Raspberries

Julie BeloussowLifeLeave a Comment

I was in India when I dreamt of you. The sky was soft and tinted with the blushing pink of a sunset, dome-like it arced high above us, a vaulted cathedral.

We were on a grassy hill, verdant and lush under the passing shade of buoyant, pearlescent clouds. We were picking raspberries. Simple, sweet, and happy. The color of the berries stood out so clearly, little pops of saturation, practically glowing against the green bushes. We were laughing, racing, filling our woven baskets. You were filled with joy, beaming, fulfilled and that joy filled me too.

The air was clear and everything felt abundant, open, free.

Could there be anything more innocent?

I woke up.

I didn’t stir, simply opened my eyes.

Shoddy motorbikes passed by in the dead of night on the rutted road. Their shaky beams of warm light fractured the darkness of my paltry, 300-rupee room. Beeping still, despite the late hour. Something nearby was dripping a gentle pip pip pip. Voices of men speaking a language I do not know drifted in from somewhere down the road. I laid there, breathing in the humidity, watching the lights come and go, listening to the pip pip pip. Calm, but sad.

Just another dream to add to the collection.

I don’t know where it went wrong. I can’t pinpoint a single moment where I can say definitively, “Yes, this is what happened.” It wasn’t like that, it was more like a decay, words and actions that gradually built up like a bristling mold eating away our violaceous raspberries.

That mold spread, it ate at the color of my soul and you slipped away like granules of sand.

It’s cheesy, I know, but you left a void in my heart. Resentment filled it for a short while – I erased you from where I could. This didn’t help, and slowly I emptied myself of it.

A heavy sigh, a Release.

But the original hurt still remained.

It wasn’t until my last month in India I was able to find a some peace. Surrounded by tall pines and Rhododendron in the lower Himalayas, at the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. It was here I imagined you, seated in front of me upon a plump, saffron-colored cushion like my own. Your face was lined with subtle pain, though your posture perfect.

As instructed, I watched as a thick, black smoke filled you. Your face darkened, and your pain increased. It began in your core and edged to your fingers and toes, it clouded your mind and your eyes. It seeped heavy from your lips like molten metal. I felt it pain you and when it reached its apex I breathed in three even breaths, drawing out the smoke with each inhale until it appeared before me, between us.

With one final inhale I took it within myself. There it became a hard, dark mass of obsidian. With the clear, focused mind that rang out like thunder while real thunder rumbled outside the Gompa, I struck the rock with a bolt, shattered it into a thousand black shards. Light filled me, I directed it like water and let it flow from
me to you. Your face had changed, relaxed.

May you be happy, may you be free of suffering, may you be fulfilled.” I breathed.

And with that, you left me. Instead of hurt this time, your departure filled me with peace. I welled up, I cried all the frustration, pain, and every roiling drop of residual resentment out of my heart right there on the floor, among many others from all over the world who were doing the same.

When the tears had passed, I felt lighter. A feeling of ease to the suffering which plagued my psyche for so long washed over me.

Rain was beginning to fall from the cloud-cloaked sky when the sound to finish our meditation rang. A precise and gentle strike upon a singing bowl. Harmonic, clear, and level.

May I too be happy, free of suffering, and fulfilled.

A Bus Ride in Laos

Julie BeloussowLife, TravelLeave a Comment

The driver’s nails are long and his patience short. He swipes his claws across the steering wheel and we take another hairpin curve, tilting as the wheels grip the dirt with whatever tread is left. The smell of deep fried frogs mingles with exhaust and fresh rain. The elderly woman with the frogs snaps off a leg in one hand, rolls up a small ball of sticky rice in the other and pops them into her mouth one after the other.

A voice on the radio whines along with a plucky, twangy tune far more upbeat than the faces filling the seats. The aisle too is full, nevertheless, we stop at a line of wooden huts dusted in a thick coat of adobe red. Small, wire-haired pigs huff at the heels of a mother and her two children. Someone crawls atop the roof to add their bags to the tarp-and-roped mass, it aches at the seams. The ropes squeal as they’re pulled taut and re-tied.

The new passengers squeeze in the front with the bags of rice and the bus lurches forward.

Our bus pulls upward onto a paved section, snaking along this river of crumbling asphalt into the mountains where the air drops a few degrees.

Laos unfolds below us and the view is stunning. Expansive and nearly untouched thanks to the millions of landmines lying in decades-long wait. Valleys and hills pockmarked by the shadows of towering cumulus clouds. The terrain thick with untrodden jungle, occasionally punctuated by a small clearing of farmland. It’s nearly enough to make us forget we are edging along sheer cliffs with nothing between us and a very long way down.

Potholed pavement has run out now, as if too exhausted to continue. This winding, rugged path through mountain mist proves to be too much for one of the kids, plastic bags come out in a hurry and the vomit flows. The foreigner next to the boy handles it well, allowing him to rest against his shoulder while the mother rubs the boy’s back. A moment later the plastic-wrapped puke is tossed nonchalantly out the window and into the jungle.

We wobble along another curve to find ourselves suddenly in a crowd. People are standing around idly, above them spin the 9 wheels of an overturned 18-wheeler courier truck. The other wheels are wedged into a deep, concrete ditch running parallel with the road. Luckily, where the truck rested against, there had been a face of dirt rather than the threatening drop that loomed just opposite. It had only just switched, had the truck lost control a moment before this particular bend and gone the same way, it’d be right off the side into the fog.

Burnt rubber invades our nostrils as we rumble down from the steep mountains. We would see no less than six more roadside accidents, including one small flatbed truck whose owner had driven it off a hill and into a clump of jungle bush below.

Some ten hours later – after a good, long span of literally catching air from our seats along a muddy road under heavy construction – we reached our destination.

Bats And Blue Skies

Julie BeloussowLife, TravelLeave a Comment

There are often moments of awareness that sporadically hit me as I travel. There is a certain clarity and presence that distinguishes itself from my previous life. Tonight was one of those nights.

The grass beneath my bare soles was soft, warm, and so inviting. It had deceived me. Before I had even felt it I had already judged it. It appeared harsh, dried up and with little green left. It must be course, itchy, and possibly full of stickers ready to implant themselves in the uncalloused parts of my toes. This was Australia in the midst of summer. But as I stepped from the concrete, it welcomed me as fondly as family would.

Across this sea of deceptive grass was the place I intended to be. Under the arms of great, full trees were the many bodies of luminous souls. They laughed, danced, and drank the wine of each other’s company as the sun began to set behind those lush trees. Props were scattered among the crowd, hoops and poi and staves and clubs and unicycles and drums and didgeridoos… We planted ourselves among them, rolling out my tie-dye sarong and plopping down with hoops and sun-warmed jugs of water.

I was still ocean-swept, having spent the previous few hours along the Victorian coast line, floating in the pulses of the waves and watching fish skirt around me. We had enjoyed the sun at its peak, warming our backs and ushering us into the cool embrace of the sea.

Soon after we arrived in this suburban park and greeted a few familiar faces, one of the many jumped from group to group to gather everyone together. We all deserted our seats and interlaced our fingers, spreading out wide and forming one large, smiling circle. The circumference was impressive, at least a hundred people strong. One person took the lead and began to pull the circle in a trotting rotation, faster and faster until someone broke and continued the momentum into a spiraling vortex of laughter. Closer and closer the spiral pulled inward, moving quickly into a group hug and cheer to celebrate another well-lived day.

Now I sat cross-legged, relaxing for a moment before taking to the open grass with hoop in hand. It was twilight and the air was still hot as I moved through it. I suddenly became aware of the salt on my skin and the way it felt against the humidity as I danced. Something about it, mixed with the occasional scent of marijuana and kerosene, and the sounds being pounded out from the drum circle, brought me into that crisp, clear feeling of Now.

With that feeling still lingering, I returned to my little tie-dyed seat to watch the others spin fire, weaving those flaming geometric arcs through a darkening sky. Above us, against that vast, lapis canvas, came the bats. They had just awoken and at first it was only a few of them soaring by ever so elegantly. More began to appear, and more, and more – until the sky was spattered with them, all moving in the same direction: toward the dying sun.

Vivid orange streaks of fire blazed against the deep blue background and the drums were thunderous, abbreviated with piercing Kecak chants. The dancers were electric and the sound began to crescendo as the bats poured out in the largest mass yet. They flew across the sky more like eagles than the sporadic, tiny bats I knew back home. The energy was peaking and I sat in awe of it all. The build of the drums had reached its deafening apex and just as they came to their abrupt halt, the mass of bats had ended. The gatherers exploded into cheering and applause.

Like a lucid dream, it was one of those moments. As the feeling left and the bats disappeared to their destination, I sought out the next round of dance within the drum circle.

Above photos by Simon Nguyen.

The Fire

Julie BeloussowInspiration, LifeLeave a Comment

I analyze her face. She appears frustrated, like a glowing hot ember struggling to regain its flame. She’s smoldering under a thick layer of mixed emotions. The steam from the shower begins to obscure her so I swipe my damp palm across the glass to once again bring her into focus. It’s difficult to maintain eye contact; her gaze is hot and piercing. I’ve wronged her, it seems.

She is the rightful fire, I am the warm ash.