What I Brought Home From Bhutan (TS)

December 23, 2011 |  by  |  Dispatches

While meeting with His Royal Highness, Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, prior to leaving Bhutan, I shared that we came to his country with a naive and vague concept of documented Gross National Happiness. And that what I now peruse after 7 weeks of immersion, is a vastly-layered, multi-colored view of happiness. Bhutan showed me that the qualities of contented societies and the nebulous concept of happiness can not be found on paper or in anything material or man made. They are felt when experienced. Happiness foundationally lies in just being in what is. It seeps into whichever space we hold, at any time, with any emotion—right now—if we allow it. It doesn’t hold tight with us if we acquire more stuff or become more beautiful or more comfortable. Comfort may offer a glimmer of contentment—for a moment. But we can not will, eat or buy, long term, deep rooted happiness. It comes to us when we are using our senses to experience the world around us and while we are choosing the right intension when interacting with others. Happiness comes to us when we create an authentic space for it to enter.

I shared with His Royal Highness that I was taking home from Bhutan a ripe opportunity to reflect on the strengths of our country as well as its continued challenges and pitfalls—another chance to view my own little world through a different lens. Another perfect opening for expansion. In part, because the people of Bhutan shrouded us with a reflection of what really matters in organized communities—humble people, respect, kindness, and the innate ability to adapt. Bhutanese don’t embody these qualities because they read a document—most of them seem to have never studied anything written on Gross National Happiness. They are adaptable, accepting and respectful because its how they raise their children and because adapting makes the most sense in their communities. Bhutanese are sensible Buddhists. They know that everything is impermanent and that embracing impermanence can help their lives be easy and freeing.

We were asked why we had come to Bhutan to trek and bike when our own country was so physically beautiful. Why would we not just stay and enjoy our own geography? My response involved the resultant experience gained, when one marries land and people. That any place—America, Bhutan or other—are all majestic on the crust in their own ways. But to truly feel a country’s soul is to immerse oneself in its unique culture and its beautiful landscape, and by our preference—one step and one pedal stroke at a time.

Bhutan’s rugged landscape is the untouched, maverick, unwieldy man who presents himself with no glitz or puts on no facade. To get to know him you take some time, ease into the inner workings, respect his way of being and flow with it without expectation. If he lets you in, as Bhutan’s culture does fully and in good time, you will see clearly that you have uncovered a kind, soft, rare jewel indeed. You’ll see that he’s a keeper.

What I brought home:

  • A re-knowing that 4 intelligent, strong, open minded people can create anything they set their minds to—with life altering results
  • A continued love affair with my 3 Expedition teammates
  • Realization that in Bhutan one moves in only two-degrees-of-separation
  • That in the striving to keep in tact a traditional culture, the soul of a nation can be nurtured
  • A clear view of what we sometimes forget to value in America
  • A clear view of the sheer magnitude of what we have access to in America and so often take for granted
  • A clear view of how much we regularly complain about the things we forget to value and have access to in America
  • A renewed love and appreciation for my country’s strengths
  • That kindness and civility can bond a nation
  • A refreshing view that a sustainable life can bring the purest kind of pride and happiness
  • Four love notes
  • A marriage proposal
  • An example of how integration of religion and state can work
  • The powerful feeling when a country loves its leader
  • The yummy warmth that lingers from a shared arduous adventure with coveted old friends
  • Lots of new friends including a healthy budding relationship with the Bhutan Olympic Committee
  • A reminder that laughter, smiles, a warm fire, games and song and dance will always break down language barriers and cement friendships
  • Awe for a country who treats all its guests as royalty
  • A strong appreciation for the geographical diversity of America
  • How easy it can be to support your neighbor when you are conscious of how important that is
  • A re-reflection of how self-ful and individualistic we are in America—the huge virtue that offers us and how strongly it can limit our communities
  • A re-view of the value of money and “stuff” in America—mostly how we naively believe that our stuff ultimately defines us or makes us happy
  • A new love and huge respect for our film team—Ben, LD, Peter—my yak- haired-dred-hat is off to you all
  • That Ben Henretig is a rock-star director and human being
  • A new love and huge appreciation for all those who trekked with us on the front end of our Expedition, believed in our inquiry, and supported us wholly. They launched us into this incredible journey with their deep sharing and we were so touched and moved.
  • A new love affair with Bhutan
  • A lack of desire to eat rice for a long while
  • A strong desire to keep traveling because it seems to make the most sense
  • A stronger body
  • Yet another renewed love of pushing my body day after day through tough country and a re-appreciation for my ability to do so
  • The ability to drop into each moment without “trying”
  • A few rocks
  • Cow skin mask found in an abandoned herders hut in the mountains
  • Crude hand carved wooden bowl found in an abandoned herders hut in the mountains
  • Bhutanese stamps (wow)
  • Antique silver and copper coins
  • A drum that is used in a Buddhist Festival Mask Dance
  • A yak vertebra
  • Prayer flags that have been blessed at a Monastery in Thimphu
  • An ancient wood carving with the 8 auspicious symbols and Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion
  • A traditional yak hair hat worn by the women of Sakteng
  • A definitive knowing that I will be back in Bhutan soon
  • A gorgeous set of Athleta clothing that got the crap beat of out it for 45 days and that still looks gorgeous!

I want to send out a heart felt thank you to Athleta and Discovery Adventure  for hosting our journey. They have both been a lovely pleasure to work with. Thanks to all who shared your thoughts along the way. Though we have not responded to them all, we have read each one and appreciate each thought provoking comment.

For the holidays I wish for you all; a clear authentic space for happiness to enter.

 Tashi Delek,