Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Happiness and Deep Faith in Tibet Provide Inspiration

By Elinor Stanton

Naples Daily News, August 10, 2005 -- The writing of this article begins in Tibet, where I have been touring for12 days. Home is four days, 5,500 miles and a whole world away. It has been a trip of wonderment. Why do I bring my travels into this column and what is the connection to mental health?

While Tibet is a land of unsurpassed natural beauty, the climate and terrain pose hardships upon its people that we cannot imagine. Known as the "Roof of the World," among the magnificent Himalayas, Tibet realizes altitudes of18,000 feet, desert conditions, heavy rains that wash out dangerously narrow mountain passes and a very short growing season that allows for only limited forms of agriculture.

Most of the population is very poor; automobiles, modern plumbing and cooking facilities are rare. The latest styles in clothing are unknown and irrelevant.

Dried yak dung provides the major heating weapon against extremely harsh winters. Barley is the main diet staple, with very little variety in food. Tibetans are shy yet warm and friendly. They smile and laugh a lot, and work hard without complaint. The happiness and deep faith they exude inspired me to share what I experienced during my time in their country.

The contrast between poverty in Tibet and plenty in our country led me to contemplate how Tibetans can be so happy and Americans so discontent. Where and what are the lessons?

Tibetans have always been very spiritual. It has even been said that the high altitude enhances mental clarity that leads to spiritual awareness. It certainly appears that they live religion in ways that we don't, which in part may account for their positive attitudes.

Perhaps they are simply more realistic than we are, out of pure necessity. They have no control over the climate and altitude so accept what the mountains bring, determined to maintain inner equanimity. After all, the only control anyone has is over oneself. Living in Tibet totally clarifies this reality.

One lighthearted practice I witnessed on several occasions was that of singing while working. Construction workers and carpet makers sang together on their jobs. Despite long hours, low pay and hard work they sang in unison most of the day. Artists restoring very detailed murals worked in what appeared to be meditative states, slowly and patiently creating breathtakingly beautiful, colorful and perfect art.

Everyone I met in Tibet seemed to possess the quality of living in and experiencing the joy of the moment. Studies have shown that serotonin levels are increased in such circumstances, and I cannot help but wonder if part of the reason for increasing depression in our culture isn't that we fail to use the built-in aids that are natural antidotes.

We also take for granted our material abundance while forgetting the inherent richness of inner peace, peace that comes only from acceptance of reality and living in the moment. Tibetans have owned this wisdom for centuries. It is my wish to share their wisdom with my readers and clients.

Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island. She has 27 years of experience as a therapist in private practice and with a largehealth maintenance organization in Boston.