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.

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