14 Dec Expect the unexpected …
Anything can happen in the Valley of Achievements …
I love it when this happens! I am in this beautifully quiet, tiny village about an hour’s drive from Kathmandu for a few days. Apart from me and the staff who manage the place, there is only a Buddhist who has lived here for a year.
As soon as I got here I wish I’d brought my painting material. I was itching to paint. But now I had to wait till I returned to Kathmandu, where I had arranged to do some painting. It had fallen through on my last visit, and I was hoping it would happen this time.
I went for a walk around the village and enjoyed the vibrant life and its friendly people. There was a huge monastery with a sign on the big gate outside that said, ‘Sorry! Not allowed. Under construction. Thank you!’ With no particular need or desire to go inside, I walked further up the hill and followed a path that took me to the back of the monastery. I climbed up the hill and without realising I walked in through the back entrance right next to a massive statue of Rinpoche towering into the blue sky. It was so overwhelmingly big that it was impossible not to see.
I moved over to the edge to take a picture, and rather than ordering me off the site, an old Tibetan man stopped chanting and asked me where I came from, still moving the prayer beads on the mala with his fingers. He then gestured for me to follow him down a flight of stairs to the grounds of the top floor of the monastery. I walked around as he kept pointing to where I should go. Inside the building, there was an enormous construction beneath the statue. It was just enough room to walk around it in circles. Colourful mandalas were already painted in the rooftops.
I moved around, and even though it was a construction site I could feel that it was a special place. As I was about to leave the site a young man approached me. Again, I expected he would tell me to leave. But he didn’t! He told me that he was a Thangka painter from Bhutan. Thangkas are paintings on cotton or silk, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, famous scene or mandala. When I told him that I would like to paint, he took me to his master (also from Bhutan) on the second temple floor. He was sitting in a small room painting a Buddha Thankga. After meeting him and telling him that I would love to paint he told me to come back at 2 p.m.
When I returned, a blank canvas was waiting for me. I thought he might teach me some techniques or something, but no. The master had moved his painting and given me his place. After showing him my art book, he continued to paint. I made a sketch of what I wanted to paint, but I didn’t quite finish. I needed to meditate on it to decide what the background would be. By now it was 5 p.m. He covered the canvas in a white cloth and carried it as he walked me back to where I was staying. He was going away the next day so he explained that he would leave his door open for me to come and paint.
The rest of the drawing came easily that evening, and the next day, after Yoga and breakfast, I went back up the hill again. I painted for two days in the master’s room. The master returned at the end of the two day period. At 6:30 p.m. when I made the final stroke. The young man who had led me to his master came to say hello a couple of times a day, but apart from that I had been left alone. When the young man followed me back in the dark to where I was staying, he said in his jolly voice, ‘We are so happy to meet you. It is all because of karma.’ I smiled and replied, ‘Good karma.’
It’s been over five years since I started out on the journey to the Himalayas that changed my life. The experience unleashed something within me that made me start painting. Walking Into It: A Pilgrimage through Foreign Lands to Inner Worlds tells the story of the journey I began in 2009.
And so I continue to be led to places where I walk into it, discovering the unimaginable when I least expect it. To have the opportunity to paint had been a deep wish. And it didn’t happen in Bali, or in Kathmandu. It happened at a holy construction site in a tiny village I didn’t even know existed until I arrived here. This time, I didn’t see a vision in a mountain. I wasn’t led to someone for a lesson. But rather, I was led to someone who whole-heartedly gave me the material and space to paint. I am still awe inspired that this could happen. I never made it to the other four monasteries in the tiny village.
Overflowing with gratitude to the master and the young man, I was speechless with tears in my eyes when the master gave me all the material I needed to continue painting. His last words were, ‘I want to help, just think with a good mind.’
When I told the Buddhist my story, he smiled and said, ‘That’s why this is called the Valley of Achievements.’
Effortlessly! Easily! The great signs of spontaneous flow are always perfect.
With joy xx