When you return from Somewhere Else, if you are lucky, people ask about your journey. I have not known what to say. I use phrases like “intensely beautiful”, “hard and rewarding”, “powerful”. I mention that we treated over 500 people in the community clinics that we set up throughout Kathmandu and the northern region of Mustang. I tell the story of riding horses from village to village like circus performers. I hand out prayer flags in primary colors. I think about ways that I can support the Nepali acupuncture training program that Acupuncturists Without Borders has begun in order to continue this radical healing work. www.acuwithoutborders.org
What else happened to me in Nepal?
We used the NADA protocol for our larger clinics, which consists of five acupuncture points found in the ears that treat the nervous system, trauma and stress disorders. I became intimate with the shape and size of Nepali ears, the curving whorls like sea shells and their internal structures. I looked into people’s eyes to say hello and then, I moved to their ears, asking them to breathe so that the needles were inserted without any pain. I learned the Nepali words for “breathe in, breathe out” very quickly to communicate something more than a smile.
There were mountains that could steal your breath, the color of sand, silver, blood, cinnamon, baking bread and rust. There were also fields of green tsampa barley that pretended to be oceans when the wind gusted through the Kali Ghandaki river valley.
I got sick and had to ask people whom I didn’t know well for help. It was a distinctive initiation, the cramping stomach and the surrender to the unknown. I was not in charge. I was a humble guest in a land of hard and fast beauty. The kindness of strangers was pronounced, perhaps a stronger proof than I am used to.
After my stint as an itinerant acupuncturist on horseback and hiking through the high Himalayas, any fear of heights is gone. Climbing up is still easier on my lungs than going down is on my knees. I learned to scamper down the mountains with light Nepali steps. I gained balance, learned that the descent wasn’t about planting my feet firmly but staying fluid, dancing with the slope, allowing the tiny rocks to scatter. There was the swinging bridge over the bottomless chasm that I hoped I wouldn’t have to cross. Then, I had to deepen my breath and walk in short, quick punctuated steps, staring at the other side of the bridge and forgetting anything else could exist. In the mountains, all the metaphors are real.
I have often thought I need more things or new things. Mostly, I am wrong. Since I came home, I don’t complain so much about things not moving immediately. I wonder how long it will take before I comment on something being slow to download on the Internet, the internet that I can access immediately in my own house, the light that comes into every room with a touch of a switch, the hot water that flows from my faucet at my command from any number of bathrooms that I use. Why am I in a hurry? I already think that my life moves at a speed that I don’t comprehend on a soul level. Presence is easier without so many deadlines. I am not a Buddhist, but I understand Buddhism a little better now. Our expectations hurt us. Suffering is all around and life is transformation. We make believe stability and forever to buttress our dreams of safety but the only truth is that everything will change. Why am I rushing?
Namaste is a phrase that has never quite inspired me before. In early yoga classes, I was told that it meant the god in me greets the god in you. However, in the US, we have always been taught to hide or downplay the gods inside us. In Nepal, we were encouraged to ardently greet them in each other. And sure enough, there was brightness, a clear window into something living there. Namaste is not the same as “hello” and it is not spoken absently.
I have been trying to greet the gods in other people since I have returned. I look for that fire in their eyes, in their movement, in the body of energy that travels before them like weather, like a mood. The gods within are different here, maybe sleeping or fetal or distracted by iPhones. I can’t demand their company, but I will offer Namaste as a dare, a gambit, something risky. I love to watch humans glow, that infinitesimal spark, the divine kindling that fills each of us. That is the grace that can save our collective creative spirit, lead us away from the greedy empty edge of the land of zombies.
Where are the gods inside? Look deeper. Elicit them. Evoke them. Flirt with them. Be persuasive. Leave a message. If I show you mine, will you show me yours?