Contemplation or Meditation? Yuri’s Question

I’d been out the night before, anticipating a moon-lit Annapurna, but it was not to be. High clouds had snuck in and were quite thorough in obscuring both mountain and night sky.

At around 6 a.m., several blasts of wind came through, along with light rain. That pretty much indicated what kind of day it was going to be: overcast but with bits of mountain showing through the clouds. But by 9:30, there was enough blue sky and possibility of further clearing that I wanted to hike to the distant ridge that separates Dhampus from the Gandrung valley, and a huge view of Annapurna.

Yuri from Russia via Eugene, Oregon–a Russian language faculty from a community college– wanted to come, and so we got the okay from the trekking permit checkpoint to proceed into “the zone.” Didn’t even have to pay any money, just indicate when we’d be back. Nice!

The trail was wide, well-worn, and actually had signs pointing to our destination: Potala. But 45 minutes later–and after several interesting discussions about Yuri’s Lutheran faith, my research on globalization, and so on–we arrived and enjoyed a tea / snack sitting on a perfectly manicured lawn.

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Yuri couldn’t understand why people were so interested in Tibetan Buddhism and meditation. I tried to distinguish between contemplation and meditation…related and interactive but with a big difference.   Both can help people appreciate their immediate surroundings and acknowledge a wide range of influences that shape consciousness and emotions.  But meditation makes a leap into the nature of that consciousness that contemplation does not.

Both approaches to focusing the mind might start where we were sitting, and with a cup on the table.  The cup helps position the table that supports it, as well as the grassy field upon which the table sits.  Awareness might then move to the grass (and other fauna) being part of the greater mountainside, which is in turn linked to the earth and so on.  Above it all,  clouds are sailing by in a big blue sky.

So far, both contemplation and meditation have helped an individual be more fully in the moment.  But since contemplation is always cognitive and dependent on language, categories, and descriptions, it cannot take the last step into a state of awareness that does not depend on those categories.  To return to the example, meditation gives people a method to then focus on the blue sky itself, where clouds (like thoughts) simply pass by and do not interfere with the unity of the sky.  Meditation helps us concentrate the mostly random firings of our thoughts into a focused state of consciousness that energizes and empowers awareness in beneficial ways.  

I could say a lot more about all this but won’t at the risk of sounding like I’m preaching.  I will say that having a meditation practice on this trip has been hugely and significantly instructive, therapeutic, humbling, and liberating.   

After our snack, we decided the view was okay but really not that much different from the Dhauligiri View Lodge. By 2:00 we were back and rewarded ourselves with naps.

Despite the clouds, I wanted to go out one more time and so headed up to the ridge. Got stuck in a thicket but there were little trails everywhere and soon emerged to the main route. Found a wind-protected place to play flute and serenaded the sun to appear as a big red ball between banks of clouds.

And that was about it, except for a marvelously tasty all-veg. pizza for dinner.

 

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