Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Self-fulfilling prophecies

Wonderful news! I have giardia.

Saw a nice doctor with an Australian accent who told me about the veritable sea-monkey I'm supporting in my stomach. I took four big antibiotic pills in a single, one-off dose after lunch. Apparently it kills the creatures within two days. Oh yes, this is warfare. That said my body is relatively happy with its new inhabitant. I'm not in belly-clutching pain. None of that belching or swollen torso stuff you hear from others.

It also seems I was supposed to get ill...

Friday I bought a new book, Osho on Sufism. Before making the twenty minute climb up to Dharamkot and Beit Chabad for Shabbat, I had time to read the first chapter. Osho talks about a guy who fasted until he was on the edge of bodily death, just so he could observe the part of him that was unaffected. The body needs fuel but consciousness is "the lamp that burns with neither wick nor oil". He ends the chapter by telling his audience: when you're ill pay less attention to how bad you feel and more attention to your consciousness. Just see if there's a part of you which stays the same even as your body's suffering. What happens? 24 hours later I have just that situation. I can test it out myself.

After Friday night dinner, Menachem, one of the Chabadniks, asked if I wanted to arrive early the next morning so I could go in the mikveh - the Jewish ritual bath. I'd never been in a mikveh before. I thought to myself, why not? So I told Menachem OK, I'd come in early. Then - no torch, because I didn't want to use one on Shabbat - I made my way back to Bhagsu in the dark, letting my eyes adjust.

Next day they gave me a towel and I went in the mikveh. Some stairs down to a narrow pool of untampered-with rainwater, funneled in from a catchment device on the roof. The water was dark and I couldn't see how deep it was. It might have been what I was reading, but I thought the best thing to do was to take the plunge and just observe. It was cold, but not that cold. I submerged myself, over my head, seven times, as is the custom. An hour later I had neck and muscle pain and a pressure in my head. But I wasn't unhappy. Funny, but the whole day seemed like an opportunity.

Later that day I spoke to Boaz, a rabbi visiting from Israel. Boaz had been telling lots of stories to all the people who'd come to Beit Chabad for Shabbat, but all of them were in Hebrew. I tried my hardest to understand, but the best I could do was pick up a few words and the general subject. He promised me that if I came back the following day, the evening before he flew back to Israel, he'd tell me a story in English. When Shabbat went out about 8pm, again I made the journey home in the dark.

I spent the next day resting.

I read a little, the second chapter of Osho. It's a story about a blind man, who finds himself at a friend's house at night. The friend gives him a lantern for the way home. The blind man asks why on earth he would need a lantern when he can't see. The friend says it's so other people see him coming and don't bump into him. The blind man is convinced. He takes the lantern. But five minutes into his journey someone bumps into him. The blind man gets angry: "What's wrong with you? Couldn't you see my light?" So the stranger informs him: "But your lantern's gone out." The blind man had made the journey countless times. Only when he thought he was carrying something to protect him did he get careless and get in someone's way.

I read all this and rested, but by the evening I was feeling worse. What started as flu symptoms was now a stomach problem (although I hadn't yet learned about my new resident). Still, I wanted to see Boaz before he left. I liked the idea of making a journey especially to receive a story promised to me. I grabbed my torch and walked up the hill.

Boaz told me his story, about a small Jewish community in Russia and how they escape the Tzar's decree against them. It's about the highest goal, giving your whole self to the glorification of God.

I'd got what I came for. I said goodbye to Boaz, took the present he gave me - a little wallet with a copy of Psalms, a Tanya (the quintessential Chabad commentary on the Bible) and a charming passport size photo of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, the only graduate of Berlin university to go on to become the Messiah (allegedly). I made my way down the hill again, going quite quickly, zig-zagging round the rocks. I thought about Boaz's story, to squeeze out all the meaning I could.

What happened? I slipped. I wasn't really hurt. Maybe a little shocked at first, but when I realised I was OK I sat there in the path, an amused smile on my face, bordering on laughter. Of course, perfect. There I am, fallen into the grass and there it is in my left hand: a lit torch.

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