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Being Human & Peace: An Indian Walking

INDIA | Sunday, 25 November 2007 | Views [1541]

Day 5. We met the sun that morning on a bed of clouds. An orange searing red flame; the day's orb was caught between the gossamer tails of passing sky. All of us, peace-walkers in heart, felt the surrealism of reality, its magic and its unbelievability.

It was a bridge, a long bridge, crossing the Mahi River dividing two districts of the state of Gujarat. And it was Day 5, day five out of seventeen, on the Dandhi Yatra; a peace walk retracing the steps of Mahatma Gandhi's Salt March. Here, on this bridge we witnessed another morning begin. And together with the passing cyclists, lorry-drivers, and white kadhi-clad Jain pilgrims, our group of forty rediscovered Gandhi in the presence of the sun's soft smile.

Walking on Clouds

This was one out of many experiences whitewashing the superficial pains we felt from the days of walking. Particularly, this morning refined the true meaning of our purpose, making clear the beauty within all phenomena, wiping out logic to simply believe, to simply be, within our duty. It was the morning we walked on clouds.

Slowly, they drifted below our diverse group of devotees. Calming to the souls of citizens from ten different nations, we moved together with the environment in a rhythm with nothing but time. Surrounding us, a bed of white. Nothing but air—breath—a warming horizon, and the ethereal works of modern man and his geometric wavelengths as massive electrical towers rose out of the emptiness. Yet it became all so small, all so beautiful: an ant on the edge of the Universe, the Universe in the jaws of the ant.

Recognizing, and letting go of the mind's reasoning, we became empty with the intimacy of the present moment. We stood with stillness. In the spirit of our Japanese leaders, four monks from the Buddhist order of Nipponzan Myhoji, we were led in prayer welcoming this singular phenomenon. Praise to the sun, the light without and within. Grandfather Sun, giving life, giving warmth, providing this space to inhabit in order to grow. This, the Salt March, a peace walk in the spirit of Gandhiji.

Believing In Order to Remember

One foot after the other; chanting, believing.

I had to believe I could do it.

I had to.

Otherwise, how could I walk 30-40 kilometers per day? How could we do it through the Indian desert heat, the dust and exhaust spitting at us from growling motors of trucks, rickshaws, and taxis. How could we do it?

Tashi and I arrived in Ahmedabad Christmas morning. We disembarked our train, caught a ride to the designated meeting place, and there met our fellow partners. For 17 days we would be together, leaving Ahmedabad the following morning and reaching Dandhi on the eleventh of January. In the rickshaw as we left the train station Tashi looked over at me and greeted me, reminding me, "Merry Christmas!" But it didn't seem to matter. Too far away. This was India. Little did I know how far I would have to go for the completion of this peace walk. I needed to believe. Christmas seemed like nothing.

Before I go any further, I have to recall that it has taken me two weeks to begin to postulate this experience. It has taken me these days to sift through the pain and turmoil, the brilliance, the degrees of humanness and the tenuous limitations we can never escape.

In these eyes, the wounds heal, but in this heart, there has been dug a gorge of depth, one filled with the waves of the sea of Mother Earth. I am human, and I must remember. I am a single drop of soul within the vastness of the Universe, and I must remember.

The Open Space For Healing

From the start of our walk, passing Day 5 and moving onward, our blisters grew, they popped, and people hobbled together. I never imagined a boil of skin filled with puss could expand half the surface of the sole.

Albeit it can.

Likewise, a sunrise can liquidate any concentration upon these ailments, permuting focused thoughts into a nimbleness that would carry us for the remainder of the day. When within this state of reverence, drawing thought, word and action inward toward a communion with the Unnamable, we were humbled by our insignificancies.

The blisters, the cramps, these tweaked, cranky joints were silenced among the other pains, no longer hindering the air we breathed. There, we found space for the awakened presence to move through us in which we shared deeper with one another. We found openness in each ear and through every heart. We learned about our lives, discovered the unique purposes for walking, and reiterated the drive in the communal atmosphere keeping each walker moving, one foot after the other.

Marcus of Australia hit a chord not yet heard inside my being: “Everybody needs family. We need friends." Twelve to thirteen years ago Marcus began his first walk and since then he hasn’t stopped. His devotion for world peace and self-transformation has led him and other walkers to create a grassroots organization called FootPrints for Peace. The purpose is to help organize such events and use one's feet as a message for peace, which comes about through sharing one's culture with others and creating the space to be with one's self. With openness one is enabled to heal one's self.

Marcus and I fell to the back after awaking with the sun lying atop the low-hanging clouds on the Mighty Mahi. He shared himself further.

“I need family,” Marcus began. “This atmosphere of peace created by those who walk together is my center of peace. Here, I have the space for growth, enabling me to bring out my peace to the rest of the world. To me, this is what makes the difference.”

I saw his words move through me. Likewise, after a long denial and search for complete independence, I was beginning to understand my own heart's yearning to be with family and friends. They feed me. They are the air of my support, the springboard allowing me the courage to jump higher, pushing my boundaries further, discovering my limitations in order to move beyond them. They are my Love and support. The relationship with the peace walk, this Indian Shanti Yatra, was unfolding.

Carrying More Than Human

We carried our messages with one another as we moved onward, visiting the locations where seventy-five years prior Gandhiji walked, slept, held meetings, and gave blessings to the local peoples. We slept in temples, schools, ashrams, and locals' homes. They gave us food, Indian-style with their infallible Indian hospitality.

"Treat thy guest as thou God." We were given thus, given the care and concern as though we were family. Through the familial exchange, we saw the immortality of Gandhi lying beneath the surface of these small, humbled peoples.

In the mornings we rose and were told the outline of the day. Our head leader, Venerable Morita, expressed his gratitude for all present. He would dive into his soul and find the truth of our being. We were reaching to the "real heart" of the people. We were discovering the life of Gandhi and the rootedness of his message.

Where's Gandhi today?

He is alive and well, awoken by these generous souls we met along the way.

Despite the men and women we passed, and the children in their innocence, crossed with deep reverence as they read our Gujarati sign—gesticulations of praise and devotion—events fell upon us as we neared our end.

Sicknesses grew heavier; the burden of blisters disappearing and transmutating into more serious affects.

Personally, having arrived from Africa I caught a bloated case of constipation that sunk within my belly until the second day of the walk. On that day, an explosion within my intestines erupted and by the middle of the pilgrimage I was experiencing severe diarrhea with episodes continuing 10-15 times a day. Fever reduced me to bed in the evenings, and a cold kept my nose thick with green mucus; my lungs full and a throat sore. A headache pulsed my nerves and pain began to curdle the exhausted intestines. I ate, and then it went. I sought fuel, but it passed through too soon.

But I was not alone. We were all afflicted to some degree, for as I now perceive it, we were peace-walkers; we were souls dedicated to the message of peace, not only in the world, but possibly more significant, within our own soul, throughout every thought, speech, and action.

As Gandhiji related, "My life is my message." For those weeks, our life was peace, and because of this deep devotion, we were open and therefore taking upon ourselves the suffering of others. As a family, we rose to the spirit of Gandhiji and accepted the suffering of others to free them of their pain.

KA, another Australian partnered with Marcus in FootPrints for Peace, brought me the courage I sought. "When in pain, think of the people who are really in pain and who are really suffering. Aches, pains and blisters are nothing." But none of us could deny it: we were graced by the divine power of Mahatma Gandhi, and even more so, by that of God.

In bed, sweating, roiling in pain as others ate their meals in the dining halls, I thought of quitting, or maybe I just dreamt of it. How could I keep going? Evenings were the worst after the long arduous days, but somehow, by the power of a higher reality, by the connection of a peace-walking family, I rose each morning with the strength for one more day, with the will-power to stand up for peace for twenty-four more hours. It was not I making this journey, in fact I do not believe it was any human taking the steps of Gandhi through that Indian heat and pollution. We were simply the vessel, the cloth upon the omnipotent being of God.

Finding A New Meaning For Peace

There was a point on the walk where I knew I had it worst. My pain was immense, but I kept it to myself. It crippled me, or so I thought.
As the days grew thinner nearing our destination, an event took us by surprise. We had finished a breakfast at a small school. The girls sung for us, gave us roses that never smelled so sweet. Morita-san and the other organizers gave their messages to the children and villagers before we ate our Parle-G biscuits and dipped our folds of white bread in the cups of sweetened chai. Time came for our departure and we left, taking to the trail in the footsteps of Gandhi. Life as usual for the passed thirteen days proceeded.

It became routine, maybe too routine, for the path, the care, the nurturing we received eased us. Again, it whitewashed the insignificancies we often clung to. In India, if you let your guard down a little too low, despite the assurance given from those who care, obstacles (those which are always present) manifest and come to challenge what you have at hand. Our friend Taka had his hands full.

I was in the middle of the group, full of tea, biscuits, and some loaves of nutritious white bread. My head was lowered, eyes at the ground watching the uneven surface pass beneath my feet. I wasn't thinking of the others, where there's might have been, but only of my own two feet, placing them lightly on the ground between the stones and torn pavement. Then, the air vibrated.

It was a hum, not a peaceable bumblebee sauntering from stamen to stamen among a row of marigolds, but an ugly, violent, and despoiled growl. It was a blur, erupting the calm afternoon, burning the full bellies of our group. I looked up, stunned, closed my eyes, and began to pray.

Taka, a strong, thick-boned man of Japan, a veteran peace-walker with Marcus and KA. He laughed and had a smile that reflected a childhood never lost. I remember back on the eighth day as my illness caught on and my attitude sunk. In fact, many people felt they were sinking inside, but not Taka.

"Here, very little traffic, and good pace. This is easy. This is a very good peace-walk." As he spoke to me, my pain eased. I couldn't help but smile as we talked. I shifted my perspective. It kept me going until the end of one more day.

Now it was Day 13, and Taka, who just minutes prior had eaten something like five bananas and maybe three packets of Parle-G biscuits, lay on the ground, stomach first, holes burnt through the soles of his socks. Above him, the metal flagpole he held dangled from a low-hanging wire, oscillating while those around him scurried away and sought for understanding.

I heard only his moans. The shouts of others were drowned out by Taka's call for help, for strength, and likewise, for understanding. He had been walking with the flagpole in his hands when he struck a low electrical wire, sending a voltage of energy from his hands, down through his body, and out his feet. His sandals were shot off, his socks charred.

With the urgency of the situation, people organized and things were done:

A car was hailed.

Taka secured a ride to the hospital.

The pole was knocked from the wire.

Just like that we had Taka, laughing with biscuits falling from his smile, to an unconscious, distant Taka, inside asking for help, for prayer. In our solemn chant for the remainder of the day, he received just that—our prayer.

Taking The Walk Home

Day 16. We reached Dandhi with Taka in our hearts, with Gandhiji in our soul and with a deeper sense of what it is to be human. Bodies beaten, stiff like an egg white with bits of shell remaining.

This was our Shanti Yatra, a peace pilgrimage through rural Gujarat. And we left with smiles, grateful to be humans on this planet, appreciative to have taken this time and created this space in order to share our lives with one another and learn from the teachers we all are.

Tashi and I left, a monk and a layperson riding a train north to home. We reached it some thirty hours later, exhausted, feeling human more so than ever. I was sick, and as I wrote this I was still sick, still a human, conscious of this more so than yesterday, more so than a month prior.

I am a human, and after deep contemplation of this reality, of my limitation while being on this planet, I listened to my body, sought the silence within the bitter cold of the Himalayas to hear that inner voice. Where was it leading me? Where could I be healed? Where's my journey?

Heard, understood and accepted, I am back in the arms of those nearest my heart; my family and friends. Back home underneath the skies of the Pacific Northwest, my trip with its commitments ended a chapter and begins a new. The journey continues, but in a new light, with a new page unfolding.

Indeed, I must return and remember my humanness, for I’m back at it as I was over a year ago. Those small plastic cylinders: I filled my first two today for the doctor. He asked for stool samples, that viral, bacterial, parasitical creature nearing its end.

Yes; a human, susceptible to the materials of this planet, yet a human like every other life-form; a part of the whole, a singular drop from the ocean of God. When meditating upon this, one shall return to the whole and be one with such.

Human & Peace Together Again

I have gone through my journey through Africa, through India, more aware then ever, absorbing my surroundings, absorbing my Self, as the sponge that the human is. What I have learned is the beauty of those nearest my heart. We were a family in Africa. And India; Tashi and I; Shampa, Loti, and I; Karma, Gyathar, and I. We are forever brothers. The peace-walkers; family. Family and friends are humans just as I, but they are the humans who keep me flying, breathing air beneath my wings, encouraging me ever further. They are my light and my fuel.

As I sit across from the table, a bowl of soup steaming into clearing nostrils, I see not the people, but the soul of my Love. I see our togetherness, our bondage through an interrelated connection. I am grateful.

I am grateful for this love, and suddenly I come to realize it could not have been done without any of you; without them, without family and friends, without the participation of the world at large. I could not have been on that bed of clouds, breathing the ethereal, sharing our togetherness through a lifetime of peace-walking. I look deeper and I see Taka. I see Ven. Morita, Marcus, KA—I see each walker forever in my heart, in that gorge filled with the gentleness of the sky. An affirmation arises as a prayer to all beings spoken from their lips: I am safe. I am sound. All good things come to me. They give me peace. Together, we will all walk on the clouds.

Tags: On the Road


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