Posted on February 8, 2016
The long and winding road of this past year has finally reached its end. I feel broken. Exhausted. Started the year as a kid, climbing mountains ready to attack the world, and now I’m an old goat with barely the energy to take another step.
Standing here on the precipice of the Lunar New Year, staring across the dark chasm leading into the Year of the Monkey, my heart is filled part with relief – part with dread.
How can I cross it, I wonder? I’ve arrived with the waning crescent moon on the doorstep of the Lunar New Year. My skin etched in wrinkles deeper than in years past, looking the worse for wear.
Tonight I meet the Queen of the Night ~ another of Mother Nature’s incredible daughters, and I have nothing left to give.
She is one of the sacred mountains of Buddhism, resting in southeast Myanmar.
A serene and peaceful lady ~ she carries a pulse of life coursing through her veins like I’ve seldom witnessed.
“A pulse of life…seldom witnessed” a perfect way to bring in the year, and my thoughts drift back to my girl Ellinor in the Skokomish Wilderness; guilt pounds in my heart as this year I stand enchanted with her distant cousin here in Southeast Asia.
A glimmer captures my attention. Her eyes, those dark, deep pools of mystery, draw me closer while her name leaves my tongue in knots… Mt. Kyaiktiyo, it is an honor.
I pause at the entrance of her summit and wonder, “Where is the quiet solitude I expected?” and I collapse on the nearest boulder thinking “…just what have I gotten myself into?”
My last breath of the Year of the Goat is a sigh. I look around at the controlled chaos. Ms. Kyai is treating me to a scene I can barely comprehend.
Every bump and bruise I’ve experienced over this past year begin to throb, and I turn to watch others arrive. Farmers bent over and exhausted from the past year, they too struggle to the summit arriving in the waiting arms of Kyai, surrendering to the year.
I close my eyes and wish I could sleep, to forever rest these aching bones. A cool hand assures me I am not alone, and Kyai begins pressing on my weary body amplifying my pain, checking to see if I am still alive.
I look into her eyes and see a smirk. With kindness, she caresses my spirit, washes her hands over me as she mutters softly “those beautiful wrinkles of life…”.
She winks at me, “create some more…” understanding the aches and wrinkles of a year well lived is a badge of honor, and she rushes off to another.
My broken body experiences a sense of enlightenment watching her float away, her perfume leaves a scent of desire drifting through the night air.
My eyes land on a couple of poor workers I met a few days earlier in the hills of Northern Myanmar, but it is impossible…how could they have travelled here?!?
I watch them pass by, their soundless smiles interrupted by the unmistakable whisper of Kyai, who turns their silence into poetry, “Even when you have very little, you can still have so much…”
My romanticized ideal of Mt. Kyaiktiyo as an isolated, mystical Buddhist mountain wrapped in silence and fog has been twisted into a raucous Buddhist pilgrimage. Surrounding me, an aura of electricity powerful enough to ignite any soul.
This is why we set out on adventures…
Already, I see the deep wrinkles of my skin fade. My stooped body is straightening. My stagnate blood beginning to flow freely once again.
My eyes faded to the point of blindness are now refocusing on the wild dreams of young ones and the belief I can do it all.
This is the way it should be. Finishing a year in pain, broken down and dying…only to notice a young soul on the other side of the abyss coercing me from the darkness to deliver me into another yearlong journey.
I look at the spirit and youth in envy. It fills me with pride.
I hear conversations around me. I taste the excitement that fills the night.
Kyai softly whispers to me, “the Year of the Fire Monkey has arrived…make it yours,” her words adding to the ecstasy of the past year and her kiss, a balm for my weary mind.
Her deep eyes are now filled with flames, and I am engulfed. The transformation has begun.
The heat. The evening chill has vanished and I enter into the deeper parts of the night. Hope sheds away the skin and pain of the past year.
The flame flickers along with the ticklish words of Kyai, and together they cloak me up in the festive spirit of the final night. Within her eyes, I see what I came here for – a reflection of a young man, born again.
The glow of happiness is evident in the smiles of strangers, all who feel like family.
Seeing the New Year through young eyes, a sensation so rare it makes me question if it is even possible.
A curiosity feeds my soul to pursue life again, with new mistakes lying ahead ready to teach and guide me along the way.
A faint trail of words brush over my neck singing, “Smile, adapt and move forward with courage… three simple thoughts and the Year of the Monkey is yours.” Kyai coos, sending a ripple of new blood flowing throughout my body.
Smile, adapt and move forward with courage. I can do that.
Stretching my young body off the rock I am resting, I walk past a couple in silence, their unspoken words ring loud. Tonight is where possibilities transform into reality. Another chance at renewal and happiness in life; in the words of Benjamin Button:
“We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” – Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Throughout the year, Christmas, the Lunar New Year, Diwali, Ramadan and other celebrations give us all the opportunity to renew and free the spirit from the broken down old thoughts of the past ~ the contradictions, biases and jealousies of old, angry men.
We are allowed to return to our purer form, the mind of a child ~ refreshed with the freedoms to pursue happiness and “… the courage to start all over again.”
I think back to just a few short hours ago, the feeling of a wrinkled, broken down soul fully spent in the Year of the Goat, now renewed and back into a form I can recognize once again.
The renaissance of a soul and the words of Dr. Seuss prepare me for another twelve-month journey to explore, signalling the end of a brilliant year with the promise of a perfect day.
“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!”
– Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Wish you great health and luck in the Year of the Monkey ~ 预祝猴年大吉!
Posted on December 31, 2015
I’ve made a mistake.
I look behind me but there is no turning back, I’ve past the point of no return.
The chill of frost has seeped further into my bones; the other side of the frozen lake appears just as far away as it did an hour ago. Or was it only a few minutes ago?
With snow blowing around I bow my head and take a seat, lost in time.
Earlier today I met up with a friend, a theoretical physicist who has one of the best minds I’ve ever known. Her head is often in the clouds and her optimism makes her irresistible in conversation.
The day started out as it often does, walking along a path with coffee in hand amid a group of monkeys. Today, she brought up the infinite monkey theorem: given an infinite amount of time, a monkey at a typewriter would almost surely produce a piece of work such as the complete writings of Shakespeare.
Based on the low energy level of the group, we agreed today no such masterpiece would be delivered by our friends.
However, this did get us talking about time and the few fleeting hours remaining in 2015 before the New Year arrived. As if on cue, we both said “time has flown by faster this year than ever before…” and with this our discussion of time began.
A topic very dear to her heart is the question of how our brain sees the world ~ how our brain organizes what we experience, sorts through the chaos and creates a perception of reality so we can function effectively in this world.
Her enthusiasm is contagious. I remember the first time she looked over her coffee and breathlessly whispered, “The only reality we know is what our brain manufactures…how we experience and feel time – it all happens within the mind” followed by her smile and a mad-scientist laugh.
“When I was a young kid; summer days seemed to go on forever. Every second of the day had something new to explore, my mind racing to understand and learn. Time did not matter.” She sat back and mused, her eyes on a baby monkey being cared for by her mother.
“A young child has no understanding of time, they live in the moment…being time as there is so much happening in their world, their brain is in the now doing all it can to make sense of life.”
She is lost in thought but adds, “The adult interpretation of time is irrelevant to a child.”
I’ve always been fascinated by time, from the view of a physicist and the existence of time to the neuroscientist and our perception of time.
One early memory I have, I was a young kid floating in a pool of water thinking about time. Thinking about why adults always said, “time goes by faster and faster as they get older…” I had no idea what this meant.
When I grew older, I began experiencing this feeling of time speeding up, but did not take it seriously until recently when I sensed time flying past at an increasing rate. It is alarming.
The honking of the geese above signal the alarm as well, time speeding away out of reach. The bite of the cold wind sends shivers down my spine. Strangely, it is a feeling I am relishing – this rush of a new experience.
“This is the frustrating thing about life,” she nodded at me, eyes sparkling again, “when we were young, our minds were spinning. Our brain receiving so much information, often out of order, that it needed time to process and reorganize all the new ideas so we could understand the reality we were living in.”
She paused wistfully, “Our brains needed time to sort and organize reality, so our perception of time was longer when we were young. We extended time. This may be the key to extending life today.”
“Fast forward to us as adults, and the world is familiar. Information can be processed quickly,” and with a sigh she took another drink of coffee. “Thus our perception of time is shorter. Time flies by.”
“Add to this our repetitive routines, modern technology efficiently processing information and time begins to pass quicker every year. We continue to provide the fuel by getting in a rut, spiraling quickly downward with time.”
Her gaze landed on the far side of the lake, and she added, “Days quickly turn into weeks, weeks into months and months into years until one day *poof* we look back and it is over.”
She paused, and I was surprised to see tears welled up in her eyes. “I feel as if time has tricked me and I am spinning out of control.”
Her tears slowly rolled down her cheek, each representing a dream disappearing into the annals of time.
She wiped the tears away and exclaimed, “It is sad, we get older and our brain becomes efficient because we are boring!” she laughs. “Without adventure, life will fly right on by.”
Her eyes lock in on mine, and I am surprised how a discussion of physics can increase my heart rate and make my palms sweaty. “We need to find a way to extend our time…”
“We need to explore new sensations, overload the brain and perhaps then we can stretch out time just like we did when we were young,” the glimmer in her eyes not seeking approval.
We walked a few more steps before her words hit me like a wave of cold water.
She whispered, “Let’s be spontaneous.” Pointing across the lake, she added, “Your adventure begins with a trek across the lake, I’ll wait for you at the hot springs on the other side…and together we’ll try to stop time, at least for tonight.”
Stunned by her words, my mind went blank and I looked toward a monkey for help. Fortunately, he was a wise one, and seemed to understand my situation. He nodded his head, so I looked at her and did the same.
With a quick peck on my cheek, she grabbed her keys and headed out to the car leaving me stranded.
This is how I find myself in this predicament, lost on Lake Mashu-ko. I look ahead where I believe the hot springs lie and sigh…it seems I’ve been out here forever and the other side is still so far away.
Time, a concept impossible to define, but definitely worth contemplating as 2015 comes to an end. My goal for the New Year, to slow down time.
I looked at my watch and realize I’ve been out here for only 10 minutes. Yes, this is a good sign and my laughter echoes off the surrounding mountains.
With my heart beating and my brain working overtime – I pick up the pace. I figure, whether or not she is there waiting for me does not really matter. The adventure has begun. From across the lake, a cry from a white-tailed sea eagle reminds me of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
I look ahead, and no one has to tell me, life is short, getting shorter. Make time in 2016 to explore. To slow down and take in all life has to offer.
Happy New Year!