The sky came first and then the earth. It’s what birds know and trees and clouds. Here I am up on a mountain in the Himalayas in love with the sky. The sky is teaching me. I never really noticed the sky before – just a glance to check the weather. But here in the mountains of Ladakh, we sit and walk and live in silence so close to the sky. I never knew I could love the sky.

I’ve come to Ladakh with my friend Margot for a meditation retreat led by her friend Rahula, an American monk ordained in the Vipassana tradition. There are twelve of us camped on both sides of a gurgling rocky stream beneath a centuries old gonpa, a small, brightly decorated Buddhist temple. We live in silence and I’m relieved not to have to talk. I don’t know any of these people except Margot and Rahula, but it’s easy to be with them. We belong together just as we are without fuss or bother. I was tired, worn out before I came and I’m thankful not to have to figure out who each person is, where they come from, what they’re about, and tell them about me. The best part is that we don’t need to do that to be together. In fact I feel more alive, more connected without talking.

Inner space. I’m learning, it’s about inner space. I never realized I needed inner space, but here it is and it’s strong medicine making me well. Having less inside I begin to see more and feel more a part of everything that’s around me and there’s so much beauty. When I sit in the pure thin air, I know this is where I want to be. Every cell in my body slows down and opens up. Time disappears.

Apricot trees fill the field beside the gonpa. Sitting on a flat stone I pluck apricots from a tree, fuzzy gold apricots that go straight from the tree into my mouth. Two little goats, small and shaggy, amble by and baa. One is black, the other reddish brown. The black one looks at me sitting on the rock and bleats. The goats, I notice, prefer thorns and leave the apricots to me. Further down the valley women are harvesting barley under apricot trees. One sings and the others, singing, answer.            

One day I sit down on a low stone wall beside the stream and listen to the water rushing along. I open my jackknife and begin shaving a point on one end of a tall, thin stick when the lama who lives behind the gonpa sits down beside me and indicates he wants the stick and the knife, so I hand them over. We sit together while he finishes the point and carves a design around the top. After a while he gets up and beckons me to follow him into his room for tea. He doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Tibetan so we sit with our tea and sip and smile. I would like to know his story but this is better. I feel somehow protected and content, free from my usual need to know more, say more, do more, be more.

The next day we hike in silence. I start out eagerly, striding along. The path is steep. After a while my legs almost won’t go up and up. Still, slowly I climb, breath almost gone, hot, cold, hungry, tired. I keep going knowing the pass is close. One more step and I stop. Here is the end of the earth. Everywhere is sky. I sit and breathe and look and rest.

That trip was twenty years ago. I know now that for me the key to life is inner space and that meditation opens the space to connect deeply with life. Without it my appetite for life fades and I begin to resent and resist the things that when I have more inner space I welcome. Sitting down with myself I breath in space. It empties me and it fills me. Through times of conflicts and celebrations and ordinary days I sit. Helpless to keep my older brother from dying I sit. Holding my premature newborn granddaughter I sit. The sky is still teaching me, the sky and silence are teaching me that space is life and the inner space that comes from easing up and slowing down makes love possible.

Apricots, it seems, are teaching me about their kind of love. Although they come from the tree, apricots don’t belong to the tree. They feed anyone who happens to come along when they’re ripe. When I got home I began to feel a little bit like an apricot tree. Even now when I cultivate inner space through meditating and taking in the sky, I feel like an apricot tree. I walk along wishing people well and when someone is having trouble I listen. Little things, like apricots available to all. And like being with the lama, I fill myself with “apricots” from others’ trees.