From my apartment window the gigantic eyes of Buddha stare at me once more. Until this moment the eyes were covered, but as I write this, men unveil the all-seeing eyes on the golden tower that rests above a stark white dome. Boudhanath Stupa is a 1600-year-old giant mandala. Now its golden tower glitters in the sun, thousands of prayer flags flutter, flowers carpet roof and dome, clouds of incense smoke rise, people chat and sing. Here they believe that the earthquake damage was a product of imbalance and the restoration set out to restore the balance, not just of stone and clay, but of humans and communities. Reconsecration ceremonies have brought thousands of lamas, monks, nuns and local Buddhists to witness this rebalancing. Once more the Stupa glows with candles and light and the heart of this community beats again.
Rebalancing elements is endless.
It feels like a lifetime ago that we sat amidst the destruction and despair of Kathmandu post-earthquake and wondered what we could do to help. We decided that not-for-profit mindful trekking might help provide staff and community with much-needed income. Back then there was no room for my self-advice to cast doubt, no room for worry about how I would survive without income, there was space only for my discoverer – pushing out, trying something, trying anything that might help.
I had no idea that these trips would be powerful for the professionals who attended, for the staff who ran them, and most of all for me. Life changing. An honour. On our Mindful Adventures treks each moment is interconnected; we slowly abandon individualistic mindfulness taught in the West and we learn mindfulness as a community. Over time we share everything from our vulnerability, to toilet paper and even smelly socks; jokes become, “We must be family now.”
It seems fitting that the Stupa reconsecration is the last day of our final Mindful Adventures earthquake relief trip. Throughout the last 18 months, the daily throng has continued to circumambulate beneath a sad and broken shrine. No prayer flags. No eyes of Buddha. No music. Just piles of rubble and greater piles of sadness. But still they came every day; broken-hearted but resolute through practice. Mindfulness has lived here for centuries. Come what may, this community will rebalance the elements with daily practice of being mindful together.
Restoration is slow. Thousands must volunteer. But rebalancing always goes on.
At the Stupa, people went inside the hallowed dome to remove the sacred relics. They formed long conga lines, singing and chanting as they worked – monks, nuns, mothers, children, husbands, the elderly. Hand over hand they passed precious relics from high inside the Stupa’s dome (about 20 stories high), outside into the light, down a long human chain and placed into the golden monastery for safekeeping. As the months went by we watched community members volunteer together, labouring in the hot sun. Removing thousands upon thousands of broken bricks from inside the Stupa and then passing thousands of new bricks back inside. Ancient labouring skills of stonemasons and carvers slowly guiding them.
Meanwhile, three groups of Mindful Adventurers joined us in the Himalaya. Together we also learned that mindfulness happens in a community, in vulnerability, in openness, through inter-being. On Mindful Adventures a Sherpa guide is always watching. Within days they learn to read a body’s messages. A lifetime of moving mindfully gives them skills that we word dominant westerners lack. A discreet, “Give me your pack” occurs before you get too tired. “Look there is a wild daphne”, another says, building in a sneaky pause just when you need to breathe a bit more. One group member struggles, and explains, “Oh it’s because [insert any wordy reason] ……..”. The Sherpas nod quietly, never disputing, never revealing the knowledge they have, but they know this person’s battle is psychological. Her body is strong enough but her mind is playing tricks. As Mingma, our group leader, told me once, people who think too much in the mountains get sick, the way through is one foot in front of the other. The inner advisor gets tricky in these mountains. Another person shows signs of mountain sickness, just a hint of change in facial colour that cannot be hidden by words like, “Oh I am fine”. Yet another meets her own demons as she insists on ‘keeping up’ ignoring her body whispering, ‘Go slow’. We move together here, weak and strong matters little here, we are one.
I am left with one message. Mindfulness is together. We move with our efforts large and small. The mindfulness revolution can only create balance when we look outside our skin and practise being together.
Tashi Delek my fellow humans.