Jan 03, 2022
19 mins read
When I was four years old, my family left my hometown situated in a rural area to move to a less remote region. Since I was the only child of my parents, they had been so keen to provide me with a comfortable atmosphere when it comes to essentials like education. That was the main reason which caused my parents leaving the town where they spent the first forty-three years of their lives.
I personally think it’s fair enough to say that till the age of sixteen, I made the most of what my parents did for me. I have studied in two schools. I studied in the first one till grade 5 and after passing the government-held grade 5 scholarship examination in Sri Lanka, I had the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious boys’ schools in our country capital, Colombo. That’s where I completed the rest of my schooling and until the beginning of grade 12, I used to be a good student. The thing is after that period, some mental health conditions dragged me to the dark preventing me from functioning well in my studies which I used to cherish a lot but that’s a story for another time.
When I was moving ahead in my life getting busy with stuff that required my time and attention, I rarely had the space to visit my hometown. Also, I had fallen in love with the small town I had been living in since the age of four. To this day, I call that town home even if it’s not where I was born. But it doesn’t mean that I had totally removed my hometown from my heart. In fact, all my maternal and paternal relatives live there. At the time I was thriving and living my life with success they genuinely enjoyed it. Even if I rarely got to meet them, they didn’t forget to send their compliments my way by calling or texting. Therefore, there was always a special place in my heart for the place I was born. However, eventually, when the circumstances changed and life began to give me a hard time dramatically turning the tables, the mental distance between me and my hometown began to grow. In fact, my visits to that particular village were limited to a maximum of twice a three years.
Given this situation, about two and a half years ago when I was told that our family is going to offer alms to a Buddhist monastery situated in my hometown, my mind was filled with mixed feelings. First of all, of course, there was excitement. As I mentioned earlier, recently I had been rarely getting chances to visit my hometown. But what fueled my excitement the most was the fact that I had never been to that particular monastery before. It’s very famous in the local community for the charming surroundings where it’s located. In fact, it stands on a mountain while being surrounded by a jungle. And the house in which I spent the first four years of my childhood is situated at the bottom of that mountain.
Along with these positive thoughts, there came the remorse too. After all, personally, I think the person I am today is not the person I dreamed to be. My mental health struggles which have been keeping me in a restless state for over fifteen years took everything from me making me completely vulnerable. The dreams I used to cherish as a kid have been taken far away from me. The youngster who once used to be bright and energetic showing a promising future was no longer in my persona. But the actual problem which concerned me in this particular situation was none of my relatives in my hometown knew what I was going through. The reason was simple. I cover my current condition very well with clever lies. I know the act itself is completely unacceptable. And every time I have to come up with something false to hide my current state, I regret it a lot. The thing is, mainly the stigma attached to mental issues in our society and the class-oriented nature in Sri Lanka have been pushing me to act in a way I don’t agree with. I don’t want anybody who reads this to take those factors as an excuse and I have enough sense to realize that I’m not making any good impression telling these things either. After all, I’m not the only person in the world who lost his or her charm due to mental disorders, and what matters the most is how we think of ourselves rather than the opinion of others. However, unfortunately, I’m not still strong enough to defy those social norms and stand against them. In fact, for me, being brutally honest with an online community like this is kind of relieving though it’s really uncomfortable to do the same in my local community. And I kindly request you not to have a wrong impression about my country based on those two characteristics I mentioned above. This is a place where very rare moral values are displayed but as you can understand, it’s not Utopia after all. At least, not at the moment.
So, as you can see, visiting my hometown means having to answer various types of questions from my relatives, and that ultimately leads to me doing something I regret later. But the very feeling of finally having the opportunity to visit that Buddhist temple for the very first time was worth the pain awaiting.
On the 15th of November 2017, I set my foot in my very first childhood home after several years. My parents had reached there the day before my arrival in order to arrange everything for the almsgiving. When I stepped on the compound of our old house, memories and thoughts began to flood into my mind as usual. I remembered the genuine kid who used to find happiness in simple things. Those satisfying, carefree days rapidly appeared out of the blue and disappeared to nowhere. I took some time to dwell in a mental realm while my eyes were set on the river that flowed nearby our land. It looked a bit aggressive due to the rain that had fallen the previous night.
Everything was set by 8 am and I had a light breakfast. What’s in front of us was the most difficult and interesting stage of the mission. The hiking!
Unlike me, my parents were no strangers to this monastery but they hadn’t been there since the last time they paid a visit about thirty years ago. Therefore, a family friend who lived nearby our old home joined us as a guide. Also, he kindly offered to carry some of the stuff we were supposed to take to the monastery. Hence, for ease, I’ll call him uncle.
As someone who is desperately looking for ways to gain peace of mind, I was looking forward to making this trip a turning point in my recovery. I don’t know why but when we took our first few steps uphill, the first thing that came to mind was the scene in Rocky 4 movie where Sylvester Stallone trains for his fight against Dolph Lundgren. There is this particular moment where Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) shouts his opponent’s name ‘Drago’ (Dolph Lundgren) standing on a mountain at the climax of his old school training. Well, although I didn’t want to literally shout like that in the first place, I wanted this tiresome effort to add some value to my life.
Hiking had to be done in a very careful manner. Because of the rain that had fallen for the last few days, the path was very slippery. Also, the way was very steep. It was so steep that at some points our knees almost touched our chins in our attempts to go up. In addition to that, there were blood-sucking leeches that aimed out feet.
I carried a heavy basket that contained rice. Uncle and I were wearing slippers. My parents warned me several times to remove the slippers and walk barefoot since the slipperiness of the path. I’m not encouraging anybody to do what I did but at the moment, I didn’t listen to my parents.
I just relied on my instinct.
Whenever I felt like I must be careful with my next step, I made sure to be protective of myself. Therefore, even if I was new to this mountain, throughout the hike, I didn’t slip or have any accidents.
As someone who has been struggling with conditions like OCD, perfectionism, and analysis paralysis for many years, I exactly know the importance of instinct. The chemical imbalance in the brain caused by those issues tricks somebody to doubt one’s own instinct and perception which is absolutely devastating. In the end, he or she spends a large amount of time and energy but gains almost nothing at the end.
With or without somebody’s acknowledgment, instinct plays a very important role in one’s life. It’s always good to listen to the opinions of others with experience. However, at some points in our life, what matters the most is the things that spontaneously come from within. Be it walking on a slippery, steep trail or be it investing in a project, you know exactly what I mean.
Hiking a steep, slippery trail while carrying heavy stuff is a very tiresome job. In fact, someone has to be in a very good physical condition to deal with one like we were going along at the moment. For most of my life, I’ve been in fairly good physical condition. In my childhood, my passion for cricket led me to playing the sport for hours with my father and friends. Later, I began a fitness routine of my own and did stick to it even at the time my mental health was betraying me. I’m not exaggerating but I personally believe that my own circumstances with physical strength had to do something with heredity. As a matter of fact, my father and grandfather are known for the outstanding physical strength they possessed when they were young in their family and the community they dealt with. Speaking of my father, even if he is someone who tires his body well to this day he hasn’t had any formal training. And I’ve experienced his feats of strength firsthand.
I wasn’t as gifted as my father. But at the time I used to be physically active, I managed to remain very strong for my body size and age. However, in my early twenties, I had to give up working out since my issues became my priority. After that, I rarely had the opportunity to engage in a physical activity that tested my stamina. Therefore, when I heard about this hike, I wasn’t delusional enough to think that I still had the physical fitness I used to have before. After all, by the time this incident happened, I was slightly overweight and had to stay physically dormant due to the side effect of my medication. However, when I was preparing myself for this trip, I believed that at least I still got a bit of what I used to have in my prime.
But twenty minutes into hiking, I realized that I was dead wrong. My limbs began to hurt and I was panting heavily. Both my body and mind got completely exhausted. Compared to me, my father and mother who were in their late sixties were doing a far better job.
A healthy body and a mind someone gains at birth is a great gift itself. But most of the time gifts get wasted if somebody doesn’t take care of them properly. As you know, the more you beat metal, the stronger it becomes. Therefore, you must utilize your body and mind. You must exercise them well. Otherwise, they will be dormant ultimately making you regret in the end.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
Having been a villager who regularly deals with this type of environment, uncle moved ahead with ease without even panting. I was amazed to hear that he had been carrying 50 kg cement sacks, one at a time, to the temple along this trail for repairs. He was of average build but years of performing laborious tasks had given him the ability to adapt to these types of scenarios easily. I always tried to keep pace with him. The way he effortlessly did the hiking motivated me to keep my feet working towards the front.
If someone can find the motivation and inspiration within himself and be self-sufficient, unarguably it’s a precious thing. At the end of the day, that means he has mastered himself.
“Be content with what you have; Rejoice the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
But sometimes humans need a stimulant from the external world. And accepting that stimulant shows one’s humility and the desire to grow not being a victim of ego.
About forty-five minutes after we started climbing, I began to feel thirsty. On our way, we had passed a few fountains and I was eager to meet the next one to quench my thirst. Fortunately, after about fifteen minutes, we could see the next one. Since it was a jungle, the water was crystal clear. I drank water non-stop as much as I needed just using my hands. Even if the activity sounded really simple, at the moment, it affected me in a different way. After all, while living in an urbanized area in the present, I usually don’t get the chance to experience that feeling.
It reinforced the truth of Chief Seattle’s words.
“We are part of the earth and she is part of us. Man has not woven the net of life. He is just a part of it. All the things are connected. All things are bound up in each other like the blood that binds the family.”
Currently, we live in an era that requires us being on the run all the time. And at the end of the day, many might be left with physical, mental, and emotional scars. As I mentioned earlier, I have my firsthand experience regarding that and my mental and emotional struggles have caused a few physical issues too. Hiking through a jungle consuming fresh air and water didn’t magically erase all my troubles. But having to get touched by all the treasures mother nature has profusely produced for me increased my hope for healing.
And according to Buddhism, if you examined nature aka yourself in the right way, you can attain the eternal peace called Nirvana.
It took us one and half hours to reach the temple. My shirt had been wet due to the sweat and my body was in a satisfying pain because of the heavy workout I had in several years. While my parents and uncle were preparing the stuff for almsgiving, I took off the shirt and sat on the floor giving myself some time to rest and absorb the new atmosphere.
Only one monk and his helper lived in the temple. Their lives were very simple and they were self-sufficient in the very few things they had. When I got to know that the monk was in his seventies, I couldn’t believe my ears. To be honest, he looked like someone who was in his mid-fifties. Later, when I had some space to converse with him, I could realize that he’s someone who tries his best to act upon the core teachings of Buddhism. His calm and content nature illuminated his outer appearance.
Having come across him caused me reflecting on a conversation that took place between the Buddha and a god from a different realm more than 2000 years ago.
The god:- “Blessed one, it’s so pleasant to see the monks who live in monasteries situated in deep forests. They dine only once a day and rely on minimal necessities. Yet they look really comfortable and their skin glows in golden color. What’s the exact cause behind this?”
The Buddha:- “These monks don’t dwell in the past. They don’t dream of the future. They are content with what they have. They work towards their salvation only focusing on the present.”
After accepting the alms we offered the monk sermonized some of Buddha’s teachings in a really simple yet fascinating manner. I was totally mesmerized by his words. After listening to the dharma sermon, I began to feel more relaxed. It was one of those rare moments I get to feel serenity without having to be on my psychiatric medication.
Later, uncle fetched us to see the cliff near the monastery. It was about 800 feet high. And I must admit that sometimes heights make me really uncomfortable. Therefore, I made sure to be extra careful when I stood by the edge of the cliff looking down.
The mountain wind was blowing everywhere wiping the daily physical and mental exhaustion off us. As if it had some sort of healing power, it could distract me from the unnecessary existential burden I’ve been carrying for years for a moment.
While looking down being on the top of the cliff, I let some random thoughts wander into my mind and take shelter in the deepest place of my subconscious.
I remembered the effort we all had to make to reach the top of the mountain from the bottom. It was a really tiresome exercise. However, we could make it at the end and the peace of the mind we were able to experience during the short period of time we spent in the temple was worth all the hardships we had to endure.
Approximately, it took us about 90 minutes to get there from the bottom. But what about going down? Probably, it was not going to be as difficult as going up. Actually, from where I was standing (the edge of the cliff), it was just a leap away.
Almost every time, this nature of things resonates with scenarios in our day-to-day life.
In life, sometimes it may take us years of hard work and persistence to achieve something we desire, let’s say, to build a comforting atmosphere around us. But if we made a single wrong move, perhaps the downfall of the things we earned with our blood and sweat may happen within a few seconds. Everything you had built might collapse in a moment.
And it’s true that we had to go through so much pain to construct everything from the scratch. But probably, the pain that awaits us after we lost everything is bigger than the one we endured on our way to fulfillment.
And finally, we may know many words of wisdom but in life, if we have to come across incidents where we are constantly reminded of the essence of those words again and again and if we regret our past actions when these scenarios reinforce the truth of those wise words, most likely we have failed to act upon those precious teachings. Maybe we have fallen into the same pit we fell at night in the noon also.
But the most important thing is failing again and again doesn’t matter as long as someone has the intention to move towards betterment. Maybe that person already had what it takes to get himself where he wanted by himself but his approach was wrong. Or else maybe she wasn’t in a position to help herself due to certain reasons and fell behind. Anyway, whatever the circumstances are, we must make sure to keep in our minds that hope and help are always there. No matter how frustrating it is, we have to keep looking. It’s just a matter of time.
As I was looking down contemplating things, suddenly an uninvited guest began to interfere with the flow of my mind. The thing is my inner self wondered how long I’ll be able to enjoy this peaceful state of mind.
As I mentioned earlier, I barely get to experience such calm moods without medication. So, no wonder I needed to dwell in that tranquility more and more.
However, I had enough sense to realize the uncertainty and the temporariness of things. Even medically cleared, clinically normal individuals sometimes don’t get the chance to stick to stuff that makes them comfortable for a long time even if they wanted to. Therefore, I didn’t blame my pendulum-like psyche that was going to take the pleasure away from me at the end of the day. Rather than being anxious about what was about to happen, I focused on enjoying the moment.
And most importantly, when it comes to cases like mine there is no quick-fix. But I know that it’s going to be fixed someday if I kept working towards it with consistency. In fact, you can’t take down a huge rock by a single shot from a sledgehammer. And the more you keep hitting it, the more you begin to feel the resistance of the hard rock that wants to discourage you by making you weary. But if you kept digging the right spots with a good mixture of consistency and persistence, eventually the rock will be in pieces.
And always remember, it’s just a matter of time.