nepal.

Nepal: One of the “Thinnest” Places on Earth

Have you ever heard of a “thin” place? No, not a place without McDonald’s or obesity. (On the contrary, there can be thin places in the US, where both of those things boom.) Instead, a thin place is described as a place of energy, a place where whatever divides the real world we live in and an eternal world beyond our reach is extremely thin, so thin that the two worlds nearly blend. Some people believe thin places are connected to God, but no one can deny that some places in nature – “thin places” – invoke an ethereal sensation, God-filled or not. I’m pretty certain the entirety of Nepal is a thin place.

The spiritual intensity of India can be ethereal, where strangers equate their guests to gods and you can wait hours pressed body-to-body in a sweaty temple just to be blessed by holy men. Waves lapping and then smashing the shores along the Blight of Benin is peaceful, terrifying, and an ethereal reminder of who’s in charge. Standing at a Buddhist temple on Mount Saleve, France, overlooking Geneva, Switzerland under a banner of prayer flags, cold air rushing up the mountain face – that was also ethereal. High altitudes and misty scenery is ethereal. Now, imagine combining all of those: altitude, scenery, the forces of nature. That’s like standing high in the Nepalese Himalayas. Up in these mountaintops, formed by clashing continents and which also host the great Mount Everest, one is greeted by a simpler life that is elevated both physically and spiritually. Picture solemn, dedicated, generous monks seeking retreat. (And don’t picture the ones setting themselves on fire in streets – that’s just to the north, in Tibet. Those are the monks that need to go to a thin place, or Nepal.)

There’s surely a reason why so many Hindus gather in these places, and it’s doubtful that Hindi Ghandi’s admiration of thin places is coincidence. But not all of Nepal is standing on a mountain top amongst trees full of prayer flags, crossing bridges in orange tunics, or eating dal bhat while cross-legged on the floor. Nepal is in fact divided by three regions which run east-to-west: mountains, hills, and the swampy terai. These regions are dissected by the river system, flowing north-to-south, making Nepal truly feel like an intersection of the forces of nature.

Of course, not all of the intersections in Nepal are the most pleasant. Since 1990, Nepal has managed to push through 500 years of governmental transformation in only a couple of decades. Yes, in 1990 Nepal was still a monarchy. This transformed into a Communist lead (well, it does border China) and is now finally a Republic. Yet, no matter how backwards Nepal might have been a few years ago, it is the first Asian country to not only abolish the death penalty but to also rule in favor of same-sex marriage. In Nepal, you can even declare yourself as a third gender – neither man nor woman. Wowzers! Basically, Nepal just wants people to be Yay! happy. And to not set themselves on fire.

The only thing about Nepal that does not lead to a happy, easy life seems to be the complete lack of efficient transportation. Sure, Nepal has 47 airports – but only 11 have paved runways. Most of the population has a 2 hour walk to the nearest all-season road, so don’t even begin to complain about 480 traffic. Basically, everything that geographically assists Nepal in being a thin place makes its transportation feel like a nightmare. And when it’s the rainy season, you can forget it. Fortunately, though, there’s no sense in having a car to get around Nepal. Just get yourself a bovine, load all of your belongings (three blankets, a wok, some tunics) on its back, and you’ll be riding in style, high up on those…15 hand shoulders. (Okay, it’s not 37 Nittos but it’s still cruisin’ for Nepal.) But, seriously, Nepal is one cool, thin place. And you should definitely try to land yourself there some day, in a tunic, on a cow, and while not setting yourself on fire.

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do everything better.

I’d heard a lot about Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way.  When I tried to reserve it and had to wait weeks on OhioLink, I figured there must really be something good about it.  And it certainly proved to have a lot of simple, selfless moments of realization.  It got me thinking about how I perceive myself, amongst many other things in life.

Reading Shauna’s book, I could feel a lot of similar internal struggle buried under the obvious fact that I am not the girly, frilly, fashion-obsessed, hair-dying lady that Shauna is externally.  In some ways, this realization made me try to compare myself to her more and more as I read – the kind of comparison she accused herself of throughout the book and strove to avoid.  But, despite the moments when I felt so underachieved (I always want to DO BETTER), there were certainly a plethora more when something seemed to stream from my thoughts rather than my reading and I wanted to flip to the cover of the book and make sure I wasn’t actually the author…

I used to think that the ability to turn back time would be the greatest possible gift, so that I could undo all the things I wish I hadn’t done.  But grace is an even better gift, because it allows me to do more than just erase; it allows me to become more than I was when I did those things.  It’s forgiveness without forgetting, which is much sweeter than amnesia.

I can remember all of those times when I actually had a perfect moment and I wanted to be absorbed by it.  I would be so blinded by what was that I would forget to live in what is and instead would dream that what will could be as perfect as what has been.  It’s been hard, but I’ve been practicing taking rejection, failure, and discomfort and dwelling on them in a positive way, one that doesn’t change who I am but which opens me to my fullest capacity.  DO BETTER, but on the inside.  That doesn’t always show on the outside.

These years will pass much more quickly than you think they will.  You will go to lots of weddings, and my advice, of course, is to dance your pants off at every single one… Time will pass, and all of a sudden, things will begin to feel a little more serious.  You won’t be old, of course.  But you will want to have some things figured out, and the most important things only get figured out if you dive into them now.

And this is why I like reading and talking to people that have been there.  Why try to figure things out for yourself?  You’re given the luck to not be in the earth’s first generation of humans.  Shauna may not be “old”, just “older”, but still – there’s a reason why the elders are the respected, wise group in traditional communities.  If you want to be better, DO BETTER, you go to them.

For a while in my early twenties I felt like I woke up a different person every day, and was constantly confused about which one, if any, was the real me.  Isn’t that the truth.  Every year, you will trade a little of your perfect skin and your ability to look great without exercising for wisdom and peace and groundedness, and every year the trade will be worth it.  I promise.  Which is good to hear.  Because aren’t we so often concerned with the former and not appreciative of the latter?  Not just in ourselves but in other people as well?  What is really the goal in life?  For whom are you living it?

Now is your time.  Become, believe, try… Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like less than you are.  Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned.  Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path.

So how to capture that inspiration?  How to admit what I should be doing?  I would expect Shauna’s advice to be action, but in fact it’s an act of passiveness that she suggests: Admit what you don’t do.  Because spinning your wheels only buries yourself deeper when you keep trying harder to go faster and do better.

I tended to get so tired I’d cry without knowing why, why my life sometimes felt like I was running on a hamster wheel, and why I searched the faces of calmer, more grounded women for a secret they all knew that I didn’t.  (AMEN!)

This is how I got to that fragmented, brittle, lonely place: DO EVERYTHING BETTER…a super-charged triple threat, capturing in three words the mania of modern life, the anti-spirit, anti-spiritual, soul-shriveling garbage that infects and compromises our lives…

Deciding what I wanted wasn’t that hard.  But deciding what I’m willing to give up is like yoga for…that nasty little person inside of you who exists only for what people think.

So, I who loves lists as much as Shauna will now make a new one… Despite what I WANT to do, despite what I WANT to be, here are the things that I, right now, just am NOT, some things I don’t do:

—I don’t have organization.  Disorganization stresses me out, and I have OCD tendencies, but knowing I will fail when I try to keep clean and organized just makes me feel crushed before I even start.  So, thanks, mom for suggesting it’s a reflection of an “artistic” mind.  I’ll just keep being this artsy, I guess…

—I don’t accessorize well.  It’s a lot of work.  I don’t change out my earrings, rings, and necklaces as much as I wish because I just find it a waste of time.

—I don’t keep up with fashion.  It’s just not who I am or in my interests, and I especially don’t support the direction the fashion industry is going these days.  Low-cut shirt?  No thanks.  And I prefer that my underwear stays under my clothes..  Also, my mentality is stuck in circa 1962.  And I like having it there.

—I don’t keep up with TV or movies.  It’s not important to me who an actor is or what he ate for breakfast.  I would rather read a book, stretch my mind, and go for a run.

—I don’t know how to make mixed drinks.  I have the book, the equipment, the desire, but I have neither the guests to entertain nor the money to buy the ingredients needed to mix the amazing concoctions of my dreams.

—I don’t make good rice.  I did once in my life.  It was in error, I’m sure.  I’ll make a mile-high meringue, cordon bleu that I won’t eat, hand-kneaded bread, asparagus with hollandaise, an awesome pie crust from scratch… but I will over-salt, under-water, not set the timer and completely burn every last grain of rice…then neglect to scrape the mess off for days.  And the sad part is I really like rice.

—I don’t wash my dishes in a timely manner (see above).

—I don’t get my nails done.  I hate my toes (despite hating socks and shoes as well) and I just cannot for the life of me justify manicures.  They’re expensive, they actually look really dumb, and an athletic girl simply cannot keep paint on her fingers.  Plus, I just fiddle with them and pick the paint off.

—I don’t fix my hair.  I want my hair to be nice every day, but, like my lack of willpower to organize, I give up before I start.  It’s just so daunting.

—I don’t even know how to do makeup.  I try, but I usually put on patches of bronzer or blush and give up.

—I don’t go to clubs.  And I don’t intend on starting.

These are kind of silly and maybe just make me seem lazy, but I guess that’s the point.  And seeing the things I am NOT reminds me of the things that I AM, which I like.  I’m NOT go-with-the-crowd, jump-on-the-bandwagon.  I’d rather make a riot and go against something just to know that I didn’t go along with everyone else.  I like my independence.  I kind of like NOT DOING.

So, instead of doing everything better, I think I’ll start not doing more often.

Whiteout.

There’s a whiteout outside of my window. There’s a whiteout in my mind, too, as I seem incapable of seeing through life clearly right now.

My nose is broken, my health is in question, my car is out of service, my money is tight, my patience is thin, my lack of sleep is nagging, my to-do list never shrinks, my friends stopped calling,… I feel like I’ve hit such a wall. If I had a résumé to life, it might look impressive, but my life off of paper is just plain exhausting right now.

I think not knowing where I stand with people lands me in that fog. It makes it even harder to get out of a bad streak when I feel like I’m always going to be doing it alone. It was rewarding when I took my first few independent steps – months – but years? I feel like it’s been eternity since I fit in with a group of people.

Today I was pretty torn up over some social situations. I walked into another office at work for some training we do periodically. A coworker that is too snobby for my liking was standing with some girls from that office. They watched me intently from the doorway to the landing beside them. When I started to introduce myself (I was on their home turf so I expected they’d introduce themselves first but they didn’t), they literally talked over me and then walked away.

All day I kept trying to make conversation with someone, someones in particular too, and I just felt awkward or shut down.

I can’t help but think it’s just me, I’m paranoid, everyone else thinks the same about me…but all the negativity from this month keeps stacking up. Not to mention my always miserable Valentine Days.

I guess sometimes it just feels good to feel sorry about yourself when no one else will comfort you. Especially when you feel as run down as I do this month…

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; It is not arrogant.”
-1 Corinthians 13:4

My week has been rough, but this day was subtly amazing.

We made ligonberry Swedish crepes for breakfast. It was a communion day at church and I was hugged like family. The pastor quoted the same passage that I had recently shared with Jeff. We cleaned off 20 or 30 snowy cars as the people left. We had good conversations and baked soda bread and made stirfry vegetables. Then we met his brother and brother’s wife to cross-country ski and had a beer after. The weather was perfect and the sun was shining. We made pasta and ate banana pudding. We watched the Olympics and The Help. We talked about people and gossip and respect and how people treat each other.

And when I left, I had sweet goodbye and was thanked for my persistence in convincing Jeff to try something he didn’t think he wanted, to watch that movie. It sounds silly, but it spoke volumes. Gentle persistence. Comfort zones. That came up a lot today.

Taking the time to have fun and be patient to understand, that makes such a difference. Slowing down enough to enjoy the smallest things makes anything feel refreshing. The pastor quoted 1 Corinthians today, and I thought it was a good thing to remember.

And in other news, I’m back writing full swing for the Athenian – and illustrating, too.

All Kinds of Kinds.

Miranda Lambert has it right: it really does take all kinds of kinds. All kinds of people, stories of success as well as failure. All kinds of personalities and roles. All kinds of lows to make evident the highs.

I just wish more kinds of things would start giving me some optimism or hope. Or maybe I’m wishing too much.