As I was walking through the Shechen Ogyen Chodzong nunnery in Bhutan with my guides Tsering and Lobsang, a lone mandarin tree dropped one of its few fruit right in front of me. I picked it up and gave it a quick inspection. Part of it was rotten so I tossed it. Tsering remarked that it was good luck for a fruit to drop in front of you so he picked it up, opened it and gave me a piece of its ripe fruit.
The chances of a tree dropping a fruit within a yard of me right as I was walking by are pretty unlikely, particularly since the tree had less than 20 fruit on it. So I understood Tsering’s surprise when I ditched it. Though he was guiding me through the South Asian country of Bhutan, on this particular occasion he guided me in another way.
As I savoured that slice of mandarin, I contemplated the value of accepting whatever life offers. There’s so much right now that I have in my life. I feel blessed just to have food to eat given all the starvation in the world. I don’t need to struggle and strive for so much when I already have so much. I have access to all the basics of life like fresh water, nutritious food and clean air, yet I don’t appreciate them nearly enough. And when I don’t appreciate what I already have, the value of everything that I end up acquiring diminishes.
We went into the nunnery’s main temple where I saw a statue of the Buddha. Tsering pointed out that it had the same face as the Buddha we saw in the previous temple we visited. That same half smile followed me throughout Bhutan from temple to temple, staring me down, prompting me to learn to accept.
I interpreted it as a lesson to accept because the Buddha’s half smile is one of perfect composure—a state of equanimity that demands a quality of acceptance. Acceptance is what I feel a true happiness is founded on. And to me true happiness is rooted in equanimity, which is the calm acceptance and joy that is found in any moment, regardless of whether an event is deemed good or bad. In a state of equanimity, everything that happens is accepted and considered good because the alternatives, struggling after our desires or running away from our aversions is a lifelong trap of discontent.
This connection between acceptance and equanimity was an attitude I found in strong supply throughout Bhutan and elsewhere in South Asia. To be accepting of whatever life gives us demands flexibility, open-mindedness, patience and a good sense of reality. Though acceptance may come as a necessity for those living in hardship in a developing nation, it is a quality well worth developing either way because it helps us master our mind.
Acceptance connects us to equanimity because our perception determines the outcome of every event in our life—one person can see something one way and another the completely opposite way. In a place like south Asia, the electricity could go off for hours every day and the water supply can easily make you sick. These can be seen as inconveniences or cause for fear, but they can also be seen as the reality to accept and learn from. When life deals out so many difficulties, the mind needs to be managed to generate our own happiness from within.
Being able to endure whatever comes our way is something we can develop through travel (particularly long-term) or living in countries where convenience is not considered a birthright. Coming from a country where we concern ourselves over luxuries rather than the basics, to take a step back and accept whatever we’re given, no matter how dire, transforms what was once previously unacceptable into acceptable. From this perspective our mind learns to stop running from aversions or seeking after desires, but to be happy resting in what is.
Note: The Tourism Council of Bhutan covered my expenses while I was in Bhutan. I was not told I had to write positive reviews and I was not told that I cannot write anything negative. The intention of the press trip was to familiarize the writer with the country so as to convey that information properly to readers. To properly write about a destination in travel writing means to have actually travelled there, which is not always the case in travel writing. This was a place I had wanted to write about, but given the financial reality of travel writing this was not a possibility without some form of financial assistance. This arrangement did not affect the objectivity of my writing in any way.