This is a place of not knowing and self-forgetting where life is inescapable and elemental. We are simultaneously held in awe and wonder. It is unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet here. The most intimate rituals of life and death take place all around us. Beauty is everywhere. Colour is a blindingly physical presence that softens as evening stretches across the sky above the river.
There is passion and movement and a stillness at the heart of the flux. We are travelling to find the centre, under the influence of an invisible presence that is slowly sifting and shifting our consciousness.
On the riverbank and in the cool temple we feel the presiding gods of this particular place, an intrusion of the eternal into our limited days. A kind of rite has enveloped our waking, walking, breathing, sweating, standing, resting. Those simple actions proclaim our mutual interdependence.
We sit on the folds of yellow and red steps as the day concertinas behind us. Dogs bark, doves call, street vendors dip and cajole. The pink and turquoise walls flake and glow in the evening sun, blue awnings ripple, a forest green boat slides by. The air is thick with heat, sandalwood smoke and dung. Figures move ceaselessly around us. The edge of a cerise sari, flecked with gold, catches the light. A child slips into shadow. Death is a familiar sight in the current of life that flows past us. We know an unfamiliar, visceral horror and a fear that, combined with ineffable beauty, often overwhelms us. Under this vast sky we grapple with the source of our confusion and uncertainty but, slowly, we’re beginning to cope with the sensation that we are in the presence of something beyond our comprehension and control.
A small statue becomes a visitant - a defense against or the guest of unseen forces. A crumbling arch is an invitation. We stand at a gateless gate, open to a wide and widening sense of spirit and the shifting terrain of the numinous. We feel wonder and a sense of both shrinking and expansion. Each of us has been looking for ways to communicate the incommunicable. So we simply let go to the ecstasy of connection and its sister, the fear of nothingness. We are dust, light and ash – small particles of cosmic space. There is a plentitude of power here that is transmuted into an abundance of being.
We are without boundaries in this powdery light and changeable place. But here too is the dry earth and our small fire, the caress of warm air and the comfort of our communality. We sit still, engaged in silent dialogue with ourselves and with the natural world. We feel an awakening of creaturely consciousness that knows both fear and peace in the same moment, aliveness and stillness. We are all gravitating around an experience that remains mysterious and impenetrable.
This evening, beside the river – the startling luminosity of the moment provokes unexpected feelings. We feel buoyant and meditative, elated and becalmed. We surrender to dusk and our tranquil mood. An eerie beauty hangs in the stillness that holds darkness and light in balance and hints at the promise of release. We don’t want this journey to end. In these moments of perfection we question why we ever thought life was difficult. Perhaps we will learn to carry our fear and wonder harmoniously. Perhaps part of us will remain here in a bright abyss, part of something that has no beginning and no end.
Words by Louisa Thomsen Brits