How does a baby boomer find inner peace amidst the chaos that is inevitable in one’s life? Doyle, California’s Leslie Clary found it in a way, and in a place, that most of us will never do: during the season of Christmas, at a most unlikely place: Tashiding, Sikkim, India.
Once I entered my 50s, the path I thought I was following began to disappear in front of me. My 20-year marriage ended. I moved to a small town for a college teaching job and eventually, that fell through. I had hit one of the lowest points of my life, but I was also in one of the most beautiful places on earth: the Himalayas.
I had come to India for six months as a Fulbright scholar, and my friend, Phrurba Tshering, had arranged for me to stay at Tashiding Monastery, the most sacred Buddhist monastery in Sikkim, for the week between Christmas and New Years.
It was quiet that week as most of the monks had gone to a retreat in Gangtok. One who remained though often sat outside during the day giggling manically, twirling his staff in the dust, his one eye glittering in the sun.
Women in long blue skirts circumambulated the monastery, their prayer wheels whirring in the wind. Under their breath they mumbled “om mani padme hum,” a mantra about jewels and beads and lotus flowers that is commonly carved into rocks or inserted into prayer wheels (when you spin the wheel, it is said that you are doing the same thing as chanting the mantra).
At night I rolled out my mat in a small hut in a forest of stupas, which are mounds filled with Buddhist relics. With no electricity, and not even a fire, I burrowed under the blankets to sleep shortly after the sun went down.
In the mornings, I filled the bronze chalices on the altar with water and lit a yak butter candle. This is the only thing the monks have asked of me in exchange for staying in one of the most holy shrines on the temple grounds.
Little by little I put myself back together. Security is nebulous. The future is never what we think it will be. We fall. We pick ourselves up. We move on. And in exchange we’re given magical moments like walking through a land where monks carry on traditions hundreds of years old.
In the end, it’s all we have. These moments. One following the other. Cherish them. They’ll never return.