The Monkey’s Epiphany

Calm monkey action.

Calm monkey action.

I suppose you’re wondering where I got the picture of the monkey at the top of the page there.  More to the point, the more dedicated observer would notice there are three monkeys that change places each time you come to this website to read stories.  Well, the truth is they are the prototype for the flying robot monkeys that I will use to take over the world when my orbiting battlestations are complete.  Nature made these ones, but they are part of the blueprint for my campaign to establish myself as world dictator with my penguins by my side.  Okay, so that might not be an entirely accurate explanation of why I chose those pictures.  I just wanted to remind you all that when you see the flying robot monkeys descend from the skies wreaking havoc and sweeping all resistance before them like autumn leaves; just say ‘Oh Hi Dhugal’ and they’ll leave you alone.  They may dance a little for you first, or offer you a beer, because that’s how they’ll be programmed; but they will spare your lives.

In any case, these pictures are of one monkey that I found sitting at the very top of Emei Shan in Sichuan province, China.  This mountain has been a site of spiritual meditation for religious types for at least a couple of thousand years.  Once you walk along the paths away from the spots filled with Chinese tourists, you will understand why.  The place has a feeling of natural beauty, peace and wonder that makes you feel like profound revelation is a moment away.

Walking along the middle level pathways of the mountain, I’d left the tourist hordes behind an hour ago when I drift into an almost magical place.  I approached it along a narrow pathway winding along the side of a river valley covered in lush vegetation and sheltered by tall, spreading tree canopies.  The river water burbles and rushes by my side; it travels downhill as I climb my mountain.  I come around a corner, where the valley pushes a little deeper into the river’s path, and discover a waterfall.  The sun shines gently off the smooth cascade and leads me to notice the bridge crossing over the top of the waterfall.  It is a Chinese canopied bridge with a temple style roof atop wooden pillars and wooden bench seats along both sides of it.  When I arrive in the bridge’s shelter and look down the valley, watching the river turn the corner I had just come around, I know I have to stay here a while.  I sit on the bench seat with my back to the way I had come, looking instead at the narrow trickle of water coming down the mountainside and flowing under the bridge on which I sit.  Thick undergrowth clamours at the edges of stream flowing down the hill.  If my past is behind me, then the future is hidden at the top of the mountain and obscured by forest.

The River Valley

The River Valley

I sit on the wooden bench and lose myself in the absence of thought.  Time evaporates like dew off the leaves of the ferns that surround me.
A rock in the sunlight.
A reflection of a leaf in the water.
The shadow of a tree on the riverbank.
Brown wooden bench with scratches of age and use.
Faded paint.
A breeze gently brushes the smallest weed as it pushes the largest tree.
A body breathes, I am somewhere else.

I feel like I’m on the edge of epiphany.  Maybe I’ve already been past the edge and I’m just trying to attach words to the feeling.  There’s nothing in my heart and mind but the kind of harmonious peace that people would pay a fortune to possess.  I feel myself returning to the world of time and place and send an SMS to a friend in Melbourne saying what just happened and the feeling of being on the edge of epiphany continues.  He replies with his normal simple wisdom.
“That’s why they built it there.’

Returning along the valley...

Returning along the valley...

Looking at my phone tells me I’ve just lost the best part of an hour sitting here, I consider staying longer, to return to that state, but I know the evening will bring an intense cold that I don’t want to be caught in.  As I’m walking back to the pathway I wonder why I’m placing temporary personal comfort higher than that feeling of absolute, timeless peace.  I also begin to feel hungry and can picture a plate of spicy Sichuan style pork with steamed rice and a cold beer.  It still takes a couple of hours to get to the bus that will take me back down to the town at the base of the mountain where I’m staying.  When I finally get back to eat and drink, I feel another kind of contented peace settle over me that lasts until I fall into bed to rest.

Just before I sleep, I’m thinking about that feeling of epiphany again.  Like you’ve just experienced the kind of understanding or realisation that makes people start religions, conquer empires and generally change the way the rest of humanity sees itself – once its been explained.  And explaining the nature of epiphany is as supremely difficult as explaining the epiphany itself.
“I just saw the face of God and now I see what we all must do”, sounds just as crazy to me as,
“Everybody is basically layers of paper and I just need to peel them off to find the truth.”
Both are the kinds of things proper schizophrenics are likely to say and the more active will put them into action; starting a cult or a series of attacks on individuals trying to remove their skin.  Epiphany can be dangerously crazy as much as it can represent the ultimate enlightenment.

Epiphany is for monkeys too...

Epiphany is for monkeys too...

The next morning I travel to the very top of the mountain.  This time I cheat and take a bus for an hour that takes me up most of the way.  Then I swap to the cable car for the last jaunt to the Golden Summit.  My legs are aching sacks of meat.  On the bus ride I figure out I walked between ten and fifteen kilometres; not so bad.  What’s killed me is that also involved half a kilometre of altitude change.  At one point I walked down sets of stairs that dropped me three hundred metres over just one kilometre.  The pain in my calf muscles is exquisite today.  I then begin to wonder how much that had to do with that moment on the bridge and the second calmness of feeling full, warm and sleepy. Was my body just full of endorphins from the hefty and painful exercise?  A drug like any other, but produced internally for our own pleasure when the body is dealing with things that are hurting it.  It’s also this drug that gets released at the point of orgazm; so we turn pain to pleasure and pleasure to …well, orgazm.

So the reason I’ve come to the top of the mountain today is to try to experience at least one of the ‘Four Wonders of Emei Shan’.  So after the two hour journey to the top of the mountain, I’m greeted by a thick fog, through which you can barely see ten metres ahead.  I keep telling myself its still early morning, only just after eight now, and the fog will pass to reveal the wonders.  It doesn’t, so you can read about the four wonders somewhere else, I never saw them.  Now a foul mood begins to descend on me.  I’ve travelled all the way from Australia, woken up at some unheard of hour of the morning to scale this mountain and it doesn’t even have the decency to unhook its dress and show me some wonders.  I stalk around in the fog and mist taking pictures of whatever I can, planning to leave as soon as possible.

I send a heap of messages to friends asking them to help me convince the world to give me some clear skies so I can at least see a cloud sea from up here; something I’ve always wanted to experience.  I have some fun exchanging messages with a few people and wait for an hour or so to see if things will improve.  They don’t and I stalk back down the mountain wondering where else I can go to find a cloud sea.  I discover the path back to the cable car is different to the one I took from it and naturally leads through half a kilometre of fucking souvenir shops.  I am at a top Chinese tourist destination and I really should have expected this.  After the disappointment of not finding a cloud sea, this is like rubbing in the salt and I feel my mood move from foul to venomous.  Now I want to spread this poison to someone else and I start looking for targets.

I’m busy looking for an over enthusiastic shop owner whose time I can waste for half an hour pretending I’m going to buy something really big.  This means he’ll miss any real opportunities from the morning crowd and I will walk away at the end feeling happier; with the poison shifted from my fangs.  Then I notice a bunch of Chinese tourists lining up to have their photos taken with the local monkeys; macaques that have lived here forever.  They buy food in little paper bags and give it to the monkeys to distract them.  Then they stand next to the monkey in small groups with their two fingers in the air to take the standard Chinese picture.  I start thinking of a way I can fuck with this tourist horror story of profoundly unhealthy monkeys being exploited by….

In a moment the whole scene changes.  The poison evaporates from me in a few moments, leaving a mellow cloud in its wake.

Through the valley behind the monkeys is a magnificent cloud sea leading off into the distance.  The sea later joins to the clouds forming a strange juxtaposition and confusion of what is land, sea and sky.  My feelings are unravelled and my mind bends awkwardly.  How could I be so upset over nothing?  That mood could have easily made me miss this natural wonder.  Why was I so consumed by it so quickly?  Especially after the wondrous glory of yesterday.

There, perched on a smooth stone, is one of the monkeys with his back to the tourist crowd.  He’s just staring out across the valley, oblivious to what’s going on around him.  I manage to catch a picture of him before a Chinese family start yelling at him and throwing nuts to get his attention.  It takes a while for him to notice them anyway.  Then he turns half way around and slowly looks at them, then looks back across the valley.  I catch him in a second picture.  Finally they land some nuts on the stone next to him and he picks them up and starts eating them.  I take the third picture.

Monkey nuts taste best

Monkey nuts taste best

Yesterday I was feeling absolute peace and got distracted by my comfort zone calling me.  Today I feel I’m watching a macaque having the same experience.  Can this be true?  Am I such a little monkey to be so easily turned and driven by my comfort zone?  Does the monkey even understand the beauty of the cloud sea?  Is it just sitting there staring into space with no thought in its head at all?  Has this monkey actually achieved a kind of enlightenment?  Is the real trick to enlightenment managing to calm and harmonise the many different comfort zones a human mind drives us to?  What is the lesson of the monkey?

I look at the pictures again and notice that the monkey isn’t looking at the cloud sea at all.  He’s so close to looking at it, but does not see it.  I want to turn his head to show him, I want to know if he’s even capable of seeing it, I want to make him be able to see it.  Why do I want this monkey to see the cloud sea?  I dont know anymore.  It’s like I want him to see what I see, then be able to talk to him to see if he feels what I feel.  Does he feel like the world just got torn apart and put back together in a new way?  Could he ever understand that?  Could another human even understand that?  Now we’ve got to the centre of it.  The monkey is so close to looking at it, but he does not see it.  He does not know to turn his head that one extra degree to see it.  He needs something else to make him turn his head that one extra degree, some other external force has to make him move.

I’m frozen in my spot now, paralyzed by endless waves of thought; introspection and consideration.  The Chinese tourists arrive and leave in groups, feeding the monkey for the photo opportunity and then leaving without a thought.  There is an idea that humans aren’t born with souls, that a soul can only be grown through the process of self-exploration and self-realisation.  The reason most people never develop a soul is that they are so continually distracted by everyday life, by their comfort zones, that the opportunity for that self-realisation never arises.

Are these the soulless masses that surround me now?  They surge in crowds, herded by tour guides and stop only at the official places for photo opportunities.  Those spots also feature people selling food, drink and random other junk.  The only difference between this place and a Chinese city street is there’s less buildings and a much better view.  I feel like I want to throw the shops over the side of the mountain and yell at the people to think about the monkey.

The idea of this huge foreigner trashing the markets and yelling incoherently in English about watching the monkey brings a strange smile to my face.  Then I see it, know it, feel it absolutely.  The Four Wonders of Emei Shan are just lures to bring you to this place.  The cloud sea is one of them and is truly amazing.  They are, however, the distractions as surely as the peanuts are distracting this monkey.  What’s important isn’t the place, the people or the time.  It’s that feeling.  Being on the edge of epiphany, not because you’re waiting to cross over; but because you’ve just returned.


4 comments to The Monkey’s Epiphany

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>