With only 10 days left here in Nepal I find myself looking back on my experience, forward to travel plans and home, and finally returning to the present; to the people and the activities that have taught me so much.
As I recounted before, the cold air that descended upon the Gompa challenged us in many ways. While we’ve had a wave of warmer air lately, the cold and other conditions have left quite a lot of sickness among us. In some of my classes, half of the children are in bed. The remaining lack their usual enthusiasm, so our lessons are more relaxed. While I had a cold during the cold spell, I am (knock on wood), symptom free at the moment.
As our time here winds down, I am completing projects, attending class and taking time to say goodbye to the people who have nurtured and befriended us during our stay. The projects include a newsletter created with the Trasang nuns. The newsletter grew out of our photography class and the stories and poems that they chose to write. The newsletter will be shared on the Tsoknyi Gechak School Facebook page next week. It has been exciting to watch these young women explore photography using the Apple mobile devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad, and my computer). They have an artistic eye that is evident in their photography and in the artwork included in their newsletter stories. Related to this project, I am preparing all the “iDevices” to remain here so they can continue to learn how to use them and tell their stories. While I had some ideas for introducing technology before I came to Nepal, my final preparations are quite different (duh). The good news is that these women are very bright, motivated and resourceful and so will make it work no matter what.
I’ll spare you the details of our travel plans except to share my wonder at how much forethought it takes to design an itinerary. Certainly we have chosen a more complicated path home than jumping on a plane for Denver. With planned stops in Thailand, Japan, Hawaii, Seattle and other parts USA, there are planes to catch, ground transport to consider, places to see, lodging to book, people to alert and on and on. Quite different than my trip to Europe in 1975 with my brother Rob when I purchased a plane ticket, and a six-week Eurail pass and made travel decisions as we went. “What, say, let’s go to Venice!” While the Internet is showing some of it’s flaws in the mis-information/mis-direction arena of late, it has been a godsend for planning our travels into parts unknown. Of course, we’ll see how well the plan fits with reality. It’s not whether but how much the experience will fit with my well-laid-plans. As long as we are safe, can find food to eat, and a place to rest at the end of the day, we’ll be happy. The unique sights, sounds and people will sustain us I’m sure.
While I am ready to go home, it is difficult to say goodbye to this place and the people. I have benefitted from their kindness and their intentional way of working and interacting. This environment has been of great benefit to my spiritual / mental development; not because it is comfortable and easy but because it is a layered cake of slow and fast, old and new; spirituality, love, chaos, construction, destruction, dissolution… As I’ve recounted many times, it has challenged me physically and mentally. Let’s face it, I’m not as young as I used to be. The only flat surface here is the slab entry to the school where the children gather, play, study, and celebrate. The remainder is like a Colorado hiking trail, sometimes mixed in with a New York City street. I’m constantly mindful of where I step and aware that my body doesn’t respond well to impulsive twists and turns.
While my writing leans toward romanticizing this experience (even the hard parts), I recognize that it is far from perfect. Regardless of one’s conclusion about what it is (idyllic or a pain in the butt) Nepal has been the perfect remedy for me at this time. A western friend of mine pointed out that some of the benefit that one gets here in Nepal is the disconnection from our accustomed living; the people, occupations, habits, pre-occupations, and so on that we leave behind. Our disconnection allows us to practice living (and meditation) differently. This reminds me of the often quoted Buddhist advice, “Those who are able to seclude themselves in an isolated retreat, put aside the worldly cares and activities of this life and practice single-mindedly, will gain liberation in this very lifetime.” While this place is not a cave in the Himalayas, it is secluded and isolated from my normal living.
I came here to help the students of Tsoknyi Gechak School but, as it turns out, the teachers, staff, students, Rinpoche, lamas and nuns have given me much more. I appreciate this opportunity; landing into the middle of their world and work, accepted as a team member in the service of the Anis. They have given me the freedom to test my (unproven) skill in English instruction and shown patience with my (sometimes comical) attempts to communicate. They have included me in their celebrations, making me a valued member of their community. While the news from home is dominated by stories of division and abuse, it is emerging from and within an increased recognition for inclusion and respect. I hope my experience here will give me the strength, insight and confidence to join that movement.