Losing Focus in the Himalayan Mountains

View of the Himalayan Mountains

I had only been in the small village of Hile for two nights and yet I felt myself getting emotional about leaving. Was it because we had stayed an extra day to help the owner repaint the exterior of her guesthouse? Or was it because the owner was so nice that she made it feel a lot like home? Was this what being homesick was supposed to feel like?

We had trekked from one village to another for five days, climbing more than 2000m (6000ft) to a height of over 3200m (9600ft). My 22kg (50lb) backpack became heavier with each step and on day two I questioned my ability to make the rest of the trip. On the fourth day, we descended down seemingly endless stone stairs for almost eight hours.

I was traveling with my new friend and trekking guide, Tashi Sherpa, along with his 21 year old cousin who had climbed Mt. Everest four times and reached the summit twice. Tashi, who is an incredibly knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful guide, recently started his own trekking agency. If you're looking for a trekking guide in Nepal, I highly recommend you contact him.

This six day excursion ended up being more important than I had imagined. It reminded me how easy it is to lose focus of what matters and it allowed me to see a side of Nepal much different from what I observed while visiting the schools in Kahule and Bhalche a few weeks ago.

It was a side of Nepal where tourism had created a path of commonality and spread the poison of advertisement and mass media. Mobile phones, televisions, and electricity were common at even the highest elevations. Some of the kids wore ripped jeans and hung posters of their favorite movie actors on the walls.

The villages all looked similar: buildings were painted with the same blue, white, and brown colors. Almost every village had a map of the Annapurna trails, complete with estimated trekking times to the next stop, the current elevation, and a big "you are here" mark showing your current location.

I could feel how tourism had changed every single village along the trail; how it had commercialized every single one just a little bit.

But that's coming from the perspective of someone who grew up in a commercialized first world country. Tourism has also brought incredible opportunity for the people of Nepal. It provides an enormous number of jobs, loads of money, and a connection to the outside world that most of these remote villages wouldn't have otherwise.

It enables many kids to attend school and helps to provide supplies and medicine. The flow of English-speaking tourists who pass through give the village residents the opportunity to learn English -- most speak at least some English. The trekking guides themselves pick up multiple languages through tourists who visit from different parts the world (my guide, Tashi, could speak seven languages).

As I made these observations, I was also taking in the incredible beauty that surrounded me: green mountains covered in rice patties with majestic snow-capped peaks rising high in the background. Tiny villages dotted the hillsides, perched on seemingly impossible slopes. Rivers and waterfalls flowed everywhere -- I counted a dozen waterfalls on one mountainside.

We walked through mist filled forests of rhododendrons a hundred feet tall and fields filled with flowers of yellow, white, blue, and purple as far as the eye could see. It was more beautiful than I could've imagined -- more incredible than even a fantasy movie could portray.

It was so beautiful in fact, that I found myself forgetting about all those children I visited a few weeks ago; I found myself forgetting about all the poverty I had witnessed over the past few months that had so profoundly changed my sense of purpose and direction in life.

There was nothing out there except me, the beautiful scenery, and an abundance of comfortable tea houses where I was guaranteed a warm lunch and a nice place to sleep. I was losing touch with reality. By trekking in the Himalayan mountains with a goal of only enjoying myself and relaxing, I was forgetting about what mattered most.

But we all need to take time off and relax, right? Why then was this short vacation feeling like an illegal drug, giving me a temporary high but coming with a long-term low? Shouldn't taking time off to relax and recharge be more like a vitamin, providing us with vital nutrients to increase our strength and improve our potential?

Towards the end of my last post, I wrote about how my new sense of purpose seemed to be making me less interested in doing things just for the sake of doing them. This short trekking adventure has not only magnified that feeling, but now I feel almost repulsed by the thought of doing something purely for the sake of personal indulgence.

Maybe seven days was just too much or maybe it had something to do with being disconnected from the world for so long. When I'm able to get online, your comments and emails help to constantly remind me of what matters -- they are my daily "food for purpose" that seems to keep me fueled and on track.

Whatever the case, I feel relieved that I was able to look at this experience objectively. My inner journey over the past few months has been difficult to put into words, but having people like you to share it with has enhanced the voyage immensely.

Today marks exactly five months since I began my nomadic lifestyle, and with my plane back to the United States leaving India exactly one month from now, I'm sure the challenges have only just begun. But as this initial six-month journey nears its end, I find myself feeling worried that it may be difficult to stay focused and keep up the momentum.

Spending several days isolated from the world and surrounded by nature has always been the one thing that helped me recharge and clear my head; the one thing that always helped me see things more clearly after enough time in the modern world had dirtied my vision. After this six-day trek, I'm beginning to wonder if that's still the case.

Do you ever have trouble remembering what matters to you when you take time off? Do you find yourself losing focus or feeling more drained than you did before you took the break? What helps you recharge without losing focus?

Write a Comment

Comment

33 Comments

  1. Raam, thank you for this post. I expect to go through the same conflicts as we travel. We definitely don’t want to live our nomadic life selfishly hoarding experiences. I would rather see less and help more.

    I know that spending time alone to recharge is important to me, but I often find myself thinking that a life of nothing but alone time might not be so bad. Fortunately, a few days of alone time seems to be its own cure and I find myself craving people and service. It helps to just let go and let life lead you as it will. Giving up the illusion of control is a biggie.

    • Hey Chris,

      I think what you said about hoarding experiences is important — it makes me wonder if part of the reason I felt the way I did was because I was unable to share all the thoughts and experiences I was having… they were all stuck in my head and I had no way to share them here on my blog or as little snippets on Twitter/Facebook.

      Thank you for the insightful comment!

  2. First off, good to hear from you again, Raam!

    I think moments of introspection — regardless of their duration or depth — are healthy. Maybe they are an escape of sorts; brief pauses in the Playlist of Life. I like your analogy of them being vitamins, not drugs.

    Focus can ebb and flow, so (over-)analyzing it at singular points in time could paint the wrong picture. It’s about the trend line — where your focus/path/journey is taking you over the long-term.

    Having three young kids running around doesn’t always afford large pockets of time and space to recharge. I have to rely on ‘micro-bursts’ of re-charge time >> silly games with the kids, a quick weeding or picking session in the garden, a few minutes with the acoustic guitar, a couple pages in a book now and again, a paragraph or two of writing, etc.

    What’s important to me is never far away. Once you figure it out, it is always there, though its presence might be more or less prominent depending on where you are, what you are doing, etc.

    The experiences and introspection you’ve shared over the last couple of months are life-changing. Even where you’re back in the States, I have to imagine they won’t be hard to recall, tap into and persist in relevance to what it is you are/will be doing.

    Be well. πŸ™‚

    • Hey Bill,

      I loved your point about life being about the trend line — keeping an eye on the bigger picture and recognizing that days and even weeks don’t make up our entire lifetime. When I started to feel like I was losing focus, I was definitely forgetting about the journey and thinking only about the present day and the day in front and behind me.

      I have the utmost respect for those with children and anytime I’m feeling strapped for time, I need only think about how so many people do what I’m doing and more with little children to think about and give attention to.

      I also have ‘micro-bursts’ of recharging time… I’ll take my hands away from the keyboard, lean back in the chair and close my eyes for a few minutes. Then I awake feeling recharged and refreshed.

      Thank you for the comment and for all the support! πŸ™‚

  3. Hi Raam

    I’ve been hanging out for your post, firstly wondering if you’d fallen off a cliff to your demise, secondly dying to find out what’s in your head right now. Don’t ask me why!?!

    Maybe all that fresh air and wide scenery was just to reinforce your discovery that people are what matter, and making this world into the place of abundance and joy it should be.

    One thing I know, with all the consuming of information we do, even good and helpful information, it’s good to stop for a while and flush it all out – to let the grass grow in stillness so to speak.

    Catch ya!

    • Hey Ali,

      Sorry to have kept you waiting so long. πŸ™‚ My mom was so worried because I hadn’t emailed in a week and I had forgotten to tell her how long I might be gone!

      I definitely agree that it’s good to flush out our heads every once in awhile and that’s exactly what I feel like I’m doing when I spend time isolated in nature. Perhaps seven full days was just a bit much. πŸ˜‰

  4. Hi Raam,
    I live on my boat, and I look forward to a few days at my backyard islands..no computer, cell phone, distraction..just the ocean, the islands, the sky, the boat and me..The first days are to decompress, the beauty of it all speaks to my heart, I want to live there the rest of my life..After that, even while immersed in magnificent, I think of the people who depend upon me as their life coach to guide them, of the people who guide me, and how I am wasting my talent sitting on a boat at the islands..I come home happy to be here, happy to give 300% to others, just plain happy..
    Perhaps your recent experience was tainted by your glimpse of tourism in a place you didn’t expect to find it. Perhaps you are projecting a bit and wondering how your values and this way of life you’ve experienced the last few months will fit into your life once this stage has ended. May you turn off your mind and just experience this beauty, this joy with your senses..
    I share from my place of abundance..You were experiencing abundant beauty so you could share abundant beauty with those around you..some who will never even come close to seeing what you have..there is much good in that. You change lives, and you do so in part by what you share on these pages..so thank you for what you share and your honesty as you do so…Part of a journey is to enjoy it, not always to think it out, wonder why, rationalize it..but to heighten your senses through the experience of it..You pour yourself into giving..the balance of that is to receive as graciously as you share..so please open your heart and allow all of the magic around you to delight you and fill you with wonder and awe…

    • Hi Joy,

      As someone who absolutely loves the water, your home and your escape sound like an absolute dream to me. πŸ™‚

      I’ve had the exact same experience with reaching the point where I feel more than ready to return to the modern world to start giving back. I suppose this trek was unique in that even if I decided to go back on day two, it was at least another two days to get back!

      I hadn’t thought about how the tourism may have affected my overall experience. Thank you for the reminder to turn off my mind and just experience the beauty… that’s something I need to remember more often! I’m always looking for meaning, lessons, and insights in everything I see and do, so I think just turning all that off and letting the beauty of my surroundings soak in would definitely go a long way.

      Thank you so much for the wonderful comment!

  5. one thing i’ve learned from others who do intensive service-based work is that while recharging matters, it’s the type of recharging you decide to do that truly matters most. for you, heading off to nature may be perfect, but spending so much time disconnected wasn’t the best.

    i’d say don’t throw out recharging, but look for new ways to do that – 48 hour camping retreats or spent in silent reflection in a holy space {mediation retreat, monastery, etc} may be more what you need. that way you’re not disconnected for too long, but still give yourself space to recharge.

    i’ve also learned that it’s important to have ways to recharge in the midst of it all – little ten minute breaks, or an evening or morning ritual that grounds and re-centers you.

    • Hi Robyn,

      When I was living in the States, I used to go on weekend solo camping trips to the White Mountains. They were never longer than two or three days and I always returned feeling refreshed, clear, and alive. So I think you’re right about just needing shorter disconnect periods instead of longer excursions.

      I don’t have a morning ritual but I do take short two – five minute breaks throughout the day to close my eyes and calm my mind. I find myself automatically taking those breaks whenever I recognize my mind drifting. It always helps me to reconnect with whatever I’m doing.

      Thank you for the comment!

      • I saw you do some of those 5 minute rests in Viet Nam and I just thought you were just napping. Which is what I would do if I took a 5 minute break… it would turn out to be 1 or 2 hours of snore time.

  6. Great thoughts of yours, I have to agree that we need “me time” to refresh our mind, gather our thoughts together and act upon it once we are out of the short disconnection. More of realigning ourself to our ultimate goal.

    Recently I came across Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder) Baccalaureate remarks at Priceton University. Gift vs choices. Quite an inspiring speech, hope it will inspire everyone of us in making a choice in life πŸ™‚

    http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_bezos_gifts_vs_choices.html

    • Thank you, Elaine!

      I believe I’ve heard of that video, but I don’t think I’ve watched it yet (unfortunately I’m on a slow WiFi connection and cannot watch movies right now πŸ™ ).

    • Raam,

      I love this quote: A Western journalist asked, β€œMr. Gandhi, you have been working fifteen hours a day for fifty years. Don’t you think you should take a vacation?” Gandhi smiled and replied, β€œI am always on vacation.” – Mahatma Ghandi

      Raam, your posts raises so many wonderful questions. I love that about you!!!! It seems the core issue is “distraction.” But distraction can come from many different camps – from overindulging in beauty but also from being too busy. By being too busy we distract ourselves from what’s really meaningful. Beauty is only a transitory phenomenon so good not to get too caught up in it, but nothing wrong with enjoying it either.

      I feel it’s so important to give our minds time and space to settle. That in itself can be a tremendous contribution to the world. Thinking to much is at the core of so many of our troubles. What would be the point of thinking of the kids when you are trekking, thinking of the past instead of being in the present moment? It doesn’t mean you necessarily forget, you are just being where you are.

      At the same time, I completely agree —- it’s extremely easy to get distracted from the priorities of life. So I’m glad you are asking these question and maybe 7 days was too long.

      • Hi Sandra,

        That quote you opened your comment with put a big smile on my face. πŸ™‚

        You’re absolutely right about needing to remember what can and cannot be done in the present moment. Perhaps I was thinking way too much when I should’ve been calming and clearing my mind!

        Thank you for the comment!

    • Keith, thanks so much for pointing me to that post! I think small milestones are exactly what I’m missing at this point in my journey and I need to spend some time marking out a short-term route to help keep me on track. πŸ™‚

  7. Raam,

    Thank you for your inspiring writings/actions. They have certainly have a positive impact on myself and on so many across the planet.

    Living in NH allows me the pleasure of centering myself in the beauty of the White Mountains as you have in the past. I can only imagine the beauty your trek offered.

    Thank you for your description of the incredible beauty and in my opinion you deserved to witness it and you deserved to lose focus for a little while. The recognition of how easy it is to lose focus is what has been gained. Skim through your wonderful E-book to help get back on track, it should do the trick and stop at page 91 and remember its importance, Thanks again.

    • Hey Mark,

      Thank you for reminding me to look up page 91 in the ebook. πŸ™‚ I should make it a weekly routine to read that entire book!

      Where about in NH do you live? I have family in south NH near the border and that’s where I’ll be returning in September. πŸ™‚ I plan to do several trips to the White Mountains this fall!

      • I have shared your book and your story with family, friends, and co-workers. Reading through it is a great way to stay focused.

        I live in Concord,NH only an hour south of the “Notch”, however I grew up in Nashua. After college in Florida I decided to move back to N.H. but felt Nashua had become more like Massachussetts. Concord is a great fit for me.

        This summer has been unusually warm and I have spent a great deal of time hiking (17 of the 4000’ers) but more importantly it was my hiking this summer that sparked an idea. I noticed the trails were filled with middle aged people for the most part and not a lot of kids or families..so I am in the midst of organizing some trips to introduce some families from Manchester / Concord to the Natural Beauty NH has to offer through our extensive hiking trails. I have already gotten equipment donations and hope to hit the trails soon to spark some outdoor passion in my fellow Granite Staters…

        • Thanks Mark!

          I definitely know what you mean about Nashua feeling more like Massachusetts! Manchester and Concord are much nicer. (I grew up in Pelham, NH, so I’m very familiar with that area.)

          Your idea for bringing more awareness of NH’s trails to families sounds awesome. When children are exposed to nature, I think they’re more likely to grow up and appreciate nature as adults. My only concern would be that an increase in families might have a negative impact on the trails (increased trash, etc.), but I think it’s an awesome opportunity to educate them about such concerns.

          I love hiking in NH and I’ll definitely be doing spending some time on the trails when I get back to the States next month. Let me know there’s some way that I can help!

  8. Raam,

    You do so much. You share so much. Let life reward you for the love you give, the effort you make, and the eyes you open. It’s okay to receive. Maybe if you find North, you won’t feel lost anymore. Something to ground you maybe? Something solid to hold in one hand that would bring your mind home and something in the other hand that will keep you driven? Growing pains won’t last. Honor yourself. Thank you Raam, once again for being.

    • Thank you, Barbara!

      I definitely think I need something to help ground me. In the blog post that Keith linked to in an earlier comment, he explained how setting short-term milestones helps to keep us on track and I think that’s exactly what I need right now. If I have short-term goals set in place that I know I’m working towards, then I can take time to relax at specific intervals and not be worried that I’m getting off track!

  9. Dear Raam, how kind of you to share your personal journey with us – I finally had a chance to read this story! Thank you for writing it. Listen, it’s OK to be selfish in my book because when I take care of myself and meet my own needs – including vacations, luxury at times, rest and relaxation and my favorite things – THEN and only then can I be the best and of most use to my friends, family, and community. That’s my theory. And you soaking up the amazing beauty of Mother Nature is human and real and I hope that you shook off the sense of guilt and just went with the flow.
    I am so happy you are back online and wondering what on earth you will be doing when you return stateside?

    • Hi Farnoosh,

      Thank you for the comment. πŸ™‚ Yes, I definitely shook off the guilt and enjoyed my time trekking! It was more an observation than an extended feeling of guilt anyway.

      I agree that some selfishness is OK, but I’d argue that it’s not selfishness as long as our intentions are to make ourselves more capable and more able to help others.

      I have no idea what I will be doing when I get back to the States. My rough plan as it stands is to spend the first month with family, relaxing and taking care of my body (I want to start running regularly again!). I’ll also be catching up with friends and I have a few ebook project ideas that I want to start working on. πŸ™‚

  10. Hi Dev,
    It’s soo good to hear from you. I was getting a bit worried too. Glad to hear that you’re okay.
    You know, I think what you went through on your 7 day disconnect is normal.

    You strike me as very focused and goal oriented achiever, so how could you not start to feel out of sorts when after finding your motivation with the children, you’re suddenly cut off from the energy that fuels your soul? Feeling a bit of guilt for enjoying this journey after what you’ve just seen is showing that you have a wonderful heart! I do think it’s okay though to enjoy the beauty and to take time to rest and recharge. But, for someone on a mission like yourself – it was just too long. Your joy is found in the “doing” in the giving of yourself – that’s who you are. And, like Ghandi said – his whole life was a vacation because his work was his joy.

    As Sandra mentioned, you were also a bit put off by the effects of tourism on those villages you passed through. On the one hand you were happy for the opportunities it affords the villagers, but seeing their culture diluted by Western commercialism kind of hurts your soul, I think. You know the pitfalls of commercialism having grown up in the US.

    I think this was a good experience for you. You learned a lot about yourself – and so did we!
    Thanks for all you’re doing Raam. I’m so enjoying hearing about your experiences. You’re an inspiration!

    • Hi Angela, thank you so much for the comment!

      I agree, it was too long. I also hadn’t thought of how the spread of Western commercialism hurts my soul because of what I know about it growing up in the US. And spinning that perspective around, it’s easy to see why so many in third world countries are attracted towards it. They grow up in a world struggling for work and global recognition… why wouldn’t they want to bring in Western commercialization?

      The key, I think, is finding a way to help preserve the better aspects (health, simplicity, respect) while improving the negatives (health, lack of jobs, opportunities, and education, and lack of connectivity).

  11. Raam, I know exactly how you feel. Sometimes the very act of taking time to chill or taking downtime leaves me empty. I do lose focus, get hazy and lazy. It happens a lot when I go away but because I am often too focused and too energized by life’s momentum, I think it is likely normal. It also reminds us of the balance in everything. Inspiration has to wane for it to come on strong again. I think we’d burn out if we felt inspired, moved and clear all the time. Coming out of a haze, the sky clears and focus returns. You’ll get it back. Maybe fear of returning home after trekking has got you thinking, what’s next? Just remember, anything and everything is next. Safe travels.

    • Hi Katie,

      A few days have passed since I wrote this post and now I definitely believe feeling this way definitely has, at least in part, something to do with the anticipation of returning home. I’m getting a bit anxious and wondering what I’m going to do next — or at least what I’ll will be able to do next (as I don’t have a regular income yet, funds will be an issue!).

      But like you said, as the haze begins to clear and everything starts returning to focus, things will make sense. And that’s already starting to happen. πŸ™‚

  12. Hi Raam, first of all that image that you put up is one of the most beautiful images of nature that I’ve ever seen in my life. You’re so lucky you got to see it in real life man.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences climbing up the Himalayan Mountains. You’ve been away from your home and in nature for such a long time that I can understand what it feels like to lose focus.

    When I go on breaks, I usually gain more mental clarity, a different perspective, and stay more focused. I feel like living in a busy society where you constantly have to work makes you less focused, at least for me, on what really matters in life. Any type of stillness usually helps me recharge without losing focus.

    I hope you can regain your focus and continue sharing with us your inspiring posts. One more month… never give up!

    • Thank you, Hulbert!

      I’m the same way with gaining clarity and perspective after taking a break. Maybe the past five months has been such a shift in the speed of my daily life that this break felt too slow!

      I can already feel myself regaining focus and regardless of what happens I’ll be sharing here on the blog, so not to worry! πŸ™‚

  13. wow this is absolutely true!
    i used ti live in new zealand before i moved to australia
    new zealand has the most beautiful magnificent mountains in the world and wonderful scenery looking out at it everyday i get really ambitous ansd forget about other things which is good but it felt like a fantasy sometimes

    • New Zealand is one of those places I’ve heard so many good things about — especially about the mountains and nature! I’m definitely going to visit. πŸ™‚

Webmentions

  • Poke December 30, 2010

    Losing Focus in the Himalayan Mountains: http://bit.ly/cjTOhm (via @raamdev)

  • Mark Lawrence December 30, 2010

    Reading @raamdev: Losing Focus in the Himalayan Mountains http://bit.ly/bdflZA

  • Hulbert Lee December 30, 2010

    Great read by Raam Dev: RT @raamdev: Losing Focus in the Himalayan Mountains http://bit.ly/bdflZA

  • Sid Savara December 30, 2010

    RT @raamdev: Losing Focus in the Himalayan Mountains http://bit.ly/bdflZA

  • Angela Artemis December 30, 2010

    RT @raamdev: Losing Focus in the Himalayan Mountains http://bit.ly/bdflZA You inspire me Raam!

  • alidark3000 December 30, 2010

    Good to see @raamdevs still alive – back from his trek in nepal, that seemed to reinforce his recent discoveries http://bit.ly/bdflZA

  • bill gerlach December 30, 2010

    Good to hear from you Raam! "Losing" in up for interpretation… RT @raamdev Losing Focus in the Himalayan Mountains http://bit.ly/bdflZA

  • kruby December 30, 2010

    RT @raamdev: Losing Focus in the Himalayan Mountains http://bit.ly/bdflZA