Excerpt from a tour participant's blog about her tour to Kathmandu. If you are interested in coming on my next pilgrimage, please visit my tour website.
My first ten days in Kathmandu were during the festival of Dasain, which
pays homage to the various manifestations of the fierce and heroic
Families get together and celebrate the Great Goddess
Durga in her many forms through feasting and animal sacrifice, the
latter ritual being a sad irony that didn't escape me. But I remained
silent and respectful, which was a much better place from which to
observe and learn. The silence imposed upon me by illness prepared me
for what would turn out to be the most profound experience I was to have
Yana and I arrived at Kusali's apartment shortly after she had performed
a puja (prayer) for dozens of her followers who were there for
blessings of the festival. After all the visitors had left, Yana and I,
along with our translator, Basant, entered a small flat which was
simply adorned with religious objects and icons of the Newari
tradition. Kusali sat cross-legged on a large, brass throne, dressed in
a vivid red and gold sari. Her expression was warm and open. Almost
as soon as I laid eyes on this serene and mature woman I began to
relax. I found a spot on the floor against the wall, sat down and
watched the proceedings unfold. After Yana and Kusali exchanged words
and news through Basant, Kusali blessed Yana as she kneeled before her.
Two attendants, a man and a woman, assisted Kusali by tying a red
ribbon around Yana's neck, (red is Durga's favourite colour) and applied
a tika - a large red dot made of thick paste - unto Yana's
forehead directly over the third eye. It was all so fascinating that I
just sat there with a silly grin on my face. Yana then turned to me and
asked if I'd like to be blessed as well. I replied in the affirmative
and knelt before Kusali.
After an eye-opening week and a half in Nepal I no longer expected to be
enraptured. I had no more delusions of being "touched by the divine."
Or so I thought. When Kusali had finished her blessing she asked if
there was anything else she could do for me. I dismissed the idea of
asking her to pray for my career - it seemed so materialistic and
mundane - so I requested a puja for my home. I wanted a good night's
sleep, which had been eluding me for months. She assured me she would
perform the puja as requested, and told me to come back in a week to
pick up an offering for my altar. (I liked the simple fact that she
assumed, or perhaps actually knew, that I had an altar, because I do.) Before taking my leave, I had one more small request. I asked Basant if
it would be alright to have my picture taken with her. He looked very
slightly taken aback for only a moment, and then translated what I'd
asked. Kusali gave her consent. I handed my camera to Basant who took a
picture of Kusali on her throne, and me sitting on the floor beside
her. After thanking her and bidding our farewells, Yana, Basant and I
went to the rooftop of the apartment building to eat some prasad, food that is sanctified by a deity or holy person, in this case Kusali Devi herself.
As we ate our prasad, Basant told me he was very surprised that Kusali
consented to have her picture taken. Although he didn't say it in so
many words, I got the feeling it was one of those things that "just
isn't done." . . . I suddenly realized something unusual had taken place.
What I originally thought was a very pleasant and interesting occasion
turned out to be extraordinary, even sacred. A frisson of recognition
coursed through me. In that moment I felt special.
Kusali gave Yana offerings for her upcoming wedding, and some medicine
for one of her clients. (Yana is a registered hypnotherapist.) Then it
was my turn to receive the gift for my altar, which was an earthy,
hemp-like incense made for cleansing my home. Kusali then unexpectedly
offered me some medicine to "make me happy." She instructed me to add a
bit of the fine powder to some water before meditation, and my spirits
would be lifted.
Thinking our audience was over, I thanked her again,
but she continued to speak. I didn't understand anything except for the
word "psychology," which she said twice during her discourse on me and
my situation. The translator, who was a young woman this time, informed
me that Kusali had referred to my "psychological problems," and that
both the incense and medicine would help me to find some peace. My
curiosity turned to astonishment. I hadn't come to Kusali for healing
of any kind, but she chose to address that anyway.
I have a long history of garden-variety depression that has plagued me
most of my adult life. In its less intense forms I sometimes refer to
it as the "wobblies." But I haven't been wobbly, at least not in any
serious way, for a long time now. My life is on an upswing and my path
is clearer than it's ever been. Okay, sure - my introduction to Nepal
was highly charged with emotion, but both times I was in Kusali's
presence I was courteous, quiet, and completely at peace. Yet she saw
through that. A living goddess looked right into me and saw my soul.
Everyone wants some form of recognition or acknowledgement, and I have
an embarrassing history of needing a lot of it, probably more than
most. I'm an actress and writer, so of course recognition is important
and necessary if I want to actually make a living at it, but my
excessive need for attention goes all the way back to childhood. It was
as if Kusali Devi had read a map of my inner journey, and then gave me
exactly what I've wanted and needed all my life. Nothing could have
been more appropriate than allowing a vain, self-absorbed actress to
have a picture taken with a goddess, and she knew it. Like most of the
gifts I received in Nepal, I didn't even know how exceptional it was
until later. The photograph she allowed me to take, which I've had
printed and framed, will always be one of my most prized possessions.
I suppose all this sounds about as airy-fairy as I get on this web of
mine, and I guess it is, because nothing has really changed except for
the way I feel. My material circumstances are the same as they
were before I went to Nepal. The mundane problems of life and living,
both big and small, continue. The only difference is within me.
I'm sleeping better, feeling calmer and more self-assured than I have
in a long, long time. I'm not afraid of an uncertain future anymore. That
doesn't mean I'll magically overcome disaster or death, nor do I want
to. I just want to be able to deal with whatever comes my way with
grace and dignity. I want to look good with egg on my face.
Kusali got right into my head, and she's there still. A day doesn't go
by when I don't think about her and the effect she's had on me. I have
only to look at the picture of her staring me straight in the eye and I
feel like a worthy person.
It's a small, imperceptible thing, because it's so very personal and
could easily be ascribed to wishful thinking or a vivid imagination.
But make no mistake, it's a minor miracle to me.
No doubt about it - I met a goddess in Nepal.