Finding Freedom in Nepal
In the last few days of October, I went back to Nepal. My trip there was in every part due to the graciousness of the hosts who were leading our group, and my gratitude to them is not something I can begin to express in this post. I am, however, more and more confident that by their kind gesture of having me in their group, I have found a tribe with whom I’ll happily travel the world whole.
Yet again, I brave the long flights and likewise long connections; waiting in lobbies and practicing yoga on airport floors, because you don’t realize how ill-equipped the body is for these layovers until you suffer in an airplane seat. But it’s all worth it, because Nepal is something like Home. Many people would be turned off by landing in a country that is hot, dusty, overcrowded, and littered with trash, smells of significant nature, and people selling you every trinket imaginable. The rush of cars, pedestrians, and scooters all at absolute once would be a cocktail for immediate anxiety for some people; but I’ve found that these sounds, smells, and sights are exactly what I’ve been missing in some weird way; and the minute I land, I want to enthrall myself in all of this chaos and madness, for some semblance of ironic peace in the matter.
I’ve written a post about this trip before – Kathmandu, the mountains, yoga, and hiking. Coming into this trip the second time, I knew what to expect, but I surrendered to the idea that it could all be very new for me still. In fact, I wanted it to be. I wanted to come back to Nepal, two years after my first visit, with eyes so fresh and excited for what’s to come, that it would unravel this whole new experience for me. And it did. But before I can describe this new adventure, I have to go back and share what and how I felt in my previous one.
Two years ago, I came to Nepal somewhat broken and longing; longing for something more, something deeper in the marrow of life by which I could tether myself and feel more fulfilled as a person. I also came with a badly aching wrist and tendinitis in my right arm, as well as zero hiking experience in relatively imposing altitude. I simply showed up. The trip had popped up on my social media feed, and I was hungry for adventure – the kind where you don’t know anyone or anything, and you’re throwing your caution to the Himalayan wind. As much magic and healing as that trip brought me, it didn’t come easy. I labored to keep up with my group, and altitude headaches became a frequent thing as we climbed higher in the mountains. When I knew that our trip was coming to a close, I could feel a well of devastation building in my chest. On the plane back home, I felt deflated. I felt like I had said goodbye to not just the mountains, but the people with whom I’d shared that incredible journey (even though I would see them many times afterwards). I remember sitting on the floor of the Dubai airport lounge, scrolling through emails, text messages, and social media notifications, and just feeling like none of it made any significant contribution to my life at the time. Friends and family were asking how the trip went, and I didn’t have the words to describe what I had just gone through. I had no emotional bandwidth to sit any of them down and illustrate for them the peak of Everest, as it popped out behind the clouds; or how my heart stirred like the prayer flags in the wind for something magical that only happens in the mountains. I knew that my family wanted the typical response that my vacation was fun, but fun is a sinful word with which to describe Nepal. It doesn’t give it the richness of experience that it deserves.
The true Nepal depression came when I woke up in my bed the next day, after coming home. It hit even harder when I sat down to open up my computer, and “ease” myself into the monsoon that was my work inbox. I remember a phone call with a dear friend who had just come back home, too; and we both remarked how absolutely irrelevant everything felt. I truly gave into this feeling. Work didn’t matter. Unpacking didn’t matter. Jumping back into a normal routine didn’t matter, because I didn’t just come back from the beach and needed to do a load of laundry. I came back from fucking Nepal, from a time zone that I felt like swiped an entire perspective from my mind and replaced it with another. Needless to say, I was a mess. My thoughts often drifted to hiking days and nights spent in teahouses, surrounded by amazing friends and strangers who became friends, almost by default that we were in this same magical place together. As I pulled gifts out of my suitcase, the cowbell I bought in Namche rattled, and so did my heart. The struggle was real, but nothing else was. I felt like I was floating through an illusion.
A couple of weeks later, I had lunch with my mom. Still living in a fog, I told her how unhappy I suddenly was. The truth surprised me, too, and I knew she could tell that something was off since I came home. I wasn’t invested in my job or in teaching my classes, nor did I feel any sense of excitement for the little things – catching up with old friends, spending time with my cat, or doing anything fun or relaxing on the weekends. And I felt immense guilt for this, because who the hell doesn’t want to spend time with their cat?! Or friends? But I felt this need to be alone, to sit back and reminisce on the mountains.
The truth is, I found a sense of freedom in Nepal, and it was the kind of freedom that I had been looking for, in the weeks prior to my trip when I felt that urge for something more. But freedom has a price. It will ask you to look at everything you currently have, own, and give attention to, and decide if it makes you happy. More often than not, you’ll realize that changes need to be made, that life is too short and sweet and beautiful to not dive deep into these dark corners, and clean house. That’s where my depression was brooding, in these corners of my life where I created lazy conformance to normalcy. Going to Nepal was like opening up Pandora’s box, and while the gifts I received would truly be transformational, they couldn’t live side by side with the stagnant energy I had around me still. I had to let go of fear, control, and playing a small role in the bigger picture of my life. I had to step up to the plate if I wanted happiness. It wasn’t going to knock on my apartment door, and ask me out. Prior to Nepal, I felt stuck. I wasn’t happy in what I was doing, and I put so much pressure on myself to succeed and stand out, that it was burning me out. From writing to teaching yoga, I tied myself up into a stress-ball of emotion, constantly questioning my worth and my abilities, and violently comparing myself to others. I didn’t see a clear path of purpose or direction in my life, and more than anything, I was lonely. I felt disconnected from others, out of my own fear of opening up and simply complaining to someone who I believed would hold all of my vulnerability and hear me out. Years of childhood trauma conditioned me to believe that opening up to someone would place an unnecessary burden on the other person to hold my emotional baggage; and so I’ve spent decades simply holding my own shit. I’m here to tell you now (and remind myself) that that’s not healthy at all. When Nepal came around, it was a welcome break from all of these competing thoughts. I felt like I could breathe again. But coming home, all of those thoughts returned, waiting for me like a sick gift. I needed to turn them around into something productive, to burn the metaphorical garbage, if you will.
Freedom. In the wake of my mental storm, freedom stood like a shining knight in the background, come to free me from the ropes I’d tied around myself. Every time I thought about the mountains or Nepal, I thought about this freedom – the freedom to simply be in the beauty of life’s unraveling, to stand as a silent witness to the joy of being alive, and how everything lesser in value to that simply falls away. I thought about the remaining 30-40 years of my life, and how none of us are getting out of this thing alive. Why fret? Why cling to anything so habitually programmed to be “normal,” when normal is really all you make of it? Why not decide to live in a way that makes you ridiculously, giddily happy, and worry about the technicalities later? I knew that at the end of my life, somewhere on my deathbed, I was going to look back on the trajectory of my life adventure, and know that I truly lived. That became my motivation. It still is.
Once I accepted that freedom, once I said a resounding, strong Yes to it and embraced it for all of its mystery, it gave me everything. In the New Year that came after that trip, I started a year of Receiving. I realized that I could complain all day and night about the nuances of life, but I am my own Creator; and as such, I have the space and power in which to receive so much. I simply have to show up to life, just as I had to Nepal two years ago. So, I started saying Yes more. I started saying yes to connecting more with friends and family; started allowing myself to be received and supported by my tribe, and work through childhood traumas that had kept me distanced from them; started saying yes more to teaching opportunities and writing gigs. I also started seeing my job as this incredible opportunity, instead of this thing I had to tolerate and get through every day. And I said a loud Hell Yes to travel. It’s where my life really feels like it takes off. It’s where I genuinely smile every time I’m in that damn, hard-as-hell airplane seat, and I look out the window at the clouds through which I’m passing; and I just feel gratitude for living this life. To date, I’ve been able to travel to Peru, Colombia, Amsterdam, Spain, Europe, Iceland, and a plethora of domestic US states. I’ve co-led my very first yoga retreat, I taught a writing workshop, and I published a slew of successful meditation sessions on Insight Timer. I showed up to these. I said Yes to these when I was absolutely terrified, but I knew that my heart’s roots ran deeper than the fear I was internalizing. I knew that I was worthy of these chances, because things don’t happen out of coincidence. They happen because the Universe knows you’re ready, even when you don’t. Trust it.
Today, I smile more, I do more, I move more, and I AM more. But not without the years of stagnation, because they taught me the value of what I now hold as the most precious thing.
Returning to Nepal this year was my chance to check in, and express gratitude for the trip that changed everything for me. When I saw the mountains again, I knew my heart was Home. I knew that something big had shifted in me from two years ago that was now in a better place, and I wanted to shout it from the mountaintops. Each day of hiking felt like a gift. It’s as if my body danced upon the rocks and stone steps of each trail, pulling me ever so softly up higher and then down lower, over peaks and valleys that once proved to be challenging. Each breath felt not like a ripping of oxygen, but like a replenishing; like each inhale was reaching deeper into my lungs, burrowing out spaces that made it easier to take in gallons of air! To this day, each time I practice yoga and breathwork, I feel these small pockets of air where I know I’ve saved moments of the Himalaya.
Most importantly, I wanted to return to Nepal to realize this: the mountains are always within us. Even when they’re out of sight, they’re deep in our mind and in our heart. I often remember that depression of two years ago, and wanting to return to the mountains always; but I realize now that I was living out of fear and lack and scarcity. I wasn’t looking within to see the biggest mountain of all, the one that truly mattered, the one that brought me so much joy and freedom and belief that I can do anything. To me, that’s God. And I see that same God when I’m looking at the peak of Everest or Ama Damblam or Thamserku or Lhotse. And that’s the reason why I hike and climb, and seek out these silent, simple moments with these peaks – because it connects me to the God within, the God that’s been there all along and simply needed to be found.
I found Her.