This article is in honor of World Human Rights Day.
Living in a foreign country can be interesting and challenging, but also incredibly enriching and rewarding.
His Holiness has been here since he fled Tibet in 1959 and has been living in exile in India ever since. Since his departure, more than 100,000 Tibetans have followed in the footsteps of their beloved spiritual leader and today reside all over India. Up to 30,000 live in this local area alone.
Living amongst the Tibetan community is something I struggle to find the right words for. Each day I’m surrounded by stories of heartache and hardship, as the life of a refugee is never easy. Most who have been forced on the journey leave behind family and friends in search for freedom.
The current situation inside Tibet is becoming increasingly more tense and daily news of self-immolations certainly doesn’t make for a bright and cheery pre-Christmas mood. I do not want to enter the political debate over Tibet, but in the past 12 months I have learned more about life and spirituality than any yoga class, ashram stay, retreat or teaching I have ever attended (and there have been a few in my time).
What I have gained from the Tibetan people has been life changing, and I only wish that every teenager could spend one month here in the Himalayas with these people—the result for anyone would be life changing.
As with any culture or race, it is not possible to generalize, nor do I suggest that all Tibetan people you meet fall into these categories. However, I can share my own experience with the many Tibetans who are now living in exile in India.
Here are the things that we could use a bit of in the West:
We all get what it means to give (some more than others), but I am not talking about giving your small change to a beggar. The Tibetans help each other out and give to those who need it. A friend gave her entire month’s pay check to a friend of a friend “because they needed it more than I did.” She did not know this person, but heard they were in need. As a Tibetan refugee, she has no savings maximizer accounts, no piggy bank to smash open, no stash of cash under the mattress. She lives week to week.
Perhaps what makes it so easy to give is the limited attachment to people, places and things. Giving away your whole pay check is easy if you are not attached to money. People share clothes, belongings, rooms—you name it. Imagine coming home and finding your favorite trainers gone. It’s okay, you are wearing shoes; he needed to wear them today. A friend gave up his house to his friend’s family for an entire month and instead stayed at friend’s or slept on the floor. This is the way many of these people think. If someone needs something more than you, you give it to them.
3. Past is past.
No joke, they say this and they mean it. The past is in the past and you never bring it up—not because you are repressing it or stuffing it away in some deep dark corner of your mind for later retaliation and retribution. If “past is past” is uttered, those words mean it is forgotten. In a heated discussion one day where I could not get my friend to see my point of view (clearly I was right), she said past is past. An hour later when I thought of another good debate point, she laughed and said, “Are you still carrying that around?”
I guess if you leave your family behind, friends become the substitute loved ones. The connection to the community is incredible; everyone is looked out for and looked after. You know your neighbours and will often drop in for tea and a chat, you cook for each other and often all stay together. It is not uncommon for six men to all hang out and then sleep in one room, often in same beds as they like the feeling of being close to each other. It is not weird or kinky or strange, simply being close to people and connected is the life force of the Tibetan community.
5. Acceptance of how things are.
I have never heard one word of complaint from Tibetans. Granted they have opinions about the political situation and what they would like to see happen, they never bitch and moan. Recently someone had their wallet stolen with two weeks’ wages in it. The response: “It is okay; they clearly needed it more than me.” There was not even one moment of “oh, woe is me.” At a time when there have been more than 90 self-immolations in their home land, the Tibetan people mourn and pray, yet they never complain.
I feel blessed to be welcomed into this community and will take with me these principles wherever I go. In the West, however, money equals success, stuff means power, and we spend less and less time actually connecting with people. I hope I can hang on to even just a tiny piece of what I have learned here and maybe you will too.
Coming into the festive season where millions of dollars are spent on more meaningless stuff—if we had just a tiny pinch of generosity, a dash of non-attachment and a good splash of community—it would be a great recipe to make our world a better place.
Note: The Tibetans are deeply private people, so while the stories are accurate, the details have been slightly changed to protect people’s privacy.
It is World Human Rights Day on December 10. The issues that the people of Tibet are facing are breaches of human rights. You can learn more about the Tibet situation from www.freetibet.org or the Tibetan Central Administration www.tibet.net or show your support here.
Fleur Carter is yoga lover, nomadic wanderer, coffee drinker, writer and personal development coach. She left her HR corporate gig to follow her dreams of travelling, volunteering and working with people on their personal development and growth. She lives in the north of India, studying Tibetan Buddhism, and dreaming, daring and doing (and helping others do the same). A qualified Yoga Coach/Instructor (RYT 500) she combines her leadership development and coaching experience with her yoga knowledge to work with individuals and groups supporting them in transformation and change. Dare to live. Connect with Fleur at fleurcarter.com | twitter @fleurcarter or on Facebook.
Editor: Seychelles Pitton