“Meditation does not make you a better person”
I read an interesting article this morning with that title. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/05/meditation-does-not-make-better-person-study-finds/
In the article it found that people are not necessarily more calm or compassionate after practicing meditation. So… why have Meditation Mondays? Why promote meditation?
Well, everyone has to start somewhere!!! I have heard many people describe different meditation techniques. Personally, I practice my own version (everyone has to figure out what works for them) – I like to call it – listening meditation. Often when people say you should “clear your mind,” it gets confusing on how to accomplish that. Unless you have been practicing control of your thought impulses, it is extremely difficult to sit and have NO THOUGHT. It is a function of you brain to assess, judge, contemplate, etc. Therefore, to stop an innate trait takes time, it takes practice. So what is listening meditation?
For me, when I close my eyes and LISTEN, it gives my mind a task. I observe what is in the here and now through my hearing. The difficult part is OBSERVING your mind and the thoughts that arise while you attempt to only listen. Listen to what’s around you, listen to your breathe, and attempt to feel your body.
Meditation CAN calm you, but it takes work. Simply closing your eyes is not meditation. OBSERVING your mind and attempting to stop it from traveling down endless rabbit holes is a form of meditation. By slowly understanding your thought process, you give yourself the opportunity to control it instead of letting situations control you. No longer do you REACT to things based on unobserved emotions, you RESPOND to situations.
“Meditation does not make you a better person.” True. However, by practicing mindfulness I can be a better version of myself, a more present version of myself. By being present, I become truly available to everyone and everything around me. Who would want to miss that?! By being stuck in your thoughts, you do miss it! Even if it’s happening in front of you, when your mind is elsewhere, so are you.
Where do you find yourself reacting strongly? Is it towards certain people or in specific situations? Do you know why?
Let’s all strive to be more responsive and less reactive. See what happens in your circle when you do, it mayyyyyyyy just make you a better version of yourself 🙂
Blessing and Peace
Ever thought you weren’t going to make it? But then, you did. The more this happens in my life, the more I realize I must PERSIST! A few years ago, I trekked Annapurna Circuit with some friends. The most rigorous day was that of Thorang La Pass.
Early in the morning, before dawn, we began hiking in the cold. I mean cold. You go to use the bathroom and the bucket of water that’s meant as your toilet paper is now frozen. It was a COLD morning at a high altitude. It was the first time I experienced altitude sickness (but not the last). In order to make it, I had to give my bag away for someone else to carry. That alone was difficult, because it felt like it wasn’t a true accomplishment. But that was a stupid thought.
Whether you come to trek 3 days, 5 days, 3 weeks through Sagamartha Park with or without a porter, finishing what you start is important. It gives you the energy to move on to the next goal, then the next. When we arrived at the top, our porter threw up his fingers with a #2!! It was the first time he had a group finish the trek to the top in 2 hours. It did not matter if someone else had to carry my bag. I was not going to finish with it. What mattered is that the goal was met and hot tea was consumers at 5416 meters in Nepal overlooking the most incredible views.
It is important to make goals, to give yourself something to look forward to, but be easy on yourself. Remember you are the one setting the goals and going after your dreams. If you need to give someone else your bag, let it go. Just do something! Anything that inspires you to keep experiencing the beauty around you.
Blessings and Peace
The last Monday Meditation focused on death and what it means to “be” instead of “do.” This Monday is similar, but more focused on the doing rather than being.
What I find interesting about death is that, for a while, we humans act like animals unaware of our finite status. Unaware of how much our actions affect others both positively and negatively. Being unaware of your inevitable end shapes your present perspective. For many, there is much less fear. It is easy to jump off a cliff if you do not think you are going to die. Once we discover pain, suffering, and inevitable death, many react with sadness and anxiety. Knowing about death means knowing we are always getting closer and closer to it.
Have you understood that you will die? That this is your chance to really live? You will never be as young as you are now. You will never have the same opportunity as you do in this moment. Similar ones may come along, but they will never be the same, you will never be the same. Knowledge and experience change us.
Does knowing this fill you with dread or excitement? If it fills you with anxiety, take some time to figure out why. Is it out of fear for tomorrow or maybe from regrets of yesterday? How are you reacting and interacting with the world around you?
For me, “doing” starts with your mental reaction. We are in control of our reactions towards life. We cannot control life or death, but we can choose how we respond – first mentally and secondly, physically.
It is our choice to look negatively at our finite status or as our opportunity to appreciate the gift we have. We have no idea how many days we will have on this earth. Filling those days with aggression, resentment, etc., does it help you?
Today, start to watch yourself and your reactions. Ask yourself, not whether or not my reaction is justified, but does this reaction help the circumstances? Ask yourself, what can I change in my life to improve it?
Life is short. Life is a gift. It is your choice to waste it or appreciate it. What will you choose?
“The fact that human beings know that we will die is rather remarkable. It means not only that we know we are alive, but also that we must wonder about what life means, what death means and whether any of it has any purpose or meaning.” — John Shelby Spong
I am often reading philosophy books. Even after Seminary, I am still looking for the answer to the thoughts expressed by Spong… Does my life have any purpose or meaning? I am alive.. Doesn’t that mean something? Anything? If so, what SHOULD I be doing with it?
Growing up in the United States, I was told my life mattered, that I could accomplish anything. Traveling around the world, I came to the realization that this assumption was not true for everyone. Lives do matter, but not everyone can realistically accomplish anything they want. There are borders, wars, famine, disease, ignorance, hatred, etc, which prevents individuals from having the opportunity to reach their full potential.
While living in Nepal, I had the opportunity to sit and breathe, to really question what I had learned in life and in Seminary. What I discovered is that I personally believe we put too much pressure on ourselves to produce in the West. A friend once told me we are human beings, not humans doing. We are flesh and blood, not machines built with a specific purpose for someone or something else.
In Nepal, many people can simply “be.”
What I mean by “being” is that they can sit at a corner and wait for the bus patiently. They can talk with a stranger while their food takes a few hours to make (especially if there is a closed border and no petrol). They can change their plans when you show up 2 days later than expected. Why?
Because they are more in touch with the here, the now. Instead of focusing on what our lives means to others, they are present. It seems even in Nepal this is rapidly changing with the arrival of cell phones and facebook, but still… it’s STILL. The people may have drama, but I do not see the same kind of obvious anxiety a lot of Americans express when something goes wrong. They can digest it without getting overly emotional and deal with the issue at hand.
These days, instead of trying to figure out WHY I am here, what purpose I serve, or what my life means, I reflect on the fact that I do exist. This life is a gift, not an obligation. This life is an opportunity, not a resume for my afterlife.
What does it mean for you to be here, be now? Today, take some time to be present, to look around and see what is in front of you. Instead of being lost in plans for tomorrow, get lost in the beauty that is today … and if possible, have some fun!!
Hump days in Nepal are more like Mountain Days. To get through the week, we hope to offer a little inspiration. This photo of Mt. Gangapurna was taken by Sunil Adhikari, good friend and local guide from Nepal. Here are his words to describe the experience :
“They were huge — gigantic mountains. I thought that was the end. That is the last point of the earth. I used to dream of reaching there. One day I did. I dared to face the challenge. There was no tiredness, literally no cold, not any difficulties… because the beauty of the place made me forget myself. One day I reached there. I was on the top and I crossed over a layer of mountains. Surprisingly there’s another part of heaven hidden beyond these mountains. I realized then there is no end. You just have to keep going. Life is full of miracles. Dream it, dare to do it & of course, let’s go!”
The landlocked nation of Nepal has captivated foreigners for centuries, from the British reverence for the Gurkha fighting force to the modern day traveler looking to explore the mighty Himalaya, Nepal is toward the top of many a bucket list.
Though it is becoming more and more common as travel destination, particularly among backpackers, the nation is still misunderstood in many ways. Below are 3 key areas to help a traveler understand more about this incredible nation and fully experience what it has to offer.
While the country has so much to offer in terms of spiritual, cultural and physical journeys to the foreign traveler, the people of Nepal are struggling. The poverty rate is the highest in Asia and the majority of the population live on less than $2 a day.
Volunteering is one small way we can help. Education in particular, is perhaps the way many of us can make the biggest impact.
Beware though, not all volunteering is equal and some aspects may even be somewhat detrimental. There are established organisations that now offer volunteering as a ‘service’, taking advantage of well-to-do Westerners and charging them relatively large sums for the opportunity of helping build a couple of houses or carry out general laboring work that would be much more efficiently handled by a local. These organisations are there to make a profit for themselves and often very little of the money is actually passed on to the region that is desperately in need of it.
If you are looking at getting into a volunteering role, either short or longer term, it may be an idea to seek out an opportunity once you’ve arrived in the country. There are a wealth of resources and information across hostels, local agencies, information centres and even restaurants and bars as to where you can look for a role that suits your requirements and skillset. Talk to the locals and expats and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
As someone who has trekked on 6 continents around the world, trust me when I say that the trekking offered in Nepal is second to none. Once you’ve laid eyes upon the towering Himalayan peaks, you’ll never look at another landscape the same way again.
The calssics are of course Everest Basecamp, Annapurna basecamp and the Annapurna Circuit. If you choose one of these options, guaranteed you won’t be disappointed. However if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path or a little more challenging, try the Langtang, Manaslu or 3 passes.
Trekking is what Nepal is renowned for, though there are a host of other adventure sports and activities to get the old heart pumping. Whitewater rafting is prevalent around the Pokhara region, as is paragliding. Turn to your right as you stare out over the lake and you’ll see dozens of little specs flying off the surrounding hillsides on any given day.
At the southern end of the country, away from the immensity of the Himalayas, lies a luscious tropical jungle. Not only can you trek through certain parts, there are also safari services that allow you to view animals like tigers, buffalo and monkeys in their natural environment.
Learning from the Culture
The culture throughout this nation is pretty incredible, with traditions dating back over 2 millennia. Buddha was born in the southern town of Lumbini and hence Buddhism has been a central part of Nepalese culture ever since. Hinduism makes up the other side of religious worship and the 2 have managed to co-exist throughout the ages. To represent these 2 intrinsic beliefs, Nepal’s flag consists of 2 points, the only flag on Earth that isn’t a rectangular shape.
If you happen to visit in September/October, you will likely be fortunate enough to witness the incredible display of the Dasain festival, the largest in the nation, stretching over 15 days and including a variety of celebrations. Fear not though, festivals are as common as cows and you’ll undoubtedly run into one whatever time of year you choose to visit.
The culture is endlessly appealing; the customs, the world heritage temples (though unfortunately many have been destroyed after the latest earthquake), the food, the clothing, the animal worship though the culmination of all this and the overarching positive experience of Nepal, is its people. They are without question the kindest, most warm-hearted and helpful population I’ve come across. Period. It would take a truly cold-blooded individual to come away from a journey through Nepal and not fall in love with the collective group of individuals you will have encountered along the way. That to me, is what makes Nepal truly special.
Backpacking 4 Betty is more than a program – for me, it’s a way of life. Why do we do what we do? I have spent many years asking this question. That quest took me through Seminary and all the way to Asia which claimed the majority of my last 3 years. Often we never ask why. We simply do things- out of habit, customs, obligations, and sometimes simple boredom. Backpacking 4 Betty believes in doing with purpose, doing out of love, doing, why? Because why not?
When we know ourselves- our passions, dreams, goals, fears, etc … we can more easily navigate all aspects of our life. I was taught strength comes from the ability to be flexible in all circumstances, to have integrity in difficulty, and to always lead with an open heart & hand, never closed. The caveat to staying strong is always Balance. Knowing yourself and your needs, being able to fulfill those needs is important. Because in that place of contentment, you can truly give abundantly. Only from a strong foundation can intense giving be realized.
Only you can know yourself. Backpacking 4 Betty encourages both self awareness and extreme giving. There are times in life to be more selfish and times to be more selfless. I’ve always known my heart was restless in America. Traveling brings me to life. The challenge of navigating, respecting, and attempting to understand another culture is thrilling. You NEVER know what’s going to happen next, much like the formation of B4B.
After the earthquake, I attempted to volunteer for many organizations- all focused on water (this why is another Blog). No one wanted me, so why not start something myself? 2 years later, it is the best decisions I have ever made. I love Nepal- the good, the bad, and the ugly (which there is plenty of). It has both incredible amounts of inspiration and staggering amounts of challenges. This is why knowing which challenges (much like the formation and development of B4B for myself) are going to grow you without breaking your spirit.
What B4B does changes based on resources, volunteers, and situations. However, we are always focused on health- mainly making clean water available to more people throughout Nepal. Our WHY though, never changes. It is because we can. Because we should. When life throws you into a situation that demands a response… what can you do? We responded to the earthquake and now we continue.
Going through Seminary taught me to be extremely cautious in these situations. It is hard to say what we “should” do. Especially in relation to helping others. In Nepal, it is also an ethical question- it is not my home, it is not my culture. However, it is our world. Whether we see it improve or be destroyed is our collective responsibility. Therefore, with love and through continued cooperation with locals, B4B challenges everyone in our mission to know our why even more than what we do! Why do we work in Nepal, why do we focus on water … why we care.
We also challenge you to know the same about yourself!!
What are you living for? Why do you do what you do? Don’t know…? Maybe it is time to visit Nepal. To go and do nothing- no volunteering, no work, just be. Be there to experience the present, to figure out what drives you. From that place you can use your skills and passions to help the world. Helping not from a place of obligation or martyrdom, but from love. Love of what you do and then doing that for the benefit of others.
Humanity is a community. Coexisting is difficult enough with greedy and reactive people. However, through self awareness we become less reactive and realize there is no need for greed, only giving. B4B reminds us that while we may be the center of our universe, it is a universe shared with others. This is the “4”. For better, For other.
This weekend July 8-12th, we are raising funds for the Project and spreading our story at the Wildgoose Festival in Hot Spring, NC. In the booth we are selling jewelry and over 100 pieces of pottery. Thanks to ECU Ceramics Guild, local professionals from Eastern North Carolina threw bowls and made mugs. ECU graciously donated clay, studio space, glazes, and fired our pottery. We also have picture frames donated by Roger Peery owner of Peery Custom Trim. All the proceeds from the booth will go towards support of the systems- paying for tanks, transport of systems, soap, and the costs for printing the booklets. We have been encouraged by the support from all who enter our tent. Here are some photos of our booth at the festival
Elizabeth “Betty” Blough Martin was many things to many people. To me, Betty was my grandmother and a dear friend who continues to inspire me. I have beautiful memories from our Wednesday lunches where we discussed life and shared stories. While we often spoke before my senior year of college, it wasn’t until we repeatedly broke bread that we became friends. She heard both the shallow problems and deep issues I experienced that would significantly shape my perspective about life and how I viewed myself. I will never forget the sight of her loving eyes and open arms always eager to comfort and encourage. I was lucky to know this incredible, loving, eccentric, intelligent, and humble traveler. She passed away July 29th, 2014 only a couple weeks after I returned from Asia for the first time. While I was extremely eager to share these new memories, I would not get the chance. Instead, I was left to make big choices without her advice or encouragement. Thankfully, I knew what she would have told me to do- know what you want to do and go for it. This woman lived an incredible journey filled with travel, adventure, hardship, pain, love and laughter. She chased after the things she loved and never stopped living. She explored the world and allowed experiences to touch her, to change her. On the day we celebrated her life and mourned her departure, the pastor described her better than I ever could. The truth his words contain gave me the encouragement needed to chase after my dreams urgently. Here is a piece of what he wrote. It begins with a description of the church building she helped design and the people sitting in the pews.
“For Betty the church did not start and stop with these four walls. Her faith was not contained in the confines of inanimate structures, but was most alive when it was lived in generous service among humanity. The building and the body of people that meet here are but the starting point for the sowing and nurturing of seeds. The building is a physical body of seeds, that is then made up of spiritual bodies that move about in the world and proclaim the power, mystery, and love of a God whose fullness cannot be captured in words, monuments, or institutions, no matter how big they might be, but who is best understood in the relationships of human interaction, loving care and service, and generosity.
Betty’s depth of understanding God’s desire and dream of what it means to be alive in the world – caring for each other, and serving as a witness to the life she found in God of scripture, experience, and compassion – the God known to her in Jesus. Betty lived a remarkable life – one rooted and grounded firmly in a deep, abiding faith that drove her to live fully, and abundantly, seeking to never stop exploring what was new, seeking to never stop learning, constantly seeking to better understand shared life in this world. She loved to travel, served as a travel agent, visited six of 7 continents, lived in various parts of the world and her life was touched by each place, shaped a bit more, seeds sown across the creation, and in the legacy she leaves with her family. […]
Betty Martin connections were long, deep and rooted in the way she shared of herself, gifts and resources over and over and over again, not living in fear of running out, not living in a model of scarcity, but embracing a life of abundance and when that abundance could be threatened she faced it head on, learned from it, and continued to find a way to live for herself and for others. […]
Betty leaves a tremendous legacy associated with her name, but more importantly in the way she lived. She understood history and its place of value which then teaches and shapes and helps to build the future. She understood that travel and connection made relationships very important. Those relationships were seeds for future growth, seeds of generosity, fortitude, and resolve. Not a “Susie homemaker or domestic goddess” her gifts were in discerning how culture mattered, how ideas, and connections make possible an understanding of wisdom for life… and then she built upon those connections, making a way for life to be found, drawing together, much like this building the image of a vast God connected in human form, found in relationships, and in need of support, care, and a reminder of God’s abundant giving. Whether it was serving to create human service organizations, making sure a church has a shower so that we can give renewed life in being clean, finding and claiming value in her historic self and family ties to this community, country and land, or discovering how life is different in another part of the world she gave of her life and she shared her life abundantly.”
She gave of her life and she shared her life abundantly.
This is what Backpacking 4 Betty is founded upon- giving abundantly out of love. She inspires me to give of myself, all that I am and all that I can be. The name is a reminder of who I want to be and what I want this organization to be; something that is bigger than any individual and created to help as many people as we are able. When she died, I knew that life was not worth living unless it was spent living for something greater than yourself. While I do not believe you should sacrifice your life or be a martyr (you only have one to live!), you should try to live it out passionately and in service to others when you are able. Not going against life, but finding life at every turn and making it better for everyone you encounter. This is who Betty is- my inspiration, my guide, my encouragement, my support, and the woman whom I hope to honor in service to others, for that is what she would have wanted most.