As a young adult I read Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” and just like it did then through my adolescent lens, the title of that story takes on a new meaning now. I see a wrinkle in time as a small story, or an impression induced by an unforgettable experience; evidence that we’ve lived. As a global community we can welcome the idea that 2020-21 has left a considerable impression on us as all; another wrinkle in time. I would like to take this opportunity to share another well established wrinkle of which materialized over the course of 3 years as a BCF teacher from 2015 to 2017.
“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now.”
― Joni Mitchell- Both Sides Now
I am, like many of you, a contemplative soul feeling my way through life using my beating heart as a compass; a fellow adventurer seeking to discover and understand this complex, incredibly beautiful world. I’m lucky. I’ve lived a humble, joyful and fortunate lifestyle. I grew up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and studied on Vancouver Island, the ultimate natural playground. My mother taught me to live with heart, and my father gave me the gift of deep appreciation for Mother Nature from a young age. Since then I have followed my heart on my bike, kayak, snowboard, canoe, cross country skis and on dirty, muddy, blistered feet.
In 2015 my internal compass led me to a mysterious Kingdom I had only fantasized about as an adolescent. With my teaching degree in my back pocket and my heart wide open, I jumped into a one-year teaching job at a rural government school in the landlocked country of Bhutan. I was emotionally and mentally unprepared for what lay ahead of me. But my internal compass assured me a great adventure awaited on the southern slope of the Himalayan Plateau.
After an eight month process of interviews, signing contracts, and booking travel, I endured the 26 hour journey from Calgary International Airport to Paro, Bhutan with apprehension and elation. The last leg of the journey from Bangkok to Paro was a two and a half hour flight filled with incredible mountain top views. The 12,000 foot peaks tantalized me, playing a game of hide and seek, peeking for a moment or two out of the clouds. As the plane descended into Bhutan’s only single lane airport I felt as though I was on the brink of a steep rocky decent on the North Shore. As exhilaration overwhelmed my senses, the wings of the plane looked as if they would wipe the trees and houses off the mountain side. Yet it was as if the plane was built to the exact dimensions of the valley.
Since that point of uncertainty 5 years ago, I have experienced a multitude of moments infused with such contentment that I feel I can die happily and know I’ve lived. These moments have come not from climbing to the tops of mountains, or riding down a steep rocky trails, but from instances of compassion and empathy felt from deep within my heart and soul.
Nothing is perfect. It is easy for such travel experiences to be heavily romanticized, and I feel its necessary to elucidate that the struggles were real, and my inner strength and will power have been put to the [ultimate] test; like waiting for an auspicious day in order to remove the colony of lice that inhabited my head for a week. I now know that the compassion from colleagues and my ability to empathize amidst hardship, allowed a miraculous adventure to unfold.
Some moments lasted only a split second, and would be gone had I blinked: A child’s bright smile, an old woman at prayer. It was through these moments that I realized the true power and value of travel; the ability to attain new perspectives that can only be achieved through experience and empathy.
My experience both as a teacher and as a respectful adventurer in Bhutan has taught me about patience, kindness, acceptance, impermanence and contentment.
The great mountains that tower above humbled me.
The flora and fauna that house uncountable unique species were awe-inspiring.
The sky. The beautiful blue Bhutanese sky.
Such a colour that will be hard to find anywhere else in the world.
Embrace the magnificent clouds that behave as if they are independent beings, growing with menace in the sky and then transforming into gentle giant cartoon pillows.
While immersed in such beauty I would frequently be left with tears of sheer joy.
As I explored, my curiosity and interest in the Bhutanese culture and Buddhism increased. I wanted to learn everything I could about the traditions, language and culture. The students were a great help in learning the language, as they were enduringly eager to teach me anything! I slowly learned the right things to say when and to whom. I could empathize with the students who were trying to learn English, as I found learning Dzongkha was equally as challenging.
My effort to learn was worth it. The ability to communicate and understand others has been the key to the secret door of Bhutan. Visiting the Lhakhangs (temples) on an auspicious day became more remarkable. The taxi drives became more humorous as I could respond to a question the driver asked, not to me, but to a fellow passenger regarding the “chillip” (foreigner). I no longer accidently accepted marriage proposals because someone said “Nga chi kha den na, nga loo lang nyi yue,” no matter how many oxes he had. Needless to say my experience became that much more meaningful
From my friends and even strangers I have learned about the “science of the mind” and the power of perspective. Life is all about perspective. I strongly believe that the rest of the world has a lot to learn about happiness, karma, loss and material possession, by looking at the world through the eyes of the Bhutanese.
The altruistic students of Samtengang, the irrepressible teachers and dedicated school administration, Bhutanese friends and family, the culture, traditions, the strangers, the red-robed holy men and women, the birds, flower and trees, the sky, clouds and rain, incense, the taxi drivers, bus drivers, strong cyclists, and the temples in heavenly Bhutan have all fundamentally touched my heart. Three extraordinary years in Bhutan have taught me that we are all human with a beating heart that will guide us if we let it. If we look at the world like we look through a window rather than a mirror, we might just experience something extraordinary.