The Shambhala Journey: Part Two

At first you hesitate; why should you trust this kid to take you in the right direction? You’re not even absolutely sure where you are going, how can she possibly know? Looking around at this unfamiliar place, and the way the path disappears into the dark and cold, you realize you’re completely lost. You have no choice but to follow. And so with gentle tug, the girl leads you away, and as she does the sun begins to come up, glowing pink and golden tendrils of light.

As it grows brighter, you begin to relax. The path is flat for the most part. On either side is a flat expanse with sparse patches of grass, mostly bare and rocky. The walk is pretty easy and you begin to enjoy yourself. The breeze is cool, but the sunshine is warm. You breathe deeply and stretch, thinking that this isn’t so bad. Your young guide seems to know what she’s doing, and where she’s going. You feel less confused, and eventually you’re lulled by the rhythm of this gentle hike. You feel like you could do this forever.

Imagine though, that things do not continue to unfold as you’d hoped.

The path begins to be harder, and then harder still. There are more hills, steeper and steeper. Walking becomes more difficult, and your legs begin to tire, feeling so heavy from the exertion. It becomes darker and darker, and the sun seems to never come up. The weather becomes steadily worse, and soon you’re shivering, freezing from heavy rain and cold winds. Scrambling and slipping over wet, rough rocks and trudging through switchbacks you are exhausted and discouraged. You’re tired and cold and you just want to go home. You aren’t sure exactly what you had expected on this journey, but this certainly isn’t any trip you would envision for yourself. Not even close.

At times, as you struggle, your guide patiently waits for you; she seems unaffected by the terrible weather and doesn’t seem tired at all. As you labor along you begin to experience total doubt. Fear begins to overtake you, and your heart is pounding – you feel panicked. Why has this strange girl led you here? Why are you following her at all? You are sore, exhausted, freezing and soaking wet – what is going on here? In the moment, you’re overcome with the urge to get away, to simply flee.

And yet… you are still lost. And your young guide is continuing on the way forward.

Even though you’re confused, you really have no choice but to follow her. Taking a deep breath, that’s exactly what you do.

In time the two of you come to a maze in your path, silent and huge, its entry in shadows. All around it and to either side of the path and behind you there is nothing but darkness. You strain to see anything, but there is just… nothing there. There is no other way forward. You reach for your guide’s hand, but she draws it away, saying “This is as far as I can take you. More help will come.” Before you can even react, she walks away into the dark and simply disappears as you watch is disbelief.

You look at the entrance of the maze. You can see its beginning, but of course not its end, and the part that you gives you the sense that it’s daunting, incredibly complex and convoluted. Once again you are by yourself, and you begin to feel scared; there is no way you are going into that thing alone.

Heart pounding, you sit on a rock near the entrance. You miss your guide, her presence and reassurance, and remember the mala she gave you. Taking it out of your pocket, once again you run your fingers over the small wooden beads. One by one they slip along the string smoothly, and as you continue to pull them round and round through your fingers, you close your eyes tightly and wish as strongly as you can for some sort of help.

Over time, you begin to feel warmer, and when you open your eyes you can see that it’s becoming light again. Looking back along the path, you see a movement in the air. The raven is swooping toward you, following the path. Flapping its shining wings, it settles onto the ground near you and looks up at you, tilting its head to the side. It all seems so surreal. “How do you keep finding me?” you ask it, “Why??” The bird caws at you three times, loudly. It hops away from you, back down the path. Following it with your gaze, you look up and see a figure approaching in the distance. Standing and watching you feel a little nervous, still slipping the beads through your fingers.

The person approaches, and you can see it’s an old woman. Her hair is long and grey. She’s wearing glasses with black rims, heavy, tattered dark red robes and is carrying a walking stick. Despite her obvious age, she is striding toward you quickly, strong and upright. You stand up to watch and greet her, and the raven flies out to her, circling above her as she approaches. You wait for what seems like forever, legs becoming tired from standing so long. Finally, she is standing before you; the raven flies away high over the maze into the now-bright blue sky. The old woman takes both your hands in hers. You can feel their warmth as they cover your hands, and the mala you are still holding. She’s taller than you, and you tilt your head back to look up into her dark blue eyes. Relieved to finally see another person, you take a deep breath and exhale.

She smiles down at you and encouraged, you tell her, “I’m so glad you’re here! I’m completely lost, I don’t know what to do, the only way forward is this maze and I don’t think I can find the way. ” She laughs, a sweet sound like small silver bells, and responds, “I knew that of course. I’m here to help you.” Releasing you, she places one hand against your back and gently pushes you toward the maze.

Slowly, reluctantly, you enter. The way is narrow, the walls are close and the ceiling is low, just above your head. The walls are carved out of stone, and are cold and rough when you run your hands over them.

The old woman walks in front of you. Although you try to follow her closely, sometimes you become distracted and have to hurry to try and find her. As you search, you‘re often startled by abrupt corners and dead ends, and eventually become separated from your guide. Where is she? Where are you?

Along the way you see other people and beings emerging from the darkness, and you rush to them to ask for help and directions. Some are as confused as you are and offer no help, while others are vague. Some speak only in riddles you can’t understand. Eventually you become totally lost. Disoriented, you begin to completely doubt yourself and everything else, this journey, the old woman, even your own common sense. Spinning in a circle, you become dizzy as you look one more time for help. Feeling hopeless, you give up and sit down hard on the cold floor, back to the hard stone wall.

Feelings begin to overwhelm you, swirling in your chest and coming together in a knot in your very center. Awful thoughts begin to rise and fall inside you, and you can’t escape them no matter how hard you try. A bottomless blackness worse than the darkenss surrounding you is coalescing within you, and you’re helpless to stop it. It feels as though a shadow is emerging from deep within you, so strong it might swallow you whole. Every single shameful thing you’ve ever done fills your thoughts, every hurt you’ve done others and the hurts done to you. You feel physically sick, nauseated and overwhelmed. These are your most carefully guarded secrets – you can’t stand them and you are sure if other people knew them they wouldn’t be able to stand you. It’s a deep shadow from within you, it almost feels solid, like a presence. It feels as though it is going to swallow you up, and you keep trying to push it away.

Then, you notice something in the darkness.

Far off in the distance you see a faint shimmering golden light. It’s pulsing slowly; dim to bright, dim to bright. Curious, you stand to get a better look. It’s strange; you can almost feel a presence in the light, who or what it might be you aren’t quite sure. Is this someone coming to help? What if it’s another traveler even more lost and frightened than you? Maybe you could help them and find your way out of the dark together, though you’re not sure how. Hesitant and worried but also glad for either possibility, you take a few steps toward the glow, and as you do a thin golden tendril of light begins to reach toward you.

Feeling a tiny bit of courage, you take a few more steps, the glowing thread of light stretching nearer. Encouraged, hopeful, you begin to rush to meet it, but as you do the light fades away, and the darkness closes in again.

You begin to feel overwhelmed and completely confused. You don’t understand any of this. Part of you is terrified and wants to run away as far and fast as you can. Part of you is angry and wants to fight, who or what you don’t know. Your heart is beating too fast, you can’t breathe and your hands are suddenly fists.

But another part of you just wants to be rescued – you’re tired of all of this and have had enough. You feel resentful, pulled in every direction thinking “Why doesn’t somebody just help me and get me out of this horrible place?” Feeling cornered and confused you think about the light, and wish it had stayed a little longer till you could see what it was, where it led to; almost anything would be better than this.
Eventually you wonder to yourself what you can do, how do you make your way out of here? You can’t possibly do it alone. Can you?

Suddenly you realize you can hear a very faint sound approaching, but you can’t tell what it is. Gathering yourself, you stand up on stiff legs and begin to look around. Taking a few small steps, you see another tiny, dim light in the darkness. Tentatively, you begin to move toward it, and as you move forward the raven emerges from the darkness, so inky black itself that at first it’s hard to see as it walks down the pathway.

It takes a few steps toward you, then suddenly leaps up and flies back where it came from, swooping low beneath the ceiling. Curiosity overcomes you, so you follow in the direction it went. And finally, as you walk slowly, so tired from all of this, in the distance, coming closer, you can see your guide. Hope and joy nearly overwhelm you, and you run to her as fast as you can. When you are finally before her you fall to your knees in exhaustion on the hard floor. Tears fill your eyes as you remember the help she has given you so far, and humbly you ask for her help again. Smiling, your guide tells you that of course she’ll help you – she’s been beside you all along, and in your heart you know it’s true.

Filled with deep gratitude and relief you take the hand she extends to you. It’s warm and its grip is firm and comforting. Suddenly you realize that although you can’t navigate the path on your own, you don’t have to; all you need to do is trust, pay attention and be willing to follow. Reassured and with your guide close beside you the path begins to open up and become clearer. Finally the two of you walk out of the maze, moving from darkness into light. The sun is very bright at first, warming you a little from the darkness. You find yourself standing on a flat, bare table of rock, and although you had expected the journey would become easier, in front of you is a jumble of jagged boulders that leads up onto a high, steep mountain. You can see eagles soaring above it, all the way up to the clouds at its peak. You stare in disbelief and feel yourself begin to spiral once more into despair and anxiety. Is this where you’re going?

Frustrated, you look to your guide who doesn’t speak, but smiles again and leads you to a small, cramped alcove in the rock. She sits on the floor, gathering her robes around her and gestures for you to do the same. You sit. The cold stone floor is rough and uncomfortable, no matter how you try to position yourself. At first as you sit you are still tense, your muscles are clenched and your back is killing you. Your thoughts are racing, but you see that your guide is sitting upright and relaxed, breathing slowly and deeply. You try to follow her example. It’s hard initially; you’re restless and distracted, wondering why you’re doing this and how long you’ll have to sit here.

But eventually you feel your muscles relax. You consciously slow your breathing and as you follow the breaths in and out, your heartbeat begins to slow and you feel your thoughts slowing as well. The sun moves across the sky, casting shadows and light into the alcove. Bad and good thoughts arise and dissolve like clouds in the clear blue sky above you, and as they do you can feel a sense of opening within you. A gentle understanding begins to fill you. The shadow will always be with you, a dark companion on your journey. Likewise the positive things you have done will follow you as well. Continuing to sit, your body relaxes completely and gradually you become aware of something inside of you completely different than anything you have felt before. You can feel a sensation of calm, clear attentiveness. It isn’t the dullness of depression, and it isn’t the frenzy of anxiety. Instead it feels centered and stable, useful and functional.

You are present and in tune with your mind, rather than bewildered. You understand that not only is this state of keen awareness completely workable, it is absolutely essential to your progress on this journey. Imagine what it feels like to be calm and attentive in the middle of everything. What about being present and naturally peaceful, able to concentrate on a single thing at a time?

You begin to understand that cultivating this state is the key to continuing your journey in a way that makes any sense at all, that along with your guide it will give you the support and focus you need so much. A feeling of deep determination rises within you – you will continue to train in this way, no matter what. A sense of easing and confidence fills you; you know that this is the right decision. Although the way ahead may be difficult you will move forward.