I have recently been asked, by more than one person and on more than one occasion, “Why Nepal?” Here is a more thoughtful answer than I have previously given.
I have been a spiritual “seeker” for many years. That seeking has lead me to a number of life experiences that have added richness to my soul and increased my insight into who I am and what my purpose may be. Some of those experiences have been in response to need, finding new or renewing practice of resources to navigate a passage. Others have been things chosen with the intention that they would add to my resources for living life well and aid in self-discovery and personal growth. Still others have occurred by serendipitous happenstance, with a surprising revelation – an “Aha” – coming into my awareness. I might describe them as “mountain top experiences:” a moment of rich and deep awareness of the grace of God and my place in the universe.
Over 30 years ago, I was in a Lutheran church in Edina, MN, participating in a 3 day retreat with a group of women. At the conclusion, there was a service of celebration. A large congregation of people gathered to hear each of the participants share our individual testimonies in response to what we had experienced. I can almost feel the enthusiasm with which I stood up and proclaimed, “I am going to go out and let my light shine abundantly!” During that intense weekend, I felt an overwhelming sense of community and grace.
A second example was in a supper club in New York City. I was there with a friend, visiting other friends and we were all out for dinner at the Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Center. The entertainment was a singer/songwriter named Amanda McBroom. I had never heard her name before, but when she started singing her songs, there were several that were very familiar, indeed. Tears filled my eyes as I listened to her sultry voice sing a song entitled “Make Me a Kite.” The lyrics and music spoke to my very soul about the desire to live freely and abundantly, with the assurance of being grounded by an almost invisible tether, allowing safe return after soaring to the top of the sky.
Another significant experience was, indeed, on a mountain top. I was on the island of Elba, off the coast of Tuscany, with 7 fellow travelers. Five of us put our faith and trust in the hands of my dear friend Guido, a professional guide, as we set out on an exhilarating hike on Mount Capanne (3,340 ft), a rocky peak with spectacular views of the entire island and the shimmering Tyrrhenian Sea. Not only were the views from the summit magical, but the trip in the cabinovia, a small metal cage suspended from a cable, was an incredible adventure in itself. From the town of Marciana, I travelled 2,182 feet over densely wooded slopes and beyond the tree line, to be quickly deposited on a platform close to the summit. From there it was a short, easy, climb to the top.
Once heading down the other side, however, we quickly realized we were no longer in “easy” territory. The first third of the trek was perilous, to be sure. It required close attention to the random patches of moss on granite boulders and an occasional assisting hand from our trusted guide. After the difficult rocky descent, we were treated to walking on the crest of a hill with steep inclines going down on both sides of the trail. We caught sight of mountain goats, large and small in the distance and up close. Continuing to our destination, we descended into a densely over-grown, verdant valley with the intense scents of rosemary and heather and the delightful sound of a meandering creek to nourish our souls. Finally we came to the end of the trail and were met by our two hungry companions, who had not taken the trek and had waited to have lunch until our return.
Each of these experiences has had a significant impact on my life, providing me with rich and deep awareness of the grace of God and my place in the universe.
In addition to the overwhelming awareness of the intangible presence of the divine in the midst of a community of believers, someone at the retreat introduced me to a significant, tangible, life resource. I do not remember who gave it to me, but I will be eternally grateful to that individual for the gift of the book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I have read it several times in the last 30 years. It is an allegorical tale, written with a decidedly Christian perspective, but, in my opinion, with a universal message – the heroine’s journey.
The story has always illustrated what is important to remember when my life’s challenges – narrow spots – seem a great deal more than daunting. I must hold hands with sorrow and suffering. I do not always get to chose my path. Pictures thrown on the screen of my imagination seem much more unnerving and terrible than the actual facts. Every circumstance in life, no matter how crooked and distorted and ugly it appears to be, if responded to in faith can be transformed. And finally, I am never alone on my journey.
I am a woman of faith. My fall through the narrow spots of life has been cushioned by my faith. It has not provided any exemption from narrow spots. Faith aids in overcoming fear and experiencing life’s narrow spots fully, faithfully, with intention.
Music plays an important role in my life. I love to listen and sing along with music of a variety of genres. Church music and participation in choir both at church and in school has been a lifetime activity. My parents included me in their love of square dancing. I sang in a rock band as a teenager. Singing, dancing and making up songs is a favorite pass time with my grandchildren. Music has held magic, mystery and memory throughout my life.
I once participated in a storytelling workshop where one of the exercises involved creating a “Soundtrack of Your Life.” Assembling the list of songs was not difficult, nor was creating a playlist of those titles on my iPod. What was astonishing was the specific memories that I was able to re-create by listening to these songs that had come into and out of my life over time. “Make Me a Kite” is on that playlist.
At lunch, following the completion of out trek on Mount Capanne, I found myself in astonished awareness – an Aha! – that the hike had been a perfect metaphor for my cancer journey, which I had experience 3 years earlier. A difficult, arduous beginning, followed by the steep learning curve of having to change dominance and discover the realities of being one-handed, and arriving eventually to place of acceptance and peace with my new arrangement. When confronted with the narrow spot of cancer, I had said “Yes” to life and had chosen to embrace the passage.
Yes, I have had a few mountain top experiences. These three are at the top of the list. I am looking forward to adding another after my 64th birthday this year.
The upcoming trip to Nepal is going to be more physically demanding than anything I ever experienced. I am choosing to go through a narrow spot. I know that. In addition to traveling half-way around the world with 36 people that I do not know, I will be climbing mountains as high as 20,000 feet, and I have no experience with that altitude or that kind of climbing. Those are only the most obvious new experiences. Once again, I will say “Yes” to life and trust those in my company to guide me where I need to go. Moving forward with faith and confidence, I will discover things about myself that I did not know before. And that is what happens when you go through narrow spots. Your sand is refined and redefined, sifting out interior resources never previously noticed and/or called upon.
Don’t just go through, grow through the narrow spots.