I'm one of those people who love to travel, especially to wild and distant places. I adore my home and feel blessed by my family and friends, but something about plunging into the unknown is totally seductive to me.
So you can imagine how my little heart started to dance when an old friend named Joan Halifax invited me to join her and a group of friends on a 6-week expedition to the most rugged and remote region of Nepal and Tibet.
It was the challenge of a lifetime: a whole month of sleeping in a tent, walking five to ten hours a day, most of it at elevations over 14,500 feet, from the deep forests and terraced rice fields of northern Nepal, above the treeline, and into the mystery of western Tibet. The trip included a visit to magnificent Lake Manasarovar, the highest lake on earth, plus a ritual circumambulation of Mt. Kailash, the most sacred mountain in Asia. The Mt. Kailash expedition involved crossing an 18,600 feet high pass (to put that into perspective, the summit of Mt. Whitney is 14,495 feet) and is said to wipe out the sins of a lifetime.
To help keep track of the whole discovery process, I did what I usually do when I hit the road to exotic places—I kept a journal.
So finally, I am leaving home. Months of preparation and worry and stair climbing and runaway excitement and overwhelming waves of gratitude, and finally, the trip is beginning.
Though we were a hardy group—physically trained and mentally prepared—we pretty much all got sick at one time or another. And yet—and this was amazing to me—there was very little whining. One guy's knees were so wrecked and sore, he often had to walk down mountain trails backward, led by someone who was walking forward. Did Stan complain? Never. And Debbie, who got sick and threw up and had killer high-altitude headaches and then on top of everything else, scratched her cornea and had horrible eye pain, did she give up? Okay, she cried a little. Okay, she cried a lot. Who wouldn't? The point is we had all volunteered for this adventure and we all knew how lucky we were to be on it, and besides, what was our suffering compared to all the suffering there is in the world? (See how the inspiring talks Joan gave every morning kept us on track?)
I feel I am entering the Mystery—prepared to the best of my ability but not cocky enough to think there aren't big challenges ahead. BIG BIG CHALLENGES. I pray I will stay healthy and strong. The rest will take care of itself.
Day by day, the group evolved into a community. But although there was only one trail, the beautiful thing about a pilgrimage is that you set your own goals and move at your own pace...
How did the trip change me? That's what everyone wanted to know when I returned. Well, for the first few weeks home, you could bounce quarters off my hamstrings. Not an inch on my thighs resembled cottage cheese. My tightest pants felt way loose and my husband flagged down strangers on the street to tell them I never looked better. As I slide back from averaging six hours a day of exercise to my usual four to six hours a week, I know all that will change. What will last forever is something I wasn't so sure of before the trip, a deep knowing that when it comes to living a meaningful life, having a kind heart, and keeping calm even when the yak falls off the trail, I am on the right track.
Marilynn Preston is a writer, producer and creator of Energy Express, the syndicated column and TV series.