Hiking the Spiritual Path

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

This morning, I left my cozy bed to venture out in the pre-dawn darkness where a group of 15 people gathered. The intent? To hike up one of the Sahyadri mountains where the ecovillage is located. I must be nuts.

It’s been exactly one week since I arrived here at Govardhan Ecovillage in Wada, about 100km from Mumbai. One week since I began the 300-hr advanced teacher training and cultural immersion in the study of bhakti yoga. It’s been one week since I landed in Krishna Land. There’s even a miniature version of Vrindavan here.

And what a week it’s been. So full and intense. Studying sacred texts. Practicing morning sadhana, evening satsang. Asana practice. Learning asana assists. Learning kirtan, to play harmonium, to play the mrdunga drum, to play kartals. So so much.

And of course, there is the learning that is not so obvious, the kind that is happening on the spiritual level.

A little after 6am, our little hiking group set out for the trek. We walked across a field of hay in the dark. At first, I used the light from other people’s flashlights to lead the way. When we got to the trailhead, I was still good following the other lights. Then the terrain changed. As did the incline. It was slight, but it was enough for me to pull out my phone and use my flashlight app.

Just before the meet-up time, my friend, Dominique, offered to lend her hiking boots as she was not feeling well and was going to stay behind. Thankfully, I took her up on it. I had no idea what awaited me.

The path was narrow at times. In some spots, branches of various plants reached over. As we continued –in the dark!—I thought to myself: how’s this for a metaphor for the spiritual path!

*

You wander around in the dark, following a path that others before you have carved out of mountain rock. There are some things that get in your way –leaves, skinny broken tree branches. The incline gets a little steeper as you go along. There are some young trees along the path that you can grab on to for support, especially when you come across loose rocks. You are enjoying this hike. There are some tight bends and slippery gravel, but all in all, you feel good. You are enjoying the challenge. Then, after some time, you come to a big, wide flat part of the mountain where you are already taken aback by the views. You think to yourself: Yesss!! I made it!! You drink some water. Take a few photos. And then the guide says, “Let’s go.” Wait. What? you think. There’s more? He points up. You are headed for the summit.

Seriously?

Okay then.

You continue along the trail, one that is not marked except by the flattened down path of many feet on the earth. When you come to more rocks, you look ahead to figure out which way to go next. You look ahead for the guide. He is out of sight. You look ahead for others in your group. They, too, are out of sight. You can still hear them, though, so you scramble to catch up to them. This happens a few times. The pace is quicker than you’d like but you need to keep up. You don’t want to get left behind at the risk of getting lost. Your thighs burn. Your hands are slightly swollen and you don’t know why. You’ve forgotten those scrambles you had to make. You still push on. Once, in your haste, you trip over a rock you didn’t see and nearly fall flat on your face. Suddenly, you imagine yourself injured. How would you get down the mountain? There is no place for a helicopter to land. Someone would have to carry you. You do not want this. You make the choice to be more careful. To be quick but not too quick. To be alert and agile. You focus on your footing, on where to take the next step. But you must make these decisions quickly. There is no time to think.

 

The inclines increase. At one point, it is so steep that you are climbing rocks. It is no longer hiking. There is no path. Only rocks and the way up. So you climb. You don’t want to lose sight of the person ahead of you. You don’t want to get lost. Or left behind. So you keep going. You find yourself singing a song you can’t get out of your head. You realize it’s the refrain from one of the kirtan chants. You forget what it means, but you sing it in your head anyway. To sing it out loud would require more breath than you already have, so you sing in your head. You know you can do this. You know this chant will lift you up.

You stop for a moment to watch the sunrise. Standing on a narrow path on the edge of a mountain, you stop. What you see is breathtaking. The mist, the orange ball of light, the tips of tree branches. All of it. You take a deep breath and then move on.

You walk by a temple. You must be getting close. You walk by some caves. “Drinking water” the guide says. He has stopped to wait for people to catch up. Drinking water? you think, Hmmm – not gonna risk it. There are steps carved out of the mountain, leading to what you presume to be the summit. “Three hundred years old”, our guide says. Look how long these have lasted, you think to yourself. You realize you are not just talking about the steps.

At the stop of the stairs, you pull yourself up to stand and you are startled by the expanse before you. A vast swath of blue. You can’t tell where the earth and sky meet. They just blend into each other. The morning mist blurs the landscape. You are overwhelmed. You forget to breathe for a moment.

You walk over to one edge, step down onto a ledge and stand there, leaning against the cliff face. You take a deep breath. We are so tiny, you think to yourself. So, so tiny. And this world is so beautiful. Tears start to roll down your cheeks. Yes. This, is all you can say to yourself. This.

 

 

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