Rewalsar, India from above, © Kate Wheeler
Rewalsar, India from above, © Kate Wheeler

I sit in a pink plastic lawn chair in front of my borrowed meditation cave. The afternoon is perfect, a warm cedar-scented breeze sighing through the branches of the deodar cedars on the hill. Tiny birds chirp in the underbrush. My rosary drops onto my lap, my mantra recitation slurs to a halt.

Past my bare toes is a gulf of bluish, haze-softened air. Far below, the sacred lake glints like dull-green jade. The high Himalayas are visible today, low and pale across the horizon.

I’ve wanted to meditate in a cave ever since reading those first hyperbolic yoga books as a teenager. But I thought I’d be eating weeds, fighting off leopards and even a demon or two. Privation and loneliness would be the whole enlightening deal. I’d end up luminous and scrawny, wearing nothing but a diaper.

 Ani Choenyi (left) and Ani Choe Lhamo in Ani Choenyi's cave, © Kate Wheeler
Ani Choenyi (left) and Ani Choe Lhamo in Ani Choenyi’s cave, © Kate Wheeler

Reality, here, is quite the opposite. I’m getting fatter by the day. By the time I go home, after a month, I will have gained eight pounds. My cave has electricity and linoleum on the floor, keeping dust at bay. It’s not exactly a cave, but rather an overhang under a cliff, beefed up with a front wall, door, and curtains on the windows. The effect is reminiscent of a rustic stone house you might see in the Alps, but with bigger spiders.

Yes, I’m surrounded by mini-beings. Spiders, centipedes, flies, mosquitoes, beetles, silverfish, moths, and cockroaches. Through the pitch-black night I hear them crunching in each other’s jaws, plus the scufflings of rats, mongooses, feral cats, and snakes, fighting and mating in the crevices of the roof. Not to mention the living presence of the mountain, dropping the occasional clod onto my bed as she takes another baby step toward the sea.

Liberate this article!

This article is available to subscribers only. Subscribe now for immediate access to the magazine plus video teachings, films, e-books, and more.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Log in.