I was meandering atop a mountain ridge outside of Kathmandu, when I came upon a barren hilltop where one ancient twisting tree stood with a small mud hut beneath it. White sandalwood smoke rolled out from the hut’s shabby door, and I heard nothing but the sharp crackling of a fire speaking in its own language.
I approached the doorway, feeling nervous and confused. I couldn’t see inside, because of the smoke now floating around my head. “Come in! Come in!” a voice said. In proper Asian style, I removed my shoes and walked into the most profound chapter of my life so far.
Upon entering the hut, I could see the face of my host shining through the smoke. His sparkling eyes lit his coffee colored cheeks and nose. He said, “Namaste. Me Kali Baba. You welcome. You sitting. You tea drinking? You name?” Kali Baba held a smoking pipe in his hand, and his mystical air made me feel like Alice in Wonderland in the den of the caterpillar. I had the weird feeling that he’d been waiting for me. A knowingness in every cell of my body told me that meeting Kali Baba was a predestined event.
I had the weird feeling that he’d been waiting for me.
Baba, as the villagers called him, was a Hindu ascetic in his early 70s. He was a study in black: he had nearly black skin, a black robe draped like a toga, and — like a reggae star — long black dreadlocks that reached down to his toes. He was radiant and looked years, even decades, younger than his age.
I sat watching Baba while he tended his hut’s open fire with an iron poker. His presence seemed so familiar that, for the first time in my life, I considered the possibility of a past lifetime. He just had a mud hut on a hilltop… no car, no cell phone, no Internet. He sat on the same straw mat for hours, every day, yet he exuded a happiness I’d never witnessed. He had humor, warmth and lightness in every single thing he did, and he showed me the meaning of “love thy neighbor” with his easy and willing acceptance of me, a complete stranger. I almost couldn’t believe he was human. His joy filled the room with something unseen, yet physical, like a subtle vibration I could feel on my skin or drink straight from the air. He was content with everything under the sun, and I wanted to be like that! I knew that my life depended on figuring out his secret. He seemed to be a teacher and I wanted to learn.
He showed me the meaning of “love thy neighbor” with his easy and willing acceptance of me, a complete stranger.
My Nepali was minimal and no one there spoke much English, but it didn’t matter. Baba was a resourceful character and had a mastery of communicating through bits of English, body expressions, and pointing at things with his fire poker. He repeated several phrases like mantras during the many days I spent with him. My favorite phrase of his was, “No money, no tension.” I didn’t understand. I thought, “No money, big tension,” but Baba showed me a new way of being.
Many people from all around the Kathmandu Valley visited Kali Baba because of his renowned healing powers, his talent for telling enthralling fireside stories, and his mastery of Nepalese curries and teas. Almost every visitor would leave gifts of money, food, and holy paraphernalia such as incense, statues, and candles. Baba would return the energy to every visitor with similar gifts. He even gave to people who arrived empty-handed. He gave so much that people around him wanted to give him more, creating a beautiful, renewable cycle. Sometimes he had to give his things away just because they took up too much space in his hut. At times, he had little or no money at all. He never stressed, and like clockwork, whatever he needed—money, food, etc.—would appear just at the right time: never too early and never too late. I was a fascinated witness, and I learned from his example that a genuine trust in things working out creates more ease when resources are tight.
One of Baba’s key phrases, “Good inside, good outside,” took some getting used to. It sounded nice, but what did it mean? As I observed how events unfolded around Baba, I realized he was referring to the law of attraction. He was showing me through example that positive thoughts, words and deeds are more likely to attract positive people and events. Conversely, if one thinks, acts or feels negatively, one is more likely to attract negative people and events. I found his simple, four-word philosophy profound.
During my time with Kali Baba, I witnessed psychic awareness for the first time in my life; Baba obviously had it. One day when I approached the hilltop, I was surprised to see him standing on the incline hundreds of yards below his hut. Baba was always either in his hut stoking his fire and people’s imaginations, or under the tree next to his hut. He rarely went further than that.
I asked in Nepali, “What’s happening? Why are you here? Is everything OK?”
He said, “Me know you coming. Me talking ‘Liz coming’ to other people. Shiva Internet!”
Shiva Internet. How profound and sharp he was. He said so much with those two words. In that moment, he showed me that if you take away the material appearance of computers and keyboards, what you have with the Internet is the same thing you have with psychic consciousness. Everyone is connected and you can use the web to communicate. He always knew when I was coming.
Baba was always either in his hut stoking his fire and people’s imaginations, or under the tree next to his hut.
I didn’t understand why these paranormal things happened. Even though I look like a crystal toting hippie at times, I picked up the rough street ways and logical mind of my gruff New Yorker dad, and that didn’t always leave room for things of a woo woo psychic nature. People are always surprised when I tell them that I didn’t feel spiritual or connected to anything until I met Baba. He opened the floodgates.
This is the juice that magnetized me to Kali Baba and made me want to spend all my days with him. His joy and unexplainable magic attracted me so much, I wanted to throw my beloved passport straight into the fire and build my own hermitage in the jungle or on the Himalayan mountainside. I desperately wanted the peace he had, and I was willing to do anything to find it, including leaving my friends, family and Western life behind. I felt insane to even think about doing that, but I’d never met anyone with Baba’s state of mind back home. I was ready to claim my joy, no matter the cost.
But to run away from it all would have been disrespectful of Kali Baba’s greatest lesson, the one that took the longest for me to understand: spirit is everywhere and so is joy. I can access it anywhere at anytime, because its origin lives within me. It was ironic that I had to go halfway across the world to figure that one out.
Liz Grover is a writer, filmmaker and photographer who shares stories from around the world. She was an English teacher in Nepal and journalist in Cambodia. She’s now writing Butterfly on The Road, a memoir of the year she traveled to Afghanistan with $100 in her pocket.