Journey Story: Mary Ann Littleton

Feb 23, 2012

A traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution called “Journey Stories” is at Murray State’s Wrather West Kentucky Museum through March 10.  We asked our listeners for their “Journey Stories.”  We received this one from Mary Ann Littleton, who is a Murray native.   Journey Story is about her spiritual pilgrimage to Tibet and Nepal in her  51st year.

Wrather West Kentucky Museum at 16th and University Drive on the Murray State Campus through March 10.  Hours are 8:30 to 4 Monday through Friday, 10 to 1 Saturday.


I suppose journeys are always in and out, but maybe I didn’t really realize it 'til I went on what is considered a pilgrimage.

2010-2011 were spent in the land of origin of the spiritual path I was starting to commit myself to – Nepal, Northeast India, Sikkim, and Tibet. My trip to Nepal, Darjeling, and Sikkim from Oct-Dec, 2010 though I didn’t know at the time was sort of a warm up for Tibet the next summer where I “did” the Kailash kora. Kailash is the holiest of mountains for Hindus, Buddhist, Bons, and Jains, more so than Everest – where you circumambulate the base of the rectangular mountain at some 15– 17,000 ft. The trip to Tibet was prearranged and because of the heavy Chinese control we could not deviate from our permitted plans and after 6 weeks of having a guide with me at almost every step of the way, I really longed to just move about by myself, which was really not possible in Tibet.  

In Nepal I arrived in Pharphing, just as a Vajrakilaya drupchen was about to begin at a nearby monastery. I was urged to take part as it seemed Vajrakilaya was just the sort of medicine I needed. The practice helps remove obstacles, and it seemed I was experiencing quite a few in my life. The drupchen was a major treat; an English woman and I alongside a hundred or so Tibetans/Nepali monks of various ages, and powerful Rinpoches sitting in a magnificent temple for 10 days - transported to the Tibetan sacred world of ritual dance, music, and mantra – with bells, horns, drums, colorful masks, costumes, incense - marching our way through battle with our inner and outer demons.

I also made a pilgrimage to a remote area in Nepal called Maratika – taking a 12 seater Nepali Airline flight where they give you cotton balls to muffle the engine sound. And then once we landed on a fairly level grassy spot in the foothills of the giant Himalayas I jumped on a motorbike for another 20 miles – struggling to hang on – and wondering why he got to wear the only helmet. I was really out in the middle of nowhere! Maratika was a lesson in living with uncertainty… would I make it, would I ever make it back. It seems I had already experienced this as a peace corps volunteer some 25 years ago – but as they say youth is wasted on the young – and at 51 this lesson had a lot more meaning. I went there to visit the famous caves where the magician Padmasabava, who is credited with taming the wild spirits of Tibet and Nepal so Buddhism could flourish, stayed in a cave with his equally famous consort, Mandarava. I really have never been a “cave” person, and since these were not well kept, I really didn’t spend that much time in them. I chose to spend my time hiking the numerous trails and just admiring the landscape.  One day I hiked straight down to the rushing Himalayan icy-cold river, with banana trees along the shore, and back up (huff, huff)… passing through little hamlets and encountering people working in their fields – one a little old woman seeing me and exclaiming “Rama…. Rama”.  Sort of our Oh my god – what is this white woman doing here.   

What is most important is what happens when you come back – where the journey leads. As they say life is a journey – a journey across the world leads to a journey back in familiar habitat, with eyes anew. Yes, I was transformed - in some ways I am aware of now and in many ways things are still unfolding – the outer and inner landscape continues to work their magic on many different levels – as the Tibetans say on outer, inner and secret levels!