landscape and a more rugged outer terrain – from the urban grit of Kathmandu to the thin-air spaciousness of the open Himalayas. Forgetting asana, I practiced yoga with every step and every breath. I often found myself thinking of origins.
Our group of twelve – mostly Americans, but also a wonderful German friend, and a couple from New Zealand, along with our ever diligent Nepali crew – made our way in three Land Rovers from Lhasa hundreds of miles across the Tibetan Plateau. We camped along the way, sleeping one night on the shore of Lake Manasarovar, a massive sacred lake whose altitude makes it the origin of the four major river systems that weave throughout Asia. From there, we headed to the base of Mount Kailash on the eve of a great annual Buddhist celebration. The Saga Dawa Festival happens here in the Wesak Valley on the full moon of Gemini (June 4 this year). Pilgrims come to celebrate the birth, life and enlightenment of the Shakyamuni Buddha (Prince Siddhartha, the historical founder of Buddhism), which all occurred during the month of May. A ceremonial pole is raised that is adorned with thousands of prayer flags that will wave in the Himalayan winds for the next year, until the next festival. Pilgrims come here from throughout Asia to watch the flags take flight. Experts study the angle of the Tarboche Pole to see how the next year will take shape for Tibet’s prosperity.
able to find ribs, pieces of shattered skull, entire mandibles with intact lower teeth, knives, hatchets and mallets. It was intense and my bones resonated that we were at the origin of something. Call it the union of many lives over many years. We watched a Tibetan family with two young children lie down on the crimson rock, practicing their deaths after making slashing gestures across their torsos with some found knives.
We pressed on the next day to begin walking the 32-mile circuit (called the Kora) around Mount Kailash, the mythical home of Lord Shiva. This uniquely pyramid-shaped mountain is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists and Saga Dawa is the most popular time of the year for pilgrims to come walk the circular Kora. Some even circumambulate with full-body prostrations, which can take a full month to get around the holy mountain. Soon after first starting up the mountain, a storm blew in – a most ominous mixture of thunder, lightning and quickly falling wet snow. Was this Shiva’s dramatic form of greeting? Was he asking how badly we wanted to complete this Kora while we still had a chance to turn back?
Witnessing both exquisite beauty and grotesque abuse, I was fortunate to encounter a Tibetan Buddhist teaching called the Blade Wheel of Mind Reform, and have since been thinking of how to cut to the very heart of my behavioral patterns to evolve to an upgraded version of myself. As harsh as the day-to-day living conditions can be in Nepal and Tibet, in some ways, it is easier there. It feels easier to simultaneously simplify and evolve, recognizing that the conditioned triggers that prompt your behavioral patterns are not inescapably causal and that you can slice and transform them with your consciously wielded blade wheel.
Now home and still organizing my 4,000+ photos, my perception of time is rocked. How could so much have been packed into four weeks? The colors, the sounds of the chanting, the wind blowing sand into my face – it’s all still vibrant like when I was there digesting it. I look at the photos and it seems that those first days after arriving in Kathmandu were ages ago – and different people.
It has been a month of extremes – culture celebrated, culture suppressed, -10 degrees at the roof of the world to 106 degrees in the heart of Texas. I’ll continue to digest my way through these vast differences on the journey back to origin. Like my first trip to Nepal two years ago, being there again was another paradigm shift in my thinking. It’s a software upgrade, a revision of the very operating system that my thoughts run on. It’s the edge of mind reform.