Tender-hearted Bravery in Bhutan: My Buddhism

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Buddhism is a lifestyle in Bhutan. By choice or by tradition, there is a depth in the devotion that is not only appealing, but also enviable.

What more is there to say except there is an ideal feeling of serenity and peace with what simply is, life in Bhutan?

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I don’t want to sugar-coat and idealize an entire nation and every person in it, but Bhutan comes closer than any place I’ve ever been to living this notion of Buddha-living, this way of being I have aimed for in the way of acceptance­–of self and others–and a profound awareness of and respect for nature.

Discovering Buddhism in my early 20’s was not only lifesaving for my depressed, confused and PTSD suffering self at the time, it was the antidote to my long-winded ramblings. Pithy, easy-to-digest Buddha-conscious quotes became daily mantras.

I wasn’t Buddhist. I’ve never been anything religious. Raised by an atheist father, I never quite belonged, so existentialism worked through my teen years, followed by the revelation of Joanna Macy and Gary Snyder, eco-buddhists, shall we call them, in my twenties. Then there has been Pema Chodron for the past 18 years, a solid source of Tibetan Buddhist wisdom and teachings, a constant in my life, which led to my Buddhist-inspired way of teaching yoga and meditation, practicing mental health counseling and creating vision in my life.

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I’ve held Bhutan up as that pinnacle place, a paradise of sorts, a utopia in the mind of the mental health professional and self-help seeking spiritualist that I am. As if this Buddhist nation, with those picturesque monasteries clinging to cliffs, also held the key to enlightenment, perhaps even the ever-elusive happiness.

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What I’ve learned, ultimately, is the peace we find on the edge of the cliffs and at the top of mountains is the peace we bring there.

This journey has challenged me to face myself, and what I’m bringing along.

I made my decision to relinquish a Boston qualifying time at the Tokyo Marathon in order to run Bhutan 6 days later. My strategy worked and as I picked up my race packet for my second marathon that week I was ready to run; until I started barfing, just hours before the race, with a raging fever. There really is nothing zen or meditative about projectile vomiting. I laid in bed, holed up in a hotel in beautiful Bhutan, a half a lifetime’s dream to get there, the face of Buddhism and twenty year’s of lessons staring back at me.

How would I react to this one?

As it turned out, pretty well. I was in Bhutan, after all. No more a Buddhist than I was twenty years ago, but much more in the practice of peace and acceptance of self and what is…sure, still a bit of fear, what ifs and dammit alls, too.

I slept. I cried. I practiced gratitude and climbed out of my misery and into the magical mountains just two days later. One of my favorite teachings by Tibetan Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, is about tender-hearted bravery.

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She says, “if you touch the fear instead of running from it, you find tenderness, vulnerability, and sometimes a sense of sadness. This tender-heartedness happens naturally when you start to be brave enough to stay present, because instead of armoring yourself, instead of turning to anger, self-denigration, and iron-heartedness, you keep your eyes open and you become more in touch with yourself, which gives birth to enormous appreciation for the world and for other people. It’s a very special way to live. Your heart is filled with gratitude, appreciation, compassion and caring for other people. And it all comes from touching that shakiness within and being willing to be present with it.”

So, yeah, THAT.

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In loving-kindness (from beautiful, Buddhist, breathtaking Bhutan),

Jill

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