Action is being truly observant of your own thoughts, good or bad, looking into the true nature of whatever thoughts may arise, neither tracing the past nor inviting the future, neither allowing any clinging to experiences of joy, nor being overcome by sad situations. In doing so, you try to reach and remain in the state of great equilibrium, where all good and bad, peace and distress, are devoid of true identity. Dudjom Rinpoche as quoted in Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (167-168)
To understand the following tale, I recommend that you, good reader, give me a bit of leeway as you glance over these awkward sentences. In trying to express my thoughts, feelings, and ideas, I ask for forgiveness if I veer far from the rational, logical mind of Western thought. You see, the moment I got off of the plane in Paro in March 2010, I recognized the “state of great equilibrium” that exists in Bhutan. At the time, I was simply not aware enough to understand what was happening. Stepping onto the tarmac from the rear door of the Druk Air plane, I was overcome with a feeling or experience I never had before. As I have said before in other posts, something is here, in Bhutan, that I have not found elsewhere. Walking across the tarmac into the terminal building, a sense of wonder engulfed me. I was, quite honestly, in awe.
The experience of those first few moments washed over me and, at the time, I had no previous experience to put those few moments into context. I was overwhelmed. AS you can tell, I am still attached, in a way, to the experience itself. And, if you read the quotation above, you noticed that Dudjom Rinpoche said specifically NOT to attach to those feelings or thoughts.
The thing is, it’s hard not to be attached to these experiences. It’s a kind of bliss in the moment. What I think is going on in Bhutan is the deep connection to Vajrayana practices and a whole country focused around many of the principles of that practice. Carl Jung wrote about a “collective unconscious” that humans shared certain archetypes or experiences. While I am no expert in Jungian psychology, that notion came up when I had the chance to think about my experiences in Bhutan after that first trip. Is it possible that, in Bhutan, a kind of collective unconscious permeates the place and is held by the people in the country? Is it possible for someone to tap into such a set of thoughts and emotions (Jung would probably say they were not even thoughts)?
As I ponder the notion that being on the tarmac in Bhutan in March 2010, that I spontaneously experienced some contact with Bhutanese collective unconscious is laughable on its face. If I presented such an argument to folks in some academic institution, I’d be quickly hurried out of the building!
And yet, there is was. A moment in time etched in my psyche.
The thing is, if that moment simply faded away, I wouldn’t be writing these words today. Because, and here’s the thing, over the course of that trip and each of the other trips I have taken, the pattern is repeated regardless of whether or not I visit the same places or become more familiar with the people and cultural structures of the communities we visit. You would think it would get old; right? I mean, visiting places again and again might wear down that uniqueness of sense of wonder. That change has not happened.
OK, so what am I saying here: that Bhutan offers an example of that “state of equilibrium” on a national scale. That the attempt to extend and establish GNH (Gross National Happiness), for all its successes and failures, emphasizes exactly the kind of idea that Dudjom Rinpoche was talking about; balance. I have even heard people express this idea to me directly: “Life is hard sometimes, and sometimes I have to get a ride or drive hours for work. But that is part of life. I send money home to family and take care of my children, and we all work on being happy even with the hard life we have.” I wrote this quote down soon after this person said it to me….the idea that life is tough and we can find the “silver lining” or “happiness” even in the face of difficult circumstances. And yes, that sentiment is not unique to Bhutan or people in Bhutan and I’ve heard phrases like that all my life. So, what’s the difference? That thought is actually how some people I have met live. Based on my anecdotal evidence, something in the society and culture is based on that deep truth.
Am I too deep in it right now? Hmmm. Maybe so. I guess what I’m doing is grappling with experiences and their ultimate meaning. Since I’m the one writing about all of this doo-dah, you’ll just have to either read along with these tortured thoughts….or not.