Just back from Kathmandu and the mountains of Nepal. Soaking up another culture and navigating a drastically different environment is the best mind-opener I know! Sure, one's first reactions to the unfamiliar may be peppered with criticism but the wonder of a whole new battery of sensory input - smells, sounds, tastes, sights and ideas - is so exciting, invigorating and supportive of new learning. Out of the smorgasbord of exhilarating experience, there are two particular learnings I would like to share.
Nutriment for mind and body
The first reflection I would like to share is the rich nurturing experienced during a ten day retreat on "Seven Point Mind Training" at the International Buddhist Academy in Kathmandu, run by the Sakya school of Buddhism. The mind was bathed in the teachings of compassion, wisdom and samadhi (concentration leading to clarity and calm). The body was fed delicious foods and sweet, warm tea and the bodymind luxuriated in the company of local monks and people gathered from all around the world. As the seventh point of mind training points out:
"All active meditation is done in one way". The instructional note added by Jamgon Kongtrul clarifies this to mean: "Continue practice into everyday life with a single meditation, always keeping in mind the intention to help others in all activities, eating, dressing, sleeping, walking, or sitting."
As the retreat was not silent and encouraged some social mixing at meal times and tea breaks, there was opportunity to help others in different ways. Indeed, the simple instruction to not only help others but always be directed by the intention of supporting genuine happiness (based on the removal of ignorance and delusion), rather than temporary sensory pleasure, is one of the sticky teachings I have added to my special collection!
The sweet pleasure of sharing this learning space with my 22 y.o. daughter, Pippa, her friend, Mandi, and my husband, Alan, was a very special treat. The delight of sharing an adult daughter's enthusiasm for the spiritual teachings that you hold most precious is a gift indeed!
Simultaneous pain and joy
The second significant experience I would like to share relates to the blending of pain and joy. Even when first considering whether my damaged spine could manage some trekking in the mountains of Nepal, I knew that pain would be involved. And indeed it was! If I'm lucky I may get the first ten minutes or so free of the complaints of pinched nerves. However, the call of the mountains was too strong to put aside. Recognising the current weakness and need of this particular body, we planned to help it out by employing a porter to carry our packs and we took the shortcut of flying to Jomsom at 2500m before we began walking. A further strategy was to stay for four and six nights, respectively, in two villages (Kagbeni and Jharkot) and therefore only have two long walks and many short walks doing little explorations of the village and surrounding countryside.
What was most interesting about my walking experience was noticing that physical pain could often be witnessed as a companion to be acknowledged and accepted while simultaneously experiencing exhilaration and joyous wonder at the dramatic beauty of the environment. Many times I gently turned down invitations to feel sorry for myself or to wish the pain away. I would remind myself that 'this is how it is' and I have chosen to be here. Renewed attention to Chenrezig's mantra and the sending of love and light to the six realms of existence gave significant support and satisfaction. It was only when the body insisted - with an extra sharpness - that I would stop and crouch or sit, to relieve the pressure and free the caught nerve. There was an extra sweetness as pain faded and was replaced by a sense of boundless good fortune to BE HERE in such spaciousness! I found that by staying in the present and giving no attention to the past or probable future pain, suffering was minimised.
It would, of course, get harder towards the end of each of the longer walks but the great satisfaction that most trekkers experience on the final arrival was for me interpreted as a sense of "I have paid my dues in pain, rather than by covering great distances!" Towards the end of our time in the
mountains, I estimated that as I walked, my body was split 50/50,with half sharply complaining and half rejoicing! I gave more attention to the happy half. Perhaps this is similar for many trekkers when they push themselves through states of exhaustion. In any event, my experience is that acceptance of what 'is' and staying in the present, moment to moment, really does work in reducing suffering.
As we were walking in September, towards the tail end of the monsoon, we only got brief glimpses of snowy mountain tops. However, by the end of the month, the clouds and rain began to clear. We were in Pokhara when we woke one morning to see the surrounding, high snow-capped mountains in all their splendour. We deferred our early morning meditation and took a taxi up to Sarangkot, a village perched on the top of a hill above Lakeside, Pokhara, and from there we were graced with the splendour of the Annapurna Range.
I can't finish this blog of my recent visit to Nepal without sharing a couple of pictures of the gorgeous interiors of the many gompas we visited. It was so good to to go inside and just sit, quietly marvelling at the colour and exquisite images. Beauty and reverence combined to support calm and devotion.
And so, finally, any comments from you on how you have lived well with pain? Any stories of travel, struggle and reward you would like to share?
With warm wishes,