Resting place

As the creeping fingers of dawn reached up through the morning mist to stroke the tops of the pines, a solitary figure made its way with stoic determination toward s the highest point. Swaddled in layer upon layer of thick woollen clothing to keep the biting cold at bay, it would not have been immediately obvious to a bystander whether the form was male or female, though it was evidently human. On its feet were green wellington boots, in its arms a large earthenware pot. As it walked the ground crackled beneath its feet. The sound of twigs snapping echoed around the forest, sending the animals who resided there – unused as they were to human presence – scurrying for cover. From all around the sound of birdsong rang out as if heralding the new arrival.

At length the figure reached the brow of the hill and stopped. It pulled down the hood of its coat to reveal the face of an elderly woman, deep lines carved like tributaries through her pale, leathery skin. Her blue eyes, though sunken now, were nonetheless still bright with the memory of a bygone youth. And now they blazed with memories of another.

The woman removed the lid of the urn with the greatest of care and, turning away from the wind, emptied its contents into the air. The ashes danced in the breeze as they floated away, over the tops of the pines and out of sight. In life her husband had loved this forest, it seemed only fitting that in death he should become a part of it.

“Good bye, my darling.” The woman exhaled, allowing herself the smallest of smiles as she wiped away a solitary tear.

Then, her work done, she began her slow descent to journey home.

Image

I took this photo at the top of a hill in Shimla, northern India, after an arduous 30 minute trek to see the enormous statue of a monkey god that resided there. Seeing this view made it all the more worthwhile.

Swami

Dawn breaks over the Agastya mountain range in southern Kerala. As the sun begins its lazy ascent from the horizon, a Chestnut-headed Bee Eater swoops across a lake, its surface so flat that the bird’s bright plumage is reflected back in glorious and unbroken technicolour. Rising from the lake are vapour trails, the ghost of night evaporating into the air and making way for day. The air is still, with no discernible sound besides the whooshing of the bird as it dips and dives down to the surface of the water. All is calm.

Beside the lake sits a man. Clothed in robes of orange, his legs are crossed, the thumb and forefingers of each hand touching one another. His eyes are closed. He looks to be in quiet contemplation, yet he is transcendent; half in this world, half in the next. No earthly troubles phase him, no thoughts chatter incessantly inside his head. He is a master of the art of the still mind, having experienced the peace that comes with being fully in the present in a way that few can comprehend. He sees in, on, above, beneath and through all things.

He is a swami, a man of great religious faith, a Hindu god-in-waiting. He sought enlightenment, and found it. He is at peace.

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This is the late Swami Vishnudevananda, one of the two swamis who were revered at the ashram where I stayed for two weeks of last year. He was my favourite because of his big smile and open demeanour, and because of this image with the caption: One has to ask oneself, what do I really want from life? That is the fundamental question. Indeed it is Swami.