In 1998, I had the rare pleasure of spending some time in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. One of the days I was there, we took a day trek to Amayangri Stupa (Amayangri means "the top,") an ancient site dedicated to contemplation and reflection, marked by a modest configuration of stones and tattered prayer flags. This was the highest elevation possible given that I was not a climber and to go any further requires equipment and training.
Nonetheless, I remember the four hour hike being quite a challenge. A combination of thinning air and rigorous physical exertion brought on a strange sort of delirium. Memories, pent emotions and unusual trains of philological thought swirled in my head with an intensity that verged on panic at times.
When we finally made it to the revered spot, I felt some considerable disappointment because the sky was completely overcast and visibility was next to nothing. After all the effort to get there I was hoping for a majestic view. Instead, we stood as though in the middle of a cloud with the surroundings completely whited out.
After I had accepted that perhaps I would be denied the coveted post-card shot and took in the fact that I was actually standing in the middle of a cloud, I noticed my mind was no longer swirling. In fact, I started to feel downright serene.
At about what seemed the same moment, there was a sudden and brief break in the white curtain that enveloped the stupa and the expansive beauty of nature peaked through. As I witnessed the sky gently peel open, I felt my mind spread out in all directions. As though I could stay there forever and not be the least bit bored. It was the first time in my life that I experienced contentment (and I managed to get a photo all the same, see above.)
Since then, the experience has been repeated. Even just a beautiful sunset or a moment gazing up at the full moon on a clear night can often suffice to bring me back to the same sense of awe and wonder. Yet, there are other times when it eludes me.
Here in our humble village of Brooklyn, it sometimes seems that my thoughts are forever bouncing back at me, ricocheting off the concrete and steel, banging around in my head and keeping me up at night. My remedy is a simple program of careful breathing and moving, followed by a final rest (savasana.)
After easing ourselves through practice, final relaxation can readily produce the same feeling I had in the Himalayan mountains. Instead of looking outwards at the expansive beauty of nature, we drop inwards into the expansive beauty of nature that is you currently existing. In much the same way, the mind spreads out and we can be at rest.
Being urban dwellers does not mean we are separate from Nature. The same forces are at work both inward and outward. To experience and understand the natural order of things, we need look no further then our own breath.