The writer in me longs to communicate and reveal conflict; the yogi in me longs to be in silence and unity. My first travels to the Himalayas brought to the surface the tensions between these two dimensions of my being.
When I journeyed to the Himalayas for a yoga immersion in the Fall 2017, I received a golden opportunity to travel with a well-known yogi and his students. My job was to pen down and transcribe his teachings. I thought that my writing journey and my yogic journey finally received an opportunity to merge.
I am generally reserved. I get to know people intimately before I am ready to share. When I started to open up to this group of traveling yogis, a deeper conflict vexed me: back home among my writing friends, no one expressed much enthusiasm for the benefits of the practice or the esoteric dimensions of yogic philosophy that fascinate me; meanwhile, among my yoga friends here bumping around in this old bus on this dangerous road from Chandigarh to Leh, there was no interest in lyrical writing. No one shared a joy for reading. So, I got to wondering: How shall my writing life and yoga life resonate a sense of communion? If no unity is possible, will the deeper yogic exploration of consciousness compel me to give up writing? Or, conversely, will the word-lover in me — and my love for literary writing — urge me to abandon yoga practice?
Himalaya: A Literary Homage to Adventure, Meditation, and Life on the Roof of the World is an anthology that offers me companionship through this inner conflict. This collection of over thirty essays reveal a range of voices. Ruskin Bond and Namita Gokhale are astute editors who created a gathering that perceives the Himalayas from all angles. This book offered me a way to reconcile my spiritual practice with my writing life.
For instance, in his essay “Ladakh Sojourn,” Andrew Harvey contemplates: “Every object in the light of Ladakh seems to have something infinite behind it; every object, even the most humble, seems to abide in its real place.”
This reminded me of practicing meditation at Lake Pangong. We stared, unblinking, at the space between our eyes and a mountain. We gazed so long with empty minds at the space between our eyes and the mountain until every object grew blurry and dissolved. In his essay, Harvey continues his mind’s wandering over the myriad ways Tibetans, Kashimirs, Ladakhis, and Muslims live, struggle, and pray side by side in this ancient mountain town. I welcomed everything I gazed upon to show me how to abide in my real place.
Arundhathi Subramaniam’s presence in this anthology fills me with deep pleasure. She is a kindred spirit. She travels with her teacher, Sadhguru. In her essay, “Just a Strand of Shiva’s Hair: Face-to-Face with the Axis of the World,” Subramaniam struggles on an uphill trek toward Mount Kailash, her whole being so fatigued it hurts to breathe. Her essay describes her inner journey, one in which her consciousness shifts from respectful observer to cautious participant, and finally, reluctantly, she realizes she is a devotee. This is the kind of inner crossing that the Himalayas inspire.
There is a theme that repeats in yogic stories wherein the seeker comes to realize that book knowledge is inferior to lived experience. As a reader and literacy advocate, I am always uncomfortable with this theme. Finally, I have found that this anthology supports my personal notion that a book gives an experience; reading is an experience. Perhaps in the past some yogis and sages realized that books do not give ultimate spiritual experience, but books are not the problem. The problem arises when there is any sense of upholding one kind of experience superior over another. Books are not superior to lived experience. Nor is lived experience superior to book knowledge. Neither is higher nor lower. We bow to both.
Now, I remember the feeling of cold stones touching my forehead when we bowed on the bank where the Indus and Zanskar Rivers meet. With my consciousness flowing over memories of my physical journey to the Himalayas mixed with reading the anthology followed by arriving to the end of writing this essay, there exists a flow that comes to a meeting where my awareness blooms. There is reconciliation. I realize I shall write as a way of paying homage. My every act of writing can be an expression of bowing to these mountains, to beloved teachers, writers, readers, yogis, sages, scholars, poets, friends. I secretly contain this intention — may every word I write open a sacred space within me; and may every spiritual discipline light the secret flame burning on the shrine within that sacred space.