Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing
Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church and I've said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows
- B. Dylan, Thunder On The Mountain
* * *
There are hidden places in the world, sacred places where the boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds blur, overlap, erasing distinctions between them. In Tibetan Buddhism these last hidden places are called beyul. If you have heard the story of Shangri-la, of paradise hiding behind a waterfall, this has its birth as the Beyul Pemako. The only ones who are said to be able to discover these hidden lands are pilgrims of merit who have suffered great hardship on the road to find out. Only then is it possible for the inner and outer worlds to become one and the same. But there is no promise made.
If you are called to adventure, then perhaps a road that passes through Tibet is in order. But in truth, as Proust said, "The real journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
Beyul surround you. No lie.
* * *
The purpose of life is to experience it. There is no other purpose. You are to experience what it is like to be you in this time and place. What you make of that experience, what meaning you then bring to that experience is entirely up to you. It is out of our experience that we create meaning. The tasks set before us become an endless stream of possibility for us to hone the edge of our intellect, our desire, our empathy, our compassion. How we respond to the facts of our lives, in fact, becomes our life. These responses, repeated and revised, become our way of moving in the world. At some point along the way, along the hard road down, we begin to discipline ourselves as a way of coping with the risks and challenges before us. We narrow some of the focus to become adept at things: earning money, playing guitar, raising children, performing surgery, dancing, cooking, teaching, etc. If the thing we become adept at is not truly an expression of our Self, then we find frustration, anger, disappointment along the way. Everything seems harder than it should be.
Disciplining ourselves to master a skill, to master a way of being in the world is useless if it is not a direct outgrowth of our innate ability. This is why we fall into ruts of unhappiness in our relationships, our work, and why we feel so unwelcome in the world. However; disciplining ourselves, submitting to the necessary apprenticeship of any skill or action that is a manifestation of our Self brings, in time, its own reward. For when you master your gift, you have mastered yourself and you know who you are and are at peace with the road you traveled.
But the beyuls....
Imagine you are on a pilgrimage. Imagine you are on a pilgrimage to a specific location. Imagine that while on this pilgrimage you have been robbed and beaten and the road is wholly lost. You need to find your way back to the road, to the destination you set out for. You believe you once knew the way. You believe you once knew how to get there, but you are no longer certain. You can't go forward and you can't go back, yet you continue to move. You think of laying in the dirt and simply expiring. But you take a step, and then another. It is always the same step, but you take it. You begin to lose things: your watch, your canteen, your compass. What keeps you moving is the idea of this place you were to go to, this sacred place where you would finally understand your life. It is no longer a place on the map because you cannot remember its name, but it is an idea that holds you together long enough to take another step. Before your pilgrimage you were a cobbler, an embalmer, a cook, a soldier, a shop keeper, a priest, a wife, a son and you remember how good it felt to be that, for others to know you as that and you hate the pilgrimage that has taken you away from that, from the certainty you once knew. You learn to read the sky and know when difficult weather is coming in. You learn which berries are safe to eat. You learn to catch fish with your hands. There is no longer a destination, only the pilgrimage: the camino, the road, the hard road down. Nothing of what you were before remains. One day you enter a small town. It looks like every other town you have passed through. There are signs above doorways that tell you what each shop offers: a pliers and tooth for the dentist, an astrolabe for the fortune-teller, a pig above the butcher's door, and so on. You have seen all of this before, in some form or another, and you make your way through the streets looking for the place you always look for: the temple. In other towns you have sat beneath crosses and crescent moons, stars and trees, and asked the priest or priestess how to get to this sacred place you once heard of, and had they heard of it, too. But you circle the town once, twice, three times, a hundred times and there is no temple. You are tired and enter the doorway with a bathtub over it to soak away the grime from the road. Water is drawn. You are left with some soap and a towel. You ease into the hot water and can see the filth rise off your body and float to the surface of the water. When you towel yourself off there is a mirror in front of you. You hardly recognize yourself. You are leaner, stronger than before. You can trace the scars of your journey from the first beating up until the scratches you took on that very morning coming through dense brush. Your life is traced on your body. All of your desire, all of your love, all of your longing and will is carved into you - with no difference between the scar and the thought that brought you on this journey. It is there, standing naked in a dim bathhouse, as ordinary as any other, you smile and finally understand.
* * *
I don't know your road, love. All I do know is you have to walk it. I don't know what trials you have already passed through, or what lies ahead, but I do know you are the only one who can experience them. I don't know what you'll make of your experience, if anything, but I do know you are the only one who can and what you do or don't do will have an effect on those you know, those you love, those you have yet to forgive.
The hidden place is you. You carry it with you. You don't know this. You still think it is in Tibet. It may be, but only if you make it so. The purpose of your life is to experience it and out of that experience respond to it. Your response may have to take you to the Himalayas. It may take you one town over, or just to the kitchen. It really doesn't matter. Any place will do, for every place is ready for you.
And one more thing: the pilgrimage doesn't end here. You have to get home and tell the stories. Most won't listen, but a few will, and so they begin.
* * *