Across Thin Ice
Story and Photographs By John Murray
Momentum is a curious and powerful force.
After traveling 48 hours non-stop from Waterbury, Connecticut, to a small Tibetan refugee camp tucked into the southwest corner of India, I felt like I was hanging ten as I surfed a large wave of momentum towards the beach. The 13,000 mile journey had taken me through barrels of bureaucratic red tape, through New York City, Newark Airport, Milan, Italy, Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) and into Goa, a resort town on the west coast of India. There had been visa headaches, ticketing problems, frantic last second packing, buses, taxis, three flights and finally a six hour drive from Goa along a treacherous mountain road frequented by monkeys, cows, buses, motorcycles, and thousands of Indians carrying water, wood and rocks on top of their heads.
After three months of struggling and planning, I was 300 feet from the Dalai Lama when my path was blocked by a gauntlet of Tibetan security forces. Stepping out from the line of twenty security personnel, two Tibetan women attired in colorful traditional dresses blocked my path and started waving their hands over their heads. "No camera, no camera," they said, as they started pulling at my camera bag.
Getting stopped at that point was going to be a jarring experience, like ramming my surfboard into the base of a granite cliff.
I had been invited to attend the opening of a massive new prayer hall at the Drepung Gomang Monastery in southern India. The monastery is home to 1700 refugee monks who have fled Chinese persecution in Tibet. When China invaded Tibet in 1950 they justified their aggression by arguing the fact that Tibet had always been part of mother China, an absurd position that overlooked the fact that Tibet had been a free and independent country for more than 70 years.
As they stormed across Tibet, Chinese forces destroyed thousands of monasteries, the cultural nerve centers for the country. Monks were murdered, nuns raped. Tibetan leaders made a plea to the United Nations for help, but centuries of isolation hurt their cause. Tibet had no known oil reserves and no strategic interest to the West, so the world looked the other way. China was given a free pass.
In 1959 sixty monks from the largest monastery in Tibet, the Drepung Gomang Monastery, fled over the Himalayan Mountains and re-established the monastery in the jungles of southern India. As the Chinese continue to pillage Tibet, the monasteries in India became the key to saving Tibetan culture from extinction. Over the years the population at the monastery swelled as young Tibetans risked their lives to cross over the highest mountain range in the world to study Tibetan Buddhisim in India.
Overcrowded, and with strained resources, the refugee monks at Drepung Gomang launched three tour groups during the past three years in an attempt to raise money in Europe and North America. I befriended one of the groups two years ago while they were fundraising in Greater Waterbury.
The group spent a considerable time living at the Woodbury Yoga Center, whose director, Janiki Pierson, acted as their tour coordinator. While in the area the monks performed at the Taft School, St. Margaret McTernan, Westover School and Waterbury Hospital.
The monastery's three year fund raising effort snared $1.5 million and the prayer hall was scheduled to open during a gala celebration, December 7th, presided over by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. The Dalai Lama is a unique combination of Pope and President to the Tibetan people, and they believe he is a reincarnated God. Fearing the Chinese had plans to kill him, the Dalai Lama escaped over the Himalayan Mountains in 1959 and established a Tibetan government in exile, in Dharmsala, India.
Despite the barbarous actions of the Chinese - mass murdering Tibetans and attempting to obliterate their culture - the Dalai Lama has spent 50 years seeking a non-violent solution to the conflict. He believes that violence always leads to more violence, and has sought peaceful solutions to convince the Chinese that they must recognize the rights of the Tibetan people. For four decades the Dalai Lama has struggled to ignite world interest in the plight of Tibet, and in 1988 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent actions and extraordinary patience.
One hundred thousand Tibetans now live in refugee camps scattered throughout India, and they continue to hope and pray that the Dalai Lama's non-violent approach will one day enable them to set foot in Tibet again. The Dalai Lama is one of the most peaceful and widely respected men on the planet, yet the Chinese are threatened by this compassionate monk in saffron and maroon robes.
Despite decades of Chinese occupation it is only the Dalai Lama who can provide China with the legitimacy it needs to rule Tibet. He responds to Chinese aggression with messages of peace. When China cracked down on a rebellion in Tibet in 1989 the Dalai Lama said, "No amount of repression, however brutal and violent, can silence the voice of freedom and peace." He then cautioned Tibetans that there was no need to hate the Chinese. He said, "hatred destroys our own happiness."
More than 1,000,000 Tibetans have died as a direct result of the Chinese invasion 44 years ago, but it is the Dalai Lama's non-violent reaction to China that has catapulted him onto the world stage. The world is used to acts of aggression and war, but to challenge one of the worlds superpowers armed with little more than truth, and a compassionate heart, is to redefine the word underdog.
Ironically, the Dalai Lama's message of non-violence is more threatening to Chinese leaders than a battalion of armored tanks. You can crush steel, but truth has turned out to be more resilient.
There have been attempts on the Dalai Lama's life and there have been reports that the Chinese government had placed an unofficial bounty on his head.
Knowing that Chinese officials wanted the Dalai Lama silenced, I knew long before I traveled to India that there would be tight security around the prayer hall on the day of the celebration. Six weeks before my trip, I e-mailed the Dalai Lama's office in Dharmsala and requested press credentials for the event. I asked if there were any opportunity to interview the Dalai Lama during the five days we would both be at the monastery. Although I knew it was like e-mailing the White House and requesting an interview with President Bush, what did I have to lose?
Two hours later I got a response from the Dalai Lama's secretary informing me "His Holiness was booked for the entire stay and had no time for the interview. We hope you understand."
Understand? I was simply thrilled to get a response. During the past two years I've come to admire and respect the Dalai Lama more than any political or spiritual leader on this planet. I'm not Buddhist, nor do I pretend to understand a fraction of his religion, or any major religion for that matter. What excites me about the Dalai Lama has nothing to do with Buddhism, or chanting, or reincarnation.
I believe his non-violent message soars beyond the Tibetan-Chinese dispute and resonates across seven continents. There has got to be a better way to live on this planet than how we exist today. Anger and aggression are the driving forces in the world. Terrorists work in the shadows, while America steps into the mid-day sun to rain bombs on Afghanistan, and soon, Iraq. We respond to aggression with even more aggression and violence. America is bigger and stronger, and we can squash resistance into dust. The world, and America, is currently trapped in an endless cycle of violence that's inching the planet closer to oblivion.
There is another way.
The Dalai Lama's response to Chinese atrocities has enabled him to rise above circumstance and transform himself into one of the most influential peace activists in history. But he is not simply trying to reclaim his rightful place inside Tibet, he is battling for world peace, one mind at a time.
He drills through labels and geographical borders to teach that we are all basically the same. We all seek happiness and want to avoid suffering. If we carefully analyze our minds, he said, we will see that afflictive emotions are at the root of all suffering. What are the afflictive emotions? Anger, hatred, jealousy, and greed.
If the mind is in a disturbed state it is impossible to appreciate and enjoy the world.
The Dalai Lama goes beyond what at first appears to be a feel good cliché, and lays out a blueprint of how we can overcome our afflictive emotions. The central method for achieving a happier life is by training your mind in a daily practice that weakens negative attitudes and strengthens positive ones. It is his belief that by training the mind through systematic meditation we can eventually- and with enormous effort- learn to control our thoughts and emotions. The power to achieve happiness and peace, the Dalai Lama teaches, is inside our own heads.
This is the most extraordinary idea I have ever encountered, and although I am still stumbling along my path towards peace and happiness, the Dalai Lama has provided a compass.
He is the religious leader to millions of Buddhists, yet the Dalai Lama has often said the world would be a better place to live if we abolished religion, and tried being nice to each other. Religion, he said, divides, labels and fosters conflict. Many of the great atrocities in world history have been ignited by religions - the Crusades, the Holocaust, the battle for the Middle East and Northern Ireland.
If we focus on what unites us, instead of divides us, the world would be a much nicer place to live. This is the universal message of the Dalai Lama and what makes the man resonate in this deadly time in world history. He is the Mahatma Gandhi of his generation.
I would have been excited to travel to the monastery in India just to visit my monk friends, but when I found out that the Dalai Lama was going to be there, I was electrified.
So I e-mailed the Dalai Lama's secretary back and asked if I needed any special clearance to photograph the Dalai Lama during the ceremony. I was told that I should get press credentials from the administrative office when I arrived.
Since I was arriving late Friday afternoon, the day before the event, I was cutting it close. The worst-case scenario would be that I'd have to leave my cameras in my room and enjoy the ceremony with my eyes and ears. Not a bad fall back position.
Before jetting off to India I had to wrangle with the Indian government to obtain a visa to enter the country. They don't want journalists wandering around India and they don't encourage visitors to enter the Tibetan refugee camps. If I were honest with the Indian authorities my visa would be delayed for five to six months. So I presented myself as a construction worker on vacation and crossed my fingers.
When I received my passport and visa in a Fed Ex package the day before I left, I whooped and hollered, and did a little jig around my kitchen. I couldn't have been any happier if I'd just won the lotto. Hot damn, I was going to India to see the Dalai Lama.
When I arrived at the monastery several days later I made a beeline to the administrative office to try and snag press credentials for the ceremony. When I began talking with Migmar, the secretary of the monastery, he said he would see what he could do.
I had already been issued VIP credentials, so what was the big deal about pushing for a press pass?
In a word - photography
I've been a journalist for 16 years, writing and photographing my way around Connecticut and various regions of the world. Photography is a way to share my experiences with others, and in those rare and pure moments it provides the opportunity to expose a truth the written word cannot reveal.
The opportunity to photograph one of the most courageous and influential men on the planet was a chance I didn't want to miss.
But no cameras were allowed inside the prayer hall. If anyone tried to sneak one in it would be confiscated at the security checkpoints. The only way to get a camera in was to be a journalist with a press pass dangling around your neck.
The monks were expecting 15,000 people at the ceremony the following day and so far only one Japanese journalist had permission to photograph the event. Migmar had been dealing with thousands of details and special requests leading up to the event and the poor man looked like he had been wandering across the desert for three days with no food or water.
Several other Americans had stormed the office that day to demand a private audience with the Dalai Lama, or to insist that they should be allowed to play a musical instrument for the Dalai Lama during the celebration the following day.
Here I was, just another American tapping at Migmar's skull like a jackhammer on Fifth Avenue.
I wanted press credentials - I am a journalist - but I'm sure it sounded like I was demanding a seat on the first flight to Jupiter. Just then Timpo Rinpoche strolled in the room. He wore western clothes and had wrap around shades perched atop his head. I later found out that Tibetan Buddhists believe Timpo Rinpoche is a very powerful reincarnated Lama, or holy man.
He was born in the United States and was identified by the Dalai Lama as a reincarnated being. He spent many years studying as a monk before leaving the monastery to begin life as a layperson. He is now married with children and lives in Boulder, Colorado. He continues to command deep respect with the monks because when he dies, they believe the Lama will be reincarnated again.
Rinpoche took over the situation and asked to see my press credentials, which I had left at home to avoid any problems getting through Indian customs in Mumbai. I entered the country as a construction worker and was now caught in a sticky situation. I did have a business card and several monks at the monastery could vouch for me. I said I had been in contact with the Dalai Lama's office and they had told me to get the credentials at the monastery.
Rinpoche wanted to know who I had talked to, and it appeared my only shot of photographing the event rested on producing this guy’s name. I had to go to a cyber café at the monastery and spend a painfully slow 90 minutes online to retrieve my e-mail to get the Dalai Lama's secretary's name. I got it and returned to the administrative office. I was told the name was a big help, but my request still needed to get past the Dalai Lama's security team, the Indian security team, and then the monastery's administrative office. I was told to come back in a few hours.
When I came back there was still no word. I came back two more times without success before jet lag walloped me and I collapsed into bed at 10 p.m. I woke up at 4 a.m. and wandered around the monastery for two hours listening to crickets and birds and the sounds of 10,000 monks stirring in the darkness.
Before sunrise thousands of monks dressed in saffron and maroon robes queued up at the security gates to make their way inside the prayer hall complex. The lines stretched for hundreds of yards as a gauntlet of security frisked each monk.
I was at the administrative office at 6 a.m. and nobody was there. I returned at 7 a.m. and was informed that Migmar and Timpo Rinpoche were already inside the prayer hall. This was not good news. If by some miracle they had actually gotten me a press pass, it was on the inside, and I was on the outside looking in.
I had two choices. Drop my camera bag at my room and enjoy the celebration, or try to get Migmar to come out of the prayer hall and see if he had a press pass. I chose the latter. After traveling to the other side of the world I wasn't giving up easily.
As I made my way towards the prayer hall complex it seemed like the entire monastery was now inside the walled perimeter, and only a few stragglers were drifting about. The invitation to the opening ceremony said the event began at 9 a.m., but unbeknownst to me, everyone needed to be in place by 7:30 for group prayer and tea.
It was now 7:20.
I had to make a move. I took a couple of deep breaths and walked towards the front gate. I was determined to mix Eastern and Western philosophy into a unique blend of peaceful aggression. I vowed not to be rude or obnoxious, but I was going to push the envelope. I was immediately stopped by security and two Tibetan women waving their hands saying "No camera. No camera."
Very calmly I said I wanted to talk with Migmar.
"No camera," they said, "no camera."
"Migmar," I repeated. "I want to talk to Migmar."
"No," they said, " no, no."
Since everyone else was inside, it was just me surrounded by 20 security guards - mostly monks in maroon robes, protecting the front gate. The chanting was getting louder inside the prayer hall and the guards conferred in Tibetan. They were trying to figure out how to communicate with this Western dope that he wasn’t getting inside the complex with his camera.
One of the ladies smiled at me and said "You leave camera here. You okay go. No camera."
I said the only thing I could think of, "Migmar."
They stared at me.
"Migmar," I said. "I need to talk with Migmar. He has a special pass for my cameras."
It was a standoff. They weren't letting me in and I wasn't surrendering until Migmar told me I had no press pass. Seconds ticked by, a minute, I stood my ground. They stared at me and I kept repeating Migmar's name like a mantra.
Suddenly it was over. The monks parted like the Red Sea and said, "Go, you go." I stepped inside the gate and was engulfed by a sea of hands frisking me for concealed weapons. Ten monks looked at my camera and inside the lenses. I smiled at them, they laughed, and then waved me through.
As I broke free of security I was enveloped in a wave of euphoria. I wasn't home free yet, but my momentum was carrying me closer.
A young monk motioned for me to follow him along the north side of the prayer hall and led me up a huge flight of stairs. We were stopped by the Dalai Lama's security, frisked again, and they let me pass. We made it inside the prayer hall and I was directed towards a spot on a mat next to several dozen Westerners wearing their VIP badges.
We were on the extreme right side of the altar and could just catch a glimpse of the giant golden throne where the Dalai Lama would be seated any minute. The throne was more than 200 feet away and a massive concrete pillar obscured our view. Nobody else had a camera, but from this spot it didn't matter, there was nothing to take a picture of.
Pinned into place I decided to surrender, relax, and listen to the extraordinary sound of 10,000 monks chanting in unison. I was ready to accept defeat when I spotted the Japanese photojournalist positioned in front of the Dalai Lama's throne. I could see his press pass dangling around his neck. A videographer had set up his camera on a tripod next to the photojournalist, he also had a press pass, and I could see a small open space on the floor next to him.
With my heart threatening to explode in a million pieces, I made my move. I stood up, slung my camera bag over my shoulder and walked as slowly and confidently as I could past three security men from the Tibetan army, and sat down 20 feet in front of the throne. I expected to get nabbed. I was either going to be escorted back to my seat, or chucked out of the refugee camp.
I looked around and saw a solitary monk standing up in a sea of maroon robes leading the monks in prayer. It was Tashi, my friend and chant master from the tour group. But now he wasn't leading nine other monks in prayer in Waterbury Hospital, he was the chant master for 10,000 monks and the only man standing as the Dalai Lama was about to make his entrance. We made eye contact and he looked startled and surprised to see me sitting at the end of a long row of monks seated beneath the Dalai Lama's throne. Then between deep guttural explosions from his larynx (a description of Tibetan chanting) he gave me a big, broad smile, which helped calm my nerves.
Then two intense and extraordinarily fit men came and sat at the base of the altar and spoke into walkie-talkies. They were the Dalai Lama's last line of security and defense, and we were sitting face to face, not more than 10 feet apart. I casually flipped my VIP badge around so they couldn't see what it said. Four more men guarded the stairs and doorways leading to the altar. Trumpets began to blare. The monks began to chant louder. The Dalai Lama was making his entrance and I was a pulsating mix of adrenaline and excitement sitting on the floor directly in front of his throne. The only thing between the Dalai Lama and me was two elite commandoes.
The thousands of monks behind me were all seated sideways, facing North and South. The throne faced East and I faced West. There were four thousand monks inside the prayer hall, 200 Western guests, and only three people had a direct sight line to the throne - the Japanese photographer, the videographer, and me. We had the best seats in the house, besides the Dalai Lama, who got to sit on a throne.
Seconds later the Dalai Lama whisked through the door on the left side of the stage bowing, smiling and laughing. He greeted several old monk friends on stage by bending over and touching the top of his head to the top of their heads. He bowed to the crowd, smiled and continued chuckling to himself. He looked around and made eye contact with several other monks and bowed his head in acknowledgment. Then he looked directly at me and started laughing.
Expecting to get nabbed by the security guards any second I fired off two rolls of film as the Dalai Lama prayed, smiled, laughed and drank butter tea. I put my camera down for a few minutes to enjoy the moment unfolding before my eyes. The monks continued to fill the hall with prayer and the Dalai Lama was sitting atop his throne surveying the scene. He smiled and nodded his head in my direction. I looked around to see if he was acknowledging someone behind me, or next to me, but there was nobody there.
When I lifted the camera back to my eye, he started laughing again. I have never seen anyone so continuously amused and happy. Everything seemed to make him smile. The prayer and tea lasted an hour then the Dalai Lama descended his throne, bowed to the gathering and exited the stage. The monks and Westerners made a mad dash for the exits and I just sat in place deeply satisfied and very, very happy.
After I had collected my thoughts and stowed my camera gear, I wandered outside the prayer hall and was astonished to see the second act of the ceremony- 15,000 people arranged in a giant half circle around the front steps of the prayer hall. At the top of the steps was the Dalai Lama, the Abbot of the monastery, members of the exiled Tibetan government and several Indian politicians.
I was on the outer perimeter of the gathering more than 100 yards away from the Dalai Lama. Between us were 10,000 monks, 4,000 Tibetan lay people and a smattering of Indian and Western visitors. Half way up the steps, I saw the Japanese photographer setting up shop 15 feet from the Dalai Lama. Instinctually, and riding momentum, I made my way through the crowd, ducked beneath a rope, strode across an open courtyard, walked past three soldiers in the Indian army, cruised up the steps and planted myself by my new Japanese friend.
Someone was going to nab me now for sure, I thought, but again, nothing happened.
And there I sat for the next two hours listening to dignitaries give speeches and photographing the Dalai Lama. The first speaker at the ceremony was Ngawang Gyasto, the translator for the tour group I had befriended two years before. He addressed the gathering in English and later provided translation for several speakers. Besides Ngawang, the only one I understood was the Indian minister who addressed the gathering in English. Everything else was in Tibetan.
I fired off several more rolls of film of the Dalai Lama. I was changing film in my camera when Timpo Rinpoche, the reincarnated holy man, walked across the stairs and asked me to come with him.
The gig was up. He knew I didn't have a press pass. Oh well, it had been a hoot.
When we reached the edge of the stairs he told me the Dalai Lama was about to give a press conference for the Indian print media, and he thought he might be able to get me in. But when Rinpoche tried to explain who I was to the head of the Dalai Lama's security, the man looked at my VIP pass, and started shaking his head no.
Rinpoche told the man I was a journalist from America, but the guard was unimpressed. Ngawang Gyasto, my translator friend, was standing a few feet away and we shook hands and exchanged greetings. The security guard saw this and suddenly changed his mind and said I was okay.
"That handshake didn't hurt one bit," Rinpoche told me.
Everything was breaking my way.
Moments later I was taken upstairs, whisked through security, wand searched, and entered a room with 40 journalists seated in a horseshoe around an ornate wooden chair. The journalists were all young men in their twenties and thirties, mostly clean shaven with dark black hair.
I was the only white skinned person in the room, and being 6'4'' and 200 pounds, I was a curious sight. Within seconds the Indians were trying to glance at my badge to see who I was. Finally, as we sat quietly waiting for the Dalai Lama to make his entrance, someone asked where I was from.
"The United States," I said.
"Which newspaper?" he asked, expecting to hear the New York Times or the Washington Post. Forty pair of eyes turned upon me.
"I own a small newspaper in Waterbury, Connecticut," I said. "The Waterbury Observer."
Several of the journalists got up from their seats to come over and ask questions. They wanted to know why I was at a Tibetan refugee camp in south India. They asked how I knew the monks and what I thought of India. I was being peppered with questions – conducting a mini press conference – when we were abruptly told to switch venues and head downstairs inside the prayer hall.
We sat on cushions on the floor in front of a decorative wooden chair and awaited the Dalai Lama. Each encounter had gotten better and now I was within a few feet from where the Dalai Lama was going to sit. Unless I wanted to sit in his lap, it couldn't get any better than this.
After he sat down, he greeted us, and launched into a ten-minute assessment in fluent English of the Chinese-Tibetan situation. There had been a major breakthrough in September, he told us, when Chinese leaders invited the Dalai Lama's brother to visit Beijing to restart a dialogue about the situation in Tibet.
"It is a good start," the Dalai Lama said. "Now we will see in the next few months if things continue to change."
The Dalai Lama no longer seeks independence for Tibet, but wants autonomy, so Tibetans can govern themselves and protect their valuable and rich culture.
"China has a problem in Tibet and we want to help them solve it," the Dalai Lama said. "The present situation in Tibet is very sensitive."
He said the Chinese are anxious for the international media to report about all the positive changes in Tibet, but they warn the local Tibetan populations not to talk to reporters about anything negative.
"The Chinese remind Tibetans about the water and the bridge," the Dalai Lama said. "They say the Tibetans are the bridge, and the foreign media the water. The water passes beneath the bridge and rushes away. But the bridge stays. Their message to Tibetans is be very careful what you say."
"Why?” one journalist asked.
"Because the Chinese must have something to hide," the Dalai Lama said. "The only way to describe the situation in Tibet is rule by terror."
But China is changing, the Dalai Lama said, the whole world is changing. "The Soviet Union has changed, the Berlin Wall has disappeared and now China is changing," he said. "China has changed much in twenty years. It is changing, and I'm helping them change."
As the Dalai Lama spoke, I alternated between photography and note taking, wishing I could split myself in two. The press conference lasted twenty-five minutes, and when the Dalai Lama stood up to leave the entire Indian media gathered around to shake his hand, some prostrating themselves on the ground to touch his feet. Imagine Dan Rather lying on the floor to touch President Bush's toes as they wiggled and protruded from his blue flip-flops.
As the Dalai Lama went to leave, I moved in front of him and fired off several pictures as I backpedaled through the prayer hall. When he was just a few feet away I put my camera down and smiled at him. He smiled back, and as he walked past me he extended his hand and asked, "What country are you from?"
"The United States," I said.
He tried to slow down and talk, but the two bodyguards on either side were intent on escorting him back to his seat on the steps outside the prayer hall. He grasped my hand firmly and as he whisked past he continued to clasp my hand. If he wasn't letting go, I wasn't letting go. We continued to clasp hands for two or three seconds until the bodyguard brushed my arm away.
As he walked away the Dalai Lama repeated my words, "The United States."
What he meant by that I'm not sure, but he was chuckling as his bodyguards led him away.
Over the next five days, I continued to photograph the Dalai Lama every morning inside the prayer hall. I never got my press pass and had to sweat and navigate my way in and around security every day, several times relying on the power and prestige of Timpo Rinpoche, the reincarnated holy man. On two separate occasions the security teams turned me away, and no matter what I said, I wasn't getting past the gate with my camera gear. Defeated, and walking back to my room, I ran into Rinpoche who told me to follow him. Both times he flashed his pass to the guards and they stepped back in a mix of respect and awe.
Rinpoche then signaled me to follow. The same guards that had just stiff-armed me away were now waving me through without inspection.
Who needs a press pass when you have a 1000-year-old reincarnated holy man on your side?
During my five days at the monastery I fired off 37 rolls of film and filled two legal pads with some of the most enthralling interviews I have ever participated in.
But there were times leading up to the trip that I had questioned whether I was going to India at all. Just 24 hours before my flight I had no visa and no passport. When I stepped off the plane in India, I wasn't sure they were going to let me into the country. There were many obstacles on this journey, but somehow every break seemed to go my way. Momentum's powerful force helped glide me along this 26,000-mile journey, most of it across thin ice.
Yet momentum can work both ways. Forward motion can carry us headfirst into a briar patch, and trust me, I have spent considerable time in my life plucking thorns from my skin. And there are other times - like this trip to India - when energy is flowing your way and you clamp on to the surfboard with a steely grip and ride that baby just as long and as far as you can go.
This time it took me to the Dalai Lama.