fresh snow reflecting the moon looks like the moon itself
fresh snow reflecting the moon looks like the moon itself
We arrived in India in October. Just in time for a festival day called Dussehra which marks the defeat of Ravana the Wicked from the epic Ramayana. Its a day when effigies of Ravana are burnt in a vicious re-enactment of the battle scene. Firecrackers exploded into the night which gave the impression of being in a war zone.
During the early afternoon in the building across the lane from where we stayed in Inderpuri, New Delhi, a microcosm of two brothers had their own slaying of the Evil Lord with their cap guns. The scene was itself epic, firing at almost anything that moved until their caps were exhausted.
I hid like a foreign journalist behind a plant on the balcony and shot my own shots with my Nikon, and wondered if they would shoot me if they had noticed. But I managed to shoot them first.
I sat on the wooden platform in utter stillness, attentive to the heat and the filtering breeze and the occasional chirp of a bird. The wind rustled in the long grass that grew along the fence line. Waves of heat lay like an undulating sea across the dry cracked red earth endlessly scattered with leaves which were constantly falling slowly, twirling and spiralling down from the towering canopies of the giant trees. I sat transfixed in that spot for hours, undisturbed.
This was Hmawbi, Myanmar in August 2005. The temperature averaged 43 degrees Celsius. Moving at all would cause sweat to pour down and drip furiously from all pours. So I sat. I sat attentive to my breath as it passed through my nose, in and out. Slowly. Sometimes so slowly the breath would seem to cease and a finer more subtle breath would take over. Then the whole body slowly pulsed and pain was no longer an issue. Metabolism slowed, time stood still in the searing heat.
Hours passed that afternoon. Slowly and timelessly. The last meal in this remote forest meditation center is eaten before noon, and then there is nothing to do but sit against the heat, while the day endlessly hangs over itself, hovering.
Somewhere behind me, in the distance, past the wind in the grass, past the waves of rising heat and twirling down leaves, came the sound of children calling to each other, chirping and cawing as their nature calls to them. I sat listening as they made their way slowly as children do in this kind of heat, and as children do who survive in raw environments, where dreams have time to melt through the senses and animate all that is seen and heard and felt. Plants twisted into creatures who bow in awe of the great warrior trio strutting by with their magical staffs ready to vanish an enemy spy. The smells on the wind carry messages and all is safe for now.
The warriors are famished from a long day in the wild. Aha, a tree in the distance is hanging pregnant with fruit, sagging heavy in the hot ripe afternoon. It is not far, on the border of the meditation center which is alien and rich with houses made from brick, and people coming in hordes and disappearing again back where they came from after days of sitting and walking, sitting and walking. A still and silent place, slow and almost scarry but it is run by the monks so it is alright. We three great warriors will spare it from destruction today and only climb the tree to eat some nice plump fruit. We will do that. He the leader will climb the tree and throw down the fruit because he is the eldest and brave. He will accept because he is thirsty and aching for the sugary sweetness of the fruit.
I heard squeals of encouragement and a rustling into the branches of that tall tree. And I sat where I had been sitting now for hours, unmoving, unflinching. Breathing at times. I noticed the sound of the children. And that they noticed me because they called out battle cries to see if I would stir but I did not.
It was a lichi tree. Grape-like clusters of brown skinned fruit hanging from long broad and high branches. A thick trunk, strong and good for climbing, handsome, dense and rounded at the top. The scene behind me pulled me out into breathing again. My abdomen rises and falls. I know that. I concentrate once again after long being free of the need to do so. I felt a welling up of emotion, of gratitude for being alive in such a way. Minutes passed and sight emerged as my eyes opened. I inhale deeply. In front of me on the wooden platform where I sat was a cluster of lichi fruit. An offering from the three warriors.
I heard squeals, and rustling in the tree; I felt my arms, my legs. My body tingled with understanding. I looked ahead across the red cracked earth. My timer showed two and a half hours had passed since the last time I moved. I savoured the sweet white fruits one by one, and the children watched me eat slowly and we smiled to each other, and they played and climbed and continued to cut down the bounteous clusters of fruit. The day’s hottest hours began to fade and a warm but soothing breeze stirred the smoky sweet heavy air.
In the hills of Bihar India, at a place called Dungeshwari there is a cave of black stone hewn into the earth where Gautama practised asceticism. The cave is fronted by a tree clinging to the rock with its long rooty arms. From here looking down to the villages below ghastly hordes gather to swarm and grasp for why they ache. So we overdose them and I think maybe just maybe they will become saturated with fighting at death for morsels of liquor soaked confections. Or maybe just maybe the wrathful protectress of what is unknown will spare a few of us from the decrepit mind that does not let be.
Apparently just over two hundred years ago, Hong Kong Island was home to a band of pirates who robbed the big vessels sailing through the channel to the south. On the peak of the mountain, a red flag would be hoisted to signal danger, police ships, and a green flag when the coast was clear, ready go rob and plunder.
This lore we learned sitting on the very quiet cool mountain itself where the flag was raised in not so ancient but entirely different times, having tea with a few old guys who are there nearly everyday of the week. They remarked to themselves the rapid development they have seen: the buildings that sprung up 4 stories tall, then replaced by 10 story buildings, then 25, now monstrous 50-80 story buildings penetrate the landscape. And these few old men hang on to a small garden in the mountains where they can go for tea.
One friend they affectionately referred to as ‘Master of the three peaks’, lived in a bunker above the cemetery. A hermit dwelling, rich with attentive unhurried living. Fragments of broken candelabras with rows of angels graced the entrance of the obscure trail to his bunker. When we earlier that day stumbled unexpectedly upon it on a walk, a fire still burned in the outdoor earthen hearth where noodles were recently prepared. We wondered who this Chinese Christian hermit could be.
While we sat having tea, the mystery of the hermit solved, he sat in front of us, humble and content and his friends teased him affectionately, that his god, Jesus, was not nearly as old as the Chinese medical system. We learned how to respond with thank you in cantonese when someone has done something for you. I marvelled once again at the beginning of this long journey ahead of us, and how the worlds we are drifting through are all varying degrees of slow and fast growth upon this massive geology.