Revulsion and Revelation
We were traveling overland to India from Teheran where Riva, my wife at the time, and I had been teaching a year in a local college. We began our journey with a few days exploring the twisting walkways and baked clay buildings of the fascinating walled-in village of Yazd, an ancient town in the far East of Iran. In the midst of a brutal, barren desert this strange, whimsical village had been birthed, a key place of respite for the caravans that passed back and forth between Iran and Afghanistan.
The brutality of the desert climate was softened somewhat by the tall, chimneys rising like hollow pillars that somehow transformed the desert's flaming winds into cooling breezes in the houses below. Most of the houses, shops and passageways were underground or heavily roofed with the same baked grayish brown mud. Wells were set back in shadowed grottos and their life-giving offerings were treated with reverent respect. The people showed a special gentle knowing from living with these desperate realities in their lives. And they treated us with a kind attentiveness that I fully appreciated.
The second day a younger brother of the family where we'd found a room to rent told us of some nearby towers he cheerfully assured us Europeans visitors found fascinating. He brought three donkeys to ride and guided us some hours beyond the Village walls. We followed a stark, dusty road that led to three ancient towers standing on a rise in the desert. He explained, with a touch of cultural pride, that these were the Offering Towers where the corpses of their newly dead were offered to the carrion birds. An ancient Zoaristrium sacrament, I remembered. Leaving the donkeys to munch on some dry hay he's brought, he led us up the narrow, wall clinging spiral ramp inside one of the Towers. The bare clay encircling us felt like we were entombed.
There were no corpses or feeding raptors there on the stone circular roof at the time. But he did make a point of proudly showing us the mounds of meticulously cleaned human bones. Each skeleton was bound into a bundle with brightly colored cords and topped with its skull. Rows and rows of these bundles were carefully stacked along one side of the porch. Memorabilia of the departed. It seemed bizarrely grim and neither of us could figure out what our guide's sardonic grin was about.
Later, back in the walled labyrinth of the Village, we happened on a teahouse, more a cave than a building, where we delighted in thirst sating mint tea and a keef filled water pipe. As it loosened the bonds of my "normal" consciousness, my mind grew permeable and imaginative. The memory of those grinning skulls atop their bundled bones now spoke so clearly to me. The image soaked down till I felt its message in my own bones. Mortality! What could be a better reminder of that ever present truth. Yes, there was the irony in our guide's grin earlier. We'd come to find exotic beauty, and found stacks of bones. "We are here for some little while and a long time gone," he'd quoted to us with a knowing nod before we started the desolate donkey ride back to the enclosed maze of Yazd.
In a few days we were on another country bus heading further East. Chickens and screaming infants vied for attention and the bus driver kindly stopped every few hours to let us take a decompressing walk. Days of being so cramped and contained, endlessly jostled and screamed at, tediously traveling on and on across barren, parching, flat colored desert was an initiation for me, a resetting of my psyche. We passed through Afghanistan and much of Pakistan. The same bland desert stretching on and on.
Towards evening, a mountain range rose up to view through the ocean of sand as the sun set behind us. That night we passed through the Kyber Pass, a few small, poor villages where every man wore a bulky cloth jacket and billowing pants of dark blue or black and a long, antiques rifle over one shoulder. There were herds of camels, packed for safari. We passed an outdoor market where the interweaving of chant and cymbals floated by. But there was nothing I wanted more than to have a passing glimpse of it all.
We continued beyond Karachi towards an area whose name enticed and drew me: Swat. Perhaps it was because Babe Ruth, the "King of Swat," was a hero when I was growing up. Or maybe it was a helf-remembered story I'd heard of this unique principality in school. But with hindsight, I wondered how much of that decision to go to Swat was fantasy and how much divine guidance. Whatever, Swat was where the next dilapidated bus took us.
It was a remote part of Pakistan that reached far to the Northeast, up into the foothills of the Himalayas. This must have been a key to their long independence. Inaccessibility. The landscape was mountainous. Walking was mostly sheer ups and downs. The people had only been converted to Islam over the last hundred years, if they really had been. I wondered this because the temples of the indigenous religion in the Village of Swat were still in good repair, perhaps still being used. The churches were simple structures of crude wood planks, narrow buildings of two levels, with black sloping roofs twice the building's width. The main sacred image we saw was an almost life-sized wooden carving of a turbaned man astride a elaborately girded horse.
After wandering the narrow streets looking and asking, the little Farsi I'd learnt in Iran and Riva's pleasant nature and her dark "native" looks helped us find a "real estate" office. There we rented a tiny, remote rustic cabin that the man assured us, was "as beautiful as the sparkle in God's Eye." It certainly sounded like the retreat we were hoping for. (Later we learned that expression was merely the local way of saying "Its nice looking".)
We put most of our things in storage in the Village and traveled with just the bare necessities, and anything personal we were willing to carry. As we climbed the wild grass lands, the agent's directions were so clear and composed, we could fully attend to the increasing beauty of the totally untouched vista, ever rising, rolling hills, occasional small gatherings of ancient trees and huge hawks drifting overhead. Our cabin was at the crest of a hill that did truly offer the view that was "as beautiful as the sparkle in God's Eye". The salesman had innocently fulfilled his promise to us.
A well-weathered wooden plank cabin, the facilities were just one notch above a pup-tent. No electricity, just candles and a few oil lamps, and a huge ceramic reservoir filled with water that must have been carried up the mountain. Kitchen meant wood fires, of course. The "commode" was a tiny hut close by in the yard. Nothing to flush it with, of course, so it just sat there until nature worked it out.
After we poked around, --commenting to each other on our discoveries and impressions -- we placed our things in a homey way and let ourselves really be there. I went out and sat on the porch --pillows on the floor under me and at my back against the wall-- with the mini-waterpipe I'd brought with, a stash of the superb local sacrament, and my dear, ever present companion notebook at my knee, a virgin page always enticing me into my next poem or revelation. The horizon around us climbed till it found the ragged peaks that fringed the Himalayas.
It was a culminating, beatific afternoon. Riva, perched in a pillow-nested chair at the far end of the narrow porch, was soon engrossed in a romance novel she'd brought so that she could really give herself to it. I floated around the borderland of revelation. The splendor and majestic ease of nature around us, called up many teachings and visions to blossom into my awareness. And each had a resonate after-tone that drew intuition to flow into wondrous harmonics. Rainbow Knowing. Splendid place to be.
But, greedy soul that I am, I yearned, I prayed for that next step I knew of, but hadn't really yet Known; the cosmic revelation of Identity and Unity.
As I meditated and visioned, mighty images and awareness arose to startle and astonish, near overwhelm me with bright unveilings. My mind scanning the Cosmos or ecstatically absorbed into Source-- in those intensely blessed moments the All was Known. Questions and hungers were gloriously fulfilled as they arose. Unity was the Glory that filled it all.
Then, in a breath, it would empty, completely dissipated. And I was back on the porch in my everyday mind, still lost, abandoned. All I'd known was all still there in Higher Mind, I assumed, but there was no Illumination left there for the everyday human creature me, to live from. My spirituality and my life in this material realm seemed even more mutually alien.
With a mind of its own, the clench in my groin told me I'd better go pee. In a case like that, in that precious, absolute privacy, I usually just found a nearby tree that might find it fertilizing, so we'd both benefit from the act. But this time I had a strong image, like guidance, to go use the tiny outhouse to pee in.
My own sense of the Ultimate One is that She's a bit unpredictable, sometimes apparently mischievous or perverse. But Her gifting is always there, so I try to honor Her guidance.
When I think of it now, I do remember honoring the call in my heart as I ceremoniously strode to the outhouse as if approaching a cathedral. The inner image and calling were realer to me than that ramshackle shack with a smelly hole for a floor. I needed to answer my body's urge, and She had guided me, so I rested in inner prayerful silence.
I stooped (as the people thereabouts are a head shorter than I am) and pushed the outhouse door open. The tidal wave of stink assaulted me. I was startled, gasping. I knew I dared not take a breath of the overpowering rancid fumes I carried out my bladder offering. But then, ill considered, I looked down into the pit. It was not just a hole dug down beneath the floor. It was a portal into another Realm, mounds of generations of rotting excrement putrefying before my eyes, ranges surely as high as the nearby Himalayas. My guts lurched and my throat clenched to hold back the stream of vomit thrusting to spew out over it all.
Then, abruptly, in bizarre wizardry, a lucid recall of those stacked bundles of human bones in the Offering Tower shattered the confines of my view. Bare bones of generations of family, friends and loved ones were undeniable precious testaments to the transitoriness of it all: my revelations, these mounds of excrement. Everything. With that acceptance, that release into What Is, I crossed over the edge I'd been dancing along all afternoon. That fantastic speculation became my Reality. Even this, the grossest of things, All that is, is holy.
There it was. The Ultimate Teaching I'd been seeking. Here was the cosmic revelation of Identity and Unity: Everything together, all at once. This is GOD Gill Schwartzing and this is Gill Schwartz GODing. Olee olee ocean free! I am Home.
I must have taken a deep breath in ecstasy, because the smell then overcame me. I passed out laughing --fulfillment and utmost glee-- and fell back out the outhouse door. I lay on the ground, my still un-emptied dick hanging loose from the fly in my shorts --my soul and heart helpless in ineffable At-Onement, until Riva came out to help.
That experience doesn't stay ever-present for me. But the basics are pretty clear and the Knowing often comes back when I have to deal with a pile of rotting refuse one encounters fairly often, whatever form it might assume.
That pile of clustered skeletons . . . Olympic mounds of excrement, . . . Everything together, all at once.
I guess nothing gets left out that way.