The Snow Leopard

photo by Bernard Landgraf

Last week Hamilton and I took my mom to see the movie Born in China. She loves nature shows on TV and it was a nice outing for all of us. So after dinner out we headed to the theater where we were the only three watching the movie. I’m so glad we saw it on the big screen because it was spectacularly beautiful with pandas, monkeys, cranes and my favorite, snow leopards. The narrator had charming and engaging story-lines about each animal mother and child. We watched rolly-polly baby pandas tumble down the mountain followed by young monkeys jumping around their forest home. In the introduction and ending are cranes flying across mountains, lakes and a giant setting sun. I really don’t think I’ve seen a more beautiful movie. But what I wanted to see the most were the snow leopards, the rare and elusive big cat that lives in the high and uninhabitable Himalayas.

I first learned about snow leopards many years ago when I read a book in book club called The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. The book was written in the 1970’s about Peter’s expedition into the deep Himalayas. His companion was in search of rutting sheep but Peter was in search of himself and a rare glimpse of the snow leopard. He had lost his young wife to cancer the year before and used this journey to look deeply at his life and grieve. The two hiked for weeks through high and difficult terrain with a rag-tag group of porters to reach the sheep. During the long days of hard walking Peter reflected on his personal and spiritual life. He never did see a snow leopard for at that time less than a handful of people had ever glimpsed this elusive cat.

The first time I read this book I understood absolutely nothing. Yep, I couldn’t comprehend anything Peter was talking about. I was young and I had no context for his experience. But interestingly enough I never forgot the book for somehow I sensed that it was important and so is the snow leopard. Over the years photographers captured a few distant images of the snow leopard in the wild but now this movie gives us a look at their elusive life.

I was inspired to read The Snow Leopard again after seeing this exquisite mama and babies try to survive in such a harshly beautiful environment. Hamilton had his copy high on a shelf so I got a ladder and pulled down the small paperback. The pages were old, discolored and rough. I started to read it for the first time in 25 years. This time I understood every word. Time had given me context for this beautiful pilgrimage into a harsh land and a grieving heart. Peter is a Buddhist and now all the words and stories about the Buddha made sense and after having a long walking pilgrimage myself I now understood his journey and deep need for a quest into the unknown. I had finally grown into the book.

At the same time I was revisiting another book I read over 20 years ago, The Ecstatic Journey by Sophy Burnham about mystical experiences. This is another book I didn’t understand on the first read but yet never forgot. These two books came into my life when the words were as elusive to me as the snow leopard. My life experience had no context for the story. But time changed that, for I persevered and built the vocabulary and experience to revisit these spiritual classics and now every word is like a tonic and a blessing. Like the new and amazing images of the snow leopard these books now can be part of my heart for I can see them now, when before they were so hidden with my lack of experience.

What books and movies do you need to revisit? What is waiting to for you to read with new eyes now that you have grown and learned? When time and experience combines with learning and wisdom we build new path ways to new mountain tops and are able to finally glimpse the snow leopard.

Persy on her snow leopard blanket.  It makes her feel exotic and mysterious.

The Truman Show

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Last weekend I was back in southern California to visit Alexandra for some much needed mother/daughter time. On this visit Alexandra chose a tour of Paramount Studios for our adventure. She now works in the film industry and has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history so it was fun to go see this historic studio. Our tour guide Angelica drove us around the sprawling studio in a little golf cart. We saw fake New York City streets, an empty fake lake with fake sky background, fake school for a kid’s TV show, and a very worn out set for a talk show. But thanks to the magic of the camera you would never know any of it is an illusion. Each large building had a plaque that listed the movie and TV shows that were filmed in the building.

The Truman Show (1998), one of my favorite movies, was filmed in one of the buildings as well as at Seaside, Florida. I consider this to be a very spiritual movie, the hero’s journey, the stepping out of illusion into full consciousness.

The story is about Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) a baby adopted by a TV studio to be the star of a 24/7 reality show, except Truman doesn’t know he is on TV, he is just living his life. Around 30, Truman starts to notice a few things that don’t make sense. A spotlight labeled Sirius falls out of the sky, the rain machine is only in one spot, the radio starts announcing his location. His wife Meryl (Laura Linney) is constantly make strange statements that really are advertisements imbedded in the dialog. A girl he meets in school tries to give him a clue before she is fired from the set. His long dead father shows up as a homeless man.

Truman tries to go on a trip with Meryl but is stopped by a fire wall, a nuclear disaster and his own fears that have been carefully orchestrated by the creator of the show Christof (Ed Harris) who directs all the action from a fake moon in a giant enclosed set. We see people around the world watching Truman’s story unfold in their living rooms. Everyone wants to know “How will it end?”

Like Truman (True Man) we live in a world that keeps us unconscious. Religions tell us they have all the answers, just be a good follower. Media scares us and makes us fearful of immanent dangers and disasters. Science says that if you can’t see and measure it then it doesn’t exist. Adverting tells us what we desire and how hard we need to work for it. Christof is asked how he keeps Truman from knowing the truth. “We accept the reality of the world which we are presented. It is as simple as that.”

Every once in a while a crack appears in the fabric of our reality, a miracle, a moment of bliss, a Truth that can’t be ignored, an experience that can’t be explained. It is just enough to make us question, gives us a clue that there is so much more to our world. That there are infinite worlds to explore, new ideas, new ways of living, freedom.

Truman takes the tiny clues, overcomes his fears and makes a break for freedom. Christof tries to stop him by almost killing him. When Truman’s sailboat runs into the end of his fake world, he gets out and “walks on water” to the staircase into the painted clouds and opens the exit door to a new reality, a new consciousness, his new life.

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Empty fake lake used as a parking lot with fake sky

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Studio where “Frasier” was filmed

Frasier

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It all started with Monarch of the Glen, then we moved to Ballykissangel, after that it was Big Love, Mad Men, Damages, The Tudors, Doc Martin (total schoolgirl crush) and most recently Frasier. For the last few years Hamilton and I would enjoy an episode every night just before going to sleep when we could no longer keep our eyes open reading and it was still to early to go to bed. Our shared time together is our little treat at the end of the day.

Our latest series is Frasier starring Kelsey Grammer, all 264 episodes and eleven seasons. Most nights about 9:30 Netflix will give us the next installment of this classic sitcom. I enjoyed watching the foibles of this pompous but big-hearted psychiatrist getting himself into trouble yet again because of his oversized ego. His brother Niles played by David Hyde Pierce is equally egotistical plus neurotic all bound up in amazing physical comedy. Roz, Martin and Daphne keep these brothers firmly in their place and of course I can’t forget Eddie the dog who always reminds Frasier who is really the boss.

I love the gentle and sophisticated humor, no need for put downs or crassness. I don’t get the wine jokes but I love the opera jokes and the literary references. Most of all I love the great stories and lessons in each episode. Poor Frasier manages to get himself in big trouble every time because of his ego and quest for love.

Although it is fun to watch Frasier’s life being unconsciously run by his egotistical antics it shines a spot light on the big ego in all of us. How many times have we all gotten ‘too big for our britches’ and got caught in a brag or a lie. That old ego is so sneaky and subtle that we don’t realize what control it has over our lives. Even when we are feeling like we’ve tamed it and have it under control or acting altruistically, there it is again working behind the scene to puff us up and make us desire to be important and self-serving.

There seems to be two spiritual schools of thought about the ego. One is that the ego needs to be annihilated, the other is to tame it. I tend toward the taming philosophy for those of us that live in the Western cultures. When used properly the ego can help us navigate the choppy waters of modern, crowded society without being walked over. The ego can be made a tool to get things done rather than a tornado wreaking havoc everywhere.

I’ve enjoyed my months of Frasier and will really miss him as we move on to the next series. I have found that watching his foibles helps me see my foibles and reminds me how wylie our ego is. Funny enough another great thing about watching Frasier is it has helped me conquer my insomnia. I’m wide awake when it starts and 22 minutes later I’m relaxed and falling asleep, sometimes when I can’t get back to sleep I go downstairs and put an episode on and finish the night on the couch. Maybe since I’ve missed so many endings I should start all over again. I’m up for suggestions for the next series so let me know if you have a favorite.

—–Warning: when Caroline graduates next year with a physics degree my parental ego will be totally inflated –I’m already planning on several more lifetimes to overcome it.

http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/Eckhart-Tolle-on-How-to-Free-Yourself-from-Your-Ego-Armor

What You Need

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Alexandra was visiting relatives this last week and her Uncle Joel was telling her about ‘The Twilight Zone’.   She had never heard of it and I have never watched it so we settled in to watch an episode together on Apple TV.   She randomly picked an episode from the first season.

In the episode an older man was selling matches and shoelaces to people in a bar.   If they refused to buy anything he would then proceed to give them “what they need” such as a bus ticket, spot remover or scissors.   A few minutes later that object would be exactly what they needed to get to a job, meet a man or save a life.    The salesman could just see enough in the future to change it a bit.   All was great until someone got greedy.   Once again the salesman new exactly what was needed.

My teachers always taught me that the Universe always provides what we need.   Not what we always want but what we need for our soul’s next lesson or experience.   I wouldn’t always have chosen every experience but yet it was what I needed.

I try to actively be in the flow and not worry about what is next—not an easy task and takes lots of trust.   I can get anxious about bills and children as the next person.   While I have been moving the last few months the Universe has provided for me and everyone around me.   I didn’t need the white microwave but a friend just moved and did.   She was looking at shelving for a closet and I had extra downstairs.   My contractors were out of work and I needed them to be totally available for the move and remodeling of the old house.  Every day I find the right person to love the extra things I have.   I in turn have the people and things I need show up.

The ebb and flow is fun to experience when you become aware of it.   Just watch for the subtleties because that is where the answers are.   I’ve wanted my next car to have better gas mileage since I’m out in the country.   I’m now driving a wonderful ’97 Maxima complete with hail damage and no radio but I’m having fun driving a shift again and getting great gas mileage all for the price of a title transfer and new windshield wipers.   I got what I needed—-the Universe provided.

Last week I watched a documentary “Craigslist Joe” about a young man who lived for an entire month just off of Craigslist.   He was a lot thinner at the end but he had found places to stay and travelled all around the country with no money just a trust that he could find what he needed and the kindness of strangers.

I’ve been using Craigslist this year too and have had many delightful encounters, a lovely new family for my dog, and a good home for a chandelier and exercise equipment.   I have a brand new massage table, two hundered moving boxes and the perfect bookshelf.

Step into the flow of the Universe and see where it leads.  All you need is an open heart and a giving hand to get started.

 

Castle Howard

Castle Howard

Castle Howard,  Yorkshire England

The other day I was still sick with a virus and need to take a nap.  So to help me fall back to sleep I put on one of my favorite movies, Brideshead Revisited, based on a novel by Evelyn Waugh.   I know almost by heart every scene and every sentence of this beautiful mini-series.   I was 17 years old and somehow allowed to watch it when it first aired on Masterpiece Theater in 1981.   Brideshead Revisited was the one of the most important experiences of my teenage years, far more influential than a teacher or a book or any other experience for those were very circumscribed by my cloistered religion.   No, it was a TV drama that gave me the first taste of a larger world and new ideas.

This sweeping 13 hour long series is Charles Ryder’s story from of his early days at Oxford all the way to his service in World War II   and his relationship with the very wealthy and powerful Flyte family; primarily a mother, brother and sister. This family, the castle Brideshead and religion all shape Charles’ experiences and choices.   The scenery, castle, music and story line all enchanted me at such an impressionable time of my life.   I realize now after seeing it many times that Charles’ experiences and questions were to be the so similar to mine.  It was a foreshadowing of my relationship with a family, a house and religion.

As a child I never knew why I was an American and always thought I was supposed to be English.   I even felt exiled here in the US.   It was no wander that I was so drawn to this story and now I realize that it is also part of past life memories.  I couldn’t wait to get back to where I felt I really belonged.    In 2009 I went to England to see my imagined homeland.   The top of my itinerary was to visit Castle Howard in Yorkshire where Brideshead Revisited was filmed.   Somehow I expected the history of the Flyte family but instead found the story of the remarkable Earls of Carlisle.    There is room of the house with pictures and information on the mini-series and more recent film remake.

It was a magical day to see this house that I knew so well, the hallways and galleries and sweeping staircases.   It was sunny and warm that September day as I sat by the beautiful fountain that was purchase from Prince Albert in the 1800’s.   One of my favorite places was the chapel attached to the house, with stained glass by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, a pre-Raphaelite painter who inspired me.

Castle Howard was as much a pilgrimage for me as any of the great scared sites I have visited because it was so personal for my own journey to a larger life view, and a memory of my childhood dreams.   This pilgrimage healed something from the past in this life and other lives.     Since my trip to England I feel more at home in East Tennessee, like something was fulfilled by just standing on the land and seeing it again.

Mountain Music

himalayas-stupa-nepalStupa in Nepal

When the Bowen sisters practiced the violin around the house they played Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. Since we live in Appalachia, they were always asked to perform fiddle tunes.  The ‘fiddlin’ Bowen sisters played many local gigs for charity events, flag pole raisings, nursing homes and anywhere else they were asked.   They put on a nice show playing music that is now universally recognized like Amazing Grace, Ashoken Farewell and Orange Blossom Special.

On Christmas Day I watched a documentary called “Mountain Music Project”.   These same fiddle tunes my daughters played seemed to be even more universal than I realized.   A fiddler from Virginia visited Nepal and noticed that uncanny similarities between his tunes and those of the local mountain people.   He went back to Nepal with a translator and started investigating the musicians high in the Himalayan Mountains.   These musicians played a type of four string instrument with a bow they make from a log, goat skin and tennis racquet string; about the size of a violin, but held like a cello.   The tunes and singing along with the stories of these mountain people and their struggles for survival mirror those of Appalachia.  Maybe these mountain ranges on opposite sides of the world are connected.

I haven’t been to Tibet and Nepal, but last May Tibet and Nepal came to me when I went to a lecture at my local library by  Ven. Lama Norhla Rinpoche.   More than 200 hundred people came to hear about  Lama Norhla’s escape from the Chinese invasion of  Tibet when he was a young monk.   His journey to safety was long and dangerous, and was nearly caught by the Chinese before finding refuge in Nepal and then India.   He said the first time he saw the Great Smoky Mountains a few years ago he was instantly reminded of his first glimpse of the Himalayas during that escape over 50 years before.      Because of this connection, Lama Norhla has established a small retreat center on border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is building a Stupa (a sacred shrine) on this border to help stabilize the weather patterns and heal the land from the Civil War and Indian Removal.

There is a connection between these two great mountain ranges, and I love it when I can make these connections between opposite sides of the world letting us see that the human experience is universal. We all have so much to learn from each other.

www.mocd.org   Retreat Center and Stupa in East Tennessee

www.kagyu.com  Lama Norhla’s Monestary in New York

The Mountain Music Project:   A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya