I am grateful I am in a position in life to be on this adventure. I find my heart opening each time I walk down the street as little children and older women greet with me with a warm smile of curiosity. I am amazed at Nepali people’s resilience. The devastating earth quake is not the only challenge they face here. Thousands of bikes, cars, trucks and buses line up for days to get petrol. The power is off at least 10 hours a day and gas, their source of heat, is only available at high prices through the black market. Next door I watch as a family working together knocks out one whole wall of their 3 story damaged by the quake. What is disconcerting to me is that they are rebuilding with the same brick and nothing else, no frame, wood or metal to hold it together and nothing which will sustain it when the next quake occurs.
Today Sae and I met an amazing group of professional women who manage the clinical services for TPO, Transcultural Psychosocial Organization. These women provide clinical supervision to 150 psycho social staff who serve 14 of the most affected districts in Nepal. The organization envisions conflict-resolved, resilient communities where local populations have adequate access to multi-dimensional mental health and psychosocial care systems. They asked us to come and present TRE as a possible tool for their own self care, their frontline staff and for those they serve across the country.
The women listened attentively to the brief introduction, nodding their heads as they know too well, in their own lives and work, the symptoms and impact of trauma. They work with earthquake survivors, those impacted by human trafficking and refugees who are coming across the Himalayas looking for refuge in Nepal. They also spoke of their interest in the mind body connection and trauma. As psychologists and psychiatrists, they see a need to go beyond talk therapy to bring healing. Two of them shared that empathic listening is sometimes all they can provide to those who don’t speak their language and it isn’t enough.
As they tremored some laughed in amazement while others quietly shook, all exploring this strange body experience called shaking. As they debriefed their experience among themselves they were animated and engaged with each other. I was wishing I knew Nepali so I could understand what they were saying. Returning to the larger group, quiet shyness fell over the circle. So different from my experiences of the western world, yet I felt their intrigue and inner understanding of this tool called TRE.
Many of them took our brochure and asked for our email address, an indication that yes, TRE is of interest to them. We are going back in a few weeks to talk about their experience with TRE with the hope that the seeds planted today will create an opening for the energy of TRE to move throughout the country.
This mission to Tsum lower valley was made possible because Tsum Youth Society invited me to be there. Tsum Youth Society (https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=tsum%20society%20youth%20club) is a local NGO established by a group of young people who study or work in Kathmandu with the aim of helping to develop Tsum Valley. You saw already in the previous blogs how isolated the villages are from modernity. While westerners like us often fantasize about the life of the isolated hinterlands of the Himalayas, the real life of people there is very tough with or without the earthquake. There is no medical service, no education facility except primary schools. And now all primary schools have collapsed and there is no education continuing in two villages I visited.
So Tsum Youth Society is trying to contribute to their communities with knowledge and resources, which they can access in Kathmandu and beyond. One of the group leaders, Rinzin Lama, who was my interpreter during my visit, said “I was the first person who became educated in the university from my village. I feel responsible for my own communities. When I came back to the valley by a helicopter immediately after the earthquake with some basic supplies, the villagers cried and said it was good that I did not forget about them.”
Rinzin is a very resourceful young man. He and his friends raised funds through a crowdfunding, negotiated with the UN big guys for the use of helicopters, contacted willing volunteers from all over the world, and selected skillful volunteers (one from Australia and the other from USA) who could help the community to learn a new way of building houses – simple but still safer than their traditional stone houses. Rinzin has a great ideas, such as building a rocket stove to increase heating efficiency in villagers’ homes (they are using open fires now which cause irritations for eyes and throats of many women and children), utilizing abundance of water supply from the mountains for micro-hydro power, etc.
On my last day in Tsum Valley, the UN’s helicopter arrived full of building materials, nails, metal sheets, cement, etc., which are not available in the valley and yet vital for construction. “Wow, are they a donation from the UN?” I asked. He said “Oh no, we bought them all with our privately funded donations. The UN is only providing transportation at a discounted rate.” While it is great that UN is providing such services, I was so impressed by Rinzin’s cheerful but realistic attitude.
There are plenty of people who are complaining “NGOs are not doing this and that, the UN is corrupt, and the government is useless.” Yes, some of these criticisms are valid. However these people at the valley have to live and prepare for freezing winter which is just a foot step away now. You focus on doing what you can slowly but steadily, despite all the frustration and anger towards what is happening in Nepal right now. No wonder Rinzin himself found TRE seriously useful for him! I learnt so much from these young people’s leadership and commitment towards their homeland.
And of course, a sincere “Well done!” and Big thanks for Rinzin, who so quickly and swiftly organized my visit with no fuss, but just joy for being my interpreter for 7 days! Thanks so much for the people of Ripche and Chumling for feeding and looking after me.
Also Big Thanks to the Nenagh Nepal Earthquake fund whose support to the Tsum youth society included covering the cost of our helicopter fare.
The ladies promised me that they would continue to practice together, and wanted me to come back. We hope to return next year to see how the ladies and all the community are doing!
The women in the village were only available at 9 p.m. for TRE class. They get up 5:30, make fire, and boil hot water for the first tea for the family. Then they cook, wash, look after animals, make preserved food, thresh barley and millet and powder it for winter.… endless work. They carry a mountain of grains in baskets on their back and on pack animals. They have such a basic life but in order to keep this life, there is so much to do every day especially now preparing for the winter.
At 9 p.m., the place was pitch dark and freezing cold. While the temperature was nice and warm during the day, as soon as the sun set the temperature dropped to around 5°C (40 °F). However, 9 women came to the campsite and tried the exercise every night for 3 days.
In the first day, the men were also curiously hanging around and tried to teach the women what they learnt in the morning class. But as long as the men were around, the women were too shy to start. I sent all the men back home except for my translator. I dimmed the light and started the exercise.
At the end of the first class, unlike men, many women did not shake very well and complained that they had headaches. I asked, “Did you try to hold the shaking?” They said “Yeah…..” “Well, that might be it then…” I explained why it is important to let go of their control and allow natural tremors to come out. At nearly 10 p.m., despite a full day of hard work, the women were so keen to listen and exchange their experiences and feelings. They said it was the first time to share their feelings since the earthquake. They very much enjoyed “the women only” gathering in the dark.
At the second night, many of them were shaking much better than the first day. I softly touched their legs and tried to feel their tremors (the light was too weak to see their tremors). In the dusky light, all women were focusing on their breathing. Some of them had deep slow breath and some gave soft groans. I was sitting at their feet and suddenly was caught by the feeling as if I was assisting them in giving birth. It was a strange but magical moment to be in when the women were totally into feeling their own bodies.
In the final day, one woman told me;
“After the first TRE, I felt sad. I realized that I did not have any feelings for a long time. I have been numbed.
After the second TRE, I felt happy.
My kids are all grown up and living in Kathmandu. I wanted them to come back to the village but they do not come back. I was feeling very lonely. But now (after the third session) I feel I can let go of them. I continue to live in my house and live with my animals. Now I feel freedom.”
In the last day, the women were asking many questions and did not want to let me go. When I finally wrapped up the class, they said, “sorry for keeping you to stay until late at night. But we really enjoyed gathering and chatting away!”
I realized that during the day, they never have time for themselves. They care for their husbands, children and animals. This exercise gave them a legitimate reason to stay away from home for a couple of hours and do something for their own wellbeing.
We heard some babies start crying from several houses. It was time for them to go home. ‘They are like Cinderella’ I thought. But I guessed they do not know what Cinderella was….
Keep shaking together, ladies!
TRE with the village men
The villagers are working really hard. Since the earthquake, the main trekking path has vanished and now they are getting on to repair whatever they can in order to be able access other settlements. That is the priority even before rebuilding their houses. Unless the path is reconnected, no materials can be transported to their settlement. The earthquake also destroyed the mobile tower. Hence there is no way for the valley communities to communicate with each other on both sides of the valley except by walking for a few hours.
When we asked the question, “When can you come to do TRE?”, the men said “6 a.m!” and the women said “9 p.m!” OK, I will do this whenever they can be available.
The men gathered at the base camp just after 6 a.m. They had no idea what this exercise was about. But they came trusting that it was somehow good for their body and mind. Many of them complained about back and knee pains. Also they were still scared of aftershocks especially at night.
I did not explain too much about the theory but just started the exercise. They were shy at the beginning and giggling to each other. Their wives were laughing out loud, looking at their husbands doing unusual postures in a wobbly manner.
A few minutes after they all lay down on the ground, suddenly the silence took place. I loved that moment when peoples’ nervous systems suddenly calm down and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. Everyone was into their own shaking although some were surprised by the automatic tremor of their body.
I stood back and observed them from a small distance. The sun started coming out and bold outlines of the Himalayan mountains were lightened up by the rising sun.
After the exercise, everyone said their bodies became very light. They were still a bit puzzled by why their body shook, but they were happy that they felt better anyhow. Then they went off to face a long day working at the bottom of the valley in order to build a bridge made of logs. All communities work together. They have not the slightest expectation that their government might do something for them. They do what they can do and just get on with their lives. I saw the true nature of “human resilience” at Tsum Valley.
The helicopter departed from Kathmandu airport an hour late. Viewed from the helicopter, Kathmandu city looked overcrowded and chaotic. But within 10 minutes of flight, we gained altitude and after getting over one mountain and then another, the view suddenly changed.
There were endless terraced fields clinging onto the surfaces of the mountains. Small houses were scattered over the edge and many houses were at least partly destroyed. On the steep surface of the valley, there were many traces of landslides perhaps due to the earthquakes.
Tsum valley is in Upper Gorkha district, which lies along with a finger of Nepal that sticks out into Tibet. Even before the earthquake, it took a week or more of trekking to get to, and the only other mode of transport was donkeys and horses. After the earthquake the Budi Gandaki Trail has been wiped off by the major landslides, now the only way to get there is by walking, or privileged people who need to get there in less time take a helicopter like I did.
Approaching to our first intended village, Ripche (2470m), the view suddenly opened up and endless fields appeared. Many people, especially children, were running towards us as we landed. “Namaste! Namaste!” the children whose faces were completely covered by dirt shouted, with big smiles. Wow, what an amazing place…
I will be staying in this settlement for a week to teach TRE to the community that was badly affected by the earthquake. From the sky, all the stone houses seemed to be mostly if not totally damaged.
To be continued…
The last training was absolutely full house! We were packed with children and nuns not wanting to leave the room. Continuous ‘Thank You’s’ and lots of lots of smiles. Some kids seemed to want to be affectionate but were shy. When I said with open arms, ‘Do you want hugs?’ All said ‘Yeeeeeesss!’ and jumped into my short arms.
What a loving and blessing experience it was! Now they have this wonderful stress management tool for the rest of their lives. Enjoy shaking and stay calm when an earthquake comes again!
“Thank you all for your generous donation and support!”
Here is a little ‘thank you’ from the children!
The students’ training is going well and we are now completing our second week with them. It means a total of 7 groups from class 1 to 6 have had one session each week. We are not working with the kindergarten children as they are too young. The body chart and the emotion chart created by the children in the first week have proven to be so useful. The young nuns love putting different color stickers on their emotions and body parts where they experienced body tremors. Some of them became a bit more creative and began putting stickers on the eyes (because they felt sleepy afterwards) or the head (because they felt headache). That is the correct thing to do as these feelings are also the impact of TRE.
All of 85 children experienced good tremors. And none of them experienced emotional flooding, freeze or dissociation. All are surprisingly well grounded. Could this be due to their regular meditation classes, practiced from a young age? Quite a few of them experienced a fear at the first session and said they felt like an earthquake came back again through the body tremors. But at the second session, they all enjoyed the tremors and release. The feedback from the little ones are particularly memorable;
“My heart is open. Happy!”
A few little ones put their hands on their heart and made a gesture of opening heart. It was so sweet and nice.
Some old ones said they had many memories come back from their childhood, and they felt happy.
As for the emotional chart, the negative emotions after the earthquake have dramatically shifted to more positive ones particularly for the small kids. For older ones, there are mixed emotions such as anger, loneliness and guilt. But perhaps these could be because of their sensitive age and some emerging emotions from the past coming to their conscious surface.
It is such a blessing to see the children’s faces change every time as they become more connected to their body and emotions!
Today was the first day with the students of classes 4, 5 and 6. Instead of our usual approach of discussing the theory and teaching the exercises, we started with asking the children questions about their feelings. “How did you feel when the earthquake happened?” They answered “I was afraid” “I was scared” Then I asked “What happens to you when you hear a loud noise or feel a little tremor?” They answered by showing me a gesture of “shock”.
I also asked “What happens to you when you have had an argument with your friends?” “What happens to you when miss your family?” They answered “I cry!” “I cannot eat!” “I cannot sleep!” “I feel guilty!” I asked “What happens to your body then?” They answered “I get a stomachache!” “I get a headache!” “I vomit!” They are indeed feeling a lot.
When I saw their faces at the first day, I noticed that many of the older students furrowed their brows. While the small kids are very giggly and smiley, the older ones seemed less so. It could be something to do with their sensitive age, but the older ones must be feeling a lot in their day-to-day life.
Although many of the students said that they were no longer afraid of an earthquake, many of them said they were missing their families and sometimes cry for them. Although it was said that none of their families died in the earthquake, their home villages are very far away, some too far to walk back. None of them have gone home since the earthquake.
As part of the TRE evaluation, we asked the students to create a picture of the human body in order to identify places where they felt pain or discomfort after the earthquake, then asked them to put stickers of different colors on places where they felt tremors after each session.
They had so much fun drawing a human body. Some in the group drew a woman with long hair, some a male and some drew a skeleton!
They also made a chart that listed their feelings, to describe their positive and negative feelings. After the TRE session they put stickers on the chart to compare their feelings after the earthquake and how they felt after the TRE.
Now the training materials are ready! We will start with the oldest group and continue with 6 more classes, ages from 7 until 18.
As for adult nuns, more than 20 of them joined us in two separate classes. We were informed before that some of them had very traumatic backgrounds and some were very affected by the earthquake. So we prepared ourselves to take extra care when receiving them. They all listened very attentively and paid great attention to each exercise. There are some very senior nuns and they helped young ones to follow the class. Some are of Tibetan origin and some are from Nepal’s Himalayan district. In the class, English, Nepali, Tibetan and probably Himalayan local dialects were heard and they helped each other to learn the exercise. It was lovely to see this expression of community.
Once we began practicing on the floor, all the chatting and giggling became silence. Everyone was focusing on their own body tremors. There were a couple of them who felt the sensation was too overwhelming but others were quietly enjoying this new experience of the body’s natural release.
Once done, their faces were so shiny and their lips were so stretched to their ears that I thought they could not smile any bigger than that.
When I asked each of them about their experience, they were so painfully shy and giggling and just said one word like “nice”, “relaxed”, “happy”… or “a bit scared”. But when I asked “who wants to try again?”, all put their hands straight up without hesitation. That enthusiastic response said everything. I will go back to them again in a couple of days…
What a wonderful experience we are having. Gurutama and I spend every night talking about our daily experience. What a learning and what a privilege… we are so blessed to be here.