It was bittersweet leaving Nepal.
I remember when we first landed.
It was cold. Not so much in the beginning, climate-wise, but in every other way it just felt cold and dark and damp. I felt out of place among the hustle and bustle of the city crowd. I choked on the polluted, thick cloud of dust rising from the road. I choked on the thick cloud of insecurities rising from the place I’d thought I’d buried them.
I felt like I was standing still, alone, in the middle of the chaos as people honked, weaved, pushed, shoved their way past me with places to go, people to see. I was invisible. Cold, invisible and feeling very alone. I felt lost and frustrated.
I remember when it started to feel like home.
I came to warm up to Nepal (of course I would, over time). Not just warm up to it, but feel comfortable and really, truly love it: the nature, scenery and crisp air of Pokhara. I never could have imagined that I would be living a life where the Himalayan mountain range would be a consistent, everyday view. And I think it took my breath away every time.
I came to love and appreciate even the congested, dirty city because of the people, most of all. I think it’s funny that for a girl who never had brothers and always longed for that bond, this trip has given me more brothers than I can count on both hands.
And looking back now, I’m convinced they were sent for me, these loving people, to warm me in my coldest months.
I remember the time I overcame nausea and claustrophobia.
I smile now to think back to the horrific, bumpy and nauseating micro-van rides from Pokhara to Kathmandu, and vice versa. We took this 8-hour journey about five different times. By the second or third time, we knew exactly what to expect and how to survive it.
But one of those five times, I realized that I had left my phone back in Kathmandu at our Nepali family’s home. When I realized that I wouldn’t have at least music during the ride to distract me as I closed my eyes to sleep off the nausea, I panicked. And then the claustrophobia set in.
Then the sweet, little angel-faced girl sitting to my left, who I smiled at on the way in, became an annoying, piercing shriek in my ear. And the lively group of polite, young guys sitting behind me were no more than a couple punks five minutes later, as their obnoxiously loud phones blasted five different songs in five different genres in five different languages, all at once. Someone’s knees were digging into the back of my seat. The little boy behind me was pulling my hair. All I could breathe was polluted, cold air from outside when the window was open, or the muggy stench of a cocktail of bodily odors if the windows were closed. Lose, lose , if I do say so myself.
But then I closed my eyes and decided to take my mind to another place. I decided to put my newly acquired meditation skills to good use. I took deep breaths. I said a few prayers to focus on the repetitive song of words. I told myself to think of a happy place, and take my mind there and away from the sardined micro-van whose walls were closing in tighter and tighter with every second…
And suddenly, I was laying in my bed, in my shoe box of a Los Angeles apartment, opening my eyes to the morning sun spilling into the window to my right. My dog, my Juno girl, was laying next to me, cuddled up on my arm, her little chest rising and falling in peaceful sleep.
Then it was night and I was in the passenger seat driving through Los Angeles. My left hand was intermingled with his as he drove with his free hand, nodding his head to the music that harmonized with the downtown city lights. The windows were down, and my hair was wild. And as we rode on, the lights blurred as they danced and merged in the most beautiful display; we were soaring as if the car itself had wings.
When my eyes opened to reality—when the Los Angeles city lights faded and I was back to the winding country roads of Nepal, past rice fields and randomly dispersed straw huts out the window—my nausea was gone. I noticed the slight smile drawn upon my face. But then a few seconds later, the missing’s took hold.
I remember feeling heartbroken.
With winter came dark moments, but most of all, it was the first time that I was forced to endure heartbreak over love. It was the most hurt that I’ve ever felt from this sort of thing in this sort of way. And I felt ridiculous for it, of course. Because all around the world people are suffering to such greater extents: hunger, poverty, death, war.
But it was real for me, and still counts. And it led to a greater lesson, on a grander scheme: In this life where we must consistently, constantly strive to maintain a balance between holding on and letting go, where was I in that moment? In all the areas of my life, was I making the right choice between the two?
I remember my #1 Top YOLO Moment of All Time.
We visited my bhaai ’s family village at the foothills of the Himalayas, hours out of town.
When it was time to leave the village to go back to Kathmandu city, there was only one bus left. Over the weekends, holidays, or any days off, many Nepali people who live in the cities make the trip to the villages to visit their families. It was Sunday, and the end of the weekend. Due to the influx of city dwellers needing to return to Kathmandu after the end of the weekend of visiting family, we found ourselves forced to join the other procrastinators on the very last, absolutely packed bus.
The only space left? On the roof.
And the space up on top was limited as it was, and I had no idea how the three of us were going to fit up there. But we had no choice.
So up we climbed, and when we reached the top, we squeezed in among the crowd of people and made free space on top of the iron gars that were meant to hold luggage. I looked for anything to hold on to, but all I saw was a tangled mess of legs and feet.
We started off down the winding mountain roads, and every time the bus swayed and leaned to one side, I looked over the side to see a steep drop off the side of the mountain. My heart raced, and I gritted my teeth and said a little prayer or two. Every time we would swing from one side to the other, every time we inched past another large, oncoming bus speeding from the opposite direction, with every strike of the gas pedal and every mile per hour over the limit we were traveling, I held on tight to a tiny piece of iron gar exposed beneath my legs for dear life.
But as we rode on, I let go. Of course, now, I realize how sketchy the entire situation was, but at one point I really had no choice but to let go.
I remember the cab rides.
And then back in the city, every crazy cab ride that sent our car flying boldly in danger’s way during rush hour at high speeds, with every inch too close to the vehicle in front of us resulting in the unnatural hurling forward with the slamming of the brakes… I let go.
I remember when I truly realized the significance of suffering.
The day before we were to fly out of Nepal, we met a 62-year-old Canadian man named Stephen. He was eccentric, expressive, and cracked me up with his one-liners, impressions and accents. We weren’t surprised to learn that he is an actor. His nonstop jokes, no matter how cheesy, sent me roaring with laughter. In fact, the cheesier it was, the louder I laughed.
He told us that he takes 4-6 months out of each year to travel, and has done so since 1986. And the more he talked about his travels, the more I felt that he could have been one of my dad’s friends when they were young. A lot of heart, a lot of laughter; humor that was part old school, two parts ridiculous, a bit controversial, and a dash of inappropriate.
But of all the things he said, it was the most serious that resonated with me the most. His favorite quote, he told me, is one from D.T. Suzuki:
“In order to be free from suffering, first you have to agree to suffer.”
I was shocked by it, really. It was what I least expected. Not just because of his change in tone, but because of the words themselves. It was his answer to what traveling has taught him, what life has taught him. And I realized that I was learning similar lessons from my travels.
I remember when it all started making sense.
One day we visited Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. We went with our sound healer friend, Chaitanyashree, the one who had given me my first ever sound healing. We met with his mentor, an old baba who did not speak any English, but had such warm eyes and an endearing demeanor about him.
He told us a story. As he told it in Nepali, we watched intently. And when Chaitanyashree translated, I was truly touched.
He talked about suffering. About surrendering. He gave an example:
Let’s say you are very sick and have to go to the hospital. The doctor determines that the appropriate remedy is an injection.
If you are scared for the pain of the injection, and your body is tense because you don’t want to experience it, your body rejects it. It is not possible for the medicine to be administered properly this way, and therefore, not possible for you to fully heal.
But if you surrender to it, if you allow the pain to enter your body, you will be healed. If you relax, and allow it to happen, acknowledging that the pain is necessary, you can be healthy again.
I thought of everyone I know—everyone in the world—who are reluctant to just allow the inevitable to happen, to truly go with the flow and have faith and just trust the process. I thought about how much life changes when you finally let it. I realized that I saw that in my own life.
Let go. Surrender. Drop all thinking.
The initial release… the unclenching of the firm grip, the uncertainty as your fingers lift to the air along with that scary, yet liberating exhale…
The decision that may or may not send you into the ground… may or may not send you floating…is one thing.
But the acceptance of that pain, the consequence that follows, is another. The understanding that the suffering is inevitable and that you must face it… that’s a whole other step to the process.
And it’s really difficult to do. It only happens when we decide it does. And only we can determine what it all really means, how to interpret it, once it’s all over. Because it is a unique experience all our own. And no matter how similar our stories may be to one another’s, no one else’s can be exactly the same. You are forced to navigate alone.
But that’s where courage comes in, that’s where bravery happens. That’s when we figure out who we really are, what has really been there all along. It helps us to shed a layer. In some cases, it is forcefully ripped off without our say. Sometimes the way the layer breaks off and crumbles hurts like hell. But either way, it leads us closer to the core of our being.
I have learned to ride each moment like a good backseat passenger of a motorbike. I have made the decision to be fluid with every turn, every unplanned movement, may it be left or right; to move with the vehicle as opposed to hindering it with a fear and rigidity. And it’s easier to ride this way when you get rid of all the heavy things that weighed you down.
This is how I rode into insecurities, into ego trips, into unfortunate events. This is how I rode into heartbreak, into suffering. Nepal and its crazy drivers and its crazy roads and traffic taught me how to navigate life, which is just as chaotic and unpredictable.
It also makes it all the more blatant the things you dropped off that you still need, miss, love. And just because you want to go back and pick them up again doesn’t mean you’re moving backwards. It’s never too late, and you can always go home, I don’t care what they say.
And you realize after the dust settles, after your heart returns to its normal rate… After you find that you are still alive… you realize that nothing is coincidence. Then after you look up at the blue, blue sky and the breeze caresses your cheek, you realize that had the ride not been so bumpy, this moment would not feel as beautiful as it does right now.