In April 2016, I got the chance to visit Nepal and meet a traditional Ayurvedic healer. I will call him Nute. I have written about him before but with some distance, I feel like I see the experience now with more clarity.
He asked me for my birth details and began quietly scribbling my fate on the lid of a dusty old shoebox he scrounged up from somewhere under the teetering mess of papers he kept on his desk. Nute had a blunt manner of speaking which sort of perfectly balanced out the mysticism of his office. He asked me for my story and had me stumbling and sweating from the instant we said hello. He waved away small talk (thank god) and instead asked me my story. I stammered and made dumb jokes and he just held my gaze through the nonsense.I recognized that he wasn’t just anybody. He would not accept my half assed answers about why I’d hopped on the back of a moped in the pouring rain in Kathmandu, a billion miles from everything I knew to find myself in this office at this moment in my life. For someone who is fairly private and does not enjoy sharing personal details of her life, this would be a challenge.
He told me of his father and his father and his father who were all healers.He asked nothing for his services, which I took to be a good show of authenticity. I was feeling skeptical but hopeful that maybe something would help lift the doom that felt settled in my chest.There are those who dismiss things like astrology and Meyers Briggs personality tests and drone on about reality and use words like wooshy mumbo jumbo.I am not one of those people. I will try anything and spend hours down rabbit holes of why my moon sign and my sun sign contribute to my being.I will have aha moments studying the reasons for my melancholy and study the ways people with my particular combination survive in this world.I fengshuied our one room apartment and talked for weeks about the new energy that I felt.
My feeling is-why not? As long as it doesn’t wave away personal responsibility or act as an excuse for bad behaviour.(British spell check). We believe a lot of other things solely on faith. I wouldn’t stake my life on my horoscope, but I would and do consider astrology and other alternative ideas as tools for further self exploration.
I gave Nute nothing but my birthdate. I looked around the office as he scratched down numbers and disappeared in thought for several long minutes.The place was incredible. Every last inch of space was bursting with old glass jars full of herbs or wooden masks, faces immortalized in terror. My favourite touch was the shrunken jaguar head who was growling when death came to take her.This was perched on a shelf just to the right of Nute’s head, so that I may refer to it when I felt uncomfortable under the gaze of this honest and unassuming man.
He cleared his throat smoothly, turning the shoebox lid over in his hands, as if from another angle, my life would look totally different.It’s a strange sensation, knowing someone can see your future. A release of control in a way, for those of us who believe in things we can’t see.
He alluded to certain problems. A dangerous relationship to alcohol, which is deep in my blood.He advised me to cut it out entirely, even giving me a root to swallow with a shot of whiskey that night.
Nute told me of my two recent health issues, of which I’d said nothing, with laser precision.He eased my worries and assured me that I will be fine physically. He worried about my mental state and focused on my overthinking, overanalyzing brain.This is the root of all your problems, he said, tapping his temple with a super long finger. I worried too much. Thought too much. He wondered aloud if I’d ever had pain that I later found out was stress-related. He advised me to let go of the notion that my life would ever be like other people thought it should.
He sat on one foot like a cool substitute teacher who just wanted to chat and delivered the message which I think saved me.
You live like this– (here he mimed a horse wearing no blinders) and most of the world lives like this (horse with blinders). You should always live like yourself, like you are meant to. Don’t worry if it isn’t like everyone else. You are meant to explore. Explore.Do it differently.
This was the message and something I have always struggled with. I think there has always been a part of me that knows I’m never going to totally belong anywhere. I always try very hard to find a group and hold on to it.But the truth is, I think I needed to hear this advice and understand that I may always be searching and for that may forfeit my place in a lot of communities.People like consistency and I cannot always offer that.I want find my way to contribute to humanity and do what I am supposed to be doing here.Until I find exactly what that is, I will keep looking around.
Nute gave me something that no one else has been able to-permission to move through the world as I feel.Permission to turn over every rock and every person to see what secrets lie in the cool underside. Of course I asked him about love.He told me I won’t meet my soulmate until I am 40. This is the person who will be difficult but extraordinary. He encouraged me to date casually, going so far as to suggest that I find a Whiskey Man.He said it in a way that implied this was an American phrase and I was tragically unhip for not being sure what he meant.You know, a Whiskey Man. The light in his eyes suggested mischief and it finally clicked that this healer was telling me to have some casual sex.I burst out laughing- doctor’s orders, I guess.
I asked him if he saw anything else then immediately shouted Don’t tell me! Nute replied cryptically saying maybe I see things, maybe I don’t. He definitely did. But I won’t tell you. He did not.The future is not yours to know.Damn. He was right.I was Frodo and I wanted the Precious for myself. Not really, not anymore than Frodo did.But it’s just that feeling of being close to a sort of magic that makes a person or hobbit get a little too curious.(I just watched Lord of the Rings for the first time and I can’t stop referencing it.Sidebar idea- start a late bloomers club for everyone who is like 5-10 years late to every trend).
I left Kathmandu, full of hope. Then I immediately went on a trek and got lost in the Anapurna Mountains. There really was a holy feeling, a properly humbling sensation in those mountains, which many Nepalis consider to be gods. I learned more of the resilience of the Nepali people as I attended earthquake anniversary ceremonies and lit candles for those who were lost under rocks and rubble. Stories were told of the many ways we as humans exploit the most vulnerable among us for faster labor, cheaper services.I began to think more critically of the cost of convenience and of those who pick up that tab for the rest of the world.
I went to the birthplace of Buddha and meditated in silence for ten days. I learned of my darkest shame and finally allowed myself to grieve deep pain. I gave it away along with the sweat that poured rivers out of every single pore.We are talking about some heat.I remembered my love of silence and learned why so many of us fear it. When you are in total silence, every single thing you’ve done to hurt someone or yourself bubbles up from those dark cavernous corners of the brain. They demand to be reckoned with. To truly see myself wasn’t easy but it was necessary.
I learned from Nepal’s example how to be soft and allow the otherworldiness to penetrate my psyche while hardening myself in the ways that are necessary for sensitive people to survive in this world. I met other kind, gentle souls like my dearest friend’s husband and his family. They welcomed me into their home with a lightness that still makes me feel emotional two years later. I also reckoned, for the millionth time, with my enormous privilege and what to do with it.
A month and a half later, I left Nepal, worked as a ship’s cook, saw a whale, sailed past the Rock of Gibraltar, started illustrating, hiked across Spain and fell in love, by my count, three years too early. The amazing thing is that I actually had this conversation with him.I said look, I know this may sound weird but I am confused because I met you too early according to this man Nute that I met. His advice has guided me through the last few years and so I can’t just dismiss the parts I don’t want to hear. He didn’t laugh, he didn’t make fun of me or dismiss my love of otherworldly ideas. Instead, we had a conversation about it, like two people who respect each other. We came to an agreement that love is choice and I will always be choosing what feels the best and so will he. So if that situation arises in a few years,it will involve another choice and hopefully it is us.
Looking back at Nute’s advice, I can see an element of play in everything.It isn’t about what will happen definitively but rather about my perspective.There may or may not be a skeleton of my life already worked out by a greater force which knows the plan for my bones. But I believe that it is up to me to fill in the meat and tissue with every day choices.
I think of Nute and Nepal a lot. Whenever I have a choice between something intimidating and something safe, I channel my inner shrunken leopard head and try to make the brave one, growling at the fear that tries to take me.