with my relentless sentries and found the softest of places that is 'me'...unguarded...imperfect...human. They keep me company there, regardless of physical location. No distance will ever weaken that...nor the passage of time diminish it. They are never left behind...therefore, I am never alone...

17 April: Candlelight...when all else feels transitory and inconstant, the warm familiarity of candlelight offers a comforting steadiness, making any space livable, even if only for a moment or two. I've taken a room temporarily...an in between space to close me in until a more suitable, slightly less temporary place opens up. I spent the last two nights sharing a room with an Israeli girl whom I did not know, simply because it was all that was available. Each day I've made the rounds, hoping for a change of answer to my repeated inquiry. No rooms...or..yes, expensive rooms...or, the occasional, affordable but dark and damp room. I suppose I'm picky, but securing a room that feels like it could be 'home' for a spell is of utmost importance. Finding such a space is ever more difficult when each guesthouse is already full to the brim. 'Tomorrow' they say...'ask again tomorrow....or, no...day after tomorrow'. Yes...tomorrow will likely find me making the rounds yet again. But, for now...the candles are keeping me company...making me feel ever so slightly 'at home'....

18 April: Yet another new room...christened again in candlelight. Perhaps it isn't perfect, but it'll do for now. The name of the guesthouse...'Be Happy'...and the nest full of baby birds in the entryway seemed like good omens, so I grabbed it while I could. The fruitless search was making me weary. So, it's a bit closer to town than I'd hoped for...a touch noisier than ideal...a hair pricier than it should be...but it's quaint...sort of charming...bright during the day and cozy at night. I've got my own bathroom and a massive, comfy bed with white sheets and good pillows...these things are not so easily come by, making the price semi-reasonable. I'm sure, in retrospect, I'll find such frugality silly and amusing...but, for now, $4 a night is still on the steep side. Despite that, I feel good here. And NOT rising early tomorrow to ask again and again will be its own reward. *Found two friends today. One that I met in India...another from Kathmandu. It was nice to spend time with them, though both are leaving early tomorrow. For one afternoon, at least, it took the edge off the subtle loneliness that hovers forever in the background... 

Headed out again...guitar strapped to my back...peddling through Pokhara with poetry on my breath...

Nepali Dust...

3 April:
7 candles...nary a flicker...new room...two sticks of nag champa masking...weakly concealing 2 months worth of chain smoking. This room, like myself, was ripe with potential, regardless of its dim portrayal. Even now...the incense presses perfume smoke against me...encouraging my reluctant fingers to rub my stinging eyes...to press my burning lids against tender eyeballs...believing that such torture is surely preferable to residing in a veritable ashtray. Who am I kidding! It really hurts!! Wow...the strange ways in which we harm ourselves.... *I'm here, but I'm not here...my guitar lays quietly at my side...forever willing...caring little for my fickle whims. My left hand clumsily presses down strings in the shape of A minor, moving into a C, while the fingers of my right hand haphazardly strum a random tune. I know not where these sounds come from...only that they occasionally feel 'right'. I do my best to let them be...to trust the unknown movements that propel my ignorant fingertips. The shapes that manifest often surprise me...flowing from some unknown source...drawing me into and out of my 'self'...tickling the depths of me...toying with my senses. Sometimes I am effortlessly capable of stepping aside and letting such beautiful mysteries unfold in front of and within me...but, more often than not, my tricky mind interferes with needless question and pointless analysis....who?...why?....but...but...why? Endlessly inquisitive, this mind knows no limits...it pushes against impossible boundaries...forever reviewing...revising....remembering...reliving... hellbent on perfecting its ways...terrified of screwing up...wanting so to be 'good'...to be 'right'...to be recognized and acknowledged as such. It wraps itself so cleverly in selfless looking packages, trying so hard to convince me that its aims are true. But I know better...I'm no longer so easily swayed. I know its very nature is illusory...transient...reliably impermanent...or, shall I say, reliably unreliable...unreal....imaginary and fleeting. Moment by hard won moment, I am...ever so slowly but surely learning to harness the brilliance of my mind, rather than stumbling beneath its blindly motivated prowess. Slowly, slowly. This life....this...life...shall not be wasted...

5 April:
Sirens...a frequent sound here...making me realize how seldom I've heard such broadcasts of emergency over the last 6 months. Wow...SIX MONTHS...no wonder I find myself missing 'home'. I think it's that longing for personal space that fueled my determination to make this room livable. I scrubbed the walls, washing away the surface residue of countless travelers...happily dumping several buckets of black water down the drain. I did my best to cleanse the space before imbuing it with some sense of 'me'...making it familiar and warm...a momentary sanctuary. Kathmandu survives 16 hours a day of power cuts...load shedding. A schedule on the door to the shared shower neatly informs and warns, giving us some sense of structure, at least. I've managed to miss the positive slots for the last two days, depriving myself of hot showers. It's still chilly enough here that bathing in cold water is decidedly unpleasant and best avoided. So, tomorrow's schedule is clearly in my head. I shall not miss out again! Aside from issues with bathing, I'm not bothered by the lack of electricity. I Prefer candlelight to the harsh fluorescence that most rooms seem to have. Feels cozier this way...gentle and calm...quietly reassuring, somehow. *Started uploading photos again...daunting task. But I discovered a comfy spot to lounge and imbibe tasty coffee while enjoying free wi-fi. So...perhaps the food costs more than my room, but it's a lovely place to spend the necessary hours...even if I only make the smallest dent...any reduction in my three month backlog makes the costly cuisine worth every tasty rupee. Every day there is a small allotment of continuous power. I suspect you'll find me passing those precious hours at OR2K...cold coffee in hand...big, fat grin on my happy face...illuminated by the blue glow of my laptop...