Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lost (And Found) Horizon

Warning: This is going to be a very personal posting. It will have a smidge of the Dharma in it, but that's about it. Mostly it is going to be about me. It's going to be a bit sappy, and perhaps too personally revealing at times, so proceed at your own risk.

Okay, you've been warned...

Last week, my wife Kathy and I tuned in to Turner Classic Movies, and watched the 1937 classic, Lost Horizon, directed by Frank Capra. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I forced Kathy to watch Lost Horizon with me. This film has reached something akin to mythical proportions in my mind ever since I first saw it on television with my father when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I have a feeling the film had similar meaningfulness for him as well, since he was a teenager when it was first released.

Here is the reason I wanted so badly to see the film again: If I had not watched it with my dad back in Overland Park, Kansas, in the mid-1960's, I can say with just about absolute certainty that I would not be writing this blog today. In terms of the Dharma, this film, for me, illustrates the concept of interdependent co-arising - how this is, because that was; how this happens, because that happened.

But back to the film. It tells the story of an adventurer and statesman based in China, played by Ronald Colman sporting his trademark pencil-thin mustache. He is marooned, along with several other westerners, when their plane crash lands in Tibet. They are then taken to Shangri-la, a mysterious valley with a temperate climate - a land where aging has been slowed down, and people live routinely into their hundreds.

Colman meets the founder and leader of Shangri-la, the High Lama, played by Sam Jaffe in primitive film make-up meant to make him look hundreds of years old. But it worked for me when I was a boy. The dream of a Shangri-la, combined with the peaceful nobility of the High Lama, really got to me then, just as it brought tears to my eyes last week. By and by, Colman ill-advisably leaves Shangri-la, but then eventually returns, experiencing great hardships and overcoming impossible obstacles along the way.

For an adolescent, this story of adventure, romance, and spiritualism, with a heavy dose of idealistic fantasy, was irresistable. For those reasons alone the film would have stuck with me. Then, a short time after watching it, I was passing the time looking through the stacks at my Junior High School library, when I came upon a book entitled My Land and My People written by someone called the "His Holiness the Dalai Lama." I was understandably confused. "You mean there really are High Lamas?" I wondered? "There really is a place called Tibet?" Excitedly, I snatched the book off the shelf and went right to the pictures.

As I pored over the grainy black and white photographs of the city of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and the Potala, the temple-palace where the Dalai Lama had lived, I was struck by how familiar it all seemed. It was as though I had lived here once, myself. When I began reading the story of the Tibetan child, Tenzin Gyatso, who would become the Dalai Lama, and his description of his early years as a monk, I felt my heart quiver with an inexplicable feeling of recognition and fullness.

Of course, I was a kid living in Kansas at the time, so I could never become a monk. I thought this kind of life was reserved only for Asians, anyway. Besides, these things might as well have been taking place on Mars, for my ability to access them was nil. Little did I know that Americans, not much older than me, would soon set out to study the Buddha's teachings the monasteries of Thailand, Burma, Shri Lanka, India, and Nepal. These young people would include Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, and many others, who would later become very important in my spiritual quest.

The fullness in my heart would always return when I would think about the Dalai Lama and his home in Tibet. It would be there when I decided to study the spirituality of the Christian mystics a few years later; when I joined a charismatic youth group in High School; when I was initiated into Transcendental Meditation in College; when I came under the influence of the Unity School of Christianity after moving to Los Angeles; when I began a deep practice of hatha yoga; and finally (and most importantly because it completed the circle), when I found vipassana meditation.

I was at the Bodhitree Bookstore rummaging through their shelves, when a book fell on my head. Literally. It was No Matter Where You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. A clerk walking past tossed out casually, "If a book falls on your head, you have to buy it!" So I did. Here was that feeling, again. It was like I had been on a faraway journey, with many wrong turns and dead ends, but somehow I had finally found my way back to where it all began.

When the movie was over, I turned to my beloved and told her through my tears, that if it were not for the film we had just watched, I would never have met her, since our paths crossed because of my meditation practice.

It's all so precious and delicate - our lives hanging by a thread. I saw an old movie on TV when I was a boy, and it led me to this. How miraculous it all seems to me, now. A world of wonder. My own Shangri-la.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, Roger! What a truly amazing sequence of events. It made me reflect on what my stepping stones were and the events that caused them to arise.