Experience Issue 216 Nov, 2019
Text by Joanna Neve

Often, we can get so busy, moving from one appointment to the next, that we fail to simply stop for a moment or two and appreciate what’s going on around us.

Flustered by the street vendors and masses of people one day, I tucked myself away into a little alley and looked up to behold an incredible sight – Boudhanath stupa. I had not planned to bump into this iconic stupa, but decided that simply passing by would not do the site justice. I chose the window seat of one of the many coffee houses on an upper floor overlooking it and decided to just sit for a while, observing. Sipping away at my drink, I soon found that over two hours had passed and yet I was still as encapsulated by the people I was watching as I had been when I first arrived.

One man in particular became the object of my attention for a very long while. It was only by taking the time to watch, that I noticed something quite special. Something which on most days I would have walked straight past, without even paying attention to.

He was a middle aged man, in his 40s maybe, with a neatly trimmed beard and oversized clothing. The kind of man that probably walks past you all the time. And then I noticed it, he was a religious devotee, displaying what seemed to me somewhat curious behaviour. He was merging amongst the masses of pilgrims that morning who were performing their circumambulations of the stupa, but he did his most uniquely. He bent down in a single gesture and placed his body entirely flat on the floor. His hands were covered by mats, presumably to prevent his his skin from grating, as he worked his way around the stupa, again and again, for literally hours on end.

The physical pain of the process was clear and yet he continued to work his way round, meter by meter, getting slower and slower as time went by. Towards the end of my stay in the cafe, he was visibly straining as he pushed himself up from his knees into an upright position. What strength and perseverance, I thought. The kind of qualities we can all aspire to hold ourselves - albeit we may choose to express them in other ways. Hours of repetitive circumambulations in a prostrated position is certainly not everyone!

Just sitting that day, I noticed more than just the admirable qualities of worshippers, though. I was also able to find the beauty in the common pigeon, a bird we take for granted, even scorning them as they block our way or fly too low. The large community would launch off from one of the four sides of the main tower, passing each of the giant eyes of Buddha as they swooped in circles, much like the worshippers below them. Just one would adjust its wings slightly and then before you knew it, the flock of over a hundred would launch up, making a streamlined pattern behind the single bird which wanted a change in scenery. To me, this was a beautiful display of community and I observed it in the most unexpected of creatures.

So next time you feel slightly burnt down by the stresses or worries of everyday life, take a different turn that you wouldn’t usually and let the world pass by as you watch and reflect. Doing so will help you appreciate the multitude of happenings around us all the time which often go unnoticed, and if you’re lucky, you might even notice something unusual.