It is difficult to talk about my experience in Tibet. I am not sure that I even understand what it all means to me and how it truly affected my life and mind. It was truly profound beyond words. But I will do my best for you, my reader.
We landed in Lhasa, God’s Place on October 29th, 2013. We have all heard the phrase Free Tibet. Some of you may even know what that phrase is referring to. Many don’t have real information due to severe oppression of the Tibetan people. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I wanted to go. I have always wanted to visit Tibet. Tibet is the holy land of Buddhism and has thrived as Tibetan Buddhism for centuries. The rich Buddhist and Himalayan culture is what mystery is made of for the western mind. I don’t really know what is behind the veil. As always, I want to see it for myself. I want to feel it and know it. It broke my heart open, into a thousand pieces and kept me up all night tossing around my own thoughts about life and what I think I know about wrong and right, about choice and about freedom.
Over the past decade Lhasa has become more like little China, as many places around the western world have. Since the take over in 1951 and the final clinching of Tibetan authority in 1959 when the 14th Dali Lama left, China has been ruler of the worlds highest region on earth with an average elevation of 4,900 metres (16,000 ft). There is a reason they call it the roof of the world.
The Chinese government is smart. They want to control the worlds greatest water supply, the Himalayan snow caps that pour rivers down from the heavens like veins to the earth. When they control the water they also control hydro power. In the sunny season they produce power from solar panels, hundreds that span vast across the aired land.
While many cry to “Free Tibet” I have to admit I am not hopeful. No one can or will stop China. As no one stopped America when we wanted Alaska or Mexico (modern day California). Being in Tibet exposed a very real reality to me that when a powerful force wants to come and take over there is little one can do but fight. Perhaps now in the modern world uprisings branch from its social network roots like the Egyptian spring that sparked the 2011 revolution or the Occupy Wall St movement that sprung up in Zuccatti Park in the fall of the same year. All somewhat peaceful protests that mean business inevitably led to violence because that is what the “powers that be” know and that’s what those who are oppressed eventually tend to revert to out of desperation. So if you are a peaceful people like the Tibetans what chance do you have? When China won’t allow social media like FB in Tibet what chance do you have?
Our guide was kind enough to be straight with us. As honest as he could be. He said we as Americans (and one Dutch) were lucky to be in his holy land, lucky to see what is happening there with our own eyes. He and all other Tibetans are no longer free to leave the country, their passports revoked. He said It is our job to go back home and tell the world what is happening there. We had a plan to go to the Tibetan Mt. Everest Base Camp. We never made it due to the government shutting it down. Apparently China gets angry at the sight of a Tibetan flag. In fact each home owner is compelled to fly a Republic of China flag on their home or face dire consequences. It pained me to see those flags hung even in the most remote far off and high elevated regions.
The land itself was absolute expanse and emoted freedom. In some ways it resembled the wild west and the local people look very similar to the Native American population America has all but snuffed out. It is hard to watch the people who live so simply, who work the land, who live in harmony with the land and their animals and who for the most part keep to themselves and take care of their families be bullied by the big city, big government mentality. These are the folks that suffer at the hand of greed and extortionate powers.
We spent three nights in Lhasa. We ate at all Tibetan restaurants, went to Tibetan shops yet there was no escaping the fact that much of our money was going to China. Tourism has grown as one of Tibet’s largest income source after agriculture. China built the very nice long highway that stretched from Lhasa all the way to the Friendship Bridge connecting to Nepal. We took three days to drive through some of the most dramatic and beautiful wild land I have ever seen, stopped at a village family home for yak butter tea, visited mountain monasteries, stopped at some on the worlds highest passes to snap some pics, and took a moment at the sacred lake, Yamdrok. It was beyond epic.
One of my most favorite things was to watch the monks debate! Wow. They were on fire. In the courtyard in their red clothes one would sit and ask questions, the monk standing would prove his point. When he made his point he would wind up then smack his right hand onto his left and shoot it forward into the air like an exclamation mark. It was perfection! Full of grace and power. I loved the passion with which they debated and the physical movements to really drive it home. That moment in the courtyard at the monastery was priceless.
One of the most real moments for me was when we went to visit and walk through the Dali Lama’s old palace which is now a museum. Potala Palace sit in the center of Lhasa. Construction began in 1645 and is rich in gold. I was able to walk into the rooms where the Dali Lama used to sit and pray, or read, or meditate, or speak to official guests of other countries. He was no longer there but I was somehow able to feel his presence and imagine his sweet smile shine on me as I bowed at his empty chair. It broke me when I saw a woman fully prostrate in front of His Holinesses old meditation seat. It was gloriously lite up by the sun shining through golden curtains.
We are all bowing to emptiness, I thought to myself. We don’t know who we are bowing to really. There is no one there. Are we bowing to a hope, to a memory, to a wish, to a man, to another? What is real in this world? What is there to hold onto when that which is good is conquered. Am I empty? Have I forgotten my soul again? My mind raced, my heart came up to my throat, the tears began to pour almost uncontrollably. I let them stream but kept as quiet as I could. I was leading a group so I felt responsible to stay present and not loose myself completely. But it is impossible to hide such powerful emotion. And I wasn’t going to stop feeling. That’s what travel is about. That is what exposing ourselves to different cultures and different realities is all about. Widening our capacity to feel all of life as it is.
I am grateful to feel my pain. To let it cut deep so my soul can be freed. No one asks for hurt but we all feel it.
I feel the pain of not only the Ttibetan’s but all the peoples of the world who are not free. The guests that we take on our Away Inward travel adventures usually have more then they need and face their privilege when exposed to other realities. And without fail they return home more grateful then ever and more willing to shed the excess and live free because they can and usually the repression they experience is self imposed. Being a citizen of the free world comes with responsibility and a sense of duty for no one is truly free until we all are free. We are in this together, brothers and sisters of mother Earth trying to make our way home safely.
All in all Tibet was a memorable experience and I am glad I went. While there is quiet conflict in the region it is also filled with immense beauty and a freedom that we may never know as Americans, freedom of the soul. Our group was there to witness history in the making, to see the Buddhas prophecy come to be, to share what we have seen with those who care to listen and hopefully be part of the larger movement toward peace and understanding.
If you are inspired to visit Tibet and see this great land for yourself please visit www.awayinward.com and contact us for more information. Blessings on your journey. May we all be free.