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Trek View on Nepal: Himalayan Studies Gap Year Semester with Where There Be Dragons

Shifting, Moving, Aligning

I sit here on the last night of our orientation, having just left the vibrancy of the student group, with their passions, commitments, joyous goofiness, and deep questions, in awe of their capacity to connect, listen, and observe so much, so fast. Our first days together flew by in a rich overwhelm of new learnings about ourselves, about Nepal, and about how the students themselves seek to come together as a group.

Their process is beautiful to witness, and each of us on the instructor team are honored to be gifted with holding space for the process. Rocky moments, when the group worked through tough questions together, offered a deep compliment to those joyous goofy moments already noted, and the balance of these ways of being together is the beginning of a lasting connection we see these students building with each other.

We have had two outings in the last few days–first, a short one to the nearby monastery where a puja (worship) was going on. Students listened and looked deeply: noticing how ornate the monastery was; how unexpectedly they were touched emotionally by being present to the tinkling cymbals and drone of monk’s voices chanting Tibetan Buddhist prayers; how much trash was around us on the path as we walked; what it felt like to sit behind monks who, at 8 or 9 years old, may have already taken vows as yet out of most of our comprehension. And today, we walked to several holy sites: Shesh Narayan Temple, with its wide pantheon of Hindu and other gods; Vajrayogini Temple, where the mother goddess in one of her guises sits in blessing over the Kathmandu Valley, sacred to Buddhists and Hindus alike; and finally, to Asura Cave, where Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) meditated for three months on his way from India to Tibet, bringing Buddhism with him.

Each of these sites are revered and old–each are marked by the passing of many footsteps, many handprints, the breath and desires of many millions of people. Today we added our own footsteps, handprints, breaths and desires to these spaces. Students brought with them prayer flags (or lung-ta, in Tibetan) to hang on the hill above the Asura Cave site, and a friend, teacher, and relative of our program named Lama-la blessed those prayer flags for us. He explained his prayers to us all at the end, as Michael translated–he envisioned the smoke from the incense students added to the fire as filling the whole sky with prayers and blessings for the complete and total liberation of all sentient beings. He dedicated the practice for us and, auspiciously, the rain that had been foreboding in the sky held off until we were down from the hill and safely ensconced at our daal-bhat lunch in Pharping.

Full of stories, encounters, new Nepali language vocabulary and curiosities, and now as always more questions than answers, tomorrow we leave Pure Vision Sorig Guest House and head to Kathmandu. In the afternoon, students will begin their homestays, which promise to be deeply engaging–if the students’ demonstrated love of learning Nepali is any measure, that is! We admire their presence and their dedication to following their own curiosities, and we’re so excited to support them in these next three weeks in the dusty, hectic, delightful city of Kathmandu.

To close, I’ll share a poem that we shared with students on their first full day in Nepal together–may it keep serving as a way to remind us of how the world might unfold for each of us.

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

 

John O’Donohue
To Bless the Space Between Us