From March 2015 until September 2018 I lived in the Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh in India. I went on a six-month visa to expand my horizons, and hoped to gain perspective and wisdom. The Buddhist towns and villages high up in the Himalayan foothills were a perfect place to remove myself from the demands of living in a capitalist society, and the accompanying thought patterns. The sound of mantras, the smell of incense and the colourful prayer flags imbibed calm on an overworked western mind, allowing a deeper connection to the elusive realm of spirit.
The journey that began as a three to six month sabbatical, ending up as a three-and-a-half year life changing experience. With intermittent return journeys to the UK and Nepal for visas, life in the main was lived simply among the people and creatures of the Himalayas. It was not an easy journey from the outset, my conditioned mind patterns tripped me up at every turn, nagging me about comforts, or lack thereof. The ego doesn’t welcome change unless it’s on terms it understands. Being thrown into a completely different culture with reduced conveniences does not bode well with the ego. The haranguing inner dialogue often kept me awake long into the night demanding to know if I had a death wish, doubly so when I had to side-step a scorpion on the way to the bathroom.
Relationships were also tricky. Trying to interact with Buddhist, Hindu and Sikhs from a western framed mindset leads to more than just a confusion of language, but an emotional frustration when the ego-self is met with a calm shoulder shrug or bemused head wobble. Navigating a relationship with a man brought up in the Tibetan-Buddhist tradition was a real challenge for me but also an immensely rewarding one for the soul, as time and time again, it had to make several leaps forward to overcome the ego’s sabotage of love. Humility alone, was the one saving grace for my fledgling soul as it bowed its head to the long list of wrongdoings levelled against it while under the duress of the ego. Living an authentic life is not for the fainthearted.
Meditation and retreat does not guarantee an immediate blissful transcendence into inner peace and love, true it provides an opening, but for me the journey was both turbulent and humbling as I faced my human flaws in the mirror of self-reflection.
Long periods of self-isolation and reflection in the Himalayas prepared me for my current circumstances during UK lock down. As I sit and reflect on our current situation as a national and global community, I am eternally grateful for the self imposed quarantine of my ego in a Himalayan village. It gave me the tools to face any situation with equanimity. The old ego pattern still has its say, but it fades quickly without the energy of unresolved fear. Lifting the lid on old behaviour patterns revealed childhood fears of lack, abandonment and inadequacy. Facing past pain released me from slavery to an ego formed from circumstance and necessity in order to cope with unresolved emotions. I felt tethered to a role that I was sick of playing, and its continuous rehearsals playing out in my head. Casting aside my role has been the most challenging and liberating experience of my existence.
I hope you use this time of self-isolation to face some of your unwanted behaviour patterns and kick them into touch with the help of humility and kindness.
Collette O’Mahony 13/04/2020