50 Rupees exchanged for shared compassion.

As I walk the morning kora I marvel at the older women. I love their dignity: long hair in braids, often woven with brightly coloured thread, ‘uniform’ of long skirts with sneakers, multi coloured striped sashes as symbols of marriage, and the ubiquitous left hand swinging their mala beads as they chant ‘om mani padme hum’. They depict a life where walking is a ritual in every single day, from birth to death.

Walking is social too. Although its a fair distance to walk 3 times around the great stupa, each morning and night the sight of thousands of elderly women and men walking 3 times around brings a smile. A community event enacted twice a day. No need for elderly folks to be locked in their houses in isolation here. If one gets tired, simply sit on a bench with all the other oldies and chat. I vow if I am ever elderly and cast off by the west, I will live here, where elderly women have a place in the open.

Walking is life here, like breathing in a community. I wonder, “What is the real price we have paid for our cars?”

Along the kora there are various folks seeking alms. My favourite is an elderly nun (ani in Tibetan). She sits on the cold path and radiates warmth. She is always there. Every year. Sometimes I hand her a few rupees, 10 or 20 is the common rate, and she gives me a smile and a warm Namaste.

Today I only have a 50 rupee note, so I hand her this; it’s just 50 cents afterall. Her smile of delight is so beautiful it brings me to instant tears. I am taken aback at my response. Tears at her warmth and kindness toward me. A tiny gift on my part, and she returns a glow of kindness and compassion that reverberates still.

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The ‘Himalaya effect’ begins

I rarely see it coming. I arrived in Kathmandu and felt grumpy. It’s dusty, dry and cold here, in the depths of winter. The internet isn’t working and I have a full day of Skype supervision scheduled for the next day. The stupa isn’t repaired and I felt sad and grumpy about that too. The wind blows freezing down from the mountains and I wondered if people will enjoy the Mindful Adventure we are going on. On and on it goes…..

Finally I reached out and sent a few messages of distress to friends. I didn’t realize it then, but I am doing what Porges calls step one in the mammalian distress response – seek help from the social engagement system. My dear friends reply. One simply says, “I see you’re taking your uninvited guest on the trek”. Bam. Thanks Carly instant perspective change. I didn’t see it, but my Advisor was at work, telling me I have to make the trek ‘amazing’ for people, “I have to” as if the Himalaya and her weather is my sole responsibility.

I step into my noticer space.

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Rising this morning I head out to do the morning kora. That is 3 times circumambulating The Great Stupa of Boudhanath. I notice my pace is slowing. The morning candles are stunning in their beauty. One can never get from photos how deeply moving it is to walk the kora – a mindful experience of the senses. Here mindfulness is not only done internally and privately, it’s just as often in community, a shared experience. Loud. Fragrant. Visual. A feast of the senses. I am a noticer.

A massive reconstruction is underway even as the kora continues. The stupa was originally built 1600 years ago, reconstructed again 400 years ago, and is being reconstructed now after last year’s earthquakes. This stupa is one of the most important sites in the world for Buddhists. Inside it is hollow, like a vase, the relics were removed and stored at the local monastery, and now thousands of bricks are repairing the inside. Up, and up, into the great dome.

It’s in community that it’s being reconstructed. I watch as many people volunteer their kora time and work in a conga line, passing bricks, hand over hand, one at a time. This line happens each morning and evening. Working on the stupa is thought to bring one closer to enlightenment, a mindfulness experience. This place of daily ritual is the spiritual home for thousands of locals who come here daily.

I notice peacefulness in my mind and body, and reflect on how it usually takes a few days to shake off my western mindset. “The Himalaya Effect” has begun. Kora ends in coffee time.

Soon I will be able to share these experiences with the coming guests.

I plan to blog a few times, as internet allows, so you can join us on our Mindful adventure.