BootsnAll Travel Network

Arriving at Upaya: Day One of Seven

I’m here, and my first impression is that this place is fragments of pure heaven. Fragments because of me, not it: I am dazzled by the surfaces of things. First of all, it’s adobe, and that is the most sensual architecture in the world. Everything invites the hands to touch. A window sill becomes a thigh; a window opening is curled into a bend like an elbow or a knee. Exterior colors range from purple to rust, interiors orange to white, exteriors streaked by the rain or dimpled and full of shadows. More rain this year than anyone remembers, so the desert is green, sage green, soft green, undulant green, FRAGRANT green, flowering green. Scents of wild sage, wet sunflower, wild lavender, and many plants I don’t know. And the people: smiling, bowing, laughing, speaking softly. It’s a United Nations kind of place, and every one of the people I have met has a story.

There is Dawa, Nepalese, a former trek guide, and his pregnant wife Humaya (her name means lover-of-snow; she was born in the time of a four-meter snowfall). They operate a hospice in Nepal. “Three hundred people have gone there to die,” he tells me. And then, “I grew up under stones and bushes. My parents died when I was young. I have no education [he tells me, in English] but I am a good listener. I learn from listening.”

My “buddy,” the person I am to go to with questions, is Rose. She’s about my age and comes from Switzerland. Jean is from Wales and has been here three years; Beate has only recently arrived from Germany and is the assistant abbot. Rebecca is from Albuquerque and teaches drama and English, and she has a wry sense of humor and doesn’t take things too seriously. John is the CEO. Roshi Joan is away at the mountain refuge, a hermitage, but she will be back by Monday, which is her sixty-fifth birthday. Many of the men have two names, and I am confused about who is who: most of them are twenty-something or thirty-something, lean and laughing softly as they work. There are twenty-two residents, and their names and the fragments of their stories I have heard swirl through my head. Everyone is radiant, at ease, welcoming. At lunch they all sang happy birthday to me, and everybody bowed an extra time after that. The food is delicious. Miso soup with mushrooms, coconut soup with great chunks of carrot, and then vegetables, tofu, beans, rice–combined in ways I have never thought of, with delicious sauces and textures and wonderful colors. A big bowl of apples sits out all day.

We meditate three times a day, for a total of 2 and a half hours. The basic rhythm, Rebecca explained to me, is “Meditate, eat, work, rest; repeat.” We’re high, geographically, and I’ve come from below sea-level. I’m dizzy, and my ears ring. I’m told to drink more water. The room where I’ll sleep is white-washed adobe with niches and many windows, four beds in white linen, each bed with a down comforter on top, each bed with a woman who has a remarkable story I am only beginning to hear. The bathroom has a copper sink with two faucets. Above the showers is a skylight. Oh, and all these huge, beautiful wood beams. Every room has TREES shoring up the ceiling. Brick or wood floors. My eyes can’t rest. They keep wandering and everywhere is more beauty.

Statues of Buddhas here and there. A few little altars scattered about. Small, beautiful stones EVERYWHERE. Herbs hang from the window eaves. Powerful calligraphy is framed on this wall and that. A few scrolls. Most of all, there are these sensual adobe walls, curving and curling and winding and bending. Everywhere I look, something beautiful. Day one is dazzlement and a confluence of many names and stories. Maybe as the seven days roll by I will get beyond the surface. Right now the surface is all I can take in.

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