Monday, April 20, 2015

Going Home in the Rain

Dedicated to Papa Jack

“When the five luminous lights of wisdom shine, fearlessly may I recognize myself, when the forms of the peaceful and wrathful ones appear, fearless and confident may I recognize the bardo.” Tibetan Book of the Dead

Rain has returned to our catchment refreshing our valley from suffocating smoke while grey caterpillar clouds slink over the layers of mountains encompassing them indiscriminately as god intended. I just finished marking 110 notebooks taking approximately 5 hours. I awoke to a stellar day with the mountain mandala popping, every detail outlined in this great bowled valley; the great eastern cornices glistening Dakini clouds in varying shapes, hearts, clubs, mushrooms, and cupids sailing across the horizons. The birds are going crazy, raving sparrows jacked up like crack heads after a score. Tonight a cultural show visited from Thimphu in support of vegetarianism, some have it that if we eat meat we might be reborn as a pig. It was amusing watching the kids rush the entrance like rabid fans rushing the gate at a Pink Floyd concert. The dancers were sexy though with their ever alluring kiras so shiny and concealing those live fleshy women underneath.
At this point in the journey TIAT is a ghost ship (no readership) so I might as well fly my freak flag since no one will ever know. I’m at war with myself which is too bad since a cup of kindness would balm my agitated soul. I had to visit Trashigang (via Chazam which is checking permits diligently again) to return a camera that didn’t work leaving me without capability for taking photos for awhile. I met Reese and Nakita BCF colleagues from Mongar and we visited the historic Dzong built 1667 now being dismantled for repair which is heartbreaking. One can now see the hill station tucked into a verdant cirque through what used to be the wall of the ancient edifice. While at the hill station I placed a call stateside to Morgan who informed me nonchalantly that she had found true love. She added a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders and at that moment the weight of the world fell upon mine. All I can compare my feelings too is hearing about the death of a loved one. BIG PHONE BABY! My body actually went into shock and I was shaking for several hours. Logically it seems absurd to be so crushed after nine years out of the relationship but who says the heart is logical. Truthfully as the days pass I see that it’s for the best since finally my heart is broken. A break is much better than the pulverized still thudding mutilated organ hanging from bloody tendrils just dangling from charred chords but still clinging to false hope. I never truly let go and now I know she has cut the lines and now my heart is finally broken which like I said is preferable to fractured. It hurts on so many levels though, the imaginings of their sexual relationship, the longing for the closeness we once felt now enjoyed by them and the reality that our love is an artifact buried under rotten despair, and what is dead inside me blooms tender shoots for Morgan and her beau.  

A big fat What to Do…

On top of this hill I’m struggling with work and it seems the more I try the more I flounder. Go figure! I’ll admit I’m doing the best job I’ve done to date in the classroom but now that my eyes are wide open I can see my shortcomings glaring back. Every time I’ve asserted myself it has had negative results. I went to monitor social work at the common toilets two of which were not cleaned with growlers piled up around the bowl. When I made an announcement in assembly I angered the respective house master and we had a heated exchange in the staff room. Next I implored the VP to allow me to go to the book fair in Mongar and when he refused I threw a minor hissy fit and said some stupid things that I regret. The fact is he is following orders. It is best not to rock the boat, isn’t it? The warden even scolded me for keeping Nima and Pema late for a Monopoly Game on a school night. I am feeling utterly helpless when it comes to teaching reading since the books in the library are far too advanced for the students. There is a lack of material for the elementary level, no wonder the kids lose interest when they cannot define every other word. When reading with class 3 and 4 students I observed they could read the words but didn’t glean the content a pattern that marks the plight of adolescent Bhutanese readers. BCF alumni Andrea is diligently working on introducing a reader series of leveled material into Bhutan so if anyone wants to donate funds to a worthy cause I can direct you. Instead of building dams and hostels India should kick down some dough for that cause. Presently I’m toiling in Moby Dick for the better part of two months getting only half way through the onerous novel and I feel that I’m neglecting this periodical even though most of my readers abandoned ship already. Meanwhile I do what I can in turn and burn fashion and today I conducted afterschool reading in the library then proceeded directly to evening study to try and help kids with their Azerbaijan essays and when I got home the lads were waiting and I tried not to be a curmudgeon. All this work and I’ve only been roaming once in two weeks and that was yesterday on official school business. I accompanied a group of teachers to Shakshing and Daka to conduct a census on a drearily beautiful afternoon with charcoal clouds canvassing the peaks, muting the whole wide world. Still new leaves enrobed trees in chartreuse against a misty backdrop of hazy blue- mountains as the valley veers left into the province of Tawang. My sadness seemed reflected back at me everywhere in shades of grey but I still realized how lucky I was to be sad in Bhutan where faded red rhododendrons are enveloped by fresh greens and wild birds tweet up a storm. It’s mid winter in my heart so perhaps the abundant new life will remind me of the starriness of every empty moment containing immanent joy for those who want it. On the other side of this life is the tender heart of sadness that is our birthright. Three good things on that cloudy excursion were three cups of tea as only a villager can offer seated Indian style on the floor in a smoky hovel privy to a world that hardly exists anymore. THANKS! The forest outside is reminiscent of the Bardo with peach blossoms budding on limbs above and moldering duff below while I cruise the middle ground wondering which colored lights to follow while tangled up in the lines of my mind. One thing’s for certain my neurosis and negativity ain’t gonna help me none.

(The Dauntless Girl Interlude)

Tendy Zangmo is a funny and intense creature. She’s incredibly bright with primal features hailing from the western slopes of Chakademi and when a boy angers her she glares with an expression that could turn Mr. T to stone and points her index finger in an ominous manner at the culprit as if to say, “I’m gonna kick your ass afterschool.” She will even wrinkle her nose at me if she disapproves of my lesson and in class passionately implores, “Me Sir” a hand raised when wanting to be called on. Here’s to you Tendy Zangmo one of my 115 wonderful students, each with a story. By now I know half the student body by name and have taught approximately 400 Bhutanese learners. I’m concerned with my legacy and that’s why I’m trying to improve my pedagogy and employ more kindness in the moments that remain, but remember Mr. Tim don’t rock the boat and for goodness sake lighten up!

In morning light I descry an enormous yellow moth with frilly patterns bordering its wings that look like musical scores hanging to a stone at the foundation of the academic block.
Today we had a visitor named Klaus from Germany who is here to inform us on waste management during morning assembly. He gave me some very good ideas on sorting trash and recycling including what can be burned and what must be recycled. It was inspirational and now I will have to see it through at the school which will mean tons of work and organization. The good news is after three years I have a vision and some direction to curb the trash problem in the community. That means we’ll have to build bins for separate wastes and we already have constructed an incinerator that will burn waste more effectively. I want to implement his ideas and send him a report of the progress we’ve made by the end of this year. In class we completed our book caterpillars compiling 28 circles strung together with string, the students did a good job and although to an observer the whole scene might of seemed chaotic with kids running around swapping colored pens and stringing the critter together in reality it was a successful lesson and a bunch of fun which is always a boon in the schoolhouse. I’m so busy this year with more things planned then I’m able to implement but the results are better. I’m focusing on simple tenses and structuring sentences and although it’s slow going many are getting it. In my free time I’m marking essays for both my own and former students. Overall my attitude has improved and I’m fully engaged in my duties keeping true to my promise for a breakthrough year.  It’s gorgeous outside with curly clouds festooning the highest snowbound ridges with the entire dragon’s tail exposed including the sharks fin and the tooth of Tsang Tsang Ma looming 14,000 feet over the Dangme Chu. The elevation gain is impossible to comprehend and although I loathe comparisons it is if I live on the lip of a verdant grand canyon. So much open space and there’s nowhere like it on this earth and somehow this is my home. Even the Guru is back in high spirits giggling in the classroom eyes twinkling. Police did a fantastic job facilitating the assembly of the caterpillars and I was very pleased. I’ll keep you posted on the development of the recycling project and instead of the book fair I will be attending a workshop on English in Yangtse this weekend. Who knows maybe I’ll meet the elusive Ash or see Lynn as now 4 phelincpa’s reside in the Dzongkhag but in 2012 it was only me. Despite having companions I see them infrequently but am lucky to have Piet to lead me on some intrepid hikes around Trashiyangtse. This weekend we went to Dechen Phodrang with three Bhutanese and it was a powerful experience. I bought some homemade paper scrolls and have started a queer poem about it but maybe I’ll lay down some prose.

Dechen Phodrang Excursion

“…we won’t care just what who say, if it’s truth or lie, we’ll still have our place of peace, our love won’t never die…”

I wrote extensively about this particular magical day on a scroll of handmade paper but due to my weak eyesight and the stream of consciousness nature of that poetic scribbling I thought it more applicable to jot down my notes in a more orderly fashion here on TIAT. I checked into the Karmaling loft on a Saturday night enjoying the cozy lounge to myself watching Man vs. Wild. On Sunday I met Wildman Piet and his companion Sonam and another Bhutanese gent and little kid Karma for our trek. This was a working day for Piet who was armed with orange paint. Along the route he paused to paint orange arrows on stumps or rocks to guide future tourist both domestic and foreign on this epic pilgrimage walk. We were deposited by a taxi at the small primary school at the head of a secluded valley at the trailhead shaded by a majestic cypress tree (the size of a California Redwood) The trail winds through a picturesque settlement with newly sown potato crops and whitewashed chortens weaving deeper into a valley comparable to Bumdeling but separated from that valley by a spine of snow crested jagged peaks the dominant one appearing like a sharks fin reputedly home to meditating yogis. In this valley they make handmade paper and one can see the sheets drying in the dappled sunlight near troughs of mashed pulp. Yangtse is famous for this paper along with the precious wood bowls also made locally and sold throughout Bhutan in tourist shops. The trail leads over a suspension bridge that would make Indiana Jones bite his lip over a rushing tributary of the Kulong Chu. Although we were only ten miles out of town civilization ended and only a virgin verdant wilderness stretched northwards to Me La and Tibet. 

This is the area where Tawang, Tibet, and Trashiyangtse intersect and therefore a power spot. Rounding a corner near a gushing stream is Dechen Phodrang an auspicious meditation site of 
Ugyen Guru Rinpoche where he stayed for a year meditating so fervently that his own body print is embedded into a massive boulder now enclosed by the temple walls. The Lhakang is three stories high recently expanded according to Piet who first visited the holy structure back in 1997. The lhakang is impressive but the three story edifice is dwarfed by a towering cypress about 300 feet in height and perhaps my most cherished tree on earth. The knotted roots stick out above ground as the tree sits on a collection of remarkable boulders the size of houses. One might wonder how a tree of such size and girth (like sequoia) could precariously balance on those rocks. The answer is that Guru Rinpoche pounded his wizard’s staff into the rock and the cypress sprang forth. It would take ten people holding hands to circle the base of that mighty tree and equally amazing to the gnarled roots and zophtic bark are the curly branches that sprawl out in all directions sprouting cascading feathery foliage entirely ethereal in nature. In fact one cannot explain such a tree the queen of a grove of slightly less rotund specimens. To try to explain this tree is like trying to pin the tail on the donkey of the universe and therefore an act of mystification but such is the writer’s course upstream in this frivolous life. Inside the temple a spry snaggletooth lama told us many stories about the guru’s stay at the spot. The name of the temple roughly translated means, peaceful palace and the spot is exactly that. Mutable clouds swirl around the highest peaks revealing a distant cone that seemed more a part of sky than earth. Inside the temple the customary statues but this temple is unique like Gongsa blending seamlessly with the rock itself the very rock that has the concave body print of Guru Rinpoche emblazoned into its ancient surface. This is one of three such body prints in Bhutan including one at a more famous temple in Bumthang. Yet it proves that Guru Ugyen Rinpoche was in Eastern Bhutan and here at this peaceful paradise he left behind a myriad of relics in stone. We sat in the cool grotto in a circle on the floor with shadows flickering on the walls cast by butter lamps. There the lama passed around various stones each with a story to tell, first a replica of the Guru’s phallic cast in stone looking like an impressive member of a man the rimmed ridge separating the shaft from the mushroomed head of the penis. This the flaming thunderbolt used to whack a demoness or pleasure a consort. This stone is sought out by barren women who want a son they must bring their husband to the Lhakhang and bearing the stone must sleep out of doors and do the deed with their man while bearing the stone and thus are guaranteed a child. Other stones included the boot of the Guru and the dagger he used to slay the serpent deity that resided in the rock when he arrived on the scene. Several of the serpent’s internal organs were also cast in stone. Next we were instructed to make a wish with all our heart and press our head inside the body print the concave impression embedded deep inside the rock. Careful what you wish for isn’t it as we took our turn one by one. Inside that impression I felt significant power that was exhilarating but also made me nauseous as I made my wish but I’m not sure my wish was wholehearted so I can’t guarantee it will come true. Next we offered songs to the Guru before exiting the grotto so I sang the refrain of Eternity which Willie Dixon wrote for Bobby and then I offered IT to Guru. Upstairs the lama busted out some precious relics and according to Sonam these were usually not shown to anybody so it’s entirely reasonable to presume mine was the first Phelincpa head to touch these artifacts. The most precious of all was a small statue of Guru Rinpoche made of wood brought to this spot by an itinerant Tibetan lama hundreds of years ago and when the caretaker placed it on my crown muttering a prayer I felt the weight of a thousand lifetimes crush upon me. The little Guru had a contorted acidic grimace and was clad in silk rainbow robes.

Outside the fun continued as I crawled through a birth canal of stone to purify my sins. The space was so tight that I had to wiggle one arm at a time through the crevice but made it out. Above the temple another huge rock that is home to a black cobra that the caretaker has encountered on various occasions. Here is a quartz rock face that is the doorway to heaven made of encrusted diamonds, turquoise, and all manner of precious jewels known to this world. The story goes that long ago a man was investigating the rock when the door swung open revealing heaven but the man rushed back for his family and when he returned the door had closed and remained locked ever since. The moral in that tale is attachment has dire consequences and one cannot become enlightened unless they disengage from all attachment. Above the rock a mysterious spring delivers cool clear water from Tara the Goddess. There are several other rocks and deep pools nearby where the Guru’s consorts including Yeshi herself frolicked and bathed. In another rock I swear I caught a glimpse of Yeshi topless like a river mermaid beckoning me into her mossy slit cave.
So many concurrent events and numerous blessings occurred in such a short time that this explanation falls woefully short in describing the power of those moments at Dechen Phodrang. This was exactly one week after hearing from Morgan and as low as I felt on that day was the zenith of this particular Sunday in Samsara.       

Going Home in the Rain

I’m sitting in the staff room and outside an epic maelstrom whirls about in vortex of wind and hammering rain accompanied by the drumming of thunder and forks of lightning walking on rogue legs like a herd of purple elephants stampeding the earth. We’ve probably received more rain in one minute than California has had in two years. Looking across the valley patches of blue peep over Bartsham ridge whereas Shakshing is swallowed up by grey cloudburst. The smell of rain and earth marrying wafts into the room and I’m glad I’m alive to taste it. A deluge of biblical proportions bends the cypress treetops and nearby Nir Mala Tapa in repose her Taegu the same lightning infused purplish grey as the sky, her beauty just as terrible. The Thunder Dragon blesses the newly sown seeds spilling over into the Monpa realm running over the mountain mandala in sheets and buckets (runoff) filling the waters of the Dangme Chu and Kulong Chu pounding the nexus at Doksom threading past Gom Kora under Chazam bound for Manas and the Bay of Bengal. Ah! Moments like these make this lonely life worth living, so eventually or rather temporally leaving the expansive bowl of the valley washed and sparkling under a layer of brooding charcoal clouds.
The wind knocked out the power which made for a lovely moonless night standing on my hilltops flat ridge beyond the invisible borderline lights flickered in tiny Tawang settlements and across the gorge in Yellang. The stars that never shine also shined this night with one perched on the crest of Shampula slowly rising higher to bathe in the Milky Way. The next day I awoke at 5:30 to the croak of a raven and when I opened my door the first rays of orange sunshine crested over the dragons tail signifying the presence of Guru Pema who promised Yeshi that he’d appear in that fashion every clear day to the east. I met Sangay Tenzin and we walked down the sinuous road for a workshop on English Medium in Bhutanese Schools to be conducted at Yangtse L.S.S. Karma Om and her driver picked us up since she was also attending but dropped us at the Kiney turnoff where we met Lynn and her colleague and hopped in their vehicle. The workshop was beneficial with about 30 teachers representing all the schools in Yangtse from Bayling to the smallest primary schools most of which I can descry from Tsenkharla ridge. One L.S.S teacher was a former student of Aum Nancy Strickland our esteemed Executive Director and self proclaimed favorite student of hers. I couldn’t resist asking him how she was as a teacher and he replied very strict in the classroom but very jolly outside the classroom and went on to tell me that they played some form of badminton making their own rackets and birdies out in Phongmay the remotest eastern placement 30 years ago. The workshop brought to bear all the challenges facing the ESL teacher where all my students come from illiterate Sharchop households and rarely use their English outside or inside the school grounds. And where teachers code switch using dialects to teach subject lessons and where students are too shy to speak. Having said all that it’s a wonder they do as well as they do. Driving home in the rainstorm next to Tashi Choden (namesake of Tigress Dakini who Guru mounted to Tigers Nest) but this retiring young lady teacher from Chakademi will not be my consort methinks. Lightning and thunder the world outside the car as Samten kindly delivers us directly to Tsenkharla (Rangthangwoong) in the midst of a howling storm in the blackest night. I met the mysterious Ash who has resided in Yangtse town for two years, I commented that she must keep to herself like me and she refuted saying, “She doesn’t keep to herself” then walked away to talk with a Bhutanese colleague.       

Seven Story Mountain (Excerpt from backside Scroll #1)

“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us”  Rainer Maria Rilke   

Bright morning light bathes the eternal mountain in new gold welcoming pure azure a new day tufts of mist drift over cypress boughs……deep green twisted Brongla forest above Darchin the last outpost white dot temple perched undulating pastures foot of groves within primordial dripping clinging slanted wall vertical oaks side-winding upwards mossy trunks twisted serpentine branches wriggling boring into my consciousness (louder than a city block) everything writhing together rolling on thick carpets of fluorescent mosses entwined vegetation feeding off itself self contained dreaming under gigantic grey petrified mushroom barnacle glued on wooded trunk draped in hairy moss furry stumps under dancing gold leaves flickering opening and closing like ten thousand butterflies long haired lichens covering all matter red rhododendron hovering in upper reaches of venerable oak a bleeding ruby dripping on fallen logs spongy mats chartreuse floating in space sprouting all kinds of life -fern fronds like octopi pulling me down into depths of decayed layers of moist duff reaching upwards for rescue honeysuckle cascades cream bells scarlet interiors dappled feelers project scent sweeter than secret woman smells sitting under the tallest oak like a Buddha muddy lotus floating on a terrestrial wall steep and silent–belly crawl emerging into a snow globed world an eastern mountain mandala unfolding a breathing accordion of smoky blues and gleaming white crown snow peaks a bank of mountains soar over Merak stretching East into Tawang adjacent Shampula a purple green whale breeching from a sliver of the serpent Dangme Chu far below -across the valley (really many valleys separating and rejoining) Tsang Tsang Ma a honeycombed snow dusted antenna for Thegsey and his host of deities running amuck inside our hearts poisoning spirits but the perfect unity of male Guru and female Yeshi Tshogyel unify beings trapped in identity clinging to illusion- unfettered lacy Dakini clouds rim the snow clad peaks frilly vast wilderness a sector of the eternal mountain layers revealed while below this seven story mountain Tsenkharla Tsangma’s hill commanding the parched lower valley and between lonely Darchin on the threshold of wild virgin forests where melodic yellow birds warble to distant companions with nothing else to do… 

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