The Tantra of Travel

Central France, January 2016

Traveling is an adventure—a process of working with transition, change, and potential transformation, if we have an intention to be transformed by the transitory. Places, people, language, food, water, circumstances are suddenly different, new impressions come flooding in, and one never knows exactly what those will be.  It’s not always pleasant, as you know, especially if you have spent many hours, as I have, sitting in a large jet airplane on long, transatlantic flights, in which we travel 36,000 miles above the earth at five hundred miles per hour, jammed together with a few hundred other people who are in various states of being, healthy or not, full of stress, tension or who knows what. Or if you’ve done some time sleeping in roach-infested beds on cold nights in Rishikesh, when the wind is blowing strong off the Ganges.
    Then there is the release of arrival at a new destination. Ah, to be off the airplane and back on the earth again! When traveling, it takes some time for the various subtle bodies of a human being to come back together after landing. It’s good to drink lots of water, eat wholesome food or not at all. Keep it simple. Be ordinary. And especially, continue with practice. Wherever you are, practice is there. Observe what we see in ourselves or in our environment without being attracted or repelled (not easy!). Relax. Stay open. In fact, just learning to stay can be powerful and tremendously important in sadhana. It is one of the ordinary ways that we cultivate essential presence of being, inner stability, context, mindfulness, a capacity to pay attention and remember what is true.
    To travel through the changes or in-between states from here to there in the transitory play of phenomena with an inner thread of continuity intact is one definition of tantra. I have discovered (and continue to learn) that transitions of all kinds offer the opportunity to develop continuity wherever I am, no matter how challenging circumstances many be. No matter what is going on, the Path is there for me, and I am walking on it. I can pay attention, I can remember, I can wait, I can breathe, and I can stay. Stay open, stay present, stay in place.
    Traveling naturally breaks routines and expands boundaries, opens the doors of perception for fresh perspectives. It offers the opportunity to recreate myself, to be made anew in a very organic way within the flow of ordinary life. It is a chance to relax into the place of origination, to be pleasantly surprised by myself as well as others, to glimpse possibilities—and yet, to avail myself of those potentials depends upon having continuity, a stability of awareness in the midst of change. I can cultivate inner stability and quietude even if all hell is breaking loose around me. And even if all hell is breaking loose in my own mind and emotions, I can sense that a deeper awareness stays in place, down under where it’s quiet, just there.
    A little more than a week ago I arrived in the lush countryside of central France. It was Christmas Day. The next morning I went to the early meditation on the rustic ashram where I live while in Europe. The sun is slow to dawn in that northern climate. It was pitch dark at 6:45 when meditation began, and it was still twilight an hour later, when I walked out into the grassy courtyard.
    A full moon hung low in the western sky, a radiant golden orb suspended in deep blue dusk. Beneath the moon were two persimmon trees, bare of leaves like the tangle of trees all around but adorned with a few hundred ripe persimmons that glowed orange, heavy with juicy nectar. The grass was emerald green, even in the low light of the wintry dawn, and the bare limbs of the trees dripped with rain from the night before. Below my hilltop view, the valley, cradled in rolling hills, was a mysterious vale swathed in mists, with the lacy relief of bare treetops showing through. Coming from the dry lands of Arizona, I was stunned by the beauty of the scene, and all my senses drank in the rasa of the Sacred made manifest in Nature, all the more potent in those transitory moments between night and day.
    Two days later I was in another transition, wrestling with a virus and physical discomforts on many fronts and in the midst of a three-day cleanse on lemon juice, water, and maple syrup, previously planned to happen before New Year’s Day. Of course, in France, there is no Whole Foods Market with a plethora of options for natural care when one comes down with a cold or virus. I was thrown back on myself in another small wave of groundlessness. When we are forced to rest and stay still with a physical illness, we come into contact with a level of mind blather and emotional regurgitation that we are often shielded from in the busy tasks of the day or even in formal sitting meditation. Is there something useful in the confrontation that occurs during illness? Is there anything essential or worth taking seriously in what comes up?
    Most of it is detritus—the organism throwing off dietary excesses, impressions, and stored chemicals produced by weeks, months, years of emotional reactivity (see the science of psychoneuroimmunology) to various ensnarements and karmic patterns, which are then lodged in the cells and tissues of the body. I soon realized I was in a process of purification or cleansing on many levels. Purification was necessary, but it becomes truly useful if I cease habitual clinging to deep-rooted identifications and attachments—the strategies my mind has artfully arranged around life dramas and interpersonal snafus, which were now thrown in my face for a full viewing and re-assessment. It was valuable if I took high road of seeing what actually is and letting it all go.
    On the other hand, there were deeper threads or primal elements and encounters with myself that needed further investigation. Perhaps, when we are “down” with a cold or flu or other illness, a message is being delivered by our true nature. Dreams may come in lurid swarms of communication from the depths. The primordial wisdom of sahaja is talking to us. I have heard many people say that their illness or diagnosis was “the best thing that ever happened" to them. On the most basic level, a health crisis, major or minor, forces us to stop running around doing things in a distracted, unconscious state of mind. Forces us out of denial about what is, especially the reality of the body. To stay in bed and allow a healing process to occur is no so easy for many of us. Sometimes the deep self has to force the issue. That leads to the main point of this essay, which is learning how to stay. Just stay.
    It is interesting to observe how little habits eat away at inner stability. Stability can be developed in all kinds of small ways throughout our day. How hard is it to take a seat and just stay in it? Are we compelled to get up and run around, do one more thing, jump up and attend to something that is completely unnecessary in the moment? Really, it’s just one more distraction from being here and now. Just stay in your “seat,” whatever that is in the moment. Resist that urge to get up and run around! Being active and exercising is a good thing; constant distraction, fascination, and unconscious restlessness is another. What is it that drives us so?
    What drives us is the complex of mind and emotion and the deep unease that plagues our inner lives. But that is not what I want to delve into today; rather, I’m interested in the small ways we can begin to build stamina and staying power in ordinary life. Here’s an idea! At random times during the day, stop what you are doing and just stay where you are. Take five minutes to just sit and feel into the space around you. Listen to the sounds you hear. Is the wind blowing? Are there traffic noises? Sounds of happy children playing? Music? Tune into the quiet whoosh of your own breath coming and going. Just breathe. To breathe is to live.
    And what do you see? The room, the furniture, the window, what is outside the window? Is it green out there? Can you see the sky, the clouds, from where you are sitting? What is the weather like? What are the smells around you? Is food cooking somewhere, incense burning, a plant blossoming, or do you sense the musky, sweet, rank, or bitter smell of humanity? What time of day is it? Each time of day has its own quality—afternoon, morning, evening. Each has its own rasa as the Earth turns around the Sun and the light changes. Taste the rasa of this moment in your day. Just five minutes, and then you can keep going.
    Staying power. Continuity. Making the most of transitions, finding the changeless within change, the thread of sameness that runs through everything, the legendary quiet, still place within. Tantrikas like Dr. Robert Svoboda talk about samarasa (same taste)—the Vajrayana Buddhists call it “one taste.” How do we get to know the simplicity of one taste? Cultivate staying power, stability, the strength to be simple, to wait and be quiet within. This cultivation deepens our spiritual way and can be done most obviously in meditation practice but also in potent and small ways, in the heat and pressure and speed of every day life. We can attend to details and demands with a pared-down, “no frills and no embellishments” approach, with a one-pointed focus of attention, to discover that there is freedom in simplicity.
    For many years I was both attracted and disturbed by the idea of “one taste” as an aim in spiritual life. I associated this possibility with a deadening or denial of the senses, of relationship, and even of life itself. It hinted of a stultifying boredom—who wants to know only one thing forever? One might as well be in prison, or completely cease to exist! Over many years of time, I have changed my view. The aim of one taste is looking more attractive as time goes on and the reality of the Path—and the Buddha’s great teaching, “All life is suffering”—comes into sharper focus. I’ve been blessed to be in the company of great saints and teachers who have given me many glimpses of the true potential of the Path, both in their embodiment and in myself. Direct experience has shown me that simplicity, staying, cultivating one taste in fact opens out into a vivid enjoyment of life’s many tastes, but without grasping to hold on and possess, without cloying attachment and the suffocating affects of being immediately hooked by identification.  When I possess my experience, I am obsessing neurotically about it; it soon grows dead and lifeless, losing its taste altogether.
    When I am not obsessing and possessing experience, the openness of the infinite field of sahaja gives rise to all kinds of creativity and wise knowing. It’s very simple. It’s a process of letting go, but I’ve found that it’s hard to let go when I don’t have a foundation of strength, the power to stay with whatever is arising, including emptiness. Emptiness may be the most challenging experience of all, in which we need to develop a capacity to simply stay.
    In his fourth talk in the Oak Grove in Ojai, California, J. Krishnamurti spoke about the difference between loving what we do and being “occupied” with what we do. To be occupied prevents the open space of infinite primordial sahaja, because there is a clamping down in order to grasp experience. When we truly love what we do—without owning, possessing, seeking, obsessing—we may fully savor the many tastes of life. Krishnamurti says that it is only when the mind is totally unoccupied, completely empty, that it can receive something new. Only then can a new thing come into being. On the other hand, to love what we do is a free feeling that occurs when there is a “cessation” of all ambition and drive for achievement, for recognition, for success. Krishnamurti said:

… When you love a thing, there is no occupation with it. The mind isn’t conniving to achieve something, trying to be better than somebody else; all comparison, competition, all desire for success, for fulfillment, totally ceases. It is only the ambitious mind that is occupied.

Similarly, a mind that is occupied with God, with truth, can never find it because that which the mind is occupied with, it already knows. If you already know the immeasurable, what you know is the outcome of the past; therefore, it is not the immeasurable. Reality cannot be measured, therefore there is no occupation with it. There is only a stillness of the mind, and emptiness in which there is no movement—and it is only then that the unknown can come into being. (August 14, 1955)

(pgs. 68-69, As One Is, J. Krishnamurti, Hohm Press)

Well, there’s not much left to say after Krishnamurti has leveled everything to one taste. And yet, he speaks of love and of loving what we do…
    So, those are my thoughts today on the tantra of travel—an adventure that brings many different experiences, from unexpected adversity to the surprise of joy. The tantra of travel is about stability in the midst of change, about purification and transformation, about discovering one taste as much as it is about rasa and tasting many flavors. Tantra is about reality and about love. Tantra is about surrender. Travel offers a unique opportunity to interact with all these essentials of the transformational process.
    We’ve ended in a fine, lovely mess, but now it’s time to go to the kitchen, where a mound of ripe persimmons wait to be prepared for human consumption, cleaned and blended into the lovely raw persimmon pudding that we eat here in Douce France in mid-winter, sprinkled with garam masala and doused with cream. The persimmons only come once a year, ripening after the frost. They are as sweet and pure a rasa as anything I’ve ever tasted—a transitory treat.

“Persimmon Heaven”

“Persimmon Heaven”

©2016 Mary Angelon Young, All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.