Initiation at Nargargot

3 01 2010

Initiation at Nagargot – Part 1

The night before the Initiation

A healthy dollop of red tilak courses down my face like a fatal wound and my back aches so that the wood floor I sit on feels like a medieval torture device. What possessed me to travel half-way around the world for the privilege of sitting here cold, be-feathered and diligently drumming these many hours? Dear God, just let me make it through the night and I will go back to my hotel, take a shower, and in a few days, return to my lovely clean home in the United States. If I can just get through the next 24 hours, I will leave this place behind and never look back. I won’t have to tell anyone anything. I can just pretend it didn’t happen, and oh cripes, my back hurts. Suddenly, I feel myself soaring over the trees to a place I don’t recognize. I am surrounded by a large group of nature spirits. They seem familiar somehow as they greet me joyfully and thanks me for coming. They are as hungry to live in harmony with humans as I am for the peace I suddenly feel. Then, in the blink of an eye, I again own my aching back and…what the hell was that? Was it exactly what I had made this pilgrimage to experience? My acing back can be thanked for taking me to a place of peace, and equally for bringing me back. Oh my God, Out-of-Body. I know that experience was when I had one. Thinking about this got me through the next few hours and finally it was time to bed-down for the night.

Bed-down is an entirely appropriate euphemism. The monsoons ran long this year so we scrapped the plan to sleep under the stars due to an abundance of leeches. At this mountainside monastery there are no restrooms, and few building. In service of the former one aims one’s backside downhill along the steep trail and completes one’s business in a most unladylike fashion. Then one dutifully does the two-handed leech check to be sure no pesky critter has attached itself to one’s derriere. Then one heads for one’s assigned bed-down location to sleep, one hopes, fully clothed. One, of course, being me.

Our group of eight found ourselves rationed into the rag-tag collection of outbuilding. My new friend, Marilyn, and I lay in a small storage building on planks laid over dirt. The space is dominated by two small statues on waist-high stands. Tiny wicks sputter above enormous bowls of oil creating ghostly shadows prostrating themselves in unending reverence to the two figurines. In the dim light the figures seem sinister rather than holy, despite knowing they are guardian deities.

With hardly enough floor space for our sleeping bags, I spent a good deal of the night trying to remain in one position so as not to wake Marilyn, unaware she is enduring the same self-enforced restriction. I spend much of the night wondering what is chewing inside the walls which appears to be made of stone and plaster.

Initiation at Nagargot – Part 2

The morning of the initiation

When enough light pierces the darkness that I can safely venture forth, I attempt to extract myself from the sarcophagus of my mummy bag. It appears that my leg is glued to my clothing and sleeping bag. A close inspection reveals the death of a happy leech. One of these tiny, inch-long, pipe cleaner shaped blood-suckers had died a happy death indeed. It had morphed into a large cucumber sized gelatinous mass before being squished in one of my wigging attempts to get comfortable. In vain I attempt to communicate to a porter that this sleeping bag should not be rented again without laundering. I offer my profound apology to whomever received it next.

This bloodletting, which left a deep dent in my right calf, is considered an auspicious omen. I am told it removed any impurities that might prevent me from experiencing the greatest benefits from the initiation.

Another good omen is my recurring dream last night of an army of ants marching through my house despite my efforts to stop them. My companions suggest that the spirits are seeking to communicate with me and I should be open to receive this communication. This coincides with the messages I received during last evening’s OBE.

Somehow “making a pilgrimage to a monastery” conjures a far more expansive image in my brain than hiking barefoot up several miles of gritty stone trail to reach this tiny compound perched rather precariously on steep, uneven, boulder-strewn ground.

After weeks of heavy clouds, the sky clears revealing the magnificent spires of the Annapurna mountain range. In my joy at the morning sun and the magnificent view, I, a card-carding member of non-singers anonymous, am lifted to a previously unknown level of freedom as I sing songs I had never heard.

As the time approached for my initiation, I am positively giddy. It could be the altitude, lack of food and sleep, the prospect of getting off the hill, or self-congratulations for all it took to get me here, but I am happy. Our small band bangs our drums and sings and dances. Never mind that I am left-handed and therefore insulting tradition. Never mind that I am off tune and clumsy on the uneven ground. Never mind that I know I look idiotic in my strange costume. Never mind that I need a bath and carry leech guts on my leg. Never mind anything that should matter, I am at home here. Exactly as I am, I am alive and well and experiencing a freedom I have seldom known.

As I sing and dance on our approach toward the outdoor altar I am humbled that I have been there before, last night, without my body. I know the place. The wonderfully familiar spirits of the place welcome me back. They ask me to help my people at home reconnect with the spirits of that faraway place.

Go out and connect with the spirits of the place where you live. They will welcome you and celebrate your presence.

Initiation at Nagargot – Part 3

The initiation begins

This description must start with a few words about our motley band. We are old, young, fat, skinny, tall, and short – though not as short as our compact Nepalese guides who appear to be breed in equal parts from leprechauns and mountain man. We are each dressed in white skirts and blouses, draped with malas of dried rudraksha berries and a sash laden with bells. Our heads are crowned with a sash each of red and white cloth(white indicates knowledge and red, life force). Secured about these sashes is the piece de resistance, our crown of peacock feathers. The peacock is associated with the shaman in the Tibetan tradition because of it’s ability to eat poison without dying. This is said to reflects the shaman’s ability to extract illness (poison) from his or her patient without becoming sick.

Amma, the respected and energetic teacher who leads us to this ceremony had spent the last two days observing us and, I think, deciding if we are ready. I am reminded of the two individuals on the previous trip who had bizarre injuries that prevented them from participating. One had a random piece of a building fall on him while walking down a city street. The other lost her footing while standing in a grassy field and ended up in the hospital for several weeks with a badly broken ankle. I have been very careful where I stood in the last few days and behaved humbly.

When Amma places my peacock crown on my head, I wear it proudly. I feel like I had climbed nearby Mt. Everest to reach this point in my life. I haven’t felt like this since I realized, while riding in a helicopter after my divorce ten years ago, that it was okay to still be happy.

Wearing our peacock crowns, we begin to parade toward the initiation site. We leave the family compound where the single monk/caretaker and his family had offered us their hospitality. We move along singing and dancing. We spent the previous afternoon learning this song and dance. Our performance is like a kindergarten class, making up for shortcomings of performance with enthusiasm and joy. Drumming the oddly shaped Tibetan drum with the traditional bent branch beater, while jumping alternatively on one leg and then the other while bending forward and straightening back up, proves harder than patting the head while rubbing the tummy. Add singing a repeating song, and I am completely lost. The song translates something like “I am a foolish shaman asking for help.” That is true.

I do my best. This combination overwhelmed my senses, shutting off my monkey mind and allowing my ancient, intuitive mind to hear.

Our band of intrepid shamans weaves an unsteady path down a circuitous route through boulders and tenacious trees clinging to this barren mountainside. We arrive at a tiny but lovely outdoor shrine built around a huge boulder on which a magically incised face of Shiva is present. It is covered and highlighted by the tilak liberally applied by, pilgrims who have come to this out-of- the-way place. Someone had thoughtfully spread woven mats for us to sit on in our white skirts on the stone and concrete floor.

Amma and a local sadu (holy man) flanked the altar near this sacred stone. On casual observation it might appear that they were going to share in leading the ceremony. The sadu approached as if unsure of authority. My heightened awareness senses an energy exchange in which this sadu recognized Amma’s superior authority and sheepishly backed off. This mini-fireworks was a flicker in time as I sat enjoying the communication of the local spirits. I was surprised that familiar spirits from my far-away home were also present.

Initiation at Nagargot – Part 4

So I sat in this odd corner of the world, among my travel companions and my spirit companions from both sides of the planet. And, I was at home.

The specifics of the initiation are for those who travel there. It was real and present and humbling and I am changed by it. I will only say that having been tested, blessed and having venerated the spirits, we retraced our steps.

Strangely soon, we found our way back to Katmandu. We made our triumphant return to the stupa at Potupotinath where returning pilgrims parade around the stupa giving thanks and offering healing to any who approach. It was a lovely day marred only slightly by the incongruity of our white western faces that elicited few healing requests. And when, at last, I returned to the sanctuary of silence in my hotel room, I felt like one awakening from a dream. Or, maybe, this is the dream, this walking sleep that fills our days. What a gift it is to be alive and free to choose how we spend our allotted minutes.

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