Sep 302018

I like fixing things, especially vehicles. So perhaps it’s no surprise that we own a 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia camper, a vehicle known throughout mechanic-dom as a labor of love. “Mz. Parker”, as she is know, is not an unreliable vehicle, she’s simply a self-contained mobile living space with plumbing and electrical issues. Westfalia ownership requires as much inner journey as outer journey — and by inner journey, I mean exploring both her innards, and my own. Why do I enjoy working on her so much? For there seems to be a Law of Westy Conservation:

For every mile traveled, you shall spend either $1 or 1 minute of your time working on your Westfalia.

First, the journey into her innards. Mz Parker carried us well to Burning Man, however, several “issues” became apparent on the trip. The worst was the taillights, which…just went out. Knowing law enforcement at Burning Man, we carefully traveled only by day, and when we were forced to arrive after dark, we sneakily drove internal roads through Black Rock City to avoid the overabundance of Nevada sheriffs patrolling the outer road. They are well known for pulling you over for any slight infraction, and inspecting your vehicle with dog-sniffing exhaustive thoroughness.

There’s more. At freeway speeds, she started misfiring at full throttle, and would lose fuel pressure (thank you, extra gauges!) Plus, the left speaker went out, there is a constant buzzing in the rear speakers, the heater fan blows a fuse whenever we try to use it, and part of the dashboard illumination isn’t.


Given our experience with her, it’s remarkable that the German’s ever figured out how to make reliable vehicles. Granted, this particular 33-year-old has been bastardized by several generations of prior owners. For the fuel problem, I did a full day of research, sighed at the results, then ordered a pile of parts which will arrive tomorrow (I’ll write about that adventure in Part II). Meanwhile, I’m googling wiring diagrams, and indeed, some kind soul has posted them.

The reality of the dashboard is nothing like this neat diagram, as shown in the top photo. After two hours, I have:

  • mostly disassembled the dashboard
  • performed surgery to remove 20 pounds of unneeded electronics
  • found and fixed the cause of the speaker outage
  • found the source of noise in the rear speakers, they run by the fuel pump, harder to fix
  • found and fixed a broken connection to the driving lights, disassemblling the front grill & dropping the spare tire to get under the car
  • become certain I need to replace the heater fan
  • come nowhere closer to figuring out the taillight problem

The surgical extraction was interesting. Our Westy came with a DVD player mounted in the roof of the cabin, apparently wired into the stereo to provide four-way sound. In 1998, this was a pretty cool thing, but these days, it’s about as handy as kerosene running lights. The amount of electrical plumbing was astounding, so I decided to simplify our lives before proceeding deeper into the tangle of smoke-filled wiring. One DVD player, THREE control boxes and about ten yards of cable later, the DVDectomy is complete. By the way, we never could get the thing to work in the first place.

The heater fan replacement will require me to completely disassemble the dashboard, and remove the heater box. There is a great YouTube video by a professional mechanic, where he does the entire removal in 40 minutes. It’s gonna take me longer. This is a Serious Operation, so I’m putting it off for the moment…and ordering a replacement fan.


Having no other option for the tail light problem, I did what I probably should have done first, and took the tail lights apart. Eureka! I mean, Ick! Cracks in the lens let in water, there is a ton of corrosion in the light sockets, and sure enough, both tail lights had bad connections. One of them was so rusted into place I had to remove the bulb in pieces with penetrating oil and pliers, just to find the socket was irreparable. Off to Ebay, to buy a used replacement. In fact, I’m getting all new parts and bulbs. And super-bright LED backup bulbs, which should make it a lot easier to back into a camp site. And LED headlights. The technology has come a long way since 1985. Of course, so have I 🙂

Or have I? Ah, the other inner journey…why do i think this is fun and fulfilling? There is a clue in how I feel about different vehicles. When I was young and limitlessly enthusiastic, I owned Austin Healy Sprites, and did everything for them — frequent carburetor adjustment, electrical repairs, an engine rebuild — with joy and abandon. These tiny sports cars represented fun and freedom, and I gleefully went on trips all over California with a backpack full of camping gear stuffed behind the seats (and 50 lbs of tools and parts in the trunk!) Working on other cars isn’t the same, they are transportation with character, not quite the same projection screen as my early adventure-mobiles. To be honest, our 2001 Jeep Cherokee is a pleasure to maintain, as it is a tough, solid, go-anywhere truck, both comfortable and reliable. But the Westy (and my motorcycles) get most of my attention, and now I know why.

A Westfalia is one of the smallest self-contained living spaces in existence, and it’s mobile. I have friends from our Burning Man camp who travel for weeks and months and even years in their Westy, in some mystical symbiotic relationship. I love being able to take off in Mz. Parker, with Jen or solo, ready to eat and sleep in comfort pretty much anywhere we end up. The thrills of variety and exploration truly nourish my soul.

Motorcycles do it too, as I went on many long trips on my BMWs, with full camping gear, all over the US in my 30’s and 40’s. Since damaging my wrist by logging far too much time on computers, I haven’t been able to spend long days in the saddle like I used to. However, I can now see travel and adventure are a theme in my life, and I’ve always found ways to explore new places.

Mz. Parker is the latest vehicle for exploration. So it’s not all about “fixing things” for me. It’s about enabling the journey. I love working on vehicles I have adventures in. Good to know. I have some vehicles to get rid of. Why not just focus on what I love?

Sep 222018

I’ve recently turned 60, no longer working for companies, and getting used to all this freedom to do exactly what I want. It’s a little disconcerting how often I look for ‘what I should be doing’. What do I truly enjoy, what feels fulfilling? And why did I wait so many years before seriously asking myself these questions?

I actually quit working two years ago, but it’s taken time for me to fully realize that I’m free at all times to do what I wish. There was never a ‘decision to retire’, it just sort of crept in, a more body-based and receptive process. My mind may be wrestling with all this freedom, but my heart and body revel in it. Once upon a time, I believed (like most in our culture) that my intelligence, consciousness and awareness are mental, however I now realize that my mind is just a part of who I am, and it often gets in the way of true awareness and fulfillment.

My professional ego — the part of me that identifies as a software architect — is dissolving, leaving enormous room for new things. I don’t miss the grueling software projects, the countless meetings, the long hours, or having to read continuously to keep up with technologies. Now I get to read what I want, do what I want, learn what I want. My curiosity has become my guide, allowing me to study energy work, plant medicines, and corners of natural sciences I’ve neglected for decades. Jen and I helped build our camp at Burning Man this year, and early arrival gave us much more time to visit our friends and neighboring camps — without being on a tight schedule defined by vacation days. We also got to spend 9 days on the Playa, in our very cozy and cool campsite.


What could we call this stage of our lives? Some of us find this internal freedom much younger than I. Retirement is an outdated concept. Our culture has no modern model for maturity, or we are just starting to create one.

I am not bored. Oh, no! Projects surface regularly. For example, since 1993, I’ve been one of the administrators of, an amazing repository of BMW motorcycle knowledge. The email lists support thousands of BMW bike fans all over the world, there are 200 tech articles — and I don’t know how many trip reports — scattered on this site. It’s a nexus of BMW motorcycle geekdom. The original site was pure HTML, a monument to the early days of the internet, and an incredible maintenance headache. I recently spent six weeks rebuilding it in WordPress. I took on the project almost by reflex, and somewhere along the way, realized that I loved creating the new site. Compared to what I did for a living, the work was dead easy. My pleasure is in the results and the service to a huge community, not the mental process and problem solving along the way. What a deep shift.

Really, I feel like I’ve returned to my early 20’s, when I had far less sense of who I am. I’m planning more travel, and I’m enjoying taking care of our home and it’s half-acre of oak forest, the cabin near Lassen National Park (where I’ve been hanging out for a few days), and our various vehicles. I remember the thrill of rebuilding my first engine, and now cheerfully refurbish the fuel and electrical systems on our 1985 Westfalia camper. My enthusiasm for all things mechanical is returning. Plus it makes more sense for me to do vehicle maintenance than pay someone else to do it 🙂 This photo from a road trip in my youth really captures how I feel.


The best part is, I rarely need to hurry. And I have much more time to notice the small things that make life so rich. Stacking an oak wood pile at Lassen, I notice the glistening beauty of sap on a nearby tree.


This expansion takes many forms, including casual exploration in the moment. A huge resounding BOOM shatters the quiet. Our neighbor’s small cabin carries hidden drama. Check out the tree behind the cabin, a massive sugar pine. Now notice the foot-long pine cones in the second photo. Can you imagine being inside this cabin when one hits the metal roof? I nearly jumped out of my skin, though I was a hundred yards away. A second look at the roof, and I see a hundred big dents. Glad I don’t live there!


After all my wood pile work, there is a ton of bark and slash to burn off in the campfire circle. And I smile at the irony of:


My days have a richness I have seldom experienced before. There are more new places, and more time in nature ahead, I can feel it. I wish our language had a word for this transformation.


 Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on reboot
May 102018

I’m just home from a ten-day retreat, trying to comprehend fundamental changes in my being. The short story is: I’m eight pounds lighter, my taste in food has changed, I eat differently now, my sense of smell has gotten better, I’m sleeping solidly and I’m fully rested after seven hours. I’m really liking my new life. I’ve been rebooted.

How this happened…I blame my friend Karla, who has been an incredible body worker and source of kindness in my life for many years. Karla’s dream has been to create a retreat center, and not only support our mutual buddhist practices, but create a place where people can make fundamental healthy changes in their lives. Over the last two years, she has created the Alive Retreats experience, and held her first retreat starting April 30th at the Leonard Lake Retreat Center, near Ukiah, California. We’ve just emerged back into our normal outer lives, realizing that the impact of the ten days runs very deep indeed.

Basically, we ate a lot of green food, most of it raw, all vegetarian and alkalizing. At first, I was less than enthusiastic, but my trust (and Jen’s enthusiasm) carried me along. After a couple of days, I realized that I liked most of what I was eating, and I was discovering a whole new world of delicious salads and dressings that did not contain vinegar or oil. No caffeine, no dairy, no sugar, little fruit, no bread or flour…it was much easier than I expected. Energy Soup is now a staple in my diet — really one of my favorite things to eat! — and is quite easy to make. Just throw the following stuff into a blender:

  1. 1 carrot, washed, not peeled
  2. 1 avocado, minus the pit and skin
  3. 1 tbsp miso
  4. ¼ onion or 1 green onion
  5. 1 clove garlic
  6. ½ cup fresh parsley
  7. ¼ cup lentil spouts or pea shoots
  8. 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  9. 1 wedge meyer lemon, including the skin
  10. 2 tbsp dulce or other seaweed
  11. 1 tbsp of flax oil
  12. Additional herbs and spices of choice, oregano, basil, cilantro, etc.
  13. 1 to 2 cups water, sufficient to blend
  14. Serve with a sprinkling of sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds

We also learned how to prepare most of the food we were having. Many things, like salad dressings and soups, come right out of a blender. We learned how to sprout seeds and beans, ferment vegetables (for those of you who like sauerkraut, it’s a cinch), make juices and teas. Hummus and raw seed crackers were big favorites, along with the afternoon juice breaks and banana ice cream one night.

The location was a stunning place in the redwoods, with a big freshwater lake, canoes and kayaks, miles of trails, well-maintained houses, and a wood-fired sauna. In early May, we had some rare orchids and many wildflowers, plus beautiful weather. Here are some photos…the lake, a calypso orchid, and Jen holding up some trees.



The sacred learning is this: I used to eat until I felt full, now I eat until I feet nourished. This is a really big deal, as my whole relationship with my body has changed. I don’t think I had any idea what it felt like to be well-nourished. Now my body has a new voice, I am unlearning a lifetime of eating habits and working my way down to a more healthy weight. I’m excited to finally have a way to do this!

There are two more retreats planned this year, a five-day experience this summer and another ten-day one in the fall. If you are ready for a change, I highly recommend it!

paro and haa

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Jul 152017

Paro has doubled in size over the last 13 years, just like Thimphu. Since it is the home of the only international airport in the country, western amenities abound, and the shopping is delightful.

(By the way, Paro is one of the most challenging airports in the world, the pilot basically has to fly down a narrow valley, then hang a turn just before putting the plane down on a short, narrow runway. Check out this YouTube video for an idea of the experience. I remember looking out the window at the steep, terraced hillsides in 2004, and seeing people wave at the plane 🙂

I’m looking for thangkas and art. I am not disappointed. I find a local thangka painter, and spend a few hours in his studio, buying some beautiful work and admiring others in progress.

We not only get to tour Paro Dzong, but we drive up into the mountains to Ugyen Guru Lhakhang, a monastery that preserves a number of sacred magical items that are many hundreds of years old. The Rinpoche at the monastery brings some of them out for us, and we get to see a rock weep water, and other objects. There seem to be many stories about this place, although in honesty, there seem to be many stories about all of the dzongs and monasteries we have visited.

Now it’s my birthday, July 12th, and we set off for the Haa valley in the western part of the country. Again, this is new territory for me. The roads takes us over the highest pass I’ve traversed, and we descend into a lovely valley that seems pretty much untouched by western influence. Although there is electricity here and there, and we see transmission lines carrying hydro power westward into India.

On the 13th, we adventure to a cave/retreat spot where Machig Labdrön apparently lived. It’s over a ridge from a monastery, and the path is steep up and down to reach it. Spectacular views, basically perched on the side of a cliff. Unfortunately, it’s locked so we cannot enter.

However, our young guide, a monk perhaps 11 year old, tells us there is a shorter way back to the monastery. All we have to do is follow this path along the cliff. Oh, my god.

Alas, the trip is coming to a close. We return the next day to Paro, with just enough time for a last round of shopping. On July 15th, we climb into the plane for our return to Bangkok. 18 glorious days.

Now that I’m back in the lap of luxury, and I’m left with some longing to spend more time in Bhutan. There are opportunities to teach, and one monk told me his monastery would be happy to sponsor me for six months, if I would come live with them and speak English. I would learn a lot about Vajrayana practice, that’s for sure. Every school child is learning English, and most people have cell phones now (it’s oddly amusing to see an ancient Lama peering at his phone).

The country is doing well, striking a fine balance between preserving tradition and accepting modern convenience. The ecology is still pretty pristine, the constitutional monarchy is pulling the people slowly towards a fully democratic form of government. My heart stays open, remembering.


 Buddhism, Reflection, Travel  Comments Off on chöd
Jul 142017
A short section of the trail to Machik Labdrön’s cave

The very first teaching of Buddhism is that misery is caused by attachment. No wonder that so much of the dharma and practices look at attachment, and no attachment is stronger than the one to our body.

To really feel this, let me explain the somewhat-confusing picture you are seeing. This is a rock about a foot wide, several feet in front of me. The trees and houses to the left of the rock are about a half-kilometer away, 800 feet below. For scale, you can see the tip of my boot at the bottom of the photo. I am on a trail in the Haa Valley of Bhutan, on the side of a cliff. My right shoulder is against the cliff, my hand in a crevice. The trail goes over the rock, and continues past tiny herbs and a small bush in the upper right about six feet away.

If you can sink in to the sensation of standing against this sheer rock face on a trail about a foot wide, then you are probably experiencing attachment to your body. I was, quite frankly, terrified as I carefully placed my feet and hands, yet not paralyzed. I was able feel both the fear and my body, yet move calmly on the wet, muddy trail. This is Meditation Boot Camp, no hemming-and-hawing, no choice; one must bring body and mind smoothly together to traverse nearly a kilometer of cliff.

Hold that feeling. Death inches away, calm, trusting.

Chöd is a profound Tibetan Buddhist practice, where one offers up one’s own body (and all other demons and ‘neuroses’) joyously. A Google search will turn up plenty of information, starting with this Wikipedia article. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in a Chöd ceremony here in Bhutan. Watch the video and get a sense of the beautiful ritual that brings the experience to life.


The practice of Chöd was transmitted to an enlightened and revered 11th-century woman named Machik Labdrön, and so my story comes home. The trail I’m on leads from Juney Druk, a cave she stayed in, to Katsho Goemba, a nearby monastery. Having experienced Chöd practice before, imagining I know something about attachment to my body, I am shocked into new awareness on this trail Machik must have traversed many times.

Our 11-year-old guide, a monk from the monastery, apparently runs this trail frequently, nimble and carefree as a mountain goat. He laughs and smiles, points out sections that are especially dangerous and delicious little orange berries we can pluck as we go, and patiently sits and waits as we carefully make our way. I believe he is the most advanced Chöd practitioner I have ever met, knowing something in his young body that I can scarcely remember. What would it feel like to be as unattached as he? Was I really once like that? I have so much to unlearn, to unattach from.

trongsa and thimphu and chöd

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Jul 132017

Westward ho. It’s July 6th, and we leave Bumthang valley in the morning to climb the 11,000-foot pass back toward Trongsa. The pass is, of course, marked by a stupa and many prayer flags. It is still rainy, and the roads are still muddy and slippery. We take a break before our driver skillfully pilots us back to the Trongsa Dzong.

It’s not an ideal day for visiting Trongsa, as the clouds and rain and fog are persistent. Yet our troop happily explores, and I’ll again let the photos do the talking.

Another six hours of driving on muddy roads, and we pass back through Wangdue Phodrang, where we spend the night. The next day we drive about five more hours to reach Thimphu.

This is the largest city in Bhutan, the location of the only traffic signal, and the center of commerce. I’ve never stayed here before. Almost everyone wears western-style clothing, and there are enough vehicles that traffic is a problem.

We spend time hiking up in the hills south of town to a small monastery, then go shopping the next day. Wandering around the town is a pleasure, there is much going on. Of course, we have to walk past the traffic signal.

The next day, we are treated to a Chöd ceremony, led by a monk with a group of local women. I have been exposed to Chöd in my own studies, however I am totally surprised to find out that it is widely practiced in Bhutan by lay people, mostly women. Transmitted by Machig Labdrön in the 11th century, it has apparently become an important personal puja (prayer) ritual for many Bhutanese.

It’s a beautiful experience, conducted in a large room in what might be someone’s home or perhaps a less formal practice space, in an otherwise unassuming part of town. They have created a lovely altar, with many offerings of fruit and flowers. We’re enraptured to sit in their space and feel the ritual flow through us. I’ve written more about it separately.

That afternoon, we’re back on the bus for the 2-hour drive to Paro, where we arrived nearly two weeks ago. I and my backpack settle in to another nice hotel. I have to say, accommodations in Bhutan are far more comfortable on this trip than they were in 2004, when there were few hotels and resorts in the country. Now, we get treated to nice mattresses, central heat, linens, hot water and really good food everywhere we have gone.

kenchosum lhakhang

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Jul 102017

It’s now July 5th, I’ve been in the Bumthang district of Bhutan for several days, and get to spend most of the day at an impressively restored monastery, Kenchosum. Destroyed in a 2010 fire, the reconstruction is fresh and beautiful. Even better, we were allowed to take all the photos we wished inside.

First, a walk around the grounds. I especially loved the chain gutters, conducting rain from the roof corners down into drains in the ground.

Let me take you on a tour around the grand interior space, so you can see the incredible thangka images on all the walls.

What a privilege to see all of the fresh, beautiful teaching images and decorations.

We have traveled as far east as we are going, and tomorrow we will head back over the high pass toward Trongsa. So I’ll finally share a couple of photos from Yu Gharling, the resort where we’ve been staying for several days. It’s a pretty place, up on the hillside above the town of Chamkhar, complete with a pet cow that roams freely.

bumthang festival

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Jul 052017

On our fifth day of this trip, July 2nd, we drove up to the Nyimalung Monastery, for the Bumthang summer festival. We are treated to a day of dancing, shopping and the pleasure of meeting many people from the area.

I love the informal and the sacred, weaving together. The Bhutanese paint sacred symbols on their houses, walk around stupas and chortens (and just about anything) in a clockwise direction. One does not point with the finger, you learn to gesture with your hand, palm up. And here we have the Mahakala dancers walking among the crowd, blessing each of us, as families and children and dogs walk through the dance space. Everyone is dressed in their finest. Everyone is smiling, and my friend Tina engages one of the jesters to the amusement of all.

Here you see Mahakala dancers in action, with jesters poking their phallic dorje wands, the blessings of the dancers moving through the crowd tapping our crown chakras. The eligible unmarried women in the community dance together, giving all the unmarried men an opportunity to weigh their prospects.

July 3rd, we go back to Kurjey to witness the annual unveiling of the largest thangka in the world, of Guru Rinpoche.

There is some doubt that the ceremony will happen, as it was a very rainy night. But the weather breaks, and people start to arrive for this auspicious event.

A very high Lama arrives with entourage, there are some soldiers with weapons, but everything feels serene. The festival continues with more dancing. Some are very modern, even militaristic, like nothing I’ve seen here before.

The next day (4th of July, who cares?) has us exploring a retreat site up on a cliff, where Guru Rinpoche (also known as Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan 1300 years ago) sheltered. We also spend time in a nearby monastery, whose name I can’t remember, where we have an opportunity to meditate, view sacred relics close up, and rest.

I have a very special evening planned. Back around 2012, I got a very odd Facebook friend request from someone named Ngedup Om, in Bhutan. I accepted it, and it turned out she is a teacher in Mongar, about 8 hours drive to the east of Bumthang. We have been corresponding for five years, and when she finds out I will be that close (during the summer school break!), she and her husband and two children decide to go on a trip to Thimphu, and stop here on the way.

They come and pick me up and take me out to dinner in the nearby town of Chamkhar. There is a huge amount of food, including the national dish – ema datshi (stewed chilis and yak cheese, incredibly hot), rice, and some rabbit. Since they are both teachers, they and their children all speak very good English, although the kids are very shy. I am delighted and honored to finally meet them all.

east to bumthang

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Jul 012017

Having gotten over the shock somewhat — I’ve seen more cars in my first couple of hours in the country than I did over the 12 days of my first visit — I’m settling in for the journey east. We are headed for Punakha and Bumthang, two districts that I saw briefly on my first trip, but didn’t get to explore much. I’m bemused as I watch the paved roads and cars and power lines.

The same beautiful architecture, with electricity!
Enormous new Buddha statue outside Thimphu

Look carefully at the left photo, and you will see a power line in the lower left…and power poles running up the hillside in the upper left. None of this was here during my first visit. In fact, electricity was rare outside of the main towns. Now there is power running to most areas, towns and most houses have electricity. The country generates (and sells!) lots of hydroelectric power, so electricity is provided for free to all residents as long as people use it sparingly. I saw compact fluorescent bulbs everywhere, to minimize electricity use.

Our first stop was Chimi Lhakhang, a famous fertility temple. It was reassuringly the same as my last visit, even the bodhi tree in the courtyard, which shaded a cluster of monks engaged in discussion. The sacred phallus images on building walls were fresh and colorful, and of course a gift shop offered all kinds of phallic memorabilia.

And so much remains unchanged. People in the country still wear traditional clothing, woolen skirts called kiras, and men in robes called ghos. Hilltops and fence lines are decorated with prayer flags, and most people walk everywhere. I did see more signs in English, however.

On our second day, we visited Punaka Dzong, one of the lovely fortress-monasteries constructed a thousand years ago to repel Tibetan invaders. Dzong’s are the largest buildings in the country, and the seat of local government. They each have a rich history and many legendary stories.

Continuing south on our third day, we cross over into Wangdue, home of the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong. Only stopping for lunch, we head east towards Trongsa.

Since it’s late June, the rivers are all flowing well, and rains have made the fields lush and green, and the roads muddy.

We encounter lots of construction, a traffic jam and a rockfall on the road that all delay us a couple of hours. The drive east continues to the Chengdebi Chorten, a large sacred site that makes a good lunch stop.

After a lengthy drive down a valley, Trongsa Dzong emerges from the fog and clouds…on the other side of the valley. It takes about an hour to drive down the valley and back to reach the other side.

We’ve been on the road now for over ten hours, it’s getting dark, and we still have an 11,000-foot pass to climb and cross. There have been dozens of construction delays, a traffic jam, and a rockfall where we had to wait for 45 minutes.

After two more hours, we pull in to our luxurious hotel in Bumthang. Deep thanks to Ugyen Dorji. our skilled and tireless driver.

The next morning (it’s now day 4, July 1st), we start to explore. We will be here for several days. Here are some photos of our group. Most are now friends on Facebook, and I hope to travel with them again in the future.

And we visit the Kurjey Monastery, where we are treated to a charming women’s dance. Everyone is preparing for the annual festival, starting tomorrow.

We are fortunate we can attend. There are several days of events ahead of us at the monasteries in the area. Today we can rest, hike, and explore the town. I find a shop filled with the most incredible textiles from the eastern part of the country. The proprietor, Rinzin Wangmo, comes from a family of weavers to the east in Monggar, and they send their products to her shop, an eight-hour drive away. I make splurge, and bring home several beautiful wall hangings.

bhutan presence

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Jun 292017
Punaka Dzong, and the Punaka Valley

Yesterday in Bhutan was quite a shock. After 13 years, I was expecting change, but was completely unprepared for what I’ve found. The heart is the same, the people are the same, the beauty and spiritual depth are all still here, but everything else is different.

By that, I mean that the modern world has arrived in some big ways. Cars. Electricity. Paved and widened roads. Cell phones. Glass windows. Road signs. Modern hotels. Spices and fruit and organic produce. Cows. Can you believe it, even the animals are more modern? There were few cattle in the country when I was last here, mostly yak, now I see cows everywhere, wandering the parks and hillsides of Punaka, the roads between Paro and Thimphu. The traffic on the roads was nearly all buses and construction trucks, now there are more than a dozen cars for each bus, and even some taxis. Where once many houses had no glass in the windows (only shutters against the fierce winters), most are now glassed in, and there is plenty of new construction.

Because there are more people. The towns all seem to have grown 40 or 50 percent, or even doubled, at least the larger towns of Paro and Thimphu. This does not seem to be due to immigration, although there must be some, it seems to be a side effect of better health care and a general improvement of living conditions. There are more kids and schools, and indeed people seem to be better-educated overall than when I was last here.

Last night, I realized I was apparently more resistant to change than they are. One of my fellow travelers told an illuminating story at breakfast that helped me see even deeper into my expectations: how dare they change from what I remembered? My ego wants to reconnect with something remembered and treasured, rather than simply receive what is. (Sounds painfully similar to what many Americans seem to want, in electing Donald Trump. Ech, that hurts. Sometimes I wish I was less good at noticing connections).

So I am pretty much slammed by how non-present I was arriving here, but fortunately, with awareness comes a rapid shift (along with much internal laughter!) and today unfolded into an incredible day. I am here, now, gratefully absorbing every moment.

For the truth is, this country and everything about it are even more beautiful than before. The summer green and the lush rice fields far exceed the springtime of my first visit, I see less abject poverty (though it still exists) and more restaurants and shops, new houses with clean white walls and extravagant traditional trim paint, good roads everywhere and humorous road signs warning about drinking and driving. Plus we’ve had nothing but great meals, with interesting seasoning and fresh vegetables. I have not tasted a single yak product yet, while my memory is that a day didn’t go by on my last visit without yak butter, cheese or milk in something.

In fact, everything tastes better when I’m fully present. That is the great gift of Bhutan to me so far, a deep Buddhist reflection of my better self.