Three Week Orientation
It's been quite a wonderful few weeks here in Bhutan. Connectivity is hard to come by, as expected, so I am a bit backlogged on entries here, but I will try to upload them in as coherent a fashion as possible. A grossly over simplified summary since my arrival: I have been traveling with 9 program-mates around the country getting the opportunity to sight-see, learn the local history and download some etiquette and language that will help me effectively adapt to this environment. The places we toured are vast and fabulous and I cannot wait to share some of the stories the group co-created along the way.
In the mean time, I am settled into my campus, at Taktse with program-mates Gordie and Steve. I also have two Bhutanese roommates, Pema and Rinchen who are both second year students.
More to come - for now - a quick review of three weeks touring and the contemplative practice (meditation) which I will use as part of my integration technique in this intercultural experience.
“The cost of acquiring something new is inevitably the “loosing” of something old, in much the same way as “being someone new” requires the forgetting of being someone else.” -Thayer 1975
Here we are. Today is today. With that mantra, which is aiding me to adapt to this, most, un-plann-ed culture, it is almost impossible to look backward. There is a truly deep struggle in my mind’s eye to muster up the memories of our group’s three week journey from one side of Bhutan to the East meets West point of Trongsa. I can, however, speak to a few single memories:
Of stepping on off the plane in Paro. Smiles on the faces of my colleagues as wide as the nile. There was sunshine and we all strolled leisurely across the tarmac with a bounce in our step and a pleasure to be present. I can recall changing money at the bank in the terminal and I can remember the winding ropes to the visa desk, where my passport was stamped and I was sent on my way.
Of the first night in Paro being the coldest.
And the second night revealing a special dusting of snow on Taksang.
Of a search for Cloud Nine and a burger with no disdain.
Of polka and karaoke.
Of kira and dogs and shamu and glottal stops.
Of sewage laundry and The Sonam Express revving it’s engine at dawn.
Of Travelers and Magicians meeting The Rim and the Hub of The Mind.
Of a Matrix - and it’s weaving — bearing witness to decoded messages
…and the uncoded too.
Of renaming, reincarnation, reality?, and roles
of “unclean” and circumambulating… or not
Of wallowing prayer flags and haunting chants.
Here we are. Today is today.
These collective days are scattered with fogs (of the literal nature) ebbing and flowing over the Himalayan mountain range like tabled tides of rhythm and wrath.
Prior to arrival, my predisposition to Bhutan was positive; my preparation fairly thorough but one thing I was not prepared for is the lack of Host (Bhutan) Conformity Pressure. The fact is, I am acutely aware of the kind of Fools License which the Bhutanese offer to me as a totally ignorant traveler. Tom’s D.A.R.L.inG. (see more here) about attending the all day ritual in which he was afraid to do something wrong (like move during the silent parts) is an echo to that of which I speak. As a high context culture, Bhutan is very savvy to recognize and appreciate my intentions over my actions. It is as if they know more about what I mean and intend than I do (or could) at times. This forgiveness is a true demonstration of their genuine compassion, which I held, objectively, with skepticism. Experiencing first hand, how generous they can be as I fumble through their cultural rituals and etiquette is really startling. Their compassion allows me to encounter my own lack of self-compassion for the learning curve that is: adapting and integrating into an entirely new and different culture. Two fold in learning, I can see how what Trungpa Rinpoche says about warriorship, that “…the essence of warriorship is not giving up on anyone or anything,” is true. The Bhutanese are not giving up on me, and their kindness holds enough wiggle room for me to not give up on myself. This gentility is a very generous way of inviting an evolved Intercultural Identity, in which I can detach from the distinct and rigid parts of my own culture and expand into a more flexible definition of self, as it emerges. I hold this process and possibility as a high value, for it is in the seeking and appreciation of true difference, and in the skepticism of certainty that one can truly cross the bridge from Self-Authorship to Self-Transformation (R. Kegan, 1982) It is like Virginia Wools says:
“But when the door shuts on us, all vanishes. The shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house ourselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others, is broken, and there is left, of all the wrinkles and roughness, a central pearl of perspectiveness, an enormous eye.”
It is is in the shedding of this shell, liberated from self-distinction, falling without a parachute toward a world in which there is no ground, that one can become uncircumscribable with unconfined consciousness. Meditation is my mechanism. The mindful way of seeing blindspots and building connections, as suggested by prostration, between body, speech and mind. In hallowing these pathways, a traveler can be free from preconception and light-footed in unknowing.
On our full day meditation retreat, it was revealed to me that I am here to detach from may things. No least of which: planning, interpretation, pigenholing, oversimplifying and easy conclusions. I am, instead, invited to learn (through listening) the language of nuance and ambiguity. I am here to recognize that “I do no know” rather than remaining, erroneously, that way inclined. And most importantly - I am here to escape the tyranny of the quantifiable.
I have spoken many times over the 3 week orientation period about this being an opportunity to both loose and find one’s Self. As one encounters (more like head-butts) one's values - that is where we are invited to discover the hidden meaning we make of Life and it’s experiences. It is in those moments where we encounter our silently inherited cultural beliefs and the manifested identity we tether to said beliefs (i.e. the construct, scaffolding and pylons of our ego). It is here, we not only meet the Difference, but also the already existing Self who, Trungpa (1983) invites us not to be afraid of — and it is in this acceptance… this adaptation of Self of Old and Self Anew to meet and be warriors as one.