The Tree of Life
After trekking in Annapurna, I returned to Kathmandu with a flight booked to Bangalore in southern India for that Thursday afternoon. Or so I thought. I had just been thinking that I would like to be a bit more spontaneous in my goings about here, feeling like I already had much of the next few months planned out. So it happened. I went to print my ticket for a 2:30pm flight at 10:30 in the morning, only to see that the scheduled departure time was 10:45am. Seeing that the flight was leaving an hour and a half late I hustled to the airport just in case. Alas, their counter was closed and naturally no one was in their company’s office. So I missed the flight. I was bummed for about 15 minutes until I remembered that I didn’t actually know that arriving in the south-where I didn’t have a particular plan- would be any better than what would unfold henceforth. So I decided to stay in Kathmandu for Shabbat, wondering who I would meet who would change my life. Well, I don’t know if my life changed drastically, but I did meet a couple people. Let me also take this opportunity to say that while I think we have a general tendency to see people and occurrences happening to us to help us along our journeys, we may actually be filling that role for someone else. Anyway, I might have played that role along the way here at times, especially for the numerous Jews I’ve met, quite estranged from Judaism, whom perhaps I’ve interested or exposed to a more meaningful approach than they knew existed. But back to my story. I did run into Elan, an American friend whom I’d met in Jerusalem in September. Elan mentioned that he was heading to Darjeeling, the ‘tea capital of the world’ east of Nepal, after Shabbat, and would I like to join? Seeing this as my opportunity to ‘lizrom’ ie be more spontaneous, I went with it. So then we traveled 26 hours by local bus and jeep to Darjeeling. I think that is too easy to write/read. We traveled 26 hours by local bus and jeep, on Nepali roads, to Darjeeling. We did make it there in one piece, with a much greater appreciation for the first world. And we did another 45 hours or so of transit that week. budabump, budabump, budabump. Anyway, Darjeeling was okay, but there were 3 real treasures of the two and a half weeks I spent in Elan’s company.
A) we trekked to Lake Kachuperie, a holy Buddhist lake in Sikkim, a former kingdom bordering Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. We hiked up there to a hilltop plateau, about 200m by 50m with a small Buddhist community, including the former chef of the Dalai Lama. We spent a most sublime, beautiful, peaceful Shabbat there, resting, reading, playing with puppies, enjoying the beauty, and each other’s company.
B) it just so happened that the very week we were in Sikkim there was convening a conference on Science, Spirituality, and Education, chaired by the Dalai Lama (HHDL) himself, and featuring presentations, amongst others, by Professors Richard Davidson (Jewish neuroscientist from UWisconsin) and Alan Wallace, both of whose work has really interested me. The first day we went to the stadium where HHDL was giving a public lecture. There were no seats. “Ah, delegates!” an usher called out to us, I’m assuming either from our white skin or our professorial appearance. He led us to a special section up front. Then Richard Davidson and Alan Wallace came and sat down next to us. Then Adele Diamond, another Jewish professor of cognitive development psych from U BC in Vancouver (And formerly Penn) noted my kippah (yamulke) and came over to chat. She was really friendly and helped get us into the conference, where we spent a couple days enjoying the rigor and critical reflection of an academic setting, meeting the delegates and listening to (some) interesting presentations. I also got a few minutes of 1on1 with Richard Davidson, whose warmth, attention, and affirmation were really impressive and encouraging. Likewise some of the simple advice and reminders he gave me in response to my questions.
C) traveling with Elan. he’s really wonderful. an ecologist. wonderful nature Torah. learned all about nature and stuff. and trees. amongst other things, he shared a beautiful dvar torah at chabad about finding your soil, the environment in which you can really blossom. that helped me realize that this hasn’t really been my soil, that Buddhism is interesting and while its meditative practices intrigue me, as a religion (very religious, ritualistic over here) it interests me, or appeals personally to me about as much as, well, I don’t know, suffice it to say I’m happy being Jewish, baruch Hashem (asher asani yisrael), and so far being here as very much affirmed me in that.
One of the things I’ve gained in my time here is a kind of patience with life, relaxing into the development of my life’s journey (in Hebrew, the root of the word for develop is ‘open,’ like a flower). I’ve learned from Elan, and my Tai Chi teacher, about learning from nature. Like take a fruit tree, you don’t see an apple hustling and trying to be ripe and drop off and get on already and pollinate all by the time it’s 30, do you? Every kind of tree takes its specific amount of time to deepen its roots, to get the nourishment it needs, to spread its canopy, and to start to put out fruit, and then for the fuit to come to full fruition. So, me too. For everything there is a gestation period and usually a premature delivery doesn't bode well. Rushing life can do no good.