With anticipation to see where we’d come and to get back to rest, we began our decent. I naively assumed we’d make quick passage. We even began describing our desired breakfast orders, knowing full well our only likely options would be more rice and curry. Somehow the fantasy of waffles fueled us.
Even before I’d gone down the first 10 stairs I began to see what we’d just completed. It was completely unrecognizable in the light of day. I felt no similarity what so ever even though we’d just traveled every step. In every way, the way down was the opposite of up— raw, vulnerable, hanging off the side of a mountain in a vastness I have never experienced. I immediately understood John Still’s words; I was standing directly within “the vastest and reverenced cathedrals of the human race”.
I was reminded of our opportunity to “make compassion” as I watched us all manage each other with a grace and compassion I rarely see in a crowd. People of every degree were descending and each had their own speed, need and desire. I didn’t witness even a single moment of frustration, within me or anyone else.
We explained to the Tea House owner that we’d stolen his water, he happily accepted our over re-payment. As our bill was being settled, I stood near the edge and watched the Pilgrims. Nobody was headed up. Besides the sunrise, now in the light of day as I witnessed what we’d accomplished I knew full well very few would make the journey if the effort required was this visible. I truly believed I would not have.
The flights down got the best of me. I had never expected it to be so much more difficult but it was ten-fold. Numerous moments had my legs shaking so bad I wasn’t sure I could remain standing. Going down faster became easier than a slow walk; the momentum seemed to work on our behalf.
I finally saw all I had missed. Buddhist Temples, Hindu Shrines, Mother Mary. Sri Pada is in some ways not just a mountain top temple but also an inter-faith holy trail. Each resting place offered spiritual and physical rejuvenation for her pilgrims.
Near the bottom I discovered I was far ahead of my group. My legs hurt so much by then I couldn’t stop descending. If I stopped I almost couldn’t stand. I found a small river below a bridge and put my feet in the water. It was then I remembered the sound of all the waterfalls I had heard in the night. They were all around me. I sat for a half hour or more, watching the people and listening to languages from all over the world. I smiled as I imagined what brought them here.
When we got back to the base temple the monks were wide-awake and had made a dana ( generosity ) meal for us. Traveling with a monk affords us the most unique experiences and we were escorted into the monastery / temple where a meal was presented. We sat alone while they served us, the customary tradition in this country “Guests in the house, God’s in the house”.
Walking from the base temple to the van, I anticipated maybe a city block. The night before it had felt like we had just journeyed a small mounting trail from our van to the temple. In the light, also known as reality, it was a hundred times further than I imagined. We all put in such great effort to see things clearly, however it has its disadvantages as well and as we walk I re-commit to just accepting the present moment versus always trying to see more.
What I thought was a tiny trailhead was a bustling village. Tea Shops and temples and small hotels everywhere. The high Pilgrimage season was a week out and all the shopkeepers were getting ready. I wondered how often they stopped to consider the love they were adding to the world by being in service to all who venture here. I suspect much like me, they don’t think of it at all, the work, the next steps, that consumes them and the why is just an ego filling distraction.
The van pulled away and as we made our way through the villages, I realized what we had come through to get here. Humanity seems to go to great lengths to survive.
Bhante took my hand and held it a long time. “I am so happy. All our problems are solved now.”
We road in silence another moment before he said “empty, empty, happy, happy”
“Just keep going” I thought, and maybe said before I fell sound asleep.
“When we both experienced the love that consumes, we shared in the Absolute. The Absolute shows each of us who we really are; it is an enormous web of cause and effect, where every small gesture made by one person affects the life of someone else. This morning, that slice of the Absolute was still very much alive in my soul. I was seeing not only you but everything there is in the world, unlimited by space or time.” ~ Paulo Coelho