...This is a minor interruption to my Traveling Soul blog...
As some of you know, I am originally from Long Island. I love my hometown and am grateful to have grown up there, it is a beautiful place with lots of culture and many opportunities (an awesome food). In so many ways New York is still the most representative of America's "Land of Opportunities" slogan, you can make anything of yourself there. If Long Island had a one-word description it would be "strive." The bar is set high- people want the best of the best. Growing up and being enveloped in this I was always working for the best: best grades, best schools, best jobs, best things. This mentality only worsens with age; as expectations grow you want to appear the best at any cost including your happiness, health and relationships. It's a double-edged sword, with achievement and gain comes anxiety, neuroses and dissatisfaction. It was because of these realizations and experiences that I recognized that maybe I couldn't handle New York, the anxiety made it difficult for me to love myself and my life. So I left. I made my way north to a simpler place with simpler expectations; where people lived to actually live, love and (gasp) have fun. It felt good, for the first time in a long time I felt content.
Then I began to travel to countries where life on the whole was, albeit impoverished, simple. It felt as though the simpler life became the more I thrived. I felt this in Latin America and Asia, most recently on my trip to Nepal. It was in these countries- living out of a backpack- that I was able to get in touch with all that fulfilled me beyond possessions. I came back from Nepal, as I do from all of these places, with a strong heart and Soul, and clarity of what I needed to maintain this alternative definition of abundance. Stripping myself of stuff I am able to understand what nourishes me.
These experiences gave me a somewhat arrogant opinion of "strive". "They just don't get it" passed through my mind often when thinking of New Yorkers. It was as though in finding simplicity I found some kind of key to inner peace. I began to relate "simplicity" with higher living and "strive" with greed. I now believe that this created a block for me, forgetting that there are two sides to both options and more importantly that there can always be balance in between.
So it was interesting (and somewhat exhausting) that only three weeks after I returned from my month in Nepal that I went to Long Island. After years of damning the "strive" mentality I was reconnected with the benefits of it. I was reminded that it was nice to have something to work for and when you are surrounded by people building successful lives you, in turn, are motivated to do the same. After years of being surrounded by non-judgement, part of me recognized that judgement can be healthy. Judgement makes you want to grow, do better, try harder, have more.
The dichotomy of these two vastly different worlds that I experienced and loved made me feel entirely shaken up and lost- "What the fuck" went through my head many times over these last few days. What was I supposed to take out of all of this??
I believe that our Souls chose to incarnate where we did because those places energetically align with who we are. That being said, it doesn't surprise me that I was born on Long Island because I love to work hard and achieve, not necessarily for others but for myself- the key being that I do these things for me. It was while I was doing these things for others that the anxiety and dissatisfaction set in. I probably would have been very frustrated being into a country where opportunity and economic growth are not available to most. Many of the people who are living "simple" lives are living them out of a lack of opportunity, not by choice.
After much thought and examination of my current situation, I worked toward several conclusions...
Here I am, someone who strives to better my life but at the same time doesn't underestimate the value of simplicity. I want to strive, live well, be successful and I shouldn't let greed and anxiety make me fearful of progress. Similarly, I have the opportunity to strive, live well and be successful so if I hide behind the mask of simplicity I will throwing a middle finger to the universe that gifted me with the life I have been graciously given. In hiding behind the ease of simplicity I have walked the fine line of complacency, which has lead to its own dissatisfactions and inner turmoil: I shouldn't strive because I don't want to be greedy and living a simple life is better. Yet ultimately I wasn't doing what I needed to do in order create the life that I truly wanted. I allowed myself to believe that what I wanted to do wasn't right because it wasn't simple. Again, I created my own block.
With gratitude I come out of these few weeks, having had the opportunity to witness and assess my life from two opposite ends of the world, with a greater level of awareness of who I am and what I need to do to support me. Regardless of where I am and who I am surrounded by I need to hold my visions and work towards them with a level of intensity and drive that parallels that of any proud New Yorker. I have created a career that can achieve both strive and simplicity- daily challenges to grow and do more as a soul proprietor whilst gaining a deep sense of fulfillment and joy in helping others heal. It is this wisdom that I discovered through simplicity that nourishes and fulfills every ounce of my Soul.
Day nine, after a rest day we headed up to Lobuche (16,142 ft) from Dingboche (14,468 ft.). After five days of at most 3 1/2 hours of hiking I was psyched to get a full day of movement in. I had plenty of energy stored up and there is only so much reading and writing you can do. At this point yoga and any breathing exercises were a challenge because of the difficulty in deep breathing at this altitude. Similarly, despite my capable legs, my lungs were slow to the pick up and the altitude was kicking in. Typically within five minutes of starting to hike we would need to stop and catch our breath, then our lungs would acclimate to the altitude and movement and we would be good to go. My PTSD of having panic attacks and breathing difficulty in my childhood would kick in from time to time as I was reminded of what it felt like to be short of breath.
It was here that it began to get very cold. For those of you who know me, I get cold very easily- from October to April my fingers and toes are typically numb despite my greatest efforts. It was my goal on coming here to do my best to always stay warm, no matter how many layers that took.
The weather is comparable to the late fall in Northern New England, cold but when the sun is out it is comfortable. At night it would drop down into the 30s at lower altitudes then by the time you hit 4,500-5,300 m. range it was in the teens at night. You are then staying in huts that have no heat and minimal insulation. Changing clothing was avoided and when necessary you did it quickly or inside your sleeping bag. Your free time in the higher villages was spent either in the common area with tea and hopefully a fire going, or in your sleeping bag. If you went outside at all you looked something like the Michelin Man, hiding under layers of down and Techwick.
On this hike to Lobuche we converged with many groups of people heading up to Everest Base Camp, there was only one trail option to get there now and you became increasingly aware of how many people were up here hiking... it is a lot more than most would imagine. In this day and age people are capable of doing so much more, thanks to technology, advancements in travel, money, etc. It is somewhat sobering to realize that this "special" trip is special for about a thousand other visitors on any given day. There are very few secret, sacred places left in this world, I haven't decided yet if that is a good or bad thing.
Lobuche and Gorak Shep were more outposts for trekkers than villages, thus there were only a handful of Teahouses in each place. This combined with the masses of people heading up to Everest Base Camp meant that the Teahouses were continuously packed with large groups of trekkers. Eight to ten days in, combined with the altitude meant that many of these trekkers were coughing, sniffling and sneezing quite continuously. Add to the fact that people stayed in one common area for warmth created a breeding ground for colds and flu. Having spent the last many days with only 3 other people, in Teahouses that typically had no more than 20 other people, this was an unwelcome change.
It wasn't all bad though, in Lobuche we had something to look forward to: chicken. Because there are no roads where we are the main form of transporting goods is on the backs of the porters. That means that it takes a few days to get products from Lukla up to the higher villages. For this reason we hadn't had access to meat, or decent protein, since Namche. There are also very few vegetables that grow at this altitude outside of cabbage, onion, potatoes and carrots. Our diet had almost entirely consisted of these vegetables combined with rice or noodles either in a broth or fried in some capacity. Ovens aren't something most people have, so the options of cooking are all stovetop which basically means boiling or frying.
Lobuche, though, receives some things on the helicopters while they are passing in and out of the town on missions which meant that they were able to get their hands on luxuries like meat. Another wonderful thing was that the electricity was more reliable here than at the last tea house we stayed at, which meant I was able to charge my phone. I can live without many things, but music isn't one of them. That night as I sat in the hut eating my chicken, clean because I had the amazing opportunity of showering the night before and jamming out to my music, I was one of the happiest people in the world.
While on the subject of "little things that count," I cannot forget to mention the toilets. After Namche all of the toilets either became squat toilets or they were a regular toilet that didn't have the ability to flush. The former is just annoying. As a woman I am squatting a lot and beginning to attribute my knee pain to toilets more than trekking. The upside of these toilets is there isn't any stagnant water holding onto ungodly spells. The sitting toilet option just sucks. You desperately want to sit on it, but you know better so end up squatting anyway. There is water in this toilet just like our traditional ones, but they don't flush so you take a jug of water and pour it into the hole... if you have ever had a toilet that isn't working you know it takes about a gallon (not a jug) to flush the toilet entirely clean of its contents. Hence, these toilets were very rarely clean and free of odor.
As for bathing... Hot water was neither easy to come across nor free. After Namche power, just as with most other commodities, became limited. This mean little access to heat that would warm water (much less entire buildings!). The other problem with no heat and little insulation was that pipes froze every night. The outcome was that a shower was only possible midday, once the pipes had thawed and the heating system could couple with the sun to warm the water. Even then you may get 5-7 minutes of warm water, at best. Then you have to manage to dry up (my long, thick hair included) before it got dark. This left you with a very small window of opportunities to get in a shower. Finally, it didn't matter how clean you got because you were still putting on dirty clothes.
To most westerners all of these situations would be considered massive inconveniences, but in much of the world these things are a part of lives that are just as happy and healthy as our. Again, another pleasant reality check of what defines a "good" life. I'm sure many of these people who love hot showers, flushing toilets, ovens and fresh veggies, but they certainly aren't lesser people because of the things they don't have. Besides, despite the magnitude that these "inconveniences" may pose in your mind, they were minimal when compared to the opportunity I received every day. Of course there were times where I desperately wished for "American" standards, but for the most part I focused not on what I wanted, but what I did have and felt gratitude in that. Somehow life becomes more magical when instead of dreaming of new cars and houses you are dreaming of flushing toilets, salads with steak and hot water.
Something that I love about traveling, especially in lower income countries, is that in the simplicity of other people's living styles you become aware of how luxurious western lives are and how jaded we have become because of them. I have come to prefer this kind of travel to high-end European traveling or all-inclusive resorts. I feel peace when things are simpler and fewer choices need to be made. When you aren't worried about all the fluff you are able to get to the heart of life and all that truly matters: love, joy, peace. Luxury is a matter of opinion and although it may change an experience it certainly doesn't define the magnificence of it.
Roughly speaking, days 5-8 were somewhat slow from the perspective of my journal. We continued our journey through some amazing places: Pangboche, Ama Dablam basecamp and Dinboche. Often when you travel and tour you begin to get jaded by the beauty around you as the "newness" starts to wear off and you grow accustomed to your surroundings. I never got jaded though, every time I looked around me I saw something else to be inspired by whether it be a plant, tree, hill or new view of one of the mountains. There were other things though, that shifted as I grew more accustomed to the people and the routine and as mundane as this felt it was in that new level of comfort and peace that my mind was able to grow stiller and deeper thoughts began to come through. In meditation you still your mind,
"calming the waters" so-to-speak so that the truer, clearer thoughts can come through. When you aren't racking you brain about bills, schedules and arguments you can begin to think and feel how life is going for you, what's working and what isn't. In my work I would describe this scenario as a time when you have removed your mental and emotional bodies and can allow your Soul to shine through, sharing it's own opinions on your life.
During these days we typically only hiked 3-4 hours as Brett was under the weather and we had plenty of time to take so there was no rush. This meant that by lunch we were at our next destination and we had the rest of our day at our leisure. Without external and electronic distractions this left plenty of time to be still, which is something I don't often do. At the time I got very bored and even frustrated, but hindsight I now know that this was when I began to shift my energy back into a place of clarity and soulfulness. I spend most days jumping back and forth between appointments, classes, emails, Facebook, my website and more. You often don't realize how badly this mashes up your mind until you are forced into a situation where for a long period you are entirely without all of these habits. Again going back to the theme of "receiving," it was in this time that I was allowing myself to receive 100% of my own undivided attention. I had nothing better to do than to sit and become acutely aware of my own thoughts, emotions, actions and reactions.
It is in this place (meditation, travel, etc.) of peace and quiet that I ask questions. Because my mind has grown still, the answers that eventually come back are much clearer. I am able to observe, find answers and gain inspirations to help me adjust my current situation into a more productive and beneficial place.
I became aware of the rut that I was in at home. I don't mean this as if I was in a bad place- I have a wonderful job and wonderful relationships that I am extremely grateful for- but we all get into ruts, they are our daily routines that help our day to go relatively smoothly. Uneventfulness is often appreciated in an insane world. The problem arises when our daily routines slowly and softly get us in a stagnant hole, we don't realize that this stagnancy is affecting us until we have the opportunity to remove ourselves from it all together. In general, if you do the same thing over and over again then by law nothing is changing, so in many ways a routine is very unproductive. I love what I do for work, but I realized that my present routine left very little room for personal expansion.
I made the choice four years ago to make a career by doing what I love... yet I was still taking the safe route which often meant doing what I love but not what I really REALLY love. I know what truly burns my passion for life yet I have been afraid to pursue it because I could possibly fail at it [insert energetic slap in the face here]. It was here, in the highest land of the world, that I connected dots, asked the questions, drew conclusions and poured my undying support into them. I gained the courage to shift my mind away from doubt and into a cheerleader. I was already proving to myself how much I was capable of, why stop with trekking? The question always is, "If you could do anything, what would it be?", well I rewrote it to, "you can do anything, so what will it be?"
I sat down today not knowing what I would write. All that is in my journal for these few days is a review of where we trekked, what I ate, blah blah blah. Once I began thinking about it though, it occurred to me that I wrote nothing because there was some really powerful shit going on way deeper than my pen had yet to uncover. They say that revolutions start as the whispers of the people, well my people were whispering and it has created a revolution within me that is ready to do whatever it takes to make the dreams of my Soul a reality.
I woke up in the middle of the night with gut-wrenching heartburn, I could only think, "this can't be good." I have always struggled with heartburn but there is a very distinct different between the heartburn that sucks to have, and the heartburn that leads to many hours hovering the bathroom. I knew that the next day was going to be another long day to get to Tyanboche (5-6 hours), ugh. Between having had a rest day the day before and being only four days into the trek I was not keen on getting held up for a day because of health. I kept convincing myself that it would go away soon.
I woke up continuously for the remainder of the night and by the morning the heartburn had evolved to include a wider range of gastro-intestinal issues. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a stomach problem can knock you entirely on your feet. Still though I remained optimistic that if I had an extra hour before we left that it would get better. I was determined to not let this get the better of me, despite the fact that movement hurt and I couldn't eat anything.
By the time we left the stomach pains had only worsened and my bowels were sufficiently drained. Call it optimism, or stoicism, or stupidity but I opted to keep going and not quite share the full range of difficulty I was having. So within the first ten minutes of climbing out of Namche death was written all over my face, I didn't think I would make it through the first hour, much less six. I so desperately wanted to stay strong and prevail, especially since I was surrounded by men, but this was quickly turning into an epic failure.
Sensing that I could hardly hold myself up Deven gave Dil my bag to carry then gave me 4 more Peptos and force fed me what was essentially a banana bag. My prayers and mental pep talks were useless and about 30 minutes into the trek while I sat to rest and prevent myself from getting sick on the trail, I felt like a total failure. I reminded myself that maybe this was part of my little journey in learning to receive: allowing the boys to take care of me and not feeling lesser because of it.
I gathered myself and we trudged on. For about three hours walked, speaking to no one just silently repeating mantras like "just one foot in front of the other." Finally, my stomach relaxed and I was able to slowly come back to life. I became very aware that while from the waste up was completely useless, my legs were strong and full of energy, able to carry my way up the valley. We eventually stopped for lunch and I managed to slurp up some garlicky chicken broth. We also met up with a group that had left over an hour before us that morning, it made me feel better about my situation that I was able to move fast enough to catch them. So we enjoyed lunch and prepared for the last half of the trek, which was straight up. After getting to Namche I knew what I was in for and I was more comfortable with it, but I still was functioning at about 50%.
Then came the dehydration... when combined with altitude this created a pounding headache. Pounding. I did quite well on the first half of this climb, knowing that we were nearing the end made me somewhat determined to be done. I kept thinking: If I were at home and had a stomach bug I would not opt to do Mt. Washington two times over. I knew that every minute spent resting was a minute taken away from the bed that awaited me. The second half of the climb wasn't as pleasant. My head hurt so bad, my body was getting very tired and my patience had just run out for this whole ordeal. I didn't say much but I really just wanted it all to be over.
When we reached the village at the top I fought very hard to keep tears back, I was so overwhelmed with exhaustion and gratitude. There was a similar feeling to being a child screaming and crying because they are long overdue for a nap, minus the screaming (at least out loud). Once I got into the lodge I drank several cups of hot water to rehydrate, I could feel my vitality coming back, as well as my positive attitude.
Again, I felt pride in what I had done, another long day under challenging conditions and I made it in almost perfect condition. As previously mentioned, I came into this trip knowing that there was a reason for it, but not sure exactly what that reason was. Because of this mystery I became more aware of all the little things going on around me but also within me. I realized that today, just as two days prior, I had proved to be more capable than I had originally given myself credit for. Maybe one of the lessons to be learned on this trip was in acknowledging my strength and perseverance, lose some of the self- doubt and criticism I continuously harbor and achieve all that I am capable of. We are capable of nothing when we don't believe in ourselves.
There was something really beautiful about this day, I was experiencing adversity yet I knew stopping wasn't an option. It's amazing what can be done when there is no other option. I knew where I was, I knew where I had to go and though I didn't know how I would do it, I knew that if I just put one foot in front of another I would eventually get there. Sometimes you don't know how to get where you need to go, but if you take one step at a time and have a little faith I promise you'll be amazed by what happens.
We left Phakding around 8 am after a warm bowl of muesli and cup of sweet, milky black tea. I was a wee bit nervous, having been warned of the intensity of the days hike. It was our first real hiking day, the first taste of what the next 19 days would be like and my first opportunity to prove that I had what it took. How would I fair? I knew I could do it, but I didn't know how well I could do it. I was with three men, all of whom are professional trekkers and climbers... the bar was set and I didn't quite know if I would make the cut. Sometimes it amazes me how much credit I give myself (or in this case how little). I hike, happily, 12 - 14 miles in a day, come home and work some more. I have ridiculous amounts of energy, to the point of driving those around me nuts. Yet I still wasn't confident in myself! I didn't know what the altitude would do to me, or if despite my skills and energy level it still wasn't quite enough for the men I was with.
It began quite comfortably, meandering up and around hills, through small villages, following the river up the valley. We crossed several suspension bridges, which definitely put your balance and faith in general engineering to a test. Periodically coming upon streams of zokyo (a cow and yak crossbreed) and donkey carrying supplies we would push to the inside of the trail and patiently await them to pass, not daring to take on these animals that could easily throw you over the side of the valley into the river below. Amazing, watching these beasts going up and down the hills, traverses, stairs, rocks and bridges. Even more amazing are the porters, ranging in age from teens to mid fifties carrying two to three times their weight in bags, food and other provisions. I fight back the pangs of guilt for my wimpy day pack, reminding myself that this is a way of life that existed long before I showed up and will continue long after I leave. After all where work is scarce any way to make money is a good way.
After about two hours we stopped for tea in what was more a friend's home than a cafe. I hope I never forget the faces of job on the older couple who owned the home. Smooth cheeks and wrinkled eyes: the sign of a face that has spent many years laughing.
With our warmth and energy repleted we packed up and continued on, breaking into the Sagarmatha National Park. Sagarmatha is the Nepalese name for Mt. Everest, it means the "head of earth, touching heaven." At this point we descended way down to the river. A side note on descending: it seems great, until you remember back to the start of the day when you were told that you would be gaining 800 meters (2,625 feet) from the initial point, you do a little math and realize that a meter down will eventually mean a meter up. You silently curse every decline you come across in your head- much less the fact that at some point you will have to climb back up this damned drop off.
Finally we began the steep ascent up to the meeting point of two of the main rivers, as well as the high bridge. It didn't receive its name because it is high up in the hills, as I had hoped, but because it had to be built above the old bridge, which means that it is really friggin' high above the river that is charging below. Three hours in and this is where the real hiking begins: the traverses start, the incline kicks up a few grades and my viewfinder adjusts from lush green valley to incorporate snow-capped behemoths. So we continued on, one step at a time with an occasional rest to adjust our lungs and drink some water. It was a challenge but it was amazing; no pain, just gain.
We made it to Namche in significantly less time than originally expected, something that amazed me then filled me with pride, joy and gratitude for the body that had carried me so far. It wasn't easy, but that isn't why I signed up. I am aware that my body is capable of anything as long as I can control my mind. These are the teachings that I hold near and dear in my yoga practice: learn to control your mind and you can do anything. It became very apparent how well I've controlled my mind based upon my success on this day; I felt incredibly proud. This was huge, I don't feel pride in my accomplishments often. I have long believed that anyone can do anything they desire to do and this belief has made me the greatest critic of my own life. But something about today made me feel truly proud to be me. I don't know exactly what it was- my body's strength, my mind's strength, the positive attitude I joyfully maintained throughout, or some combination. Whatever it was, it worked and like the older couple we joined for tea earlier that day my face was showing the aged signs of pure joy.
Chelsea M Latham
When I was a kid my mom would occasionally refer to me as a Reverend, because I had the need to speak so passionately about just about everything. Little did she know that some day I would build a business upon sharing the wisdom that I am so passionate about. So here you go, here are some bits and bobs of thoughts strung together for your enjoyment.