As time passes here in Chapagaon, I have come to reflect many times on how the sacred seems to infuse every aspect of life here. The mundane and the spiritual seem to be woven together in such a way that on one hand it is a colorful dizzying display and on the other it is deeply rooted in a basic respect for something deeper. This has had a profound effect on my experience thus far.
Beginning with the greeting my patients meet me with every morning - "Namaste". The simple moment when palms come together in a prayer like position at the front of the heart marks the beginning of almost every interaction I have had with a patient. This beautiful greeting is punctuated with intentional and sustained eye contact. This is often the instant I pause and collect myself to be fully available to the person sitting in front of me. The way my Nepali patients have taught me presence I will never forget.
Near the beginning of my stay at the clinic the festival of Tihar started. Known as the festival of light it is a time when one decorates the home with elaborate and colorful flower mandalas and every entranceway and window is lit up with candles as a way to welcome in Laksmi the goddess of abundance. It was an incredible introduction to the way Nepali's celebrate through ritual.
It seems my patients, and many Nepalis as a whole, celebrate their devotion on a daily basis and in very extroverted ways. Early in the morning women in the community can be seen doing their "puja" at the local temples; carrying with them their prayers, dishes of fruit, flowers and rice as offerings. Another such ritual is the "tika"; a form of decoration in which men and women paint their forehead with colored paste. It has many meanings but is often worn to represent the spiritual. I love seeing people walk into my treatment room adorned in this way. In fact it becomes so widespread I almost forget how different these customs are from Canada. These outward expressions of the inner spiritual life has allowed me to look more deeply at my own hopes and dreams and to truly contemplate my devotion and gratitude for the beauty in my life.
The other night some of the practitioners, interpreters and monks were having "chia" (milk tea) at the forest view, which is a small shop we tend to hang out in playing cards and enjoying each others company. The woman who owns the shop came over to share her offerings. She had just returned from an all day pilgrimage to a rural temple and had brought back with her gifts from that place to share. She walked around the table and placed in each of our hands an assortment of flowers, dry rice and fennel. She was happy to share her blessings from the temple with us. It was special yet commonplace. Some rested the flowers on their heads and others behind their ears. All those present responded with a bow as a heartfelt acknowledgment to the deeper meaning of this gesture.
Patients regularly come in to see us bringing gifts - bags of fruit or bunches of spinach as a way to say thank you. When in reality, I have come to realize I am the greatest beneficiary of this experience. The chance to be witness to so many healing journeys is a true gift. The spark of connection these patients ignite in me is significant. During those stories that are hard to hear and those cases that may not have the perfect happy ending I am especially struck by this realization. The other day a patient stopped me and told me (with the help of my amazing interpreter) that I would always be with them. She said that a piece of me would stay here and always be in the hearts of my patients. That she would not forget and that a part of Nepal would go home with me and live in my heart forever. And you know what? She was right. ---Jennifer Rankin