Toward the Open Sky
05.09.2012 - 05.09.2012 20 °C
On the first day of the Everest Trek, between Lukla and Manjo, there are fairly regular settlements strung along the path and dotting the hillsides across the valley cut by the Bote Khotse. A wood-walled farmstead, a hole in the wall supply shop, or a stone guest lodge are never that far away. The hills near the trail are a patchwork of farmers’ fields, separated by a stitching of waist-high stone walls. A farmer working her field of mint or apples may look up and smile as I pass, or may just keep working. Some 30,000 or more trekkers come through this way per year, and so we aren’t too strange a sight to be ignored.
Still, there aren’t that many people here, and beyond the farms, the forest blankets the hills and waits patiently to reclaim what meager portions of this land humans have carved out for their own. The air is crisp and clean. No longer am I in the slick of smog hanging out like a pack of cigarette-smoking hoodlums with nothing better to do, in Kathmandu. The hilltops touch the bottoms of wispy clouds drifting up the valley on breezes born from the sea, and the snowcapped mountains on the horizon reach ever upwards towards the dazzlingly blue sky. There is breathing room here that can’t be found in a city. The soundscape is devoid of honking and yelling and jabber. The wind whips through the trees, rustling leaves and needles, and the river gushes across the rocks below, and occasionally the bells of a yak herd carry on the wind from somewhere unseen.
It feels so good to be out here; to be heading into a great expanse of wilderness; away from the press and stink of city life and the known world. I am instantly refreshed and supercharged with excitement. It enthralls me knowing that it will take more than a week of passing through scenery so sublime, just to get to base camp.
Adrian and I both take turns gasping about how stunning this place is. Our breathless descriptions include, “Like poetry,” “God’s artistry,” and “How will I be able to tell people back home about this? I can’t find the words.” A couple of times, we get caught up on the trail, in the midst of some large group of foreign trekkers and their guides and porters, and we double-time it to get well ahead of them, again to the breath of spaciousness. But for the most part, we do our best to take it slow and steady so that we might enjoy the day just a little bit more.
Most of the time, we walk together, keeping pace with each other’s steps and rapturous wonder. But once or twice, I tell Adrian that I will catch up with him, and fall back to walk along in solitude. In these moments, the full impact of aliveness I am feeling is able to touch deeply into my soul. I feel the strength it has taken to get myself over to this part of the world and up here, flowing powerfully from within.
People come to places in the wilderness like this, in part, because they want to get away from the crowds. Nature offers many chances to feel the stark emptiness of solitude. The mindscape out here is as unpolluted by the collective emotions and energies shooting around a city, as the air is unpolluted by noise and toxic fumes. A person can feel the wilds within, away from the organized distractions and cluttered chaos of city life.
I left on this year-long trip in part to embrace solitude; to strip away the masks and mental machinery used to survive in the communal world. I wanted to develop a deeper sense of self-reliance and individuality so that I might better navigate my life from a place of personal truth and integrity. In the moments of walking alone I felt this energy most profoundly, in a way that was not consistent when I walked along with Adrian. At first, I thought that this indicated some weakness on my part. I believed that I was catering my energy to his and unbalancing myself by doing so. If only I could determine and correct what I was doing wrong, I would feel just as powerful as I do when I walk alone!
But as the day went on, and I pulsed in and out of solitude, I came to the realization that I am neither an individual nor a group creature, but rather inhabit both worlds simultaneously. The strengths I have developed and the weaknesses I have overcome in solitude are different from the strengths and weaknesses I have in a group. There is no need to attain individuality. It is an immutable fact of life. The question has become for me, “how do I balance solitude with togetherness?”
What better place to ask this question than out here, climbing up towards the desolate high peaks of the Himalaya, and away from the busy hives of the lowland cities? Eventually, I will return to civilization and its demands. But that day is far, far away as my imagination soars upwards along with the migrating clouds, and my feet touch down only on the path in front of me, and every breath of air, bend of wind-blown branch, and unfamiliar turn is revealed moment by moment, out of the eternal now.