I recently came home from a yātrā, or pilgrimage, that started over a year ago to Char Dham. Char means 4 and dham means religious destination in Hindi. These four places of spiritual significance located at high altitudes in the Himalayas are Yamunōtrī, where the river Yamunā begins, Gaṅgōtrī, where the Ganges begins, Kedāranāth, a powerful Śiva temple, and Badrināth, a beautiful Viṣṇu temple. It is said that one attains liberation if they make it to all the dhams.
We began this year’s yātrā with a 32k trek to Kedāranāth, which was a strenuous and crowded hike with many yātrīs, horses, tea shops and the sounds of people chanting “Hari Hari Mahadev” and horse porters telling us to move to the side so we wouldn’t get trampled by horses carrying people, siding or rebar up the mountain.
In comparison to last year’s trek to Gomukh, which was quiet and spacious, this trek was loud, chaotic, busy and intense.
The trek started early in the morning and we walked joyfully for many kilometers. We crossed the Mandākinī River and the trail became steeper. Our guides told us it would be steep for the next 5 kilometers. We slowed down, but kept going one step at a time.
As we saw people coming down there was an urge to ask, “how much longer?” “Are we there yet?” “When will it get easier?”
I often tell my teacher, Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan, “I’m not there yet,” when she shares a teaching with me. I’m not beyond jealousy, rage or comparing myself to others. I haven’t transmuted wanting to be special and validated. I struggle to discern between my conditioning as a woman, American, white person and who I am authentically beyond all of those social and cultural identities that have shaped me. When I get stuck in these traps of Māyā, or delusion, I often want to ask when will this end? When will I arrive at some place where I can know the Truth of who I am? How much longer will it be until I can rest at some mountain peak where the hard work is over and I can reap the benefits of having “made it?”
My teacher has to remind me often when I am stuck in trying to get somewhere, “the journey is from here to here.” There is no final destination where the work is done or there are no more hills to climb (physically, psychologically, emotionally or spiritually). The journey is this moment, this step, this breath. Nothing more and nothing less. It is helpful to have a goal, like finishing the Char Dham, but in some ways that is irrelevant. I can set my intention to climb to the top of Kedāranāth, but if that is my only fixation I will miss out on so many opportunities for growth, insight and beauty on the way.
When I encounter people who have been where I want to go, like making it to the top of Kedāranāth or someone knowing their true sense of power, there is a longing to know that experience firsthand. There is an unknown experience I am longing for. In that longing though I leave the direct experience in hopes for something better. The truth is I don’t need to go to Kedāranāth to know Śiva. I don’t need to emulate anyone else to know freedom. Śiva is right here, right now and when I am truly authentic I am free.
I am learning in The Renegade Method™ that the mind pulls me into the past and future. How much longer? When will this end? How far have I already gone? Is it worth it? Should I turn back? Why am I doing this anyway? The body is present. Even when there is pain, altitude sickness, nausea and bone tiredness when I am present to the body it just is. There is nowhere to get to, nowhere to go. It is when the mind kicks in to try to manipulate the experience that I leave the presence of the body. The mind begins to fight with the direct experience instead of simply allowing it. Climbing a mountain in chaotic conditions at almost 12,000 feet of elevation is hard work, but when I fight that difficulty by wanting to just get it over with I miss the opportunity to be with it.
When we got to the top and I saw the snow capped Himalayan range and the temple everything that came before melted away. I was exhausted but ecstatic. There was a sense of completion and a settling in my body. I was also grateful to be guided to a bed where I could lie down and take a nap!
The trek reminded me that there are times I just want to get through things, whether it is grief, depression, trauma or a difficult physical endeavor. When I push to get through something I miss the opportunity to learn about the process. What can I learn about myself through doing something physically taxing? I can learn to stay present with my body instead of letting my mind run off into stories. I can learn to listen to my body, whether through giving it rest and nourishment or continuing to move forward one step at a time. What can I learn about myself by going through an emotional trek? I can learn about the beauty of grief because grief only happens when there is love. I can learn about staying with myself and caring for myself through a trauma instead of abandoning myself because I just want to get over it. I can learn to ask for help when depression arises because I can’t do everything on my own.
In reality, we are all trekking our own mountains every day. Some of us are on some steep inclines. Others are on the smooth and steady descent. Some just reached the ecstatic peak. If we are only craving those peak summit experiences how much do we miss of the journey?
The next time I want to know how much longer something will take I will remember my teacher’s words again and again. The journey is from here to here. I will remind myself to come back to my body and this present moment to see what I can learn about myself in this moment. I will ask myself what I am avoiding by wanting to get somewhere else? In that avoiding what I am missing out in learning about myself right now? Can I allow and enjoy the direct experience rather than the imaginary one I am hoping for in the future? What if instead of asking when am I going to get somewhere I can ask what can I learn and extract from this moment itself?