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On This Course I Witnessed…

On this course I witnessed…..

How interconnected human beings can be. In both of the homestays, everyone in their community relied on one another. It was eye opening to see that everyone knew each other and that they enjoyed one another. More often that not, strangers on the street were willing to talk and were very nice people. The locals look on foreigners was very surprising to me. They would ask to take photos with us just because of where we’re from and because we generally look different. I witnessed the simplicity of life for a monk. They’re dedicated to their faith and goals and don’t need much more than their basic needs. I was looking to go to a place where the way of life and the mentality of the people were different than home, and this course lived up to that.

A shift in myself from thinking forward constantly to being present to reflecting and thinking back. A goal for myself was to be present in the moment on this trip and I found times when that was much easier than others. There were definitely challenges and in these moments part of me wanted to escape, to thinking forward to what was coming next and how that might be different. On a Dragons course, you can’t be in control of what’s coming next, it isn’t your choice or responsibility and often isn’t even sure for the instructors. This was an aspect that I struggled with initially, but came to appreciate. As I get older, I will be called upon more and more to plan and think ahead. And this was an opportunity to just be. Being entirely present to the moment is no longer a goal for me because there is something powerful about reflection, and endings would be too sad without looking ahead to a new beginning. What I do want to bring back with me is an acknowledgement of when and why I am not present and to make sure there is space to let go of past or future things. And when moments are challenging, embrace the challenge!

So much more than I can put into words and so much more than I remember in this moment, but I’ll do my best to share some of what I have seen. Much of this trip has been an experience of sensory overload for me with little time or energy remaining at the end of each day to reflect, and so now as things slow down during transference, all the memories I have made seem to come back in a muddled flood. To name a few things, I’ve seen crazy driving, countless stray dogs (some scary, some awfully cute), homeless people sleeping on the ground as people walk by without a second glance, people staring at me with the curious look reserved for foreigners, bugs bigger and louder than I knew existed, GIGANTIC plates of food, breathtaking temples and monasteries, entire villages gradually engulfed by clouds, and incredible kindness from the people I have met here. Still these words barely scratch the surface of what life is like here and can only go so far in sharing my experience with you. SO much has happened and I wonder how many small moments or thoughtless routine parts of our days I have already forgotten. Yet even as more details may fade from my memory in years to come, I know I will always remember the connections I have made on this trip and that this experience will continue to shape my path going forward.

The two sides of life. The side of life you see which you recognize you are really lucky in the life you live, and the other side in which you realize you are not always grateful for all things in your life. I have sees a lot of beautiful things and sad things, but these sad things make my mind work and think about what I want to do differently in my life, and things that I can do to help.

My perspective changing. Before I came on this Dragons course, I read about students coming home and having completely different outlooks on the world. I really hoped I would come home with the same new knowledge, but during the first half of the trip, I found myself stretching to find this new perspective that has not yet developed for me. While I did learn a lot in Kalimpong, I hadn’t had that “aha” moment that some previous students had talked about. In Rumtek and Sittong, I noticed that my thoughts began changing. Listening to the khempo speak about expectations and hope and the suffering they bring was a perfect segway into Sittong. After my experience during the Sittong homestay, I started to think about my own happiness and what I want out of my life. My perspective and ideas about family, money, and lifestyle changed. At home, I try to avoid thinking about the big life questions because they scare me, like: what truly makes you happy? What do you value? Can happiness be achieved with money? In Sittong, I embraced my new thoughts instead of pushing them away. While I do not know if these questions even truly have an answer, I know that my own answers are not what they were 4 weeks ago.

A lot of things, and it’s really hard to put all of these feelings and experiences into words but I am going to try my best. I could say that on this trip I witnessed what community stands for, and was able to see not only people living and existing together in some areas, but really treating each other like family. Another thing I have been able to witness was how powerful and meaningful and helpful religion can be, not only serving a salvation thing, but as a lifestyle, making people act in such different ways (I think I can’t even really explain what I witnessed regarding religion). I have seen how people here get really excited when they see people from another country coming here to learn from them, live how they live, and learn about their country.

Families living together as a community, treating neighbors like their brothers and sisters. They have known each other for generations and generations past;  I found that very fascinating. I also witnessed a lot of poverty and stray animals being treated poorly. Even though all of the people here go through many daily hardships; the community around them catches them when they fall down (to an extent). They are very grateful, a skill I have been practicing throughout this course.

The  power of community and how impactful it is on an individual. Everybody welcomes each other, whether a relative, neighbor, or friend, into their homes without hesitation. Everyone is accepted, everyone is supported and the spirit of love is magnified by the strong bonds that hold the community together. On this course, I witnessed fluctuations involving wealth in many places. Walking down the train station ramp in Siliguri after our train arrived was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had because I saw masses of families sleeping underneath the roof trying to keep warm and stay out of the rain. In towns we went to, there was often a scale in the condition and quality of homes and facilities. We saw families living in small tin buildings next to families living in large, gated houses and it really puts things into perspective. Most importantly on this course, I witnessed the power of kindness and the good it can bring oneself and others. The joy that the Buddhist monks brought our group and those around them was uplifting and simple. It wasn’t forced, and them among many we encountered were happy people and I wanted to share that happiness with others. I hope to bring that back with me and replicate it in my own life.