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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

Letter to our little community: Reality Integration

Dear Berries,

Today I am sitting home sick; self-imposed bed rest. I am envious of you, you get to spend time with some of the most wonderful people and talk about issues I care a lot about. I hope you’re engaged and curious and full of questions.

But maybe you too are home sick, or you have shown up to the Program House and are just having one of those days where your body is achy or your mind is elsewhere or your heart isn’t in it. That’s okay. As I sit here and write this I am reflecting on Pico Iyer’s words: “…travel is, in a sense, about the conspiracy of perception and imagination.. the two great travel writers, for me, to whom I constantly return are Emerson and Thoreau (the one who famously advised that “traveling is a fool’s paradise,” and the other who “traveled a good deal in Concord”). Both of them insist on the fact that reality is our creation, and that we invent the places we see as much as we do the books that we read. What we find outside ourselves has to be inside ourselves for us to find it.”

To travel is to accept that some days we need to be still. To travel is to accept that our bodies and minds will find pain and will need to address it. To travel is to seek out the grey space between the perception and the imagination.

If there are any nuggets of wisdom I am hoping you have imparted from our few months of travel together it’s just this: our lives know no other realities than the ones we welcome ourselves into. It is not to say that there is only one reality we experience, or that we should not try to push ourselves into realms that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar. As you have already experienced first hand, the unfamiliar can become familiar, the foreign becomes well known.

There are external realities and internal realities, embodied realities and imposed realities. Some we welcome warmly: hello cappuccino and book I have been wanting to read, hello walk through this quiet courtyard, hello Kyanjinri and the strong hawa delivering snowflakes to my face. Some we resist vehemently: we wish away the hard bus seats that bruise our bones, we wish away the choking dust that fills our pores and throats, we wish away the sharp pains in our stomachs and chills of fever in our bodies. But the latter, the realities that are unkind and un-welcomed are the ones that deliver the greatest rewards. After being in bed for two days, weak and tired, we realize just how perfectly the quiet of the courtyard satisfies our needs. After the long bus rides, our legs appreciate the ability to stretch and move and use them to gain greater heights, and we become stronger for it.

So I am lying here in bed and feeling slightly bad for myself and slightly sad and slightly lonely. This is not the reality I would choose right now, in any regard. But even on the other side of another hour or another afternoon I know this moment will mold into other moments and the haze of sickness will become clarity of health. So much of what happens to us is in-explainable; the circumstances of chance define the present moment. On our first day in Patan we went on a tour of history and iconography and space with Anil Chitrakar. While pointing out a many-hundreds year old stupa to us he mused: the present is a result of the past, the future is a result of the present. The present, then, is a gift.

The present. Your presence. Purpose. Power. Privilege. Persistence. Patience. Practice.

Embracing this gift of the present requires an acknowledgement of all of these “p’s,” and it also is determined by the ability to integrate. To draw in the learnings and balance them with your previously held knowledge. As Anil also shared: when we combine our knowledge with our skills, we have wisdom.

You hold so much wisdom. I have witnessed it firsthand in the ways you have navigated the streets of Pokhara, the ways you have advocated for your needs, the ways you have selflessly cared for your peers. You have pushed back against structures, you have opened up to reflection, you have thought critically about complex issues that don’t have simple answers. You have brought new perspectives to age-old conversations. Wisdom is not defined by age. The attainment of knowledge and skill comes with experience, experiences of all kinds, which you hold within your stories since the days you were born.

So whatever your reality, in grand or minor circumstances, you hold the power to seek purpose, you have the skill of practicing patience, your privilege gives you access to persist in attaining more knowledge. You may fear complacency, but remember that achieving balance means experiencing both sides of the scales: everything in moderation.

I am grateful for the time I have had to witness your realities, and I hope I continue to have the chance to be a part of your stories.

As Garrison Keillor wishes: be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Those three things I truly wish for you.

In gratitude and love,
Anna G.