We wind up the narrow stairs you find in the old farmhouses in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. This land of rolling hills was once traversed by the Turtle Clan of the Lenape. The Europeans arrived, building stone houses like this one.
I follow my boss, a young woman, successful designer, and clothing company entrepreneur, as we climb up and around the twisting stairs. Ancient trees gave this lumber to the settler’s ax. Gentle slopes sway the middle of each tread, the grain of the wood soft and warm, almost breathing, the patina so deep it seems your soul could swim there.
Sue leads us. She has arranged this special event. Sue is a large woman, large in the middle and noticeable in her presence.
“What they do,” she says, “is they actually go into your. . . .” She searches for the right word. “Oh, something like your karmic records and they can rearrange things there.”
She stands aside and my young boss and I enter a tiny room at the top of the house, tucked under the eaves. Through a low window I catch a glimpse of the rooftops of farm outbuildings.
Against one side of the room two empty spots on a long cushion await us. On the other side, three pillows, and on each pillow a monk, the orange robes a bright punctuation against the whitewashed walls of this garret room. Their smiles are warm, welcoming.
We move carefully down the little bit of space separating the monks’ pillows and our pillows. My boss folds gracefully downward, while I, two decades older, clumsy and heavy, slowly collapse my way to sitting. I cross my legs but my knees stick akimbo in the air, embarrassing me.
By what mystery am I here?
The everyday life facts are simple: The monks, traveling from Washington, D.C., to the United Nations to publicize the plight of the Tibetan people, walk by day and stay at night along the way in the homes of various supporters of their cause.
Someone has brought them to see our company’s studio, where artists create cotton clothing imprinted with designs of life. Leaves. Seashells. Words. Clowns. Airplanes. Old tractors. The monks, expressing admiration for a business with such a creative nature, offer a private session to my boss for a special blessing, like the blessings they sometimes present for public audiences at places along their route. I am invited to accompany her.
But what mystery has brought me here? Here, just now, with holy lamas from the far-off mountains of Tibet. Like the mountains that come to me often in my dreams, where yearnings of mine dwell, only half-revealed to me, even in these dream highlands of my sleep.
I don’t know if I hear anything that is being said. Is anything being said? I don’t know. I am still lost in the wonderment of the mystery of why I am here, how I came to be here.
The monks hold up small scrolls, maybe eight inches wide. They unroll these and they begin to chant.
I want to be respectful. I want to take it all in. I listen as well as my untrained Western mind can. The room with its slanting eaves, the orange robes, the chanting in a language I do not know.
My legs are hurting. Can I move? Carefully, I move my butt to the side and fold my legs beside me. A bit more comfortable.
I begin to feel I am rising up, rising with the unfamiliar sounds, and I see that the monks are like the old men I remember praying at the synagogue when I was a young child. Old men in their prayer shawls, their bodies rocking back and forth with the ancient melodies of the ancient Hebrew.
Suddenly, a motion across from me catches my attention. A wrinkled, skinny arm shoots out from the side of the smallest of the monks, the monk sitting directly opposite me. He seems to sink into his orange robe, this tiny monk who was held prisoner by the Chinese for more than 30 years. His hand faces downward, in a fist held out to me, then two fingers flick straight out, then in, then out again.
What is this? For a moment, I panic. What is it? What is he saying? I look at him. His brown eyes look at me.
Oh! I get it! My legs, my cramping legs! He wants me to put my legs straight out. I do. I want to smile but I want to remain respectful.
I look at him. He looks at me.
His look enfolds me. I know that everything I am is being looked at. The kindness in his eyes — all that I am and ever have been is seen.
The chanting continues to pour over me. The sounds make sense now. A door in my mind opens and, in amazement, suddenly I think I understand the chanting — but not in words. Something light and open, bright and shining passes over me, through me.
The chanting ends. One of our lamas gives a short talk. At the end, he says he can sum up with a familiar short saying: “Don’t worry, be happy.”
We all smile now and laugh together.
Before we leave, the lamas give us small, rolled barley balls, as tiny as seeds. “Take them when you have that kind of time,” they tell us, “when you need uplifting.”
That night I have a dream. I am on a boat with a high stern and a dragonhead at the bow. I am lying down, flat against the deck of the boat, and the little lama with the kind eyes is lying straight out on top of me, flattening me. With a great “whoosh” I am puffed down, flatter than the proverbial pancake. Suddenly, I take off, soaring upward, like I am a magic carpet, sailing off the deck of the boat and flying through the sky, through the air, flying all over the whole round world and back again.
In the morning I wake with the memory of the starry air.
By what mystery am I here? By what mystery are we here?
In the late 1990s I received the great gift of attending this blessing ceremony. Palden Gyatso was the small monk who looked at me with gentle brown eyes. One of the other members was Thubten Jigme Norbu, now of blessed memory, eldest brother to the Dalai Lama and Professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University.
Carole Goodale is a member of the Ashawagh Hall Writers Workshop in Springs and has been a participant in writers groups led by MaryAnn Calendrille at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor. A former features and business writer, she has published poetry and creative essays. A new essay, “Muslims in the Family” has been accepted for publication at Clockhouse Review, the Goddard College literary journal.