Thursday, April 27, 2006

Surfing Everest

The two giant Philippine television networks and their respective Mount Everest climbers are racing to get to the peak and hoping to plant a flag of conquest and beam to the world their triumph over height, cold, snow, ice, wind, fatigue. It is not easy for those involved to admit that it is a race to the top. And it is not a question of who gets there first but whether anyone among the hopeful Filipinos there right now could get to the peak at all and come back in one piece.

One hears the usual cliché about conquest of self, that is, the Himalayas within, before triumph over the elements. That is indeed what it is. But when competing media networks—ABS-CBN and GMA-7—do a running coverage of this first-time effort of Filipinos whom the networks are betting on separately, one cannot help but worry. Climbing Everest is not an ordinary sport. It is a life-threatening endeavor, a conquest of a lifetime, if one makes it.

One cannot but be concerned about the safety of the climbers involved (a team for ABS-CBN and a lone climber for GMA-7) and also about how viewers would perceive this whole thing.

Is this about ratings again? Couldn’t the two networks just have covered everyone—the so-called Philippine team (ABS-CBN’s) and lone climber Romi Garduce (GMA-7)? After all the climbers are all carrying the Philippine flag. I don’t mean they have to take the same route. What if one network makes it and the other doesn’t? I dread to see the outcome of such a situation.

A story by Alcuin Papa in the Inquirer said that the team was scheduled to make an attempt next year in 2007 but with Garduce who is supported by GMA-7 forging on, the team supported by ABS-CBN must do it now. That’s how it looks and there’s no denying now that it’s a race. As team co-leader Butch Sebastian said, ``Let’s not deny it. It’s race. Who are we fooling?’’ His team mates Leo Oracion and Erwin ``Pastor’’ Emata are the ones to make the attempt for team ABS-CBN.

Sebastian himself said that the network wars might have increased the danger to the climbers. His warning: ``The danger is already there regardless of the network war, unless they are silly enough to take the unnecessary risks by letting themselves be affected by all the media hype. I hope they don’t do anything dangerous. Among us mountaineers, you wouldn’t wish anything bad happening to any climber.’’

That last sentence tells you about the bond that exists among mountain lovers. It is like they have heard the same music emanating from distant peaks. Why spoil that? Do we need to show the world what it is like to be Filipino and fragmented?

Last week a team of Inquirer mountain climbers (women and men) gathered at the office before starting off for Mount Pulag. I watched them lugging their gear and trying on the weights on their backs and I could see how flushed they were with excitement. I could sense the bond that has formed among them. (A number of us in the Inquirer have our respective virtual mountains to hurdle on the ground, like the weekly sweat-cercise and other bulge-busting, muscle-building work-outs.)

One can’t help noting that the Filipino climbers departed from their politically charged country only to arrive in Nepal that is heating up with its share of political strife. I had been in Nepal during more peaceful times and it is indeed a country worth exploring. One does not have to conquer Everest.

One of the books in my summer reading pile is ``Surfing the Himalayas: A Spiritual Journey’’ by Frederick Lenz. This is a first-hand account of a snowboarding American who makes a trip to the Himalayas in search of the ultimate high. (It includes post-card style photos too.) In the process, he surfs into an experience more transcendent than he had expected.

It must have been karmic destiny when the writer runs smack into a Tantric Buddhist monk named Master Fwap who takes him in as a spiritual apprentice. As the author said, ``Using snowboarding as a path to enlightenment, the charming and learned Master Fwap show how, by freeing the mind and challenging the soul, one can master any mountain—and master (one)self.’’

Here are excerpts from the exchange between the student and the master while they survey the snow-covered peaks the surround them, while on various sides of the peaks, puny individuals scale to physically to reach the summit of their desires.

``Look around you,’’ (master Fwap) continued. ``We are in a valley that is surrounded by the Himalayas on all sides. There is nothing here except snow-covered mountains and the rhododendron forest. The only people who live here are Buddhist monks who constantly meditate on the dharma—on the happiest thoughts and feelings of the universe. There is no selfishness here. All the energies of the monks are directed toward merging their minds with the ocean of pure nirvanic enlightenment.’’

``But Master Fwap, is all of the higher energy here because of the luminous energy lines, or is the high energy here emanating from the meditating monks?’’

``Originally there were no monks and there was no monastery here,’’ he responded. ``There were only the Himalayas and the rhododendron forest. The dimensional planes that correspond to this valley we are in were then, and still are, made up of pure intelligent light.’’

``The Himalayas are filled with places like this,’’ he continued. `And since there are few, if any, people around these locations, these places of power and enlightenment have remained relatively unpolluted by the aura of worldly human beings.’’

May the Filipinos attempting to scale the peaks of the Himalayas discover the places of power and enlightenment.

Happy summer reading.