My husband, from whom I am estranged, maintains that circumambulation is my favorite word. Indeed, on this matter there is no reason to doubt him. Few things please me more, or as reliably, as walking devotionally clockwise. For me, the best circumambulatory path is the one that circles the hill around the home and temple of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. A dozen years ago, in celebration of one of His Holiness’s birthdays, the hill was planted with hundreds of trees and is now a young forest, full of light and green, where grazing cows and devotees amble along a path lined with mounds of carved prayer stones. The custom is to circumambulate the hill -- a walk of perhaps 20 minutes -- before entering the temple, but I love the path so much I often circle, arrive at the temple gate and decide, “Not yet. Around again.”
In the holy town where I live now, I circumambulate the shrine of the saint and the saint’s mother so endlessly I fear that I resemble one of those tremendously serious foreign devotees who are quite literally loopy. To tell the truth, I just love to circumambulate. And I will circumambulate anything. Buddhist, Jain, or Hindu shrines, even churches. Tapas bars, intimidating bakeries where only French is spoken, luxury shopping malls, gay saunas in foreign cities.
When I was in first grade, I spent every recess following the yellow painted lines on the edge of the asphalt portion of the playground at Matthew Thornton Elementary. I remember I found it absorbingly interesting that the yellow line went everywhere, but ended up in the same place.
Eventually a letter was sent home to my mother. I remember her reading it solemnly, then asking, “Is it hard for you to make friends?” Both of us were figuring out that I was a somewhat peculiar child and we were both surprised. I can see now that I was just getting my bearings, studying the perimeter of a strange and exotic place before entering. It didn’t mean that I didn’t like school, that I didn’t want friends. It is the pattern of my devotion.