Maybe it’s because I’m a Jew who lived on the west coast or maybe it’s because I’ve spent significant time in Asia but there are two things I can’t get enough of in my life: Buddhist teachings and mountains.
I came to Nepal for both. This place is where I first saw mountains that make me instinctively understand why people believe in god and I was eager to catch a glimpse of the highest, most glorious peaks on earth: the Himalaya. I was also planning some meditation time and a period of retreat to just step back and reflect (read more about how exactly that went down).
It's nearly impossible to see the mountains from Kathmandu valley with current levels of pollution so I went to Pokhara -- a well-known gateway city -- to peak peep. I had visions of waking up and watching the sunrise over the mountains, wrapped in yak wool with coffee in hand.
I had cravings for the mountains as I wanted them to be-- not as they were.
Buddha enters the chat
The Buddha taught that life is full of suffering and unhappiness. This is caused because we have cravings and desires (which often cannot be fulfilled). Sometimes, even if we get what we want, we are not satisfied, and want even more (or want other things). The Buddha described this as thirst or tanha
I spent two days with a family on their hillside farm that has a picturesque view of the mountains over a glistening lake. Or so I was told. It was cloudy the whole time I was there and I soothed my disappointment with the hope that the sun would come out and the clouds would clear over the next ten days.
Over the next few days, the sun did come out and I once again got to witness a mountain range so awe inducing it held every expression for grandeur known to man in its cliffs and crags. It was "breath taking", and "splendid" and "magnificent" and yes, I believe one of the faces of divinity can be found in Machhapuchhare.
But I couldn't stop thinking about how annoyed I was that I didn't have my camera.
I was at a silent meditation retreat, practicing being present, and here I was in a moment of intense awe and gratitude and I was distracted by a future grief of not being about to share this moment with anyone back home.
I wanted to preserve this moment instead of live it.
Buddha wields a blunt metaphor
Buddhism views impermanence (Anicca or Anitya) as one of the essential doctrines that posits 'Everything changes and nothing lasts forever. ' Everything from our emotions to our thoughts and feelings, from the cells in our bodies to the plants around us, is changing and decaying continuously
At this point I thought I had learned my lesson. I had the self-awareness to recognize my suffering was my own and that to really enjoy this moment, to honor this view, was to be present and know that capturing any one moment with the hopes of holding onto it is a futile feat. Lesson learned, progress toward enlightenment achieved.
Buddha the teacher demands practice
The starting point of Buddhist practice is to calm our minds and be mindful, which means constantly remembering to be aware of how we're acting and speaking with others, and how we're thinking when we're alone. It's not that we just observe them and leave them as they are
Of course, to really learn a lesson one has to embody it and practice, practice, practice and I was once again presented with the opportunity to learn this same lesson while paragliding.
I've never been paragliding, but as an adventure junkie and a sailor -- I'm a big fan of anything wind powered with a killer view. And I was hoping (read: craving) for a good view of the mountains! With pictures!
But as the van drove higher and higher up the hills to the launch site, the clouds got thicker with moisture and my own growing disappointment. I was concentrating on not getting car sick by fixating on how I could've done things differently -- should I have tried harder for a morning time slot? Was it my fault for not spending more time outside looking at the horizon?
Was it even worth it to still go?
THIS is the thought thought that kicked me out of my useless spiral and into the hard practice of awareness, equanimity, and acceptance.
Here I was, in a BEAUTIFUL PLACE, with rolling green hills so big that I once asked a guide what the name of this mountain range was and after a few seconds of confusion was told that there wasn't a name -- it's just the land before the Himalaya.
I was about to FLY LIKE A BIRD for an hour and share the same air as ACTUAL EAGLES.
Fill the air with gratitude
The pang of shame for being ungrateful was soon superseded by the gentle humility of learning a lesson and carrying an awareness that I can be better.
Buddha the paraglider doubles down
For the Buddha, learning is the endless pursuit of knowledge. He constantly told his disciples that one should never be satisfied with the teachings of a single master, but to constantly be on a quest for ever greater knowledge.
By the time I was strapped into my harness and tethered to my pilot (thanks Siba for keeping me alive!) I had graciously accepted that gift that was the present moment.
I ran off the hillside, felt the air beneath my feet, and let go.
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