TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

Chapter Six

Ryan thinks the Buddhism idea’s bogus. He hasn’t exactly said that – not yet, anyway. But looking at his face across the table at our favourite Japanese restaurant in Surry Hills, I can just tell.      

“So you’re telling me Peace had nothing to do with this?” he says, brow furrowed, hands clasped beside the agedashi tofu.

“She has no idea I’m doing it, actually, but thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“Hey, no need to get defensive babe,” he says, reaching across the table and grabbing my hand. “It just seems like a bit of a… bolt from the blue, I guess. You’ve always told me how much you hate the idea of organized religion. I think, ‘I’d rather run naked down Oxford Street than have some billion-year-old dude with bad hair tell me how to live my life,’ was the phrase? And I hate to say it but I know how you feel about what religion made your dad do…”

“Ok first of all, let’s not bring my dad into it. Second of all, the Buddha has awesome hair. And third of all, I don’t even think it’s really a proper religion. It’s more just like… meditation. And inspiring quotes. Oh and fourth of all, can’t you be just a little bit less of a naysaying Nancy and support my decisions every once in a while?” I take a long sip of my Verdelho while I try to catch my breath.

“Alright,” he says, holding his hands up in mock surrender. “You know all I want is for you to be happy Mags, and if you think Buddhism might be the answer then… well why the fuck not.” He grabs my hands in his again and smiles at me. “So when’s the first class?”

“Thank you Rye,” I say with relief. “I mean that, thank you. And that’s the other thing, the course starts tomorrow night. Pretty damn serendipitous finding the course the day before it starts, right?”

“Yeah I guess so,” he says, sucking down a sliver of salmon sashimi. “But babe I want you to know that no matter what happens tomorrow night, I think it’s great you’re being proactive and trying to sort stuff out. I’m proud of you.”

A tiny wave of guilt sucks at me for an instant as I think of the CV I haven’t touched, the recruiters I haven’t gotten in touch with. But no, Ryan’s right. This is definitely a step in the right direction. And if I sort my soul or whatever it is out first, the rest will naturally just flow. I’m almost sure of it.

***

I’ve always been a big believer in the Scouts motto Be Prepared. Not that I ever was a Scout, or that I ever even knew any Scouts. In fact I’m quite sure my Scout sash would have remained categorically empty of merit badges had I ever been a Scout, such is the dearth of my outdoor skills. Yet I sure as hell like to be prepared, mainly because – and I’m going to be brutally honest here – the process of becoming prepared generally involves a fair amount of shopping.

So this morning I leap out of bed, energized by the knowledge that today will be spent getting prepared for my first ever Buddhism class. I shower and throw on the most spiritual outfit I can dredge up from the annals of my heaving closet, a Camilla printed kaftan with Turkish coin earrings and as many rings and bangles as I can find, then sit down at the coffee table with a Chai tea, which seems much more Buddhist than coffee, and Google Buddhism shop Sydney. I’m not even sure such a thing exists, but then what do you know, up pops a Buddhist bookstore right around the corner from where the class is being held later this afternoon. Talk about karmic alignment!

I hop straight in the car and I’m there in 20 minutes. As I walk in the door of the little store I’m hit with the pungent smell of sandalwood incense, accompanied by some insipid panpipe music, overlaid by the sound of water gurgling off in a far corner. I do a quick visual recce and my heart skips a beat as I discover that not only does this shop sell Buddhist books and CDs, but also Buddhist blankets, Buddhist iPad cases, Buddhist fridge magnets and – wait for it – Buddhist jewelry.

There is a God.

I start with the jewelry, trailing my fingers over silver bracelets studded with tiny turquoise pieces and with gorgeous Indian-looking sayings engraved on them.

“Excuse me?” I flop my wrist over at the shop assistant, a 40-something woman with bobbed grey hair and sensible glasses. She looks over, all serene smiles.

“Yes, dear?”

“Do you know what these gorgeous bangles say on them?”

Om mani padme hum, dear. It’s a Tibetan Buddhist mantra. Buddhists believe that saying the mantra summons compassion, and that seeing the written mantra has the same effect.” She bows her head reverently, bringing her hands to her heart.

“I’ll take two!” I say, laughing but certainly not joking.

I leave the bangles on the counter and wander over to the candle and incense section. I haven’t burnt an incense stick since I was about ten, and actually find the smell of most of it pretty disgusting. But hey, if the Buddhists are into it then I’d better be too. I pick a packet that promises serenity, some cone-shaped incense that supposedly smells like cinnamon, and a little carved wooden box with gold stars and moons on the sides to put them in. I feel better already.

Next, I pick up a couple of the Dalai Lama’s audiobooks, one called How To See Yourself As You Really Are and, only because Peace is always banging on about it, The Art Of Happiness. I start perusing the actual books but nothing’s really grabbing me. They all look so… earnest, with titles like, Wherever You Go, There You Are. I mean, really?

I’m just about to give up and move on to the pillow corner when I sense someone behind me. I turn around and there she is, the bespectacled sales lady, still smiling serenely with her hands clasped at her waist.

“You look like you need help, dear.”

“Is it that obvious?” I ask with a laugh. “I’m pretty new to this whole Buddhism thing and I’m looking for something inspiring, but these all seem a little…”

“Dense?”

“Well, yeah. I was hoping for something I could sort of… skim read, you know? Just to give me a bit of a low down on the Buddhist world before I, ahh, commit?”

Without saying a word, she trails her long knobbly index finger along the shelf until she locates the book she’s looking for.

“This should do the trick,” she says, pulling it down, placing it in my hands and heading back to the counter. Principles Of Buddhism, just over 100 pages. Perfect. A little light snack; the edamame of Buddhism.

Just next to the books are some rather fabulous looking eastern trinkets. There are some bronze dish things that the tags say are ‘singing bowls’. I have no idea what they are or what they’re meant to do but they look totally spiritual so I grab one of those. There are some little marble Buddha statues, of course I pick the bobbly-headed skinny Buddha, such a cutie. And then there’s the piece de resistance, some Tibetan prayer flags that are just the pop of colour our bedroom has been crying out for.

With arms laden I head to the counter, feeling every bit the Zen Buddhist master. I place my purchases down and say thank you in my softest, most Buddhist voice, tilting my head and closing my eyes ever so slightly. Suddenly, my eyes snap open as I remember the most important thing.

“Just a sec!” I yelp as the woman starts wrapping my Buddha statue. “I just need to take a quick piccie of all this fabulous stuff. D’you mind?” I put my phone into camera mode and hand it to her. The serene smile slowly slips from her mouth and she looks at me, perplexed.

“Um… Sure?”

“Fab, thanks,” I say, creating a quick still life of my purchases. “Ok, ready!” I try my sexiest smile combined with prayer hands in front of the still life. The woman frowns as she snaps the photo, before handing my phone back. Immediately I pop a nice filter on it and post it up on Instagram.

“How do you spell that om mani pedi om thing again?,” I ask.

“It’s om mani padme om,” she says a little icily, before spelling it out for me as I type it into the image caption.

“Oh right, I thought it was a little weird that Buddhists would be into mani pedis. That’s probably the last thing they’re thinking about while they’re meditating!” I’m trying to make her laugh, but instead I’m getting the distinct feeling that she’s had just about enough of me – mainly because she’s completely ignoring me now and just rearranging the Buddha head bookmarks instead. I grab my overflowing bag.

“So what’s the damage?”

“Ahh…” She pauses to calculate, her knobbly fingers stabbing at the ancient calculator. Who knew they still made those things? “It comes to $175.”

Wow. This Buddhism caper doesn’t come cheap. I pull my credit card out, telling myself that you can’t put a price on enlightenment, then get the hell out of there before I get myself into any more debt.