I have a vision to help as many people as possible. Of course I was doing that in my own way with Inspirational Boots, but I always felt there was more I could do. I’ve always loved to travel and experience new things, but I had gotten stuck in a rut, a routine that didn’t bring fire to my soul. I decided to pursue my bucket list item of going out of the country.
After much deliberation of where in the world I wanted to go, I decided on a trip to England and Ireland for a 10 day excursion. Then a friend suggested that I go to India. India? Yes, I know that I have many of the same beliefs as many Indian people do, but why would I have to go there? I mean, I help people with their own spiritual paths. I’m spiritual enough, right? Also, you hear of such terrible things happening to women there, which is mind boggling for such a spiritual place. So why even chance it long term? After a couple days and some research, I decided a short stop in India would be fine on my way down to Sri Lanka.
People asked me how long I’d be gone. “At least a year,” I’d respond, thinking that sounded somewhat reasonable and not so crazy, but then they’d ask, “Why are you going?” and “Where are you planning on going?” This trip was to learn more about myself and spiritual beliefs and the healing arts. I was determined to find a shaman or guru along the way. And as for what was on the non-existent agenda? All I knew was I’d start in Ireland and somehow work my way over to Sri Lanka. Not having an itinerary made me definitely sound crazy to people. Yeah, I quit the best job I ever had and sold or gave away most everything I owned to go. Sounds more like an early mid-life crisis than a spiritual journey. I had received my Doctorate of Divinity and Spiritual Counseling in February, but it’s one thing to read books and write thousands of words, and an entirely different thing to actually live it.
At first I was anxious after I told people what I was doing. Many thoughts went through my mind. They will think that I’m somehow crazier than I was before. I am so loved and needed here. How could I leave my family and friends behind to actually do something for me? The closer I got to the date, the more mixed emotions I experienced. What are you doing? How can you give up everything here, and for what? Your life is happy and comfortable here. Charleston is your home. My ego tried very hard to keep me in my comfort zone. On the other hand, the sense of adventure of really not knowing what to expect and the feeling deep down in my soul that I needed to go overseas kept me up at night in anticipation.
The best advice I received prior to my trip was to have no expectation of what or how things would or should be. It would take away from all the opportunities and lessons that awaited me on this journey. If I expected to see things as they were in America, I was in for a rude awakening!
So I decided to start in Ireland. That was safe. I had a friend I could stay with and they speak well enough English, albeit with a very lovely thick accent. I wouldn’t have to give up my comfort zone completely just yet. So I stayed in County Kerry for three weeks, traveling the countryside helping my friend Michael with his deliveries of timber and drink. It seemed as if he knew everyone, so I got a fantastic introduction to the people. And that ended up being my favorite part – being immersed in the culture, learning some words of their language and seeing the sights, in that order. My experiences in Ireland shaped how I experienced each country thereafter.
After Ireland came a three week journey through Europe on the train. I highly recommend this economical way to travel through Europe. The people that you meet and the sights you see through your window are simply amazing – much better than trying to drive and look around. So I went to Italy first, and on day one I walked at least six miles…that’s kilometers for the non-American crowd. I also climbed up a “hill” of 255 steps to look over the city of Romeo and Juliet, Verona. Now I don’t have to tell you how lazy Americans can be. We certainly don’t walk as much as the Europeans (and certainly not like the Indians!), but my motto when I came on this trip was “Why not?” When in Verona, right…or something like that. And it was breathtaking —literally—and completely worth looking like a pathetic American losing her breath as she climbed each step.
Next was Germany, where the food was amazing! So much so that I decided to walk with my pack over two miles for breakfast. Yeah, that would never happen in America. I would hop in my car and go around the corner…”I’ll have a number 2 please with a sweet tea…nope, their sweet tea sucks…Dr. Pepper.” All this walking and actually getting real food was working great for my waistline.
On the train to Belgium and the Netherlands, I got to knock off another bucket list item – see a Formula 1 race…and even though my team would have made podium if they had not blown a tyre on the last lap, I was still pleased to be able to walk on the track afterwards. The Netherlands was beautiful! Very laid back – the only drawback was there were barely any forests. I saw a fantastically laid out transportation system of trams, buses, motorbikes, cars and bicycles.
It was a bit overwhelming at first seeing all the bicycles! Finally, I overcame my hesitation and ended up loving seeing Amsterdam with a breeze on my face. Note to readers: I highly (pun intended) suggest that you avoid eating the special muffins directly before proceeding to bike back home, especially if it’s raining. Even with a GPS, you will lose yourself and end up on the complete opposite end of town. Just sayin’.
Paris was my last stop in Europe, and not because I’ve always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. It was where I was hopping on a plane to Asia. I’ve never been a fan of big cities, and this certainly qualified for that list. When I got off the train, my first stop was Notre Dame and then I ate some [insert some adjective that hasn’t been discovered yet] French food. My food baby was in a serious coma. And then I was hooked after having a front row seat to a Chopin concert that was played at the oldest church in Paris. And don’t get me started about the art! If you want to experience the height of culture, book a flight to Paris. You will not be disappointed. My last hours in Europe were spent knocking off another bucket list item: Giverny Gardens – the home of my favorite artist, Claude Monet. I was floating on cloud 99…nope, not a typo.
And so I got on my train and arrived at the airport just 90 minutes before my international flight was to take off. I would not recommend this to anyone unless you are working on your endurance for the Bridge Run. To make matters worse, I had to check a bag. And the check-in counter was—I kid you not—the absolute furthest away from where the train dropped me. A true test of my patience, I assure you. Spoiler – I made it just in time to get to the gate and board. Everything in the right time.
After a 13 hour flight, including a layover in Oman, I arrived safely in Kathmandu. Now, I will note here that you thought that the TSA was bad in America. Well, your bags and you get checked no less than two times coming and going. It’s been as high as four times for me. You must go through security again at each connecting flight as well. Getting patted down and asked if you have pepper spray or mace because of your gender and skin having “no color” will become second nature. By the way, you won’t need it.
I will not lie; every country I visited was a jar to my senses, but none like Kathmandu. It’s not the fact that the earthquakes damaged and destroyed homes and temples, resulting in over 9,000 deaths only in April. I had nothing to compare it to in America. The poverty and pollution was mind boggling, but the welcoming smiles seemed to be more so out of place. How could anyone find happiness in a place like this? Overnight it made me grateful for what I did and did not have.
My first day I went outside the capital to a village where most of the homes were leveled. I’m talking about one foot thick brick and stone walls, which one would think were safe, that had fallen to the ground. All that was there was a slab for the front porch. These people had received no support and were living in tents made of cloth and tarps and metal sheeting, much like the shanty towns after the Great Depression.
But still everyone welcomed me with open arms and smiles. Makes you rethink about being upset after sitting in afternoon traffic after a downpour in Charleston.
I had volunteered my time to teach at the local school. There were about 200 children from preschool to 10th grade with open hearts, each class wanting me to teach each session. I sang the American national anthem and they wanted to learn it, so we taught each other our national anthems. They also taught me Napali dance, which is a huge part of their culture.
They had the Teej Festival celebrating women (which festivals happen more often there than you getting away with jaywalking). Women get dressed up in red, green or yellow saris, sing about their woes (the only time they are able to express them), and dance the day and night away. It is only slated for two days on the calendar, but many times it’s celebrated upwards to a month ahead. The women know how to party! They would dance for hours with little breaks while I would be sitting down fanning my sweating self. I’m sure I don’t have to mention that it is hot there. And their version of an AC is a fan, if you’re lucky.
The temples in Nepal ranged from the simple to the extremely ornate. The time and effort put into them can be wholly appreciated from the big to the small. The most visited section of temples are in Durbar Square. I did not know what it looked like before the earthquake, but I was amazed all the same. It was not until I noticed pictures posted in front of some of the most damaged or even destroyed temples that I realized the impact and my heart broke. In my month’s stay in the capital, I visited all the major temples as well as some outside of the city. The spiritual vibe is like no other when you take your time to notice the carvings and intricate gold and even glass inlays in and on those structures. It’s beyond amazing.
I also had the opportunity to see a jhakri, the local name for a shaman who is the medicine man in the villages where there are no hospitals to rush to. I had him work on a personal issue with my knee I’ve had most of my life. Not surprising to me, he helped it immensely, causing the swelling to go down after two sessions equaling maybe 20 minutes. Completely amazing! Unfortunately, he spoke mumbled Napali at best, so there was no way to request of him to share his methods.
Now I have currently found myself in Vrindavan, finally immersed in the spiritual life of India after taking three months to arrive. And of course deterring from my original plans, I am anticipating being here for some time. Very possibly longer than my original guesstimate of a year. I am finding the simplicity of life here is nothing I would trade for anything back in the States. Mornings of rushing to get ready for the workday have now been consumed with loving awareness and setting the intention of the day while drinking a cup of chai. Afternoons of going to the movies has been replaced with hours of walking around saying mantras and greeting the brijwasis, the local people. Evenings eating and drinking with friends now are full of visiting temples and holy sites and participating in ceremonies for various Hindu gods and goddesses (there are over 330 million to choose from).
And when shall I arrive in Sri Lanka, you ask? I’ll get down there eventually. As for teachers? I find them every day. Every person and even animals teach you something if you pay attention. The basics of being a human being shine through to show you love and compassion for every living thing, even if you feel you have nothing to give. What? You don’t speak their language? I only knew English and German before coming on this trip and how to say hello or thank you in the European countries. You don’t need to be fluent before diving in. I find that simply smiling conveys the love that is the basis for who we are at a soul level. That simple gesture says that I think you matter to take the energy to acknowledge you as another soul.
And I’ve seen a plethora of loving souls on this journey so far.