Climbing a wooden ladder, I arrived at a deck overlooking the bucolic valley in Bhutan. I removed my shoes, and entered the 300-year-old wood and brick home. I was led into a large sunny room with an altar in an alcove. Our group sat along the walls on cushions and rugs while the owner of the house welcomed us to his home.
The late afternoon sunlight poured into the room from multiple windows, brightening the surface of the well-worn wooden floor. We were served black tea or butter tea, cookies, and crispy sweet rice by the aunt and uncle of our driver. As we were in their village that day, they invited us to their home for tea.
It was clear that we were honored guests as we were shown a ceremonial sword that had been presented to an earlier patriarch by the third King of Bhutan for loyal service. And we were served the traditional home-brewed rice wine called Ara, in 100-year-old wood and silver cups. It felt like such a gift, to be invited into their home and treated with such hospitality.
I watched the quiet woman who was in constant motion, bringing in cups for tea, cookies, etc. and smiling at us shyly. Her face was as dark as hazelnuts, weathered by the Himalayan sun. She moved with a patient grace. Her traditional skirt and jacket were brightly colored, the jacket decorated with two silver and turquoise brooches. In her ears were thick gold hoops with turquoise stones. Her hair was short, reminding me of the “pixie cut” I wore as a child.
While sipping the Ara, I realized I didn’t have a gift to leave with this sweet couple who had invited 20 strangers into their home. I felt culturally incompetent and the epitome of a crass American tourist who expects everyone to speak English.
“Why didn’t you bring some small gifts from America that you could give to people?” My Inner Critic snarled sarcastically. I felt like a rube tourist, complete with camera in hand. As I sank deeper into my self-imposed embarrassment, I did a quick mental inventory of what I had with me. I realized the only thing of value I had was money.
Then I looked at my hand. Years ago, when I was in the beginning of my journey back to health, I came across a sterling silver ring at a local art festival. It had a unique design, unlike anything I had seen before, including a band that rotated. Etched on the band were these words: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
I’ve worn that ring every day since my husband bought it. Each time I worried I wasn’t going to recover fully, I would rotate the band and remind myself I was getting stronger. That ring was my talisman, a reminder of my journey. Walking the path to health, that ring felt like my GPS.
As I slowly padded to the front door, I began to sense a tingling that began at that ring finger and travelled through my whole body. I stopped in front of our generous hostess, whose name I never learned, and smiled. I pulled the ring off my finger and offered it to her.
At first, she shook her head no. I offered it again and she gently took it from my hand, keeping her eyes downcast. I squeezed her hand, she looked up at me and I said, “Thank you.” She didn’t speak English, but I think she understood what I was communicating.
I laced up my hiking boots while taking a last look at the valley below me. My earlier embarrassment replaced with happiness that she had accepted my gift. I felt lighter somehow.
As I walked down the road, I realized that I had been holding tightly to the phrase on that ring for years. I no longer needed to remind myself that I am strong.
In giving a small gift to a woman in the Himalayas, I received something in addition to her shy smile. My body gave me a signal that I could let go of that ring and my dependence on it to remind me of my strength.
I released the mantra I had used to support me while regaining my health. What was supportive and helpful in one part of my life was no longer needed.
Sometimes we need to let go of things, whether it be a mindset, a relationship, or a rallying statement. It’s amazing how much energy was released when I gave away that ring. It has a different purpose and a different home now in Bhutan.
What do you need to let go of? What could you give away?