I was the fourth ship.
     Behind Niña, Pinta, Santa María,
     Lost at sea while watching a seagull,
     Following the wind and sunset skies,
     While the others set their charts.

I was the fourth ship.
     Breathing in salt and flying with clouds,
     Sailing moonbreezes and starvision nights,
     Rolling into the wave and savoring its lull,
     While the others pointed their prows.

I was the fourth ship.
     Playfully in love with the sea,

     Eternally entwined with the sky,
     Forever vowed to my voyage,
     While the others shouted “Land.”

~Carmen Tafolla

I’m not sure what I expected in going to Bhutan, but whatever it was, Bhutan exceeded all expectations. In every possible way.

I thought it might bring me closer to my dad. That whole being above the clouds and all. But being high up in the Himalayas only revealed that I am as close to him up there as I am down here.

On the first day in Paro we visited a museum. It was all things Bhutan: the story of it’s founder, all of it’s five kings, the Guru Rimpoche (who build Tiger Nest Temple), their customs and dances, fauna and flora, and the specific sect of buddhism that is practiced there, as well as their fertility gods. Basically a dummy’s guide to Bhutanese culture.

I learned that the Bhutanese mourn for 49 days as they believe that the dead take this long to transition from the live realm into the spirit world. When my grandpa finally passed, being the last in a mala of passings, my mom and my aunt realized my grandma had passed 39 days before my dad and my dad 39 days before my grandpa. Weird, right? I felt oddly comforted that perhaps my grandma overlapped with my dad for a few days in order to show him the ropes and the same with my dad and grandpa.

Along that first day, our guide also mentioned almost unnoticeably that his grandmother and his sister passed last year. A young man of 27, it surprised me. I was struck by how over half the group had experienced big loss this past year. I guess mourners attract one another? Or maybe it’s that time of life?Or maybe it’s like the “Luna Lovegod Club”, once you see those horses, you can’t unsee them. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Harry Potter. Don’t even finish this post.)

I hoped to find a happy country. The happiest country in the world to be precise. They did create the happy index, after all. And though Bhutan is beautiful beyond belief, it’s people serene and calm in a way I have not experienced ever before, its culture rich and mystical, I was surprised to find sorrow lurking in it’s fecund forests, ornate farmhouses and neat rice fields, as well. It makes sense. Buddhism deals to great extent with freeing ourselves from the samskaras of dukha, the ruts or scars of suffering. No one gets that free pass on being human, remember? Not even the merry Bhutanese.

The trek took five of our nine days. In the day, we walked up steep, narrow, sometimes treacherous, slippery and unbound slopes into the looming himalayas, and at night we camped under the stars. Each night got colder and colder. Each day we climbed higher and higher.

I was so looking forward to all of it. As a young buck, I used to mountaineer in Colombia, also at great altitudes, but under much more precarious and dangerous circumstances. And though I found it grueling back then, there’s something about meeting yourself and your metal against the elements that is very primal and deeply satisfying. One of our retreat mates grew out his hair and giant beard  over the eight months prior. I completely got it. Believe me, if I had any whiskers to speak of at this point in my life, I would’ve loved to grow the shit out of them too, leaning into my rugged, mountain man self. Needless to say I was feeling the call.

The first day the weather was beautiful, the forests lush. As we gained altitude, the weather started to turn toward hail. Across the way was a huge mountain, covered in snow. We joked with our guide, “Is that where we’re headed?” He said, “No. Well, actually… yes.”

We were not prepared for snow. Or were we? A bunch of New Yorkers and Bostonians? I mean we were, sort of.. ish, as in we read that it might get cold over night and we all had our winter coats and reasonably appropriate boots. But that was on paper. Not like a in SLEEP in snow IN THE FLESH, kind of thing.

We kept walking through the days, traversing magical landscapes. I had never seen such beauty and diversity. We were trekking 6-8 hours a day. On the third day, the weather was turning ugly quickly making it evident that we would be sleeping in the snow.  Morale was dwindling as fatigue and altitude were setting in. I didn’t see our tour guide often, as I was usually holding the middle of the line and he was generally switching with our other guide, Chiki, between the back and front. Yet somehow we ended up walking side by side.

He pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of his sister- the one who passed- and said, “You remind me of my sister.” I looked at the picture wondering what commonality we could share. The girl in the picture looked cute and sparkly. Without any prompting he went into the story of his sister’s passing. What I could garner through everything that might get lost or misunderstood in translation was that she was younger than him, was gay and had a girlfriend who she was very attached to. It sounded like they had a feisty relationship, one of those where they fought hard and loved hard. It also sounded like she had struggled with depression a long time. One day they had a fight. She got very sad. She was with friends and told them she needed a glass of water. They left her. She locked the door behind them, called her brother to say good-bye (who happened to be on the same trek we were on at the time), then she jumped out a five story window.

I wondered why he chose to tell me, a stranger, this story. I wanted to explode into tears and hold him. But I knew he had to get it out. So I simply looked at him and listened as my heart broke for him and his family. Life is full of so many terrible things sometimes. So much hurt and suffering.

As our time in Bhutan continued and started finding it’s closure, the story matured inside me. On the surface, the grass can always seem greener. The Bhutanese and their culture are beautiful beyond belief. They are a strong and fierce agricultural people. Lively, funny and sweet. Full of contradictions, as well. A part of me was filled with much gratitude for living somewhere where I can for the most part be myself. For never having felt so strangled, lonely and so desperate that I would hurt myself or anyone around me. Most of this is conjecture heavily colored by my own personal context. However, it’s not too hard for me to imagine the loneliness of being an outsider, not being seen, being a sole salmon swimming upstream.

Amidst all the beauty are things that are not and have never worked. That is great learning. Bowing down to tradition only for its sake alone is not enough. We must always use viveka- discernment. It made me grateful, believe it or not, for this Trump era. (I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am. ) An era where we are forced to look at all the ugly and air it out. Where patriarchy and feminism painfully dancing toward what will hopefully be a renaissance in respect and appreciation of each other.

At some point during the trek someone asked me about being transgendered and hate crimes. If I was scared considering that so many men are angry and feeling cornered at present? I told them what I’ve always said about being gay when people have told me it’s better to tone down my affections- that I would rather die being who I am than hide and die anyway being who I’m not. If that is my end, I am ok with that.

I owe it to that lovely girl in Bhutan who found no other way out. And to all of the countless people who struggle with it every day. And most of all to myself. For self respect is where it all starts. You can’t respect others and be a decent human if you don’t respect yourself. It’s that simple. Start at the top. The yamas: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Bramhacharya, Aparighraha; and niyamas: Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, Ishvara Pranidhana. One is never too advanced to visit and revisit, and ask again and look closer at the first proposals of this practice. It’s all in there. Even if you never get past the very first yama- Ahimsa. It’s all in there.

There is more, so much more on Bhutan. I imagine it will take a long time to process the mindblowingness of it all. But I’ll leave it here for now with these first impressions. If you are feeling like this is a bit depressing, this month I am straying on the podcast a little to bring you the love story of our Indian tour guide, Mukesh and his wife Chanchal, who were with us in Bhutan. It’s short, but a gem. And when is there anything better than a good love story?

***To subscribe to that Dharma Blog or Podcast CLICK HERE****

Happenings:

***Big News: I’m start teaching at Five Pillars Yoga this coming week. You can catch me there Fridays at 10:15 and Sundays at 10:30. It’s a drop-in studio team, so you can come like normal yogis. Yehawwwww!!!

***Wide Awake: Episode 5: A Love Ballad (because we all can use a hope renewal from time to time)

This is the love story of our Indian guide, Mukesh and his lovely wife Chanchal. It’s short and ever so sweet. Enjoy putting something lovely in your ears for a change

***Also, check out new classes on my Vimeo channels
https://vimeo.com/ondemand/milesyoga
https://vimeo.com/ondemand/milesyogahourclasses

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Yoga and Kirtan May 11!!!!
With Miles and Caroline
Friday May 11th, 7-9pm
Pure Yoga East
$35 for members/$40 for non-members
All are welcome
REGISTER HERE

This will be the best of all worlds, a hybrid of a led class with time for self practice as the live music plays, which you can choose to sin along to or not.

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***ONGOING***
The Jam (Master Class with music)

All Sunday’s from 12:30 to 2:30
Pure Yoga East
$30 walk in
or to register just come and sign up at the front desk.

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Teacher’s Practice
Brooklyn, NY
Prema Yoga
June 1 from 12:45-1:45
For more information go to
http://www.premayogabrooklyn.com/

This practice is by a master teacher for teachers. Enjoy having time to practice and continue to hone your skills all within a community of already skilled teachers.

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Teacher’s Practice
Brooklyn, NY
Prema Yoga
July 6 from 12:45-1:45
For more information go to
http://www.premayogabrooklyn.com/

This practice is by a master teacher for teachers. Enjoy having time to practice and continue to hone your skills all within a community of already skilled teachers.

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All this plus archives of my blogs along with new online classes and workshops and other resources are on my website: www.milesyoga.com