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Posted By Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton

A week later and many arduous miles from Lhasa in a remote valley the locals called the “Womb of the Great Mother”, I finally found the real Shangri-La that I had been questing for, which was to know my true place in the nature of things.  In preparation for the pilgrimage, I had written my intentions for the journey in my journal.  Chief among my intentions was to “look into the eyes and the faces of the people I meet” and to “be aware of the doors that will open”.  

 

Pilgrim

 

On the morning of the full moon of Sagadawa (the sacred month of May which is the Buddha’s birth month), we ate an early breakfast in our idyllic campsite at 13,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by the sounds of birds, goats bleating, and bees buzzing amongst the fragrant flowering bushes. The sun was just beginning to illuminate the rim at the top of the valley as we started our three-hour, thousand foot trek up a steep and dusty path to the monastery. On the path winding past ancient and still occupied meditation caves and hermitages clinging to the side of the mountain, Tibetans from the village below overtook us, greeting us warmly and offering words of encouragement along with the occasional chunk of dried goat cheese for much-needed energy. I began to lag behind the others, suffering from the effects of the altitude and dehydration. Finally reaching the monastery, I collapsed in the shade weeping from exhaustion.

WomanWoman#2

 

A crowd of Tibetan women immediately clustered around me, murmuring, praying, patting my arms and stroking my forehead.  A Tibetan nun appeared with the ubiquitous yak butter tea and a much more rare, and therefore more precious, aspirin for my headache.  I started to laugh through my tears, and they all laughed too, while continuing to comfort me and smile into my eyes. I was at that moment, though thousands of miles from home amongst complete strangers, more at home than I had ever been; and all, magically, without exchanging a single word. I was pervaded by a sense of deep peace. “So”, I thought, “This is heaven on earth—accepting all the hardships as well as the blessings, the joy along with the pain.  So”, I rejoiced, “This is my true place in the nature of things--at home everywhere and always among friends”.

The Tibetans know this instinctually, having thrived for centuries in the harshest of environments with resilience, grace and joy. “My religion is kindness,” the Dalai Lama is fond of saying, and the Tibetan people I met embodied this.  Though impoverished and sorely lacking in even basic medical care and education, the Tibetans we encountered did not beg money from us but instead often offered us what little tsampa (barley flour dough) they had.  We, in turn, reached into our own hearts and wallets, raising money to bring clean running water to the monastery where we stayed in Zangri, to provide medical care for a nun suffering from leprosy, and surgery for a young man with a congenital leg deformity.  In one remote village we pooled all our soaps, unused toothbrushes, lotions and over-the-counter drugs and supplies for an impromptu hygiene and medical clinic for the 50 villagers who showed up at our campsite. It was the least we could do for all the blessings, kindness, and insights we had experienced in their magical country.

 

Child

Now, back “home” in the United States, the pilgrimage continues as I begin to integrate the “changed me” into my old life. Regaling my friends with the details of the hardships endured, including the outdoor toilets lacking privacy and running water, some of them react incredulously: “Why would you do something so hard? I could never do that!” I answer with what I used to say to the women in my cancer support group: “We should live even our wildest dreams while we can.”  I seem to have taken my own advice to heart.