On one of our first nights in Nepal, the I-Team- Michael and Tsethen and Charis- lead the group through a ceremony of fire and water. I was blindfolded in the lower courtyard of the guesthouse in Pharping. My hands were placed on the back of the person next to me, and the same with the person behind, so that the grouped formed a line. We walked together as one, tentatively, uncertain, with nothing to keep us from falling but the shoulders we touched and trust. “You will have guides on this journey,” Tsheten said; their firm hands lead us up and down the staircases, obstacles we could not have hoped to overcome on our own… “and you will have each other.”
We formed a blind circle and stopped, feeling soft grass beneath our feet. “Open your mouth,” a voice commanded to each of us. I obeyed. Dark, rich chocolate filled my mouth. I let the piece melt over my tongue, savoring the taste of it; the bitter, nutty flavor swirled around until it was gone completely, and I tasted nothing. Our blindfolds were removed.
”Fire,” Michael began, “it is the spark of life. Without it, man could never have come this far. Without it the Earth would be nothing but sheets of endless ice.”
Each of us pinched handfuls of incense and cast them into a ceremonial urn that glowed a dull orange, filled with smoldering embers. Each handful represented some past pain we wanted to let go of: “Fear of opening up,” “Fear of getting hurt,” “Fear of being myself,” “Fear of failure”, our voices formed a refrain together in that cool mountain air: fear. We had been scared. We had been hurt. The embers ate it all.
We performed a walking meditation in a single line up to the roof: “The heel, the ball of the foot, the toes, shifting weight, lifting the body.” Slowly, we walked. Each step controlled, each step considered.
We formed a circle around a table lit with candlelight on the rooftop. It held a steel bowl bowl of water surrounded by pink rose petals and marigolds.
”Water,” Michael began, “it is the essence of life. Without it, the Earth would be as barren as the moon in the sky.”
One by one, we placed blossoms into the water so that which we’d like to bloom within would take root: “Gratitude,” “Faith,” “Peace,” “Forgiveness.”
Our hearts filled with the promise of the future, our minds purged of the past, a final handful of petals was thrown into the water: “May it be so.”
We bowed our heads in silence as a horn from a monastery filled the air with a deep yearning. The sky was dark but filled with the fire of stars; the valley below spread before us with lights too, as if it was a pool of water, a reflection of sky above.
Later, when everyone else was asleep, I went into the grass courtyard and sat in front of the urn, feeling years of pain be burnt away. I bowed and raised my hands in prayer, in veneration. With tears in my eyes and throat I whispered “May it be so,” to the world, and the wind blew, and the leaves rustled around me, and the dogs of Pharping filled the air with sharp barks. A leaf spun and fell and landed with a hush, and all around me the world answered.
“May it be so,” it said.