View from the Beach

We are loosening our grip on home with a trip to Washington and Oregon, preparing for our daughter’s wedding and enjoying some space from packing, packing, packing. It is helpful to have the space from our work and travel preparations. We are so blessed to be able to travel before the Big Trip. Yesterday we drove from Walla Walla, Washington to Seaside, Oregon, driving through the Columbia River Gorge and Portland. I was in a drowsy state of mind for the drive; a little uninspired. Perhaps it was the grey weather, perhaps the recovery from all the travel and the wedding planning. Not that I’m a central figure in the planning. At any rate, I was inspired once I could see and hear the beach. And while the air was cold and the sky was grey, the sight of it all has been awakening. This morning we woke to a calm and clearing sky. The blue is increasing and the grey receding. I am sitting with a birds eye view on the sand and surf, along the promenade of Seaside.
What a great view it is.
While I am enjoying the time away from the planning and prep for our upcoming trip, I continue to reflect on the details as well as the mysteries of our journey. We have done our best to nail down the details of our travel; the basics of flight, lodging and other transportation. But the realities of life in Nepal remain a mystery This is despite the reading and conversations we have had with experienced travelers and our Nepali hosts. No matter how much we think and talk about our trip, it won’t be unveiled until we are there. Then we will “know” what Nepali life entails. Life is like that isn’t it? We spend hours speculating about some endeavor or project, only to truly figure it out when we are in the thick of it. I’ve experienced this at work on project as simple as wiring a camera. I can either spend the morning poking my head in ceilings, looking for the best location or what might be, or simply get to work. Granted there is value to thinking ahead but too often it is overdone; a great tool of avoidance.
Now… back to speculating. We are now 2 months from our scheduled flight from St. Louis to London, the first leg of our trip to Kathmandu. While I have at least 30 days of work to do when I return, my main job will be pulling together the items that will be my living kit for the duration of my trip. A set of clothes; shirts, underwear, socks, shoes, jackets, hats. These items need to be versatile and capable of an easy wash. While I intend to limit the number of items that I bring (I don’t need to impress anyone), these need to be appropriate for work in the monastery, comfortable and useful in a variety of settings. In addition to clothing, I will bring camera equipment that will allow me to tell the story of our journey and experience. I would like to give my family and friends some idea of our daily life; a little window into the world of Nepal. As I have found in my research, even the Internet of pictures and stories doesn’t adequately paint a picture of our destination much less our work. I am hoping to chronicle our life there and give a sense of the people and our relationship to them. Accomplishing this is more easily said that done I expect, since there are the practicalities of employing my camera, video and or microphones at the right time and in a way that doesn’t get in the way of our relationships. This is difficult around family and it will probably be a similar challenge in our Nepali community. I don’t anticipate that I will want to record extensive segments of life in Chobhar but snippets of sound and sights. Choosing the most appropriate equipment (not too much or too little) to accomplish this will be the trick. Storage will of course play a role as will methods for moving, editing and sharing the data. I will want the best lenses for the places we visit. Flexibility, durability, useablity are key.

Road to Nepal – Preparations

Sitting at a bus stop in Glenwood Springs, I am on my way to Denver for a mini reunion with High School friends. My friend, Maureen, is hosting the gathering in honor of my impending journey. It has been quite some time since my last post – as has been the norm for this blog. That said, I am committed to providing myself and others more detail on my process and experiences along the way to Nepal.

The last months have been full of preparations. Everything from buying tickets and booking hotels to cleaning the garage and every drawer of every cabinet. In addition to these activities, there have been some unexpected turns in the road. As all travelers know, the path is seldom without it’s obstacles and unseen opportunities.

Joni and I are deep into cleaning and purging the house in preparation for renting it. The process of sorting, musing, discarding, recycling, and donating can be quite time consuming. I have to come to grips with old memories and determined how precious “things” are to my existence. Usually the object is of little import, save that it is an interesting spark to some old memory; sometimes all the way back to childhood and elementary school experience, high school or college endeavors or sometimes a more recent (but quickly passing) artifact from my girls. I have found grades, awards, letters, photographs, journals. These take me back to mostly fond memories and`sometimes to regrets of roads not taken. Despite their value for reflection and a brief feeling of attachment, most of the artifacts are not worth keeping. Casting out these and other less precious receipts, letters, and such has tripled the flow of paper out of the house through trash and recycling.

This process of sorting and discarding has many benefits. The most obvious is that it has simplified the clutter in my house and consequently settled my mind. I’ve always appreciated the calm that comes with little acts of organization. I recall nights in my adolescence when I would be agitated, altered and/or full of thoughts. Cleaning my bedroom was always a good antidote for my restlessness. It brought me back to in touch with my body and senses and chased away my insecurities. While I am not as disturbed as in my youth, my housecleaning brings me a similar sense of calm. There is something about the act of sorting, classifying, storing or discarding that is centering. Perhaps it takes us back to earlier human acts of “nesting”. Activities we engaged in early civilization or cave dwelling days. Or perhaps it is the concentration, the sensation in the fingers, the looking and connecting with the object, the intention… one thing at a time. I realize that this could be a frenetic exercise if I took a different approach. I could wildly throw things to the wind. But for me it is a sort of mind training – a tool for bringing my awareness on to a single thing.

In addition to the organizing items of personal history, Joni and I have taken a deep dive into the various knick knacks, tools, cleaners, paints, cosmetics, and clothes. Every drawer and cabinet in the house has an collection of the relics of living; similar and sometimes odd bits from the large to minute, the useful to the outdated. It is a wonder how many paper clips, nails and tacks I’ve gathered up, refugees from various projects. I can spend 2 or 3 hours focusing on a location. Afterward I might feel quite accomplished or I may feel like I have created a bigger mess. Through the process I’ve learned to live with messes and piles of items with no immediate home. In the end even these “hanging chads” finally find a cohort of like items and eventually find a resting place either in the house or in the “out box”.

This household purging is ongoing but I can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. That’s a good thing because time is growing short. Our original rental goal was the first week in June so this leaves only 30 days to completion. Due to time constraints and the improved simplicity of the indoor landscape, we are moving into the phase of storage only. We hope to rent the house with our furniture in place and the most valued items stowed into safe corners of the basement, shed or garage. In addition to stowing the final items, other preparations continue; decide exactly what we need to bring within the weight limit of 35kg (77 pounds).

The Journey Begins

This is my attempt to begin to chronicle our trip to Nepal. On September 23rd we interviewed and accepted a volunteer position at Tsoknyi Gechak Ling Monastery, teaching english to young nuns. We had been thinking about this possibility for a couple years when we first met Tsoknyi in Steamboat and got a presentation of their work there in Nepal. We are “scheduled” to begin our work there in September 2017 and will finish at the end of January 2018. While we have about 10 months to prepare, there is much to do, learn and familiarize ourselves with before that time. We are traveling to a new culture, with sometimes difficult living conditions. We want to do our best in providing the girls with effective instruction in English. We want to take time to enjoy the people and the area around Chobar and the rest of Nepal. We need to schedule flights, understand visas, get the required immunizations, understand money, bring appropriate clothes. On top of preparations for being in Nepal, we need to make preparations for our home here in Glenwood Springs. At some point, we would like to rent the house. We would like to use this opportunity to clear out (declutter) our house so that we have less to pack away and less to be concerned about.

This series of blog posts will help me to clarify what is happening and what is left to do. It is both an outlet and and inlet for ideas, emotions and insight into the trip. The journey has already begun. Perhaps my process will be of benefit to other people with similar dreams.

This trip combines many aspirations. First, it provides a way for me to work in the service of these girls and my Teacher. I feel very dedicated to support the projects of Tsoknyi. It is clear from his discussion of the school and his presentations in the promotional videos that he is dedicated to the needs of these children; helping support their basic needs and become educated and empowered. It is rather subtle but he is also aiming to provide a community of learning that is kind and nurturing while being enriching, structured and constructive for the students. Kind and nurturing is foremost in his mind it appears. He repeats this often in his description of the school. It is consistent with the principals he describes in his teachings of Dharma and mediation. He truly believes that we are overly harsh in our push for results – that we need to listen to our resistances – our monsters. Beginning with understanding and kindness in our practice and in our relationships will help us to heal our sensitivities and bring about better results in our practice. If we are to make peace with our monsters, resistances, fears and such, we can begin by having more compassion for ourselves as things come up. While this might vary somewhat on the personality/temperament of the person, most of us can benefit from a gentler approach to our demons. Rimpoche describes the hand shake practice that helps us address issues as they pop up in our lives.

My personal experience with this approach has been most helpful. I have been able to apply my mediation practice; resting with what comes up, sitting WITH it rather than pushing my fears, attractions, resistances, images, etc. away. The ideas of bringing this kind approach to students and adults in a school also makes sense. A community of people who take this approach to their personal demons, may bring compassion and kindness to each other. When a community speaks the language of kindness, they can help one another promote inner and outer kindness.

My aspiration to work at TGL has developed slowly and surely as I have become familiar with Tsoknyi Rimpoche’s teachings and his person. While I realize that going to Nepal will not miraculously take away my fears, cravings, biases, and other baggage that I carry, I know that I am entering a community where growth is encouraged. I intend to make the best of this opportunity for polishing my rough edges and developing a more open heart.