Monday, February 25, 2013

A Spiritual Lens

Tenzing Norgay’s account of the 1996 Everest disaster provided an astoundingly thought-provoking narrative, especially in comparison to the relatively straightforward, objective texts we have read thus far. I was initially struck by Norgay’s incorporation of his spirituality—Tibetan Buddhism—throughout the text. Although he claimed to have only developed this spirituality as a result of the climb, its influence permeated virtually every page of his narrative and left me questioning both my own personal beliefs and those of dominant Western culture. The knowledge and enjoyment I gained from reading Touching My Father’s Soul far exceeded that of a traditional adventure narrative, and I hope to revisit the text again in the future.

Generally speaking, I felt an immense connection to the majority of beliefs and ideas Norgay expressed, for instance, his connection between spirituality and the environment. He discusses the internal transformation one experiences when climbing mountains, writing, “In the mountains, worldly attachments are left behind, and in the absence of material distractions, we are opened up to spiritual thought…And when we stop attaching labels to what we see, a sense of quietness flows in to fill the gap, bringing us a step closer to the understanding of emptiness” (218). Norgay’s rather profound statement perhaps explains why a great number of people seek outdoor activity and adventure, a motivation often difficult to articulate. In my first blog post I attempted to express why I personally enjoy climbing and the general outdoors, but I was ultimately at a loss for the words to properly articulate my feelings. Norgay’s insight provided me with the peace of mind that someone, if not myself, found the words to communicative my feelings. He writes, “When climbing, the presence of mind that one needs in dangerous situations makes one naturally undistracted, and that undistractedness is what generates awareness and a feeling of being completely alive” (218).

I was likewise captivated by Norgay’s emphasis on divinations, rituals, and prophetic dreams. When discussing these themes with friends, virtually everyone expressed skepticism, even criticism. Reacting to Norgay’s encounter with his father on the summit, for example, my friends assumed he was certainly hallucinating, simply a victim of high altitude and exhaustion. These conversations left me wondering—Why are these (primarily Buddhist) beliefs and practices so unaccepted in the Western world? I fully believe a potent stigma exists surrounding spirituality that deviates from either objective science or Western religion. A white, American Buddhist, for example, would certainly receive judgment and criticism to some degree, let alone an American claiming to experience prophetic dreams or visions. What contributes to these fundamental cultural differences?

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