Thursday, January 22, 2009

Philosophy: Patience really is a good thing!

Patience is a virtue. This is an often quoted sentence and one which appears to be becoming increasingly ignored.

The ever accelerating nature of society and its desire for instant gratification has led to a widespread attitude that everything must be had now. If we can’t have it now, then we have to go and look for something else that is instantly available. Then, once we have whatever it is we obtained, be it either an object or an achievement, we are then immediately looking for the next step rather than enjoying or appreciating what we have.

The rate at which modern society loses interest in new things, on both an individual and societal basis, shows that not only are we losing patience but also that boredom is the result of this loss. Life has become more focused on achievement rather than the journey to achievement. This leaves people in a constant state of stress – unable to relax because there is always another goal which must be attained.

And what is boredom really? I can understand being a little bit bored at work when a job is not stimulating, but there is no excuse for boredom at home. Boredom at home is surely just a sign of a lack of imagination, and probably the reason why so many sit transfixed by the gogglebox as it spews tripe at them. But I digress.

A little bit of patience brings relief from stress and can also bring a far greater reward than the endless treadmill of goal-oriented high achievement. The patience to sit in front of a painting at an art gallery and marvel at the intricate brushwork and the imagination and the talent of the painter to produce such a dynamic picture brings an affirmation that we, as humans, have an immense amount of talent stored away if we could only access it. It may have taken the painter months or even years to produce the work. It would have been unachievable without a good store of patience. The same can be said of authors, architects (at least those who genuinely want to create, rather than build a box!) and many other creative people. Accessing this talent is usually the problem, sometimes because people may grow up being told they have no talent, but also when people don’t have the patience or imagination to try new things. How do you know if you can paint or not unless you try? One of my lost opportunities is drawing; I know I can draw because on one, and only one, occasion I drew a walking boot in incredible detail, but I haven’t had the patience to it again. It did, however, help me get rid of the notion that I couldn’t say I couldn’t do something unless I had first tried it.

However, perhaps the most important use of patience is to take time to learn about ourselves as individuals. There are so many messages being thrown at us every day verbally, visually or subliminally, that it is difficult to sort out what we want as individuals from what we are being told we should want by other interested parties. These include private companies, advertising firms, our employers, our families, government and many more. It is like trying to see the night sky through a telescope in the middle of a city. The stars are visible, but without seeing what the night sky is like without all the light interference from an urban area, we are unaware of how magnificent it really is.

It takes a significant amount of patience to sit and learn about yourself. Some people never find this patience and go through life in cascade of ever-changing values dependent on the latest expectations others have of them. This patience might be thought of as meditation, but I do not necessarily agree with that interpretation as patience and self-knowledge are not necessarily about spirituality. The application of patience in life provides a long-lasting benefit. It allows us to spend time thinking about what we really want, not what society and/or mass marketers are telling us we should want. Once we know this, our decision-making processes become a lot less conflicted.

Patience allows unhurried and clear assessment of options and of opportunities. It is also a shield from over stimulation and a way in which life can be simplified and made far more enjoyable. It clears the fog that is advertising and spin and allows contemplation of what is on offer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there needs to be certainty of outcome, far from it, but it does mean that if the future is clouded, this fact is accepted and doesn’t cause unnecessary stress. Patience will assist in bringing calm until the haze clears.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Travel: The Snowman Trek (Part IV - Days 7-9)

Day 7

After spending a night trying to sleep while the local dog population was intent on running riot through and around Chebise, we had a quick breakfast and then began our walking. We headed up towards the next pass – Gombu La. This was a very steep 450 metre climb up to the ridge on which the pass was located. The views back towards the mountains (Jichu Drake (6850m) and Tsheri Kang (6532m)) were magnificent, and made up for the burning feeling in my lungs and legs. I was even able to laugh when I left taking my picture of this view a little too late and had to put up with clouds obscuring the two peaks.

Looking back towards Jichu Drake (obscured by cloud)

The landscape up here was that of grasslands, probably inhabited by small mammals judging by the small burrows we came across. There were bound to be some birds of prey eyeing up these mountainsides looking for the merest hint of movement that would show them where their next meal might be. I didn’t see any, but others did.

It didn’t take more than about two hours to get to the pass, and then we began descending through forests of rhododendrons. As we walked down to lower altitudes we entered a forest of fir and larch trees that was full of autumn colours. Reds, oranges and yellows combined with the dark greens to make a wonderful sight. We stopped for lunch at a yak-herders shelter and enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and rest for a while.

On our way down we could see steep cliffs and gullies on either side of the valley. There were waterfalls cascading down from the cloud above that obscured their origin. The descent took some time and we eventually reached a braided river that we had to cross to get to our campsite on the other side. After a few hops and jumps we could sit down with a cup of tea and reflect on the successful completion of the first week of the trek.

Day 8

Yet another great breakfast to start the morning. Our cook once again excelled himself, filling us up with enough fuel for the day. I wish I could remember his name. I wrote them all down and now can’t find them.

This was a very hard day. We climbed up to over 4700 metres to Jare La in the morning. This was a climb of over 750 metres and it certainly felt like it. Being quite steep and with the cloud being low, we didn’t really know how far we had to go as we trudged on ever upwards. However, once we reached the pass, we were greeted with the smell of Sandalwood which reinvigorated us to some extent. We had a short stop here before we carried on and walked down through a beautiful, wet but treacherous forest. There were lots of sharp corners and the occasional slippery rock, but in between this there were some great views of the valley into which were going. The descent seemed to take a long time and was hard on our legs.

Once down into the valley we were able to relax a bit, and once we’d crossed a makeshift bridge we were on a flat valley floor. In the distance we could see a traditional black yak herder’s tent made of woven yak fur. I tried to get a photo, but it didn’t turn out very well, and we were keen to get to our camp for the night so we didn’t venture of the track too far.

To round the day off, we had a short but steep climb up to a flat campsite on a wide grassy plateau on the side of the valley. By this time I was looking forward to the traditional cup of tea and nibbles at the end of the day and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we were going to do our first 5000 metre pass; the crew filled us up with carbohydrates for dinner!

Day 9

Oh dear…this was a hard day. I wouldn’t usually swear, but - f***! Over 800 metres of climbing in the morning, and it was a rainy and grey experience. There are no pictures of this climb because I was tired, and it didn’t seem worth the effort to take pictures on such a dull day. And it was also quite slippery in many places.

Glacial lake and scour

There were no great views from the top; however the rain did ease once we made it over Sinche La (5005 metres) to the other side. Even though it was tough, it was sobering to see a member of another expedition being carried up the mountain on horse-back, clearly suffering from altitude sickness. The Bhutanese guide, Sangey, was genuinely worried about him. He made it over and down the other side, and on to the end of the trip, but this must have been a very bad day for him. It was good to see Sangey again, he had been our guide on a previous short trek in Bhutan, and he still had his sense of humour and mischief.

Coming down the mountain we had great views of the valley ahead, another classic glaciated U-shape with steep sides and scree-slopes. Further down we came across further evidence of glaciation - a scoured mountainside and glacial lake being retained by a terminal moraine. As walkers would know, after a long hard climb your legs can be a bit wobbly on the descent, so we found a good spot to sit and appreciate the view. There were yet more rhododendrons and fir trees on the steep hillsides which our path clung to.

On the way down from Sinche La

We carried on mainly down hill in the afternoon and camped in some sandy soil by a river. The next day promised a short walk to the village of Laya, and then we would change yaks and move on towards Chozo and the Lunana region.