I walked out of the Delhi airport into the murk of a night veiled by the grey haze of wood fires, cow dung fires, traffic pollution and dust. As I inhaled this thick, sweet, acrid air and looked around, my first sensation was an odd surprise about how immediately obvious it was that the many photos, films and books about India I had consumed had done nothing to penetrate my mind and convey a sense of the reality. None of the images of monkeys at temples or crippled beggars in grey blankets or bicycle rickshwaws piled high with sugarcane or decorated trucks with signs, "Please Honk"-none of the descriptions in books or blogs prepared me for this foreign world where past, present and future all continually shimmer at once.
In the Yak and Yeti lobby, I met (for the first time) my roommate Christine, a nurse from Denver. "Do you think there will be a lot of Buddhist stuff on this trip?" she asked.
"What are you saying? This is a Buddhist pilgrimage!" I replied, somewhat alarmed. This trip was a Jewel Heart Sangha pilgrimage to Nepal and India with our teacher, Gelek Rimpoche.
She wound up being a good sport about it all, hung in there through all the talks and ceremonies. She was trying to recover from the break-up of a twelve-year relationship, as well as cope with feeling like she looked old and all that stuff.
Looking old. I mean, what can you do? It happens! I look freaking old, too! At least older than I used to.
Jeff, whom I also met for the first time on this trip, an adult mental health services worker from Philly, also kept telling me he was old. You are not old! I'd protest.
"How old do you think I am? I'm forty-two!"
"Oh, my God! That's so old!"
Christine and I went out together to explore a little before dinner. The shop across the street from the hotel had two wooden lions, sitting two feet tall, equipped with large human hard-ons.
The first morning two buses pulled up, one full-sized and one not much larger than a passenger van. Fran, our Jewel Heart president, said, "This is not acceptable!" I love to watch Fran bear down; soon we had two full-sized tourist buses. Fran was once a lawyer for Verizon.
We spent hours upon hours in these buses, being violently tossed up and down and all around like dice in a shaker.
She is red and special. High up in the hills outside Kathmandu, packed into a tiny, ancient temple, not ornate, more like a treehouse or clubhouse, we all sat to one side of Rimpoche as he faced the small room of the Vajrayogini Shrine. Behind him was an open window in a stone wall. Outside the window was an orange tree, oranges on the branches and little birds tweeting and hopping. There was both excitment and peaceful loveliness in the atmosphere. The ceremony went on for some time. The pain I would usually have felt in my hips and knees I had not been noticing. I had let it go. I began to notice my heart, my emotional heart, longing to love. I saw far back into my childhood at my longing to love and how that got suppressed, and I felt sorry for my poor heart. Why haven't I allowed myself to have a heart? I have a heart. Why never express? Why afraid to show? Inside the ceremony, these feelings and realizations came up.
Afterwards, coming out ecstatic into blue sky, sunlight, "Madam, Madam!" The crowd was there. So I bought two little brass lion locks and I gave the peddlar whatever he wanted and he dashed down the hill in an ecstasy of his own.
The 16 page booklet with 14 photos is available. Contact White at email@example.com
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