a Himalayan epic

Today marks the 6 year anniversary of a catastrophic 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal, a gem of a country nestled in the Himalayas. I had just arrived in Kathmandu the evening before, and I remember having the inextricable feeling that this charming, chaotic place would have a special hold on me. It’s funny, looking back on my naivete, and a photo I posted almost taunting, tempting, fate to surprise me with something that would really make this place & time memorable. for just a little context, I’d been on a sober, spiritual pilgrimage – having confronted some dark, and, I’ll be honest, violent, demons in myself the previous year, & a little ironically, a couple weeks after I stopped drinking, I was broken up with & fired from my job on the same day, ha. so I took off! booked a one-way ticket to Thailand, where I visited monasteries, spent a month in an intentional recovery community called New Life, and did a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat. (“When there’s nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire.” -Stars) I was feeling raw, heart burst open, and ready for whatever came next.

Flashing back to that fateful day 6 years ago…I went to a meditation that morning, on the wall a sutra written – “On this path, no effort is wasted, no gain ever reversed.” On my way back to my hostel, I stopped at a coffee shop – Himalayan Java Coffee, the best! – where I spent a good hour connecting with this guy who was in the Peace Corps, spending a weekend visiting the city from the village where he was stationed. I remember we talked a lot about Vipassana meditation. We parted ways, and not more than 5 minutes later, as I was strolling through the tourist alleys of Thamel, the ground began roiling beneath my feet. at first I wasn’t sure WHAT was happening, what was causing this stampede of people, dogs, goats?! It had been roughly 80 years since their last earthquake, so no one really knew what was happening either, & thought maybe this was something they could outrun. I took shelter in a doorway that held up, amazingly, even as buildings were literally coming down around me, if not entirely at least partially, bricks smashing into cars on the narrow roads. I was in such shock when the shaking eased and I began making my way back to my hostel, I barely realized that the people pulling bricks from a nearby pile of debris were trying to get to loved ones trapped beneath. This *still* haunts me. I don’t know if any of the work I did to be helpful in the next couple weeks even made a dent in that guilt.

& that night, I broke my 8.5 months of sobriety. I figured, hey, what the hell’s the big deal about a beer when I’m pretty sure I almost just died? So I befriended some travelers from Spain, and we rode out some of the aftershocks together at OH, a bodywork school, wouldn’t you know. (I didn’t think anything of this until months later when I had a Shiatsu teacher who’d been trekking Everest Base Camp at the time, no joke, & for some reason decided to hand me the brochure of that very same massage school I was drawn to that day. Another story for another day, but it was in part the residue of this experience being stuck in my body, plus one more trauma, a motorcycle accident, that helped me find massage & bodywork that Winter).

Okay, I’m almost to the final point of this story, promise! For the first couple days following, many of us just wandered around to take stock of the damage and to find ways to be helpful. Many Nepali families were afraid to stay in their homes, or didn’t have homes to return to, so parks and fields became sprawling encampments. I remember people inviting me to eat with them, to stay in their shelter, and it was so fucking moving. I was floored by their kindness, their generosity, the sense of loving community that people were creating and inviting strangers into. Humanity at its most pure, most loving. It was just incredible, brings tears to my eyes even years later.

We heard of nearby villages needing help, supplies, food and water. Several of us from the hostel pooled our resources, bought what we could load into a few taxis, and made our way to nearby Goldhunga. People were grateful to receive, and we helped them salvage what we could of their homes – metal and wood they could use to rebuild. On one of these walks in, an afternoon a rainbow glimmered across the valley, filling us with a sense of hope & promise, I found several pages in Nepali text strewn about in the dirt. I folded them up and slipped them into my journal, and I’ve had them with me ever since. It was only earlier this year I set about having them translated, and thanks to a Nepali yoga student I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with here through Square One (a loving shout-out to her here!!), I now know that these pages are from the Mahabharata, one of the foremost epic poems of ancient India & Hinduism. & I don’t know if this text is as common a staple in Nepali households as, say, the Bible would be here in America, but to me, it feels I found something really special out there. Or maybe rather, it found me.

I have yet to translate these passages, but I feel inspired knowing these pages are from a sacred text, and found me during something so fateful & catastrophic in the Himalayas, where I had been spiritually drawn for years. A text that houses the Bhagavad Gita, that I have read, a story of the warrior Arjuna and his moral conflict, questioning his duty, his Dharma, his life path. I believe it was no accident I found these pages, just as it was no accident that I arrived just in time to experience something so momentous, something that would forever inform my spiritual path & healing work in this world. Certainly in ways I am still unpacking and understanding today.

There live so many more details, synchronicities, and lessons in this story, but I believe I’ve written more than enough for one email! One last note, though. I knew it was time to leave when, one day a couple weeks after the quake, I bought the last water bottle in a corner shop. It hit me I was using up valuable resources that Nepali people needed more than I did, I wasn’t properly trained in disaster relief, and I was only a liability in a place where hospitals were over-crowded. So I checked my western savior complex and accepted it was time to go home. At the American embassy, I ran into my friend from the Peace Corp, Nate, before I waited to board an Australian military cargo plane that had delivered supplies, and was taking its citizens and a few Americans back to Bangkok, Thailand, where I’d started my journey. Such a befitting way to bring it all full circle, nevermind that I got horribly sick just before and on the flight – I think my spirit felt it wasn’t ready to leave, and who knows, maybe I had left some of it behind. (Shock scatters qi/ and I wonder if we/ get back the pieces of ourselves that were taken/ or left/ willing.)

I returned for the anniversary 3 years later, but again, that’s another story for another day:)

If you’ve made it this far, THANK YOU. I am honored you’ve spent some of your valuable time and energy reading this, and it means a lot. I am also honored to be one of your yoga teachers & massage therapists in this life. I know we all have these huge stories that have made us who we are, that continue to live in our bodies and psyches. and I hope we honor them, deeply, do our own work of healing, and take opportunities to share our truths with the people in our lives! because, after all, who are we to play small, to belittle our journeys and the wisdom gleaned from them? we are destined for SO much, may we live into it, with every breath, every word, every action.

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