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On Fire!

September 5, 2017

in Transformation

Cathedral Lake CO Last day of an inspiring Colorado sojourn: perfect rainbow came out as I was contemplating my future…a sign beckoning me forward on my path.

 

Fire is the element of vitality and passion. It springs up fast and wild, and needs to be fueled to remain bright. It’s symbolic of energy, creation, and transformation. This has been a summer of transformation, and I feel myself burning wild and bright!

Within days after my last heart-wrenching post, I sat a 10-day silent Buddhist meditation retreat and loved every minute of it. Truly. The relief of silence, the crisp beauty of the rolling mountains, the sweetness of simple things, the shared wisdom from down-to-earth teachers, the slow and spacious pace of living, eating, and breathing–I felt myself slip out of the stress and patterns and presence I had been stuck in and reconnect with the sources of joy and peace within me. I felt like I had a fresh beginning in the world. I stepped back into the flow of life as a different person, a different presence, inspired to higher purpose.

Connecting with your higher self doesn’t fix the world or even make daily life easier. Sometimes it’s harder. It’s hard to keep up with my morning meditation practice when I’m tired. It’s hard to watch myself slip into busy-ness and lose track of that centered person I was only a few hours ago. It’s hard to witness the struggles and suffering of friends close to me, of the nation, of people across the world. It’s hard to keep track of all the things I want to accomplish, much less actually begin them. And yet…I’ve somehow returned to a place of balance, a place where I can witness all that and still feel joy, purpose, passion, a place where I slowly move forward on my path, one step at a time, until I look back and can’t believe how far I’ve come.

This summer, I received updates from both of our non-profit partners detailing a variety of successes. Project info will come out in the fall newsletter, but it reignited my faith in my work and in myself…and I dove into that. As the months have unfolded, I’ve jumped into professional development workshops and career growth, garnering new clients and expanding my skills. I’ve watched friends become parents and shared the sweetness of their joy. I’ve allowed my grief to come forward–and also to be ritually relinquished. I’ve stepped into the discomfort (and the fun) of new social situations and dating. I’ve made time for friends, new and old, connecting with so many amazing people from my immediate community and across the country. I’ve traveled to Yosemite, Colorado, D.C.–and I’ve also shut my door at home and not gone outside some days. I’ve danced with abandon until dawn. I’ve put my focus on work and not moved for 7 hours. I’m volunteering locally. I’m discovering new power in my yoga practice. I’ve carved out time for everything important to me: friends, solitude, purposeful work, working out, being in nature, dancing, art, culture, and travel. I don’t know where all the energy suddenly comes from, but clearly a fire burns inside me again–and I have been fueling it with every experience within reach. It’s a fire purifying the past and heating up possibility for the future, drawing everything together and sealing it into something new.

These past weeks in Colorado, I’ve hiked, run, or biked nearly every day in the mountains, and it has fed my soul. I watched the solar eclipse as I hiked what was described as an “intuitive trail” after the main trail ends, which means I hiked mostly straight up 1000 feet over tundra scrub and then rock scree, to reach 13,108 ft with not a soul in sight. I looked out over the Continental Divide, over mountains and alpine lakes in every direction, and I was ready. From the limitless possibility of the sky and the solid clarity of the earth, from the thousands of creations in the world and from my one true heart, I called the future into being, committed to my work and my purpose, asked for everything I’d been envisioning, asked for all that my soul desires. I returned home only to spontaneously go to Burning Man on about 2 hours notice–and revel in the magic of community, art, dance, desert. Now I look ahead to the fall, to travels in Nepal and Bhutan, and I can feel the way forward unfolding.

After feeling heavy, stuck, and torn apart for so long, I’m now on fire–coming through the process of transformation and inspired to greater purpose. I’m ready for the future…and creating it.

 

 

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.  –Rumi

A New Geography

April 28, 2017

in Nepal, Transformation

patagonia

Deep fissures carve their way into my heart from watching the aftermath of destruction in Nepal, as well as from exhuming my own past. Two years this week since Nepal’s devastating earthquakes, and so many people still living in dire conditions.

 

  • The government has signed agreements for $3.1 billion in aid and is still collecting more, but it has spent only $330,000 so far. Source.
  • Less than 1% of victims have received more than the first $475 of government compensation. Source.
  • Tens of thousands of earthquake victims are still living in temporary shelters. Of 626,694 homes so far counted as destroyed in the quake, fewer than 4% have been reconstructed. The destroyed count is still incomplete, covering only the 14 worst-hit districts. 17 districts remain to be surveyed. Source.
  • The government recently razed Kathmandu’s largest tent camp to the ground. It held over 400 shanties and 2000 people who have nowhere to go. The empty land is owned by one of Kathmandu’s most exclusive hotels, the Hyatt. Source.
  • International non-government agencies say their aid projects face lengthy delays and they have to pay the government hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, bribes, and entertainment to get them approved. Source.
  • Women have become more vulnerable to trafficking. Financially destitute and without a home, they pay for a work placement abroad and find themselves sold into modern-day slavery or worse. Source.
  • Conditions for working abroad have been equally rough for men, with one Nepali working dying every 2 days in 2014 in Qatar. Men typically work brutally difficult jobs, 7 days a week, to send home money across years in the hopes of a home, a roof, an education for their children. Source.
  • Thousands of families will never be able to return to their villages—no road, no house, no land to farm, no money. They live under tarps to this day, waiting for the government to figure out a resettlement plan. Source.
  • Tens of thousands more continue to live in tarps and tents because they have no money, no employment, and no help of any kind to build a home. People say, “We have bugs and even snakes crawling inside the tin sheds when it rains. We cannot cook because the floor is flooded and clothes get all soaked.” “It gets cold at night, and like an oven in the day.” That’s in the summer. It has also been two long winters without proper shelter. Source.
  • Nepal remains one of the world’s poorest countries. One in four people live on less than $1.90 a day, one-third of children under five are underweight, and 40 percent of girls are married below 18. Source.
  • Tens of thousands of people will not qualify for any government help because they cannot provide documents proving their land ownership or their citizenship. Take Sunita Danuwar, a single woman unable to access any rebuilding funds because she had no citizenship card. She had been married off as a child, and then her husband left her for another woman. In Nepal, women obtain citizenship cards through their fathers or husbands. Having neither, Sunita was unable to access government relief funds. It took more than a year and the assistance of a nonprofit just for Sunita to obtain a citizenship card—so that she can begin to apply for government funds.

 

This is mostly news from just the past few weeks. Day after day, month after month, life feels full of suffering for people who have already suffered so much, and it’s hard to know how to begin to address it other than to bear witness and offer compassion. Tourism is rebounding, the climbing season is in full force, and yet people even in the middle of the capital city barely have a roof over their heads or enough food to eat. I don’t quite know how to reconcile myself to the realities of the world.

Within myself, it similarly feels as though the personal excavation of trauma recovery and childhood history is a slow, unending process of walking through rubble. To be sure, my life is far easier and more bountiful than the lives I describe in Nepal. At the same time, I feel like old parts of my life and way of being have been cracked apart. I live within an unsheltered heart, old armor gone and no new protection in place, more vulnerable than ever before to the events of the world. I have had family disown me. I have had ugly childhood events resurface. I have watched parts of myself push their way forward, refusing to be silenced. I have had a transitory mental breakdown. I have felt ashamed and confused of my own behavior and have struggled to make sense of how I fall apart. I’m not sure what feels more surreal, the moments where I’m coming apart or the moments where I’m keeping it all together. I remain a little perplexed by how these moments shift so fluidly from one to the other and back again. 

Again, this is mostly news from the past few weeks. It’s been an intense and difficult period within myself and within Nepal, and no coincidence that they are linked. The inner journey is hard in a different way from outer survival. My survival may not depending on plowing fields with rice, but I find myself moving through the motions of life, persisting through habit as much as anything else, and I can’t help but feel that’s how people in Nepal continue to get by.

The only way forward is through. In Nepal, I hold faith that the resilience of people who have survived for millennia in mountains will carry them through, even when their government and the earth beneath their feet work against them. In myself, I hold faith that this is an era of deep personal evolution which will leave me stronger, freer, clearer, more compassionate, more forgiving—and liberated from the past to some degree. For now, however, it feels like a new geography for which I have no map, little equipment, and meager shelter. Rough territory. What I do have is an amazing circle of people around me, people that I am increasingly learning to allow myself to be supported by. Here and in Nepal, what we really have is each other—and the bonds of friendship and community are what carry us through. My whole life I’ve worked to be of service, to help people, and yet I continue to learn anew how people are really what matter. Maybe part of resilience is being present and giving with others, even as you’re dealing with your own mess and receiving the support of others. It feels like this balancing act might be one of the secrets to life.

You can’t use rubble to rebuild the past. You have to clear out what’s left, reclaim what you can, and allow the remainder to be completely destroyed. Then you discover how to build something new, with new materials, a new design. I feel like I’ve been crushed under the weight of old rubble that finally piled up too high to breathe. Even as I’ve been starting to rebuild, I’ve still been slowly digging out the rest of the space for something new. Two years since the cracks formed inside me, and I find it hard to believe all the change that has come from it. Honestly, I’m tired of growth, introspection, and reflection–but it beats stagnation. This internal unfolding hasn’t been easy, yet somehow I feel like it’s a gift. In Nepal, in the outer world of survival, it’s not a gift, even if some good one day comes of it. I can only hope that in Nepal, despite the failure of government, people will find the resources, the resilience, and the heart to build something new for themselves.

 

Freedom is what you do with what has been done to you. –Sartre

The best teacher I ever had told me we are all better than our worst moments. Learn to forgive yourself. –graffitti

Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient. –Steve Maraboli

Hi–This is a blog post of our recent newsletter. If you did not receive this as a newsletter last Thursday and would like to know about our programs in Nepal, please email me.  I’m delighted to say that we have wonderful news and photos from our projects! (I won’t be posting the updates here this fall…only in the newsletter.)

Dear Donors & Friends,

Namaste and Hello! We’re excited to tell you about the great progress Changing Lives Nepal programs have accomplished this year! Even as Nepal continues to grapple with the aftermath of the earthquake and political power struggles, some bright lights of hope and recovery shine forth. Your support has helped ensure the success of our programs, and we’ll be sending out a series of updates about some of the good that is happening in Nepal. Highlights that you’ll be hearing more about:

—Natural building and a vision for the future: Gyalthum College construction

—SODEC office construction

—Skills training for economic health: earth brick and gem cutting

—Organic Almonds in bloom…and creating income for farmers

—Organic Coffee: Top grade Nepali coffee in demand…supply is coming

—Children’s Home, Maya, and more…

This is the introduction to upcoming newsletters sharing more about each of our programs. There’s too much good stuff to pack it all into one issue!

Wishing you all health, happiness, and harmony in the world. May you shine.

Warmly,

Deana, Nancy & Jen

 

shasta

A year since the Nepal earthquake, and I am finally feeling like myself again, feeling whole again. Healing is a slow process.

At first I didn’t even realize how broken I was. My focus was entirely outward—on the safety and care of the clients I needed to evacuate from the country, on the staff I’ve known for years who were suddenly homeless and afraid for their families, on the friends (Western and Nepali) who were shaken and scattered and still rallying to help others, on the sacred geography and temples utterly destroyed, on the people bereft of everything and trying to survive. Regardless of anything that is happening with me physically or emotionally, I have an ingrained ability to set it aside and show up for what needs to be done. It’s a lifelong habit, and in those first two weeks in Nepal, it served me well.

But I am a sensitive creature and feel things deeply, even if it doesn’t always show on the surface. A 7.8 earthquake is a traumatic event to live through—the constant aftershocks and the witnessing of suffering perhaps even more so. What happened externally was reflected internally: like the earth, I experienced a tremendous upheaval. Fractured and restructured, my internal landscape was reshaped into a foreign territory. It has taken a long time for me to understand, to map the new geography within me, and longer still to be able to navigate it effectively. I watched other people (Western and Nepali) cope, adjust, and recalibrate, while I struggled to find even the most basic sense of equilibrium. Many days, it felt like failure.

When I first came home, I tried to step back into everyday life. I quickly found myself at odd angles to everything, unable to function in the most basic situations. I’d go out to see my friends and have trouble getting through the evening or even holding up a conversation. At a party, I felt paralyzed, odd and stiff, watching time and events unfold, but unable to really participate. I think I spoke occasionally. I didn’t understand myself, and I kept trying to get back to normal. Running, which I love, and which has helped me cope through the hardest times of my life, was suddenly an impossible and demoralizing task. I would put on my running shoes, go out the door, drag myself along to the park, persist for half a run, and return home worn out. Yoga was also a strain. I lay down in child’s pose in the middle of a class until I recovered enough to get up and leave. I didn’t go back for a while. I had never been so physically broken but relatively healthy. Then it got worse. A few panic attacks, an oppressive lethargy, an inability to be around more than 2 or 3 people at a time, trouble focusing on work, on reading, on anything. I couldn’t even explain it to people.

What I needed was stillness and quiet. It took me a while to realize (though it’s not so strange after such an experience) and even longer to be okay with it. The amount of stillness and quiet I needed felt extreme, so extreme that I initially dismissed it as unreasonable. Going to a quiet dinner at a friend’s house, going camping in the woods — it should be fine, right? In reality, I could tolerate very little stimulation and movement. I finally created more space to withdraw and be still, but I had no idea what to do with myself. I’m an introvert who can usually entertain herself for hours, but this was different. I didn’t want to do anything. A walk on the beach, read a book, make a phone call? No. Meditation class, art project, a massage? It was all too much. I would lie on the couch and stare out at the clouds. I would sleep all night and then nap 3 hours in the day. I somehow kept my working life functioning, but only in person. I turned off my email (after being instructed to do so for my own good). I shut off my digital life completely. I would go out to take a walk and come home 3 blocks later. I would have days where I could accomplish something useful. I would have days where I watched the sunlight creep across the floor and felt guilty that I wasn’t doing more – more for myself, more for Nepal. I felt a constant, weighing pressure to help in Nepal.

My closest friends were amazing – they fed me, hung out with me, nurtured me, and gave me space to be as broken as I needed to be for a while. They fed me even if I couldn’t hold up a dinner conversation, they loved me when I was awkward, they took over managing a few parts of my life (including all things fundraising and Nepal), they watched me cry and gave me a hug and reminded me that they loved me. This is what friends are for. Other people in my life couldn’t understand how to support me or didn’t want to. Sometimes life is like that too.

It felt like forever, but it wasn’t so long. A few months. It was a slow recovery after that, a gradual rebuilding of my tolerance for the world, but I’m not the same person that I was before. My internal landscape is forever changed. And that’s okay—I’m getting to know this new self and better learning to live within it.

Life has a way of teaching you its lessons, regardless of whether you feel ready or interested. The experience of living through this earthquake has taught me so much about myself and about life. I have learned to listen, not to what I think I should feel, or what I would (or would not!) like to feel, but to what is actually happening inside me at any given moment. I have learned to be present in the moment in a new way. I have learned yet again what the people we love bring to our lives. I have learned that my heart and my body have their own pace–and it has little to do with my head. I have grown more perceptive. I have seen my own history and formative experiences with new insight. I’ve developed greater patience and compassion for others. I’ve developed a new level of need for quiet and solitude that seems to be semi-permanent. That’s just the short list.

A year after these earthquakes that caused so much devastation, hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in temporary huts and struggle with the basic needs of their lives. I was lucky, and deeply grateful, that I could return home to the safety and peace of my apartment in San Francisco, waiting there solidly for me. I can’t imagine what it means to lose most of one’s possessions and all of the stability that a home brings. I am moved again and again by the resilience and spirit of people in Nepal. People have lived in shelters cobbled together from plastic and bamboo and tin, lived through the stifling heat and rain of the monsoon and through the freezing cold of winter, lived through births and deaths, planting and harvest, all without much hope that it’s going to get better anytime soon.

Life is harder than I’ve ever seen it in those mountains, and somehow people persist. The spring winds came this month, lifting tarps and tin off makeshift structures and sometimes carrying away what little roof there was. A year into the future, and the failure of Nepal’s grossly inept (and corrupt) government is shocking:

— $308,880: total funding Nepal has offered for reconstructing homes (of the $4.2 billion pledged in aid or the $6.6 billion needed to rebuild)

— 661 Nepalese families have received reconstruction funding (of the more than 800,000 whose homes were damaged or destroyed)

— Less than 5 percent of homes rebuilt so far

— Number of projects approved by Nepal’s reconstruction agency: ZERO
(source, source)

Yes, you are reading those numbers correctly. Now the weather shifts again and people face another monsoon summer in what could barely be called a shelter. Some people in the richest areas—the capital and the tourist trekking areas—have been rebuilding, but the villagers who had little and lost everything are hardly of concern to those in power. In some of the harshest realities, natural water sources have dried up from the compression and expansion of the earth. Water shortages are a serious problem in some areas, with people now walking hours farther to carry water home. After over 10,000 landslides from the earthquakes, the country is still at far greater risk for landslides than before. Girls are at greater risk for child marriage or trafficking into brothels. Children are homeless, and child labour is widespread.

Nepal has been my spiritual home since I first landed there in 1999. I was immediately and forever attached to the country, the people, the mountains, the fields, the monasteries, and the temples. In some ways, it feels as though my spiritual soul has been shattered in ways that can never be repaired, much like the destroyed 18th century temples that lent Kathmandu its magic. Every time I talk with friends in Nepal or read the news, my heart is heavy with the monumental challenge of rebuilding homes and lives for hundreds of thousands of people. Many days I still can’t bring myself to read the news in my inbox.

The past week or two, I’ve been acutely aware of every day bringing me closer to this anniversary, this milestone. Words have eluded me for nearly a year, but tonight the words arrive. Reflecting on my personal experience can feel self-indulgent when I think of how many people have lost family and sustenance and live immersed in that reality every day. But this is all I know how to do: open my heart from the experience, share it for whatever value it might hold, as much for myself as for someone else.

Everyone feels trauma differently, but for all of us it is a process of upheaval and restructuring. It is a process being repeated hundreds of thousands of individual times on a very personal level for everyone who lived through these earthquakes or a similar event. It is being repeated on a grand scale by the towns, the culture, and the nation where it happened – each of them changed by it and navigating beyond it as best they can. Families, villages, schools, hospitals, communities, economies, faith, fortune, and the politics of the nation—everything has been lifted up, dropped down, broken, and pushed back together. The process of becoming whole again goes well beyond rebuilding infrastructure. It is a slow process of healing, internally and externally.

I offer this Buddhist prayer of love and compassion… a wish for each person, a wish for the nation, a wish for the world.

May you be happy and joyful
May you be healthy and strong.
May you be safe and protected from harm.

May you be peaceful and free from suffering.
May you be courageous in facing life’s difficulties.
May your true nature shine through as a source of light for everyone around you.

~April 25, 2016

Be A Part of the Positive Transformation in Nepal

April 25, 2016

April 25th marks one year since Nepal’s major quake, followed by over 400 aftershocks and a 5-month political blockade of essentials such as fuel, medicine, and food. Changing Lives Nepal is working to make communities stronger and more resilient. We are excited about everything we have planned…and we have a special gift for donors! READ MORE FROM OUR […]

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Over $80,000 Distributed for Earthquake Reconstruction

January 24, 2016

Reposting our update on distribution of earthquake funds for those of you who may have missed the story during the bustle of the holidays… Rebuilding Nepal Final Update Rukman Sunwar, kitchen staff (wearing the hat), with his parents and children in front of their flattened home. Amazing–giving out more than $80,000 to 19 families in Nepal […]

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Changing Lives Newsletter

January 21, 2016

In case you missed our recent newsletter in the busy holiday season, I’m reposting it here… Dear Donors and Friends,Nancy and I have deep gratitude for all of you, as you have supported our work and the communities in Nepal in years past, through this disaster, and into the future. Many of you contributed greatly […]

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Hope for Nepal

May 15, 2015

In a time where my sadness seems to grow deeper by the day, what gives me the greatest hope in Nepal are its savvy youth, coming of age, coming together. After I reached Kathmandu, after I saw every last client safely on a flight home, my attention turned to a broader field. I wanted to […]

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Aftershock

May 14, 2015

Aftershock comes in many forms. Kathmandu is a city turned inside out–thousands of people on the lawn of the convention center, tents on the golf course and in every open courtyard or square, recovered personal belongings piled in front of collapsed buildings, people squatting and cooking their daily meals in a field. Even for a […]

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Earthquake!

May 4, 2015

On April 25th, getting acclimatized to high altitude in Namche Bazaar consisted of a 4-hour hike, gaining 1000 feet, in fog with light rain and snow. The 25 of us with Mountain Madness–clients, Nepali staff, and myself–had just returned to our teahouse before lunch. In my room, I took off a goretex shell beaded with […]

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