To be honest, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed here in India as I adjust to my new life as Tibetan Buddhist monk. Still, it’s turning out to be another chapter in an amazing journey.
I’m slowly getting used to the robes and my daily routine. I’m making good friends, too: men and women of all ages who have held the vows for a while. They’re turning out to be great role models and a wonderful support as I take my first steps on this new path.
Today I was reflecting on how I got here. Hard to believe that it was only 2008 when I got on that plane for my first trip to India. What a ride it’s been ever since!
So as a way to honor journeys and life’s ever unpredictable twists and turns, I thought it would be nice to share the opening of The Narrow Way one more time.
I hope you enjoy it!
By all accounts I should be dead. But instead, through some miracle of chance or karma, I am alive. I do not pretend to even begin to understand how I came to wake up from my long and nightmarish sleep. Instead I just smile, a little dumbly and serenely, in the midst of the crowded airport as I wait for the long flight to India. In three hours I will head off on a pilgrimage, a spiritual quest that has been almost a year in the making. That leaves me plenty of time to think and wonder about this new arc that I am on, this upward spiral that for so long had sent me soaring down, down to a hard and hopeless bottom.
My old life comes into clear focus now. The free fall of eight thousand dark nights and blinding days. Countless hits and drinks and drags. The suicides, the self-sabotage, the shame. Twenty years of hiding, alone and afraid, and in the end all I had to show for it were the jagged shards of broken bonds and promises and dreams.
Was that really me? Was that my wake of destruction that I left behind? Would I ever be able to truly change and make amends?
Yes. It was me and I have already changed. As for amends, I will just have to wait and see.
I shiver and shake the memories off, safe on the firm earth for now. I look out the window onto the tarmac. The plane has already rolled up to the gate and the ground crew buzzes around like a stirred up hive of bees. They execute their synchronized dance of cleaning, restocking and refueling and my heart thumps louder and faster as I realize there is no turning back now. This is it. The moment of departure is at hand.
We are to fly up and over the top of the world, across Greenland then the Netherlands, arcing steadily over the brow of the earth until we roll down her eastern cheek like a tiny, shining tear. Fifteen hours from now New Delhi will come into view and I will press my nose into the glass like a ten year-old boy until it is mashed and sore. The lights of the city will fan out into the night and the humid air will be thick with the smoke of a million campfires. Still, the air will be good there, just as good as it is here and I will breathe it in, in great gasps fueled by the excitement and the shock and the fear of being in that strange place.
Then the air will turn thin and cool as I make my way up, up into the Himalayan foothills and the home of the Dalai Lama. It will feel good on my skin, chill and damp at night, and I will take it into my nostrils as I breathe slowly and surely in Dharamsala, learning again how to watch that simple thing, learning how to watch the breath.
I will wake in the early morning, in the cold and the dark, light candles and let myself be swept away by the spell of the melody of the deep mantras of the monks. I will walk in lock step with them for a pace or two on the path to liberation and I will see the goal clear and bright, so close that I will reach out and almost touch it.
Refreshed and renewed, I will make my way back down into the hot plains of great mother India and she will open her arms to me. There, I will follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. I will walk where he walked and see what he saw. There will be guides and signs and portents. There will be magic and mystery and illumination. Everyone and everything I come across will be my teacher. And though there will be hardship and I will cry for days, it will wring my heart free of all its toughness, until it becomes soft and pliant and I can finally put it to good use.
I catch my reflection in the glass and see that I am trembling now. Then I smile warmly at the new me and think: it’s OK if none of this is true.
“We will now begin boarding flight two-nine-two with direct service to New Delhi,” the attendant calls over the loudspeaker. The voice blows through my fantasies and daydreams and they collapse like a house of cards. It is real now. Whatever is to come is out of my hands. I feel the earth under my feet, solid and real. There is no time to waver, no time for remorse or even hope. It is time to take that first step. It is time to answer the call…