Over the long weekend, I joined an event called Mayday Mt. Pulag Charity Climb. As the name suggests, it is a climb to the summit of Mt. Pulag. It also has a volunteerism aspect of reaching out to a local community to hand out donations to a school. Now, I am not much of a mountaineer. I am really more the lie-down-by-the-beach-while-having-a-fruit-shake-with-a-tiny-umbrella kind of person, but I thought it would be fun since this is an event that brought my vegan and animal rights friends together. So I went.
The itinerary was that we'd go to the school first to give the donations, head to the camping grounds, rest in the afternoon, and wake up at 1am to begin the climb to the mountain so we could reach it by sunrise. As far as we all knew, we would leave our things by the camping ground so there was no worry of carrying our bags and tents and sleeping bags. The ride to the school was quite an adventure for us. We rode at the back of a big truck. Some of us were standing, and others were seated, just like what it is like in the movies with people hitchhiking. The road was bumpy and the inclines were often very steep, so it is not rare that we would fall into each other. At one point, we heard a tire burst, but the truck did not even stop. It just kept going as if nothing happened. We reached the school, gave the donations, talked to the kids and the teachers, and while we gave them vegan burgers, they cooked fresh vegetables for us. On the truck ride on our way back, it suddenly poured, and while there was a waterproof sheet we could cower under, a few of us decided to just embrace the rain and shower in it. We laughed a lot and had quite a good time.
However, because of the delay and consequently the rain, the ride to the camping ground had an unexpected turn. It was so muddy the tires kept getting stuck. That meant we had to do an unexpected hike in sharply inclined roads with all of our bags. I changed into warmer clothes and layered my leggings. I was wearing shoes that I have not worn in years. We know how that story goes. As I stepped into the mud and out of it, the rubber soles of my running shoes started to fall apart before my eyes. And so, out of breath and tired, literally carrying a heavy weight over my shoulders and wearing shoes that were giving out, I decided I was not joining the 1am wakeup call and I am going to sleep in instead.
Someone asked me, "You're not going to the summit? But isn't that the point of coming here?" Of course, what she said was sensible and rational and what most of us would take for granted as some kind of universal law for joining events called Mt. Pulag Climb. We may also think of the yoga practice in a similar way, in that we have an objective to nail a pose, hold that handstand, balance on our arms etc. We may also approach this life with the same attitude, that we are here to become this good person, accomplish that goal, achieve this milestone, accumulate that wealth etc. But those are intellectual concepts-- the should-be's and the must be's. They are the concept of what a climb or a practice or a life has to be like. We are, however, spiritual beings too. And as spiritual beings, we can choose to think less and feel more.
The focus of the month in Jivamukti is this big question: What is the meaning of life? Is it our intellectual understanding of "doing something", or could it simply be "being"? What if the meaning of a climb, of a hike, of a practice, of a life etc is not limited to reaching the peak, the summit, or the accomplishment? What if the meaning of it exists within itself? How will that change our perspective? Can we then start to accept that whoever we already are is beautifully enough, and that the significance of this life does not hinge on some external condition waiting to be fulfilled? Can we see this moment as something completely whole on its own, and not just a prelude to something else? What if the meaning of life is not something to be thought of but something to be experienced? It is not to say that we will not climb mountains or work on our handstands or try to live ethically. It means that however smoothly those plans pan out are independent of the intrinsic meaning of merely being alive.
If we are insistent that the meaning of life depends on an "accomplishment", then we miss out on all of the beauty that exists in what we may consider ordinary. Feel your heart beat. Hear your own breathing. This is you, being alive, holding the gift of existence. Trying to intellectualize the meaning of life is like explaining the concept of water to a fish. We struggle to see it not because it cannot be found but because it is everywhere. It is in the very fiber of our existence. It is the significance of simply being here, right now, as we are.
In this life that is a metaphorical hike, we will get rained on sometimes, and it is up to us to choose whether to see it as a disturbance or to hold our hands up in the air and receive this little miracle with joy. Our metaphorical shoes will fall apart, we will have to carry heavy things, we will have to shudder in the cold. Our intellect can categorize this as a failure of sorts, or we can let our spirits allow us to experience the meaning of every moment set forth as a gift to us. We may reach the peak, or we may not. Just the same, our journeys are significant, our lives are filled with meaning. With a grateful heart, may we choose in each moment to love more and worry less. With a grateful heart, may we choose to embrace all of life rather than picking out only parts that we feel are easy or look good in some way. With a grateful heart, may we choose to see that the meaning of this life need not be sought but merely remembered.