The Prayer Flags That Changed My Life

While among the Himalayas of Nepal, it is impossible not to encounter Tibetan prayer flags. They hang from homes, businesses, the ever present stupas and temples, and they gather in uncountable numbers at mountain passes and peaks.

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In one such place, the summit of Gokyo Ri, I encountered a handwritten prayer flag, with a message that enhanced the rest of my time in the Himalayas, and continues to teach me as I pass through rural and urban areas alike. 

The prayer flag was illustrated with the words:

“Slow down.

Listen.

Wonder.

See the beauty and the magic.

Know the divine wilderness of your heart and soul.

You are no less than the stars and the moon.

Shine on”.

 

I read it and reread it. I committed it to memory. It spoke to me in the depths of my being ,and I knew I did not want to forget it.

Later, during a long day of hiking, feeling tired and as though my backpack was getting heavier with each step, I recalled the wise words.

Reciting them in my head, I was suddenly more aware of everything around me. I was in the present moment.

I could feel the air on my face, I noticed the temperature and the clouds in the sky. I stopped moving so that the crunch of my boots wouldn’t drown out my more subtle surroundings. “Slow down”.

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Suddenly, I hear birds in the distance, water gurgling nearby, the wind rustling the foliage and getting caught in the rock formations. I listen to my breath and it brings my attention to the smells of the air, and the freshness of it. “Listen”.

I remember where I am and what I am doing, and I am in awe. I smile for no one to see. “Wonder”.

I notice how the types of rock differ along the slopes of the mountains. I admire how rugged and unapologetically hostile the environment seems. I take in details that I hadn’t realized were there, and I recognize them as the result of the magic of nature. I can easily imagine fairies living nearby, and I enjoy doing so. “See the beauty and the magic”.

Before I encountered the prayer flag, I wouldn’t have thought I could admire the Himalayas more, yet here I was, following memorized prompts to listen and wonder in my head, and finding that my eyes were now more open than ever, and I was seeing everything anew. I felt connected to this place, because of this awakening, and because I felt I was truly seeing it. I knew myself when I knew my present moment.  “Know the divine wilderness of your heart and soul”. 

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The connection I felt with the earth in this moment made me feel cherished and honored. It mattered that I was there, noticing, witnessing and being conscious. “You are no less than the stars and the moon”.

I commit to remember these lessons, as they are universal. “Shine on”. 

I repeated this process throughout the rest of the trek, and each time it was powerful. Each time, I noticed things around me that I hadn’t. I remembered to take my eyes away from my boots and the path in front of me, to lift my head and look around. To really see, and by seeing, to marvel. I knew that the true test would come later. It was easy to hold the power of the prayer flag while in the magic of the Himalayas, but what would happen if I tried to harness them to enjoy the wonder of my surroundings in a more challenging place? 

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Back in Kathmandu, I put my theory to the test. I was right. It WAS more challenging to find things to wonder and marvel at when my increased awareness would bring my attention to dust in my throat, car horns in my ears, and piles of trash to my eyes; but those things were not what I was looking for. I was looking for magic, and I found it. Every time. A shy smile shared between friends. A motorist stopping to let a pedestrian walk through the chaos of the scooter herd. A family comfortable with each other, safe in their loved ones’ presence. A flower pushing up between concrete slabs. The beauty and magic of human connection was everywhere, and it made the dust, horns and trash bearable. 

Now, wherever I am, if I find myself feeling frustrated with my surroundings, I try to remember the message on the prayer flag. When I remember to slow down, and to see the beauty and the magic, and to know how it is connected to my soul, and that if I am alive in the present moment—I am shining, I always feel better. My perspective shifts, and I only see magic. I can think of no greater gift. 

Haley Marchant