Tuesday, November 03, 2009

For the Love of Wilderness

On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 9:29 AM, Raghuram KR wrote:
Hey Andhonee,
Just felt like sending you a mail today... Its been raining here crazily for last few 2-3 weeks now.. Have not been hiking during the rains this time.. but when you were here, i remember the enthu we had to go even in the rains :)
Thats when i thought i will just send you a mail.. Happy Deepavali to you :)
And tomorrow i am just going out on a hike probably alone to a far off place [mostly Ingalls Lake] inspite of the rain :) I will send you some pics when i come back....
Enjoy and take care.,,

An Open response to Raghu
Dei Raghu,
How are you da machi? I remember going to Ingall’s lake myself. I thought you also came for that hike along with pala. I posed for some of the most ‘mokkai aana’ pictures there. That time around it was frickin cold up there and the path was quite treacherous. Let me know how the hike was this time. I did see your pictures. They were quite similar to how I remember them.
About the enthusiasm with which we would go to the mountains even in the rainy days, there are a lot of things unsaid which I thought I would share with you. (you being one of our own gang of mountain men). I know you don't care about big talk and big experiences but i thought i would share anyways!
Hiking started very naturally for me. The first time I went to the US, it was in the middle of the hiking season. The sun was out for all the 4 weekends I was there and I think I probably made it to the hills on all the weekends. I don’t know whether I consciously decided to go hiking but I do remember relishing those experiences when I got back to India. So the next time I went to the US for a longer trip, somewhere I knew I would be paying my visits to the towering sentinels of the Pacific North West. Looking back it has been an essential part of my experience in the US. Almost as essential as Isha. I have a feeling maybe they were related…I don’t know.
I have been to so many hikes those two years. Even if the weather was playing spoilsport, I would be the one nudging my roomies to come. I remember doing some of the hikes in pouring rain. Sometimes, we would decide to go on a day-hike as late as 2 PM in the afternoon.
Looking back, all these hikes clearly fell into a pattern. In the first stage is an almost irrepressible need or desire to head for the hills. Not because you wanted to conquer the mountains but because somewhere in my experience I felt hiking to be a very intense experience. And this intensity was something that I was consciously seeking. Sometimes, I realized it was almost masochistic to put yourself to this meaningless ordeal of climbing up a mountain and climbing it down the same way. I distinctly remember some of these hikes were physically overwhelming. In some weird way, I used to enjoy being defeated by the mountain and the gravity. Every time, I come to a point where I reach the end of my physical capabilities, I taunt myself saying just this one next step and that’s it. And it has always been that one next step that takes you till the summit.

Secondly, in some ways, being in the woods puts things in perspective. The forest never acknowledges your presence. It does not care for what you think. It does not care about that problem that you are brooding about. Its ways and the ways of physics are very raw and unforgiving. I found that subjecting myself to such rawness straightens me. Whatever mental nonsense that I seem to be carrying seems to vanish by the time I reach the top. Because of this, over a period of time, it was an avenue to forget myself. Forget my life, my struggles, my cravings, my limitations, my struggle to grow etc. Being in the mountains, somehow these doesn’t seem to matter and when I come back from the mountains, that little space is created between me and what I deal with. That little space was liberating. Somewhere in the seemingly endless hues of green, I lose myself. If for only a moment, what a leap that loss is!
Finally there is one aspect of hiking which even if I think about gives me goose bumps. Initially when I headed for the hills, it was usually to watch and enjoy nature’s splendor. On an average Saturday morning, just to think about that lake or the pass or that valley was enough for me to spring out of my bed. There have been many occasions where I found myself getting up relatively earlier on weekends than on weekdays. Initially I savored the scenery. But over a period of time as the intensity between the beholder and the beloved deepened, it was more of a pain than anything else. There have been times when I have been on some of the trails, I was just so overwhelmed. Overwhelmed because on one level I was truly delighted and exhilarated to see the creation but on another level as much as I long for it, the distance between it and I was very distinct. After moving to the ashram, looking back at my experiences, I feel somewhere I had bowed down. What I bowed down to was immaterial but what matters was somehow I bowed down. Looking at the snow sprinkled Mt.Stuart across the Ingall’s lake or the endless meadows at Mt.Rainier, my being bent. I distinctly remember climbing the Carne mountain during late fall last year. The air was crisp and cool and the valley was drenched in fall colors. The hike was long and arduous and at the peak there was a 360 degree vista of craggy ridges and valleys and salt-and-pepper summits towering over the clouds. I had a tough time bottling my overwhelm to myself. This overpowering feeling boggled me initially. I had always thought that ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever’. Why then, does beauty evoke such pain? But if I look at it now, it does make a lot of sense. Over a period of time, as the intensity of the rapture increases, it only leaves the subject longing for oneness with the object. And where the oneness isn’t there, pain is.

I have always been a veritable nature lover. When I first landed in seattle, I had thought this was my dream city to live. In whatever little ways that I could imagine, Seattle seemed to fit my bill. Perpetually raining, a long brooding winter, an hour drive away from alpine paradises, endless greenery, occasional snows etc. During my last days in Seattle, there have been moments when there was a part of me arguing against my move to the ashram. I had sometimes told myself that even if I cannot enjoy my work at Microsoft, still I can bear it by looking forward to hitting the hills on the weekends. But over a period of time, the hiking experience itself was a remainder of my isolated existence. And those remainders definitely contributed to the helplessness and the vulnerability within me which eventually made me take the step that I took.
Even now, an occasional thing of beauty sweeps me off my feet and I seem to remember why I am in the ashram.

P.S: Just realized that I didn’t record my experiences of the Dhyanayatra in 2007. My memory (and unfortunately only that) tells me that it was a similar experience in some ways.
P.S2: All the photos are courtesy wta.org and are places where we have been to. Top to bottom are Ingall's lake, Squak mountains and Bandera mountain.


Deepak said...

You probably should hide his email id :)
Big post - Will read at more leisure!

Deepak said...


1) Stuart Mt and Ingall's lake? Is that picture for real? It looks like CGI - OMG, what an amazing picture!

2) Absolutely loved your "nature doesn't care for your problems and thoughts" aspect. The way you put that forth was good. You're right, it doesn't care, and as you stay with it, your "world" fades away into oneness!

3) Dhyan Yatra 2007 - your memory is indeed fading! It was Dhyan Yatra 2006 :)

4) May be you should write more infrequently and longer posts! This one is a treasure!

A.J.Anto said...

I just read something in Mystic's musings today which i thought i would put here:
"Love is not a joy; it is a deep wonderful pain. It is a very deep, tearing, wonderful pain. Something within you should tear; not just something, everything within you should tear. Only then you know what love is. If it feels pleasant, that's not love, it is just convenience. Maybe you felt a little affection. If you have ever loved, everything inside you tears apart, really tears apart. It's painful, but wonderful. That's how it is. When you start feeling like this about everything and everybody, then going beyond your limitations - physical and mental - naturally happens by itself.
If you reject the creation, you can't know anything about the Creator. So don't worry about loving God. See if you can bring love into your breath, into your step, into every act that you do, not towards anybody or anything; if you can just bring the longing to merge with everything around you, the creation will lead you on to the Creator"

A.J.Anto said...

@deepak: "Is that picture for real?" You haven't seen nothing yet. You should see the real thing. It completely sweeps you off your feet.