Gifts and Transitions

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.

Preparing zung (long, printed prayers) to be placed inside statues in the new Lhakong
Everyone in the Trasang participates in Zung preparation.
more zung preparation.

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.

Trasang Photo of Nuns with iPhone… taking photos
Watching their sisters perform Puja in the Lhakong.

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.

Our youngest students help and comfort the new students who just arrived.

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.

We were fortunate to be invited to Khechok Sangpo’s (Tibetan) wedding. Bride and groom to the left.

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.

Cold – Cold – Cold

Sitting in my room; down coat, long underwear and pants, hat, slippers and 3 layers of long-sleeved thermal underwear (silk, wool and nylon blends). It’s COLD! Damn cold.

We’ve met many challenges in our time here but the cold has nailed me like no other. Sometimes it feels as if there is no escaping it though this isn’t completely true. At the school, during the day, the sun shines brightly on the south side of the building where the Anis and staff take full advantage to sit and plan and hold class in it’s glow. I don’t have a very accurate record of the temperature fluctuations but it is ranging from the low 30s to the low 60s. When the sun shines, it’s warmth brings my bones and my mind back to life. But when the day slips into darkness, the cold again creeps slowly but surely into my room and if I’m not vigilant to take cover, it overcomes me.

As the cold grips my body, my mind seems to restict. I find it more difficult to concentrate on work when I’m feeling chilled. My restricted state is the best excuse for my delay in posting to this blog. Right now it is morning and I’m sitting with my second cup of coffee. But the longer I write, the colder my fingers get, till I have to rest them in my pockets.

The sun is shining on the building across from me right now but my room sits in the shade. I just finished breakfast while wearing all of the clothes I’ve listed above. Fortunately we get a hot meal and I can wrap my fingers around a hot cup of coffee. When I’m not holding a cup of coffee, I fill my cup with hot water. It’s not only good for your health (according to the Chinese) it is a great hand warmer.

As you might expect, bedtime is earlier than usual. I can sit in my warm bed to read, meditate and use the computer. My sister in law (Kay) sent me a Christmas present through Joni; a hotpad. While it doesn’t heat the bed completely, it does a great job of knocking the chill off.  My feet love it. Joni and I pass it between us in the evening before bed. She purchased a second one at Wal-Mart for herself but, sadly it does not work. Note to self: test all products BEFORE hauling them to Nepal.

Teachers “lounge” on the south deck of the school

I hate to complain but the cold conditions make living much more difficult and require periodic attitude adjustments. I truly love this place; the atmosphere and especially the people. But this chill is leading me to dream of beaches in Thailand (only 17 days away). When I’m at school with the children and the sun is shining (which it consistently does) I can relax and let go. So, fortunately, the cold is not a 24 hour a day challenge. Going to school is like coming up for air. Not only do I get to see the girls but I can warm my attitude.

Lower Kinder children, working and warming their feet outside their classroom
Class 1 – morning sun and reading. Ahhh…

Despite the challenge of cold, there are a lot of things I want to accomplish before I leave here. Some of these will require pushing through the cold in my room. Some require the computer and a clear mind. Some are just the mundane activities for staying clean and fed. For example, this morning I had to get some wash done. I can’t bear to do it in stone cold water. Rather, I use our tea kettle to warm a couple pots to take the chill off. Funny how just a little bit of warmth makes such a big difference.

Construction worker catching afternoon rays. This is right outside my bedroom window.

Watching the US News I see that our country is struggling with many natural disasters and extreme conditions. In the Buddhist tradition we are encouraged to offer our suffering for the liberation of our fellow beings. And so I do. While my suffering here in the cold doesn’t compare to the loss of life or persistent and inescapable cold that some are experiencing, I pray that my fellow earth travelers are liberated from their suffering.