Experimental Civics

@experimentalcivics

Hawking, the Himalayas, and Happiness

It’s been a marvelous couple of months. I can’t even begin to properly convey how important my 7-week trip to Nepal was to my personal and professional journey.

For one, I was coming out of a whirlwind of events from launching a consultancy to leaving my full-time position in search of a better fit. I was drained; I spent close to 14 months without time to turn off and recharge (yup, I dedicated most of my weekends to work) and I had limited space to experience my life, such as grieving the passing of a family member.

…I’m strong, but not steel.

I’m also not a patient person. I have wanted to experience the Himalayas for several years, and I booked a flight months back as a commitment to run to the mountains. I needed space from people and my life, and I wanted to challenge myself to take my self-love to the next level.

The intention for this trip was to love myself more than I had ever loved myself before.

I was free — free to roam in nature, free to spend my days answering fun questions about life, free to sit and meditate, and free to be my raw self. I loved this time of rediscovery. I found myself mediating nearly every day and praying with om mani padme hum ringing from my lips. I found peace.

I’m sure you’re reading this thinking, “Oh, that’s so nice for you,” coupled with “I wish I could go on a trip like that.” Yes, you can make it happen for yourself.

I’m here to share my story but, more importantly, to encourage you to discover your own joys. I’m a hardcore optimist with more love for this planet than can be contained in just one person.

When I find myself in periods of unhappiness, it’s usually because I have implemented systems and changes that just don’t work for me. (Often influenced by those who knew little about me as I did them. When we are younger, it’s easy to be funneled into an established systems and fall under uniformity all too quickly.)

Hiking towards Everest Base Camp, I was back in survivalist mode, and I treated each day as a gift from the unknown.

Who knew what challenges I would face? What would the elements throw at us? Would I be adaptable enough to survive? What was the nature of my mental state? (When would my next shower be?)

Other sherpas told my guides I was “strong like an ox” and “the essence of happiness.” I made other struggling hikers laugh or dance as we made our way up the mountain. For those who had to turn back, I listened to their stories and provided comfort in any way possible.

After days of testing my physical, emotional, and mental strength, I walked away a very different person than before I set foot in those mountains. I learned the following:

Each day is an adventure

“We are all time travelers, journeying together into the future. But let us work together to make that future a place we want to visit.” ― Stephen Hawking

I made decisions in a black-and-white manner (or at least I tried to), and that is the basis of survivalism. Can you use every ounce of your knowledge to your advantage and the advantage of others? I’ve always approached my life in a way which allows me to stay present, but now I feel even more focused on the current happenings of each day. I don’t know how things will unfold, but I promise to have an adventure in every day.

Even if it’s just a little adventure to a new area of town, to taste something unusual, or to smile at a stranger hoping the extraordinary happens.

The art of having a great day comes from letting go of what was yesterday. I find it fascinating how we love to hold onto the past. Truthfully, I feel that I held onto the past when I was younger and too ill-equipped to understand time, the passage of life, and how to achieve closure. Using the classic Buddhist metaphor of being like the cloud when it comes to traveling through your life.

To let go means to have confidence in what is to come.

Happiness comes from happiness

“there are lots of things you want to do before your life is over.” ― Stephen Hawking

Anytime I felt weary on my journey or even during the Everest trip, I would act to create happiness.

I remember buying a tasty assortment of cookies and cakes to surprise the hostel staff with a sweet treat. I remember smiling at a stranger across a coffee table and offering to share bites of my cake. I remember asking another stranger what was wrong and where did it hurt? I remember turning on music in my room to dance away any negative feelings.

Everything started with me and just transcended to others. I was deeply connected to those around me. I’ve tried to be helpful to others most of my life; I am only now recognizing that these altruistic acts are my way of having compounded happiness in my life.

Strength is a muscle

“Be brave, be curious, be determined, overcome the odds. It can be done.”
― Stephen Hawking

I know I have done a vast amount of self-work in my twenties to explore aspects of myself out of curiosity, delving into darker wounds which needed some healing, and coming out ready to live the most fulfilled life possible.

I test my boundaries, limits, and thought patterns frequently. It’s fun and exciting to realize new things about myself…I’m constantly evolving. Even my cells will commit apoptosis at some point and others will regenerate. (Apoptosis = cell death. Watch it here)

Test yourself. Every day. Even just one challenge around something you dislike (or you thought you would dislike). My most recent example of this was revisiting seafood. I thought I hated it after disliking it for so long in my youth, but I’ve now tried a fish curry in Thailand to shrimp from Louisiana and my love is growing.

So be brave. Whether you are testing yourself, or life testing you, the challenges will appear. I figure it’s better to be a ship out on the water ready for a sea voyage rather than still in the shipyard anxiously waiting for the moment of truth.

I’m currently reading and rereading Hawking’s Brief Answers to the Big Questions, and I find myself completely taken with his powerful words. The book is a moving plea to humanity to progress and explore, and I firmly believe if we continue to provide ourselves spaces to play, create, imagine, and dream, we can progress even quicker to better lives for all.

So, take the trip. Read the book. Cancel the dinner. Book the evening. Call the friend. Bring the surprise. Laugh at something funny. Eat the unusual dish. Tackle those fears.

And have fun!

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