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Adventures to strange and exotic places and traditional cures that came true.
The journeys described in this volume cut across a number of diverse counties and represent very different experiences. They have one thing in common, however, that binds them together in the spirit of which they were written, namely SOUL. Whether visiting the mountainous regions of the Karakorum in Northern Pakistan, or making the ritual circumambulation in the Grand Mosque at Makka, the author of these tales became a pilgrim soul in search of experiences in distant lands that have the power to touch the pilgrim soul within us all. “Much more than just an engaging book of travel essays and adventures among interesting peoples in exotic lands this book offers a rare glimpse into how outer journeys can become passages to the soul. The author’s own spiritual sensibility allows the reader to experience something of the inner meaning of witnessing the Face of God in all things.” — M. Ali Lakhani, Author, and Editor of Sacred Web
Journeying begins in the infancy of childhood imagination. Children happily build castles in the sand and fly through the air on imaginary magic carpets with all the ease of clouds moving through the heavens. A bouncing ball can become a source of wonder and a firefly illuminating the darkness of a summer night contains all the mystery of the universe with its flashing, phosphorescent glow. They carry in their pockets dried autumn leaves, shining pebbles and perhaps a rabbit’s foot as the valuables on offer by the world. They delight in the sight of a farmer’s scarecrow and their hearts feel terror at the face of a pumpkin illu-minated by well-placed candles in its eyes, nose, and mouth. Their flights of fantasy and their incredible sympathies with the unseen specters of their imagination lay waste to all the counterfeit ambitions of hu-manity and pull away the false mask of the world.
Regrettably, we do not take with us from our youth the sense of mystery and wonder that enlivens the fleeting hours of childhood with their innocent perceptions. To make matters worse, this is not an era in which legends are born, and the legends that we have preserved from antiquity no longer thrill us with their mysterious tales of dragons, knights, and vanishing cities. The Golden Fleece has lost its luster and the silvery waters of the Nile and the Ganges have turned an inglorious muddy brown that belie the glori-ous ancestry of these sacred rivers. The Arc of the Covenant and Holy Grail are vestiges of a lost era whose quest does not speak directly to the modern soul. Atlantis now lies at the bottom of the sea as a myth that was never made true and the ghosts of Minchu Pichu are but airy clouds passing through the ancient ruins of a lost civilization without care or interest for the ruins below. Is there still a road to Damas-cus to stir the worldly-wise cauldron of our hearts or set our souls in tune with the vibration of those celes-tial harmonies, a road whose journey has the power to reduce our pretensions to ashes and lend wings to our holy desires? Is there not some thimble still ample enough to preserve the paucity of our sacred de-sires as a legacy for future generations, who will need to enter the inner sanctum of their own temples to unveil the secrets of the ancients and who will need guidance concerning the whereabouts of their own holy of holies?
As a child, I turned to books to extend my horizons and take me into worlds that I couldn’t go on my own. I wanted nothing more than to charge boldly into the promise of the unknown, across savage seas, deep into the jungle where Tarzan roamed freely with the animal. Fairy tales held a special delight be-cause they made the improbable believable and contained within their simple similitudes the secrets of the abiding truths that children instinctively value. Between a book’s covers and embedded within the words strewn across the page like talisman‘s of the imagination lay the winter garden of the selfish giant, the encaged bird that sang from the heart to gain its freedom. The lost city of Shangri-la reappeared from the mists of time, and the hidden treasures of King Solomon’s mines would forever remain beyond the reach of avaricious humanity. I knew that one day I would venture forth in search of the answer to a ques-tion that lay just below the surface of my consciousness, a question that would need answering if I were ever to resolve the enigma that lay reflected within the well of my imagination.
Within each of us, there is a sacred center—call it a well, a bridge, and a hidden cave—that harbors the secret on one’s inborn destiny, the well to view the reflection of heaven, the bridge to cross between visible and invisible worlds, and the cave to meditate upon and internalize the knowledge of the world as the wisdom of the ages. I remember an experience from childhood that had a lasting impression of my native, childhood mind that may well have been the catalyst that put me inside the bottle of my fertile imagination and cast me adrift across the tumultuous sea of life in search of the Holy Grail, the source of some inner Nile, the lost tribe of Israel or the enchanted garden where myth becomes a narrative for truth and the illusions of the world become the signposts of a higher reality.
When we were children, even though the family didn’t have much money, my parents made every effort to bring us to places of natural beauty within reach of our home just outside of Boston as a way to escape the dull routine of everyday life. Every summer, the family of seven would pile into the old broken down ranch wagon, distinctive enough with its wooden-framed sides, to make our way up into the White Mountains for our little jaunt into the wilds of New Hampshire. For us children, these vacation trips had the makings of an adventure that would lead us to the edge of frenzy and set our hearts on fire. My parents had meticulously set aside enough money during the wintertime for these summer excursions and there-fore had enough money to afford a couple of nights in one of the local motels featured along the country roadside. We walked the gorge at Franconia Notch and sat in canoes on one of the lakes in the shadow of the White Mountains, although why they were called “white” was never resolved in my childish mind.
I mustn’t have been more than six or seven years old at an age when the mind is ripe for making dis-tinct impressions that endure, like a seal in hot wax, and that forever leave behind their indelible mark. My mother sent my fantasy aground on a shore of expectation with the promise that we were about to see “the old man of the mountain”. It set my heart afire and I could think of nothing else, imagining to myself what it could possibly mean. “Who is the old man of the mountain,” I asked my mother and she replied, “It is a great stone face that will come alive and smile down upon those who believe.”
It was late in the day. The sun was going down, casting the mountains on the left side of the road in silhouette against a bountiful summer sunset, ablaze with a rainbow of fiery colors. It was the perfect mo-ment to witness the magic of an illusion, when my mother whispered reverently that the “old man” was about to come into view. “Look to the side of that mountain crag over there,” she intoned reverently, “and you will see his noble face.” True to her promise, after looking so hard that my eyes hurt, the grand coun-tenance of what appeared to be an “old man” hung in profile at the edge of one of the protruding cliffs. Carved within the rough stones as though by the hand of the Divinity, it was suddenly relatively easy to discern the profile of the grand patriarch with a flowing mane of hair perched on the side of the cliff and overlooking a vast landscape. This was obviously the work of Nature formed on the precipice of a moun-tain by some immense rocks which were thrown together and weathered in such of way that, when viewed from a particular angle and at the proper distance, bore the uncanny features of a human face.
It was our happy lot to see this illusion a number of times in our travels through the White Mountains over several summers, and I never tired of gazing upon that mysterious visage whose tranquil gaze looked contentedly out across the broad expanse of the mountains and valleys clear to the horizon, as though all the world were at the mercy of his glance. I remember thinking in my childish imagination how much I wished that the face of the old man would turn its head and cast its benevolent smile down upon my expectant heart, but I soon realized it was not meant to be and rested content with the sublime profile of the man whose image seemed to cast its gaze from the depths of a deep warm heart, a heart that em-braced all of mankind with its affections and still had room for more. “One day you may see the full face of the old man,” my mother chided, “so you better make sure you are ready to meet his gaze.”
It was a prophecy that would take root in my imagination to grow into a desire to search the world for the benevolent smile of the old man in every cloud, rock, and ragged hilltop. Would I be man enough to meet his gaze with equanimity and insight? My sensibility was such that in gazing at the horizon of my own world, I felt impelled to search for the mythical land of beyond, to explore every cave, to cross every bridge, to look deep down into every well for a reflection of that mysterious face that would send my heart free with the serene gaze of its divinity and benevolent smile close at hand to show me the way.
In this particular volume, we have gathered together a number of fugitive tales of unexpected encounters and cures that might have remained objects of fantasy if they had not slipped through the envelope of time and come true. Certainly with reference to people and places, I never envisioned in my wildest child-hood dreams that I would find solitude and spiritual in-dwelling in the monasteries of Mount Athos or ex-perience the supreme silence of an ancient Buddhist monastery amid the arid mountains of Ladakh, mountains that in the drama of their immensity lay like sleeping behemoths, under the roof of Heaven and in a world in which time and all its affairs are excluded from this rarefied setting. In a world of false prom-ises and faded hopes, who could have predicted that I would find friendship and love not from the near shores of my own country, but in the wild landscape of a tribal culture in Northern Pakistan where a Pathan family would take me into the arms of its warm embrace and sit me down at the hearth of their sacred sympathies.
In an era of undiagnosed diseases that escape the scrutiny of modern medical inquiry and chronic ill-ness with no hope for recovery, blessed is the person who can seek out and find, amid the palm groves of the Keralan countryside and in a village kampong in the jungles of Malaysia, not only the promise of a cure, but its living reality, a cure that embodies the traditional knowledge and ancient wisdoms that origi-nate in sacred scripture and that still uses those scriptures as a means of recovery and well being. Finally, as the alpha of the earthly journey and the omega of the spiritual quest, I had the good fortune to embody all my spiritual hopes and aspirations in the physical journey to Medinah and Makkah, a pilgrimage that brought me not only to the beloved tomb of the Prophet Mohammed, upon him blessings and peace, but also to the very center of Islam, the focal point of billions of hearts and the point of departure heavenward on our journey of spiritual ascent.
In my wayward dreams of travel, I wanted to ply through oceans and trek through deserts scooping up the grand world of nature into my arms for safekeeping like the fairy-tale giants of my story books. The Pacific, the Gobi, and the Himalayas all inspired me with their grandeur, their majesty and their ineffable mystery of magnitude and presence, portending a secret that I wanted to explore and contain within my-self as an experience that once achieved no one could take away. Travel was an escape into the ancient history of humanity and the events they lived through as evidence to their success and failure. In my imagination during history class, I had roamed the Roman Forum, climbed the Greek Acropolis, and stood in awe at the gates of Thermopylae; but was never able to capture their essence or true meaning from the dusty pages of my school primer. At best, I was left with a hollow feeling that could not be filled through pictures and words until I saw these things in person and filled my mind, heart, and soul with their mes-sage of the former grandeur of now vanished worlds.
Although the journeys described in this volume cut across a number of diverse counties including In-dia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and while they represent a variety of experiences, they have one thing in common that binds them together in the spirit of which they were written, namely SOUL. If I could put it another way, it is as if I had stepped inside a bottle like a message encased in glass and sent off by some invisible hand across the broad expanse of the vast ocean in readiness for the vicissitudes that may come my way; but in anticipation of some unique encounter or cure that may break open the encasement of the message to reveal the inner wonders of an experience come true. Whether visiting the mountainous regions of the Karakorum in Northern Pakistan or making the ritual circumambulation around the sanctified ground of the Kaaba within the Grand Mosque at Makkah, one becomes a pilgrim soul in search of the holy land within one’s own being. Through a variety of sacred encounters that touch the body, mind, and heart with the wand of spirituality and well-being, I trekked through the deserts of Arabia and the jungles of the Far East to meet up with unique people in exotic places that have the power to touch the pilgrim soul in us all.
In my quest for travel that had meaning and journeys that would broaden my horizons, I was following a call that must be obeyed, like the mystic draw of the lodestone when its magnetic potency summons iron. I hoped to find the open face of the “old man” that is inscribed in all the wonders of Nature, from the majestic mountain ranges where I originally saw the great stone face in profile, to the grand deserts of the earth with their parch, ascetic quality and their stark message of the sacred woven into the face of its un-dulating sands. Would I have to visit the great Sphinx in order to hear in person the whisper of its eternal sigh? Would I ultimately discover the benevolent face of the old man amid the rocks and boulders thrown down by the Divinity on some distant mountain cliff? The answer lies somewhere between the illusions of the world and the promises of a reality that weaves its expression of unity into the golden thread of life’s tapestry, in order to disclose the mystery we have been in search of all along, but never had the presence of mind to witness firsthand: “Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God.” (Quran 2:115)