An introvert on a expedition or A small miracle in the Himalayas

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Miracles happen every day. Not just in remote country villages or at holy sites halfway across the globe, but here, in our own lives.  DEEPAK CHOPRA

 I agree with Deepak Chopra’s view point, though I was halfway across the globe and I was in many a remote village when my miracle occured.

You see, I’m an introvert. Oh, I teach and I speak publicly to large groups but I need to retreat, often, to recharge. I’m drained by social interactions, being in groups and crowded places. So I questioned my sanity when I agreed to join an expedition through the Khumbu Valley, in Nepal.

The expedition of 10 mountaineers, who had as their goal to summit Ama Dublam, the third most popular Himalayan mountian peaking at 6812 metres, welcomed five lucky trekkers who got to accompany them as far as Pheriche, a 4240 metre point above sea level.

Departing from Brisbane International Airport was the first time I met our group. We ranged in age from late 20s to mid 60s. There was a mix of males and females, couples and singles. Our occupations were many and varied: tree arbours, landscape engineers, physicists, real estate agents, IT tech/ engineers and educators. There were the semi fit to elite athletes. You might say we were a very eclectic and diverse bunch.

My anxiety levels were high. Though it wasn’t long before I realised there was no need for nervousness.  Our conversation flowed easily and there was plenty of laughter. The generosity of the group and their support of individual members, as well as an acceptance of where each person was at, regarding  fitness and  health, on any given day, was something I rarely experience or witness. Such was the nature of the group that there was never a moment I felt uncomfortable or burdened by the presence of others.

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There were times I was grateful for their encouragement and humour. One gorgeous man, though struggling himself with Nepal belly, cheered me on by checking in with “Team Shannyn”. I can’t tell you how that small gesture boosted my spirit when I needed it.

Small conversations about family, finding the right words to describe the sound prayer flags make in the wind to deeper topics such as learning, human nature and world politics, filled the spaces between us and bought us closer. We identified similarities and differences that helped forge friendships.

Many times, and for great distances, we walked in silence comfortable in each other’s presence, without the need to fill the air with words.

At meals we would laugh raucously at the antics of a few clowns among us or we could sit quietly and enjoy our black tea, each lost in our own thoughts.

I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to share this experience with, and be part of, this incredible group of people. This fierce introvert enjoyed being in company. That is the miracle I experienced halfway across the world in small Nepalese villages.

Will I hope to replicate it again? No. This was a special moment with a special group of people.

Will there be other opportunities for me to leave my hermit shell and interact with the world? Of course, and I now look forward to that time. Though, this miracle is one I’ll treasure and hold dear for many, many years to come.

You see, magic does happen. Especially when you least expect it.

Let’s find the magic and miracles in the every day.

Shannyn

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Sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader

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Make sure your worst enemy is not living between your own two ears.
Laird Hamilton

I found myself alone on a long and steep uphill section of track from Phakdingma, 2610 m above sea level, to Namche Bazaar (3400 m above sea level).  I was alone, hot and battling a tummy bug. Scuttling off the track to allow for yak and donkey trains to pass, I realised I was feeling pretty miserable. I was tired and I didn’t feel like going on. Exhausted, I realised I had to be my own cheerleader. I had to keep going. I had to dig deep and find the internal strength to carry me forward.

I hear you ask querulously, “Surely there was little choice?” That’s true. I had to keep going. There was nothing to be gained in stopping and turning back wasn’t an option.  For me, the biggest battle isn’t the mountain in front of me, the altitude or the physical hurdle to be cleared but the battle in my mind.

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Interestingly, on this day, I noticed little negative self talk. There was, I’ll admit, quite a bit of exclaiming, harrumphing and a few ‘motivational’ “Oh shits”. But on the whole the greatest motivator was my internal cheerleader. That bright and bouncing part of myself that wasn’t covered in dust, struggling for air, needing the bathroom, was congratulating my body for its efforts. The little ra ra girl who shook her pom poms and kept me going up that hill was tireless (sounds like I was also delusional doesn’t it?)

In life there won’t always be people around to give you a boost, to cheer for and encourage you. Often, people won’t understand your goals, your passions, your journey. Sometimes people will try to dissuade you. At other times people will be so focussed on looking after themselves they can’t spare any energy to offer you support. In these situations we all need to find our own inner cheerleader. At these times we need to set our sights on our end game. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and motivate and encourage ourselves when the going gets tough,  when we reach key milestones and to simply keep our morale high and our focus narrowed.

An inner cheerleader is pretty handy to foster in good times also. We all need a high-five when things are running smoothly too.

Don’t be afraid of talking to yourself, it’s the only way to be sure someone is listening.                                              

 Franklin P Jones

Go ahead, shake those pom poms!

Breathing easy again. My journey from fear to gratitude and compassion.

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, old and new.
                                                                  Ralph Waldo Emerson

If the only prayer you said your whole life was ‘Thank you’ that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart.

An incredible thing happened to me this week. I felt a great weight lift from my body and I could breathe freely and unrestricted. My heart felt lighter, my body and mind too.

You see, I returned from Nepal a couple of weeks ago. I experienced the earthquake and the devastation it wrought. There were times I was pretty scared, I guess, running from buildings in the middle of the night unsure if it was safe to return, afraid to sleep in case I should not wake in time to leave should an aftershock, or worse, strike again.  I say, I guess I was scared because at the time I wasn’t thinking, I was simply reacting. Fear really didn’t come into it until I returned home. Then, in the quiet, safe spaces of my house I felt my body and my mind crumble under the weight of what had been, what I’d left behind and the realisation that I had survived when others hadn’t.

A pressure began building in my body. I could feel a constant vibration deep within and a heavy hollowness braced my heart. The hyper vigilance persisted. I was no longer in danger but my beloved, was he safe? In the time after the earthquake I was not only reacting to Mother Nature’s rumblings but I was fearful for the safety of my beloved husband. We were not together. He was in a different part of Nepal, uncontactable. The uncertainty and the not knowing was torturous. I can’t explain the unbearable nature of the situation. Once I returned home, to safety, the weight and the agony of my fear for him multiplied exponentially. It became a physical burden. I hadn’t realised at the time what it was. I thought I was suffering as a result of my experience. I thought it was panic attacks, anxiety.

For two weeks the pain grew. It deepened and became like vice around my heart. Seriously, I thought I might be having heart issues. Then, as the days progressed and his return inched closer I could feel a little space, a little lightness creeping in. Two days before his departure there was another earthquake and a series of large aftershocks. The vice redoubled. The heaviness dropped right back in. My thoughts were scrambled.  Not only did the news from Nepal bring shock, fear and a renewed anxiousness for the safety of my beloved and his companions but I found myself transported right back to Nepal. I relived the nightmare, the guilt of having left, the sorrow and heartache for the beautiful Nepalese people who were suffering.

As his departure drew nearer, and after news of each small step closer; baggage checked, boarding pass issued, boarding the plane; I started to breathe easier. I slept, not without nightmares and not without waking through the night but it was sleep like I’d not experienced for a few weeks.  On the morning of his arrival home I realised the vice around my heart had loosened its grip, I felt a new energy seep back into my body. Could I have been feeling the weight of fear?

I’ve lived my life in fear. Fear of not being good enough, of not being smart enough, pretty enough blah, blah, blah. Fearful of trying new things, fearful of being seen, of speaking up, of being vulnerable. Its limited me, its held me back and at times its kept me safe. Safe but small. This recent fear. Real fear. Fear for a loved one. I might venture so far as to say ‘terror’, was so strong, so physically and mentally palpable, I didn’t actually know how to respond.

Why, after all these words, am I actually sharing this with you I wonder? I don’t know.  I felt compelled to write. Maybe this is my medicine? My healing? Whatever it is I think it’s also about compassion. And it’s about gratitude.

We don’t always know what others are feeling or what they are experiencing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is ailing, grieving or suffering. We are pretty good at putting on masks and covering up our messy emotions. I think this experience has taught me to be mindful and gentle with others for they too may have a vice around their heart, a heaviness in their body and be aching in ways I couldn’t imagine. This experience has caused me to feel a deep and abiding gratitude.  I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring (there really is no better way to describe it) of support, of concern, of blessings from friends, family, acquaintances and work colleagues. Messages, texts, phone calls. Hugs (virtual and real), friendly chats, offers of support. I cannot begin to tell you the comfort and the reassurance they have bought me. My eyes well with tears as I recall how, every few days, dozens of people would check in on me, ask about my beloved, and ensure I was okay.

I’ve felt compassion. I am humbled by it and I am immensely grateful.  No words or actions can adequately  relay to those wonderful people how much their support has meant to me, how it has helped me through. Except to simply say ‘Thank you’.

I have an abundance of good on my life.

I know I am blessed and I know I am loved.

It feels wonderful.

Thank you.

 

Post traumatic stress disorder can effect those who have experienced a significant threat. It can effect those who enter a place after a threat (such as aide workers) and it can effect the loved ones of those who have been under threat. I mention this, not because I know I have PTSD, but it kind of fits how I’ve been feeling, on two levels, my own threat and that of a loved one. It’s real. It’s debilitating. Again, be gentle with those around you. We can never really know how deeply anyone is suffering.

Waiting

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With a tormented mind and aching heart I wade through the fog. Each day,
hoping, praying
for your safe return.

Ever vigilant I wake,
sensing you in my arms
but you are absent.
A cruel dream
sent to dull my pain.

The agony of time has become a weight,
strangling me,
binding me,
leaving me breathless, anxious.

Return to me my love,
whole and sound.
Return to me my love,
so we can embrace, unite as one, again.
Return to me my love, so the sight of you, the smell of you, the touch of you can soothe my aching heart.

My lessons from a classroom in Nepal.

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To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.          Douglas Adams 

 What is Grace? G-ive of yourself, R-elease the love from within, A-sk nothing in return, C- ompassion shows love, E-njoy your salvation. Calvin Dillard

I was truly honoured to have the opportunity to visit the Khangandra New Life School for handicapped and orphan children while in Kathmandu recently.  My thoughts wander to the children and teachers often now, wondering how they are in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

I accompanied a group of friends led by three Aussies who, having fallen in love with Nepal and her people,  chose to  give something back by raising money for the school to improve facilities for the children. We strangers from another land were so very warmly and generously welcomed one would think we were rock stars or royalty come to visit.

Our van, on entering the drive, was flanked by excited children, who had given up a day off school to meet us. The children quickly formed orderly lines and sang a rich and warming folk song. We reciprocated with a rendition of Advance Australia Fair and were warmly applauded for our efforts.

After each of us were individually welcomed with a kata (blessing scarf) and posy, crafted from flowers and foliage within the grounds, we were ushered inside, out of the sun, and offered sweet milk tea ( a real Nepalese treat).

Our hosts, the Headmaster and teachers, each introduced themselves and shared their vision for the school and its pupils. A vision made possible by the funding my friends had provided.  You see, Khangandra school receives no government funding and relies solely on donations.  Several times I teared up listening to the grand dreams these amazing teachers held for their young charges. Grand not so much in western terms but grand considering the adversity these young people face with regard to distance, poverty and disability.

The school facilities are humble to say the least. Scanty, bare bones, dire even. The classrooms are small. On the day we visited there were 80 children in attendance so there were about 20 students in each classroom. That’s pretty comfortable until you realise there are 300 students enrolled. If they all attended, these dark, cramped classrooms would be terribly overcrowded.  The library was closed due to ill repair. The ceiling and walls were not just flaking but literally disintegrating. The playground was merely a dust bowl with a slide but it offered great joy to the children who have an incredible innocence and zest for life.

The money my friends and others have donated enabled the school to deliver safe drinking water to the children and improved the sanitation of the toilet facilities. Services and facilities I take for granted living here in Australia. Again, I cried.

Oh course, there is always more to be done and plans are underway for major improvements. Perhaps these plans will be bought forward as a result of damage caused by the earthquake.

The welcome we received was so unexpectedly warm. The kindness and unconditional acceptance so very humbling that I began to feel shame. I began to question my integrity. You see, many, many times I have been asked to host visitors in my workplace and more than once I’ve grumbled. More than once I’ve believed myself to be “too busy”. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been rude to my guests but my actions haven’t always come freely and with grace.

Watching those children and their teachers in their tiny classrooms and seeing their incredible energy and love of life, it dawned on me, not for the first time, that we don’t need stuff, we don’t need lots of things to make us happy.  Here were people with very little who sang for us, played and conversed with us and who showed a great interest in us. They were genuine and authentic.  They were happy with their lot.

It became clear to me that it’s the ‘wanting more’ or something else that erodes true happiness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t aim high but accepting what is, right now, can liberate us from the bonds that tie our minds and hearts in knots.

What a wake up call I got that day in that tiny school in Kathmandu. I realised there are times when I need to forget the hustle and bustle and honour others by being totally present and giving freely of my time, my knowledge and myself. I can’t see myself presenting anyone with a posy of flowers, a hearty rendition of the national anthem or a scarf anytime soon but I can honour them with an open mind and a warm heart.

To serve and honour another is not beneath us, it does not belittle us, it grows connections, it deepens our humanity, it enriches others and it enriches us in the process.

In honour of my Neplaese colleagues,

Shannyn