Today is our last day in Kathmandu, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to stop and reflect on the past month. A couple days ago, I learned the Tibetan vocabulary for talking about being patient. Whereas in English we say, “I am patient” or “you are patient or “she/he is patient” and “I/You have or He/she has patience,” the Tibetan version of trying to express the same idea—at least the way our gen-la taught it to us—translates into “I/you do patience” and “He/she does patience.” This difference in patience as a quality and patience as an action may seem insignificant to you. Just another one of those small oddities that arises from translating one language to another, you say. But I’ve latched on to this alternative perspective—I like that by becoming something that is done, patience can be practiced or developed as a skill. Some people might argue that “being patient” is also understood as a behavior one can practice to become better at, but I like that “doing patience” brings attention to the temporality of patience (the quality only exists as long as it is being acted out) and makes patience seem to be less of a personality trait (i.e. She is impatient/patient), something that is open for anyone to practice. The concept of “doing patience” has helped shape the way I look back on the past month.
For one, I have been doing patience a lot. I absolutely loved learning Tibetan, but I’ll admit that the pace of the class frustrated me. Based on what I’ve heard from some of our staff who have learned Tibetan or seen students learn Tibetan in other courses with other institutions, I am very grateful I am where I am. According to them, our class was one of the fasted-pace classes they’ve seen. In any case, it felt like we kept repeating content and making tiny, tiny steps with out language skills. I managed to do enough patience to stay focused in class by keeping in mind the great respect I have for our gen-la (our teachers). In the end, I was also able to feel a little bit helpful in answering students’ questions that seemed to be misunderstood when asked in class. Anyone who knows me well understands that I’m a rather gung-ho, full-speed-ahead kind of a person, so you might be able to see how sitting in a class knowing I could be learning more and more quickly is difficult for me (especially after being spoiled by Bowdoin academics that tend to really push me). In that sense, I would view getting through these classes without getting too frustrated was the greatest challenge of this first period of the program. I think if I had the concept of “doing patience” in my mind earlier in the month, I would have had fewer moments of frustration during class time, but even now having just brought the concept into the equation in the past couple days, I have been able to look back on the month and appreciate the month (in addition, of course, to learning Tibetan!) as a chance to practice doing patience. Additionally, I feel that the combination of this month and the concept of doing patience will help me in the future when I find myself in situations where patience will be helpful.
I also think that it might be helpful to think that if we can say one does patience, can’t we also say that one does frustration? And if one does frustration, one can also not do frustration. And I’m beginning to think that whether or not I do frustration is more in my control than I may have thought in the past. Another Tibetan word highlights this: like doing patience, diligence is also addressed in Tibetan as doing diligence instead of being diligent. I see the actions I do that can be considered diligent as very much intentional and in my control. (Indeed, I feel out of control of many things, but at least I can trust myself to always work hard.) Transferring that idea of intention and control to the doing (or not doing) of patience and frustration sets me up for doing more patience, doing less frustration, and, as a result, existing or participating in potentially frustrating situations without seeing them as such and without the visceral tension of frustration that makes such situations harder to enjoy.
Another way in which “doing patience” ties into reflecting on our time in Kathmandu is that the difference in perspectives—that between being patient and doing patience—is an example of what might be deemed the “favorite part” of this first month. Just today one of my classmates asked me what my favorite part of being in Kathmandu was, and it is, of course, a challenging question to answer, both because there are many great things to recall in the past month and because “favorite” and “part” can be interpreted in so many different ways. What I ended up describing was the love for being able to take in what people do and say and how the landscape looks, feels, and smells, because it enables me to become aware of the multiple ways any given thing or activity can be done or thought about. It isn’t so much that it’s exciting because what I see, hear, smell, touch, or taste is always different—indeed I think I’ve seen a lot of similarities to aspects of home in addition to “different” things—but it’s exciting because it highlights possibility. It invites me to take into account that there isn’t just one way of doing something or thinking about something, that whichever “way” is most familiar to me is just one of many. Accepting or being aware of different ways of doing things is by no means a particularly new concept in how I navigate my own life, but in this reflection of the month, I bring it up as an extremely enjoyed aspect of being here. Just as my past journeys have shown me many ways of doing and thinking, Kathmandu has provided sights, sounds, and experiences that have added more options to what my mind can conceptualize as possibilities for carrying out human life.
To wrap up this post, I just want to express my gratitude for all the people who have done patience with us as students, visitors, and temporary inhabitants of Kathmandu. Certainly our teachers, our host families, and the people with whom we’ve interacted on our various minor and major excursions to the city and beyond have engaged in doing patience to help was get from who we were before we got here to who we are now. On the one hand, I can’t believe I’ve already been here a month. On the other hand, I can’t believe I’ve only been here a month. It feels both long and short, and it’s hard to sort out which factors make it seem either. In terms of content, it’s really quite amazing what we’ve accomplished in a month—there is the language, which though not at my desired pace, resulted in knowing hundreds of words and many ways to use them, and then you can watch the way we talk about what we read and experience and see that together we’ve formed a setting in which we use terms regarding Buddhism and Tibetan history with the confidence that everyone in the group will understand what we’re saying. In that sense the time has felt long enough to accomplish such things. Living with a host family has been very enjoyable, but I don’t feel like I have been in Kathmandu long enough or spent enough time at my family’s house to really develop strong relationships with my amala, baala, and ajak. In that sense, the time has been short.
So now we’re headed to Bhutan (land of the thunder dragon, if you care to know). Although some student groups have traveled to Bhutan during study abroad in the past, we’re kind of the guinea pigs for potentially setting up an SIT program in Bhutan in the future, so our group will be spending an entire month there. After that is the independent study project period, and it’s shaping up that I’m going to be staying in Bhutan for that month as well. Of course, who knows what could happen? As our program director says, all plans are subject to change. Let us see what happens!
(There probably will be few to no posts during that time, because I’ve decided to leave my computer here at the program house. There will be computers and internet in Bhutan, of course, which I will inevitably be using to get my summer work in order and do silly things like register for classes, but I don’t know if I’ll be spending much time doing other silly things like writing blog posts.)
And for you visually-oriented folks:
|The Wheel of Life, seen painted on monastery walls, basically contains through symbols the Buddhist understanding how the universe works. Maybe sometime when I get a chance I'll write about all the different parts of this image. For the time being, I'll just note that I find it notable that this expression of Buddhist teachings does not require literacy. It reminds me of the murals in the churches we went to during Western Civilization which were able to portray the stories from the Bible to illiterate followers.|
|This is the Shechen Monastery in Boudha. They have training for Buddhist philosophy and art and have many opportunities for people coming from other parts of the world to study.|
|The outside of a well. The center part appears to be a carving of the 8 Auspicious Symbols. The snakes are significant, because the snake gods, Nagas, control the water. Wells are cleaned once a year during a specific festival, and people will send a light down into the well. If the snake gods are angry, the light goes out, and people know not to send people down. Sound like a similar test that happens in our own wells?|
|An interesting name for a restaurant...|
|Just to clear up the debate (as there has been one here at SIT): there are monkeys in Kathmandu. This one was doing kora one morning on the rooftops around the stupa.|