It is Thursday morning at 5:30am. I am standing over the long bathroom sink staring into a bucket of cold water. I carefully pour the soap so that it isn’t too thick and sink a select bunch of clothes into the mix. It is 43 degrees outside. Given we have no heat, I assume it is the same temperature in the bathroom. The first cold dive is the shocker. I can’t believe how much colder the water is than the last time I did my wash (just last week). But after 5-10 minutes of clothes “agitation”, I relax, look into the mirror, and concede that this isn’t so bad after all. In fact, I realize that this is easier than it could be. It is easier than doing it on the street as many locals do in Kathmandu. Not only that, I realize that this and the other challenges here, are gifts, helpful lessons. I hope I will remember them when I jump back in the Western fast lane.
I realize that choosing to go backward from convenience is not everyone’s idea of meaningful. My mother has told me that she would never want to go back to the old ways on the farm, without modern washing machines, refrigeration, and stoves. I appreciate that. At the same time, I think she appreciates her conveniences much more because she has experienced the absence of them. Growing up in a world of convenience didn’t give me perspective or an appreciation for them. My Nepal experience does.
Another difference is that my mother didn’t choose to live without convenience but I did. While I couldn’t have anticipated all the challenges, I knew full well that I would be doing without and that I would be uncomfortable at times. This idea of “planned abstinence” is very familiar to me. Since my days of working with kids in outdoors, I’ve realized that doing without is a good learning experience. That said, I find it difficult to give things up in my regular day-to-day living environment. I’m not that disciplined. So, I choose to put myself into situations where I have to swim or sink; where there is no easy escape to the comfortable. Where I have to invent, adapt and settle into the experience.
Just 2 days ago I wasn’t waxing so philosophical about the beauty of challenge. I don’t remember all the circumstances but the final blow was the destruction of my precious coffee press. Picking it up off my bedroom table, the already fragile glass, slipped out of it’s sleeve and shattered on the floor. It was the first time I’ve shouted profanities since I’ve been here (I may have mumbled a few). After sweeping my room I resigned to return to instant coffee for a while. Shit happens.
It all boils down to our state of mind right? The longer I live, the more my aches and pains increase and the more I enjoy life’s sensual treats; the sight of natural beauty, the sound of music and children, the smell and taste of good food, the touch of my grandchildren on my lap. Through it all I realize that my perception is the key. My emotions and my thoughts – the way I interpret my experience is key. Granted there are times when conditions converge and I am overwhelmed by the situation. At these moments my awareness is pushed into confusion and I forget to breath., forget to listen to my heart. Fortunately, most of the time, my practice helps me see these situations for what they; the movement and gathering of clouds, that come and go.
The main point is that we have a choice. Not everyone would choose to sleep on the ground or go to Nepal. You don’t have to go to that extreme. Some people are born into more difficult circumstances. But all of us face unexpected circumstances no matter what our age, gender, or social status. The difference is that some don’t realize (or deny) their part in the play. I choose to believe that my choices AND my interpretation of events bring happiness and or suffering to myself and others. I choose happiness. Thanks to my teachers, I also know it takes regular practice to remember this.
It is days later now. It is getting colder. I have a cold. I am homesick at times. Clouds come and go…
Here is a collection of photographs that I have shared on Instagram and Facebook. I want to share them here for my non social-media friends. Someone on Facebook commented that one of the photos appears unreal. I must admit that some of these photos were created in HDR (high-dynamic-range) process. What this means is that I took 3-5 photos of varying exposures and combined them into one. This allows me to capture what I am seeing (the range of highlights and shadows) more accurately than would be possible with a single exposure. I have tried to maintain the actual ambience of the place and scene and avoid a contrived, psychedelic look. I hope you enjoy them.