Last Words

April 30, 2009 - Charlotte, North Carolina, United States

 

These are the last words I have to say,

That’s why they took so long to write.

There may be other words some other day,

But that’s the story of my life.
-Billy Joel

 

Well, I’m back…back on this blog, back in Charlotte, back into my LIFE.

 

It feels rather like I am starting my life, at least with a fresh understanding of it.

 

There’s an oft used concept about traveling to the ends of the world, only to return home and know it fully for the first time.

 

Well, I can’t quantify “fully”, and I tend to try and avoid exhausted clichés, but I have come back to my life with a relationship to it that is certainly unprecedented for me.

 

I’m not sure if anyone out there is still reading, but I feel as though I want to account for the past couple of months: from my abandonment of this blog until this moment, sitting in my living room – HAH, something about the literal definitions of living and room.  Use them as you please…I bet you could have a philosophical field day with the permutations available from THAT combination.  Or maybe only I would.

 

So there’s a line from a John Mayer song that I have used previously.  The song is 3x5 and it goes:

 

I’m writing you to catch you up on places I’ve been

You got this letter, probably got excited, well there’s nothing else inside it

 

Didn’t have a camera by my side this time

Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes

 

Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to lose my way with words

 

It does my sentiments justice.  After feeling like I was writing a book report on Japan, I arrived in Kathmandu decidedly willing to be entirely self-indulgent.  I wanted to be there for me, to experience it: not to document it.

 

I left my camera in my bag, stopped composing anecdotes in my head that I thought would appeal to family and friends and just experienced.

 

Here’s what I experienced those first days in Kathmandu: misery/emptiness/sadness/loneliness/purposelessness.

 

I’ll attempt to describe what it felt like.

I’m sitting here, with my face in one hand, (no, right now I mean-as I write this).  I’m trying to think of how to describe myself.  The problem might lie in the word think.  Let’s go with feel. 

 

It was like falling out of love.  It was like: what am I doing here?  I thought I wanted this-I don’t want any of this anymore.  I’ve seen all of this before.  It’s all just more STUFF! More markets.  More Temples.  More religious festivals. More handbags. More tourist scams.  More poverty.  It’s not that I find it offensive, but I equally DO NOT find it intriguing. 

 

It all just IS.

 

Example: I’m walking, because I have NOTHING else to do but walk, in a direction for 4 hours, then turn around and come back.  Nothing else interests me….it’s all just STUFF!  So, I am walking through and past a level of poverty incomparable to anything I’ve seen in 6 continents and 40 countries.  Parts were nothing but a cesspool of filth, decay and death.  I pass countless HUMAN BEINGS- just like me – only they are eating garbage from the streets, or missing limbs, or completely disfigured, or have wounds exposed and untreated and covered in puss.  And the overwhelming feeling that I feel is: well, here it is: poverty.  It IS.

 

The whole thing just was.  It’s poverty man.  It’s not intriguing.  Not interesting.  Nor offensive.  It IS.  I felt like I was just experiencing poverty in its IS-NESS.  Like I couldn’t look at things through a looking glass anymore: I didn’t have the ability to think Oh, WOW, isn’t that interesting.

 

Another Example: I walk down to Pashupatinath for Shiva Ratri: the biggest festival devoted to the God Shiva in the world (I am told).  Hundreds of thousands of people lined up to pay homage.  Cripples, beggars, lepers, children with half a face, bodies with no limbs: they all lay in the streets begging for a handout from the devotees.  Then there’s people dancing, singing, all sorts of ritual and ceremony, all varieties of food and celebration.  I am just walking through it.  I feel nothing.  It’s just stuff, MORE STUFF!  I wasn’t angry, interested, disgusted, I mean I saw it without judgment or personal interest.  Very enlightened?  It felt very POINTLESS.  What the hell am I DOING here?

 

So I stroll down to the burning Ghats and watch as the men responsible for the fires arrange the wood and as the male family members carry the dead body over to be burned.  I’ve got no where to go.  I sit.  For 30 minutes I watch.  The body burns, passers-by walk seemingly unaware of what’s happening until the smoke smacks them in the face- then they cringe, cover their mouths and hasten their step.  The wife and daughter wail, the guys behind me play cards while listening to Mary J. Blige and Ludakris.  I sit and watch with nothing.  No emotion, no spiritual breakthrough on the impermanence of life, not even discomfort as the ashes begin to blow onto me with a change in wind. 

 

Very EMPTY.

 

What I was going through could be, if you wanted to use semantics, defined as some progress in enlightenment.

 

There I was, in Kathmandu, wanting nothing (desirelessness), feeling nothing (detachment), planning nothing (presence).  No expectations, no demands.  Very liberated?

 

How I would describe it was I felt empty, purposeless, and alone.  What am I going to do.  There’s NO-Where to go, NO-Thing to do, see, eat.  There’s no forward here.  Go back?  Doesn’t feel right.  Sure, it was a reactionary answer: Let’s go home.  Something inside of me suggested I stay.

 

SO, I spent a month in Kathmandu.  Almost literally doing nothing.  It was as if I signed up for a month in an Ashram with no distractions, no desires, no planning, indulging, communicating.  Just me and me.  EXCEPT, I had neither the serenity nor the surroundings of an ashram: I was in the loudest, filthiest, most chaotic and sensually overwhelming city I have ever visited.

 

I sat

I reflected

I allowed EVERYTHING

 

I simultaneously experienced depression, loneliness and purposelessness along with a deep pervading calm in the midst of it all: Here I am, let it be. Let it ALL be.

 

Then I left for Everest.

 

I wasn’t even going to go:  just more STUFF it felt.

Well, I’m here, I might as well go.

 

I left myself a month to 45 days.  I’d trek up Everest, with no particular plan, goal, itinerary, expectations or demands.  I didn’t really care how far I got.  I had a direction.  So I would just wake up and walk, in that direction, for as far as I wanted, day after day, until I was done.  Then I’d decide what next.

 

That’s what I did.

 

I walked.

 

In Forrest Gump, he decided to run.  The voice-over has Forrest describing what it was like:

 

Well, I ran.  When I was hungry, I ate.  When I was tired, I slept.  And when I had to go…well….I went.

 

I think it describes well what my experience was like.  Of course the scenery was miraculous: spectacular beyond description or captivation.  But for the first 3 weeks or so, I never took out my camera.

 

I was at peace. 

 

Here’s the most poetic I’ll get:

As I explored the highest places on earth, I was simultaneously exploring the deepest places in my soul.

 

I walked and just was.  Thoughts came up, feelings, reflections, debates, conclusions.  I spent many hours talking with myself and ultimately I came to some interesting realizations.

 

I realized that No-THING in my life is wrong.  Nothing needs to be fixed or worked on.  I’ve got this amazing life.  The WHOLE BAG.  THE WHOLE FRIGGIN’ THING.  It’s just waiting for me to come ENJOY it.  It’s like I’ve been sitting at the buffet table for the past 29 years and I never realized that the bell was ringing: GO EAT!!!!

 

I had this overwhelming, all-pervasive FEELING of the completeness of my life: the wholeness.  It came only in glimpses but when I caught it felt like this:

 

EVERYTHING IS OK

 

I’m talking a sense of calm and peace beyond conceptual description.  It was always easy to say: boy I sure am lucky, boy, life sure is great- or whatever.  I mean the concepts weren’t EVER foreign to me.  I knew the words, the ideas.  HELL, I even USE them in my profession.

 

But, here I was, catching a glimpse of total PEACE.

 

THEN it vanishes.  I mean we’re talking a glimpse here.  Then the thoughts, the planning, the structuring, the judging, the worrying, the fears…they all come crashing in again.  I am, again, a thinking human being.

 

But I had a glimpse.  Glimpses.

 

And man, are they TRUE.  I mean TRUE beyond dispute.  EVERYTHING’S OK.

Over and over again, like a mantra.

 

So I spent my month in the Himalaya repeating the mantra.  Not any particular one, but whatever was needed at the moment.

 

Say I am walking along, on my way up to 4300 m (or whatever) and I find myself thinking: I wonder if it’s gonna start to snow, I wonder how much further it is, I wonder, what if, I should, I shoudn’t have-blah blah blah.

 

And I stop, and I REMEMBER…EVERYTHING’S OK.  Not just in words, but I left it flow through every cell of my body, like an electric shock of inner-peace.

 

And this is what I do for a month.  I keep PRACTICING peace.  It’s not like I get to flip a switch, or have an epiphany. There’s no instant enlightenment.  Just a moment of realizing something that feels so profoundly TRUE.  And if I can practice realizing it, REMEMBERING it, again and again- moment by moment- I get to BUILD MOMENTS. 

 

Well, in this moment – EVERYTHING, I mean EVERYTHING IS OK.  I just earned one moment. 

 

Then I go back to being me: The whole ego-mind-trip.  Then I remember.  And there’s my game, my practice. Moments build.

 

And I progressed immeasurably little- but enough.

 

I am still me.  After each of my other “adventures”: months/years abroad, doing whatever crazy thing I was doing, I always came back quite different.

 

This time I am not.  I am very much the same me.  I might say entirely the same, but with the memory of a glimpse.

 

I am so me it feels at the same time SO-real and Surreal.  Because something shifted.  I realized, if even for a moment, how amazingly AVAILABLE my life was to be lived.  I just had to choose to enjoy it.  Bell’s ringing: GO EAT…What are you waiting for?

 

And I realized how GREAT of a life I have to eat from.  And I didn’t want to wait any longer.  I wanted my family and my friends and my favorite things.  My “Journey” felt over.  I felt satisfied: satiated in my questing.

 

There’s the scene at the end of the movie “When Harry Met Sally”.  Harry, alone on New Year’s Eve, realizes that he LOVES Sally.  He goes racing through the streets of New York, crashes the party she’s at, grabs her as she asks him to please leave and he proclaims:

 

“I realized that I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want to rest of your life to begin immediately.”

 

Well, that pretty well describes the feeling.  I Loved myself, I loved my life and all it’s characters, dramas, components.  People, places, things, experiences.  I wanted to get back to it immediately.

 

At the end of the Wizard of Oz, in a self-revelation, Dorothy realizes that everything she could ever have wanted was right in her own backyard - IF she had wanted it hard enough.

 

Dorothy: Well, I-I think that it, that it wasn't enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em, and it's that if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard because, if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?
Glinda: That's all it is!
Scarecrow: But that's so easy! I should've thought of it for you -
Tin Man: I should have felt it in my heart -
Glinda: No, she had to find it out for herself.

 

SO, I raced down from Mount Everest (in a journey of extraordinary incidents) and booked a flight home – well, actually to Raleigh to be at UNC for my mom’s graduation as a surprise.

 

I feel entirely confident in my decision.

 

I feel equally confident in the fact that the depth and power of whatever “glimpses” or experiences I had up there will be as elusive as the snow leopard.  I DO NOT expect much of a change in my life, at least not a drastically measurable one.  HOWEVER, as subtle as my shift in realization may be, it is cosmically significant. 

It will be a practice.

 

I remember when I realized compassion.  Without qualifying my compassion in comparison to anyone else out there, I can say this:  I hit a level of compassion some years ago that was so incredibly beyond anything that I have ever experienced that it felt as close as I have ever come to being something of ABSOLUTE proportions.  It was the feeling of LOVING EVERYBODY UNCONDITIONALLY: understanding that they, like me, are fighting a difficult battle, and I love them without judgement.  Then it hit levels of no difference: them/me = same.  Another me.  Then just me, just one.  Oh, hello me.  Different packaging, same me.  But these were just glimpses.  And I’m back into my ego: “screw him, she’s better than me.  I hope I win”.  Just like the rest of us – I SPECULATE.

 

YET, underneath it all, still right there for me, right here for me is ABSOLUTE compassion.  It’s always available to me.  So, while, I don’t RESIDE in this place.  I am back to being me on a daily basis but I am simultaneously tapped into this infinite sea of compassion.  I never really have to buy into my judgments.  I don’t even need to stop them.  I can let my ego do its thing; it’s of no threat to me, because right there-right here available to me in every moment is infinite compassion.  I just remember.  It’s BOTH at once.

 

I hope that a similar experience proves true for my glimpse of peace, contentment, serenity.  I expect it’ll be a practice.  Compassion was me and “them”.  Peace is me and ME.  I find it infinitely more challenging.

 

Well, there’s the best I can do.  It’s as honest as I can be at the moment.  It’s all NOTHING like I described it, but describing it is the best I can do.  It’s not dissimilar to the pictures I can show you of Everest.  They won’t, they can’t capture the depth, the power, even the subjectivity of what the experience of looking upon Mount Everest is like.  It’s a picture.  You get the idea. 

 

It’s the best we can do

 


25 Comments

Steffie:
April 30, 2009
Welcome home! I was thinking about you yesterday. When you feel ready to venture out, let's meet for coffee or a walk in the park. I missed you. Big hugs.
Ellayne:
April 30, 2009
So good to hear from you!! Welcome home!! Can't wait to catch up-I missed you alot! So funny because Ira and I were in Raleigh last week and you were on my mind. Love and hugs, Ellayne
Kaaren:
April 30, 2009
I didn't know how very much I missed you until I just read your email - welcome home! I can't wait to see you again...to talk, to compare, to heal. Thank you for sharing - compassion is such a wonderful thing...and everything will be OK!
Lecia:
April 30, 2009
Holy crap! You're back!! Good thing I didn't drink all your wine :-) Please call/email me when you're unpacked as I'm dying to see you!
Rodney:
April 30, 2009
Amazing.
Just Be.
Welcome home.
Marcia:
April 30, 2009
I think everyone needs to read what you said about loving without judgement, everyone is going through difficulties -- Love that my friend!! So happy you are back on our soil. Miss you, love you tons :) xooxox
Mara:
April 30, 2009
A brilliant commentary on a full, authentic yoga practice.
Nice to have you home....did you ever meet Andrey in Kathmandu?
om
April 30, 2009
I still think you should have taken a picture :-)


Glad to have you back!
Katy:
April 30, 2009
Thank you for sharing your experiences. It's nice to be reminded that you're not alone in this world. On Monday, I will be heading back home to Alabama to gain some new perspective. Thank you for all you have shown me. Much love, peace and hope.
dee:
April 30, 2009
Hey welcome back yoga basics just isn't the same with out you. I had a healthy baby boy Lincoln on 4-3-2009 and would love to share with you his pictures. The long labor helped me explore one of the many yoga techniques I got from you actually... I have never om-ed so loudly in my life : ) that made for interesting talk in the hospital halls I am sure... Delivery via drum music was the only way to go. Little Link is happy to be in a world.
tachi:
April 30, 2009
Welcome back!!!!!!!!!!!! We have missed you!!!I read your last words. You are am amazing guy, Billy. Come by Trinity. I'd love to see you. We all would. Hugs to you, my friend. Tachi
linda:
May 1, 2009
Oh, Billy...what a letter! I want everyone I know to read it, think about it, find a seed within it that they can grow, even without traveling to the far ends of the earth. Can we have dinner soon? Massie is home (still looking for a job) and he is an amazing cook. Call Hardin and me and let's set it up. Welcome home, my friend!
May 1, 2009
Billy,

Great to read about your journey of awakening. Thanks for sharing -- would be great to catch up (in person) the next time you're in/around NYC and talk about your trip!

Welcome back!

Christopher
Aunt Elena:
May 1, 2009
Billy,
Glad to hear your back safe and sound. I worried about you. Now I feel better....LOL Make it fun and enjoy....

Love,
Aunt Elena
Lisa:
May 1, 2009
I am thrilled that you are safely home! You taught me to breathe. I hope you'll be teaching again soon!
Michael:
May 1, 2009
I really wondered what happened to you and your journey and was very happy to read such a great piece.....having traveled also extensively I also learned to leave the camera in the bag....
and
I wish since moving here to get a 'fresh start' that loving unconditionally would be practiced by others and the realization that 'moving to a new place' your history follows you everywhere in this age of the internet and google... it just IS...
hoping to see you soon.....
great writing man...welcome back !!
carlos:
May 1, 2009
would love to be with you--pls call me 704 890 0236
Aunt Bonnie:
May 3, 2009
Hi there,

So glad that you are home safe and sound.
Talk to you soon.
Love,
Aunt Bonnie
Becky:
May 3, 2009
You have been in my mind big time as of late. Have been dealing with a few stressful situations. I've been trying to fathom what you would say to help me shift from my ego in reacting to and experiencing difficult situations to a more detached but more healthy place. I go to your blog to find out where you are in your journeys and here you are, right at home, right where many of us need you to be! I'm glad that you really want to be here too. Welcome back. Whenever you're ready for a mega-walk, let me know.
Dorie:
May 6, 2009
You always inspired me with just your breathe - but this is more beautiful than my words could ever convey. Kudos to you for sharing such a beautiful journey.
diane cevallos:
May 7, 2009
Beautiful!
robin:
May 8, 2009
Hi, Billy. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on your experience. Your mother must have been thrilled! Don’t know if teaching is included in any of your immediate plans but please keep us posted. Welcome back. :)
Maria:
May 9, 2009
Welcome back! Glad to know you're safe and well. I enjoyed reading your writings. You have a really nice way of expressing your thoughts and feelings.
Peace and love!
Judy:
May 11, 2009
What a journey! Welcome home. I am so happy for you.
Lots of love,
Judy
May 15, 2009
Namaste!!!
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