It’s the first day of November. I’m sitting in an outdoor hot tub in Park City, Utah after meeting a friend for a couple of early morning workout classes and steamroom at a sports club and spa. She has left for work.
A gentle wet snow is falling and the clouds are set down low on the surrounding mountains.
I feel my body. I’m a bit jet lagged still, and tired in the best of ways from physical exercise. Now soaking in hot water, after spending some time with a good friend. I feel completely present and deeply, deeply, deeply calm — all the way into the center of my bones.
I feel just like a dog of Boudanath.
* * * * *
I arrived back in the United States six days ago, after two weeks in Nepal. I had been guiding a trek in the Lower Solo Khumbu of the Everest region — just south of the main tourist track. It was a strange cocktail of events over the last couple of years that conspired to see me walking once again in the biggest mountains on the planet; as if some higher power had deftly arranged circumstances to complete a major cycle of my life that had begun there when I was 28.
Twenty seven years ago I’d trekked in this region for the first time, part of a small group of women — an experience that in so many ways set the course of my life from then on. Which is another story.
And now I was the guide. I’d always dreamed trekking could be done in this way: as a Hero’s Journey, with open-hearted sharing and invitations for deep self-inquiry to make vivid the profound transformation offered by the land and the culture of the Everest/Sherpa region of this amazing country.
Our group of eight, including myself and a co-guide, spent a few days before and after the trek in Kathmandu. In a hotel in Boudanath.
Boudanath is one of the oldest and most revered sacred Buddhist sites in the world. It’s a giant stupa (mound containing religious relics) whose origin is shrouded in myth. Historical chronicles suggest it was built sometime between 500 to 700 years before the birth of Christ. Buddhists, especially Tibetan refugees living in Nepal, circumambulate the stupa every morning before dawn and at sunset, chanting prayers for the liberation of all beings.
And then are the street dogs.
There is something very different about the street dogs in Boudanath. They do bark, though not at you and mostly through the night as if relaying news to each other. They sleep a lot in the day, curled up in the their same respective home spots. But if you take some time to watch them, and even to interact with them, you’ll notice they are extremely, profoundly calm. They tend to move slowly and look out at the world with a presence and relaxed focus that makes you wonder what kind of advanced Buddhist teachers got reincarnated into these dog bodies!
It’s as if these dogs are carrying the energy of this place. It’s the same throughout the places we trekked. Calm dogs and no crying babies. I never once heard a child crying.
Even after such a short time there, I felt something in me change.
* * * * *
Buddhist philosophy maintains that all of us at our core and as a function our very nature of being alive possess a clear, illuminated spacious awareness; a consciousness that is unobscured by thoughts and concepts that create a perspective or point of reference. This spacious awareness is sometimes called Buddha-nature. It is the ground or substrate of consciousness, and it is vast, serene, luminous, primordial.
And though technically it’s so fundamental that it can’t be labeled, as our basic human nature, it is GOOD. Inherently, unequivocally, completely good without opposite.
Yet in order to functionally a functional human life, we necessarily must discern what this is, what that is, who you are, who I am. Shortly after being born, we become 100% identified with our ideas and perspectives and mostly lose our sense of this beautiful, open, amazing space. Mostly, but not without occasional spontaneous glimpses of it . . . as when are pulled into wonder and a sense of everything being connected in the presence of a magical sunset or a newborn child.
The spiritual path is all about finding your way back to the luminous open space of awareness at the ground of your existence . . . to uncover it and be able to come to experience it as a stable sense of who you truly are.
* * * * *
What is it like to meet another person who absolutely knows their basic nature is good? Instead of flawed and in need of correction?
Walking in mountains that fill up half the sky, along foot trails, over high swinging bridges, through stone-housed villages with the sounds of yak bells and prayers on the wind, you pass an old woman in traditional Sherpa dress. She clasps her hands in prayer at her chin, looks you straight in the eye with clear-eyed recognition and says “Namaste.” “The divine in me honors the divine in you.” The message is authentic and clean. You and I are the same. You are divine. I am divine. Worlds of difference are transcended. We are one.
Who would you be if everyone around you mirrored you back in this way?
Maybe you’d be like me, in this moment. Back from Nepal, sitting in a hot tub in snow, calm and present, looking out at the world through vast, serene eyes.
Like a dog of Boundanath.