Why are you here?

A couple of posts back I wrote about leaning into discomfort. After testing this concept a couple of times during our trek, I was relieved to return to the creature comforts of Pokhara. Unfortunately, Chris had the savvy to lead me to Paddle Nepal after a pleasantly strong ‘Nepali Hottie’ cocktail. So, instead of sipping a latte and reading the paper, last Sunday morning I found myself on the banks of the Upper Sethi River, watching a safety demonstration with an unsettling level of detail.

Between attempts to quiz myself about what to do after each of the imaginable ways I could hurdle off of the raft and into the rapids, I asked myself how exactly I ended up there. The last and only other time I’d agreed to go rafting was a complete disaster (think capsizing, cold and an inability to steer). As a fellow patron assisted with showing us how not to break our legs getting back into the raft, I averted my gaze and wondered whether some discomforts aren’t actually worth leaning into – what exactly can one learn from a guided rafting tour, anyway?

But it was too late. I was already wearing a life jacket and helmet and clumsily gripping my paddle. Not only was there nowhere to go, but I was told we were actually expected to paddle – and hard! My only comfort was the concerned faces of many of my companions – at least fear appeared to be a normal response.

Our raft was guided by a small but mighty woman, whose Thor-like husband was paddling ahead to take pictures of our adventure. Undoubtedly her tremendous skill contributed to our hour and a half on grade-four rapids feeling like a pleasant amusement park ride. Emerging from the water dry and in good spirits was no surprise to Chris, who had bet me another cocktail that I would actually enjoy the experience in spite of my misgivings. So, one point for leaning into discomfort, if reluctantly.

Another benefit of having done an organized activity was the chance to meet some interesting people. Over dinner with some of our ‘boatmates’, we went through the standards: where have you been traveling? Where are you from? What do you do there? And then, perhaps because of the spiritual element of so many trips to this part of the world, why are you here?

Why are you here?

For my part, it was the second time in a day I grappled with that question. As we each took our turns, the shortest response stood out: “I am here studying Buddhism and searching for something, but my family has a business, so I know where I’ll end up.” Although he seemed happy to work in the business, the air of futility that accompanied his statement got me thinking, if you end up right back where you started, is there a point to the search? Having recently returned from living in Tanzania, I realized he’d articulated another version of the question ‘why are you here?’ that I had been asking myself.

Following the theme of returning to where I started from, I began re-reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I had written about it as my favourite book at the time I wrote my undergraduate application, but had largely forgotten what it was about. It’s a quick read, expedited if you make a habit of going to bed before 10pm, as we have on this trip. I highly recommend it, and not only because it helped me to answer my question. Its message is this: the journey of life, with all of its attendant sufferings and uncertainties, is worth it in order to experience the sweetness of joy and love.

I didn’t find the words to express this to my new friend, but the more I think about it, the more it rings true. It doesn’t really matter where you ultimately end up. The journey of living– searching, testing limits, hoping for inspiration – is in itself a worthwhile reason to follow where your heart leads you.

Thoughts?

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