What goes up…
The year still feels fresh and crisp around the shoulders, and yet it’s already been full of momentous peaks. We packed up our sweet little apartment in Cologne at the end of February and said goodbye to life in Germany, dragging overly heavy suitcases to the train station amidst the glitter and vomit of Karneval revelry. It was a good weekend to be heading out.
CGN-DXB-KTM. A million times through airport security, snatching snippets of sleep at every awkward angle until we are finally spit out into the gnarl of Kathmandu traffic. We kick off The Groove Yoga Gathering--a yoga retreat and trek in Nepal—with five days of meditation, yoga, and exploring Kathmandu’s rich and baffling culture.
And then we climb. The first days of the Mardi Himal trek are through mossy, mist-shrouded forest straight out of a Grimm brother’s fairytale. We catch only a few glimpses of the far-off high peaks of the Annapurnas before the grey clouds swallow them up again. Each night is colder than the last. On day four the first feathery flakes of snow fall throughout the morning as we trudge up to Low Camp for a lunch of thin dhal and ginger-lemon tea. As we climb the final leg to High Camp—the highest point of our journey—a blizzard sets in, thick snow blocking out the view beyond a few meters. We stagger through the fresh banks, carving the trail as we go, believing we are in the Himalayas, but not able to see more than the bright jackets of the guides ahead.
Overnight the weather shifts, and we stumble out from the nest of our sleeping bags to watch the full moon sliding off the sheer face of Machupichare, and then the sun coming up on the wall of Annapurna IV, snow blowing off her crest like fine strands of hair. It’s difficult to describe how small you feel against the mountains, 3700m above sea level, the thin bite of the air just satisfying your lungs. And yet how enormous the gravity of your existence; how impossibly fragile, and therefore, precious this life is. We felt a kind of truth up there, something you might call god, so close you could taste her.
…must come down.
We want to go higher, defy Newtonian physics, climb up and up the beckoning peaks. But we have schedules and promises to keep, and so we descend. Down through forests of rhododendron trees, their fallen blooms gathered in the melting snow like spills of blood. Down through lush tea gardens and ancient stone villages, down into the dusty heat.
KTM-DXB-YYZ. 30 hours of travel to Toronto, where Roland passes bleary-eyed through immigration with little fanfare. Another peak. At our new home just outside of Kingston, Ontario, we wash the stench of wood smoke and must out of every piece of clothing we have. We rinse Kathmandu’s grit from our hair and lungs and the folds of our skin. We are reminded of the Zen proverb after enlightenment, the laundry. Even after the most profound, truly alive moments, there are still dishes to do, errands to run, accounts to balance.
Jack Kornfield writes “It is as if deep down we all hope that some experience, some great realization, enough years of dedicated practice, might finally lift us beyond the touch of life, beyond the mundane struggles of the world. We cling to some hope that in spiritual life we can rise above the wounds of our human pain, never to have to suffer them again. We expect some experience to last. But permanence is not true freedom, not the sure heart's release.” We must always come back down the mountain.
And so we fold the crystal clarity of Annapurna into our hearts, and are caught back up in the everyday magic of making a life. We feed the chickens, pour over seed catalogues for this summer’s garden, throw a fresh coat of paint on the house, dig sawdust and dirt from under our fingernails. We make messes and clean them up again. We do more laundry. Joy is discovered in the mundane, in the simple comfort of knowing we have arrived at home. Out in the apple orchard the blue jays and gold finches are pecking about in the black-knuckled trees. Each day milder than the last and spring just around the corner, so close you can taste it.
Liz and Roland's rich teaching is rooted in their own intensive practices—profoundly spiritual, and at the same time playful. They skillfully guide students in discovering and understanding the physical body, creating a potential for mental and energetic transformation. Their teaching is infused with fierce love, joy, and laughter.
©Liz Huntly 2015