Monday, September 10, 2012

Himalayan Odyssey

Relax As It Is

“How honest do we want to be with ourselves?” Pema Chodron

Greetings Earthlings,
I was picking trash with Peldon on a slope overlooking the dirt road that runs through the village. A truck pulled up and the headman immerged with a parcel for me. I excitedly ran home through the village which is a row of eight shops along a muddy road. The shops have tin roofs with rocks on them to weight them down. Some of the dwellings in the surrounding hills have simple Bhutanese architecture of whitewashed squares in black trim. The designs are always simplistic and rustically elegant. Some homes are mere earthen huts or shacks. I was so grateful to get the hat, boots, and other goodies. The boots fit fine and I look forward to taking them out hiking but it rained wangmo’s and zangmo’s today. I was also happy to see a card from Mare hiding at the bottom of the booty box. Some of you who I have exchanged letters with know I love all handwritten correspondence and I save all the things cherished people have written me. I had good classes across the board today and have been really encouraged lately. As I mentioned this week is reading week and I have been giving my students time to read in class. I also conducted a survey to try to ascertain my students reading habits. I wanted to know how much, what, and where they read. I was also interested to learn the literary tendencies of day scholars versus boarders. I was also seeking information on what genres the students favored. I am analyzing the results tonight. I have started bringing a new attitude with me in my briefcase to school. That is PMA or positive mental attitude. I am using only positive reinforcement and rarely scolding my students. I am trying to make deeper connections with individuals and as time goes on I am learning more about my student’s capabilities. The Bhutanese teachers are very harsh both physically and mentally with the students so I want to show them another way while getting the best results. This sentiment was reinforced on my trip to the library today. The librarian would not let us in because she was “busy.” She also said the kid’s are responsible for picking out books and seemed to resent that I suggested she should guide the selection process. I will at least accompany my 8A home class to the library each week.  These are interesting kids and I am in an unfamiliar system that has taken me seven months to get a beat on. At first I just wanted to please everyone but I have moved past that phase. Of course one wants to assimilate but I also want to make positive change. I have a few valued friends and my students so I cannot gripe about my interpersonal relationships. It warms my gut to know I have a loving family on the home front supporting this peaceful warrior. Although the author wonders how peaceful is he?
Defensiveness and aggression have been hardwired into my program running on a techno colored anxiety chip. Inside the chip are fear and doubt with an essential uncertainty. The chip might be in you too?  Pema Chodron’s book has been enlightening thus far. Pema is an American Buddhist and I like her style since she is folksy and accessible and not preachy. I identified immediately when she said she had turned to the dharma after her husband left and she was angry and depressed. She went as far as to thank her ex who left for liberating her soul. She couldn’t put humpty dumpty back together and so her journey towards realization began. It was probably my broken heart that sent me to Bhutan. Even my arrival here is related to Samsara and my insatiable fear and desire wrapped up in the guise of a dream. But I’m here now and what a place to probe one’s own psyche and as Mare remarked, “Do good Work”! My challenges are fear and uncertainty but instead of overcoming these monsters I must lay down with them and share a peace pipe.  I have learned one lesson in the classroom and that is once relaxed I can see things from a broader angle accounting for what the student need instead of worrying about my performance. As the Squirrel croons, “but I still have a long way to go.”

(Morning Dew Interlude)

“I guess it doesn’t matter anyway”

On a walk in the woods I found blossoming wildflowers in the grove. Pink ones that smell like honeysuckle and princess bushes with purple flowers like we have at Baypoint. The days are full of thunder, sunshine, rainbows, and rain. All is bound together by the clouds tossed around in the winds rapids. Yesterday I saw a remarkable bird on a cypress limb. Or more aptly heard a remarkable bird since my eyesight could not discern more than a silhouette. This jay sized bird was mimicking all the other birds in the forest including the raven. It produced a madwoman song that was peculiarly melodic. What were you anyway? But like a furry booted hottie in stirrups at a Sector 9 show she flew off leaving me alone. Life is endlessly diverse ISN”T IT? IT! What is IT? On the phone Becky mentioned something about IT and IT got me to thinking about IT? The IT that is in everything around us and also inside all of us. The good and bad, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, if these dualities actually existed at all. The IT that words cannot explain or demystify. The IT that Willie Dixon wrote about in Eternity. BUT WHAT IS IT? A fractal fragment from the techno cube with shavings of anxiety and bliss and all the makings of what traps us in what the Buddhist label samsara or the material world of desire, blah blah blah… Is IT a god the ancients made up to explain IT? Did god or IT create ITSELF? Does IT even matter? And once you find IT, how do you let IT go? What do the Bhutanese mean when they say, “IS IT? What IT is…What IT is…Have I lost IT? I could sure go for an IT”S IT!

The Seven kinds of Loneliness      

“Dark angel what’s bothering you, so strange you do me all that you do, dark angel you’re making me blue, I guess it doesn’t matter” Picasso Moon  

In Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart” she talks about the six kinds of loneliness. I thought of a seventh kind of loneliness and that is being afraid of yourself. In Bhutan a body has to dine with their demons every night. Unless you are hosting a quant dinner party like Sheal. Sheal is quite comfortable in her own kira so to speak which allows her to embrace others.  But on my own behalf I am getting a lot of alone time with my little green trolls, day glow monsters, psychedelic moths AKA Karmaling Dream Moths, the pink or was IT the purple elephant in the room, the monkey on my back. Oh yeah and my doppelganger, my shadow, and one pixie named Sylvie who must fend off these supernatural hooligans deployed by the devil who is just god when he’s drunk. Perhaps we all have a doppelganger somewhere and Alan’s might be circumambulating the chorten in T-Gang right now. I wonder what IT’s doppelganger might look like. I saw the face of god once in Tres Piedres at my first Rainbow Gathering. I escaped the circus with Raven in a glade surrounded by aspen trees where we tumbled in the grass and watched the gloaming fall like a teardrop from a giant concave sky.  IT was the Cyclops eye of god looking back at us and moments later at Popcorn Palace Raven vanished becoming a footnote in my short sweet life. The next year at The Missouri National I got lost on a remote logging road in the Ozarks where dozens of gleaming silver extraterrestrial faces leered at me from the tangled foliage of the dense canopy. They had metallic faces, oblong black eyes, and drawn mouths, the intense sun reflected off their hoary faces. A third Gathering brought a triple rainbow and the fourth victimhood. I let all these events scar instead of pass through me like ghosts travelling in the forest at night. Or abandoning IT like the Indian leaving Meme resting outside Becky’s hut.  Anyway back to IT. I have all my demons here with me and nowhere to hide. Of course I invent meanings and distractions including this here blog. But sometimes it’s just us and I can see the giant at my door. Or my ogres piled on each other’s shoulders, a demonic depiction of the Four Friends. But in reality they are my friends and more aptly my teachers but I don’t want to hear IT? Learning to love myself and letting things go are my big hang-ups and what I must get in touch with. Ganesh pulls the strings with his trunk placing and removing obstacles at will. Each moment opening and closing rapidly like the gator teeth of a Radiators jam. I’m not sure he removes them at all but leaves his children to unite with their hurdles. I can’t ask him myself since I am marooned on this side of the border. Here I must ask his equally ambiguous  younger bro Buddha who stares back at me with unblinking serene eyes. If I stare long enough I can detect a hint of cynicism behind their divine sparkle. I’d query Guru Rinpoche but he’s out night hunting in Calcutta with wingman Krishna and his magic skin flute. In the morning I see the monster in the mirror and on a good day I must laugh like Chappell’s “FUCK IT!, puppet.”  Somewhere from over the horizon the smoke from a million BBQ’s tempts me like Beelzebub tempted Christ in the desert. Even so I must hold my position in ITS furry pocket.

 Top Ten Reasons I love Trashigang…

10. Traditional Bhutanese architecture
9.  Stopping at Gom Kora along the way
8. Watching IGOR circumambulate the chorten
7. Bantering with Phuntso AKA Dust Particles
6. The garden at the bakery
5. Watching the Africa channel in Bhutan
4. Crossing Chasm
3. Room 113 at the K.C Hotel
2.  Pork Curry
1. Walking to the Dzong at sunset with Bunks

Sitting Here in Limbo

 “Sitting here in limbo waiting for the dice to roll, sitting here in limbo got some time to search my soul”

During a rereading of Hectors Great Escape I looked up to see Jigme Choden devouring the paper from her text book. She had large white chunks in her mouth and ironically she was eating her text at the point in the story when Sam was feeding Hector the Ram lush grass. I instructed her to spit out her snack at the wastebasket which she was bent over heaving up huge spitballs. I couldn’t stop laughing for the rest of class. Little Jigme used to be the shyest student in 8A and she has grown into a silly girl if not an excellent scholar. Reading week continues with daily afterschool competitions and tonight we have a mandatory tea party for the staff. Working at a boarding school has long hours on top of the six day weeks and now I can identify with the fatigue Nick Morris used to write about in his blog. Some extracurricular activities like hiking with students are a blast. But living on campus, one’s life becomes intertwined with the students especially the boys who live a stones throw from my door.  So for now I sit in limbo and try to embrace each moment as IT is. Today offers blue sky, puff the magic dragon clouds, and humor in the classroom. I hope the reader is doing fine and enjoying your own movie as IT unfolds in the moment. Why not take a pause for the cause and we’ll be back in just a little bit and we’ll try to get to the bottom of IT…  

(tiger in a trance interlude)

“I’m still walking so I’m sure that I can dance, it’s a saint of circumstance, it’s a tiger in a trance, the rain falling down”

When I was 11 years old I was at the Winnipeg Zoo. I wandered off alone and found a large pen containing a beautiful tiger. The tiger locked eyes with me and as I ran up and down the length of the cage the tiger paced, shadowing me. It was a moment of pure instinct for two of earth’s creatures. I felt a profound connection to the wildness of that Asian cat and can still hear ITS guttural growl in my ears. This blogger allowed that powerful tiger to break free and bound into his imagination where IT prowls today. And that’s the story of how I became a tiger in a trance.   

Kick it around the void

“Wait, young man. You can’t escape destiny by running away.” Nasferatu

Since I came to Bhutan I don’t believe in things the same way. This isn’t a bad thing since I now realize the term bad is just an assigned word to a perceived state of mind. I am not a practitioner of this new non reality I have discovered but I am privy to its groundlessness. In Pema Choden’s book she has assigned some interesting phrases to many of my challenges. Of course she is merely regurgitating Tibetan ideals and putting her perspective on them. I have been running my whole life. And I am still running in the brain, to Trashigang, the woods, etcetera. But you can travel to the other side of the world and still meet yourself there. I have a tendency to blame things. My cousin used to call me out on being so defensive and he was right. I was especially defensive about being defensive, ha I still am I’m sure. But I have the luxury to see some of my patterns immerging. For instance if I am sleeping to late or not preparing well enough I can see where I am being lazy. I haven’t always been honest with myself and I still hide from my deeper self often. Concepts like soul mate, destiny, and fate seem more intangible now even if I do still cling to those notions. But perhaps nothing is real at all, merely vague feelings adorned with shiny encrusted words and romantic phrases, a bag of gems or a snowflake to a snowball, to an avalanche. What is love anyway? Love of everything would be love on a divine level. And that means shinning the light on some ugly places in ourselves. Deep down I always hated to believe we are all the same, but it’s true. We all have IT in us and we are no different than our enemies. We are cut from the same cloth as Hitler, Osama, and Mother Teresa. One thing that is laudable about Buddhism is that it challenges the practitioner to think for themselves. How ironic that this tantric branch manifests itself in Bhutanese daily life confounded by endless yet beautiful ritual. I think any religion can be a cop out or a tool for insight depending on the seeker. But Christianity asks for blind faith in one man whose coattails one can ride through the pearly gates. Where is the sacrifice? Of course this is an oversimplification and just my own stupid opinion. That is to say 99% of any ones opinions are stupid. We need to label IT, Divide IT up, hoard IT for ourselves, Get IT right, and protect IT at all costs. Opinions are indeed like assholes, ISN”T IT?
It’s a shame my blog has become pseudo philosophical because the richness in life here is in the nothingness and the mundane. But my hungry ego makes me concoct these flights of fancy as if anybody cares.  “Tiger” is more a confessional and E- journal then honest account of a person’s life in Bhutan. The author sincerely apologizes and gives permission for the reader to bunk the table at any time. So what’s Bhutan really like? Cow’s walking on the “national highway” little kids laughing and running in the forest dawning national dress, iridescent insects, sparrows darting in and out of the classroom, clouds crowning unreachable peaks, mountains with countless contours, rumpled ridges, and sheer slopes etched with plots of maize and potato, cucumbers the size of baseball bats, many rivers to cross, a land of demons, trash, tigers, snow leopards, elephants, unicorn rhinos, prayer flags, prayer wheels, magic floppy birds, tantric bells, emadatsi, stray dogs, and flying lamas. As for me I am sitting in my filthy hut at midnight swinging with Duke Ellington as the hounds bark and rain falls on my tin roof. I suppose life could be worse for this cat.

(9-11 Interlude)

I was in Quincy when 9/11 happened. Just like when Jerry died my dad was the bearer of bad news. He woke me up with the words “New York City had been bombed” Americans were glued to TV sets in horror our hearts aster traveling to NYC. I went to class to hear the flippant or stunned responses of other students in a rural California community. It all sunk in later that evening when Morgan drove across the range from Tahoe to join me in sorrow. She brought with her an enormous brown candle the size of a football with three wicks. We lit the wicks stared and cried. I think how Americans reacted in aggression and anger and the wheel of war grinded on. I hope those thousands of souls didn’t die in vain and peace prevails in our world. No child deserves to grow up on a hateful planet. And loving ourselves and helping others is the only answer.          

Himalayan Odyssey

“Passing me by, the busses and semi’s, plunging like stones from a slingshot on mars” Black Throated Wind

If this blog wasn’t called “tiger in a trance” I would call it “Himalayan odyssey” after the Indian biker gang I met at the K.C earlier this year. They were riding through Bhutan on their hogs, which is a remarkable feat. I adopted their slogan feeling that I too am on a Himalayan Odyssey. After the reading program on Saturday I continued the ride hitching with some teachers to the junction near T-Gang, it was my desire to go up to Kanglung to see Ashleigh. As the sun set behind a western ridge I stuck my super-thumb out for a ride but to no avail. The last car that came was a blur of a blue sports car with a single vivacious tank topped coed who smiled as she sped past. I’m not sure such a sight could be real in Bhutan and might have been a figment of my overheated undersexed imagination. But I took it as an omen and walked the other direction into Trashigang. En route I saw a rainbow stretching over the Dzong and the wooded valley. I arrived at the K.C only to be told that “my room” was not available. So I settled in #103 which is my new favorite room with four windows opening up into a spectacular view. Becky informed me that after leaving last weekend Alan peeked in my room only to exclaim, “Boy Tim drinks a lot of Coca Cola.”Trashigang is a lively village full of Indians, Bhutanese, and Brokpa. It used to be a trading post between Bhutanese and Tibetans. Huge bogenvia and banana trees palisade the curvy streets adorned with colorful traditional architecture.  The subtropical town is centered on the old prayer wheel and this is where the lovely bakery patio is located. My guide book advises against eating meat but I indulge whenever possible. Most of the carcasses come up from India in unrefrigerated trucks swarmed by flies but WTDL. I delight in the chicken curry, mixed vegetables, and superior dal in an alfresco setting amongst tropical flowers and a black and white weaved bamboo fence. After dinner I got banana bread from Sonam Wangmo. Then a walk to the Dzong before retiring to the K.C for an episode of Two and a Half Men and a hot shower. While in town I also visited Deepac for an authentic barber’s haircut. You can comb the world over and not find a haircutting experience like Deepac Scissorhands. He even cuts HM’s hair and is a local legend. He was born into a barber cast and has made an art form from his craft in a cozy shop on the edge of town. One might say he is a Trashigang Institution. On the way home in the morning mist I saw a troop of brown monkeys just above Doksom. I have never seen monkeys in this treeless landscape before. One large monkey made eye contact before scampering into the tall grass. It is always thrilling to see wild primates who share our evolutionary rung on Jacobs Ladder. Back in the classroom I stay positive and energetic constantly refining my delivery methods and striving to be a better teacher. Meanwhile wildflowers flourish on the saturated countryside as the steam engine known as the monsoon chugs on and on…  

Fear of Death

“Death don’t take no vacation in this land” 

On my daily hike I went to Zongdopelri. Behind the temple I came across two village women making ara in huge vats over an open fire. They had two barrels full and a few jugs that they were funneling the moonshine into. The homebrew was being concocted for the upcoming Tsechu. Furthur up the trail I ran into Wangmo and Zangmo and two drunken farm boys who spoke limited English and claimed to not be enrolled in school. At the temple the marigolds are exploding and the giant sunflowers are wilting, bowing to the earth. They look exactly like the old man stooped over the prayer wheel. Suddenly I can feel the reaper with me and it as if I am already dead. I am thirty five and afraid to die or maybe afraid to live? Above the temple my bonpo meadow is alive with purple princess blooms and swerving clouds. There are no clouds on earth like these and I wonder of all the enchanted parcels how did I end up here? Suddenly coincidences and randomness seem impossible. Down in the village I met one of my students recently diagnosed with some heart disease. She wouldn’t give me details but said it was brought on by missing her mother in Thimphu. She was standing by her garden where an exotic red flower towered and unfolded in its own perfect domain. This specimen could have been in the Amazon Rainforest or the ferry plaza nursery slung with a hefty price tag. Below in all directions wondrous muted earth tones mix with gusts of chartreuse. But inside the grove is a womb of splendid green of all shades and vibrations, including soothing green, laughing green and envious green all splayed together on a lushes slope. MMMMM MMMMM GREEN!  But alas the maize already turned gold and the wheel revolves towards autumn in glorious impermanence.      

Marigolds and Sunflowers at Zongdopelri

Moses at Gom Kora

1 comment:

  1. Your BEST post by far my son--I am impressed and proud of you! You are finding your way and exploring the path.

    Your Fatherrrrrrrr