Walking back from town tonight, I passed the temple, curved down the quiet dirt road, and came out at the banks of the river. I began to walk across the bamboo bridge with my head down, my mind in thoughts. Something made me look up.
The sun had set, and the sky was purple. Pale stars were already beginning to appear. Across the river, the cone-shaped roofs of the little wooden huts were black against the sky. White lights dotted the floating bamboo platforms along the edge of the river. I stopped and put my hands on the rail. To the West, the mountains rose up against the sky, black and utterly perfect. To the East, the hills rolled away in every direction, wrapping this little town in a serene embrace. And down the middle ran the river, reflecting back the color of the sky, and the tiny stars that were beginning to appear.
I stood there and looked towards the West, the brighter part of the sky. And as I looked at the lines of the mountains, and the river snaking gently through that green, still land, I too, became still. I wondered, as I often do in the face of such beauty, who the creator of this natural world might be. I felt what it was like to be those mountains- a huge, serene feeling that I pulled into my chest as I breathed- and I wanted to fly to them and mingle with them, and lay down there to rest. I wondered if the mountains knew how beautiful they were, or how perfectly the lights on the river set off their lines. Then I wondered how many other gorgeous views of those mountains were available from every distance and direction- infinite- and I knew that neither I nor the mountains knew the answer. Only god, if there is a god, would know that.
I had the sensation of wanting to taste those mountains, or breathe in their essence, or become them. There is a book (lately a movie) called “Perfume,” in which the notorious protagonist sniffs out the most beautiful women he can find, and then he crushes them to death, and tries to bottle their essence into a perfume. It becomes the most potent perfume in the world, driving men to do crazy things. It is an incredible book, and if you haven’t read it, you should. Looking at those mountains tonight, I had that same sensation. I wanted to crush them, or eat them, or make them mine. It was the same sensation I described a while back, the feeling that women often get when looking at babies, or kittens. Those little creatures are so gorgeously perfect, you want to smoosh them, squeeze them, crush their bodies and inhale their essence. I know, crazy, but true. (To put any worried minds at rest, I would never actually smash a baby or a kitten. I stop at the baby-talking, nose-wrinkling, oohing and ahhing part.)
Looking at those mountains tonight, I was reminded again that so much of what I’ve been learning lately is true. Those mountains have no essence. If I were somehow able to fly out to them like I wanted to, what would I do once I got there? Where would I locate the essence of the mountain, the part that makes it what it is? Where would I find that? Is it in the graceful lines, black against the sky? Maybe, but how do you touch that? Once you got up close, those lines would disappear, like a rainbow you can never quite catch. You can approach it from a million angles, always trying to capture its essence, ingest it, make it yours, but… how? You cannot, and if you think you can, you are mistaken.
That’s what used to frustrate me for so much of my life. I would look at a gorgeous sunset, and say, “I just want to taste it! Or hear what it would sound like as music! Or hold it to my chest! But… how?” There is no way to do that, and a wise person would accept that and just enjoy the sunset, or the mountain, as it is. But for so long, I would look at these things of great beauty and want to do the impossible- make them mine, become them- and I couldn’t, and it hurt me.
If I have learned anything lately, it is that things just are as they are. A mountain is a mountain, and an ant is an ant. I am impulsive, and you are mischievous. The world is at war, and the sky is blue. I can fight it, or I can accept it. I can become frustrated that I can’t fly out to those mountains and fall asleep on their slopes, or… I can swing my legs, breathe in deep, and surrender to what is, right now. So that’s what I did tonight. I accepted everything about the moment- the creaky bridge, the gentle flowing water, my skinny legs swinging back and forth, the smell of smoke from the fires- and in accepting everything just as it was, without fighting it or trying to change it, I was at peace.