Gratitude in a Cave

“Enlightenment is only the beginning, is only a step of the journey. You can’t cling to that as a new identity or you’re in immediate trouble. You have to get back down into the messy business of life, to engage with life for years afterward. Only then can you integrate what you have learned. Only then can you learn perfect trust.”

- Jack Kornfield

I was told to walk up a windy road and that I’d see a bus stop at the top of the hill, just to my right. The space between my big toe and my second toe was beginning to become painful from my flip-flops rubbing up against it as I continued to trek around these hills. I took my socks out of my backpack and put them on for padding. Guys driving auto rickshaws, or tuk-tuks as they’re called in India, were perfectly scattered everywhere, asking all the tourists if they were going to see Mooji.

“No. Vashishta Cave, bus?” I ask and point further up the hills. They shake their heads and I can’t tell if that means yes, no, or I don’t know.

I don’t see a bus stop anywhere but I do see buses, tuk-tuks, entire families on motorcycles — a father dressed in dark grey slacks and a thick black mustache driving with his toddler’s legs wrapped tightly around the gas tank in front of him, his wife behind him sitting sideways in her beautiful purple and yellow sari holding a baby with the biggest most beautiful brown eyes, and another child hanging on loosely behind her. Cars and dump trucks are everywhere I turn, blasting their horns as I jump in and out of the way. “Vashishta Cave, bus?” I ask another gentleman. He shakes his head and points up the hill. I head that way and ask another man who then points back in the other direction.

After half an hour of walking back and forth, confused, I run into a German guy I’d met a couple of days prior and he tells me to just stand on the side of the road, put my arm out, move it in a way that I think looks like what I used to do when I was a teenager bumping to some good beats. I do what he says, bumping my arm up and down in the air, feeling like a fool and thinking, “This can’t be right.”

A bus full of families, with people hanging out the windows and about a dozen men up on the roof, slams on its brakes. A guy looks at me as if to say, “Come on! Hurry up!” so I take one step onto the bus and it takes off immediately. The guy grabs my arm and pulls me in before I fly into the road.

“Whoa.” I smile at this experience. I say, “Vashistha Cave,” again wondering if I’m even saying this right.

“Eh,” he says and shakes his head.

I kindly repeat, “Cave. VaasssshisssshTA.” Trying to annunciate. “This,” pointing to the bus and up toward hill, “We go?”

“Ten rupee.”

As I try not to fall on everyone I give him ten rupees which is less than twenty cents, and prepare to balance myself for the ride. We’re flying up through the mountains, whizzing around corners, no door on the bus. I don’t see any possible way this thing can continue to stay on the road. We’re passing passenger cars on hairpin curves going uphill in a massive heavily loaded vehicle that is the size and weight of a tour bus. How is this even possible? They must have some crazy big engine in this thing. I don’t even think I could go this fast uphill around corners in a sports car. Women with babies in their arms and kids on each side of them, totally at ease in the situation. Older ladies with fresh fruit from the market to take to their temples of worship for Prasad. Men in prayer fingering their mala beads. Teenage boys laughing and holding hands as friends. The openness and devotion around me is staggering. Everyone is so free and so committed.

As I look out the door it’s a straight shot down the side of the mountain — no guardrails or barriers. I wonder how the guys on the roof are doing. This is nuts.

Brakes slam and we come to an immediate stop. The guy that collected my money looks at me and raises his eyebrows, shakes his head saying, “Eh.”

I take that as my cue and I jump off. What a ride. I head down a little pathway and onto the banks of the Ganges River. It’s beautiful. More than physically appealing it has a mystical feeling to it all. An old ancient feeling of devotion. Of God. Of beauty. Of deep contemplation. The monkeys jump around the vines and trees surrounding me checking me out to see if I have any food in my hands as I get to the bottom of the hill. I jump around some rocks looking for this specific cave that I’m told is very special. Over the course of hundreds, even thousands of years, countless monks and great saints have spent a significant amount of time meditating here. It’s even said that Jesus spent time in this particular cave.

I see a couple coming down the hill, so I head up the rocky embankment and into the trees and see what appears to be the cave in the side of the mountain. “Hmm…” I crawl up and over a few little boulders and then clearly see the opening of the cave. I take my sandals and socks off, put my backpack down to rest and make my way inside. I edge myself up to the back of the cave, facing out, seeing the holy river, the Mother Ganges and peaks of the Himalayas through these lush, dense vines hanging over the outside of the cave. I smile and close my eyes.

My mind calms instantly. I feel peace and then a sense of gratitude wash over me — something I haven’t given myself a chance to experience in a while. It isn’t gratitude for where I was, the people in my life, or the things I’ve acquired and achieved, but rather gratitude for who I’ve become, who I am. I was an angry tormented person for many years. I stole from those I loved; I lied and conned the weak to get high and support my maddening habit of destruction; I viciously hurt everyone around me so they could feel the pain I felt; I raced down a path of self-destruction that nearly killed me more times than I can count. I shouldn’t be alive: I passed out at the wheel from huffing computer duster and hit a tree head-on without a seat belt at 55–60 mph; I snorted painkillers, ecstasy, meth, and even crack — I know, you’re supposed to smoke it — some of it on schoolbooks at my locker. I did more than I can describe. I asked for death. I wanted out. It didn’t come.

Now, as I mediate in this sacred place, I feel peace. This is the connection I was always searching for. This is why I’m on this planet, in this body. Instead of hating my step-father, I see him. Instead of hating my biological father, I acknowledge him. I have love for them both. Instead of resenting my mother, I forgive her, I accept her. Instead of being the victim, I’ve become responsible. I feel this love and appreciation in my heart that has always been there. There will always be pain but I don’t have to suffer, nor do I need to make anyone else suffer for what I feel.

I hear a group of people hiking up to the cave. I could stay here for hours, in this space, in this moment, but I slowly open my eyes feeling happy to share the potential of this place with the newcomers. I make my way out of the cave.

I step back down onto the rocks along the river and head over to the Ganges to dip my feet in. I marvel at the beauty around me, almost in tears, I look back up the path and marvel at how quickly peace can be experienced within. How quickly we can just drop everything that we feel is so significant in our lives in regards to how we’re seen in the world, our status, or the petty arguments I find myself in. I am again reminded that love is all that matters. And that love starts within.

About five minutes later, I hear the people come back down the hill and I’m immediately taken by my own judgment. “Already? I would’ve stayed there longer if I had known they were gonna waste such a precious space…” and on and on my mind goes until I take a step back outside of myself, again admiring the sacredness around me, I breathe in acknowledging my ignorance and realizing I’ve still got work to do…


Originally published at www.aydenlgramm.com.