16 June 2011

Where I Am and What I'm Here For

June 11

(Written with gratitude and appropriate credit to Henry David Thoreau)

I went to the mountains because I wished to live differently, to meet and live with people from a culture, or, indeed, a world, distinct from mine. When I come to die I do not want to find that I've only stared at Plato's shadows of the world and never seen reality. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. Culture shock, the bewilderment of the eyes seeing an excess of light, eventually becomes a fresh understanding of life and humanity.

I am learning something about Thoreau's "simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!" here in a home that is just larger than my bedroom in Utah, in a culture that operates on polychronic time, and among people who have spent their entire lives in Tibet and India. Every day I walk around the kora, the path around His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple, and sit on the benches across from the prayer wheels. Tibetans spin these wheels clockwise, and one rotation represents one prayer. The wheels were originally created so that the illiterate, who cannot read prayer books like the monks do, could also pray, but today everyone uses them.

Honestly, though, I don't know how Thoreau did it. I get depressed when I don't speak to a living soul for an entire day. There are two reasons people in McLeod speak to me: one, they want my money, or two, they want a private English tutor. Every so often I think someone is just friendly . . . and then they ask for my number and an English lesson. I am disheartened by this, so I have retreated into my shyness. I spend whole days reading and writing my coursework, very productive and very alone.

Yesterday I became anxious at the thought that I might finish my coursework early (which I will, if I continue at the rate of four books per week) and then have nothing to do in McLeod. Fortunately, Rachel invited me to lunch just then and helped me realize that there are plenty of pleasant activities available in this city. I've made a list of things I'll do when I finish my coursework: full day hikes, yoga instructor training, shopping for gifts, meditation and prayers, the Norbulingka institute and lower Dharamsala, hit the live music scene, take a cooking class, figure out how to replicate those extraordinarily delicious chocolate balls, find the Tibetan library.

Still, I don't know how Thoreau did it, alone in his cottage with nothing to do. The hardest part is to be always alone.

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