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Katy and Mark Lewis


26 Blog Entries
1 Trip
27 Photos

Trips:

India and Nepal

Shorthand link:

http://blogabond.com/larkmewis


We are two siblings from Colorado (aged 24 and 26) who find ourselves simultaneously between a job and a graduate school program. We both came down with a case of itchy feet, so we're going searching for the cure while we've got the chance!


Coming home

Denver, United States


Well, it has been quite the ride. I head for the Delhi airport in a few hours for the long journey home. Arriving back into India after my time in Bhutan was somehow comforting. I guess I've grown attached to the stifling heat and humidity, the complete absence of personal space, and the generally chaotic state of affairs (to this point, a huge roadway bridge collapsed a couple of days ago, and then yesterday the crane that was cleaning up the debris also came crashing down).

It has been brought to my attention by a couple of gentle souls that perhaps I've overstepped my bounds with the philosophical/spiritual content of this blog, which is supposed to be a travel journal. I accept this criticism, and apologize if I've offended or caused an annoyance to any of you. While this might not be the appropriate venue for sharing such personal thoughts and experiences, I get easily bored with simply recounting travel tales. The fact is, I set out on this journey to not only experience new cultures and lands, but also in search of greater wisdom and inner peace. I suppose I'm an aspiring philosopher of sorts, whether or not I belong in the company of metaphysicians and ontologists and meditation masters. I don't pretend to be any of these things, but I enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Having spent a good portion of the past two months in solitude (since Katy departed), I wouldn't be at all surprised if my sense of social normalcy and acceptability has diminished somewhat. However, I'd never exchange that for the increased awareness of the reality of nature (or nature of reality or whatever you want to call It) that I've experienced during this alone time abroad. As it turns out, I'm kind of a mystical person. Given the right circumstances, I'm pretty sure we all are. It is my strongest conviction that the single most effective way to participate in the solutions to the challenges that face our world is to go inward, and seek out that unnamable force which transcends our personal and collective universe. If we look, with the eyes of a blameless child, we might catch glimpses of of the impermanent and interconnected nature of all things. Only then can the fullest love and compassion and wisdom become manifest in our lives and in our world. This is our greatest need. This is what we must demand of ourselves. This is the way out of our crises, of which climate change is a mere symptom. What is the disease, the root cause of suffering in the world? I'd argue that it is our greed, our selfish nature, our ignorance of what Paul Brunton calls the "Overself" and what Eastern masters term the "Buddha Nature". If we don't practice some form of spiritual or philosophical pursuit in an attempt to touch a higher reality, it is astonishing what we'll consume to fill the void that remains. A few humans have figured out this puzzle of life. I'll continue to work everyday to join their ranks. That is my career, my life's work. If I have any success, the only evidence will be love. Love is a renewable energy that can save the world. Every one of us is a potential producer. Who will create the Google, Wal Mart, Exxon Mobile, or Facebook of this most precious commodity? If not us, who? If not now, never.

Well, there I go again, forgetting this is supposed to be a travel blog! With that, I'll sign off. Be in touch.

Peace and Love!

permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on July 14, 2009 from Denver, United States
from the travel blog: India and Nepal
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Final Bhutan highlights

Paro, Bhutan


Flying into Bhutan from our stopover in Kathmandu, Nepal, our airplane passed right next to Mt. Everest, which was just about as high off the ground as we were at 30,000 feet! It is absolutely marvelous to see the world's highest point rising out of the clouds from above. The cumulous display was inspiring in and of itself, and the snow-covered peak blended quite seamlessly into the world of the sky.

Soaring over India, you can scarcely spot any land that hasn't been developed. Passing from there into Nepal, there is noticably more forest cover. Continuing from Nepal into Bhutan, you can just about trace the international border by virtue of the almost complete lack of developed land in the remote "Land of the Thunder Dragon".

They say that Paro, Bhutan is home to the lonliest international airport in the world. Most days pass with only a single flight into and out of the country, but some days the air traffic controller works overtime with up to three flights taking off or landing. Fin told me that the official number he saw from the Tourism Authority was that a total of 55 foreign tourists were registered to travel into Bhutan in the month of July! I think there must be a few more than that, but they definitely keep the volume very limited with the exhorbitant expense of the visa to travel here.

Arriving into Paro, the air is rarefied and the scenery is bountiful and idyllic. There is an amazing diversity of flora here, much of it hanging from steep sloping mountainsides. Huge cumulous clouds hang precariously below the mountain tops, unlike any other place I've ever seen. There is a definite fairy tale feeling to Bhutan.

The first day we visited a World Wildlife Fund protected area that is home to the very rare and unusual Takin. Grab a Google image of this strange beast for a good laugh. Apparently the experts have had a difficult time placing this animal in in the same genus or family as any other species on earth. I guess its fitting that this most unique Takin is to be found only in this most unique Bhutan.

The built environment consists almost exclusively of rammed-earth craftsman sytle traditional structures with super intricate wood carving and colorful painting on the trim and window panes.

With their efforts to preserve a unique and traditional way of life comes a myriad of rules and regulations for the residents and visitors of Bhutan. There is a loosely enforced dress code when entering government buildings or spiritual places. Tobacco products are banned, but a black market has (inevitably) emerged. Travel above a certain altitude on certain mountain peaks is strictly prohibited. Etc, etc.

The first night over dinner, Fin gave me the full, long story of the controversy over Nepali immigrants that has somewhat tainted the Bhutanese reputation around the globe. Essentially, it is a very complicated and drawn out affair where the government has tried to verify the citizenship of large numbers of people in the southern part of the country, and several unfortunate mistakes have been made. Many of the people who have been forced out of the country had been living there for several generations, and some of them have actually been discovered to be Bhutanese citizens after living in refugee camps in Nepal and India for awhile. A significant factor in Bhutan's approach to the situation is their fear that Bhutan could easily be absorbed by one of its larger and more powerful neighbors, which happened with the nation of Sikkim in 1974 when it unwillingly became part of India. This is part of the reasoning behind Bhutan's strongly nationalist stance in its regional affairs. Additional factors include the fear that their small government would be unable to provide support services to a rising immigrant population, and the Bhutanese insistance upon preserving their traditional culture. I have found myself growing increasingly frustrated with the ideology of nationalism, as it seems to often times place artificial and harsh separation between man and his neighbor. Can't we all just get along? What ever happened to peace, love, and understanding?!

The second night of my stay, we traveled along a breathtaking road to the infrequently visited Haa valley. Our journey was to Fin's village to participate in the annual "puja" festival, which asks for blessings upon the household for the coming year. The entire village was assembled for the celebration, which included a lot of food, moonshine (rice whisky), dance, and laughter. The monks from the local monastery were there to perform several rituals, including lots of chanting and playing of some way cool musical instruments. Every home in Bhutan has a special shrine room, decorated with Buddhist statues and artwork, where the family meditates, makes offerings, and performs the annual "puja". It was really special to witness and participate in this intimate affair which most tourists remain oblivious to. It was also fascinating to draw certain comparisons with the hill tribe communities in Thailand, where I lived in 2005-2006. They are also of Tibetan/Mongolian descent, and there are definitely some cultural features in common.

The following day we did some hiking around the isolated and most pleasant Himalayan valley surrounding the small village. A dirt road stretching to the village was completed just last year. Fin said that his family has lived here for at least four generations, and beyond that is unknown as there is no written history. Up until the last decade or so, over 90% of all Bhutanese people were subsistent farmers in remote villages similar to this one. There has recently been a flight to urban areas among the younger generation in search of a better education and economic advancement. The government is trying to encourage people to stay in their villages by building more roads in the rural parts of the country to give better access to modern comforts. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that globalization isn't out of bounds, even in this "last Shangri La".

A few words on the monarchy: There have been five kings of Bhutan. K4, as the fourth king is known, is the most colorful and fascinating. He was the first king to take multiple wives when he decided to marry four sisters. Because he's the king, nobody took issue with this break from tradition. He has several children with each, so the royal family has grown significantly in the last generation. The first-born son, K5, was given power by his father in 2007, when he was about my age. This abdication of power was unusual, as K4 was seemingly in his prime with several decades of rule ahead of him. He did so as a precursor to dissolving the absolute monarchy in favor of the constitutional monarchy that was established last year with the first parliamentary vote. K4 also insisted, above the objection of many government ministers, to include a provision in the constitution which easily allows the parliament to dissolve the monarchy if they see fit in the future. Knowing, first hand, the potential dangers of absolute authority, K4 demanded this provision in the case that any future king turns out to be a bad egg and abuses his position of power. So, he is quite the historical anomaly to have willingly given up his power in favor of democratic process. In fact, much of the country was very resistant to this idea, as they were quite happy with his benevolent rule. I can't think of another historical circumstance in which a democracy was created against the will of the people!

A couple of other places we visited were Dochula Pass, with it's 108 chortens, and Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility) established by the "Divine Madman", an eccentric monk in the 8th century. The alarmingly large and graphic penis images scattered around Bhutan are attributable to this guy. Another spectacular place that you might want to pull up a Google image of is the Punakha Dzong. It is huge and impressive and built right on the confluence of two mighty rivers.

One final tidbit: Bhutan is one of five countries in the world that does not have a U.S. embassy. I'm not sure what the other four are, but I'm guessing that these are not nations you would generally like to be listed with. Apparently, Sen. John McCain and three or four other Senators recently visited Bhutan to discuss the possibility of establishing closer relations. Bhutan is a fiercely prideful and autonomous place, and they don't want to risk being subject to any negative consequences of allying with the U.S. From what I could gather, they certainly don't intend to allow anyone else to tell them the best economic or political or social course into the future. In some ways, I found this attitude to be somewhat abrasive. On the other hand, I admire their determination to control their own destiny, and the staunch efforts to protect and preserve their cultural, spiritual, and natural resources. For many reasons, Bhutan is unlike any other country. It challenged and stimulated me. For those interested, I'd recommend traveling there, and would be very curious to hear of the conclusions you struggle to draw from this bizarre "Land of the Thunder Dragon".


permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on July 13, 2009 from Paro, Bhutan
from the travel blog: India and Nepal
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Bhutan

Thimphu, Bhutan


The two best words I can use to describe Bhutan would be "rarefied" and "idyllic". I was drawn to Bhutan largely because of their unique metric for economic activity (called Gross National Happiness), their status as the world's newest democracy (first ever national election held in 2008), and its reputation as the last surviving Buddhist kingdom set amidst inspiring natural scenery. My expectations were shattered in many ways, and I'll now attempt to relate my observations of these three themes.

-------GNH-------

I was initially attracted to traveling to Bhutan to learn more about their alternative method of measuring "progress" in the country. They do not adhere to the traditional economic metric of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but have instead developed their own system, called Gross National Happiness (GNH). Having studied economics and ultimately arriving at a state of disenchantment with the neoclassical mantra of "growth" and "maximizing utility", I've been curious for a number of years to see how GNH differs from traditional methods of measuring economic activity.

My wonderful hosts, brothers and business partners Lotay and Fin Rinchen, arranged a meeting with a senior researcher in the Department of GNH. We shared a fascinating time together in his office that included a long discussion of Mahayana Buddhism as well as conversation of different economic theories espoused by authors we were both familiar with. I very much enjoyed the banter, but came away with little additional understanding of the metrics of GNH.

From what I could gather from multiple sources during my stay, Bhutan is still very much in the process of defining, quantifying, and legitimizing GNH. However, they have held conferences in Canada, Thailand, and one other country I can't remember to gain input and insight from the international community. GNH seeks to go beyond traditional economic indicators to include other factors of wellbeing and progess, including: vitality of a sense of community and connectedness, preservation of traditional culture and folklore, conservation and responsible stewardship of natural resources, individual psychological health (happiness), etc. The term, "Gross National Happiness" was first used by the Fourth King of Bhutan in the 1970's, and it seems the government has been trying to qualify and quantify it's meaning ever since.

As you can imagine, many of these indicators are difficult to measure in a reliable and quantifiable fashion, which results in much of the criticism bestowed upon the approach of GNH. Regardless, I think it is a noble effort at pursuing an alternative path of economic, social, and environmental vitality in a country that has such unique cultural and natural capital.

-------Democracy--------

Up until a couple of decades ago, Bhutan was an isolated land of subsistent farmers who had little education, very limited access to health care, and virtually no contact with the outside world. While the life expectancy has gone from about 40 to 66 in the past thirty years and a good portion of the younger generation is now receiving a western education, much of Bhutan is still living in the past (70% of the villages in the country are still not accessible by road). To some extent, this is by choice. The leadership of Bhutan is currently walking the tricky line between integrating its citizens into the global marketplace and attempting to preserve the traditional culture and spiritual way of life. As I've witnessed the rest of the developing world diving head first into the ocean of consumerism, I expected to be refreshed by a country that seems to be charting a different course. In some ways, I appreciate the ways that the government of Bhutan is choosing to remain somewhat guarded from the way of the rest of the world, but I was also struck by the unintended consequences of withholding certain freedoms and choices from its people. Bhutan was the last country in the world to allow internet and television to its citizens in 1999. Certain channels and content are still prohibited or filtered. I began to realize the potential dangers of a government that decides it can make better decisions for it's citizens than they can make for themselves. This theme was also consistent with my inability to be an "independent" traveler in Bhutan, as only certain restaurants and hotels are sanctioned to cater to foreign visitors. This serves as a reminder that Bhutan is in its infancy of democracy, and I will watch with fascination in the next several decades at what happens to this small country with the expansion of freedoms and rights.

The brand new constitution includes unique provisions for our modern era, including one clause which effectively makes deforestation illegal by stating that at least 60% of all the land must remain under forest cover at all times. Judging by my flight into the country and the roads we traveled along, this clause is in no danger of being violated any time soon. That said, the founding fathers of the USA thought it would take 1,000 years for Americans to populate the entire country, and it took less than 100 years for every square inch of our vast land to be possessed by one owner or another. That is a fact that the government of Bhutan seems to be aware of, and is taking serious measures to try to avoid going down the same resource-destructive path as the rest of the world. In contrast to America, Bhutan is roughly half the size of North Carolina, with a total population not exceeding 700,000. Particularly considering it's precarious geographic juxtaposition between the two world giants of China and India, Bhutan is compelled to remain vigilant in protecting her sovereignty. Resulting from this unique blend of demographic and geographic factors, some level of protectionism and isolationism is justified, in my opinion.

What might be termed "protectionism" is, however, something I took issue with during several mealtime conversations with my well-informed host, Fin. I argued that it could provide a slippery slope toward the unfortunate direction of North Korea or Myanmar if the government of Bhutan leans too far in the direction of deciding it can make better decisions for its people than they are capable of making for themselves. To be fair, the democracy is only one year old, and I think they are off to a commendable start. That said, I'll be happy to return to my expanded rights and freedoms in the good old U.S. of A. Our democracy is about 233 years old, and we've still got some improvements to make as well.

-------Buddhism--------

I recommend pulling up a Google image of "Tiger's Nest" to get a feel for the unique monastic life of Bhutan. Some people say that Bhutan holds the purest form of Tibetan Buddhism today, and nearly 100% of Bhutanese people are Buddhist, and their spiritual tradition forms an integral part of the national identity. Mirroring my travels into Nepal and Ladakh, the landscape of Bhutan is spotted with prayer flags, mani walls, mountain top monasteries, prayer wheels, and white-washed chortens. I'll say that the monasteries of Bhutan seem to have a greater number of young monks than the other places I've visited, perhaps indicating a stronger monastic community here.

We visited quite a few monasteries during my stay, and the artwork is definitely among the best I've seen. I saw the oldest gompa in the country, which was established by the famous Guru Rinpoche in the 7th or 8th century. We also visited several dzongs, which have historically served the triple purposes of monastic housing, military fortresses, and government official administrative buildings.

------Other highlights---------

Coming soon in another blog entry...


permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on July 10, 2009 from Thimphu, Bhutan
from the travel blog: India and Nepal
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The Guru

Rishikesh, India


"He who binds to himself a Joy,
Does the winged life destroy.
He who kisses the Joy as it flies,
Lives in Eternity's sunrise." - William Blake

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On the morning of the Fourth of July, Ravi and I set off from Ram Jhoola toward the dwelling place of Ravi's spiritual master. After journeying for perhaps half an hour on a footpath into the jungle, we reached our destination. The guru looked about like you'd expect an Indian ascetic to look: He wore tattered traditional orange garmets, had an impressive white beard, dreaded hair, dark skin, thin frame, very tough feet, and a radiating smile. His gestures were perfectly humble, and he began speaking with his eyes closed, at least until he hit his stride with the message, at which time he could become wonderfully animated. He explained about the number of potential dangers of living in this jungle, including: scorpions, pythons, leopards, tigers, and elephants. Ravi translated that all of the animals and plants in the area were in communication with the guru, and this entire place received benefit from the guru's chanting and meditation.

His dwelling is in a tree. There is a dead tree very near, where the master lived previously until the tree told him that it wanted liberation. He then moved to his current tree a couple of decades ago. There is a thin bamboo ladder at the base that leads to a small platform about fifteen feet off the ground. This is where the guru does his meditation. Fifteen feet higher lies another small platform that is covered with a meagre tarp, where he reads and sleeps. On the opposite side of the base of the tree from the ladder, there is a very simple kitchen consisting of a few pots and pans and three bricks forming a stove.

The entire time we were there, a cooling breeze I haven't felt anywhere else in Rishikesh was always present, making the climate quite pleasant. I asked the master whether he prayed to/worshiped an external God, or if he was cultivating the Divine within himself. He replied that both are very important. Meditation is a time to sit and go completely inward, eventually discovering the higher consciousness within each and every one of us, a Truth that is beyond the mind, beyond the body, and cannot be explained, but only experienced through purifying your lifestyle and putting noble effort and concentration into your meditation practice. He also worships outwardly through mantras which he recites, in an effort to bow humbly before the supreme Creator. He very calmly explained that all faith traditions ultimately point in the same direction, with different ways of trying to get there.

We then spoke about my life, and my conviction to work toward restoring a harmonious connection between humans and our Earth. Ravi translated the guru's response: "Reduce your demand, take only what you need. Why are people so concerned with making money to preserve for their grandchildren, when so many humans are starving and suffering today? Once the rich man's grandchildren are born, they have bad karma on their head from all of those who suffered for two generations at the lack of resources available to them because they were saved for two generations. Do not live constantly looking to the future. The only place to really, truly BE is in the here and now."

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me from this amazing experience was to realize that each of us already has a guru traveling around with us all the time. It is that source, deep within, that allows us to see beauty in a sunset, a painting, a song, or a child. It is that intangible voice that tells us right from wrong. You could call it your "conscience". You could just as easily call it your "guru" or "master". Whatever it is called, we all know what it is. We need to start listening to it's every utterance.

The other overwhelming lesson for me was to observe, first hand, how this master lived. He very well may be the most accomplished, smart, highest achieving person that I've had the pleasure of meeting. He has mastered himself, and thus, life. From all options available to him, he has decided to live a life of complete simplicity with overflowing service to his community. This is my hero, not Michael Jackson.

Before departing, I touched his feet and received a blessing. I was reminded of the Biblical story of the woman who washed and put oil on the feet of Jesus after he had made a long journey through the desert. That would be my greatest honor.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the guru pulled out an antique radio at one point, which we listened to for a little while. I'll never forget the circumstances of when and where I learned that it will be Federer versus Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final!

------------

Stay in the flow, let yourself go. Leave yourself, to become. Where do you go without the ego? Straight into reality, through the door of compassion. It is the only place to be, just be. I've heard some people call this place, "oblivion". They have never been here. Solidify the ego, only to dissolve it into pure consciousness. Allow the ego to grow to that of a King. Then you can enter into a humility that is beyond. Discovering that even the wealthiest and most powerful King is not the highest being, we move beyond materialism, beyond the self, and into pure altruistic service to the Most High. It is possible to expect nothing in return only when you realize that you already have absolutely everything, without a single fear or desire. In this state, there is true altruism, and Ayn Rand was wrong. To pursue this path, your own best interests will be served. But, to complete this journey, to realize the endgame, one must forfeit the self completely, entering into the abyss. Only the empty can be filled up. Only those who know what they're missing can ever hope to find it. So, whenever the flute plays, sway, like the trees in the breeze.

--------

Is man indispensible for the completion of creation? Or at least for the preservation of his own kind? C.G. Jung says: "Human consciousness created objective existence and meaning, and man found his indispensible place in the great chain of being." In his fantastic final book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung also recounts his relationship with Sigmund Freud, whom he says was filled with "bitterness". Like Freud, many giant intellectuals allow the exclusive use of the rational mind to lead them to a very dark place in their lives (Neitzche and Rand also come to mind). Perhaps we really do need some "myth" to legitimize our lives, like the Pueblo Indians' ceremony to the sun. There is myth and mysticism in every world religion and spiritual tradition. Instead of mocking the Pueblo for their "primitive superstition", perhaps we should admire their sense of purpose as well as their daily act of reverence for the source of all life. I'd much rather be a mystic than an intellectual. It is in this spirit that I intend to move forward and thrive.

I've grown very fond of the Hindu mythology that my yoga instructor has been sharing with me during our classes. You might say that some Hindus take a literal translation of these myths, while others take a more symbolic interpretation. The same could surely be said of the ancient Greeks or modern day Christians. The myth I'm choosing to believe in our time is a great story of how human beings are causing the climate to change and must discover a more harmonious way of life to ensure our survival as a species. At least some of us need to take a literal translation of that modern day myth!

------------

Tomorrow I set off for the final leg of the trip, traveling to Delhi to catch an airplane to the little-known country of Bhutan. I'll try to update the blog again in a week or so...

permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on July 4, 2009 from Rishikesh, India
from the travel blog: India and Nepal
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Rishikesh is orange

Rishikesh, India


Rishikesh is orange. Nearly everyone is wearing orange garmets, the cumin-spiced food is orange, the blazing afternoon sun is orange, and even causes the muddy Ganges river to take on a hue of orange. Many buildings are painted orange, the corn is not yellow, but orange, and even my pee is orange from the dehydrating heat of the orange sun.

-------

Every cell in my body is born, serves its function, and dies. During it's lifetime, each cell remains unaware that it exists within a larger common entity, called "Mark". LIkewise, every person is born, lives a life, and dies. Most of us remain completely unaware that each of us exists within a larger common entity, called "Earth" or "Nature". Personal experience and continued awareness of this fact is the path to peace and freedom. We must remember, as Krishnamurti often liked to say, that "the observer is the observed".

----------

I just had a chai and a smoke with an elderly Indian man who pulled me aside on a crowded street in the Rishikesh market. I recognized his intellect at once, and he explained about how he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and the myriad challenges he has encountered in life. I was struck by how fragile the balance is in our minds.

He ended up being the only Indian I have met thus far who agreed with my viewpoint that having one family more or less in power since the independence of the country isn't particularly democratic. Like many others I've spoken with, he likened the situation to that of the Kennedy dynasty in the U.S. But, he then proceeded to point out the legitimate reasons why Caroline Kennedy wasn't able to muster a run for the NY Senate seat, and I was flabbergasted. That's the exact argument I've been using. This man looks like the quintessential "average" Indian, but proved to be much much more. It is unlikely encounters such as this one that has formed my very high opinion of the Indian people.

-------------

I'm staying with a wonderful family here in Rishikesh. It is nice to sit on my front porch and watch the comings and goings of mom, dad, their three beautiful daughters and two sons, the dog, or one of the two cows (who also roam the nearby crowded streets). It has been very hot here, so the excitement was pointed yesterday when the first rains of this year's monsoon arrived in the afternoon. When it rains during the Indian monsoon, it really rains. The moisture came down in slanted sheets, blown about by the strong accompanying winds. The cooling effect was most welcome after several days of constant sweating. Apparently the monsoon arrives into Rishikesh, like clockwork, just about this exact day every year. How will climate change alter this pattern? What will be the effect on the crops and the economy in this area? Like the mind of the schizophrenic man that I met, our Earth also hangs in a fragile and beautiful balance. We're compromising that balance.

----------

The past couple of mornings, I've been attending meditation sessions at an Osho center. Osho was a very famous spiritual teacher who pioneered many new meditation techniques designed specifically for the modern/Western mind that is accustomed to a fast pace and lots of noise. So, it is very different from the silent sitting meditation I've been doing (Vipassana). This morning we did "laughing meditation", which was, well, hilarious. This technique comes from the Japanese Buddhist tradition. Osho also incorporates techniques from Hinduism, Sufism, Gurdjieff, and others. Kundalini (chakra) yoga, sound therapy, and Tibetan Nadabrahma meditation are others I've sampled and enjoyed while here. It has been most helpful in helping me to BE more in my body, and not only in my mind. And, to further recognize the relationship between the two.

-----------

In the afternoons, I've linked up with an awesome personal yoga teacher. His name is Ravi Yogi, and we practice for a couple of hours each day. On my final day here, we'll travel together to meet Ravi's "guru" or "master". He describes his master has a "perfect Sadhu", meaning he has attained full liberation/consciousness, complete alignment with the Creator. Needless to say, I'm very curious and excited. This will happen on the Fourth of July, and I definitely anticipate some fireworks. Ravi describes that his guru lives in a treehouse of sorts in the jungle, completely alone, and in complete harmony with the tigers, leopards, snakes, monkeys, insects, trees, plants, etc. He is 79 years old, and has spent the last fifteen years preparing to go into the high Himalayas where he will live in the snow with the most meagre provisions. He is a modern day ascetic.

It is funny how I stumbled into this situation, and we'll see where the path leads from here. I'm both open and somewhat skeptical, but if this Sadhu actually happens to be God incarnate, I'm not sure I'll be able to recognize the fact. A real life Buddha, perhaps the rarest of all creatures on this Earth. Would you even know if one passed you on the street?

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I'm beginning to see the same theme in what I'm reading in a number of different books from Jung, Brunton, Krishnamurti, Osho, and Trungpa. It can be called the "Conscious", the "Overself", the "Observer", the "Mind", the "Great Spirit", among many other misleading names. They all contain the message that the ultimate answers lie within; that there is a higher Mind that, if we become aware of It, is perfectly aligned with all things in all of space and time. This is what I've been calling "Nature", and could also be called "God". It is fascinating that the very best in Western pschology (from Jung) only begins to approach discovering the secrets of the mind which have been revealed among yogis and sadhus and buddhas for millenia in the East. The books I'm reading by James George and Paul Brunton do a brilliant job of relating some of this Eastern wisdom to a Western frame of mind. It is all about knowing thyself. Self-mastery.

------------

I read in the newspaper today that India has grown by 700 million people (roughly twice the entire U.S. population) in the last 35 years. That is what I read. If this is true, and we continue on this path of growth as humans, we're sure to wipe ourselves out as a species. Perhaps this is our destined course, as Nature would have it, to restore Her health from this homo sapien cancer. If this isn't our desired course as a species, it is time, now, to evolve to a higher Being.

Last week, when 221 members of the U.S. House of Rep. vote against putting a price mechanism on the emission of carbon into the atmosphere, I wonder if there is any hope at all. Most of these Congressmen are still finding ways to reason around the scientific fact that humans are changing the natural atmospheric process. They do this because their interests (and the interests of their constituencies) are not preserved or furthered in the prospect of an entirely different economic system that factors in the price of pollution into our market decisions. Indeed, most of industry (particularly big industry)today would not benefit from this potential market shift. Sooner or later, as we continue along our current course, we'll hit a tipping point where enough people will demand a new system. It probably won't all happen at once, and in fact, many people are effectively already living in this new economy that is ready to pay for pollution.

The reaction in India to the passage of the climate bill in the House was that it will harm the Indian economy because taxes/tarrifs would increase for everything that they ship to the U.S. This is because there is a clause in the House bill (which will hopefully be omitted from the Senate version) that sets an additional import tariff only on countries that have not signed an international treaty pledging to reduce their own carbon emissions. Of course, China and India have been arguing that only developed nations which have been contributing to the problem of climate change for many decades should bear the cost of fixing the problem. They view any international climate treaty as a ploy by the U.S. to prevent China and India from becoming the new world superpowers. Needless to say, if the U.S. were to take radical action to reduce emissions, and China and India stay on their current course of economic development, our efforts will be more than nullified. So, the big showdown will be in December in Copenhagen, regardless of what happens to the current version of the House climate bill. This is a global issue. That said, the U.S. must take the lead in bringing about a new era of climate responsibility. It just so happens that the largest and most powerful industries in India and China are some of the dirtiest. This is going to be a fight. Perhaps the biggest fight mankind has ever seen. The "freedom fighters" of our generation will have to warriors of simplicity, spirituality, and sustainability. I've met many Indians who are already living in accordance with this global movement. Now, we just need to find some leadership...

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How do you start an organization that helps people to consume less and better by finding contentment and satisfaction from within instead of constantly searching without? The economic proposition: Save money by spending less. The spiritual proposition: Instead of throwing money and consumption into the personal void within, seek peace and satisfaction thru simple living and connection to Nature/the Overself/Great Spirit/God. We'll consume through every last resource on this planet and still not realize whatever it is we're after. What we're really after is beyond the consumptive ability of our body or our mind. We must rise above the desires of the body and the mind to a higher conciousness. You cannot consume your way to the satisfaction of the soul. What are we really after when we buy our third car? Happiness? Status? Who has more happiness or higher status than an enlightened person? We must recognize that our activity of profligate consumption has no endgame. That is exactly what makes it so unquenchable and so destructive. How do you start a business that sells to people's soul? The soul is not for sale. No commodity can cater to it. This would require an entirely new type of economy. Putting a price on pollution would be a good start.

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A quote from James George: "Can we change ourselves? Can we wake up? Or is all this talk of 'awakening' a romantic dream? The answer depends in large part on your point of view. If you are stuck with the common view that 'you can't change human nature', then you probably can't, since you assume this to be true. If you think that such a change is easily within your grasp, you will also likely be disappointed in due course, because it is not easy. But if you take a look at the great leaps that have already occurred in human evolution and human consciousness, from the African savannah, through the hunter gatherers to the agricultural settlements and on to our own times, there seems to be no reason to doubt that we are an unfinished species, endowed with some degree of free-will, and therefore with contradictory capacities for both self-destructive behavior and for extraordinary breakthroughs of creative energy and intelligence. As the present expression of this contradiction, humanity seems to be at the most crucial crossroads of its long history: we have the power to make the planet uninhabitable, and we also have the potential for a New Renaissance that would be not only sustainable but would begin to use the 80 percent of our forebrain that we seem not yet able to use today...This means that, if we awaken to the realization that we have to change, we will find that we have the capacity to go beyond what we thought were our limits, as individuals and as a species. If we must, we can. And now, if we can, we must. It is not for us to know the Master Plan...but this just might be it."

permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on July 2, 2009 from Rishikesh, India
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stuff in my head

Chandigarh, India


It is surprising how comfortable you can get with cars passing no more than six inches from your legs as you try to navigate around the streets of Manali. I've really enjoyed my time here, and have made friends with people from all over India, and also from British Columbia, London, Grenada, Tel Aviv, and San Francisco. The other foreign travelers are almost all at some sort of crossroads in their life that has brought them to India. Some seem to be here primarily because it is a relatively cheap place to exist. Many are simply having a good time, injesting just about anything that comes their way. Others are here for some combination of outdoor recreation and spiritual search. We all know we'll be going our separate ways again very soon, so the walls fall down more easily and people let loose. I've made some genuine friendships in my short time here.

Now, I strike out on my own again for a breif stint in Chandigarh before continuing onto Rishikesh for ten days or so.

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Chandigarh is one of the only master-planned cities in India. The contrast is striking. The city was apparently laid out by a pretty famous French guy. The streets lie in a grid pattern, intersected by roundabouts. Almost all of the roads are lined with large shady trees and bike/foot paths. I've hired a couple of bicycle rickshaws to take a tour of the place, and I really dig it. It is so refreshing to ride off of the crowded and dirty street, enjoying the relative calm and coolness of the bike path. That said, it is seriously hot in Chandigarh right now. Somehow, the locals don't seem to bothered by the stifling heat, and I feel like I'm the only one who is dripping with sweat. The disparity of temperature between here and Ladakh is shocking.

I visited the "Rock Garden", which was created by a local artist named Nek Chand, starting in the early 1980's. Unlike it's master planned host city, the garden is a sort of maze of sculptures winding randomly through a park, under the canopy of an urban eucalyptus forest. All of the materials are recycled and manipulated industrial waste, including broken toilets, steel barrels, flower pots, and cement beams. Integrated with this recycled waste are twisting tree branches, lotus ponds, high rock walls, and miniature temple-like structures. Apparently the artist began the project as a hobby while he was working as a road inspector for the city. Today, the Rock Garden is visited and appreciated by huge numbers of art lovers from across the globe.

Bicycle riskshaws in Chandigarh are one of the very finest places I've found to simply watch India happen. You'll silently and slowly pass a man getting a shave under a tree, a woman and her three children sprawled out on a blanket in some abandoned parking lot, another rickshaw carrying a motorcycle (very impressive), or a man sitting cross-legged on a wooden platform with two wheels being pulled by a mule down the street. And cows, of course.

I've traveled to many other places and often thought about how much change has recently occured or is bound to happen soon. Somehow, India is different. I think the way of life here for most people has been, and will continue to be, relatively the same for several generations. While I'm a proponent of progress, part of me hopes there will still be mule carts and cows in the streets in another fifty years. I intend to come back then to find out!

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Ancient Native American tribes (specifically the Pueblo Nation) were convinced that without the performance of their sacred rituals, the sun might not continue to rise each day. On the one hand, this makes me wonder if all of mankind has always created some activity or another to legitimize or give validity to their existence. I guess we're all looking for a cause to believe in, something with a deeper connection. Life has meaning if there is some action we can take for the greater good. What if the "sustainability movement" is just humankind's current manifestation of that Pueblo act of helping the sun to rise each day? Maybe we don't need to do anything at all, and life on Earth will go on as it will, with or without my effort or that of the Pueblo people. The idea that we don't actually need to DO anything is a very scary prospect for most. What if the sun doesn't actually need the Pueblo people to help it to rise? What if the Earth isn't actually all that interested in the activities of humans today? That would deflate the spirit of revolution to "save our planet" or "make the sun rise". Perhaps things are going to happen as they happen, regardless of our individual interest in a certain outcome. In this case, I guess we are just left to live free and prosper, like every other species. Life seems pretty straightforward if all we have to do is survive.

This thought pattern could make one feel somewhat hopeless. Then again, some Buddhist masters say that finding hopelessness is the first genuine step on the path to liberation. Is there really that much difference between the "primitive superstition" of the Pueblo people and the mental games we play with ourselves now to justify our actions and our existence? Some people still pray to a (the) higher Being today, believing that their prayers might be answered according to their efforts. Others work to cultivate the God within. Still others choose a path of agnosticism or atheism, deciding that it either doesn't particularly matter, or that this single lifetime is quite enough to keep them busy and content. I say all paths are valid. It is the fruit they bear in individuals' lives that matters. Peace, Love, and Joy are three of my favorite fruits. That's the game of life, and whoever has the most good fruit is the winner. There is an unending cornicopia of possibility.

permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on June 28, 2009 from Chandigarh, India
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Quotes I like

Manali, India


"We who live on the outer crust of a planet rotating its way through endless space, belong to the most tragical and critical of all its eras. That is why we must begin to search for its meaning to us. To discover what that is and to reorient our lives accordingly could make the impending era the most blessed of all, but not to do so could easily make it the worst." - Dr. Paul Brunton (first published in 1952)

"Critical rationalism has apparently eliminated, along with so many other mythic conceptions, and idea of life after death...To the intellect, all my mythologizing is futile speculation. To the emotions, however, it is a healing and valid activity; it gives existence a glamour which we would not like to do without. Nor is there any good reason why we should." - C.G. Jung

"What would be the effect of seeking to make love and compassion the measure of our every action, and of understanding, to any degree, the inmost nature of the mind that underlies our entire existence? This would be a true revolution, one that would free men and women to discover their birthright, that inner dimension so long neglected, and unite them with the fullness of the human experience in all its mystery and grandeur." - Sogyal Rinpoche

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." - Albert Einstein

permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on June 23, 2009 from Manali, India
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Happenings and Ponderings

Manali, India


Anchok just came over to my tent, and we sat in silence for a little while. Now he is rummaging thru my things. Wow, that looked like it might have been the first time he has ever worn a pair of sunglasses! It is unimaginable to me to not wear eye protection in this intense sunshine, but I guess his body is much better adapted to this environ. I thought about trying to explain how my eyes are particularly sensitive after having lasic surgery, but I decided that would be too difficult to get across, too alien to Anchok's experience of life.

He just took my journal, and commented that my handwriting is quite small. Tenzin said his father is somewhat literate in Tibetan, but mostly that he is a "simple man". I need more "simple" people in my life. Anchok's smile is as genuine as it gets. After inspecting the straps on my rucksack for a solid ten minutes, then another ten minutes of sitting in silence, he returned to his teepee. No words were exchanged the entire time, yet a wonderful connection was made.

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Ecologically speaking, our "community" includes all life forms. If we view the entire earth as one living organism, (Gaia theory) then this is a scientific perspective mirroring the spiritual idea that everything is connected/all is one. For some, ecology IS their religion. The ultimate Truth/Energy/Love/Intelligence is in all things all the time. Thus, the Earth is sacred. I think a wide array of different spiritual traditions could subscribe to something similar to that thought pattern. I'm growing convinced that every religion/spiritual tradition, in its purity, ultimately points the practicioner in the exact same direction, toward "Him".

From the perspective that there is no "them" or "other", it sure makes the "Golden Rule" of Christianity a lot easier. Instead of, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", it might become something like, "Do well unto yourself". Create a healthy mind, body, and soul within, and it naturally follows that you will treat others with overflowing love.

This is, perhaps, another way of arriving at Ayn Rand's philosophy that there is no pure form of altruism. It requires expanding the concept of "self", and eliminating our perception of separation from all things. In this case, by treating everything (other humans, animals, plants, etc.) as you would like to be treated, you're really just treating yourself as you would like to be treated! To give love is to receive it. Once again, it is better to produce more than you consume. Perhaps Rand, the Buddha, and James George could all agree in the end. The challenge lies in putting thoughts and feelings and experiences into words that are communicable (is that a word?). From time immemorial, homo sapien sapiens have been trying to describe their individual experiences with the Truth, the Sacred, the Higher Being. From native cave paintings to Shakespeare's, "To be or not to be", we're all just trying to express some universal movement deep within our being. For me, life is all about stringing together those elusive moments where everything is illuminated, and then just staying there, with nothing else in the world to do.

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The Earth is sick because humans are sick. Heal ourselves, heal the world ( a great Michael Jackson tune).

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Americans might consider becoming better at doing nothing. We're always needing to DO something. Just BE.

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The other trekking group just arrived at our camp. Instead of being peeved that they are cramping my experience of solitude in the wilderness, I've decided this is a good opportunity to slowly slide back into civilization and human relationships. Anyway, they have three foreigners, thirteen horses, nine tents (one for toilet shelter), eight employees, and one ferris wheel! Earlier I was feeling guilty about our impact on the land, but now we're looking pretty good. It is all relative. At times I'm feeling like an "eco hero" for living pretty simply out of a backpack for a couple of months, and then I receive a perplexed head shake from Anchok as I pull out my fourth (and final) pair of wool hiking socks. You could read it in his eyes: "How and why do you have so much stuff?" And now I'm asking the same question of the other trekking party. How does that saying go? "Remove the wooden plank in your own eye before pointing out the splinter in someone elses". Better to be slow to judge, quick to compliment.

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We just endured what simply MUST be our final snowstorm of the trip. I'm glad to be using all of the cold-weather gear I've been lugging around India for the last ten weeks. I must add, however, that some warmer weather with a little humidity is beginning to sound very appealing after the chilly, arid time in Ladakh. Luckily, the rest of India is getting soaked by the monsoon, so I'll get all the heat and humidity I can handle.

This is tough terrain that demands a lot out of you. We slept last night at 15,030 ft., and I'm beginning to think that some more oxygen would be a good idea. I'm definitely tired, but it feels good to push the physical limits a bit. That said, I'll be chipper as we arrive back into a slightly more comfortable and lazy lifestyle that awaits.

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Occasionally, I still wonder if the so-called "ecological crisis" isn't blown a bit out of proportion. I'll say that it does seem improbable that our species could actually jeopardize life on our Earth as we know it. While I am awed by our planet's regenerative capacity, it is very difficult not to be troubled by the status of our fresh water resources, soil, forests, GHG levels, rapid human population growth, and continued economic (and consumptive) expansion. Something is going to give.

It strikes me that since the U.S. is arguably the biggest culprit in the destruction that has taken place, Americans must take the initiative to correct the course of human progress to a place that is more harmonious. This is not a host planet which can be easily abandoned for a better offer once we've totally compromised the natural resources with our profligate consumption. I find it to be irresponsible to view the evidence of our destructive path, and to do nothing. And yet that seems to be where we are today. Most people are aware of the problem, but just not sure where to go from here.

I think we need to start demanding and creating economic, political, and social institutions that work within our new paradigm. I'd argue that our current institutions will not get us to where we need to go. If this is the case, we're talking about a renaissance, and a revolution. It is our generation's clarion call. Will we heed it?

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We departed our final camp at 5:30am with just one horse. Once we reached the top of our final mountain pass, (Pogmar La - 16,000ish ft.) we said goodbye to Anchok and continued down the other side of the pass while he returned to camp to pack up and begin the long journey back to Leh. It was an emotional parting for father and son, and Anchok gave Tenzin and I a white prayer shawl for continued safe travels.

As Tenzin and I came off the pass, we reached a nomadic Tibetan settlement. It turned out to be the people who live in the currently abandoned village on the other side of the pass where we camped last night. They had probably 200 yaks, 400 sheep, and 100 goats surrounding their emcampment of tents. This group is actually documented in my guidebook as well, which says there are twelve families that have been occupying this land for several decades. Tenzin told me that within the last couple of years one or two of the families have abandoned the nomadic lifestyle and have taken up permanent residence in Leh.

About thirty minutes after leaving the settlement, a herd of wild asses (mules, for the uninitiated) galloped about one hundred feet in front of our path. They were absolutely spectacular creatures in color and stature. Evidently, they are fairly uncommon to spot, and particularly at such a close distance. The animals were checking us out as well. I stood and watched the movement of their group for a while as they continued across the desert valley floor. There was one established leader who chose a certain course, and a group of seven followed closely behind, almost in the fashion of a school of fish. One ass trailed slightly further behind, occasionally stopping to turn around and inspect any potential danger from the rear. From time to time, the leader would stomp at a severe angle, kicking up dust, then continune in a new direction. The group of seven would stop at the precise point where the leader had stomped, until given further notice that is was okay to continue on. It was a beautiful process to witness, and perhaps I wouldn't have noticed some of the subtleties had I not spent the last weeks observing slower and more subtle natural phenomenon such as cloud and rock formations.

I am now sitting on the side of a dusty road, which will eventually deliver us to Manali. We haven't seen any vehicles yet, but it has only been a half an hour or so.

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We ended up catching a ride on an "Indian Oil" tanker truck with a gregarious Sikh driver who seemed pleased to have found company in such an unlikely spot along this desolate road. About 200km from Manali, we hit a traffic jam. Trucks were lined along the road at a standstill, and people were out of their cars. It turned out that another tanker truck had tipped over. I should mention that this "highway" is notoriously unsafe. The driver told us that we very well might be sleeping here tonight. Perhaps my bed, shower, and beer would have to wait one more day.

The scene was complete anarchy. I'll say that Indians handle chaos as well as anyone. At one point we got hit by another driver trying to slide through an impossible gap, and neither driver even bothered to get out to check the damage.

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After several weeks of pretty full-on trekking, the closest I came to death in Ladakh was definitely on the infamous "Leh-Manali highway". The road is narrow, winding, steep, pot-holed, not paved, and pretty crowded this time of year. At a couple of particularly harrowing hair-pin turns, I remember thinking: "This is it". It took Tenzin and I the better part of two days to travel about 200km to Manali. At one point, near Rohtang Pass, a truck was high-centered smack in the middle of the road, preventing the flow of traffic in either direction for several hours. In India, patience isn't a virtue, it is a necessity.

There are an inordinate amount of laborers working on seemingly random sections of the road. I would describe their activity as incessant, yet distracted. They always appear to be ready to shovel the next load, but are generally preoccupied with watching a passing car, chatting with their neighbor, or taking in the remarkable scenery beyond the road. Indeed, that highway holds some of the most spectacular views of distant and dramatic peaks that my eyes have laid witness to.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the final two hours of travel were a particularly steep and sharp descent which caused the poor woman sitting next to me to lean over my lap and puke out the window every fifteen minutes or so.

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In Manali, I've been reintroduced to fine Indian cuisine, the joy of music, and the nuissance of car horns. My senses seem more sensitive. I've been spending time sitting on street corners or in local cafes, simply observing the body language and gestures of Indians interacting with one another. There is a very sweet sort of head waggle that I've recently found myself adopting in my non-verbal vernacular. It kind of looks like you are shaking your head as if to say "no", but the smiling eyes quickly betray this meaning. A single sideways nod is also common, and seems to be a wonderfully humble expression of something like, "no worries".

After many nights in a cold tent with hard and uneven ground, I splurged ($18/night) on a hotel with an attached hot shower, western toilet, and room service call button. I've been taking full advantage of all three luxurious features, and soaking up the greenery outside my windows. I also just picked up four new books. Lots of quality reading time is one advantage of solo travel.

permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on June 22, 2009 from Manali, India
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Okay, back to a few travel highlights

Manali, India


The Padma Guest House (thanks to Dan and Kathlyn for the stellar recommendation) in Leh is a fascinating blend of traditional Ladakhi living and Western comforts. It is apparent that the family who owns and runs the place is making an effort to both preserve their way of life and also to capitalize on the tourist industry in their town by running a profitable hospitality business. I made friends with the father, and he told me how they began over twenty years ago by letting stray trekkers crash in the extra bedroom in their home. Now, they have over twenty rooms, some with western toilets and hot showers. They still dry clothes on the line, but the washing now takes place in a machine. They still cultivate some of their fields, but other sections have become neglected. It is a tricky balance to strike, but I was impressed with how this family was walking the line of two worlds. The paradox lies in the fact that in order to share their beautiful culture with travelers, the Ladakhis end up catering to the Western lifestyles, and ultimately adopting some of the more comfortable/convenient aspects that make their lives easier. Interestingly, I've observed that the entire family continues to use the outdoor composting toilet. I want one of those.

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I've now spent nearly a year of my life in Asia. I'm thinking this will provide sound credentials for an Ambassadorship someday!

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As I set off for my twelve day trek into the remote regions of Karnak, the primary objective on my mind is to explore further empirical evidence of the oneness of self and Earth; alignment with the Great Spirit; connection with the Higher Conciousness.

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My travel companions are a father and son who are just great. The father, Anchok, is a "ponyman" who makes his living by using his three horses as pack animals for tourist trekking. His son, Tenzin, is 22 and currently studying political science at university in Madras (Chennai) in SE India. He's home for a couple of weeks on summer break, and is helping his father on this challenging trek, and also because Anchok is slightly hard of hearing. They are Tibetans living in a political refugee settlement outside of Leh.

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On the trail today, we passed a grave. Tenzin explained that the Ladakhis bury their dead, while Tibetans cremate. On a related note, I've been reading the book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and recommmend it highly to anyone interested in this spiritual classic.

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I've found that one becomes a much better steward of the streams when they are your only water source and that of the villages below. My stewardship of natural resources is much more responsible when I can see the entire process unfolding in front of me. The consequences of abusing resources in a place like Ladakh are very severe. Life hangs on a finer balance here. Sooner or later, it seems that the entire planet might hang in this more fragile state if we humans continue to consume as we do.

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We are in snow leopard territory now. Its one of the rarest cats in the world, and we're very unlikely to see one. There are under 100 of them in this entire vast region. We're sleeping tonight at 14,300 ft.

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Donella Meadows: "The keys to environment and development lie not only in technology and production but in lifestyles and equity (among rich and poor)". I agree that the rich can no longer separate themselves from the dire consequences of poverty.

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Until our culture shifts to an attitude of belonging to the Earth, rather than the Earth belonging to us, we'll continue down this (self)destructive path. If in fact the ecological crisis stems from our collective disharmony as individuals, then the fundamental question becomes: Can we change ourselves? At present, the signs don't look too promising to me. It is astonishing to think that the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio was held over 17 years ago. It was at that global conference that the planetary crisis (natural resource depletion, rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, rampant population growth, etc.) was laid out by the scientific community, and the political establishment seemed willing to listen and possibly even act. They failed. While it is true that the "doomsday" scenarios that had been laid out have not exactly come to fruition as yet, the scientific proof for the problems identified back then in 1992 has only continued to strengthen. Still, we do not act. I'll state from my personal experience that despite being as connected to Nature as ever in my life, habits of consumption and waste are hard to kick. I really don't think that individuals have the will power to bring about the necessary change when a more comfortable option remains. Yet, I am not hopeless. Politicians leading the way? Never. Sustainable goods and services which are better and cheaper for individuals to consume might be our only hope.

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Just as suffering for the individual is caused by ignorance, (fear or desire for any given sensation) suffering for the Earth is also caused by humanity's ignorance of the total cost of our actions. Societal change must begin with individual change. We allow ourselves to pollute, so of course we're going to allow big businesses to do the same. We won't demand more out of businesses until we demand more from ourselves/each other. Wal Mart isn't the problem. We are.

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As I feel a shift of conciousness happening in me, I am deeply troubled. Even at this heightened state, my thirst to consume is not quenched. There is still too much ignorance within.

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Tenzin is a young man, but already feeling the heavy pressures and stresses of life. He is the only son, so he has immense pressure to provide for his parents, grandparents, and five sisters. He's currently enrolled at a university in Southern India. English is his fifth language. His father is almost completely deaf, so Tenzin is along to help on this long trek. He's taught me a lot about what it is like to live in exile as a refugee, and the discrimination that the Tibetan community endures. They are generally very grateful to India for the ability to live in peace here, but they are not citizens, cannot vote, and are often given last priority for university/degree placement.

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Did I mention that I saw an inverted rainbow the other day? Tenzin saw it too. It appeared as a half ring around the sun. Pretty wild.

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The goal is to experience inner peace as often as possible. I'm using the solitude of this trek to harness and familiarize this inner peace with my everyday thinking and actions. It is good to find peace and solitude, communing with Nature. It is perhaps better still if that peace can transcend into the mundane and daily tasks back in civilization.

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"Sleeping people live each in their own world; only those who are awake have a world in common". - Heraclitus

"If hope is to pass the sobriety test, then it has to walk a pretty straight line to reality. Nothing is possible unless business is willing to integrate itself into the natural world". - Paul Hawken

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How much longer will we remain asleep, destroying our Mother Earth without seeming to notice? I'm starting to notice. We must wake up to the reality of our time. We're slowly killing ourselves, and giving the children a bleaker outlook by the day. Why am I asleep? Why did I litter today? My connection to the Eternal is not strong enough. What is blocking it? There is nothing. I am here. I am.

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When I pollute, I'm putting myself before the interests of Nature. The part cannot take precendent over the whole. I must improve my awareness of the non-separation between "Mark" and "Nature". Polluting is selfish and ignorant. Yet, you cannot tell others not to pollute. They must awaken to the connectedness of all things by their own experience. "My life is my message". - Ghandi

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Tenzin is also an impressive chef; serving up a variety of of tasty cuisine with severely limited ingredients and a single burner kerosene stove. Steamed vegetable dumplings (momos) was perhaps the greatest culinary feat in the teepee kitchen thus far.

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Today we walk 22km to the village of Markha. Glad to put my pack on the horse!

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We cannot rely on technology alone to deliver us from this ecological crisis. There must be a shift in consiousness among a critical mass of people. Destructive consumption patterns will not change until we don't need to consume to be content. What if we only consumed what we NEED? That question sounds so far from our experience, which indicates how far we have to go in the "sustainability movement".

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I picked up a great book at the guest house in Leh written by James George, who is the former Canadian Ambassador to India, Sri Lanka, Iran, and Afghanistan. He comments that we need to develop a culture that, "puts more value than we do on community and collective rights, and less on competition and individual rights". He's been challenging some of the persuations I formed after reading Atlas Shrugged. Now I guess I have to draw my own conclusions, or keep searching...

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We are the only trekking party in the village of Markha. I'm astonished, and thankful. This is one huge, impressive valley, to be sure. I'm pleased to report that the camping is going just fine. My aversion toward tent-sleeping is diminishing, and I'm enjoying my dirtiness. Then again, we're only about a third of the way along the trail!

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I am making an experiential connection with myself, as Nature.

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We just crossed paths with two Israeli travelers. We began chatting about my time in Kashmir, and one guy said: "It is funny with Jews and Muslims. Its like we're brothers who fight a lot. We have a lot in common." Nice. Then I watched them try to negotiate a homestay, with three meals included, for both of them, for a total of $6. My experience of Israeli travelers is that they sure drive a hard bargain. Fairly or not, this reputation precedes them.

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"Om mani padme hum" is beautifully written in the Tibetan language on carved stones which pile high on occasional stretches of wall along the trail. This is also the phrase you incessantly hear eminating from the gompas, and is repeatedly chanted by devout Tibetan Buddhists to remind them of the impermanent nature of all things.

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We just set up camp on the fifth day. This afternoon, Anchok and I will climb to the Kang Yahtze base camp. This is an impressive 21,000 ft. peak which some daring mountaineers attempt to summit each year. We met one American from Seattle who had made an unsuccessful attempt a couple of days earlier. Tomorrow, we will take a much less traveled valley to the West of Kang Yahtze to the remote region of Karnak. From there, we'll have three more substantial passes (16,000+ ft.) to cross, and we will not again drop below 13,300 ft until I'm on a bus toward Manali in six or seven days. This is a great adventure, and certainly the most extreme terrain I've tramped around. I'm liking the challenge it presents. I'm not liking the freezing nights!

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There is a beautiful rythmic style to the way the horses eat grass. Their lips move in a cool sort of dance. This provides my entertainment in this desolate land! These three horses are 18, 17, and 6. The youngster likes to play with me. These animals represent the livlihood for Anchok's family. Needless to say, they're given a lot of love and are well cared for.

Two shepards just rolled up the valley with their flock. They're making their way toward the teepee. I better go get the lowdown...

It turns out that these goats are of the Pashmina variety. This is the most expensive and soft wool in the world, and the shawls made of pure Pashmina are very pleasant to touch.

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We are in a snowstorm, watching the blazing red sun set beyond many rows of mountains in the distant blue sky.

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Last night's sunset snowstorm resulted in a couple of inches of overnight accumulation. Packing up camp in the snow isn't that awesome. I started today's hike with my full-on ski gear setup, only to quickly shed several layers when the sun broke through a gap in the clouds. Then, we turned up a separate valley, and encountered another black cloud which prompted me to throw back on all of my cold-weather gear. I've never had to ford a river in an ice pellet storm before. I'm told the going gets a little easier from here! Tomorrow we tackle another big, snowy pass.

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After a time, all things lose the very properties which define them. Ice melts, mountains crumble, civilizations come and go. You can either look forward to, or have hesitation about, the inevitable changes to come. Both desire and fear of a certain outcome in the future will eventually lead to disappointment. Ideally, you just stay in the moment, always. Nothing lasts forever, and most things don't last very long at all. Better to just stay cool, and watch reality as it unfolds before you. Eliminate anxiety, set yourself free. This is happiness for me.

-----------

For a couple of years now, when describing my thoughts on the fossil fuel/renewable energy dilemma, I've said: "There is no 'us' versus 'them', there's only 'us'. We all ultimately want the same thing: Life, eternally into the future if possible". If we extended this idea so that there is never any "other" or "them", mankind would live in peace and harmony. War is only feasible if there is an "enemy" or "them" that are so different from "us". Buddhism holds that there is no "other" whatsoever. Everything is connected unconditionally. There is no "away" either. All is one. It makes sense to me that if you could truly realize/experience this, you'd be without fault/pain/sin. As a government, if there is no fear of the "other", you are at peace. As individuals, if we can free ourselves from the illusion of "enemies", we'd deserve a government that delivered a land of peace and freedom. Similarly, if we could perceive that there is no "away" because everything in the universe is interdependent, we'd deserve to live on a planet that was healthy and bountiful and free of pollution. "Don't Hate, Don't Pollute". That's my bumpersticker.

-----------

Only technology that enhances/restores life-support systems would be profitable if our economy were "sustainable" and truly accounted for all costs of our economic activities. That tells you how far we have to go. You cannot impose "smart demand". Consumers consume, by definition. We need "smart supply"; enlightened producers who bring restorative goods and services to the marketplace. Reducing consumption is possible, but too cumbersome for most. Replacing consumption is better. This will never happen unless these replacement goods can offer a better quality of life. That is what consumers ultimately demand. We must get to a place where we realize that "more" does not equal "better". We need more people to taste the reward (or an Economist would say "utility") in a simpler life with deeper connections to each other and to the Earth.

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The views from Zalung Karpo La Pass (16,570 ft) were as spectacular as you'd imagine. We are in Karnak now, and it is a little intimidating. We're at least four days from any sort of help if anything were to go wrong. I think we're all feeling strong though, and the weather is a little warmer on this side of the pass. I just did a little laundry in the stream running by our camp, and also washed my face for the first time in seven days.

The predominant sounds I've heard over the last week have included: the wind and whatever it makes contact with, the stream flowing by each campsite, the bells hanging around the horses necks, and the voices of Anchok, Tenzin, and myself. That's about it. It's a conducive environment for my meditative mode. I've been focusing a lot on my relationship with Nature. There's a lot there, and some subtle adjustments have been made. If you were to really and truly live as if there was no "other" or "away", that would be a radical and compassionate way of life. Of course, the real challenge lies in maintaining that existence upon re-entering society and human relationships. Its easy to feel connected to the eternal flow when you're tramping around in the wilderness for a couple of weeks. It is good to realign with the rhythm of the Earth.

---------------

Anchok and Tenzin have the coolest teepee. They are definitely the way to go for extended camping, as they are quick to set up and tear down, you can stand comfortably inside, they sleep at least four, and you can put the cooking stove inside, which provides a great heat source.

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Today we had the unusual experience of having three French trekkers poke their heads into our teepee while we were eating lunch. I was very surprised to see them, and even more surprised when we learned that they were lost, very lost. They had no guide, and had made a couple of wrong turns according to their interpretation of the map they were carrying. We invited them in for chai, and helped them get back on the right track, which was a couple of days away! We gave them some food, and it was nice to chat with some other human beings besides Anchok and Tenzin. The woman in the trio has been living and working in Leh for the past year or so. Her organization is a French NGO that provides consulting for greenhouse construction and passive solar design for the Ladakhi homes. I thought it was pretty hilarious that the French thought they should come tell these people how to survive in this extreme terrain, which they've been doing successfully for many centuries. Another good example of why I'm so reticent to get involved in "third world development" work in the name of "progress". The unintended consequences are never factored in.

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High on a cliff above the abandoned nomadic settlement of Sorra lie the remains of an ancient royal palace from over a thousand years ago. I couldn't believe my eyes. Who in the world would build a palace here? It turns out that this wondrous edifice is what gives this region it's name, as "Kar-nak" means "black-palace".

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Anchok playfully and skillfully hops on the back of the six year old horse for the larger stream crossings. It is pretty impressive for a guy his age. Tenzin and I try to get creative with rock-hopping or sometimes using a tree branch as a pole vault of sorts. Several times we've resigned to just taking off our shoes and wading across.

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If I ever wanted to grow some dreadlocks, I've got a pretty good start after eight dusty days without a drop of water on my head.

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What a trip! We just arrived into Dat, the only semi-permanent populated village in this entire region, and there is another trekking party who had already set up camp. So, I started talking to this one guy...He's an American...He lives in Colorado...He goes to school in Boulder...He's studying business...His name is Mark! I think we both thought the other guy was being clever by repeating the same thing back, but it turns out that we actually have all of those things in common. It was totally bizarre, and we had a good laugh about it. They invited me into their dining tent for tea, and it was quite disorienting to find myself suddenly in conversation about the economy, Obama, travel stories, etc. After many days of isolation in my "dreamtime" state, I was unprepared for this. We then all decided to go visit the local gompa. When we got there, everyone was snapping photos and talking loudly, and I decided I was glad to be having this experience on my own and in my way.

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The sun and I have a tumultuous relationship. Each morning I eagerly await its warming presense. By 9am, it's rays are so strong that I have to cover up every square inch of skin, against the compulsion to go lighter in it's heat. Then again, each late afternoon our love affair is rekindled, and I can hardly stand to see her go as she silently slips behind the mountains to the West, sealing another cold evening. All night I shiver and shutter, hoping she won't be too long before warming me again with all the intensity she can muster. Until, of course, her cancerous strength becomes too much to bear once again.

With most things in life, we tend to perceive that there is either too much or too little. How nice it is to occasionally ditch expectation and realize that everything is as it should be, or just as it is. That is being present. That is being.

------------

So, we just learned from the two monks who collected our camping fee here in Dat that the entire population of the village departed two days ago for higher pastures. I cannot believe that this is where they retreat to for the winter months. This is a seriously harsh environment, and I would think that sheer survival would be a daily concern. Tenzin translated the monks' description of the five day festival at the gompa before they left town. The houses here are the most primitive I've seen in Ladakh, and the people live almost entirely on barley and dairy products. Fruit and vegetables are very rare. They also eat meat when it becomes available, which is unusual for Buddhists. I guess you can't be a purist if you want to stay alive in Dat. I'm told there is now a helicopter pad for emergency airlift in the winter months.

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We cruised over another 16,000 ft. pass today, and it seemed relatively easy. My fitness level is good to scary good right now. We've been camping above 14,000 ft. the past several nights, so the lungs and heart are working overtime. This is our second to last night, and I'm feeling like I could definitely keep trekking. But, a shower, a bed, and a beer are starting to sound pretty damn good.

permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on June 21, 2009 from Manali, India
from the travel blog: India and Nepal
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Disclaimer and personal opinions

Manali, India


Judging by the number of comments on this blog (like five or so - with a big shout out to Uncle Russ, Juelsgaard, Newquist, and Sarah), we're not exactly setting any new records for website visits. As such, I'm going to take the liberty of using this space as less of a travel blog and more of a personal journal for my own record and amusement. Read on if you like, but please excuse the use of a new audience: My good self. If you are interested, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this stuff. I'm pretty sure some of it is controversial, but there's no time to play it safe. So, that's my disclaimer if you are troubled or offended. Read on at your own risk!

  • Song*


  • It doesn't matter who you are,
    It doesn't matter where you've been.
    Now that we've come this far,
    We'll find our way back again.

    This is for all you soul searchers,
    The universal Truth thirsters.
    Take a moment to watch your breath,
    The law of Nature will cover the rest.

    Chorus: Ride on the wave, sit under a tree, stay with the flow, set yourself free.

    The Earth wants us to clearly see,
    The revelation of how everything goes.
    Control your mind and you're truly free.
    The way is right on the tip of your nose.

    If you choose to go down this path,
    Don't listen to anyone's wrath.
    Moment by moment you'll find the way,
    Seek peace in what you think, do, and say.

    Chorus

    Bridge: The flow is in you, check out your heartbeat. The same flow of a stream, or grass beneath your feet. The flow is in you, and you are the Earth.


    It all begins and ends in your mind,
    Reality is not so easy to find.
    Our planet needs us to figure it out,
    To discover her secret, beyond any doubt.

    Deepest wisdom can't be found in a book,
    Each one of us must give our own look.
    If we observe the world with awareness,
    We'll stop depleting resources that are scarcest.


    -----------

    A healthy and graceful crane flew just above the flow of the river and swooped down to a perfect landing on the bank opposite me. I took a couple of inquisitive steps for a closer examination of the beauty, and the crane carried it away with a few flaps of it's wings. A passing crow followed the flight path and began to stir a nuissance. Not to be disturbed from it's nibbanic peace, the crane perfectly fended off the crow.

    Another moment passes, everything changes. Start again. By the time you begin to start again, all is different already. How to live in this constant state of flux? Just be where you are. Aware and balanced, like the crane, remain inside the flow, even when needing to deal with the unfortunate task of brushing off an irritable crow. The flow is in you, and you are the Earth.

    -----------

    We must approach the climate issue and resource depletion not with an attitude of fear and martrydom, but with creativity, confidence, and abundance. The Earth wants us to discover her secret: the only constant is change. In business, this is increasingly true. Business will lead the way to more positive/sustainable behavior patterns once an enlightened citizenry creates demand for enlightened goods and services. Our collective planetary crisis will never be solved until we address our individual spriritual crises, and ask ourselves why it is that we consume so much shit. Have you ever contemplated the size of the pile of waste you've created in your life? I have, and it is pretty disgusting.

    ---------

    Even if it were a possiblity for me in this lifetime, I'm not entirely convinced that full "enlightenment" should be my highest goal. Although eternal bliss, equanimity, harmony, peace, etc. sound nice, then people would come to you for all the answers to their problems. While it would be a priviledge to help those that you can, the masses would invariably misinterpret your message, make an idol out of you, and eventually create another religion with a bunch of eventually irrelevant traditions and holidays and stuff. It all too easily serves to misguide the individual search for Truth.

    Perhaps the most good I can do in this life (my goal) is not to become "enlightened", but to continue along a meditative path while putting my best skills to work. It occured to me today what a genuinely fortunate situation I am in to have been recently awarded an entrepreneurial fellowship in the CU MBA program. If I can take advantage of this opportunity, we could bring about some real positive change. Now I just have to come up with a business plan to help restore our natural resources...

    --------------

    I continue to contemplate the messages in Atlas Shrugged, which I finished reading over a month ago (and have digested a couple of other books since then). One of my favorite lines in the book is delivered by John Galt: "Reason accepts no commandments." You must experience it yourself in order to discover Truth. I think a few rules and pointers along the way can be useful, but too easily we can become dependent on them.

    Also, probably the best dissertation on money that I've come across is given by the wonderful and controversial character of Francisco D'Anconia at Jim Taggert's wedding (or engagement?) party. It's just great. Money does not have to be the root of all evil.

    One of the central themes which particularly jolted me was that of the industrialists as heroes. They are the few in society who produce more than they consume. In other words, they are responsible for creating more goods and services than they deplete, even with their opulant lifestyles. What Rand perhaps failed to see is that these figures are only heroes if these goods and services that the industrialists produce are beneficial for multiple generations, if not indefinitely. To my mind, this has not been the case with most of the industrialists to date. In the book, the "looters" are the enemy, and are comprised of those who consume more than they produce, thus living off of the industrialists. I realized I've been a looter all my life, and my desire to run a business and be a producer could actually be a noble pursuit.

    Too many atrocities have been committed in the name of the "public good" and with a mantra of "sacrifice" (Mao, Pol Pot, etc.). These are the words which Ayn Rand admonishes in the book. As I appear to be joining the capitalist ranks by going for my MBA in a couple of months, I'm becoming more comfortable with putting aside some of my more socialist thought patterns. I think the "public good" is best served by the individual pursuit of happiness and freedom. That sounds like something Thomas Jefferson might agree with.

    Another idea from the book that I really agreed with is that the purpose of an individual's life is to increase their happiness. No one else can do that for you, and it is not a bad thing to be looking out for yourself through the use of reason and self-confidence. The protagonists in the book (namely Dagny Taggert and Hank Reardon and Francisco D'Anconia) adhere to this philosophy. Though they may be ego-maniacal and perhaps even narcissistic, they illustrate the point that great men and women are happy and productive because of an unwavering self-confidence and application of sound logic to conduct their lives. I've always been pretty keen on happiness, reason, and myself. Despite constantly being told by my mother as a child that the world doesn't revolve around me, I was never convinced. I've never been a very good humble servant, though I've certainly tried and I have immense admiration and respect for those who fill that role. I guess the book helped me to realize that I don't have to apologize for my confidence, and that it could very well be my best character trait. I believe humility is a virtue, but I don't think that pride/confidence has to be a vice. When asked during my interview at CU to describe a personal weakness, I pointed toward my pride. I think I'd like to rescind that answer, and instead go with my inferior quantitative skills!

    Buddhism also holds as a principle tenet that all sentient beings should be happy and pursue their self-interest. There seems to be no need to apologize for confidence/pride in this context. Indeed, it could be perceived as selfish/prideful for a monk to think that he has a real chance at full liberation/enlightenment and to work toward that end. The entire purpose of meditation is to break the pattern of creating your own misery through the arising of fear and desire. I dig it. So I say let's stop apologizing for being self-centered, prideful, and happy!

    It occurred to me during the meditation retreat that perhaps the single greatest action you can take for humanity and for our Earth is to realize inner peace. It is only in that state that you can really perceive the universal Truth/law of Nature/God and be of service to it. What good am I to anyone if I am miserable? I vote for freedom and happiness through reason and self-exploration.

    ----------------

    From the healing of a cut on your finger to the restoration of a forest after a fire, Nature has absolutely amazing regenerative capacity. This is what must somehow be harnessed in the marketplace.



    permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on June 20, 2009 from Manali, India
    from the travel blog: India and Nepal
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