One fine morning, it just comes together. You wake up just like any other day, and that little voice in your head firmly grasps you by the shoulders and gives you a vigorous little shake – “finish what you started, and do it slowly, with intent. Not in fast forward mode. But with Being, your full Being”. And you know your life has come full circle in one single year. So all you can do, then, is close the loop.
And you awake, to reaffirm and to return.
Obviously, an entire year has slipped us by, and it’s not as though things didn’t happen or there were no travels. But I felt I should complete the circle here. Finish what I started, before filling in the gaps over the months in between.
So on yet another cold day in February (Feb 14th to be precise!), I decided to go back to the Fajin Buddha temple in Hangzhou, for all the things that had me kneeling there in front of the Buddha Amitabha (Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Pure Joy – how apt is that?!) last Spring, and for all the things I now needed to kneel for.
A single, heartfelt prayer that has come to fruition, a fistful of burning incense, luminous gratitude that has taken months in the kiln to acquire the shape and form of today (and will take more than words and silent tears to articulate), and a strange sense of infinity.
When you ask for wounds to be healed, it is sometimes best not to ask for the prescription med that you think works best on you. Sometimes it just works to let the Universe decide, and an off-chance experimental new drug can often take you by surprise! And so it was that last year, at the height of all my loss and longing, for the first time in my whole life, I did not objectify the antidote. I just asked to be whole again - this time, without setting any boundaries, and I burned the prescription, scattered away the ashes, and purposefully forgot the name while I was at it, too.
And what came to me, from that single prayer last year, was so vast and so beautiful, that I had to go about furiously making space for the new. My hands were full. But this time, so was my life, and my heart. At last. So here I am again – this time to say “Thank you.”
And sometimes, the acknowledgment is the hard part. Saying “thank you” as it were, proved to be a lot more grueling than last year’s casual stumbling upon this temple on a painting workshop jaunt, and an accidental sense of having found Divinity that speaks (then again, does anything in life ever really happen by accident, casually enough?).
A drizzling, grey rainy day, the wrong time of the month, and a complete lack of public transportation meant that we had to hire and ride bicycles all the way from the Hangzhou city centre to the top of the mountain which housed the temple – a 10-km ride each way. Ok so I chose the wrong day and should have paid more heed to the weather report! But I was a woman on a mission, and nothing could deter me – so coaxing and cajoling Edo from Shanghai (my painting-workshop buddy from last year) and another friend, we set off in the morning. And all they said to me was “oh, for the love of God, woman!” Ironic, that.
A 6-course traditional Chinese lunch en-route, much rain, bad weather, and a lot more discomfort later, we were painfully snaking our way uphill through the crazy and comprehensively callous holidaying traffic, on our slow cycles, to finally arrive at Lingyin temple at 3 in the afternoon. Fajin temple (MY temple) was further uphill, to the back of Lingyin temple, on the other side of the mountain. Oh dear.
Ominous clouds, more rain and dusk-fall threatened. So, off we went without a break, stopping only to check out the interiors of a new, three-floored wooden cottagey B&B (located on the paved cobble-stoned road that led up to Fajin temple), with sweeping views of unbroken sky, hills dotted with tea plantations in all shades of green, and little blue streams water-coloring the landscape, Monet-style. (Mental note to myself: stay here next time, and hide from the world, when hiding is needed…I am a firm believer in the fact that everyone needs at least two hiding places in the world, preferably on two different continents).
Saw the “Eat, Pray, Love” sign in the window of the café yet again and was reminded of a brighter, sunnier day last Spring with new-found friends, sitting on the patio of the café and drinking Longjing tea and discovering that THIS is what bliss felt like.
Nothing had changed at Fajin. From the yellow façade of the temple boundary wall to the smoking incense burners and the golden Buddha in the inner sanctum sanctorum. There was a happier change in the form of a new and very engaging (read, talkative) temple attendant with a strange accent – who looked like he was from the north, most likely Mongolia. Almost Nepalese, almost “shaab-jee”, almost another time and place!
Lighting up a fistful of incense sticks whose flames shot up against the slated grey stone tiles of the temple roof, I did what I came to do. And I knew then, why they call him the Buddha Amitabha. No other name becomes him as much.
Back up to the painting spot as last year, and a Tai’chi class was in progression, into which, my excitable friends eagerly followed suit, while I watched the red lanterns, the yellow temple wall and a grey-blue rainy day, against the low, slow chanting of the monks floating up from the temple below. Life was stilling itself down, and the Tai’chi added to the slow pace of the moment. If a rainy day could be perfect, this would be it. Slow-motion-rain-dropping on my palms open to the sky, and I am receiving – at last.
In this moment, I am infinite.
On the way back, we stopped for Lonjing tea at a tea house inside a traditional Chinese home, where the tea was freshly plucked, roasted in giant, wrought iron skillets, and then treated and brewed for us, all fresh from the fields right ahead of us, in an elaborate little tea ceremony. Sometimes, when a day goes right, everything lines up. My discomfort must have been apparent by now, and the day-long clammy drizzle with my rain-soaked jeans and boots sticking to me, wasn’t helping. The lady pouring out the tea asked me gently if instead of the green Lonjing tea, I might prefer a strong black one. They say reading tea leaves is another form of divination, but this was a bit much! I nodded happily, and my face lit up with a smile. How on earth could she tell??
She went inside, scooped out a cup full of the tea leaves from her kitchen inside, and set me aside an entire pot for myself. A good cup of tea can warm the insides of your soul. Thus warmed, we rode back on our cycles to the West lake boulevard, with prayer beads from the temple, blessing amulets, and packets of Longjing tea leaves packed tight in my flower basket of a cycle – I was the girl in boots astride the red cycle with a flower basket - of us three; can’t imagine either of the two men on a red bicycle, can you?
The climb down was less arduous and took us about an hour or less perhaps? This time, we stopped for regular, brewed American coffee at a bistro which, while it looked invitingly ambient, smelt strangely of coffee and piss, and was extravagantly expensive! A bit ughh. And a bit grotesque for the ambient smell… I certainly like my coffee virgin, not spiked with piss, thank you much!
The actual coffee was good, though. At least they had my favorite – Jamaican Blue Mountain blend. The coffee would keep us going till we reached our hotel. It was now time to find a Four-Hands massage at a good spa, followed by a soak in a hot tub back at the hotel.
We rode our cycles on the banks of the West Lake in silence, against a day that was slowly drip-dipping into the monochromatic lake, as dusk fell, and the lights on the bank came on, one by one, setting the water on fire.
And I realized I had already taken the right turn off into the alley, away from the ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, as it were, long back. Right at the corner of ‘Hope’ and ‘Closure’.
As my day brought me back to the “now” and I closed the loop, I thought – “this is how limitless feels after all… “
Flying, falling. Soaring, swimming – into this land, into me, and into you.
My slowly developing monochromatic black-and-white photograph of a life is coming into focus, and in one unexpected corner of it, there is a burst of spring light and plum blossom that breathes life into it.
As they say, every picture tells a story, or ought to. A few decades in the making, but mine may just be starting out. And the prelude to my story?
It is this, here, now.