The Subject Tonight is Love -- and Dishes

Chris and Nikki guard the sink like compassionate warriors, setting everything up for the flood of dirty dishes to come. Even so they get kicked out soon from their self-assigned roles, as pleads of “go eat” become hard to ignore. Other hands move in to manage the onslaught of clinking bowls, plates, and cups. Leftovers get neatly scraped off the plates, which then get dipped in the warm water, rubbed with a brush, and lined up in the dishwasher.

It gets hard to figure out exactly whose hands are doing what. As I push Nipun out from the right, Pavi scoots in from the left. Moments later we’re both gently shoved out again with smiles from Shalini and Praveen. Rajesh works hard to get in on the scene as towels start to fly around drying the big pots, and glasses get stacked neatly in a drawer as they were found.

The post-meditation, circle of sharing tonight was about giving and receiving. One question was posed to the sixty people sitting silently around the weekly circle: What is something that you want to give away before you die? One person confidently responded, “The biggest thing I can give away is love.” Many others throughout the circle followed with a similar response. After having sat in meditation for an hour, it didn’t sound like such a cliché. I knew they meant it. It came from the depths of their being. This Love wasn't just a four-letter-word, but rather a feeling looking to explode past the confines of all expressions.

It reminded me of a very sacred moment I had while on a pilgrimage. As I was trying to sort things out in my mind, I literally stopped in my tracks one morning. Walking in a field, I realized that what I want above all things in life: is to be filled with love. And to let that flow out into anyone I come across. Perhaps that’s what we all seek -- to give and to receive love.

Watching friends fight over dishes, I knew it wasn't about the dishes.  They were passing on love, which can only be given in small doses, in the most ordinary of moments. They were saying, "Let me do the dishes", so someone else doesn’t need to. Everyone's cups were filled with love and it was spilling over. Naturally such a flow can’t be contained within the four walls of the home. It will go exactly where it needs to go in the world.

Love.  Such a simple yet profound emotion. No wonder that Sanskrit has 96 words to describe it.



A couple of years ago, a generous friend sent me her very own copy of “The Gift,” a compilation of poems by the 14th century Persian poet -- Hafiz. Every day I delighted in reading one or two of his poems, each one a treasure chest of wisdom. I laughed, I cried, I reflected, and read many of them aloud to anyone within an earshot. One day a guest came along and read through the poems with the same look of awe and wonderment, and I knew it was time to pay-it-forward. “The Gift” by Daniel Ladinsky continues to be my favorite book of poetry of all times.

Poetry has a way of touching the heart, making it dance with joy, and weep with happy tears. It can say in two lines what sometimes can’t be conveyed in an entire book. I have so many favorite poems of Hafiz, but here’s one I was thinking of today:
"Tripping Over Joy"

What is the difference
Between your Existence
And that of a Saint?

The Saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the Saint is now continually
Tripping over joy
And Bursting out in Laughter
And saying, "I Surrender!"

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.


What a beautiful way of reminding us that we don’t (and can’t) have control over things all the time. Surrender! Surrender to what? Surrender to what is, to the beauty of this moment without the faulty projections of the past. 


A Letter to Myself (After Walking 900 Kilometers)

Taking the first step with full conviction almost guarantees that the destination will be reached, granted you persevere through the middle part with full sincerity.

After the longest day of the entire walk -- 38 kilometers -- my feet finally touch what the Romans thought was the end of the world. It’s been a long and interesting journey from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Cape Finisterre, the western-most tip of Spain.

One can never imagine the impact of such pilgrimages on our lives. Sitting on a rock by the lighthouse watching the most glorious sunset of my life, it seems like a perfect ending to a journey of 900 kilometers.

Marker showing that there are 0 kilometers left to walk.  :-)
There’s so much that I’ve learned from walking the thirty-seven days. I’ve learned that if you take the first step, and keep going no matter how slowly you go, limping or crawling,  rain or shine, sick or healthy, happy or sad.-- you will get there. The distance might seem long and wide at first, but step-by-step, day-by-day, you slowly bridge the gap between the beginning and end.

I’ve learned that you need to have clarity about where you are going. There should be no doubt in your mind, so when you meet distractions on the path, they won’t last for long because you know exactly where you need to go. You are grounded on your path.

Once you have the clarity of vision: enjoy the journey. The destination can never be as sweet as the journey. The focus always has to be on each day, each moment. There’s no improving tomorrow, it’s all in the now. Life is taking birth right now.

And if you wander off the path, don’t ignore the signs. Don’t try to take the easy way out, don’t look for shortcuts. You will have to face the path at some point. There’s no difference between uphill and downhill. They’re both critical to the journey, two identical wings of the same bird.

Remember that sometimes the path will be full of beauty, nature, and rivers that flow effortlessly. And sometimes you will find yourself walking on the highway going against traffic; trying not to get run-over and just hoping to make it through the day. It’s all the same, neither roads are permanent – the terrain will keep changing. The most important thing is to keep going in the same direction.

Each day has its surprises; remember to embrace the good and the bad. Take moments to enjoy the beauty around you. And always stop and lend a helping hand. It’s more important to arrive in good spirits than to arrive on time.

Be good to your body and mind. You will get from it what you put into it. Don’t over-indulge in food, but make sure you nurture the body enough. Never underestimate the power of a good nights’ sleep. And for the mind – don’t hang around the naysayers and the gossipers long. Don’t let the mind get habituated to that. It’s much better to be silent and alone.

Don’t try to walk at the speed of others; if you walk faster than your legs can go, you’ll quickly burn out. If you walk slower, you will tire of that too. Find your own pace in life. And walk to the rhythm that allows you to hear the beat of your own heart, and keep yourself tuned into the quiet songs coming from your soul.

Have focus, but be flexible. Being rigid can make you brittle. Flexibility in the mind makes life more durable. Let the negative things pass through you quickly and be grateful for all the good in life -- for that is the magic formula to multiply it. Try to remember that when you have blisters on your feet, pain in your knees, and an ache in your back -- your lips still hold the capacity to turn into a smile.

Above all, the answer is always -- love. Always.   

(From the Camino Journals -- last entry)


Sacred Places Unplugged

The first time I traveled outside of the US on my own was soon after college. I spent volunteering a year abroad in Nepal and Calcutta. Aside from the over-stimulation of the senses, one of the big distinctions that I noticed in both places was the presence of temples almost around every corner. People were constantly remembering God, lowering their heads in a bow just a little as they passed by a temple (a habit which I soon acquired). On one end, you had road-side temples made from a few bricks placed together, where people would leave flowers and milk; and on the other end, there were grand architectural buildings of marble that were adorned with gold statues of deities. At the time this sort of obsession with God seemed to be specific to developing countries -- perhaps the threat of poverty keeps people humble I thought.
One of the entrances to the Samos Monastery, near Sarria

In Europe, I didn’t expect anything remotely comparable to Asia but I soon realized that Asia’s got nothing on this continent, which is full of magnificent churches and stunning monasteries. When you get out of the city (of course the cities have their own grand churches), you notice that every town is built around a church. One monastery that just blew me away is the Samos located in a village by the same name near Sarria. 
When I first saw it, as I was walking up to the town, I thought it must be beautiful college campus. I had never imagined that a monastery can be so grand. Founded in the 6th century, it’s one of the oldest monasteries in the whole of western world -- not to mention one of the largest. The few visitors that happen to chance upon it, walk around mesmerized; taking in the the air of grandeur and the feeling of sacredness all at the same time.

A mural depicting the life of monks: work and prayer
The river Rio Oribio runs through its side, adorned with lush lawns on both sides. The art located throughout the building can challenge any museum. The walls are endlessly filled with mural paintings by good-humored Spanish painters. :)  One of the painted nuns has the face of the Italian actress Sophia Loren. I think I saw an Elton John one too with the iconic colored glasses. There’s also a keystone with an amusing hieroglyphic, which when deciphered reads, “Que miras, bobo?” “What are you looking at, fool?”  One can’t complain that religious folks are too serious. :-)  The monastery also houses a beautiful baroque-style church and the relics of revered saints of the past. Monks (and layman) stay there for long-term retreats and prayers, so it still serves that primary purpose as well.

I continue to be humbled by learning the stories of people, throughout the centuries, who spent their whole lives in pursuit of a deeper search. It isn’t just the yogis of Himalayas, or the Buddhist monks of Nepal, but also the Benedictine monks of Spain that lived in the pursuit of something higher than themselves. The more I travel, the more I realize that people everywhere are driven by the same fundamental search for life's deeper meaning.

(From the Camino Journals)


An Encounter with a Red Truck (Day 29)

They say that when you’re about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. I disagree. If you have a just a few seconds, I think you can only have two feelings: accept the inevitable or struggle against it.

On a foggy morning, I’m feeling especially peaceful walking through the curvy highway, feeling grateful to be on a pilgrimage. When I hear a vehicle coming around the bend, it’s too late for me to get off the hairpin road with a large boulder on my left. There’s nowhere to go for this forty-feet portion. A big red truck advances towards me at a rapid pace. With all the fog, the truck driver seems completely oblivious to a person walking along the side. I wave my arms to draw attention. Feeling like an ant on the road, I realize that it would take the truck about a second to reach me. I’m not sure where it comes from, but a thought crosses my mind, “If I have to go, this is as good a day as any.”

Luckily for me the driver finally sees me and presses the brakes, screeches the tires, and swerves.  Outside of a giant ball of dust around me and tire marks on the road, there's no other residue. Completely unharmed, I catch my breath, relieved that this was not it. Glad that I’ll see the people I love once again.

As I continue walking on the path (now off the highway), my own surrender only moments ago is surprising. How would I feel if I wasn’t on a pilgrimage, encountering this in my daily life? Feeling like I almost dodged a bullet, I wonder “it really CAN come just like that?” I'm not naive enough to believe that age is the main factor in death, but still having an experience like this brings a deeper understanding of the impermanence of life. I’m grateful to be doing what I love while I have the opportunity.

How would you live differently knowing that the play can end any minute? What keeps you from living your life fully?

From the Camino Journals, May 28th