One week makes all the difference.
A little over a year ago, I spent a week on the Tibetan Plateau. Here is the email I wrote to friends and family after the experience:
As you can see by the subject line, I’ve covered some major ground in the past week. It’s been a journey.
Here are some of the hardships and highlights:
No hot water, no potable water, no English, no heat, no tickets, no beds, no women allowed, no foreigners allowed, no money, no internet, no electricity, no computer, sick Tibetans, sick Jen, disgust, confusion, fury, too many sunrises from bus station parking lots, a lot of waiting, three long bus rides, three very long train rides, and never resting my head in the same place twice for 15 nights straight.
On the other hand, there were Buddhas, monasteries, history, Tibetans, Tibet, mountains, snow, wandering, playing charades with monks, lots of smiles, amazing new friends, interesting food, fascinating culture, honesty, reverence, humility, laughter, clean air, blue skies, stars…
Honestly I can’t really wrap my head or heart around what the last week was.
It just was.
But I can say (given it’s Thanksgiving and all of that) I am so thankful for toilets (I’m not making a joke), safe drinking water and high standards of hygiene. I am thankful for my health, ability, and privilege and that I am part of a culture that genuinely appreciates and encourages individuality, knowledge, and diversity. And I’m thankful for the experience(s) of the past week that bring my over-comfortable, over-convenient, wonderful existence into sharp focus and enable me to feel, understand, and accept how extravagantly blessed I am.
I often think of this experience and reread this email, trying to recreate the grateful, blessed, humble feeling I was consumed with throughout the week and after my return. I try to recreate in my mind what I went through that week and the small glimpse I was privileged to see of not only monastery life, but the day-to-day struggle of the Tibetans.
When I returned to Shanghai after the trip, and met a friend for lunch, she was struck by my tranquility. She said I was different, peaceful, totally relaxed. I hadn’t felt like I had changed, but the more I reflected on the week, the more I realized how deeply I was touched by what I witnessed. The trip was almost unbearable. Everything, everything about it was uncomfortable. And I can honestly say that it was not really “fun.” It was amazing and important and special—a struggle, but also a gift. A total perspective-shifting, mind-altering, hugely important and necessary gift.
I am still uncovering parts of this week that affected me, the experience still vibrates through my body creating little, new, perspective-shifting waves.
Jen McKelvie lives and works on the island of Manhattan, the first place she has ever been happy to return to after time away. Her soul flies highest when she is wandering the streets laughing too loudly with best friends. She loves yoga, her dog and green juice.You can connect with Jen @jenny_jump_up or here: jmckelvie.com
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Ed: Brianna Bemel