Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Monday, April 11, 2011

Officially Worthwhile

I've been tip-toeing through the last few days.  No confident Katherine Hepburn strides whisking me up and down the mountains like the first few days of my Darjeeling sojourn.  Instead, I feel like I'm in a constant state of walking meditation, with little breaks to eat, or sleep (in that case, long breaks), or to read.

There is something about this place that feels instructive, like it's rearranging things deep down, scratching an itch that I can't even feel.  In that way, Darjeeling puts me in mind of Sedona, Arizona.  When I stopped there on a drive across country several years ago, I remember a tour guide saying that something about the energetic make up of the place often caused people to up and completely change their lives, though while you are there it just feels like a good place to visit, comfortable, beautiful, peaceful.  I think Darjeeling has that same erode unnecessary dams lurking in the subconscious.

This morning I woke up at about 4:50 in the morning and sat watching the sunrise over the mountains.  There were a few more layers of ridges visible than I'd previously been able to see and as I sat there the horizon began to stretch even farther and farther back while more mountain tops started to emerge from the steel gray light of early morning.  It was like watching a very large Polaroid photo develop over the span of a couple of hours.

I had no idea if the new ridges were the famous Kanchenjunga....the third highest mountain in the world..which lives just up, or is it down, the road from Darjeeling.  Later I took a walk and found an official Kanchenjunga "view point" with an official and actual view of the mountain and realized I'd only been seeing it's foothills from my balcony.

Three of Kanchenjunga's 5 sacred peaks
I descend this much smaller mountain tomorrow, down to Siliguri where I will sleep for one night and then I will get up early on Wednesday and take two planes, the first to Delhi, the second to Varanasi, the famed city by the Ganges where pilgrims go to bury their dead and to pray for their ancestors.  It is, by almost all accounts, one of the most energetically powerful places on the planet.  I just found out this morning that I will be there on the full moon, which makes me both more excited and more apprehensive.

Normally, the cycles of the moon are very important to me.  But here in India, I have rarely been able to see the moon and have felt a bit distanced from it's magic.  It is either some deep instinct at work, or pure luck, that I will end up in that holy city, in the final days of my trip to India, on the full moon.  Just as it was pure luck almost three years ago when I finished up my trip to Europe with two full moon days on Iona, another of the planet's most potent sacred sites.

Just like the last trip at about this juncture of things, two plus weeks from my return date, I am beginning to feel out of sorts with my journey, the fact of it, the "why" of it, the "what has it all been for" of it.  There is something in the gearing up to go home that makes me both want to crawl deeper into myself, into my quiet, unsociable places, and also makes me feel itchy in my skin, agitated, like a bottle of fizzy water that has been shaken up and is a little nervous about what will happen when the top is taken off.

I have started to wonder if I've done/am doing all that I can to wring what it is I was supposed to get out of this trip.  Is it enough to be here in Darjeeling, soaking in the place, the quiet, the mountains?  I have seen a few monasteries, lit incense, spun prayer wheels.  Even today, I went to the Hindu temple on the hill to ask Ganesha for safe travels in the coming week and to thank him for the safe travels I've already had.

Though I believe enough in the Ganesha energy that has permeated this journey, I know I am a sloppy devotee.  Not like the serious folks, who pause whenever they walk by a shrine to say a little prayer.  They are never unaware of where images their god or goddesses live on their daily routes and they pause at every single one, bend their head, fold their hands, say a prayer, then touch their fingers to their third eye and heart and walk on.  Then there are the Buddhist holy men dressed in red and gold, the mysterious flagellates wearing dreadlocks and beating drums when they aren't beating themselves, and the Muslim men walking backward down the mountain in a slow steady gait holding a flag to be filled with alms.  None of these people are sloppy devotees.

I've also seen lepers and cheerful men with only half a body who greet me everyday with a smile and a hand over their heart, who strike me as being equally, if somehow not more, wise than others who flaunt their devotion to a God, or gods, or prayer.  These half formed and wasting men must always bear their crosses, carry their burdens, their days are filled with endless supplication.

But my personal pilgrimage, my supplication has mostly been only to the place, India and the smaller places in it, to the journey, to the getting here.  If I have prayed at all, besides the small trips to someone else's shrines, it is at the sunrise, at the first fresh rays of the day, and then my prayer was one of witnessing and not of supplication, not a trial of hardship, only of awareness:  Look the sun is rising, there is a beautiful fog settled in the valley, I haven't seen that ridge before.....

I've begun to yearn for some kind of epiphany, some cosmic light bulb that will tell me what this trip has been "about".  I know that might seem ridiculous.  Like you, I can look back and see so much that has happened that will change and shift my life, so much light that has already been shed.

I think it is the impending return to the life I had before India that makes the need for some kind of grand "A-Ha" moment more urgent.  I want something solid to hold onto, something I can take back to America other than photos and souvenirs that will make it all more Officially Worthwhile.

But time is slipping away.  Mumbai and Kerala seem like places I visited in a dream.  Even Santiniketan, which I left a week ago, is fading quickly into the mist of maya and illusion.  I can't say Seattle feels that much more real.  But it's where I will go and settle into again, where I will gather about me the familiar, the long-standing, the well-loved.

I don't just want to step back into my old life, to let the way things were become the way things are, again.  So, my steps here have become more tentative, slow, even.


There is something in this post, a thread that I cannot quite grasp.  As of this sentence, it is a new morning, the sun has just come up again, though it is still hiding behind the dense cloud cover that has shrouded the mountains in their heaviest get up I've seen.

I went to sleep hoping that the thread that I cannot grasp would make itself available in my dreams.  I know it has to do with the mountains coming and going, like clarity, like vision, like epiphanies that lie somewhere just on the other side of the cloud cover.

My dreams were no help.  I dreamt of an ex who often pops into my night journeys.  I must miss him and love him more than I admit in my waking life.  I also watched some bit of Indian English detente happen concerning the impending Royal Wedding.  And, perhaps most interestingly, there was a lad who had a giant prayer wheel and a woman had stuck a sign on the wheel that said, "Rage -> Morgan."  It was, in dream logic, a rather beautiful way for the lad to release his rage at me, though I don't know why he was so angry, by releasing prayers into the universe instead.  He had a long baton that he was to reach out and pull the handle on the prayer wheel whenever he was feeling inwardly provoked.  The wheel would spin and his rage would be translated into prayer.

While I am writing of dreams, outside up on the Hill above me a scene from my pre-India dream has suddenly materialized.  A woman with a deepish, throatiesh voice is leading a call and response song.  Unlike my dream of so many weeks ago, there are cymbals and drums accompanying the roving band of devotional singers.  Now that I listen more closely, I believe they might be Hari Krishna's, or at least "Hari" is being invoked regularly.  At the Temple on the hill where I went yesterday to ask Ganesha for safe travels, the bells are being rung by devotees doing their early morning puja.  Joggers are jogging away their stresses and fears.  The custodian at the church school below me is opening the doors and readying the sanctuary.

I search for meaning with my finger tips on the keyboard, while catching moments to look up at the clouds, angel clouds, lined with white and holding thunder and rain to be released at a later time (will my prayers also be released?).  The sun has almost broken through the dense haze to make itself a clear, round presence in the sky.  It's rays, distant only minutes ago, now warm my cheeks and arms.  That's all.  That's hopefully enough.

1 comment:

Kirstin said...

I have a feeling, and a hope, that Seattle won't be the same old Seattle for you. But it's not because Seattle has changed or the people you know or don't know. Your experience across the world has shifted every-day Seattle for you and I hope you like its new vibe. I know it misses you, as we all do. xo