Following the path of reliance

Yesterday I went with my partner and some friends to go walking in a very mountainous area in the south-east of France. It’s so beautiful here and I was looking forward to going on my first proper walk since arriving

We’re staying with our friend Tracy’s family. When she hasn’t been around to help us translate we’ve had to rely on the google translate app for communication which has been fun. It’s also been a really good opportunity to try and practise and improve my French (I have a long way to go!)

So off we set yesterday with Tracy’s family (she couldn’t make it), to do some serious walking…. or at least that was what I had in mind. Everyone was putting their mountain climbing boots on and big jackets and I was thinking ‘cool, this is going to be a real adventure.’  That’s exactly what it turned out to be, although maybe not what everyone had in mind

The thing is, we hasn’t had a discussion around the plan and I had just assumed we’d be walking up the mountain. It turned out that two of our party, Tracy’s sister and dad, weren’t going to walk up, but her mum came up with us for a small part of the ascent

As so often happens, my partner went ahead and I didn’t really know where he’d gone. So after being on my own for a few minutes I came to a juncture where you could either turn right to go to the waterfall which was 20 minutes walk away, or turn left and keep going up the mountain. So what did I do? Kept going up of course

I had attempted to have a conversation with my friend’s mum about how long it was okay to walk for, and she used this word ‘tranquile’ which I interpreted as ‘take as much time as you want’. Being a very literal person I thought to myself ‘cool, up to the top it is’

Little did I know that no-one had expected me to actually go up the mountain, that the path I was about to take was called something like ‘the trail of death’ and that not only had someone died on the path the day before, but apparently 30 in the past year, making it one of the most deadly walking tracks in France

The trail of death


So off I set, unwittingly up the mountain. As I walked along steep crevasses, sometimes accompanied by steel ropes and rails, and climbed up rocky faces with metal ladders and handholds, whilst also trying to avoid falling off treacherous paths down steep cliffs, I did think to myself that the walk seemed a bit on the difficult side

As I progressed on my way up the mountain I became aware that the path was rather difficult to discern and follow, having to back-track a few times and eventually finding my way up to a point where there was a steep rocky cliff, with no clear path leading to the top

As discussed in a previous article I was often relying on my guru yoga practice, which essentially means asking for help from the enlightened beings, to figure out the best way to go. What was funny though, is that the guidance seemed to suggest I follow paths which took me to dead ends, and then when I got there suggesting I go back the way I came until I found the main trail again (or as close to that as could be found up there)

Although this may sound a bit strange, and possibly frustrating, I’m used to following this advice and was more-or-less happy to just follow it. I guess I figure if you’re going to rely then there’s not much point on second-guessing it (although questioning my interpretation can be helpful at times)

So next I climbed up this rocky face and was quite close to the top of the mountain. I didn’t have the time on me and figured I must have been gone at least a couple of hours by now, but the top wasn’t far away… or so I thought

As I ascended I could hear the bells around cows’ necks ringing and came to a sign which said I was at 1,500 metres. ‘Great, I thought, I’m really getting there’. I was also at the same altitude as some clouds which were floating nearby and noticed the air was getting thinner

By this time I had been walking through steep paddocks and really had no idea where the official path was, but then I came to some signs. Only problem was that I didn’t know where I had started so the names on the sign posts didn’t help me much

I walked a bit further up the mountain, but then realised it was going to take longer than I thought to reach the summit and so decided to turn back. I started to follow one of the marked paths down, but it seemed to be taking me in the wrong direction, and the guidance suggested I needed to go back the way I came (something I wasn’t overly keen on, as I realised going down the same way was likely to be somewhat harder than coming up)

After taking a shortcut through some light bush, and walking back down the steep banks of this farm, I found my way back to the cliff. I also met a couple of French guys along the way, one who’d be living in Surry Hills not so long ago (a suburb in Sydney)… small world!

Finding the path


Climbing back down the cliff wasn’t too bad, but finding the path to descend was actually very difficult… I kept wandering until I got to the point where I was walking along steep banks with no clear paths and using a stick, holding onto roots and jumping from tree trunk to tree trunk to stop myself falling down the steep bank with no foreseeable end in sight

At this point, being at the top of a large mountain by myself, noticing it was getting colder and darker, and not really knowing where I was going, I did start to feel a bit of panic set in, accompanied by some second-guessing and indecision. But then I thought ‘what’s the point of following these feelings’, knowing nothing good was going to come of it. So I did my best not to ignore the anxious thoughts and focus on my mind of reliance

Once again, although the guidance I was getting was clear, it did lead to my back-tracking again a couple of times before eventually finding the obscure path I had used to get up (it appeared that some kind people had left piles of rocks as markers, although in hindsight I wonder if at least one of them was a memorial)

If you haven’t read my article on guru yoga then it’s possibly worth briefly mentioning how it works, just to give it a bit more context. Essentially I’m connecting with my spiritual guide and suggesting what I think the best course of action is, and then I get a sign whether I should either go with that course of action or not. So in one sense, at a very rudimentary level, it could be seen as a process of elimination

So this was how I was making my decisions, and fortunately for me, through keeping a calm mind and trusting the guidance I was given, I was able to find the cliff with foot and hand-holds I had originally climbed up, and started to make my way down the rocky face

As I realised the others were possibly getting worried by now, I attempted to descend as quickly as possible and was getting a bit of jelly legs by the time I was nearing the bottom

I think I was also somewhat aware of a helicopter flying around in the distance, but had no idea it was out looking for me. As I got near the bottom of the track, two men who looked like they were part of a search and rescue team looked at me and tried to communicate with me

Even though they barely spoke English, the quickly established I was most likely the person they were looking for. Then we headed back down to the bottom together to meet up with my concerned friends and partner

Relying on a spiritual guide


So by now you might be wondering what this all has to do with reliance, particularly given that the guidance I was receiving may have appeared to be unclear or contradictory

Or perhaps you have no idea what reliance is. In the context of this article reliance means relying on something greater than oneself, on a being that has already accomplished what it is we’re trying to attain. Relying not only on enlightened beings in general (more is explained about them in this article), but more specifically on a spiritual guide

Part of the decision process that leads us to relying on a spiritual guide is coming to the realisation that we don’t really know much. In particular that we have no idea how to free ourself from suffering or make progress on the path to inner peace and self-realisation

When we make a decision to follow a spiritual guide, then essentially we’ve decided to follow whatever it is they guide us to do (within the realms of common sense!). For me, the guidance I received on my walk was a reminder of that. Although superficially at least, it may have seemed that some of the advice I was given was misleading or contradictory, because the signs were very clear to me, I followed them never-the-less

To back-track a couple of hours in this story, when my partner came down about 30 minutes after having last seen me and realised I wasn’t at the bottom, he immediately ran up the mountain to start looking for me. When Tracy’s family asked him afterwards why he’d done this, he said because it wasn’t the first time I’d gone off on my own (although in my defence I had assumed I was following him that time as well)

In another similar scenario whilst walking up a mountain in New Zealand, I had seen a steep track and gone up it at the advice of my guru yoga practice. ‘Wow, what sort of practice is this’ you might be thinking. And of course it might seem a bit strange, particularly asking for advice on where to go on walking tracks, but for me I’m constantly seeking guidance on what’s most beneficial in my life

Of course the main function of this practice isn’t to get advice on where to walk, but on the decisions that will facilitate the most rapid progress on the path. Following this advice has led me to doing many other things I never really thought would be part of my spiritual path, but that have always given rise to benefit and a clearer understanding of their purpose sooner or later

Also it’s most often times when I’m relying that something will shift in my mind. Whilst walking in the mountains in New Zealand I got my first insight into realising that I’m not my thoughts as explained in this article

In the previous couple of weeks I’d been struggling with a challenge in my relationship that I was finding difficult to reconcile and that was causing me a lot of mental pain. But whilst on my solo adventure up the mountain I felt something shift, my mind becoming more open and peaceful, and with this extra space created in my mind I was able to let go of what had been bothering me

So for me this walk up the mountain had meaning and helped me to improve spiritually by shifting some previously entrenched delusion, or negativity. I realise that through being forced to rely (even when I was being taken to dead ends), it made me very humble and allowed me to more deeply connect with my guru

Apologies to the French government for the money wasted on sending out a helicopter and search party of course (mind you, at least they were successful!). Apologies also to my friend’s family for the worry caused and I’m grateful for their caring and patient attitude

I was gone 4 hours in total, which possibly was a bit longer than one might expect a person you’re waiting on to walk for, but this duration of walk is fairly normal for me and my partner in case that helps with my defence!

So at the end of it all, this whole experience helped remind me of the need to stay connected to my guru so that he can help me overcome obstacles and make continued progress on my path. It also led to a deeper experience of renunciation (the wish to abandon all mental pain) and strengthened my desire to engage in the three higher trainings (as explained in Modern Buddhism)

For my partner apparently it was a reminder of the need for us to keep our mobile phones on us, so that the next time my spiritual guide suggests I go walking up a steep and perilous mountain, at least I’m contactable!

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