Having recently returned from a journey of ascetic solitude in the Himalayas, disciplined practice at a monastery and delightful wandering in the Buddha’s footsteps – I face the challenge of having to re-integrate into daily life in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful for the opportunity to engage in my annual sojourn of solitude. At the end of said journey, without fail, every year – I am plagued by a desire to renounce the world and return to what feels like my real home. Many fail to understand why?
Let me explain – My journey of solitude is not one of luxury. It usually involves trekking in challenging environmental conditions and with very few amenities. It means early mornings (3am), disciplined practice, diet of rice and veg, one meal per day and long hours of labour or walking. Nights are spent in ashrams, lodgings or tents where a thin cotton mattress is the ultimate luxury and relief from the icy wind fills you with gratitude.
These journeys can be emotionally challenging as well. For as you trek through the mountains, you meet people – you experience their lives, their hopes, their pain. You hear stories that form knots in your throat that no amount of tears can undo. And you form bonds with the little people, those innocent, love-personified, children of the mountains. And no matter how much it breaks your heart, you have to leave them – for there is always more work to be done elsewhere. These mountains are huge.
And although I come to a comfortable home, warm bed, abundance of food – a life of relative luxury – all I crave is to go back.
Last year, while in the mountains – I had decided to break convention, renounce the world and just stay on. A dear friend and teacher, Vivek, convinced me otherwise. “You have too much work to do,” he said. “You are in a privileged position to be able to make a difference in the world. Live your dharma. If we all escaped to our “homes in the mountain”, who is going to do the work that needs doing?”
So, I came back to earn the funds, that enable me to support the people and projects that need support. I came back because I am told that its my duty to do so. I came back because of the bonds created in trying to earn those funds and perform those duties. Life is a web of entanglement. When you are unaware of this – it fills you with desire. When you become aware – it fills you with despair.
Hence renunciation is the easier path – for it allows you to escape this web. Living in the world is the real challenge. For even when the mind is untangled – duty keeps you bound.
Promise to Self: For as long as I am duty-bound, I will fight the good fight.
Suggestions and guidance – most appreciated!