When I told friends that I was going for the Art of Joyfulness-Mindful Living Excellence Retreat from 3rd to 5th January 2014, many asked where this retreat was going to be held. When I told them Gunung Jerai, the collective gasps said it all: you see, Gunung Jerai has a reputation for being haunted. Talismans and prayers were offered for my safety.
Frankly, no one has ever told me the real story about Gunung Jerai. Everyone just says, “It’s haunted.” No one knows who’s haunting it, what happened to make the place haunted or when did it all start.
The cynic in me wonders if this is yet another haunted-tale-discounted-by-logic, much like the one about my grandparent’s house. According to our guests, they would hear the footsteps of a man (they were certain they were never that of a woman) walking up the stairs. He never came all the way up, neither did he go all the way down. Just five or six steps. None of the family members had ever heard this sound and we’d been staying in the house for ages.
In time, my father decided he was fed-up with these stories being bandied about. One night, he stayed awake and followed the sound. He found the ‘ghost’ outside one of the windows. Many years ago, my grandmother had placed a plastic sheet there to prevent rainwater from coming in. This plastic sheet had hardened over the years and when the wind blew, it beat against the support beams and window frames. The reason why we never heard these ghosts was because this was the guest bathroom and the family hardly ever used the guest room. Mystery solved.
Back to Gunung Jerai. Before I made the trip, I decided that I wasn’t going to believe in such ridiculous nonsense. But, tell that to an overactive imagination on a night made for such fearsome things.
It was the second night of the retreat. It had rained during the day. When we entered the dining hall, but for the rattle of spoons and forks, mindful eating during dinner was practically a silent affair. This gave me reason to be mindful of the exquisite scenery outside from the mist in the foreground, luscious trees in the background and my beloved perfect squares of paddy land down below.
By 7 p.m., when we were all ‘confined’ to the hall for the evening/night session until nightfall, I was feeling somewhat at peace and looking forward to what I’d later call the ‘healing’ sessions. To me, they were life-affirming and joyous ones and I will write about them in a later post.
At 10.30 p.m., it was time for supper and the silent retreat until morning. I wasn’t hungry, so I skipped the supper and was one of the first few to leave the hall.
One of the first things that struck me was that there were many more guests staying at the resort that night compared with the night before. It did make sense as it was a Saturday night. Parents were taking photos of their children in the mist and young lovers were looking wistfully at each other.
Suddenly, about 20 feet away from the entrance of the hall, there was nothing. Just me, this wall of cloud and nothing more. Much later, someone commented that it was like being in London on a cold winter morning. At the time, though, I didn’t feel safe, comforted or mildly nostalgic. I was petrified. What I thought of was the man who’s said that during the ‘letting go’ exercises, he’d looked up at the clouds, symbolically placed his problems on these clouds and watched them float away. I remember thinking this: Will I too float away with these clouds?
With that, all fearful thoughts flowed unabated.
What if I was wrong and Gunung Jerai is haunted?
What if the spirits were lurking?
Are they figments of my imagination?
Am I a figment of a ghost’s imagination?
If the ghosts were here, were they watching me?
What if these ghosts were watching me?
What would they look like?
What would they do?
Were they hungry for my blood?
Would they like the taste of my blood?
Maybe, they might think it too sweet.
Could they be conscious about their sugar intake?
Would they chop me up?
Suck out all my blood?
Dumb-dumb me for watching Darcula 3 nights ago.
If I die, who will look after my parents?
Will anyone miss me?
I was all alone.
St. Michael and all his angels.
What do I do now?
I was tempted to turn around, but that would mean facing another wall of cloud and the subsequent embarrassment in the presence of my ‘fellow-retreatees’. How could I say, “Can you please walk with me to my chalet? I’m afraid of the ghosts.” I could imagine them saying at the next retreat, “Do you know, at the last retreat, there was this woman who was so afraid to walk back to her room. She was such a coward.”
Besides, at that moment, I remember our retreat leader saying that the previous retreat was held in a venue situated next to a cemetery. Jerai Resort Regency was a thousand times better than that!
So, I took a deep breath, came into the moment and asked myself, “What do you see?” The answer wasn’t what I expected. “It’s not nothing. What you see is the first step ahead. Take that step and you’ll see the next. Keep going and you’ll reach your destination.”
I started to count each step. I wanted to pray, but I was too afraid. In 58 steps, I was back on the porch outside my chalet. At the threshold, I turned back. There was still a wall of cloud and I couldn’t see where I’d come from. But I knew I was where I was supposed to be.
Who would have thought that such a profound experience and example of how to overcome life’s challenges would be born out of sheer fear, in a place notorious for ghost stories and when I was completely alone and immersed in clouds?
The questions I have are these:
1. Do you know how and why Gunung Jerai is supposedly haunted? If so, please share the story.
2. Has there been a time in your life when you’ve been so frightened that you can’t take the next step, be it a physical or emotional? What have you done to overcome such fear?
3. Were you scared by the photo I inserted at the top of this post? What do you think it is?
By Aneeta Sundararaj