For the last seven years I have been counting down the years until it was my turn to finally experience the transformative trips that Rustic Pathways provided both of my older sisters. They are seven years older than me and both went on two Rustic trips, and I grew up hearing story after story of how each and every encounter on their trips shaped them into improved versions of themselves upon their return. I could only hope that my Service in the Clouds trip would have the same effect on me that it had on my sister, Hattie, when she was my age seven years ago. Like my older sisters, my sister and I are twins, and these trips provided us with an opportunity to be apart for the first time in our lives and to create our own identities and lives apart from one another.
When telling people of my summer endeavor to India, I often received a reaction of envy and jealousy because of the lack of people who have the opportunity to travel to India. That is exactly what Rustic Pathways provides its travelers: opportunities to experience people and places that most only dream of seeing. I returned to countless people asking me how my trip was, and each and every time, I started off with the word, “life-changing,” because that pretty much sums up my entire trip. I was tested beyond my limits, and therefore, grew and continue to grow into a stronger and tougher person because of four specific lessons I learned during my sixteen days in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The Importance of Independence
Growing up an identical twin, it was always hard to find my voice and a unique identity, and my trip through Rustic Pathways allowed me to do just that. I needed this trip to show me that I am an individual, I am not my twin, and I can live my own life. When speaking of the gratitude I have towards Rustic for this opportunity, I was driven to tears because the effect is truly immense. Before this trip, I was beyond anxious because I kept telling myself that without Clara, my twin, I was incapable of making friends. I told myself she was the talkative one, that everyone liked her, and that people only hung out with me because they had to. When writing this I see how self conscious I really was, and this trip gave me the confidence I was lacking. Although anxious about the decision, I chose to do this trip without knowing anybody because I saw the effects these trips had on my older sisters when they were our exact age. I was put in a group of people without the comfort of my sister, forced to make friends, have experiences, and simply live without my other half for the first time in my life. This solitary experience allowed me to understand that, yes, I am a twin, but I am also an individual. I am not my sister. My life is not her life, and I am capable of living and thriving on my own. I love her, but I am capable of being alone. There I was just Hasie, not Hasie and Clara, not the Shermans, and not the twins, just Hasie.
Change is Always Acceptable and Possible
One of our guest speakers was the Dalai Lama’s translator of many years as well as practicing monk, Thupten Jinpa, and the words he said that most impacted me were, “If you can change it, don’t worry because you can change it. If you can’t change it, don’t worry because worrying won’t change it.” Worrying has always been one of my major flaws, and most of my anxiety is rooted by my unhealthy hope to be liked by everyone. I have spent years shaping and forming into what I think others want me to be, and through that, I seem to have lost who I want to be. However, lucky for me, this trip made me understand that change is always possible, and that anxiety about change is unnecessary because as long as one has a positive mindset, change can and will happen. As I said in my first lesson, I chose to have an experience all on my own for the first time in my life. I did not dip my toe in the water, but rather, I went all the way to India not knowing anyone, and I could not have made a better decision. I could be whomever I wanted to be. I got to be the person I wanted to be, and I became someone I hope I still am back home. Before the trip I deemed myself as more of an introvert rather than an extrovert, and on this trip, I became an “extreme extrovert,” as my friends called me. Prior to this experience I really do not think I was truly happy, and I think it can all be rooted down to this simple self evaluation of introvert or extrovert. I used to overthink everything resulting in my silencing and isolating myself because I thought that if I did not say anything I could not be judged for it. That could not be farther from what I needed to do. This trip and these people allowed me to express myself as I truly am because they had no predispositions of me, and throughout the changes I made on this trip, I became happier and more aware of my love of people and talking. Now being home, I need to maintain the mindset that change is always possible so that I can continue shaping myself into the kindest, happiest, and most confident version of myself.
Yoga and Mindfulness
Whether surrounded by windows of glass overlooking the endless sky and mountains of the Himalayas in McLeod or outside in Bala listening to the river flowing and the feeling the chill of the early morning breeze, our group started nearly everyday with both yoga and meditation, and throughout this process, I learned to yearn for the quiet time to be with my thoughts. Forced to be silent for longer then I am normally capable, our daily yoga and meditation sessions allowed me to connect with my feelings and thoughts in ways I could not without that allotted time. I became more aware of how I was feeling in that present moment, and it gave me a chance to set a goal for the day. Through meditation and I learned the importance of living in the present moment rather than focusing on the past and future. This concept was best described in our discussion with Thupten Jinpa when he said, “Don’t put your present life in hostage by thinking of the past and future.” Having always been future oriented, this quote made me realize that if I focus each day on things that may or may not come like my happiness, I will forget to focus on my happiness in the present moment. Anxiety is caused by over thinking of things like actions and words that we often cannot change whether that be the permanence of the past or the unpredictability of the future. This moment is the only predictable factor in our lives, so why not become who we want to be, how we want to feel, and what we want to do right now, not tomorrow, not yesterday because we only have right now to make that decision. Whether I was building toilets in Bala, practicing yoga, talking to my Tibetan partner, or just walking around the town, I practiced mindfulness. I embraced the sounds and sights of my surroundings every moment not distracted by my phone, my thoughts, the past, or the future.
Positivity is the Key to a Happy Life
Spending a week in McLeod Ganj, I began to finally understand the importance of a positive mindset throughout even the toughest of situations. Full of Tibetan refugees, McLeod Ganj is a town that exudes happiness, and I believe it is because of its people’s positive attitudes and outlooks on life. Our service in Mcleod was practicing English with Tibetan refugees, and I was touched by the numerous smiles, laughs, and positive energy of the Tibetans living in a country under a government from which they can only dream of escaping. My Tibetan partner is only four years older than me and has many of the same interests as me, but our lives could not be any more different. She and her family moved to India when she was three for a better education, but, her family moved back to Tibet when she was seven. However, she does not linger on the fact that she is apart from her family but is grateful for her education, her friends, the family she does have in McLeod, and most importantly, has faith that she will receive a visa to soon return to Tibet. Many of the friends I met in McLeod have similar stories and the same positive outlook on their living situations. Rather than think of the negativity and not ideal situations in their lives, they learn to have faith, hope, and find enjoyment in their present lives. These friends made me understand that positivity is happiness. It is faith. It is hope. It is a choice. There is always good in life, but it is just whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.