Lockdown during Covid has been challenging for everyone. Whether you have lost a job, your business, your home, or your ability to socialize, we have all collectively been feeling the stress of this virus. I came to Nepal the first week of March to host another retreat with Breath of Fresh Air and arrived a few weeks before the guests to get settled in and square away the final details. Within a couple of days of arriving, the whole country, and the world, went into lockdown. At first, we weren’t sure what would happen. There were crazy rumors. We had to pay thousands of dollars to take a repatriation flight or we would be stuck without food, cash, and the possibility of imprisonment. I took the risk and decided to stay, figuring the village I was in was safer and more stable than going back to the US where people were fighting over toilet paper.
Being in Nepal without my friends, direction or clear information became a big challenge. I was constantly checking updates to ever-changing laws in Nepal and where I could go. Every week they would tell us the airport would open and we would have a couple of weeks to leave or face fines or possible imprisonment. I would begin to get my hopes up that things would go back to normal and then the night before we were told we have to leave the laws would change and lockdown would stay in effect and, many times, become more strict.
Over the next 6 months, I rode out this emotional rollercoaster. I put into action many of the principles I have used to get through treatment and beat depression into my everyday life. I realized how important my daily care routine and mindset played into my overall happiness. That all this work I did and the changes I made were not permanent or one-time fixes but a dedication I needed to keep up for the rest of my life. In the end, once I left Nepal, I was able to see that the only things that were difficult or painful were made up in my mind. My need to control the situation, to have answers, and comfort was what was keeping me from enjoying my situation. If I believed these things were making me miserable or not, I was right. When I was able to accept my situation and appreciate it for what it was, and not resent it for what it was not, I found peace and stability again.
I had recently lost my dog and was still dealing with the loss of her. I missed that closeness with a dog. There are many street dogs in Nepal and they are treated reasonably well in most places. Although they don't have a home, they have an area they stay in, and the locals near there will give them food and occasionally some pets. I noticed the dogs that looked the worst were often forced to leave. I bought a brush and started brushing the matted clumps out of their hair. They looked so proud and healthier after! It became a daily habit, something I have kept up with now that I am in Turkey. It helps to bring me presence and joy every day.
We truly are a culmination of our experiences, thoughts, and daily habits. What we see, what we talk about, the way we talk to ourselves, and the way we treat our bodies. Understanding this, I immediately started making a gratitude list. Every morning I would list 5 new things I was grateful for to refocus my energy into something positive instead of dwelling on the negative. I would also write out a list of things I wanted to keep my attention on throughout the day. I would read this in the morning and whenever I would notice myself falling off. Not having my community and a place where I could express myself was difficult so I decided to make one. I began teaching breathwork and yoga every morning before breakfast to the entire hotel and the Nepali family who hosted us. I became more protective of my time and energy and spent it with people who also wanted to make the best of this opportunity.
That is how I chose to look at lockdown, as an opportunity. An opportunity to slow down, to practice acceptance, to get a better understanding of how my mind works, and to work on my physical body. After many months of not being able to leave, the ups and downs of laws changing, losing running water and power, and just being still I recognized I needed something more. I began to see it in my friends too. This instability was weighing on them and we were all struggling. We decided to put our energy into a project.
There is an elderly couple in Pokhara who have been cooking for most of their lives. They are often referred to as “our village grandparents” by the locals and we immediately found out why. They treat you like family and won’t let you leave until you are completely full. Seeing their warm smile every morning when they had so little brought so much joy to all of us. They had a very humble building on a hill made of cinderblocks. The path leading to their restaurant was muddy and slippery. They had a water line running from a neighbors property and running water only came when the neighbor had a surplus. There was no telling when they would get it. Every day they would carry all their groceries up this slippery hill, wash dishes in a basin outside and work in a hot room without much ventilation. Still, they were happy and content.
Our project started small and continued to grow. A handful of friends from my hotel began by building some steps. We cut out flat spots and put them in stone so it would be safe for them to climb. We repainted the building and got them some fans and lights for inside. As more people saw us working they asked if they could join in. We put in a water tank that can be topped off when they get running water from their neighbor and ran a line inside to a sink. They now had running water and wouldn’t have to go outside to wash dishes. The excitement in their eyes when we turned it on for the first time was incredible! A friend made a design for the outside and we began to work on their online presence to ensure guests would still come long after we were gone.
Our grandpa, Krishna, always spoke about how much he wanted an oven. He wanted to bake bread and make pies, a dream of his for many years. You could get an industrial oven for a couple of hundred dollars but this amount of money was something they would never be able to afford. As we started to share what we were doing on social media, friends, and family all over the world would write to us and ask if they could donate to help. Before we knew it we had raised over $1200! We had tables built inside so they wouldn’t have to store food on the dirt floor. Once the tables were painted and installed, we put the oven he wanted on it. He lit up and began baking immediately. The joy spread so quickly, not just for this beautiful couple or the group of us who did the work but also to the entire city who called them their grandparents and to everyone who donated.
The joy I felt from volunteering, to bring support to someone who had less than me is one, if not the greatest feelings. It gave me so much happiness and pride in myself. It also made me feel like the world is not quite as fucked as I believed. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the many disasters and atrocities happening at any given time across the world. It can feel overwhelming and impossible to repair. The simple act of doing something that can make the world or someone’s life better, to put this call into action, calmed me down and made me feel, somehow, that everything was going to be ok.
This is where I want to take It’s In Your Head. I believe there is a method here to help solve this riddle of depression and anxiety. I will be delving in deeper over what I believe that method is and how people can use it in their own lives. I needed to get what I had experienced and learned from cancer out so others wouldn’t have to suffer quite as much as I did. Now that much of that information is out, I want to focus on how anyone can use these principles in their own lives to be happier, healthier, and more at peace. I will be discussing the importance of positive self-talk, perspective, and intention. The joys and benefits of exercise, slowing down, and volunteering. Different types of therapy including psychedelics and other plant medicines and their ability to bring out and heal trauma and pain from our lives. There is no perfect method or a quick fix to bring happiness to our lives but it is my hope that a combination of these habits can bring more joy to everyone.