Nicky is a faculty member at the University of Montana in Missoula, MT, USA
I have been traveling for nearly two weeks with ten Bhutanese high school students and Bhutanese ride leaders across the kingdom of Bhutan. I am struck by the gentleness and kindness of our students, by the magnificent forests that cover these mountains, and by how each view includes a strand of prayer flag, stupa, monastery or other symbol reflecting deeply ingrained Buddhist traditions. We reach the final climb of our fifteen-day trip. At 10,000+ feet, on Dochula pass, a stupa stands in the middle of the road, prayer flags abound. We all call out, “Lha Gyalo,” or “Victory to the Gods,” as we cycle three times clockwise around the stupa. I feel a sense of collective accomplishment that eclipses my pride and plays out with a generous spirit.
This trip has quieted me from my incessant questions and demands. I am learning to hold back, to watch and learn from our Bhutanese students and leaders who teach me in their quiet, mindful ways. I start to notice how students like Kinley saves bugs from pools of water, how Jamyang lingers behind on our walks to pick up trash, how no one swats the bugs that bite them, how Namgay is keen to teach me how to bow, and how never once did I hear a complaint despite our arduous rides on sometimes poorly tuned bikes. I ask Jamyang if he will be sad when the trip is over, when he has to give up his borrowed bike. He say, “no ma’am, I will be happy, happy for the opportunity I have been given.” I am not used to this degree of sincerity and selflessness.
When I ask Kinley to share directly, more Buddhist lessons, he responds: “Ma’am, the only way you can be good human being is if you avoid negative thinking to others, help others as well as animals who are suffering in this world.” After a pause, he continues, “Nothing is permanent, keeping this in mind we have to help others as much as we can.” I reflect on the implications of such a perspective; can an ever-changing world be gently coaxed to a healthier place beginning simply with positive thoughts and clearer motives?
My life work is increasingly centered on helping youth understand and respond to climate change. In the States, I teach students about basic climate science, implications for the environment and society, and some of our technical and political solutions for reducing emissions. We sometimes discuss the worldviews or values that have led to our predicament, but rarely do I directly address the role our thoughts have in shaping the world.
On a personal level, this makes a great deal of sense to me. I am aware of the energy I put out into the world. Positive thoughts generally foster good will around me. I, and others, suffer from my own negative thinking. We are all causally connected through thought and action. The challenge of climate change is how far we need to extend this consideration–our thoughts and actions affecting others so distant to us in time and space. Being more aware in each moment creates a moment for acknowledging the multitude of factors at play, both internally and externally. Through this level of insight the conflicts and challenges are both revealed and dissipate. This is where positive change can happen. I am grateful for this journey around Bhutan, for my newfound connection to a country halfway around the world, and to an incredible group of youth who are shaping our world in the kindest of ways.
Kinley teaching me about holy water, and how drinking it will make one have a good voice.