It was a month into lockdown when the brown papered parcel came in the post. As I unwrapped the package I grew more and more puzzled, firstly due to the soft feel of the contents and then by the vivid colours that began to emerge as I unpeeled the paper, small pieces of material curled up inside. As I pulled out the first piece, a long line of fabric followed, joined by string. Inside a small piece of paper said ‘For you. Tibetan flags.’ At the bottom of the paper was the name of a friend who had sent them to me.
It was the first time that I had heard of Tibetan flags and I felt a little confused by my friend’s choice of gift. Nonetheless, confusion subsided for curiosity as I could not wait to find out what these Tibetan flags were. As I searched for information, I became more and more intrigued by this new discovery. Now that I know a little bit about them, I do not claim to be any sort of expert. I have read limited information so far and am sure what I have chosen to describe will be based on what resonates for me and what I am drawn to most. So here goes my possibly clumsy description.
Apparently, these flags are unique to Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition going back over a thousand years. My reading informed me that they were originally used as military signs, each tribe having their own flag to represent their identity. As time passed and Tibetan Buddhism was introduced, these flags became religious emblems and now they hang from bridges, houses and places of spiritual practice, each one decorated with symbols and mantras.
The ones I had received were horizontal ones (Lung Ta), meaning they are hung horizontally, for example, from tree to tree. I discovered that the different colours are placed in a particular order and are representational:
Blue: The sky
White: Cloud or Wind
As with the five colours the number five is important in Tibetan medicine as the five elements form the universe and in our bodies the five elements combine and form the ‘elemental humor’ (or the three Nyepa); body, energy and mind. The flags are a way of showing us that these elements when in harmony keep our bodies healthy. It fascinated me that the earth and the human body corresponded. Earth representing the body, water is water and blood flow, fire is heart and the spiritual spark, air is the lungs and oxygen and ether represents the mind and soul. It is believed that these flags become a permanent part of the universe as the images fade just as life moves on and new life replaces the old one, and once they are taken down, they cannot be reused. Instead they become ash through being burned. This conjured up a vision for me of the flags returning to the universe.
Another fascinating discovery as I made is that Lung Ta means wind horse, a symbol for strength and speed, transferring bad fortune to good fortune. I imagine its strong legs pushing it up into the air, its mane flying loosely in the wind, its speed enabling it to reach everyone.
I loved this gift as my good friend knew I would. They told me afterwards that they thought I would love the principles and the sentiment, of a gift going beyond me to others. They were right. I imagine the wind horse flying around us with its blessings and I find myself wondering what the wind horse has seen on its journey during the pandemic- many people falling ill, so many people losing their lives, people losing loved ones, domestic violence during lockdown, many children not having the safe places of friends, relatives and schools, people who have lost their income, and the isolated longing for human touch. We were reminded of our connection to the rest of the universe as the birds sang loudly, and plants continued to grow, and animals returned to their old haunts. Even with these positive messages, there was a huge sense of fear, sadness, and loss. I think of a relative of mine that passed away (not covid related) during the pandemic. I think about their immediate family, who along with friends were denied the ritual of a funeral, a huge thing in Irish tradition and for many people around the world. I watched the funeral on the internet- a surreal experience in these surreal times. There is something in this experience that has got me thinking that processes have been interrupted. A loss of the usual rituals may mean that grief is stalled for a while as we fail to believe what has happened because we have not been more fully a part of that experience.
I think about the families that I work with, where they felt they could not reach out for support to others in the same way as before. They have touched me when they tell me they have been thinking about me during this time. These families provide me with my greatest learning each day.
The wind horse will remain a metaphor for me and I am sure I will search for a sign that it is there from time to time. With these flags that now fly in the wind, I send out good wishes to my family, friends, to the families that I see, to readers and to everyone. Know that there are people thinking about you and carrying hope for you when you feel that yours is lost. And to you my wonderful friend, with such appreciation I send that beautiful gift of the wind horse right back to you. It is somewhere in the wind as you sit, lie, walk, or run. It is always at your back spurring you on.