The Shambhala Journey: Part 1

You always begin a journey right where you are. You’re here in your hometown, a place you know well and make your way through every day. You see cars, drive and hear the sound of traffic. You can see hundreds of trees, birds and squirrels. You can feel the heat of the summer. You go to work each day at a job you really like, and in your spare time you do the normal things – run errands, go to the store and such. On the weekends you enjoy time in your comfortable home with your family and friends, having meals or watching movies together. It’s a very ordinary life, but you’re happy in it, satisfied with your typical routine. It isn’t exciting, but that’s just fine with you. Things are going pretty well, and honestly you really wouldn’t want them to be different. Who would want to change this pleasant, day-to-day world?

Then imagine that one day on the weekend you’re out window shopping, stopping in at small stores and boutiques. As you shop, you see a bookstore you’ve never noticed before and on a whim you go in; inside it’s a little dusty and dim, and the shelves are packed with every type of book you can think of, definitely on old-fashioned place. A book lover, you are amazed you’ve never discovered it before. As you squeeze your way toward the back of the store, you accidently knock over a small display of a new book by the Dalai Lama, ‘The Golden Thread: the Path to Shambhala’, but you catch most of them. Placing them back on the table, you realize that as much as you’d like to browse, you can probably use a cup of coffee.

You begin to walk toward the coffee shop down the street. It’s a cool but bright, sunny day, and you’re enjoying the walk.

A few doors down from you, you notice a large black bird perched on a bike rack. At first you think it’s a crow, but as you draw closer you can see it is way too big to be a crow – this is a raven. You keep walking toward it, and it seems to be intently staring at you as you come nearer. A little nervous to walk by, you hesitate, and just then the raven spreads its glossy black wings. Launching itself into the air it flies just inches above your head, almost touching you. Then it flies off over the trees. It’s a very odd encounter, but by the time you get to the coffee shop and order, you’ve pretty much forgotten about it.

Picking up your cup, you decide on a table outside in the warm sunshine. Settling into your chair, you begin planning the rest of your day. A movement catches your eye, and in complete surprise you see that the raven seems to have followed you. It flies to the railing on the patio and perches, grooming its glossy black feathers for a moment. Looking steadily at you, it walks down the railing to stand next to a man sitting at another table who also begins looking at you intently. He glances at the raven, then looks at you again, smiling, almost as if he knows you. Quickly you look down to avoid meeting his gaze. The raven caws loudly, seeming to try and get your attention and after a moment, you look back over at the man. Now the raven is standing on his table next to him.

You see he’s wearing heavy black glasses, a thick dark red wool sweater and heavy boots, even though it isn’t cold at all. He is reading a book, and strangely, it’s the same book you knocked over at the bookstore, you can read the title, ‘The Golden Thread: the Path to Shambhala’. As you’re considering all of these odd coincidences, he suddenly stands up and begins walking quickly, straight toward you. Before you even have time to react he is right there next to you. But he doesn’t stop as you expect; instead he keeps walking briskly, and as he moves past your table he lays the book down and says, “Here, you need this.” and is gone before you can respond.

Puzzled, you pick it up, wondering what the title means. The Dalai Lama smiles at you from the cover. Turning it over, thinking this isn’t anything you’d ever pick out for yourself to read, you leaf through the pages, the paper smooth under your fingers. The raven caws loudly one more time, and flies straight past you again, once again almost touching you; you can feel the gust of air from its wings. Startled, you look back down at the book, and on impulse, you think “Why not?” Finishing your coffee, you stand, pick up the book and head home to read this gift you received from a stranger, thinking what a strange morning it’s been.

At home you sit down to read, in your comfortable chair with a warm blanket across your lap. Opening the book, you begin. You’re enjoying it much more than you expected – even though it’s unfamiliar, many of the things it says make so much sense you can’t believe you haven’t heard them before.

You can’t stop reading; the words feel like they are drawing you forward. Lost in the book, you begin to become a little drowsy, but you really don’t want to put it down. Determined, you keep reading, drifting in and out of a light sleep. Passages from the book seem to follow you as you drift and you are unable to keep your eyes open. Eventually, you fall deeply asleep and begin to dream.

In your dream, you wake up in your chair with your book in your lap and look around your living room.
The raven is perched on your mantle – it was watching you while you slept. It stretches its wings, and you can hear its feathers rustle as it jumps down to the floor. It hops into your kitchen, feet tapping on the floor, looking back over its shoulder at you as you follow it across the room.

Sitting at your dining table is the man from the coffee shop – you recognize him, he is wearing the same glasses and sweater as before, and he has your book with him. You’re a little surprised, but it also makes some sort of dream sense, and you don’t feel worried at all by his sudden appearance. Taking a cup of hot tea he offers you, you sit down at the table and begin to thank him for the book. Excitedly you tell him how it made you feel to read it, that sense of the Dalai Lama’s words drawing your forward toward something or somewhere. You tell him that even though you never expected to, you want to follow those words to see where they lead you and ask if he knows how you can start. Elated, smiling at him eagerly, you pause and wait for his response.

“What makes you even think you can do it?” he asks. “It won’t be easy, not at all. You have no idea what you’re doing, or even really where you’re going. You’ll probably hate it. You’ll probably give up, and then what? Why should I waste my time?”

This is not what you expected. Surprised, feeling a little nervous but also a little defiant, you tell the man that he’s wrong about you, he doesn’t even know you, and that with his help or without it you are determined to start. He shrugs his shoulders, stands, and gestures you onward. The raven flies down to the floor in front of you, and hopping forward leads you out, through your open front door.

Starting down your front walkway, it seems far, far longer than normal and after walking quite awhile you see it divides into several dirt paths. At this point you have no idea where you are, but it certainly isn’t your neighborhood. Looking behind you, you see nothing familiar at all, not even your own house. A little disoriented, you finally decide to just pick a path at random and hope you find help.

Beginning to walk again, you start to worry. How will you ever find your way all alone? What if things become worse? You think, ‘This is just stupid, and pointless. I’m going back home; I’m not wasting any more of my time and I don’t even know why I decided to do this in the first place’. Annoyed and frustrated, you turn back the way you came.

Except, it isn’t the way you came, not at all.

The path looks completely different; it even goes in a different direction than it had been. It’s flat and grassy; there’s a cold wind chilling you to the bone, there are no people or houses around and it feels completely isolated. Not only that, but it’s getting dark even though it’s too early. Now you’re really, really worried, as you realize you have no idea where you are.

Turning in a circle, stumbling a bit, you feel totally disoriented. As you’re standing there, you hear a now-familiar rush of wings. The raven appears out of the gathering dusk and swoops past you, carrying something in its beak. It flies right over your shoulder and lands on a fallen tree nearby. It carefully places the object on the log; you can see that it’s a small box. The raven caws at you loudly. It hops toward you, then back toward the object, looking back at you as it does. It does this twice more, and then suddenly it explodes into the air flying straight toward you. Fast and powerful, it flies past you, until you can no longer see it in the gathering darkness.

Curious, you make your way over to the log. Sitting on the rough wood, trying to keep your balance on the uneven trunk, you pick up the box. It’s small, about 2”x2”, like a gift box. Turning it over, you can feel the paper it’s made from under your hand. A string is tied around it. Attached to the string is a paper tag with writing on it – It’s dark now and hard to see, but you can just barely make out the words. It says, ‘Here, you need this’. Holding the tag, you stare at it in disbelief- that is exactly what the man at the café said about the book. Hesitantly, you open the box. The lid is snug, and you have to tug to get it off. Inside is a layer of soft gold brocade cloth, along with another tag that just says ‘mala’.

Lifting the brocade out carefully, you hold it in your hand feeling its smooth weave and heavy embroidery. Reaching into the box you lift out a string of beads. It’s very simple, just small wooden beads strung on a red thread. Rolling the beads under your fingers, they’re smooth and slip easily over the string. All of this is very strange, and more than a little confusing. Uneasy, you wonder aloud to yourself, “Well, where did this come from??” Behind you, in the dark, someone clears their throat.

Startled, you jump, heart pounding in your chest. You whirl around to see who is behind you. It’s a little girl, and smiling she says, “It came from me.” You respond, “But why? I’ve never met you; I’ve never even seen you before!” Smiling even more widely she says, “Sure you have.”

The girl is wearing glasses with black frames, a thick red sweater and heavy boots, just like the man in the café. She’s about nine years old, with dark hair and eyes. “I’m lost,” you tell her. She takes your hand in her own small, warm hand and says, “Don’t worry, I know the way.”