I’m a traveller. I LOVE visiting other countries, other cultures, other peoples, as in my recent journey to Hong Kong.
But travelling isn’t only the physical acts of booking a holiday, booking the flights, hotels, cars, etc., packing a bag, arriving at the airport and checking in on the right day at the right time. Nor is it the anticipation and the excitement that precedes the journey.
No, journeys are far more important. A journey is also an emotional and spiritual expansion. That, more than anything, is what fascinates me about travelling.
We change and grow and evolve from moment to moment, of course. Each interaction with another leaves us forever changed. But nothing speeds up our growth and expansion in the way that travelling to another part of the world does, at least for me.
Years ago, I lived in Hong Kong for nearly eight wonderfully crazy years. That was more than eighteen years ago, now. But I had an opportunity to spend Christmas 2015 there, and became enthralled again by its unexpected beauty among the many high rises, the glittering gems of its many lights at night, its otherworldliness, its uncommon smells, its fast paced materialism, and its perpetual spirituality. Hong Kong remains, for me, a contradiction, a mystery, a home.
The day before I was to return to the UK, I had an opportunity to visit the big Buddha. Talk about journeys! I went with my husband and members of his family by cable car, and that journey alone was worth the effort of getting there. It felt as though we were leaving Hong Kong far behind as we travelled over a vast area of unspoilt trees and vegetation far below us. A small footpath snaked through the undergrowth where, every now and then, a brightly coloured speck was the only evidence of brave souls venturing towards the big Buddha on foot.
For us, the cable car journey went on, and on, over several hills until finally, there stood the Buddha, enshrouded in a light mist, a guardian over Hong Kong, hands extended in blessing before him. It was a breathtaking and otherworldly vision, indeed, which intensified the nearer we went.
En route, through the small shopping centre, where all sorts of Buddha paraphernalia could be bought as treasures to take home, a small theatre presented shows about Buddha’s life and philosophy.
Then, after the long walk, where sacred cows approached the tourists for snacks, we encountered the many steps that lead up to the big Buddha’s statue, the steps, a symbol perhaps of the effort it takes to reach enlightenment. I was certainly winded and relieved to reach the top.
The atmosphere around the statue was surprisingly serene despite the hordes of tourists visiting the place. By the time we left, I felt thoroughly imbued with a sense of calm, peace, and renewed strength for whatever the journey of 2016 might bring, and a serene kind of happiness that made me smile at strangers for no apparent reason.
Afterwards, on the way back down to the cable car, I had the opportunity to add my wishes and prayers to the prayer tree that 2016 will be a wonderful year for us all in the Year of the Fire Monkey.
But once home in London, I wanted the feeling of peace, contentment and happiness to continue, and came upon a book I felt might be able to help me to not only understand it, but to sustain it. The book is called “Happiness, a guide to developing life’s most important skill.” It was written by Matthieu Ricard.
A scientist turned Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard presents interesting points and words of wisdom on the state of happiness – well worth a read, and it does not matter whether or not you are a Buddhist – I am not – or even harbour spiritual beliefs.
Basically, the book is a reminder of the fact that we get so entangled and bogged down in our journey towards whatever it is we think will make us happy, that we often can’t find it. But the irony is that happiness is an internal job – a state of mind – and not at all dependent on anything external. A great reminder, indeed.
Happiness, I find, is rather a good goal to have for 2016!