Pacing, Patience, and Boiling Water for Karma
I took off from my rustic apartment pre-dawn and headed straight up. Starting at about 8,000 feet and increasing altitude with each step, I methodically ascended a wall of the Thimphu Valley in Bhutan, while continuing to check in with the correct pace for this challenging 2.5-hour run. From years of experience, pacing on the move is a familiar friend—a solo jousting match I usually do pretty well at. Like all of you people with big lives, over time we develop a deep knowing of how to pace each busy day. We’re all too familiar with our mornings starting out with a big stride and remaining in full-tilt until we hit the pillow at the end of each day. But living and working in a very foreign culture here in Bhutan, full-tilt is not optimal. Slowing down and adapting to big change-ups in the overall pace of life can prove to be a wise and coveted teacher.
A pacing reevaluation has been in order since dropping back into Bhutan. I’ve been living in strikingly different conditions and working closely once again with the Bhutan Olympic Committee. Being in a country that is founded culturally and politically on Buddhism, I happily revisited two of the transcendent actions in Buddhist teachings—discipline and patience—to support my attitude adjustment.
Within these Buddhist actions, discipline isn’t about locking down on your own fixed set of goals or rules—a way of being at which we are all so adept. It is based in opening your mind to a view of basic goodness for all, in all situations. What is best for my loved one? What is best for my co-worker? How can I be the most gentle with myself? Discipline here is about having an open heart while shedding expectation of a predetermined outcome.
The transcendent action of patience is about just being in what is now. Not our western view of ‘waiting and seeing,’ while our minds spin into placing meaning on or worrying about what we are required to be patient about. Patience in Buddhism is about not expecting anything, but just being open to whatever comes your way.
To practice the simplicity of these actions I start with basic tasks, that for an American typically surrounded by comfort, are not so simple. After my morning run or ride when I would rather be sipping coffee, reading, making lists, or checking email, I begin the process of boiling and treating water. We have running water into our apartment, but it’s not safe for our finicky Western intestinal tracts. And it’s cold. The only time I think about how much we use hot or clean water in our day-to-day lives is when I’m out sleeping in the dirt somewhere. Or, living in a rustic apartment in a developing country. We tend to not be conscious that hot water comes through a faucet at the turn of a knob. We aren’t required to even think about it unless one day it isn’t there.
I boil water in our tiny kitchen for washing and rinsing the dishes and washing clothes, for drinking and for taking a warmish “bath”—all in small and medium sized cooking pots on a two burner propane stove. As I boil bath water I carefully walk each pot of scalding water down the hallway through the bedroom and pour it into a large plastic container that stands in the bathroom. For the actual bath I stand in the bathroom, wash myself, and then repeatedly pour small buckets of water over my head from the big plastic container. The temperature of the bath water depends on how patient I am that morning in boiling multiple small pots of water.
At first glance I rebelled at having to do work that at home is taken for granted. But syncing with the inner workings of my neighborhood, I started to naturally slow my pace and allow myself to join the others around me who were also methodically getting ready for school or work. I’ve started to use it as a meditation. A chance to learn patience with myself. And in a very short time it’s become quite pleasant.
One of the things I’ve noticed when wandering in developing countries is the common practice of people washing their hair and bodies outside at a communal spout of some sort in front of a cluster of homes while still partially dressed, or not (I’ve done this as well). So my ability to get naked in private while pouring water over me is actually a step-up from the roadside shampoo scene.
After my first organizational meetings at the Bhutan Olympic Committee office, I gained an even deeper understanding of how office dynamics function here culturally. This is not only important information to determine how I will support the projects I’m working on here, but it helps me gain an understanding of Bhutan’s many obstacles as well as their cultural beauty. American workers are motivated by taking pride in their work, being a part of a hard driving team, or positively affecting a bottom line—making a difference in all we do. Bhutanese are motivated by developing good karma.
So as I reach to adjust once again to their pace, I use their Buddhist-flavored actions of discipline and patience to drive my decision making. Being warmly greeted each day by old and new friends, and surrounded by the thousands of individuals that steadily and consistently pace their spiritual lives to generate good karma, makes this requirement easy.
And despite the obvious and many cultural differences of East and West, I’m yet again reminded of how similar we all really are.
Kadinchey La from Bhutan,