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NEWS

Contemplations from the Road

Jennifer Oechsner

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Before heading off from India I decided to have one more adventure. I always love the mountains and there were places in Northern India that I knew would be amazing to see. And I knew that retuning to the Himalayas would be a great way to say goodbye to India. When I was trying to decide whether or not to go, there was that voice of reason in the back of my head questioning the wisdom of going. I knew I would be heading to Nepal for the 10 day meditation and I thought maybe that was enough. However, when the suggestion came my way to do a 2 week trip on a motorcycle into the northern-most part of India I knew it would be the trip of a lifetime and I just couldn't say no.

When I came to India in September 2018 it was a big leap of faith so I decided, what the hell, I would take another one. As I reflect back on my life I guess this is a pattern for me. I tend to jump into things. Some might say this is foolish or irresponsible or impetuous but I guess I just believe in seizing the moment. I didn't know when I would be back in India and I didn't know if I would ever have the chance again to take a motorcycle tour in the Himalayas. I’ll be honest here, there were several leaps of faith involved. I know how dangerous motorcycles can be and I assumed some of there terrain would be rough. I also would be spending two weeks with someone I didn't know particularly well. I mean, people who get along in life don't always get along when traveling together but something told me everything would work out, and it did (for the most part). Something told me I would be safe, and I was. Something told me it would be the experience of a lifetime, and it was. Sure, my ass hurt and we got on each others nerves from time to time but I am so grateful to have had the experience. The landscape we rode through was nothing short of spectacular and the fluctuations of my mind provided great big mouthfuls of food for thought. Following the 10 days of meditation with this trip to the Spiti Valley encouraged me to delve even deeper into my psyche. There was a lot of time to think and the changing landscape and majestic mountains were a source of great inspiration each day. 

By the end of the first day the heat of Delhi gave way to cool mountain air and lush rolling mountains. I was in awe and tried in vain to capture the images with my smart phone as we drove along. The sweet energy of Sarahan, the fierce river running through Chitkul (the last village at the mountainous Indo-Tibetan border), the Tibetan style homes framed by snowy peaks in Nako, the charming village of Kabo, the grandeur of the peaks and valleys in Kaza...each place we visited provided new magnificent views and friendly smiles.

It was around day 6 when the awe I was already experiencing went to whole new level. The gravel roads and surrounding dramatic landscape made me feel as though I were on the moon. The green snow capped mountains gave way to jagged earthy dusty rocks with a muddy river flowing through the dramatic gorge. The drop off at the road's edge got closer and steeper. Periodically I would peer over the edge to check for edges of fear. A few times my heart would skip a beat but then the calm would quickly return. It was strange. I honestly foresaw myself having much more fear on this trip. There was no fear of falling because I knew we wouldn't. There was no fear about what was around the next bend because I knew Vaibhav would gracefully navigate any obstacles that presented themselves. There was no fear of weather turning because whatever came would only be a passing discomfort as is the nature of all things. 

As we rolled and bumped along the roads the blue snowy peaks periodically broke up the perceived moonscape that dominated our surroundings. Here and there the industrious people of the mountain had cultivated the land and clusters of green step farms broke up the expansive earth tones. 

The landscape of Spiti VAlley is that which I have never seen before. The scenery of the entire trip was stunning but there was something profound about being surrounded by this new terrain. It was almost as though the energetic connection to this new natural landscape facilitated a deeper energetic connection to a new way of being. As we drove I felt a softer place around my heart. As I shared my reflections with my friend and road captain (Vaibhav), my vulnerability also surprised me. Sharing fears and insecurities incited some anxiety but as soon as the words left my lips there was also peace. Although I do consider myself to be an open person, I do feel a sort of fear clouding my heart. This fear has been a familiar companion but releasing this burden is an undeniable necessity if I am to continue to grow. The new landscape  provided fertile ground in which to plant these new seeds of growth. Under the light of the Himalayan sun the shadows that follow me were slowly being burnt away. 

The mind is a funny thing. It becomes accustomed to patterns of pain and it can feel foreign or even self-indulgent to cultivate patterns of joy. But joy is real, joy is truth, joy is from an unadulterated peace. Not the joy that incites belly laughs and butterflies, but the joy that gently softens the heart. It is not a joy to attach to but a joy to return to when the pain of life returns, as it surely will. When this pain surfaces the sense of calm that joy brings can be home base, a warm place to return to when the fleeting painful situations arise. All things arise and pass away yet I truly believe that joy remains constant. It will always be there waiting if we have the patience and fortitude to live from this place of truth.

When I made the decision to move to India a year ago I had a thought that the endeavor just might change the course of my life. This shift in my reality and the softening of my heart is not quite what I was expecting but even more meaningful than a new career path. Of course, new surroundings, new experiences and new friends have the power to blow through the status quo of the mind. However, the true wisdom lies in retaining the lessons for the long haul. We all need help to remember to keep the heart open, self love at the forefront and cultivate a deeper trust in our inner wisdom. For me, sharing these reflections with you helps me remember to stay on track as lasting change takes time and persistence to cultivate.

A deep thank you to Vaibhav of Roads and Chrome for the incredible journey. Sorry I would never let you sleep in but I hope the cups of chai I brought you in the morning made up for it. Thank you for keeping me safe on the road and for being a good friend (and therapist at times). Who knows, maybe I'll see you down the road for another Himalayan adventure. Anyone care to join me?