In the morning of 2 Oct, our group woke up early and was ready by 4:30 am to go to Tashi Chhoe Dzong to witness the unveiling of a large thondrol (a large religious painting that can be as large as a 5-storey building, normally of Sakyamuni Buddha or Guru Rinpoche).
Upon arriving at the Dzong, we realized that the unveiling was not happening that morning because the Chief Abbot was at the Buddha Dordenma, a huge Buddha statue that overlooks the Thimphu Valley. We proceeded to the large Buddha. I personally was very excited cause I could see this Buddha looming on the hill in the distance from my hotel room.
As we drove on the snaking road towards the top of the hill, we could see Thimphu city lights glittering in the distance. (I’m such a sucker for city lights).
As we get closer to the top, the road started to get crowded with pilgrims and monks making their way to the Budha in the pre-sunrise morning. Thick fog (or clouds) surrounded the hill, making the 51m-tall Buddha a beautiful mysterious captivating sight.
Our group stood on one side feeling the chill of below 10-degree weather, while also being mesmerized by the sight in front of us. There were up to 5000 pilgrims and monks, clad in saffron threads, making their way that morning.
Upon reaching the side facing the front of the Buddha, the pilgrims performed their prostrations.
Our group, already feeling the energy of the people and the site, followed soon and went into our meditation. I’ve visited many giant Buddha statues, but this was the first time I could feel the presence of an actual large Divine presence, sitting atop the hill, overlooking the valley below.
Large tents were put together for the thousands of pilgrims. They were there that morning to listen for the last time to the 70th Je Khenpo, Chief Abbot, readings of the 108 sutras before he’s replaced by his next successor next year.
Pilgrims continued to come by ascending the main steps overlooking the valley. The shy morning sun and the low-hanging clouds made the sight a magnificent one.
A Bhuthanese prostration involves a series of movements. They clasp their hands in prayer position and place them above the forehead, in front of the throat, and the heart while standing, and bending all the way down in prostration with the head on the ground. This is repeated 3 times.
The 3 levels where the hands are placed represent the ultimate desire to attain the body (ku), speech (sung), and mind (thug) of a Buddha.
Butter lamps are lighted so that wishes may be fulfilled, just like prayer candles.
The 51m-tall Buddha Dordenma statues are surrounded by Dakinis or celestial beings. The statue is made in China, separated into pieces, shipped to Bhutan and assembled in Thimphu.
This gentleman was one of the few gentlemen who went around the grounds with a tin can of burnt Juniper Leaves and local hand-rolled incense. People come up to him to cleanse their malas and themselves in the smoke of this natural incense. This burnt Juniper leaves is probably the strongest incense I’ve ever experienced. The vibration of my mala was greatly increased after a few seconds of being immersed in the smoke. The gentleman was such a lovely soul. He commented on my camera and we exchanged a few words before parting ways. Small connections like this is why I love traveling.
At the end of our visit, we descended down the hundreds of steps, seemingly to go down below the clouds.
My heart was already so full and enchanted by the beauty of this country, and it was only Day 2. To be in Thimphu on that day and to have the opportunity to listen to the Je Khenpo reciting the sutras among the thousands of Bhutanese pilgrims was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Thimphu tsechu (religious festival) is probably the most grand and popular tsechu in Bhutan. It takes place once a year, over the period of 4 days.
As our group landed in the Paro airport that midday on Oct 1, I was already so eager to witness this festival, see all the colors, and simply be among the people.
As we arrived on the ground of the Trashi Chho Dzong (more familiarly known as the Thimphu Dzong), we were immediately surrounded by the vibrance of colors from the locals’ beautiful Gho (men’s traditional dress) and Kira (women’s traditional dress). A celebratory vibe is in the air! Extremely large and beautiful roses bloom along the little patch of garden on the perimeter of the Dzong. I see smiles all around.
The amazing Trashi Chho Dzong is built in the typical Bhutanese way of no nails and no blueprint. One can see how the building is sagging and curved at some places. Yet, it is still standing strong since the 17th century! Currently the Dzong (just like all the other Dzongs in Bhutan) houses both the administrative government and the monastic quarter.
Our team made our way to the dochey (courtyard), and I was struck by the sheer number of people in the courtyard and the amazing colors worn by the people attending the tsechu.
People gathered on all 4 sides of the courtyard as police and government officials did their best to perform crowd control.
Our group quickly found seats in the area facing the main utse (tower). I sat myself on the ground behind rows of the audience that had made themselves comfortable.
A cham (religious dance) is being performed in the main performance area. Cham dances tend to be very long. One takes about an hour to complete. I thought this was a perfect reflection of life in this beautiful country. People take their time, a luxury that we often take for granted and had slowly forgotten. Cham dances originate back in Guru Rinpoche days or the few centuries shortly after that. Some of them are created in honor of Guru Rinpoche, the yogi that brought Buddhism into Bhutan in 12th century.
The Thimpu tsechu was filmed and broadcasted live on national television as well. When we were there, the cham told a story of the 48 days that take place between a person’s passing and before the next stage of hell or heaven.
At one point in the dance, a group of dancers as dakinis or celestial beings came and performed their dance. All cham dances are performed by the monks. So that means the males also play female roles like the dakinis. I loved watching these dances. At one point, I was so enchanted by the animal-headed dancers. Their circular jumping movement went on and on. I could feel how difficult the movements were, yet I also understood how meditative the movements are. What a privilege to witness that.
As the cham was performed, devotees line up patiently in long lines to pay their respect to Yama, the god of death, whose statue is displayed in front of the main utse beyond the performing area. (See the lines of people in the photo above, flanked by officials in orange jumpsuits).
It’s impossible to not people-watch during the tsechu. The vibrant national dresses just make one wants to look at all of them. Men, women, children – all looked so beautiful in their best outfits.
The colors, especially the reds of the monks’ outfits and the traditional dresses stood up beautifully against the green mountains and the blue sky.
But the ones who had the most fun had to be the kids. A couple kids had so much fun following the cham dances that some of them had to be told to sit down by some of the security guards. Some boys were playing football with empty bottles near our seats. And this little kiddo took my friend’s camera and went to town with it. Going to his family and other passerby and happily took photos of them.
To be able to witness this beautiful and vibrant tsechu and being part of the people’s celebration was truly a privilege. Great reminder to always live in colors being part of a community and make togetherness a part of our lives.
The Kingdom of Happiness is a place that has tugged the strings of my heart for a very long time. When my friend Gladys shared casually that she was organizing this trip during one of our monthly Skype calls, I said a very loud YES immediately (without knowing how I was going cover the trip). I just knew I would be there.
So as always, the Universe provided and shortly before the trip, it was revealed to me one of my past lives in the land. I flew the DrukAir that early morning on the 1st of October with a knowing that I was coming home. And right enough, as the plane made its maneuver around the green mountains of the Kingdom, as it navigated towards the tarmac, my heart joyfully screamed that she is home.
In the following 8 days after that, I walked a journey back towards my Mother’s womb, as guided by Tara, as the representation of the ultimate Divine Mother.
I walked deep inwards into the lands, caressing every veins of leaves and every granules of soil.
The earth, is my home. In it, I am alive. For the first few days I was extremely quiet. My soul seemed to only want to listen to the vibrations the dwellers of Mama Gaia.
I almost ran towards this tree on the courtyard at the Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility) like a child running towards her favorite friend. I spent several moments quietly just being with her. Only afterwards that I knew this was a Bodhi tree. A tree that I have mentioned repeatedly in the 4 weeks previous to the Bhutan trip as I kept telling a friend of mine (who owns a carved Bodhi seed) how I wanted to see the full thing in glory. And there she was.
This was a tree that called me outside Punakha Dzong (also known as Palace of Great Happiness). Upon touching this tree, for the first time, I physically felt the pulsation of the trees upon my hands. Communicating, communing, with Mama Gaia.
The rocks of the hills towards Chagri Goemba (or Cheri Goemba) spoke to me. I was allowed to take one home and I found an eye lovingly ‘keeping an eye’ on me on the way home. Communication with nature continued.
On the trail between Chele La Pass and Kila Nunnery, I heard the songs of the mountain in my soul’s ears, as well as the songs of the prayer flags. I understood how the macrocosm is the same as the microcosm and that I am a part of both and all. I was in the smallest of spores and in the farthest of trees. I was one with all.
The rock of the caves at Taktshang Goemba pulled me down in a wash of familiarty. The terma (treasure) uncovered by the terton (treasure finder) in the form of a large rock with a thumb print of Guru Rinpoche felt like a dear friend that I just met again. Rocks always store so much memories in them.
I walked through the doors of past, back to the beginnings.
The currents of memories course through my veins, creating my blessed perfect life.
As soon as I stepped onto the grounds of Punakha Dzong, I knew it was special. As soon as I saw the left most mandala on the main hall, I felt like I passed out for a split second. I was triggered, and my heart was on a roller coaster. This mandala was my beginning. I was once under the maker of the mandala. This mandala was also our beginning, the beginning of our cosmos.
This valley, the Phobjikha Valley, was once my land, where I roamed free and wide. I was emotional as I sat on the ledge looking down. I go to this place a lot in my meditation, not knowing where it was. I was finally physically there.
The Universe went on an effort to make me find this mandala on the gong by first knocking my head upon the rock near where it was hanging. But I only managed to see it at the end before I left.
I was also triggered. My heart felt deeply and widely in all directions and dimensions. I remembered the gong’s vibration and also knew that it was part of my past. I understood that my connection with mandala had started hundreds of lifetimes ago. I always forget with each rebirth, but the memory remains in me and eventually surfaces.
I walked back into Mother’s Womb, allowing myself to be embraced by her magnificent love.
Along these tall trees and mother earth, I had the most amazing connection with our tour guide. At one point, I shared how I love Tara and my connection with her has started intensifying before the trip and how I had been chanting her mantra. Then and there, I was also shown what an amazing role my guide has as an angel in this trip. Divine Mother spoke through the voices in my head, the images I see, the earth, trees, humans, and everything around us.
At the Taktshang Goemba, the Universe sent several different reminders of the Compassion chant, Om Mani Padme Hum. The reminders included the wonderful monk chants that was heard throughout the mountains, 2 locals who started chanting around me one after another as I got closer to the Monastery, and this sign that (again) led me to a short discussion with our wonderful guide (He was always at the right point and the right time to lead us to the right direction). It says om mani padme hum hri – which I was told to mean that the mantra is repeated a hundred times.
Upon the final and hardest part of the ascent, along with the reminder from the last local who chanted while climbing next to me, I took out my mala (or mani chim in local language), and started chanting 108 Om Mani Padme Hum all the way to the top and closed it with 3 Ohms. I did the same chant on the most difficult ascent back. Both done while being breathless, with burning thighs, trying to keep going on the steep climb. The Universe seems to remind me that on the toughest climb, trust that the Divine is there to guide you.
In this Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple), I was pulled down on my knees, unable to get up again, leaving me prostrating in front of Tse Lha Nam Sum (the Trinity Godess of Long Live). Yet again I was affected, my heart felt so much – elation, gratitude, melancholy, and love. I bowed down to such an amazing loving great power. I cleared my karma and opened myself wide to receive all her love.
That same night, during Rebirthing Breathwork, I owned my power of feminine and beauty and activated all 12 chakras.
On the last day of the trip, we had the pleasure of taking a traditional hot-stone bath. In the bath, I felt the most amazing bliss and spent the majority of time just curling in a fetus surrounded by the warm water as if I was back into my mother’s womb. Being the last significant thing I had on this trip, this felt like I had completed my journey back into my mother’s womb.
Land of the Thunder Dragon. Homeland.
I never imagined that so much of my past (that made up the person that I am) started in this magnificent Land of the Thunder Dragon. I drew the picture below in the rocking car on the way from Gangtey Goemba back to the capital Thimpu. I had one amazing meditation that morning in the lodge by the Goemba and saw this image.
Our past, present, and future are merely dimensions of the same point in time. There was no separations of the 3 and they all reside in ourselves.
Our eyes at our back are the brightest for we see best to the past.
Our third eye sees our way into the future.
But the most important one is the one that sees with the heart.
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha
I prostrate to the Liberator, Mother of all the Victorious Ones.
We are coming closer to the middle part of the year. And since almost half a year has passed, I’d like to talk about Retreat and Relax cause between now and August is a great time to do both!
Cause we’re going into summer time in the northern hemisphere and winter time in the northern hemisphere. Both are great times to take it easy – whether to be more playful, or to take a reflective rest.
Cause it’s the school holidays for those of you with little ones, still in school, or teaching at a school.
Cause it’s a good time to take a break, recalibrate, and gather energy to head towards the second half of the year :).
I believe that our beings are made up of a mind, a body, and a soul and that all 3 parts form a balanced trinity that make up our ultimate healthy, beautiful, amazing self. Unfortunately, most of the time, we pay more attention to 1 aspect of the trinity and neglect the others.
For example, in this crazy fast-paced world, often times, we only stop and take sick days from work when we are physically very sick. It’s rare that we stop and take a sick day when we’re just mentally exhausted. And that is not quite right cause a mental exhaustion impairs our ability to perform as much as a physical ailment. Luckily, our body is a very intelligent being, and normally we are just so exhausted that we take off days for the sake of our sanity and well-being.
Here’s an idea: don’t wait till your body sounds an alarm to take a break.
When was the last time you take a break from your life and really allow your mind, body, and soul to rest? When was the last time you go on a retreat?
Ever since I made my mental health and well-being a priority a few years ago, I started taking a retreat yearly and that is one of my greatest ways to stay balanced and to be reminded of the greater picture in my life. Some retreats led me to a journey of wonder and magic, like this one. Some reminded me why it is important to unplug from the world from time to time (as I wrote in my old post here).
So folks, if any part of you wishing you were taking a break somewhere else or if you’re wishing to retreat and relax, don’t hesitate. Make the time. Open your calendar and book the time and start making all necessary reservations.
Commit to honoring this time-off as much as you commit to your work cause your health and well being is extremely important and should be a priority in your life.
Now, if you’re interested to go on a retreat and don’t know where to start or where to look for one, you can join me and a bunch of friends at Glow in Thailand by Social Zen Retreats.
My friends and I will be holding a retreat in August in the beautiful Koh Samui! Your days will be filled with Yoga, Meditation, Dancing, Great nutritious food, Pool time, and time to connect with the beauty of the island. Head over here to read all the details about Glow in Thailand!
I am extremely excited about facilitating Yoga and meditation in this retreat and I would be sooper excited if you could join us! It would be really awesome to share this beautiful retreat with you!
I hope you you give yourself a chance to retreat and relax and I hope you get to reconnect with your true self.
PS: share with me stories and photos of your trip! I would love to hear about it!
Mount Sinai is located in the Eastern part of Egypt. In the Bible stories, it is the place where Moses received the 10 commandments. I was blessed enough to hike the small mountain in my recent trip to the Middle East. I don’t climb a lot of mountain, but I have to say, it is the best hike I’ve experienced in my life. And here are a few things I learned from that hike.
It’s okay if you can’t see where you’re going
Hiking to the top of Mount Sinai was a hike of rocky terrain in pitch-black darkness. We started on the ground at 11 am. We took a Camel ride for roughly a couple hours and then we started hiking to the top of the mountain at about 2 AM.
We carried our flashlights so we could still see. But what we could see was only the step right in front of us cause that’s where the flashlight was pointed to. If not for our big group that had made a snaking line ahead, I wouldn’t know what the path was like.
It was only when the sun started rising on our way down that I could see that the rocky steps were right next to a deep fall. And honestly, I was thankful I wasn’t able to see that while climbing up.
That’s kinda like life isn’t it? Often times we really don’t know where life is going to take us and we can only see the step right in front us. And even with just that 1 step, the fear that rises is big enough to stop us from taking it. What if we can really see where we’re headed and see how steep is the climb? Hundreds more fears might rise up and we might just decide to go back and just sit in one corner cause the climb is too intimidating.
So really, it’s okay to not be able to see where we’re going. Just take it one inch at a time, one step at a time. Have courage and faith, and we’ll get there. And also, there’s always others in front of you that will show the way :).
2. When we’re afraid and doubting ourselves, helping others can help us find our courage.
I had huge doubts on whether I could make it to the top of Mount Sinai. This doubt was in my mind for days and was exemplified in the hours leading to the hike. To be honest, I was doubting my own strength (silly I know, I’m actually pretty fit and should be fit enough to climb the mountain).
After the couple hours of Camel ride, we stopped at a small coffee shop before continuing the hike for another couple hours on foot. By this time, the below-0-degree-celcius-cold air started hitting me hard and I started to shake quite uncontrollably.
Normally when that happens, it tends to get worse and I get sick shortly after. So my doubt was getting stronger. Every second I was questioning whether I could make it to the top. But I was curious, you see. I am a very curious person and that’s how I’ve accomplished a lot of things in life. So my curiosity won and I said to my family that I would go as far as I could. If I couldn’t do it, I would turn around.
So I started climbing, my parents were following behind me. After a few minutes, we started seeing that the climb was quite tricky and we had to be careful with the rocks. Armed with my tiny flashlight, I decided to take on the role of finding the best rock to step on and the best path to climb so my parents can just follow me.
I suddenly took that responsibility of ensuring the safety of my parents and therefore shifting the focus out of myself. I, who was previously more doubtful than them and was legitly scared, started giving them encouragement. I forgot about myself, step by step we go, and we all made it to the top. I cried at the top cause I thought I was never gonna make it.
A lot of times, my fear and doubts get extrapolated cause I kept turning around and getting stuck in my own head. Shifting the focus to others forces us out of our own self-pity hole and we can actually see things more objectively.
Have you heard people giving advice for someone to do volunteer work when that person is being rather miserable? Well this is one of the reasons why :). Sometimes we just have to be with others so we can get out of ourselves.
3. This Universe is really all-mighty and Divine and absolutely breathtaking.
This last lesson is not really a lesson but a reminder.
We are all created just right and we’re all at the right place and always at the right time. The camels are created just right. Their eyes are more sensitive than bats to see in the darkness. Their legs are created to walk on those sandy and rocky surfaces. And they really are some of the most graceful creatures on earth (I fell in love with them).
We, humans are created just right with the intelligence and the ability to help ourselves and help others. And despite what we often like to deny, everything that happens in our lives happen for a reason. If we can see the lessons in them and learn from them, we can continuously grow and adapt to our lives. And we remember things from our ancestors. I followed Venus as my guiding light during the hike, probably just like the early Homo sapiens did when they roamed the land.
We are all connected. Humans and animals, and plants, and rocks. My camel guy, Ahmed, is an Egypt Bedouin who lives thousands of miles away from me. But we both have the same basic human traits. He was able to speak English with me, but even without English, we both spoke the language of Respect. So did him and the camel, and I and the camel. So did both of us and the magnificence of the Mountain. We all spoke 1 language: Respect.
The S T A R S. My goodness. The S T A R S. They filled the velvety night sky with their glittery brilliance and they naturally enchanted all pairs of eyes that look upon their beauty.
The darkness. Oh how it wasn’t just 1 shade of black. It was a million shades of black. And my eyes could capture them all.
And the beauty of the Moonset and the change of color in the dark horizon on top of Mount Sinai was so beautiful, I wept upon its beauty.
We are a part of that beauty and we are part of that bigger magnificent connection that goes beyond our selves. We can open our senses and continue to be in tune to their messages. There are many lessons, stories, songs, and tales stored in these connections. We just have to be open and be willing to listen.
So there. Take it one step at a time, don’t just focus on yourself, and always stay connected, be open and listen to this marvelous Earth.
Let’s continue to marvel at the beauty of this Universe, shall we?