Fear 1: Moments of danger, times of fear

As fear engulfs the world right now I think of the moments of fear I’ve experienced in my lifetime – usually tangible fears felt or seen, unlike this almost intangible virus bringing the world to a stop. I think of people with whom I’ve shared those moments and of another being with whom I shared fear of each other.

I was just a bold twenty-something backpacking when I carelessly stepped into a very dangerous and fear provoking experience.

The mother bear and her cubs had left footprints in all the muddy patches along the trail. From the size, we knew that she was a grizzly bear – large, solitary, and as a mother, defensive of her cubs. We knew that she was in the valley bottom so when the trail went up onto the mountainside to skirt a gorge, we assumed that we had left the bears behind. Precautions fell away and I let my longer legs take me ahead of my friend.

On the trail traversing the mountainside, I stepped into a clearing in the forest. A loud grunt shattered the stillness and down the slope, I saw a large brown animal. At first, I spread my arms not sure what it was… moose, bear. Then, two little bear cubs ran off into the forest. The mother stood on her hind legs. More snorting as she dropped to all fours and ran uphill towards me. She was about 30 feet away.

It was like a switch clicking on in the back of my mind with all the precautions that I’d ever learned first from my parents, hiking partners, and more experienced friends and official warnings.

Stand still.

Those moments as she came up leaping over the fallen log her paws slashing out sideways. Her gaze pierced me. I closed my eyes to break the glower between us, not knowing what would happen. As I opened my eyes, she was sideways having turned within 2 feet of me. Off she rushed after her cubs.

I realized that we had shared a moment of intense mutual fear, that she was perhaps more afraid of me than I was of her.

My feet shook so hard they bruised from hitting the sides of my boots. My thoughts raced to the friend behind me on the trail. She soon arrived and immediately asked what happened from the look on my face.

Those moments of fear replayed through the night as I tried to sleep. By dawn I came back to the realisation of the shared fear with the mother bear. She was defending her cubs and I have had intruded have on their peaceful feeding in the forest meadow.

My intangible fear of ‘what if’ had materialised as a tangible danger of sights and sounds and presence. The fear returned as ‘what ifs’ but in the moment of most danger my inner brain had taken control of my reactions. My mind was blank, still, my inner mind knew what to do.

Grizzly mother and cubs Colleen

Grizzly mother with young cubs of the year.  Courtesy of and (c) Colleen Campbell 2001

Images courtesy of Colleen Campbell and Noel Rogers https://www.facebook.com/noelrogersphotography/

Samayak: Walking with the Buddhas among us

Again after four years, it is time for the Samayak when all the households with special Buddhist statues in Patan bring them to the big squares in the middle of the old city. The last Samayak was in 2016, just months after the earthquake. A couple of the temples damaged then have since been rebuilt.

First each household brings their ‘deity’ out to the front of their home on the street, where they offer prayers for the journey and gathering. The statues might be any size from six inches tall to huge heads over four feet tall that are worn by a man carrying them. Needless to say, many other family members help guide him on the journey through the streets.

Then, the Buddhas assemble in Patan Durbar Square before moving over to the Nag Bahal Square where tens of thousands of people come the next day to offer their prayers and devotion. The queues to enter the the courtyard stretch for blocks along the nearby road.

Come twilight on the second day, after a procession by the elders of the community, the Buddhas head home with crowds lining the lanes and reaching out to touch the statues as they pass. After a brief rest outside the home or temple, the statues are returned to their secluded homes. Portions of the offerings are shared with community members sitting and waiting in rows

The Buddhas walking among us

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The drums beating, cymbals clashing, devotional singing, and a tall golden-faced figure arrives – a Dipankar Buddha. These ‘walking statues’ belong to groups of families, who keep the statues in their neighborhood shrines. Every five years, all the owners of the statues bring them together in a massive festival. There are usually about 100 large and small statues brought about on display.

The ‘walking statues’ are actually worn by a man inside, who has just a small hole in the statue’s garments to see. There are several people helping to guide and celebrate the procession of the statues, first into the Patan Durbar Square and then to the Nag Bahal courtyard.

The Durbar Square was affected by the April 2015 earthquakes but while some of the temples have timbers supporting them, only one temple was destroyed. Certainly the spirit of the Patan people is intact as they celebrated the occasion.

One family with a small wooden statue, only about two feet high, said that it is perhaps 1,200 years old.

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Experiencing another culture

Life with the Sherpas revealed different ways of seeing the world. It peeled away my preconceived notions. I have come to see that while outside cultures divide us, inner cultures, the core of all religions and beliefs, can bring us together.

Arriving at the ridge crest, each Sherpa companion murmured a prayer and placed a small stone from the path on the cairn with prayer flags. I followed suit, relieved that our trekking group had traveled this path safely.

Further along, we paused and turned out backs as wind and dust blasted across the pastures. We hid our faces in our jackets. Seeing only the ground before me, a premonition — an impact on the back of my head and a sudden sense of nothingness.

I reacted by taking two steps forward. In that instant a thick plank, blown off a nearby hut, hit the back of my ankle. Stunned, I realized that had I not moved, the plank would have struck my head.

This event was my first real experience with the Sherpa perception of place, of the power of these mountains.

Mountain scenery first attracted me to the Himalaya, but the warm, friendly people became my enduring connection. From 1983 to 1989, I had the opportunity and privilege to live and work with Sherpa people in the Khumbu Valley of east Nepal near Mount Everest, helping to create a museum of Sherpa culture at Tengboche monastery.

The Sherpas are renowned through the literature of adventure, where they have earned an international reputation for their work on mountaineering expeditions, especially on Everest. However, this reputation focuses on an occupation, rather than the Sherpas’ rich cultural heritage.

The museum described mostly what the Abbot of Tengboche calls the Sherpas’ “inner culture” and the importance of ceremonies that link their spiritual and physical lives. The preparation of the museum took time because it was essential to first know the people and the many dimensions of their culture in order to accurately and concisely depict it.

While compiling information for the museum, I often found that conversations encompassed aspects of philosophy, psychology, and spirituality. Often the subjects we discussed wandered to the questions we seek to answer with religion or science: How did the earth begin? What happens after death? What is our relationship to nature? To our symbols in the environment?

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Conversations encompassed the metaphysical and the everyday.

Over the years, my questions turned from the intellectual to the intuitive. I began to experience the culture rather than question it. Life with the Sherpas revealed different ways of seeing the world. It peeled away my preconceived notions so that I began to appreciate the significance of rituals, traditions, and symbols. In the process, I was changed.

Sherpa friends introduced me to a new way of seeing the world through everyday life. Whether monk or shepherd, they know who they are and what they believe as “Sherpa people”. I saw an acceptance of mystery and of questions we just cannot answer.

Living in another culture forced me to think about how it works, to confront the ironies and inconsistencies of a different way of being. Soon, I realized that one layer of meaning reveals more queries within. The more one starts to understand, the more one realizes all there is to question and explore.

Looking at other cultures as different from our own, we split the whole into parts. We analyze what we see happening and ask why. For people of the other culture, it is their way of life.

We examine the oddity of different traditions and customs rather than the inner purposes that might bring us into an understanding of the culture. We end up looking at how the “other” culture is different from our culture rather than at our commonness in the wholeness of humankind.

While working on the museum, I started to see and question the ironies of my own culture and gained a new way of looking at myself and at my own way of life. I was moved by what I saw and experienced.

I became a believer in the value of inner culture that manifests itself in everything we do — in small actions in everyday life, in our interactions with everyone we meet, and in what we think and say.

I have come to see that while outside cultures divide us, inner cultures, the core of all religions and beliefs, can bring us together.

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The intention of offerings is most important.