J-Term Practica 2016
March 27, 2016
“Sit by the bank of the river without doing anything and just contemplate about your hair, your body, your nails, something that we never do because we are always thinking about the next thing. Contemplate about how old you are, what date is today—that is amazing, you know. So much time has gone. Contemplate how much time do we have… I think [this] could do a lot of good things for the world and definitely, Bhutan.”
-Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, Taken from an article in an In-flight magazine by Druk Airlines, Route: Paro, Bhutan to Kolkata, India; 3/27/16
As the light delirium of the Himalayan altitude and 48-hour-journey jet lag wear off, my palate readjusts to the lack of chillies in America and I am left with memories and subconscious video reels to decompress from this experience. There is so much to process, there is so much to hold on to.
When people ask me “Oh my God! How was Bhutan? Wait, where is it again?”, my usual response is a quick elevator pitch involving the phrases “agrarian society” and some changing combination of “Claire” and “chillies”. Although this encapsulates moments, it is a far cry from the inspiration imparted by getting to know a country in an untouched-by-tourism state and simply sitting in a small room with some of the most distinguished, fascinating and wise government officials, as if just to have milk tea and a chat about life. I learned a lot in that small room on the Royal Thimpu College campus.
The Bhutanese believe in harmony and that all life is interconnected. While Gross National Product is a broad measure of a nation’s total economic activity, or in the words of John F. Kennedy “everything except that which makes life worth living”, the philosophy of Gross National Happiness is holistic—measuring development with the values of kindness, equality, and humanity. Buddhist ideology resonates throughout the political and environmental policies in Bhutan and connects strongly with the Bhutanese view of life. One of the leaders who spoke with us talked about the miracle of being a human: we are a rare, special opportunity to seek enlightenment because we have the unique combination of a rational mind and an emotional heart. We are not just cells put together in chromosomal strands of DNA, but so much more than that. Contemplate at the beauty of that: you are a rare and unique opportunity to seek enlightenment.
In the countryside, I got reminded of the way the Bhutanese (like the inhabitants of many other developing countries) look you in the eyes when they ask about your day. They ask because they want to know the answer; not to fulfill a quota of How are you’s, but to truly gain an understanding of your current mental and physical states. The profound simplicity of this is something that, for the most part, we have lost in the developed world as technological advancement overshadows human connection.
Bhutan reminded me to take my time a little more often. Take time to contemplate—me, you, the world, my eyelashes and what I ate for breakfast. Take time to ask how someone’s day is, and really listen to the answer. Take the time to be in the present moment without thinking about what will happen next. Take time just to be.
After inhaling so deeply, it takes some time to exhale it all out.