It is spring. Birds are singing from their hearts something they can’t express in words, but feel deeply inside. Butterflies travel from flower to flower in search of something sweet to sip. Around me, trees and water, lofty peaks and clouds. The Himalaya pose for a picture, with snow white on their crowns and peaks reflecting strength and beauty. Mountains are earth’s the ambassadors of stillness.
Pokhara after Everest. Here at lakeside, I reflect and rest. Like the Fewa lake in front of me, I reflect on what is in front and ahead. Everest taught me that as important as climbing is knowing to come down. Ascent must is only possible because of descent. Balance. To always aim towards the meeting of the yin and the yang of life, to that fine line where hot meets cold forming lukewarm, where white meets dark and creates infinite shades of color and light. Now, I look into the now and the next, the East and the West.
Everest Basecamp Trek
While trekking towards Everest, I lived many highs and lows. Twelve days over mountains and valleys with the same old familiar pair of Kathmandu-bought hiking clothes. Early morning, oats and ginger tea to energize and keep warm after a cold night of sleep. Through the day, walking besides yak and rhododendrons in bloom, angel’s trumpets of green and blue, stupas and rocks bearing witness to Tibetan scriptures on compassion and love. Each night, the great, well-deserved sleeping bag in bed. Each day, thinner air, with Everest right ahead.
Day three of the trek, a shift. For every step climbed, my energy sank, as though I was going down some current I couldn’t stop, not up. Altitude sickness isn’t easy nor fun. Harder still is an acute bacterial infection that comes when least expected, at a place where no doctors are at sight. At first, I got by. But with time, even more, energy began to feel elusive and escape. I began to lose weight. Walking became a challenge. Like I was fasting while still ingesting soup. Nothing I ate would stay inside. Food became a quick, transient passenger, always with somewhere better to go than my stomach. A week of this, and I felt myself into a dilemma: do I ascend and push, so I stop and rest, or do I descend for the sake of my own life and health?
Amidst these questions and symptoms, day nine, at 4,440 meters. I woke up to the sound of helicopters coming a small village. A neighbor next door spent the whole night vomiting, and someone was crying. Five helicopters had come since dawn to rescue climbers, right where I was.. Someone was wearing an oxygen mask. Something clicked that moment. Wisdom is to extracts from lives of others lessons for our own paths.
Hearing those helicopters, I felt stronger, as though the wind they brought down propelled my myself up. But not to climb any longer. To grow, instead, in humility. Suddenly I realized that reverence, not ambition, are the ways to treat mountains. I thought to myself enough, and bowed down to the Himalaya I then saw so close by, aware that one thousand meters distance in height between myself in that moment and the base of the tallest mountain of earth. Though I wouldn’t touch it, I knew I had done my best and had been close. Now, overcoming the growing weakness of my body would be the mountain I had to climb as I came down.
Our bodies, regardless of how much we may think otherwise, are as much nature as the snow in the mountains, as the clouds in the sky. Our lungs, heart, and gut must be heard to as we would listen to the singing of the birds, as we would hear drops of rain in a pond, or thunders on a storm. Sadly at first, then, I looked back towards Everest, the mountain I had initially set to approach nine days earlier, said my thanks, and began to walk again. A solo descent. Although I was weak, I felt thankful I didn’t need pay hefty sums for a helicopter. Besides, I got friends climbing up with good minds to share funny stories and show me photographs.
Away from the flow of climbers, now on my own, I saw every piece of this puzzle called living fitting. My life and its meaning. The underlying fabric of my life, so tender, so beautiful, reached my eyes in the golden hours of a Himalayan morning, pushing me towards some return, towards some sharing of what I have graciously learned. I’ve come to sense that the weaker we physically are, the more subtle our minds get. It was like encountering some future version of myself through silence and solitude, sharing with me lessons I one day will deliver about these days and the past.
Sojourning through mountains, I recalled all the people I met in this travel, all the friends I have, and the ones I will still meet. Sound of laughter over cups of tea. Hugs and kisses on the cheek. Then, gravity. The pull to the center of the earth, like a father’s hug, gently and firmly bringing me down not only from the heights near Everest, but also towards a subtler ground that felt closer to home, from the spiritual skies of the East towards the solid grounds of the West. Balance. Three days passed.
Then, approaching Kathmandu I was thinking of meaning. An intuitive feeling dawned on me that the purpose of living is to create, not to find, our own meaning. That I began searching for it, and now I realized that searching is merely the first step. To find meaning is to realize we create it ourselves, then see its manifestations out there. Meaning flows as the river flows from within the earth, from that fragile nascent bed, outwards to valleys and forests, deserts and groves, endlessly flowing towards the ocean. For us, the nascent is the heart, and the ocean, our society and interconnected lives.
Meaning in balance, balance in meaning. So much has been learned. Now, a calling, gentle and firm, like light passing through clouds. I feel that towards the West after Nepal, but first in the land of seraphim and life-saving friends I met in my days of India. Next, Jordan and Israel, going West. Then, homeward bound, towards South American soil after six years living abroad, to reconnect dots, share lessons with and learn from the land of my own origin. Then, who knows what lies ahead. Graduate studies perhaps. These days, I started studying for a test. Setting strong intentions and holding few expectations, let us see what happens next. As for me, I will always be grateful for both East and West. Balance.