After almost four months and a big loop around the American Southwest, I arrived back in Bay Area on the heel of summer solstice. Friends showered me with love, force-fed me three times a day plus dessert, and smiled at the many humorous tan lines. (An 85-year-old grandma -- with 20 grandchildren -- in a small town in Utah affectionately observed, "You are dark as a negro!")
It still feels like just the very beginning of the pilgrimage. I was reminded of a story from two Buddhist monks' bowing pilgrimage. About 120 days into their pilgrimage, they received a surprise visit from their teacher, Master Hua. The teacher rubbed the heads of the two disciples, thunked their foreheads with his fingertips, and laughingly asked, "Is it ripe yet? Is it ripe? Is this melon ripe yet?"
As I rub my own head and ponder the same, it is clear that this melon is far from ripe :) But at least, the melon seems to be growing in the right field. On that note, here are some unripe reflections :)
Wilderness is Necessity
The journey from Utah back to the Bay Area has led me through some beautiful, wild places: glowing red canyons, blue alpine lakes, windy high desert... The "soft animal of my body" has so enjoyed sleeping in the fragrant woods, swimming in the freezing snow-melt lakes and creeks, or producing a layer of salt on the skin by biking 3,000 feet uphill in the hot, dry wind. So much so that, these days back in the city, I would wake up in the middle of night, and habitually wonder if I had hang up the food bag on a tree so that bears and other animals couldn't get it.
Time in nature has deepened my appreciation that wilderness is a necessity -- not a luxury -- for life and sanity -- individually and collectively. The ugly frequencies of a humming city make the soul cringe and shrink into its shell, hiding from the assault of coarse vibrations.
Similar to neural networks, the natural environment seems to work in exponential ways, as the possible connections increase exponentially with the addition of each new member. Therefore, when a highway cuts through a forest, it is not just cutting an ecosystem in half; it is actually reducing the self-awareness and healing power of the forest by an entire order of magnitude.
Non-human beings and places -- trees, squirrels, etc -- in the city are so fragmented, over-engineered, and isolated, so much so that they might not even know where they are. As a result, their healing effects over us (and our appreciate for them) are very limited. Having grown up as a city kid, I am only now starting to realize what we urbanites have missed out -- and destroyed.
A Tale of Two Bikes
After weighing my options, I have decided to bring my bike -- the storied White Dragon Horse -- on the airplane back to China, for the upcoming China-to-India journey. A major drawback is that the White Dragon Horse has big feet -- his 700C wheel size is uncommon in Asia, and would be difficult to find parts if anything breaks.
On Tuesday morning, I searched on Craigslist for a smaller, 26-inch-wheel version of the same bike, not hoping to find anything. To my great surprise, there is a bike exactly my size, on sale for an unbelievably good price of $600. (I could easily turned around the sell the same bike for $1,000.) I emailed the owner, and waited on the edge of my seat the entire morning for a response. There was some strong craving :) During the day's meditation, I worked to let go of the attachment to the idea of getting the bike. I came to accept that that I might not get the bike, and that it is just fine.
Right after I had relinquished the craving, my phone rang. I fought the urge and finished the meditation. Afterward, I saw a message from the Craigslist seller, agreeing to sell me the bike. By the evening, I had welcomed home this beautiful, deep-blue iron horse. It is a she, I was informed :)
Next came the question of how to find a good home for the White Dragon Horse, while I travel with his younger sibling to Asia. I was hoping that the WDH could be of service to someone else's journey in the meantime, instead of sitting in a garage. Lo and behold, at Wednesday evening's Awakin circle, I chatted with a friend, who is thinking of going on a bicycling journey down the Californian coast. Less than a day later, the WDH is on his way to his new buddy!
A pilgrimage certainly makes one have more faith in serendipity than planning :)
They say, "Not all who wander are lost."
Indeed, as Peace Pilgrim vowed, "I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace."
However, to wander, is to be at high risk of getting lost.
Over the past 100+ days, I have occasionally found myself "lost" -- forgetting why I was called to go on this journey in the first place. Life would get too routine-like; beds would get too comfortable; the old habits would come back. From time to time, I would be surprised and embarrassed that I could not come up with a genuine answer to strangers' question of "why you are on this pilgrimage". I would mumble out the tag line that I have repeated hundreds of times, but in those lost moments, it did not come from the heart -- and I knew it.
Those moments of reckoning are precious gifts. They make me realized that this wanderer is getting a bit lost. It forces me to recalibrate my inner compass, to renew the vows, and the refresh the original intentions.
Pretty soon into the journey, I realized that, if I miss out on paying my "daily dues" -- Stillness and Service, as friends put it -- I am guaranteed to be lost. If I pay my daily dues through meditation and prayerful actions, it would be the best insurance against the maze of slippery slopes.
There are other occasions where the pilgrim would feel lost. One typical situation is when I am "having too much fun" -- the natural beauty is too stunning; the weather is too nice, etc. The inner critic would lecture that it is unfair for me to enjoy life so much when the majority of humanity does not have similar privileges. I would face the age-old existential angst that the other shoe might be about to drop, that life is not supposed to be so pleasant, that I am not suffering enough, that I am either over-drafting my good karma account, or running away from the hard work that I could have been doing.
The other pitfall is spending too much time on Facebook. In that all-thumbs-up fantasyland, every other person seems to be having the vacation of a life-time, winning an award, getting into grad school, or giving their latest two-cents on Donald Trump or social justice issues. I would open Facebook when I feel a need for connection, but always end up more disconnected with both others and myself after mindlessly scrolling down the Feed, hoping for salvation in the next auto-refresh.
What helps me to regain balance and purpose is quite simple: turn off the screens; pay the daily dues through service and stillness. "Dhamma works"! :)
A pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.
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