“Right now, can you make an unconditional relationship with yourself? Just at the height you are, the weight you are, the intelligence that you have, and your current burden of pain? Can you enter into an unconditional relationship with that?” –Pema Chodron, Comfortable With Uncertainty
Last December, I experienced Tibet’s heaviest snow in the past decade while en route to Lhasa from Shigatse. Locals expected the temperature to be “-5 degrees” at most, only to be hit by the reality of a bitter -22 drop during one night near Everest’s 5000m altitude base camp. It was so cold that the hotel’s pipes froze and turned our toilet bowl water into a solid cube. “You can do it! Others in Oymyakon, Russia, live with -55!” I screamed internally.
Yet, it was hard to voice my discomfort within four walls when I saw superhuman sherpas and pilgrims walk with bare hands while I had three gloves on. “Mind be strong. Just take off jacket and socks, lie down under blanket. For one minute, don’t move, relax. You will be warm,” advised Namgyal, our guide. But, of course, we still slept with four blankets, gloves and three layers of clothes that night.
In the high mountains, ‘mind over matter’ isn’t a quote in a cursive font to stick on your wallpaper—it’s a matter of survival. Not only do you have to battle the cold, but also the lack of oxygen. At 5000m altitude, oxygen supply is cut by almost half.
The first time I skydived, I heard the pilot count down, the door swing open, my instructor murmur the seconds on his watch, a sigh (as an apology to my parents), and then nothing at all. The wind pressure blocked my ears, so I looked at the sky and emerald-blue sea in deafening, exhilarating silence while I somersaulted to my possible death with a last “oh f*ck”.
Yet, the smaller I felt, the more I revered things I could not control. I couldn’t figure if I was more afraid of giving my instructor full permission to control my outcome, or comforted in risking my life with another person.
While spending 21 hours in the world’s highest train was a saner version for an ambivert like myself to connect with strangers in the sky, it left the same strange impression.