Peace. Everyone wants it, everyone desires it. So strange that I only found it when I finally stopped looking for it. Like some cosmic version of hunting for my keys, I only needed to stop from tireless searching and plunge down, exhausted, into a sofa, when suddenly my eyes would rest on some nearby surface and there the keys would be. Mocking my efforts and in clear sight. Indeed I was seated right now, I reminded myself with a smile. A smile of final peace. The sort of peace that comes late in the day and as the shadows lengthen. The sun’s rays no longer seem to race across the land, but rather pour out upon it a soft gliding light that reduces the background to mere shade and highlighting only the thing in front of you. Perhaps it is this physical bending of light that draws your mind into similar focus and upon that which is here and now and no longer on that which sits just beyond the next few feet and the next moment.
My now contained only Francesca seated opposite me on the tatami matting.
Maybe this was the point of it all; to the journey we had undertaken almost a year ago; to leaving home; to leaving behind everything and everyone else but each other and the items we could fit into a rucksack. It sure wasn’t just a desire to see the world. Not for me. I desired only to be with her, the woman I loved. I wanted to step out of the normal and crushing context of our lives up to that point. To see if we could heal our relationship of its up and downs, and more downs recently than could be admitted. That was it, I realised, travelling was the mental equivalent of touching a bandaged wound to check if it is healing. I was travelling for my soul’s sake, my marriages sake and to have some kind of awakening and I realised it was happening right now, I only needed to let it.
The problem is that travelling is sold on the conceit that this is definitely going to happen to you and that hanging around in mountain retreats, seeing sights and meeting locals, who are of course always more authentically grounded than those back home by virtue of their relative poverty, will change you. That through the hardships and the new friendships, the traveller’s very mind will be drained of worry and stress and indelibly opened for some Great Ultimate Truth to be poured in like a sweet honey, there to take up refuge in your mind from then on, providing a filter to the eyes so that the world is forever changed for you now see it through this viscous True Sight.
It might well be, but the thing about Great Ultimate Truths is that they don’t ever tell you what you expect to hear. If they did you would never need to look for them in the first place. Like trying to find those keys. Only when they were truly lost, that is when one had looked everywhere the mind could conceive and then given up, could they be found. It’s as if one had to work through and let go all the mental images one carried around of their location. This is a lot harder to do than people admit; who hasn’t repeated looked in a place for something lost? As if we expect reality to bend to our determination and will. However, letting go of what you think you know is what you have to do when searching for something and when travelling; you have to let go of your imagined thoughts about everything.
Travelling gives you so much time, opportunity and space to take your mental map of the world, of reality, and tear it up into strips. One sunset at a time, RRRIPPP! One meeting with new people at a time, RRRRIP! One bungee, RRRIPPP! One mountain, RRRIPPP! One jungle, one desert, one bus journey along sun-laden rice paddies at a time.
Even, one cup of tea?
It sat in an obviously handmade earthenware bowl between Francesca and I and she had its twin in front of her. Perfect, green and steaming slightly. Next to it a little cake had been placed by the kimono wrapped Japanese serving lady.
The tatami lined the floor it sat on running up to the paper walls and up to the windows looking out on the moss garden and to bamboo creaking in the wind. Beyond, in the distance, the ancient Japanese castle “Himeji” rose in white tiered beauty to the warm sky and off the slanted roof into the infinite heavens.
In front of all this sat Francesca having exactly the same moment as I: a moment of pure peace, of letting go my flawed ideas of what is and simply letting be. I let out an enormous mental sigh. No immediate epiphany came, but I could feel one inside, like my head was a bee’s nest and rather than a receptacle for the honeyed Truth to be poured, each step on our journey had given the bees time to taste the local pollen and build the honey cell by cell until it was finally ready to overflow. I now had a germinating seed, which would flower in its own time I just needed to let it. I picked up the tea and tried it. It was the type known as Matcha, common to Japan; a ground and powdered leaf green tea whisked to the consistency of a light cappuccino. It was delicious.
At that moment I fell in love with green tea of this type and again, as I did every morning, with Francesca.
If this had been a movie, then we would have faded to black right there and then and just rolled the credits. But this wasn’t a movie and the perfect moment was just a moment. If my realisation of a Great Ultimate Truth was anything it was that. Moments are what make us who we are. They are what we constitute of. We exist only in those moments. In order to have peace, in order to be free, we must exist in each moment without bringing baggage from the previous one, or presumptions about the next. Only then can you exist at peace enough to find life beautiful. Zen and Daoism, embodied. As the late great Alan Watts said:
“The past doesn’t exist, the future doesn’t exist, there is only the present. That is the only you that there is.”
So, what had been the moments the bee’s had used to build their trove? What steps had changed me? I thought back and considered the last year’s journey. A journey of the body and mind across the East, by foot, bus and train. Over deserts and mountains and jungles. It hadn’t started as I would have imagined.