More inspiration and the avalanche

Hello again. I thought I would tackle two topics in this, hopefully brief, post. The first is another selection from Light from many Lamps. This selection comes from Richard E. Byrd, who in 1934 spent 5 months alone in Antarctica gathering data on polar meteorology. One night, as he sat in the bitter cold, he came to a realization of man’s place in the universe. If you have read quotes from Neil deGrasse Tyson, you may have heard similar thoughts. Personally, I think Byrd is much more lyrical in his delivery:

“I paused to listen to the silence. My breath, crystallized as it passed my cheeks, drifted on a breeze gentler than a whisper. The wind vane pointed toward the South Pole. Presently the wind cups ceased their gentle turning as the cold killed the breeze. My frozen breath hung like a cloud overheard. 

The day was dying, the night was being born – but with great peace. Here were the imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless. Harmony, that was it! That was what came out of the silence – a gentle rhythm, the strain of a perfect chord, the music of the spheres, perhaps.

It was enough to catch that rhythm, momentarily to be myself a part of it. In that instant I could feel no doubt of man’s oneness with the universe. The conviction came that that rhythm was too orderly, too harmonious, too perfect to be a product of blind chance – that, therefore, there must be purpose in the whole and that man was part of that whole and not an accidental offshoot. It was a feeling that transcended reason, that went to the heart of a man’s despair and found it groundless. The universe was a cosmos, not a chaos; man was as rightfully a part of that cosmos as were the day and night.”

Now, this does not have much to do with my current mental state, nor with my research. I simply stumbled across it and found the words beautiful and the thought empowering. I, too, have experienced something very similar, but in a very different location. It really is quite amazing what one can conceive when one takes time alone with the elements. I hope that others feel this way. If you have not experienced this transcendent silence, I strongly urge you to spend more time in solitude. I do not believe it is something you can find through deliberate searching, but there is no doubt you will recognize it upon discovery. The moment will penetrate the very fiber of your being and leave you wondering why you had never felt this way before. I think the moment, time of day, and location are different for each individual, and quite particular to the individual, in fact. It is something I promise you will never forget, and something you will often experience again.

 

On a different note, the avalanche on the slopes leading to Chomolungma (Mt. Everest) last week was undoubtedly a horrible day for the Sherpa community. The most recent numbers say that 16 were killed, most of which were Sherpas, the others coming from other ethnic groups in Nepal. Many of those who know my research interests have been asking whether this will affect it at all. I am here to say that, for the most part, it has not and likely will not in the coming weeks. The hard truth about this occurrence is simply that these things happen. Yes, it was the most devastating accident in the history of climbing Chomolungma, and yes it took more lives of close family and friends than I think any of us could comprehend losing in a lifetime, let alone one fell swoop. You can read the copious amounts of articles online discussing possible Sherpa strikes, the end of this mountaineering season, and the apparent lack of respect the Nepali government has for what the Sherpas and other climbers do. But what you might also find, as I have found in speaking to a number of Sherpas, many of whom have lost at least 2 friends (one has lost 8), Sherpas simply say, “yes it was horrible, and it may scare some Sherpas and others may stop working/never pursue mountaineering, but overall it is simply part of the job.” What they do is hazardous, and it has been since the first attempts in the early 20th century. This will not change, and it is unlikely the Sherpas’ work in the mountains will cease altogether. The world of mountaineering mourns the loss of 16 well respected and deeply loved young men, and there is no doubt people will reconsider their adventurous endeavors as a result. If you want to learn more, it is best to read as many articles as possible to get a variety of angles on the story. Many of them also discuss ways to donate to organizations that will provide the families of the dead men with proper compensation. This is one of the biggest issues on the table now; whether the lives of the climbers, particularly the Sherpas, are being valued by their government as evidenced by the compensation given to the families. Often time this only amounts to about Rs.40,000 (about $400). Simply not enough for those who lost their main source of income.

I don’t want to say any more at risk of spreading rumors. I would simply say keep the families in your thoughts. Thank you, and I’ll talk to you again soon.

 

Some thoughts…

I have not moved from our home base here in Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal to conduct my research. I am the only one of the 14 students on this program who decided to remain, but for good reason. I am interested in Sherpa youth and it just so happens that Boudha, and more generally the Kathmandu Valley, has quite a large number of Sherpa families. Thus, it only seemed proper I remain here. In short, my project is focusing on the lives of Sherpa youth, exploring their current interests and pursuits, be they academic, artistic, or occupational. While I take time to sit down and talk with these young Sherpas, I am also asking them what their thoughts are on mountaineering/trekking/tourism as it relates to their lives, Sherpa culture, and the overall concept of Sherpa identity. This interest raises a number of other questions and possible pitfalls, through which I am trying to navigate safely without getting too bogged down by the details and anxieties that so often serve as distractions. We are currently in week 2 of our 4 weeks of research, and things are continuing to go well despite hiccups here and there. 

About a week ago, as I was sitting in a cafe with a friend who is now in the remote region of Lower Dolpo in north-west Nepal, I discovered a book entitled Light from many Lamps. If you are familiar with this book, you can imagine my genuine excitement upon finding such a literary gem. It is not a novel. It is a compilation of some of the greatest quotes – and stories behind the quotes – that cover topics such as courage,achievement, happiness, perseverance, and many others. The authors of these quotes come from not only literature, but also from politics and religion, as well as a few who just happened to pen inspiration into the pages of their personal journals. Last night I was frustrated with the state of my research and the direction I appeared to be heading with the little amount of time I perceived I had left. So, to ease my frustration and anxieties, I felt it was time to pull out the book and get some inspiration. What I read put my mind at ease, and I think the two quotes are ones that everyone should be aware of in times of frustration. They go like this:

“You wake up one morning and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours – the most precious of possessions.” – Arnold Bennett.

I think it is pretty self-explanatory why this quote made me feel better, but it was nice to read it and its accompanying story anyway. Essentially is just tells all of us to keep in mind that time is the one thing that we all receive the same amount of. None of us will ever haver more or less than our neighbors, our friends, our enemies. It is what we do with the time we have that makes the difference. We can never go into debt with time, and we will never have it taken from us. Bennett simply wanted to express, from his own personal experience, that all we hope to do is entirely possible given we budget our time well. This is not to say that no time can be allotted for leisure or sleep. In fact he stressed the opposite. Instead, we should plan our days accordingly if we wish to accomplish things. I, for one, like to leave time open for spontaneous moments, but even that can be planned to an extent. In my final weeks of research, I will employ this method of time management so that I can not only work diligently and effectively, but also relax and thrive in my last few weeks in this wonderful country. We would all do well to consider his ideas. At the very least, keep this quote in the back of our minds for those moments when we feel that “we simply do not have the time.”

The other quotes goes like this:

“We must do the best we can with what we have.” – Edward Rowland Sill

Although this quote comes from a man who was physically disabled, it can easily be applied to anyone in any situation. Personally, I look at this quote as a way of saying to myself, “Don’t worry about getting the best of everything. Instead, do your best to get the information available to you. In the end, you will work with what you have, and you will make the best of what is there.” This is not to say that one should simply settle for what they have, or that one should not work hard in things that they do and in the end say, “well, I guess I’ll just do what I can with what I have and that will be fine.” No. This is stressing the importance of being content with what you have and making the most of it. Sill did not whine about his condition or think of all the ways he was disabled. Instead, he looked at all the ways he could make good with what he was given. We can only play the cards we are dealt, so we must make the most of them. We can never be the best at everything, nor can we be better than others at all things, but we can all be great at something. As for my research, I am taking this quote to heart when I worry that I may not have asked enough questions or the right questions. I think of it when I see people walking around with better camera gear than I have. What I see as important is that I have adequate devotion and time to do my research and filming. Thankfully, I have an abundance of both.

I hope that these were helpful and interesting for those who took the time to read about my troubles and subsequent insights. I will try to post more like this over the next three weeks as I encounter more road blocks that send me to Light from many Lamps once again in my humble abode that is the Lotus Guest House.

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Thanks for reading, and check back soon. Oh, and just as a selfish plug, I’ll put a link here where you can find a better description of my research project, and those of two other amazing students at Gettysburg College who are also currently abroad. Enjoy!

http://www.gettysburg.edu (then look under “News” and select the “International Bridge Course…” topic.)

Final days together

This need not sound as sad or conclusive as it does; it is simply the best way to describe our last days together as a cohesive program before heading in different directions to conduct our research. At this very moment I am certain that all 14 of us are deep within the throes of our research, slaving away over interview transcriptions, photographs, and related literature trying to make some sense of anything…Then again, I am drinking coffee in a cafe with blazing-fast internet and updating my blog. I suppose others might be trying to retain their sanity as well. Nevertheless, these pictures are from our trip to Swayambhu on the north-western side of the Kathmandu Valley. Swayambhu (or Swayambhunath – with the ending very common to many names here) is known to many who travel to Nepal as the infamous “Monkey Temple.” Although this is a misnomer, there are plenty of monkeys to be found. And rest assured, whether you can see them or not, if you have food, they can see you very, very well. On more than one occasion did we witness a little furry primate relieve a larger, less furry primate of their foodstuffs. Really makes you wonder who is the more evolved…

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But the stupa itself and the surrounding monuments and temples are quite beautiful. The name “Swayambhu” can be translated or understood in a few different ways. Literally, for the Newari Buddhists, it means “self-arisen.” This hearkens back a story that is told about a lotus sitting peacefully on the surface of the lake that is now the Kathmandu Valley. Supposedly this lotus, and the hill that formed under its own power beneath it, now sit within the large stupa built on top of hill. This is a horrible butchering of the story, but self-arisen forms are quite common in Nepal, and they are particularly special for Buddhists. Another way to understand it, from a Tibetan translation and context, is as “sublime trees,” or essentially the hill where an abundance of trees thrive. This story is related to a god that established the area, and he sacrificed his hair to protect the site. So when he cut his hair off, it is said that each one of his strands of hair was planted and grew into a different tree. Now, I know nothing of trees or how to actually name them, but I can claim that there are many different looking trees in this area. So who knows? Oh, and there are also lots of prayer flags, as per usual. 

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This is a surprisingly clear view of the valley from the top of the hill. 

Our visit to Swayambhu was one of many things we had to accomplish in our last week together. Among the other things were finalizing paperwork for our research, making contacts, finding housing, and packing up in our home stays. The latter of these was by far the most difficult for most of us. Although we were ready to go out on our own and have new and exciting experiences, it was hard leaving a family that had so generously taken us in for the semester and treated us like part of their family. I really do miss having a good, home cooked meal every night. Fortunately we will see them once more at a picnic in our last week. I will do my best to update more throughout my research, but as it is not particularly exciting for most, it might not be worth your time. Once again, thanks for reading. See you again soon!  

 

Paper Factory

Paper Factory

Here is the video of the paper factory in Thimphu. It is hardly cinematography par excellence, but I think it gives a good idea of the time that goes into even a few sheets of paper made the traditional way. Select the title just above in order to see the video. Enjoy!