Building for the Sky

Thailand is a place filled with temples and sacred spaces. You can’t take a walk of any length without passing a Wat (or four) on your journey. Many of them are very modern, and only a handful date further back than a few hundred years. Eastern Thailand, on the Khorat Plateau that makes up the geological boundary between Thailand and Cambodia, is the exception. You will find dozens of ancient Khmer and Khmer-influenced temples, rarely visited by tourists and sometimes very hard to get to. Chris and I spent some time exploring the Khorat Plateau and were not disappointed. It is within these temples, like the temples in Cambodia, that I began to realize a common theme in their construction. They were all aligned with the cardinal directions like Chinese cities. Like mandalas.

The Harappan City of Dholavira, 5000 years old in Pakistan.

The Harappan City of Dholavira, 5000 years old in Pakistan.

Chinese architectural norms may have been a big influence on Khmer city planning, but the drive to orient temples and villages according the four directions can be found in many ancient cultures, spanning both the New and the Old World. References to such city planning in literature go back 2500 years in India (hundreds of years before contact with Alexander’s troops), and examples of city-planning in the archaeological record go back another 1,000 years or more in South Asia and China. The Harappan City of Dholavira is a planned city with cardinal direction orientation that was started around 3,000 BC (!) and certainly encodes knowledge and observation that date back even further.

Forbidden City in Beijing. A architectural mandala

Forbidden City in Beijing. A architectural mandala

What is this drive to orient their cities according to the cardinal directions? In Buddhist & Hindu Asia, cities were often planned as mandalas, or sacred/esoteric geometric representation of the universe. By creating built mandalas-as-cities, the town mimicked the structure of the heavenly orientations that anyone could observe. In doing so, humans associated themselves more perfectly with the heavens and created a liminal zone, a sacred space where heaven and earth were more closely connected. Ancient temples were liminal zones; ancient tombs were often considered to be liminal zones; and some (but not all) ancient cities were built to be liminal zones. Many cultures went further, even, to encode other astronomical features into some of the buildings in these cities: solar risings/settings, lunar risings and settings, some planetary risings/settings, and certain stars seem to have been the focus, differing substantially in the particulars based upon each civilization’s cultural calendrics and mythology. In effect, architecture was yet another way that humans communicated with the sky and that the sky communicated with humans in return.

Cahokia, a Mississippian Culture planned city outside of St. Louis, MO, was aligned to the cardinal directions.

Cahokia, a Mississippian Culture planned city outside of St. Louis, MO, was aligned to the cardinal directions.

The construction of these cities, at first, required people to sit with the land and observe the sky over a period of time, the length of time depending on what astronomical observation was important. The land and the sky essentially indicated to these early builders what needed to be built and how. Cardinal directions were the easiest to ascertain, but the extreme rising/setting cycle of the moon, for example, took 18.6 years to observe correctly. It seems that the earliest planners used the unmitigated observation of phenomena to create the city plan, but soon the builders began to create new systems of measurement, such as geometry, to create alignments without necessitating long observation periods in one place. The Minoans were doing this for tomb construction (creating rudimentary geometry) in 2500 BC; this is what my Master’s Thesis was about. These are the early roots of measurement and geometry; a deeply aligned wish to build in relationship to the heavens, with an eye toward calculating rather than sitting in place and observing.

Eli and his grandparents will be visiting Chiang Mai, which is a gated and walled city, aligned to the four cardinal points. The remains of the moat and walls (and all four gates) still exist. It is highly influenced by the city-planning of Thailand’s powerful neighbor to the north: China.

The old city of Chiang Mai

The old city of Chiang Mai

These towns exist in China today as well; many are well-preserved, especially in the south where the Cultural Revolution did not destroy everything of great antiquity with such efficiency as was employed in the north. Towns like Dali still have a great deal of their sacred alignments and architecture intact, even if the town has expanded so far outside the ancient city walls it is hard to see the “sacred” alignment idea at work. But old maps and good surveys tell the true story. (See image below).  Of course, the Forbidden City in Beijing is the most exquisite example of this type of architecture, although many of the buildings have been largely rebuilt. An image above of the Forbidden city should remind you of something…i.e. the image I posted of Angkor Wat yesterday in my blog post about Cambodia.

1790's Map of Dali in southern China

1790’s Map of Dali in southern China

We don’t think much about alignment these days when we are building homes or other types of buildings, unless we are trying to maximize heating capacity in winter via permaculture principles of green construction. We build solely to fulfill requirements that maximize space and efficiency. (Like astronomical alignments, this concern with efficiency is a story that is being told in our architecture about our culture. Not a great story, in my opinion, but a story nonetheless.) Communicating with the land, the ancestors, the gods, or the Universe is not part of our world-view. Creating a liminal zone on earth, to make space for access to the gods and the natural world is so far out of our mindset that to suggest it as part of a building regime would render the speaker a little bit nuts in most people’s mind. But for the vast majority of human history, this kind of communication and architectural conversation with the natural world was a given. The norm. Understood to be paramount, in fact. Perhaps it might be good to return to the idea that the land has something to tell us, that liminal zones are possible, and that we are always, at each moment, in conversation with nature whether we understand her language or not.

 

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Experiencing Cambodia

Eli and his grandparents are flying in and out of Thailand to get to Bhutan. It was either that or India, and well…for many reasons…Thailand was a better option for them. One of the reasons is that any layover in Bangkok can include a hop-skip over to Siem Riep for a few days to see the Khmer temples collectively known as Angkor Wat (although that is just the largest temple in what is an enormous area covered by many temples and earthworks.)

Angkor Wat at SunsetChris and I spent 9 days in Cambodia when we went on our trip. It was a confrontation with extremes, and we had to face a real hero’s journey to get there and to get back out, much like a mythological story. After clearing the border of Thailand/Cambodia, we were loaded into the back of a pick-up truck; that is where we sat for 7 hours as we moved over bombed out roads, across bridges with no road (until planks were laid down on the supports at truck-wheel width) that were guarded by “trolls” of men with guns extracting bribes from the driver. The heat and the stress of that trip made me exceedingly grateful to get to our run-down guesthouse and into bed.

Everyday we went from temple to temple to temple, exploring the history and archaeology  of the area. Anyone who thinks that civilization is more advanced now, or that people who Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 5.21.29 PMlived in the past are somehow more primitive, has never been to Angkor Wat. Blown away is a complete understatement. Buildings aligned as perfect mandalas with walls a MILE LONG on each side of a perfect square, adorned, down to the last millimeter, with bas relief engravings of Khmer mythology and ornamentation. It is unimaginable until you have seen it with your own eyes. No images prepare you for it, much like what is said about the Grand Canyon, the Taj Majal, and the Pyramids.

But surrounding the buildings are people…like at any site. But not just people. People without limbs. Children begging who have lost legs to landmines. Older people also maimed by war. We saw our first day at Angkor two beggars sitting together; neither had arms, but they were playing drums with their feet. The people you meet in town who have grown up in this country are hard on the exterior, but deeply soft once you talk with them.  Our hotel owner had run into the forest during the Khmer Rouge rampages and lived by stealing from farms and eeking out an existence from wild food until it was safe for him to return to the town he grew up in. His parents had been killed. Grandparents too. This was not an uncommon story, he said. If you ran into the forest, you survived.

It is obvious to even the most unobservant visitor that this is a country of people who are, if they are 40 and older, walking-wounded. And if they are young-people, the generational trauma runs deep in much the same way as the epigenetics of holocaust survivors tells us.

Aeriel ViewSo, to travel in Cambodia is to hold those extremes in your mind… the unbelievable beauty of the Khmer culture (c. 1000 AD) and the unbelievable horror of the Khmer Rouge and their reign of terror over their own population in the late 1970’s. It creates a bitter-sweet emotional response while you are there, and it never really leaves you. The beauty and suffering, all wrapped up in one place.

Now you can fly in/out of Cambodia to avoid the bribery and tourist traps at the border that were such a frustration for Chris and I when we went. Apparently, though, the roads are now paved and tourist buses go from Bangkok to Siem Riep in air-conditioned luxury. I don’t know, though. Some of our best horror stories, the currency of long term travelers with other long term travelers, come from the border crossing out of the country… complete with gun toting teenagers, threats to our person and that of our truck driver, and bribes extracted from us, paid under duress. We were so grateful to cross-back into Thailand, that’s for sure. But the experience, in all of its complexity, has never been forgotten. I sure hope that the beauty is still there, and that the pain is slowly, slowly dissolving into history as the generations move, one to the other.

 

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The Last Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom

My son is about to travel to Bhutan, Thailand, and Cambodia with his grandparents. He got to choose the location for a trip in his 13th year, and Bhutan is where he wanted to go. The other two countries were “on the way.” Why did he choose Bhutan? Because it is the last Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom, intact and free from the colonial interruptions so many other countries have suffered. Tibet fights bravely to remain free and suffers terribly for it. Tibet tries to maintain its soul, but the ever-present Chinese colonialism is brazenly attempting to snuff out that culture in any way possible.  So Bhutan it is.

Bhutan is where I would live if I could live anywhere in the world. They don’t allow people like me to live there, however, unless you are a Fulbright scholar or someone who can provide expertise they need to increase the happiness in their culture. Bhutan’s king is devoted to the concept of Gross National Happiness, and it is working. Rivers downstream of the capital city Thimpu are clean enough to drink. There are no high rises, and many people dress in their traditional clothing. The architecture is traditional as well; brightly colored wood and mud-brick buildings, some of them 10 stories high, dot the countryside. Children are educated in their own language, at least part of the time. The countryside is 70% virgin forest, with the Himalaya looming over the valleys from the north, for the most part an effective barrier with contact (and domination) by the power center that lies on the other side. Because Gross National Happiness is at least the baseline for conversation when considering issues like tourism and development, the country has learned from the mistakes of other neighboring countries, like Nepal and India.

A valley in Bhutan

A valley in Bhutan

I’m forever glad that I got a chance to visit this fantastic, almost mythical, place and I’m so happy my son will get to see it as well. To know that it is there, to know that a place like Bhutan is possible and exists not just in the mind, but instead is a real place, is a starting place for optimism. Instead of saying, “No, it just isn’t possible to have resilient and local places led by a government that actually believes in and prioritizes the people in its care,” you know that it IS possible within a certain framework, one built on compassion and generosity as well as the belief in reincarnation and responsibilities to future generations. And when I  long for clean water and lush valleys lit with a backdrop of snow-drenched mountains towering above the landscape, I know that somewhere there IS a place… not here, perhaps, but I know that it exists and that makes me feel more at home wherever I lay my head.

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Travel as Intentional Trauma?

I came across this quote today, and it describes how it feels to come home after going through something big, whether that be a long trip somewhere remote from your own culture or a trauma, like a death or an illness.

I had never thought about the connection before, but surely this is true. A significant rupture of our story rends us disassociated, and when we piece things back together, we are never the same.

Rupture leaves us the same but deeply changed.

Rupture leaves us the same but deeply changed.

“My mother once told me that trauma is like Lord of the Rings. You go through this crazy, life-altering thing that almost kills you (like, say, having to drop the one ring into Mount Doom), and that thing by definition cannot possibly be understood by someone who hasn’t gone through it. They can sympathize, sure, but they’ll never really know, and more than likely they’ll expect you to move on from the thing fairly quickly. But that’s not how it works.

Some lucky people are like Sam. They can go straight home, get married, have a whole bunch of curly headed Hobbit babies and pick up their gardening right where they left off, content to forget the whole thing and live out their days in peace. Lots of people however, are like Frodo, and they don’t come home the same person they were when they left, and everything is more horrible and more hard then it ever was before. The old wounds sting and the ghost of the weight of the one ring still weighs heavy on their minds, and they don’t fit in at home anymore, so they get on boats go sailing away to the Undying West to look for the sort of peace that can only come from within. Frodos can’t cope, and most of us are Frodos when we start out.

But if we move past the urge to hide or lash out, my mother always told me, we can become Pippin and Merry. They never ignored what had happened to them, but they were malleable and receptive to change. They became civic leaders and great storytellers; they were able to turn all that fear and anger and grief into narratives that others could delight in and learn from, and they used the skills they had learned in battle to protect their homeland. They were fortified by what had happened to them, they wore it like armor and used it to their advantage.

It is our trauma that turns us into guardians, my mother told me. It is suffering that strengthens our skin and softens our hearts, and if we learn to live with the ghosts of what has been done to us, we just may be able to save others from the same fate.
– S.T. Gibson

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Neo-Colonialism & Intergenerational Trauma

I spent a great deal of time in Greece in my 20’s and 30’s. A few of the summers I spent there I was exploring the hills of Crete, looking for large stone tombs called EM (Early Minoan) tholoi or climbing up mountains to take archaeostronomical observations of peak sanctuaries (over the years, I spent probably 10 or more summers working in total.) My Greek, at one time, was serviceable… just good enough to understand most of what was said to me, but not good enough to pick up nuance. (In other words, just good enough to get myself into trouble.) Sometimes when I was out ranging and looking for tombs that I knew were going to be very difficult to locate, I would take a more fluent friend, just in case. Sometimes I was out there alone, scratching my way up brambly hillsides, or ranging the landscape playing “If I were a Minoan, where would I build my tomb” — a surprisingly fun and successful way to find the αρχαία.

One of these trips took me far to the east of the Messara to the town of Viannos. There are tombs there, and not easy to find (or so I’d heard), so I brought a more fluent friend, also an archaeologist. My traveling companion and I struck out from the town toward an area that felt right for tomb placement. We came upon an ancient woman, dressed in black. My guess was she was in her 80’s (but it is so hard to tell). She was tending to her fruit trees and had a basket of greens on her back. We struck up a conversation. She wondered what two young, foreign ladies were doing there, wandering the countryside, and asked us back to her very small house…really not more than a hut… for tea. We sat and talked; she was very curious about our children (at that point, none) and our husbands (we were both married). She paused, and then admonished us to return home promptly to our men. Our feminist, academic selves assured her that we were fine. As we explained the reason for our wandering, she cocked her head and asked, “Are you German?”  No, American and Belgian, we explained. “Are your ancestors German?” No was the answer to that too. “Why do you ask?” “I don’t help Germans. Ever. But I will help you.”

Viannos in 1943

Viannos in 1943

At this point, tears sprang into her eyes, and she started her story. She was, you see, a survivor of the Massacre of Viannos. Up until that time, I had not known about this particular trauma, although you can hardly spend time on Crete and not hear stories about the German occupation and the resistance that was mounted by its inhabitants. She recounted the entire episode from her memory, and we sat horrified as she explained that not only was her father killed in the massacre, but also her husband, her three uncles, her four brothers, and her two teenaged sons. Murdered. Her mother committed suicide afterward. She has, alone, tended her fruit trees and fields by herself since that time, barely surviving. She never remarried. Never had more children. She urged us to go home to our husbands again. “Who knows what might befall them,” she warned. Our earlier feminist assurances of being “fine without our husbands” felt sickeningly patronizing at this point. Both of us reached out and held her hand, our eyes welling up as she regained her composure.

We found the tombs; she told us exactly where they were located. She knew the hillside like the back of her hand because she picked a considerable amount of her food from the bounty of the Cretan landscape, as she had since she was a child. I was haunted the rest of the day by her story, and on the way out of town we stopped at the memorial to the dead of that day, and picked wildflowers to leave in honor of her loved-ones.

Later that same summer, I was out ranging by myself, looking for tombs that had essentially been lost to archaeology — excavated and recorded, but their location completely forgotten. I had some old, grainy photographs to guide me and was looking at the background landscape, trying to match mountain and hill perspectives to get myself into the right valley. I stopped to consult with a local shepherd. He was probably in his late 40’s…not of the generation that took the brunt of the German invasion, but a child of the surviving generation, born soon after the end of the war.  In my halting, stilted Greek, I asked him if he knew the place in the pictures. He looked at me with watery eyes, leaned on his walking stick, and asked, “Are you German?”

An Early Minoan tholos tomb

An Early Minoan tholos tomb

I have been privy to other stories, other awkward encounters in remote villages, the air only clearing when I assured them I was not German. There are too many to count, actually.

I asked younger people about this recurring theme, and most of them said, “Oh, that’s just the old people. We don’t feel that way…” and I took comfort in that, that the trauma was healing…maybe not for individuals who had suffered at the hands of the German occupying force, mind you. So maybe not healing, really. But forgetting.

These last months I am reminded of these stories. I have been wondering what the young people will feel now, now that their country is arguably into a depression deeper than the Great Depression in the US. Will there be a whole new generation of trauma-induced xenophobia, especially in light of the last few weeks of Syriza’s negotiations with the EU? How can the EU hold itself together when the German government partakes of punishment, blackmailing, and “fiscal waterboarding” of the elected Greek officials? The Germans and their EU partners are openly pushing Greece toward Grexit by mounting insurmountable austerity on Greece’s population, a population that they will surely financially collapse under these new, stringent “reforms.” People are starving and committing suicide. They traumatize the population anew. And it makes me afraid.

I am afraid that this financial brand of colonialism is inculcating into a whole new generation a distrust and simmering resentment of German people (some of whom, I must add, disagree profoundly with what their government is doing in their name.)  Afraid that the ideas of unity and cooperation that the early founders of the European Union thought would be its guiding principles are nothing more than a fictitious mythology. Afraid that a more gentle story, one of caregiving and cooperation, has no utility within a soulless, purely financial fiction, which is what the EU is at its heart. The EU, we now know quite clearly, is essentially a form of neo-liberal colonialism promoting a fiction of “unity” and “prosperity” to placate, but really exists simply to amass wealth for the banking elite, dismantling the commons of poorer and more rural regions without pausing to reflect on the ramifications of their actions. I’m afraid that Greece is just the beginning, afraid of what happens when whole generations hate and distrust. What happens when your motives are exposed to the whole world, and other cultures taste bitter bile in their mouths at the thought of your actions as well?  Have you “won”?  Is that how you define “success”? Because people have long memories, and this new trauma will not be forgotten.

For as long as I’ve been politically aware and knowledgeable about Ancient Greek history, I’ve watched as people dredge up the Melian Dialogue as a historical parallel to situations of lopsided, overwhelming political structures, empire, and the use of force as example-setting against recalcitrant and strong-willed populations. Whole populations are savaged. But, and no one seems to remember this, the balance of power changes (and it always does), and then there is revenge. And if you don’t think Athens paid for her Melian sins, you must really read more ancient history. She was brutally defeated at the end of the war, her population starved and brutalized by her enemies, in part because of what the Athenians had done to Melos. The powers-that-be in the Troika could certainly learn from this scenerio, but they won’t.  They think, in their hubris, that it doesn’t apply to them. Neither did the Athenians.

But, the truth is, we don’t have to look back 2500 years to the prescient historians to divine the outcome here. Greece’s history is filled with stories of domination of their populations, of brutalities enacted against their people. WWII is but just one example. And trauma, as we are learning, is carried across generations. And yet, last week, knowing the odds and the history (it is their own history!), they voted OXI. And in doing so, they awakened those outside of Greece also being traumatized by neo-liberal capitalism. And now, Greece’s trauma — and all that portends — belongs to the world.

 

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Images from India

In lieu of a written post, here are some images from India for your viewing pleasure.

 

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The Look and Feel of Community

I didn’t really have much of a community growing up. I lived outside of a town, and there were people in that town of course, but my family was isolated from any real sense of connection to most people in it. In retrospect, I can see that neither of my parents really wanted to be in that small town we called home. Unhappy with each other, young and interested in the world of business and academia, our small-town community and any long-term connection with people around them did not hold their imagination. In fact, both my parents had come from small towns. In their 20’s, when I was a child, my parents seemed interested in putting distance between themselves and such things. That was so very typical of their generation and the generation of their parents; Boomers who eschewed farming and small towns for big cities in such great numbers that they completely altered the demographic map of the US in sixty years, pushing it from largely rural/agrarian to urban/business focused. With that change, the life-skills of thousands of generations died with them. They forgot farming and growing, canning and sewing, wild-crafting and hunting in such numbers that the children of Boomers and their children have almost no self-sufficiency skills, making them completely dependent on a system that is beginning to crumble. There is danger here.

This is true of the US population in general, but not of many many areas of the world. Obviously there are many who still retain agricultural roots and skills and are embedded deeply in their communities. We saw it all over wherever we traveled. But what is “it”? What is community?

Infamously hard to define, I can tell you what community is not and then, from there, try to define it by narrowing its parameter to something simple. It is not people living in close proximity to each other without contact. It is not people who gather together to co-consume (like to shop or eat together in public), although the latter can often be used to substitute for community. So what is it?

In small communities, people have known each other their whole lives. They know each others' stories.

In small communities, people have known each other their whole lives. They know each others’ stories.

When we think of community in the US, often our minds go back to some idealized 1950’s image of small-town life like Mayberry, or to religious communities like the Amish. What do our images of Mayberry and the Amish have in common? First of all they are images that call to mind small numbers of people interacting with each other. When you think about Mayberry, you don’t think of it as a large metropolitan area, but rather a small town where each individual is known to each other individual in some way. Amish communities are also farmsteads built around small towns centered on their Church life, fellowships that have at most a few hundred people who would all be known to each other. So we have small numbers of individuals, not large urban centers. We also have people who know each other well; know each others’ families and stories, each others’ quirks and gifts. Large numbers of people can’t know all that information about each other. If there is too much complexity, we loose the deep connections to an individual’s story. It is clear to me that knowing the people around you well is one avenue toward community.

What else?

In Bhutan, buildings that are many hundreds of years old are maintained and built by the surrounding community.

In Bhutan, buildings that are many hundreds of years old are maintained and built by the surrounding community.

We also witness people helping each other. Mayberry was centered around a police force who did their best to help their community, despite their own quirks and the quirks of the people in the town. You see people working to help each other in times of need, in illness or death, when people were financially challenged. So too, our image of Amish life – of community – is centered on people helping people to get their needs met. Barn-raisings are just one example of such community activity. Collectively harvesting crops, selling things at market, sharing in times of need…these are staples of Amish life. So help, but help rooted in co-creating.

What else?

Well, for me, the image of people interacting one-on-one, in person, is important. Rather than emailing or calling each other on the phone, people in Amish communities and in the fictional Mayberry would drop by, talk to each other on the street, meet at others’ houses in times of celebration or in times of sorrow. There was no technological go-between. The connection was rooted in knowing the person by spending real-world time with them. This is an investment made in individuals and families.

So, let’s look at this definition: small, manageable numbers of people; people helping others as a way of life, and usually that help is in the form of co-creation; in-person interaction on a daily basis. When we traveled in Asia, we saw this kind of community everywhere. For instance, in Ladakh – as Chris and I were recovering from amoebic dysentery – we watched a large group of people harvesting a field of barley behind the small, family-run hotel we were staying in. Day after day, groups of people gathered to harvest, sing, laugh, eat together and bring in the grain. It was the community coming to each others’ aid, and when they left the harvesting of this field, done completely by hand and then threshed nearby, they would go to another ripe field and start the process over again until the harvest had been pulled in from all of the fields.

Community celebrations are a foundation of community

Community celebrations are a foundation of community

Often, community comes to play around architectural needs, and often this type of activity is a focus of a community for months, even years, and calls upon the gifts and ingenuity of everyone present. In Bhutan, we saw houses being built. In several places, communities gathered to erect temples or repair ones that had been destroyed (this kind of community work on destroyed temples was particular to Tibet.) In a few temples, we were able to partake in festival days, where whole communities (several hundred people) would gather together to tell stories, dance, make music, laugh, eat collectively cooked meals, listen to the teachings and philosophy of elders, and introduce children to their cultural heritage – well, children and tourists. While surely these gatherings had religious significance, it always struck me as most important as a display of gifts. The temple was scrubbed and freshly painted for the occasion; the dancers danced, the story-tellers amazed, the Rimpoches (teachers) gave teachings, the women in the town and monks made meals to feed hundreds of people, vying for who had the best chili-cheese dish. Chris learned the hard way about the Bhutanese saying, “Good chilis burn three times” at just such a festival.

A community of travelers

A community of travelers

Another way we experienced community while traveling was unexpected to us; we met other travelers and as we moved from place to place, we saw them over and over again. We got to know them well, sometimes shared accommodations and transport options, we laughed over drinks and shared “war” stories, learned from each other, supported each other. If someone needed some supplies, they were freely given from one to another, and when the time came to part, we all felt the loss of each other’s company. This temporary traveling community pops up everywhere you have long-term traveling and is an important part of the experience.

Everest base came (north face); not a place to wander off.

Everest base came (north face); not a place to wander off.

I watched this community exert peer-pressure on travelers who were behaving badly (public drug use, for instance); once on a bus in Laos, a drunk and belligerent French traveler lit up a joint on a public bus. He was roundly mocked by the other travelers present, his poor behavior shut down before he could offend even more of the locals than he had already. Another instance, an Israeli traveler decided that he should leave the care of our driver at Everest Base Camp in Tibet and walk, with no water or cold-weather gear, to Advanced Base Camp, about 10 miles at high altitude for the trip there and back. Our driver was frantic when he disappeared and Chinese authorities were called. The Israeli traveler returned after dark, cold, with no water (he had brought none), angry that our driver had take the rest of us back to the monastery where we were staying. He yelled at the Tibetan driver, but only got so far. All of the other travelers stepped in and let HIM have it, defended the driver, and let him know how terribly out of bounds his behavior was. So, here too, is another definition of community: it is a group of people who will hold a mirror to your face when you are behaving outside social norms and enforce generally recognized codes of behavior. In other countries, having other travelers to watch your back could actually save your life.

So to reiterate, we have small numbers of people who know each other well (know each others’ stories); who co-create together and depend on one another, sharing in each others gifts; who have direct interactions rather than intermediated interactions; who share a sense of purpose or objective, like traveling or cultural belonging in some way; and who uphold community standards of behavior (which are defined differently for every community.)

For many people today (as it was for me), I experience real community for the first time in college. I believe that the importance of college lies not in the academics (ironically enough) but in the sense of belonging that is fulfilled in people who are at a stage in life seeking connection and attachment, and often find it in college life. Sometimes this is for good; sometimes not.

College placed a seed of knowledge in me; I enjoyed a deep sense of belonging to a group of people. I had a very large group of friends in school, which disappeared little by little after we all left and began building our lives. That sense of belonging never left me, and I only found it again while traveling, feeling connected myself to other travelers, and watching the community of people all over the world who had villages and small towns that they called their own, proudly, and celebrated.

When we returned home after traveling we found isolation. It left us both depressed. Our first move was to a little town, with a center and some shops, hoping that there we would be able to build community. But what was community? I knew I needed to start with people I enjoyed, and had something in common with, so I started with parenting once my first child was born. Slowly I patched together a small band of women I enjoyed who had kids, introduced them to each other, and we slowly got to know each other face-to-face, every day, for months and then years. The small mom’s group led to a larger and larger group, which after a couple of years had over one hundred members and was a small non-profit that spanned the entire suburban Philadelphia area. We moved to a new town that had a larger group of like-minded souls, and here we began the plan to start an eco-village together as a very purposeful co-creation of community. We were all wanting community…all of us. Eleven families met every two weeks for two years, and in the end we decided to make our little town our eco-village, and disbanded the idea of building something new. We all took a pledge to become part of making the town better in some way: from starting a farmers’ market, to farming a CSA, to making films about sustainability issues, to working for the arts organization in town, to borough council, to running a homeschooling cooperative, to working on local currency and public banking initiatives, etc.

I have done a lot of thinking about what has helped build our community, mutable and ever-changing as it is? What is it that binds people together? I keep coming back to the same definition of community that I experienced traveling: a group of people on a small scale, that co-creates together (rather than co-consuming together), who knows each other’s stories, their personalities, their quirks and fallibilities, their gifts and strengths. It is people who depend on each other for the latter – the gifts and strengths, and are unapologetic about asking for help from people who can give it and returning that gift in turn. Community is supported and strengthened when there is a lessening of the idea that individuals need to be self-sufficient in all things; in community, we need to need each other. I also believe it helps to acknowledge your weaknesses and strengths within community, be up front about them, and accept them in yourself.

All of this is strengthened by being physically present with each other: dinners, potlucks, visits, talking on the street, helping neighbors with tasks, community celebrations that

Gathering together to eat and dance

Gathering together to eat and dance

focus on story-telling and art, music and laughter, play and work. Community is also strengthened when there is a cohesive focus that binds people, whether that be a belief system (a church, for instance), or a community identity (First Fair Trade Town! Transition Town!) or a group project, such as building or renovating architecture or landscape.

People all over the world are born into community, take it for granted…know nothing else. For me, as for so many in this country and in the west, we are having to rediscover it – having discounted its importance in our lives. But it is critically important to happiness. There is a wholeness that comes from living in community, even when that is hard or frustrating. It is not easy to rediscover community. It has taken me ten years to build one around myself; ten years of very hard work focused almost exclusively on building a community for me and my family. There are so many reasons why community has fled from our lives in the last fifty years, since Mayberry. It has nothing to do with a conscious decision, and everything to do with money and our extractive financial system. We have removed the community-based incentive to give our gifts in community by being able to purchase anything and everything from anywhere. The need we feel for each other has literally been removed, obliterated, forgotten. Temporarily forgotten. I say temporary, because people are beginning to remember again, and saying, “No more.”

 

 

Posted in Bhutan, Community, Gompas and Temples, Ladakh, Simple Living, Tibet | Tagged , | 1 Comment

What You Take Is What You Need

Creative Commons: Mat Honan

Creative Commons: Mat Honan

I’ve had several people write to me over the last few years, having heard from friends or relatives about the trip we made. Most of them want to know how to prepare for a trip like ours was. (Ironically, I am most interested in how one re-enters life after a trip like ours, but I digress.) What did we take? What kind of backpack did we carry? How did we choose what would stay home in storage and what would go?

There is a packing cliché – lay out everything you think you need and then half it. Spread that reduced amount out on the bed, and then half it again. That’s what you take.

I can tell you what we took, but we took more than we needed. What do you need to take? What do you want to take? What you end up taking tells you a lot about yourself. What you end up taking is really, truly, all that you need. In a life encumbered as our lives are today by too much stuff, it might seem nonsensical to suggest that you need merely a backpack full of items to be happy. But I do, in fact, assert that.

What we took:

Clothing:

  • 1 water-proof jacket with a removable liner
  • A hat and a pair of gloves
  • 2 pairs of lightweight pants
  • 1 wallet that attaches to a belt-loop and can be tucked inside your pants/shorts, for your passport, credit cards, and money.
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 2 long-sleeved shirts
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 1 skirt or dress
  • 3 sets of underwear
  • 3 sets of socks
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 1 pair of hiking boots
  • 1 Towel: 1 Washcloth

Bedding

  • 1 mosquito net
  • 1 sleeping bag 

Tools

  • 1 pump (non electric) water pump
  • 1 clothesline and clips
  • bungie cords in many lengths
  • small tool kit (scissors, screwdrivers, etc.)
  • first aid kit

Books & Recreation

  • Lonely Planet guides
  • music and ear phones
  • small journal for taking notes/keeping track of numbers
  • a book for pleasure reading – to be traded with others along the way

This weighed roughly 60 lbs, which was waaaaaay too heavy.

What would I have done differently?

  • 1 rain proof jacket with a removable liner – essential.
  • Hats, gloves – not really essential. If you are going to be somewhere that cold, buy these cold-weather items there, and then give them to another traveler as you move on.
  • 2 pairs of lightweight pants – 1 pair. Alternate with shorts.
  • 1 wallet that attaches to a belt-loop and can be tucked inside your pants/shorts, for your passport, credit cards, and money. – essential
  • 3 t-shirts – 2 t-shirts max
  • 2 long sleeved shirts – 1 long sleeved shirt, layer with short sleeved if you need warmth.
  • 2 pairs of shorts – 1 pair, alternate with light pants
  • 1 skirt or dress – not needed at all. Buy something (or borrow it) if you get a dinner invitation to the American consulate or something.
  • 3 sets of underwear – essential
  • 3 sets of socks – essential
  • long johns – essential
  • 1 pair of sandals – essential
  • 1 pair of heavy boots – make them comfortable and as light as possible.
  • 1 mosquito net – essential
  • 1 sleeping bag – helpful but not essential, and a big weight. Mine got stolen in Tibet and I didn’t really miss it after that.
  • Dop Kit – with toothbrush, brush, and other sundries – essential
  • Towel:washcloth – essential, but make them small. There are now towels and washcloths in a lightweight, quick-to-dry material (like the Sham-Wows on TV) that you can buy at REI and other outdoor stores.
  • 1 pump (non electric) water pump – doesn’t seem essential, but this got us through a rough part of India. I would take it again.
  • 1 clothesline and clips – essential
  • bungie cords – essential
  • small tool kit (scissors, screwdrivers, matches, pens, Sharpies, etc.) – essential
  • zip lock bags galore – essential
  • Lonely Planet guides – take 1 (only) for the country you will be in first. You will always be able to find all the others in any big city where there are other backpackers.
  • first aid kit – see this post.
  • music and ear phones – not essential, but nice to have
  • small journal for taking notes/keeping track of numbers – essential. You will regret not having this.
  • books for pleasure reading – take one…and no more. Do not weigh yourself down. You will be able to trade books or give them away almost everywhere you go in your travels.
At our lightest with our cold weather gear in Lhasa.

At our lightest with our cold weather gear in Lhasa.

That might reduce the weight down to about 40 lbs, which seems right. I’ve known some travelers to have eschewed all clothing but two outfits (one being worn, one to be in the process of laundering), a toothbrush, a book, and perhaps a clothes line in a small backpack. You can get down to that level, especially in warmer countries like India and SE Asia, and that is certainly makes life easier.

When packing, you must consider that your backpack is a microcosm of your life, and look deeply and sharply at what you can and cannot live without. I could live without pajamas (I slept in my clothes or nude), but couldn’t live without Q-tips. (No, really…) I read a lot, and needed a book (or three) with me, but I didn’t need a ton of music or art supplies. I easily twist my ankles, so I needed good boots. Others might get along just fine with light shoes. Clothing, which we tend to have in so much abundance and consider to be of primary importance, needs to be radically pared down. I actually researched what Colonial Americans had in their wardrobes, and thought long and deep about anything I thought I needed over that. Their needs were the bare essentials. I would need to take only those same essentials. Maybe even less. And the tools must be basic as well: matches, scissors, Sharpies, a clothesline…

You pare down the expectation of needs to the basics of everyday. Clothing, feeding, sheltering, and washing yourself. Those basic needs are what is precisely so difficult about this exercise of preparing a backpack. We’ve forgotten our essential needs. We’ve forgotten how to provide for them without fancy homes, and closets full of clothes, a washing machine, and a garage filled with tools. We’ve forgotten to be essential, and that really – for most of the time – your needs are very basic. Our consumer culture has convinced us that we need so much, but in reality we need so little. A backpack demands that we accept that as truth, and rethink how to prepare for life.

I would like to say that I now live a minimalist lifestyle, with few possessions and very little baggage. No, that would be a lie. I live in a house filled with travel momentos and books (have I said I’m a reader?), children’s toys, cooking pots, antiques, and baskets. But I have to say that I have a tenuous relationship to the things I own, ready to give them away. I lend and give my books away freely to others that need or want them. I acquire clothing at Goodwill, and give it back when it goes unused. We give and take in our community, within our circle of friends. Furniture moves, clothing moves, books move… and I feel very little attachment to the things that make a home here in this house alongside the people, to whom I feel a strong attachment. Traveling has given me that perspective; I can do this thing called life without all the stuff. If, for some reason, I wake tomorrow and it is all blown away in a hurricane, I know I can move forward without the things. Just give me a backpack, and about 40 lbs of essentials, and I might just be able to make a life anew. I’ve done it before.

Posted in Backpacking & Long-term travel, Simple Living | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Kites and Joy in Dark Places

Saying that I was unprepared for India is an understatement. Of course, I was prepared in all the usual ways: my backpack had all the proper gear. I just didn’t understand the emotional preparation I needed to have packed as well. In truth, no one is ever really prepared for what comes at them there.

We were unprepared for what Delhi is and isn’t.

We arrived pre-dawn from Dubai, a stopover in the wee-hours of a late August night. I don’t know what I was expecting, but from the outset, every sensation was a surprise. The smells, the thick, languid air, the crush of bodies even at 5 am, the complete confusion about where we might go to catch a way into the traveler’s area of Delhi. Our friends had been to Delhi a year ago, and gave us the name of a good, clean inn where we could stay the first five days of our trip. A good hotel sounded good to me. I had visions of lush gardens and unusual, colorful birds, tea on a veranda listening to the sound of the city far off in the distance, away from the high-rises that come with all modern capitals.

The public bus left from the front stoop of the airport, and we threw our bags up top and got in. Even so early, with dawn breaking, it was packed full. We were lucky to get a seat, as most were standing. It took almost an hour, and we kept looking for the high rises that would signal the nearing of Delhi, but we never saw them. Perhaps we were on a wrong bus, we thought anxiously. The driver came to a quick halt, pointed to us, and said – “You. Here.” We had asked to be left at Connaught Place, the center of Delhi, and from there we would get a tuk-tuk to PaharGanj, the street with our hotel. We looked around. No, surely, this isn’t it. There was no building over three stories high, no gardens or fancy architecture to tell you that you are in the middle of the financial district of one of the most populous countries in the world. Everything was mildewed, and falling to pieces. Cows and people, literally, slept in the streets. Rickshaw drivers were sleeping in their cabs, parked anywhere that seemed mildly safe. No, this can’t be it! But the driver was insistent, so we got off, pulled out a map, and began trying to figure out where on earth we could be.

The view from our hotel window. Not a garden or exotic bird in sight.

A Sikh tuk-tuk driver stopped and asked us where we wanted to go. We explained we were lost, that we had wanted Connaught Place. Where were we? He looked so puzzled, and said, “This is here…” and swept his hand at the vista. Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore! How on Earth could this place be Counnaught Place? I felt instantly defeated.We climbed into his vehicle and he zoomed around traffic and down side streets, towering over our heads with electric wires and improbably balanced architecture. It was only a short ride to our hotel, and my dismay grew when he ground to a halt and pointed. There would be no garden with colorful birds. It was a cinderblock, five story “high” rise crammed into an alley (Paharganj) with dozens of other almost identical buildings. People were milling around, carrying tea and food, cooking, walking, opening shops. The road was covered in trash. I stepped out, and felt a tug at my pants. A little girl, so unfathomably dirty, no older than six or seven, was holding a newborn baby in her arms, the afterbirth still attached. The baby’s head was rolling around in her arms. She held her arms out for money, and our driver shoo’ed her away. I really, at that moment, didn’t think I could do this…this thing called India, not if it meant looking into the eyes of such poverty and not being able to help. I literally felt sick to my stomach. It was 6 am.

I have a hard time admitting this, but I was barely able to leave my bedroom for the next three days. The one hundred degree heat coupled with the 99% humidity was one issue. I had just come from Greece, the land of lovely beaches and sea breezes. It was hard to adapt. But I was scared. That was the main reason. Scared to face that child again, overwhelmed by the thought of walking in the crush of people. Scared to find out the source of that smell…the smell of spices, mixed with urine, mixed with death that seemed to waft up from below. Our hotel room had a large bed, a toilet in the room (I didn’t know how lucky we had it!), and a ceiling fan that had once been a jet-engine. There were only two speeds: on and off. On was enough wind to make you feel like you were in a tropical storm. It was better than nothing.

The other thing about this hotel (another thing I was blessed to have but didn’t even know it) was a rooftop restaurant. In the mornings and evenings – anytime really – it was pleasant to sit up there and read, drink tea. The food was decent-ish. There were plenty of travelers to talk to. We made conversation with anyone we met, feeling very new-kid on the travel block, and tried to listen to others explain to us which way was up.

I was still too scared to go out.

Squashed kitten and other unsavory sights

Chris kept making forays into the streets to check things out, coming back with tales of crazy sights. Squashed kittens, flat as a pancake, in the street. Public toilets that I can only imagine, to this day. Tasty food he had sampled, how close the train station was. Meanwhile, I slept and read, lounged and read some more, sat in the upstairs restaurant and looked at life moving five stories down, and thinking, “Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into?”

The view from the rooftop

The first night, I noticed them. Then for every night after, they became my source of joy, something desperately needed in this completely foreign place that was testing every internal reserve I had. What was this bright spot? Kites. At dusk, every night, the kites would rise in the sky…not one or two, but hundreds in every part of the city. They would rise from the ground and from roof-tops, and were flying as far away as the horizon that I could see. Little boys and girls were sending up colorful kites into the sky, and battling each other in friendly games of kite-war, above the busy streets and squalor around them. They were a multitude of shapes, sizes, and colors, but most of them were quite plain. All of them were hand-made, it seemed. For the hour or two before the stars came out, these kites danced in front of me like hopeful beacons, until those brighter beacons of hope could emerge from the night sky. “Could it really be so bad out there?” I considered. This city where everyone flies kites at night, this playful tradition, began to lull me away from fear.

Eventually, yes, I did leave my hotel room and explore the city a little bit before our flight to Ladakh, which would take us far north into Tibetan territory. When I returned to Delhi two months later, it seemed down-right civilized. Our hotel felt like an oasis of luxury. The grinding poverty still made my being ache, but I had developed calluses and coping skills there too. And the kites were still flying nightly much to my delight.

I had another fearful transition in our travel experience; the days and nights after returning home to New York City. Encumbered with 100 kilos of gifts and “stuff” in two enormous duffles, I made my way back alone from Nepal; Chris took a detour to Greece to pick up our computer and other things stored on Crete. My brother-n-law and sister-in-law opened their doors to me and gave me a room in their apartment in Chelsea. Again, I spent a few days sleeping and looking at the overwhelming landscape around me from five floors up, trying to realign my world to a familiar reality, but one that no longer held the meaning of “home” for me. I couldn’t remember that I had lived here for years, that I had felt comfortable here. There were too many people, too many cars. I was, again, intimidated.

My first foray out into the streets was to do a little grocery shopping at the corner deli. An everyday act for all New Yorkers, this one took a great deal of mental preparation on my part. I remember distinctly walking up the street, looking at everyone’s faces, not recognizing myself in them anymore. “I don’t belong here now.” When I walked into the market, I was overwhelmed. I just wanted something for lunch, but left empty handed. Too many choices! Dozens of drinks? Dozens of sandwich options? Endless supplies of fruit and vegetables, most of which were not even native to the US, much less the northeast or in season. Why, why so much choice? Do we need all this?

My self-imposed roof top exile began to wane over the next days. On the 4th of July, my relatives took us out on their boat into the Hudson, inviting friends of mine to help alleviate the obvious anxiety I was displaying at re-entry. It was quiet out there, the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Centers helping me to recall the particulars of this place where I had once worked, lived, and created a life. I knew that I no longer belonged here, in this place, but watched as the fireworks lit the night sky that evening in celebration of the playful and awe-struck child in each of us. Where would I find a home again? Would I ever feel tied to one place again? I wasn’t sure at that point it was possible, but I knew that wherever I would find a home in my heart, there would need to be hope, kites, and children flying them.

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Delhi, Paharganj

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Delhi, Paharganj 28.647337, 77.213211 (Directions)
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Sitting in Silence in the Jokhang

 

The entrance to the Jokhang, the holiest temple in Tibetan Buddhism

You don’t come to this place like many of the Tibetans do. All over the countryside, all over the town, you see people in dirty chupas (robes lined with yak fur) and jeans, with wooden blocks on their hands and cushions on their knees. You see them raise their hands above their heads in prayer, touch their forehead, their mouths, their hearts, and then fully prostrate themselves on the ground, only to rise up and begin the process all over again. Over and over, day in and day out, moving slowly mile by mile until they arrive. Where are they going? To the Jokhang, of couse. The center of Lhasa, the center of Tibet. The holy of holies. A place of great antiquity and mystery. In fact its first name was “The House of Mysteries.” For me, it is where I learned to sit in silence for hours, content just to be. Here I learned stillness and connection, really for the first time in my life, a lesson that I have carried forward and never forgotten.

Walking the Barkhor

To enter this temple, you must first walk a circumnambulation of the Barkhor, preferably several times. You walk the circumference of the temple as an act of reverence, pushing the ancient wooden prayer wheels as you go, clockwise, following the crowd. Each rotation around the khora (or route) washes away your sins, as do the prayers you say in the process.The people are sometimes festive, dressed in their best, wanting to be seen by their community. Others have been prostrating their way here for months and are at the final leg of the journey, at a place of reverence, the edge of admission to what is undoubtably the highest point in their lives. You walk, meeting the smiles with smiles, the hellos with hellos, the questions with answers. And you walk and walk in reverence. When it is time, you enter the ancient enormous wooden doors, original to the 8th century AD, and over the threshold into a courtyard filled with monks doing chores and tasks aimed at devotion. Many more people are in the courtyard doing prostrations, and the courtyard is worn smooth from the untold millions of people who have done these prostrations here over the last fourteen-hundred years. Small children sit with their mothers, some people sleep in the corners and probably have no where else to go. There aren’t many tourists. It is smoky with incense.

 

Thousands upon thousands of candles light the inside of the temple.

When you enter the temple proper, the smell of juniper and rancid yak butter is strong, tempered by the additional smells of candle wax and ancient wood. The entire room is filled with incense smoke as well, colorful paintings and sculpture are crammed into every available space, katas (silk scarves of offering) are placed on every image, and low seats are situated along the outside wall. You walk clock-wise in here too, and every few yards, another room springs off to your left, a chapel dedicated to this king, or that saint, this Buddha or that Tara. These chapels are unique and intricate, exquisite and wonderful, but the big, dark, smoky main room draws you back and around. Butter lamps by the thousands burn on tables where you can offer candles to the dead, to wishes and prayers, to business plans, or trips to be taken. You can place a candle in prayer for your crops or the health of your family, or the enlightenment of all human kind. The temple has seen them all. You are asked at one table to take a piece of paper and write the name of a beloved on it to offer at the main sculpture. This I do.

In my pocket is the a kata for offering to the Jowo, the sacred sculpture that is the focus of everyone’s attention in the room. A thousand years old, this sculpture was cut in half in 1966 by the Red Guard, part of it removed to Beijing and part of it thrown into garbage dump outside of Lhasa. The parts have since been reunited and the sculpture restored, one of the many great shames on the Chinese government’s list of atrocities committed against the Tibetan people. The sculpture is the most highly revered object in Tibetan Buddhism, and is the focus of so much intense emotional energy that you can feel it, almost like static electricity, when you are in this room. Surprisingly, the line isn’t long. You don’t wait forever to place your offering on Jowo’s lap. And once there, the temptation is to stay and be with this image. It is so beautiful. It feels alive, as if the wishes of the people around it could come true – that the Buddha could become human and wipe their suffering away. But the crowd of Tibetan grandmothers and eager young men, clothes stained from their prostration pilgrimage, wait as well. You know you must move on.

I found a quiet place to sit to watch people move past me and think about their lives. There were not many tourists in Lhasa when we were there, so most of these people lived lives very different from my own: shepherds, merchants, farmers, monks. Some were dressed traditionally, some dressed in cheap chinese clothing, an imitation of western slacks and a jacket. The smell of juniper and yak-butter tea was so strong here, near the altar, that I almost felt high from its smoke. I closed my eyes.

Ancient paintings cover every surface

I remembered a place, suddenly, from my childhood – a place I had not thought of in eons. I used to ride my horses to this place, a rock outcropping in a nearby field. The rock held a spring that seeped year round and provided good drinking water. Moss grew in abundance on the granite around the seep, and here on the moss I would lay on the warm stone while my horse grazed nearby. I would watch birds and animals here, listen to silence, relish the quiet that was so rare in my life. I felt completely at home when I visited this spring. In fact, this was the only time I found peace at all. Nearby, at the end of the forest, was a path leading from this place into a grove of trees with ferns. Here, deer slept and the cows came to rest. I saw nesting birds and other animals here from time to time. I rode often in these quiet, dark woods and relished the beauty here. The image stayed with me for a long time, and I relished in its memory, remembering not only the place, but the child I once was, the feelings I felt for life and nature, the awe it invoked in me.

Why, in this remote place, in this beautiful temple so unlike anything I’ve ever experience in my life, was this image coming to me now?

As I sat in this room, my eyes closed, still despite the whirl of people moving around me at their devotions, I felt a wash of happiness move over me – a wash of connection to people in the room, to the child I once was, to the parent I hoped I would be some day, to the old woman who I would become. I saw visions of all three ages, saw myself age and regress. I felt deeply the connection that my life had to all other women in the world, their hopes and fears, aspirations and joys. The presence of my past/present/future self and its connection to others was so profound, I was moved almost to tears. I reckoned it as a moment unlike all the others I had had in my life up to that point. But now, twelve years on, I realize that it was merely my first such moment. There were more to come, with different faces but always the same lesson.

I spent hours inside the Jokhang that day, and when I exited the afternoon had begun to settle in. Wood smoke from kitchen fires settled over the old city promising tea and dinner. I exited the courtyard and threshold and walked the circumnambulation again and again, touching the dense wood prayer wheels as I passed. In the old ladies’ eyes, I now saw myself. The image of the mothers with babies slung to their backs as they walked helped me feel the snuggled weight of my as-yet-to-be-born children on my back, seeking comfort and rest in the arms of their mother. The curious glances of the teenaged girls, decked out in their best clothes and jewels, looking to meet husbands and see friends…in them too I saw myself and felt their excitement, joy, and interest. My heart had opened up, and I began to see that I too belonged here, was at home here. I too was connected here. My joy at this knowledge was immeasurable.

 

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The Jokhang: Lhasa, Tibet

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The Jokhang: Lhasa, Tibet 29.650237, 91.133861 (Directions)
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