Stories from the Road

Welcome to the Stories from the Road section of my website. Most of the stories I've been writing are chapters for my new book GROWING UP SOUTHERN - Stories from the Attic of Childhood Memories. You can read the Prologue, Introduction and several chapters here in the Archived Stories from the Road.

The new story below is entitled "LIFE UPDATE" and is about the huge milestones that occurred in my life during 2012. I hope you enjoy reading it, when the Moon is right. As I begin to walk on the path to the next chapter in my life, my heart is filled with love and gratitude.

 

 

Stories from the Road

“LIFE UPDATE” – December 2012

Jane at Villa Marin
Jane outside of Villa Marin

2012 has been a huge milestone in my life due primarily to retiring after 35 years working at Lucasfilm. In preparation for the transition, I purchased a condo at Villa Marin, a beautiful retirement residence in San Rafael that looks like a Mediterranean resort.

The building, with bright yellow window awnings, is across the freeway from the Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center, and snakes along a high ridge with condos facing east and west, and several on the south and north ends of the building. The hallways are covered with lovely artwork and famous prints as well as paintings by some of the residents. There are atriums in both the north and south wings and common areas on each floor with comfortable furniture to sit and read a good book from the Villa Marin Library or have social visits with friends and family. There are several pianos in the building including a beautiful grand in the main living room. The atmosphere is amazingly friendly, and as one of the women I interviewed with when I applied said, "There's a lot of love in this place."

Dickey Nyerongsha, my Tibetan daughter and our friend, Marianne Wong, came over before I moved in to bless the condo with incense and we chanted Om Mani Padme Hum, the mantra of compassion. We then lit a candle in a small butter lamp I brought back from one of my trips to Tibet in front of a Green Tara statue and recited her mantra: Om Tare Tu Tare Ture Soha.

The first week I actually slept at Villa Marin, Jyoti, the Spiritual Director of the Center for Sacred Studies (CSS) http://www.sacredstudies.org that hosts the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, and Darlene Hunter, the Executive Director, came by to purify the space with a fire ceremony, Native American chanting, and smudging each room with a sage stick to release any residue of previous owners spirits that might still be around. They brought six large stones from a stream or river (moving water) that were placed outside the entrance of each doorway into the condo. Two at the front door, two outside the sliding door to the balcony from the living room, and two for my bedroom door onto the balcony. Each stone is a manifestation of a guardian to protect me and prevent any negative energy or spirits from entering the space. It was an inspiring ceremony, and my new home now feels like a sanctuary.

Marmalade, my big lover boy cat, is finally adjusting to being an indoor creature. No more killing and eating birds at the back door at my old house on Medway Road, or climbing the ancient oak trees, or the wisteria arbor to get on the roof to survey his domain.  I'm still worried that he is lonely and that he would be happier with a family where he could be an indoor/outdoor cat as he was before we moved to Villa Marin. The first week we were here he threw up on one of the Navajo rugs, and has taken his claws to some of the upholstered furniture even though I bought him a perfectly good scratching post.

Jane at Villa Marin Jane in front of Villa Marin
Marmalade
Jane in the garden

When I moved in the first weekend in May, the magnificent gardens on the property were in full bloom. I managed to get my bedroom, living room (except the baby grand piano), den furniture and kitchen into 1120 sq. ft. at the condo. Every inch of space is filled, and I was able to fit in all my favorite precious things including most of my wearable art (Queen's clothing). And, I found some real estate (as my sister Kitty Courcier calls it) on the wall in my bedroom to hang my framed letter from Elvis Presley, handwritten on his pink fan mail stationery postmarked July 26, 1955 at 7PM from Memphis, Tenn.

Jane in front of Villa Marin Jane in front of Villa Marin

Jane and Elvis

Letter from Elvis
(click to enlarge photo)

I've created a little jewel box for myself and it feels like home. Being here is like living in a suite at a luxury hotel with all the amenities including maid service once a week, and one meal a day from an excellent dining room. My suite, as I call it, faces West. The sunsets, clear blue skies, cloud and fog formations are magnificent, constantly changing paintings of light. And the darkness of night changes with the radiance of the evening star and fazes of the moon. At its fullest, the moon shines through the plate glass balcony door onto my bed as I sleep.

Jane in front of Villa Marin
Jane's home at Villa Marin

 

In the short time I've lived at Villa Marin, I've met many interesting people. I’ve been surprised by how diverse the community is. I’ve met several Gay and Lesbian people, Christians, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, and a lot of Democrats. I have much in common with the many of the people I've gotten to know. Early on, I got a phone call from a lady named Marian Moynihan inviting me to join her and several friends for dinner, but I explained I was still working full time, so dinners weren’t possible. She said, "I know who you work for because my son works at Lucasfilm, too.” Her son is Kenn Moynihan, a wonderful man I've known for many years, who is the projectionist and manager of the Premier Theater at the Lucasfilm Presidio campus. We set up a date to have lunch instead.

I immediately connected with Susan Fiori, the Resident Services Manager, who took my photo for the "new resident" bulletin board in the Mail Room. Among the services she facilitates are Rosen Movement classes as well as Seated Rosen Movement for those of us with bad knees, balance problems, recuperating from illness and so on, which helps release muscle tension, increases flexibility and promotes better circulation. My idea of exercise which I plan to participate in when I'm not working full time.

Susan also leads a meditation class once a week on Friday afternoons. The focus is on ways meditation can enhance life physically, mentally and spiritually. She gives readings, there's discussion and a 30-minute silent meditation each session. As we talked, we discovered we both have friends who are teachers of the Diamond Approach, a contemporary spiritual teaching, a path of self-discovery and the method of the Ridwan School founded by A. H. (Hameed Ali) Almaas. His work illustrates the unity of modern depth psychology and traditional spiritual wisdom.

And, two Tuesdays a month, Susan facilitates an autobiography group in which participants share readings or tell stories of the colorful tapestries of their lives. No writing experience is necessary; it's more like oral history storytelling. I already have several short stories written that I want to share when I join the group, "The Web of Life" and "Synchrodestiny" both of which are on my website, www.JaneBay.com in the Archives of the "Stories from the Road" section. Susan teaches art classes, has a Play Reading program, and works with residents in the Gym on fitness programs. There are also water aerobic classes in the fabulous big swimming pool. Many more activities like trips to art exhibits, the ballet and opera in San Francisco as well as on "Mellow Mondays" taking a drive to Napa or some scenic location for lunch just for a leisurely afternoon outing as well as excursions to Yosemite to the Ahwahnee Lodge for a weekend as well as international travel. This place is my idea of good living!

One Saturday I was invited to lunch by a woman named Carmen Cunningham who was in the Foreign Service for many years. She recently went to Cuba with a group of Villa Marin residents who frequently travel together. I'm sorry I missed that trip, but there will be other opportunities I'm told. I was happy, maybe not the best word, to discover that all the other women that Carmen introduced me to at lunch are Democrats. They are well informed about the current political/economic, bio-social decline in our country. It made for good conversation and insight into their very engaged lives.

Dick Bottega, a delightful man who was my sponsor the first month at Villa Marin, presented me with a welcoming gift of a set of Tupperware to be used to bring food from the dining room up to my suite if I cared to eat there. One night I got home from work just in time to get to the dining room before it closed at 7:00 PM with my plastic fantastic in hand. I filled each container and placed them in a basket which I covered with a lovely hand towel. Dressed in one of my floor length tie dyed dresses with my long hair in a pony tail, I definitely looked like an "aging Hippie."

As I was leaving the dining room, I heard a woman (who I didn't see) say, "Does SHE live here?" It wasn't said in a mean-spirited way, more bewildered than critical. I just smiled to myself and went on my merry way to enjoy a delicious dinner sitting in front of the TV in my suite on the top floor of Villa Marin as the “great ball of fire” slipped behind the mountains on the western horizon painting the sky with streaks of pink and blue ribbons of light.

One evening, I got in the elevator with a very tall, handsome elderly man who, as we road together from the Fourth Floor to the Lower Level, told me his wife of many years had died two years ago, and he moved to Villa Marin to find a new wife. As we exited the elevator, he said sweetly, "And I think I've found one."

On another Saturday, I had lunch with Tedi Dunn. She had seen my photo on the "new resident" bulletin board and decided to give me a call. She came up to see my suite before we went down to the dining room. As we moved from shrine to shrine, she told me her husband is a Buddhist and would love to see my collection of Tibetan artifacts, and Native American pottery and Kachinas, some old and new. Over lunch with two of her friends, she asked if I was a "practicing" Buddhist. I acknowledged that I was.

Tedi went on to say that she had gone on retreat some years ago with a Zen teacher named Yvonne Rand, who had given a talk on "bare noting" as referenced in Natalie Goldberg's book "Writing Down the Bones." I was probably there for that retreat as Yvonne was my original Buddhist teacher. Even though a lay householder priest in the Soto Zen Tradition, Yvonne incorporates Tibetan Buddhism, and Insight Meditation practice in her teachings and has referred to writing exercises in "Writing Down the Bones" many times as a mindfulness exercise.

As our conversation continued, I mentioned I was a published author of two books, both memoirs about my travels to India, Nepal and Tibet with a monk from the Dalai Lama's Monastery, and my relationship with my Tibetan daughter, Namgyal Youdon, and the consequences of Namgyal's life and death on my life. I was surprised to learn that Tedi is the head of the Villa Marin Library and said she'd love to have my books for the Library.

After lunch, we went down to the garage to my car where I keep a stash of both PRECIOUS JEWELS OF TIBET and LOVE & LOSS which I autographed for the Villa Marin Library. Tedi said "I want to read them first before they're gobbled up by other residents because I'm very interested in the subject matter."  There are several other published authors at Villa Marin who I look forward to meeting sometime in the future when I’ve retired and have time to become more engaged in the community here. As we parted, Tedi said, “We’re going to become good friends,” and we have. She and her husband, Will, are also frequent moviegoers involved with the California Film Institute, another area of mutual interest.

I heard from one of the women I met that Tom Bucci, the CEO of Villa Marin was looking for a piano to place in the South Atrium Lounge to be used for recitals, social events and by residents so I offered to donate my vintage Fisher baby grand. I was going to sell it for only $200 at the Estate Sale at Medway in June to someone who really wanted a piano and would take it away. But Tom had it picked up, tuned and placed on the ground floor of the South Atrium Lounge outside the elevator I take to and from my suite every day. I can see it over the railing on the Fourth floor just a few steps from my front door and am thrilled to hear someone playing as the sound wafts throughout the floors around the South Atrium. So I got my baby grand piano to Villa Marin after all which I can play anytime it's not in use, but not after 9 o'clock at night.  I used to play a little Bach before I went to bed, around midnight, so my habits will have to change in the future.

The only thing I had really been missing from my house on Medway Road was the rose garden. I mentioned this to one of the women on the Garden Club committee in hopes of getting on a waitlist for a plot in the flower beds outside the Medical Center on the western side of Villa Marin. She made the comment that "Somebody will probably have to die before one becomes available, but call Emiko Miyagawa who runs it anyway."

When I talked to Emiko, she said, "Oh, your timing is perfect. I can give you three beds that already have roses in them that we're no longer going to use for cut flowers in the Medical Center!" Apparently, the women in the Garden Club prepare vases of cut flowers every week for residents who are in the Medical Center to brighten up their room. It's become too big a job to grow the flowers so going forward the club will purchase cut flowers to make the arrangements.

The following week I was invited to the annual Garden Club BBQ and met all the members who attended, several of whom I already knew. That weekend, my sister, Kitty, and friend, Cheryl Nardi, came over and did a major clean up in the beds, pruning most of the bushes and fixed the drip irrigation system while I sat in a folding chair in the shade and we got caught up on the current gossip in our lives. I think it was Grace Paley who said “Gossip is a form of oral history.” Only thing missing was a glass of sweet tea. No gardening work for me until knee surgery in 2013, but I do love to talk.

There's enough space in the beds for several more plants. As I was naming off ones I wanted to put in next January, my favorites, Double Delight, Fragrant Cloud, Just Joey and Evelyn, Cheryl found a nursery tag on one of the big, healthy plants. It was Double Delight! So once again, SynchroDestiny, as Deepak Chopra calls it, had occurred. I was meant to have a rose garden at Villa Marin.

Being here at Villa Marin, I've found a new sense of security, not just that I'm "Safe and Sound" in the building but in my soul. My 71st birthday was on Friday, May 18. I certainly don't feel like what I thought it would be like at this age. I still feel like a hippie from the 60s, high on life but without drugs!!!

 

On Wednesday, August 15, to celebrate my 35th anniversary working with George Lucas, I threw a fantastic party in the Main House at Skywalker Ranch with a hundred of my closest colleagues/friends that I've worked with over the years. I didn't want a traditional "retirement" party with tiresome speeches, and told everybody this was their last chance to "roast" me if they wanted to, and they did. I told some stories to "roast" myself to kick it off, and we were laughing so hard I nearly wet my pants. One of my former colleagues once said, “Jane, you are the most graciously impatient woman I’ve ever known.” He obviously didn’t know Southern women.

Jane at Villa Marin
Photos by Tina Mills. All Rights reserved.

It was an outrageously fun evening. The biggest laugh of the night was when I said that over the years when people have asked how I got a job working for George Lucas, I said, “Oh, I slept with his lawyer.” My old time friend Tom Pollock, George’s attorney who made the original STAR WARS deal with Fox studios, was at the party and he was actually blushing. When the roasts started, Tom said, “Yes, I did sleep with Jane Bay, but I didn’t think Southern women would kiss and tell.”

Jane at Villa Marin
Photo by Tina Mills. All Rights reserved.

The last person to speak was George who roasted me a little about the roasting I did on him, all in good humor. At the end, he handed me a neatly wrapped gift box and as I pulled off the ribbon and paper, said, "Jane has been my right hand for all these years, so I think it's only fitting she should have C-3PO's left hand." Needless to say, I was stunned and thrilled by the gift. How fitting indeed, as I was the Protocol Droid after all.

Jane at Villa Marin
Photos by Tina Mills. All Rights reserved.

I received a Letter of Authenticity signed by George that certified it was the authentic left hand of C-3PO that was part of the costume worn by the actor Anthony Daniels during the filming of all six “Star Wars” films.

Tim Hockenberry, recently on America's Got Talent, serenaded us in the music room after dinner. Tim has a unique voice that I just love, somewhere between Louis Armstrong and Joe Cocker but with his own unique phrasing. He sang all my favorite songs, from the Beatles, Hoagie Carmichael to Leonard Cohen. I almost cried when he sang "Georgia" which I had requested. It was the most fun I've ever had, and the best party I ever put on if I do say so myself.

Jane at Villa Marin
Photo by Tina Mills. All Rights reserved.

The 35th Anniversary celebration was truly the culmination of "My Brilliant Career" to borrow the title of Gillian Armstrong's 1979 film. I realized that I had accomplished everything I had set out to do, and it was time to move on. Friday, October 19, 2012, was officially my retirement day. The essence of my career at Lucasfilm can be summed up in the title of the Frank Capra movie, “Its A Wonderful Life.”

 

A week and a half later, on October 31, I boarded a jet plane and flew to Kathmandu, Nepal for the twelfth home gathering of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers http://www.grandmotherscouncil.org/ to honor Nepalese Grandmother, Aama Bombo. Each year the Council of Grandmothers travel to the homeland of two of the Grandmothers to learn about that Grandmother's culture, rituals and prayers to help bring awareness to the suffering of her indigenous people as well as the suffering of all indigenous peoples for the protection and preservation of their human rights, spiritual rights, medicine, land and water rights through prayer.

Jane at Villa Marin
Boudhanath Stupa - photo by Shannon Hastings

There was a jubilant parade the first day, and as a Vision Keeper Sponsor, I was included in the parade with the Grandmothers. We were covered with marigold garlands, and white Khata’s, the traditional Tibetan blessing scarves, as we went from the Hotel Tibet International a few blocks to Boudhanath Stupa, the largest Stupa in the world just outside the city of Kathmandu. A Stupa is a mound-shaped structure that usually houses sacred relics associated with the Buddha or high lamas.

Prayer flags were flying, incense was burning, and prayer wheels were spinning as we joined the throngs of supplicants in their evening circumambulation of prayer around the huge monument. It was a spectacular sight and thrilling moment. The outpouring of love for Grandmother Aama and the other Grandmothers was palpable.

This was my fourth visit to Boudhanath Stupa from previous trips in and out of Tibet, once with my spiritual friend, Ven. Losang Samten. It’s also the place where Bernardo Bertolucci filmed parts of his movie “Little Buddha” in 1993 as well as other locations in the Kathmandu Valley.

Grandma Aama’s gathering was entitled Praying for Peace in the Land of the Buddha. The Sacred Fire was lit and burned continuously during the four days of Public Programs with a different Grandmother offering prayers from her tradition morning, noon and night.  The programs with the entire council were entitled “Honoring Our Elders”, “Listening to Our Youth”, and “Calling Forth the Peace Keepers.” Most of the Grandmothers spoke to the audience about these subjects from a Round Table on the stage. Sacred Dance and Songs were performed by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities as well as opening remarks from the Keynote Speaker, The Right Honorable Parmananda Jha, Vice President of Nepal.

When I made the decision to attend the Grandmother’s Council in Kathmandu, I asked Namgyal's elder brother in India, Tsetan Mingyur and his wife, Sonam Dolkar, if they would be able to join me in Nepal for the conference, and spend five days together afterward. They both had graduated four years ago from Mentseekhang, the Tibetan Medical College in Dharamsala, and are now practicing doctors. I was beside myself with joy and anticipation when they replied they would be able to come.

Namgyal had said to me when I last saw her in Lhasa in 2003, a few months before her death, “Mom, if you’re my mother, you’re my brother’s mother, too,” and from that day onward, I have considered both Tsetan, and Namgyal’s eldest brother, Tenzin Tsering in Tibet, as my sons, and I am a Grandmother to Tenzin’s two young daughters.

I had planned to visit Tsetan in Dharamsala in 2004 after my trip to Mt. Kailash (16,000 ft. altitude) for Sakadawa, the annual celebration of the Buddha’s birth, death and parinirvana (freedom from the pain of physical existence).

Much to my dismay, due to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), I had to be medically evacuated from Tibet and returned to the U.S. where my doctor discovered the lower lobe of my left lung had collapsed. I nearly died and wrote a chapter in LOVE & LOSS entitled “Life and Death” about the experience.

From the moment Tsetan and Sonam arrived in Kathmandu on Saturday night, we couldn’t stop talking. It was the first time we had actually met in person. It felt as though we were simply continuing a conversation that had started many years ago, possibly even in a previous lifetime, and a level of intimacy and trust permeated every moment we were together.

They stayed nearby in a small but comfortable Guest House on a side street by the Boudhanath Stupa. On Sunday morning we met for breakfast at the Hotel Tibet International before boarding one of the buses with the Grandmothers for the drive to the Annapurna Hotel for the final day of the Public Program. I began introducing Tsetan and Sonam, one by one, to the Grandmothers, and the magic began..

The Morning Prayer was lead by Grandmother Maria Alice Campos Freire from the Amazon Rain Forest in Brazil and the Midday Prayer was lead by Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim, Takelma-Siletz, from Oregon.

Jane at Villa Marin
Dig B. Tamang addresses audience

During the Open Council, each of the Grandmothers spoke about being a Peace Keeper and a Warrior of Life. There were more ecstatic performances of song and dance by young people representing the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities in traditional dress.

Grandmother Aama and several other Grandmothers were on the floor dancing and singing in celebration with the performers, as well as members of the Center for Sacred Studies team and attendees at the event. If I had good knees, I would have been on the dance floor, too.

At lunch, Tsetan, Sonam and I joined Grandmother Rita Pitka Blumenstein, Yupic, from the Arctic Circle, and Grandmother Tsering Dolma Gyaltong from Tibet who currently lives in Canada. I had told Grandmother Tsering about Namgyal and my book PRECIOUS JEWELS OF TIBET when we first met in 2010 at a gathering of the Grandmothers at Omega Institute in upstate New York.

At the time, Grandmother Tsering mentioned that she knew Namgyal’s Uncle Kunga who had served as one of the doctors to the Dalai Lama until his death in 2001 from cancer. I had met Uncle Kunga several times when he was traveling with His Holiness in the U.S. Grandmother Tsering was very empathetic to my story about Namgyal and thanked me for everything I had done for Namgyal to enhance her life, short as it was.  

Jane at Villa Marin
Tsetan, Grandmother Tsering and Sonam

When I introduced Tsetan and Sonam to Grandmother Tsering at the Hotel Tibet International in Kathmandu, they immediately started up a very animated conversation speaking in Tibetan.

On September 10, 1984, Grandmother Tsering re-founded the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) in Dharamsala with the blessing of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Women’s Association had originally started in Lhasa on March 12, 1959, when Tibetan women from all three provinces of Tibet gathered and stood united for the first time in Tibetan history and challenged the brutal clampdown by the Chinese government.

The Tibetan women started a peaceful resistance movement against the repressive Chinese regime, but hundreds were arrested, imprisoned and brutalized following the demonstrations. The brutality has continued since the Chinese occupation, including human rights abuses, and in the form of forced birth control policies such as sterilization, abortion as well as restrictions on religious, political, social and cultural freedoms.

Tibetan Women’s Association is the most powerful women’s organization in Tibetan history. TWA advocates human rights for women inside Tibet, and is committed in empowering all women. Dedicated to resolve the injustices inside Tibet, TWA has expanded to 56 regional chapters spread across four continents: Asia, America, Europe and Australia, totaling about 16,000 members in exile, further strengthening the advocacy objective for social justice. The members of TWA consider themselves the successful continuation of the absolute determination and efforts put forward by the elder generation of women in Tibet.

Jane at Villa Marin
Sonam, Grandmother Tsering and her niece

Sonam turned to me and said, “Mom, Grandmother Tsering knows my mother who was one of the original members of the Tibetan Women’s Association in exile.” And I responded, “So, your mother was one of the first Tibetan feminists.” Sonam said, “Yes, and I’m just like my mother!”

After lunch, I bought a copy of GRANDMOTHERS COUNSEL THE WORLD – Women Elders Offer Their Vision for Our Planet, written by Carol Schaefer with a Foreword by Winona LaDuke for Sonam and Tsetan at the Tibetan store inside the auditorium where the conference was held. Sonam said, “We are very happy to be here with you, Mom, and we are learning so much that we didn’t expect.”

The Closing Prayer of the Public Program, held late in the afternoon as the sun was setting, was lead by Grandmother Aama Bombo with a healing for all participants at the Sacred Fire. Grandmother Aama, also known as Buddhi Maya Lama (Mother Shaman) was born into a poor family in the remote village of Melong in the eastern part of the Bagmati zone in Nepal. She now lives in Boudhanath where she begins her day at four in the morning with prayers at temple to the god Shiva, the destroyer who dissolves in order to create. People begin arriving at her home by 6:00 AM, and the healing goes on until noon. After a short rest, she resumes her work until late in the afternoon.

People come from all over Nepal, as well as from India and Tibet to seek her help for all kinds of physical, emotional, and spiritual problems. The practice of a shaman involves the practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual and practices divination and healing.

As Grandma Aama began her prayers, sitting on the ground at her altar that included a statue of the Buddha in front of the Sacred Fire, her body started to shake intensely as she call out “Om Kali, Om Kali, Om Kali” to invoke the spirit of the dark, fearless mother goddess, who is one of the most important Hindu deities in Grandmother Aama’s healing practice.

After her prayers, Grandmother Aama blessed all the Grandmothers by sprinkling them with a small tree branch that had been dipped in a bowl of water and touching them on the head, shoulders and sometimes over their body with her hands. When she reached the chair where I was sitting, with Tsetan and Sonam sitting directly behind me, she sprinkled me with the holy water and leaned forward very close to my face, looking straight into my eyes. Then suddenly she hit me with some force on the top of my head and shoulders with her hand. I was somewhat stunned, but realized I had slipped into the trance with her and was still lingering in an altered state of consciousness. I think this was her way of grounding me and bringing me back to the present moment.  

Kali is a very complicated archetype. Kali cuts away (purifies/clears) that which no longer serves. She brings clarity around what really matters and ultimately brings liberation and a shedding of that which we have outgrown.

It took several days to fully absorb the experience. I think it was part of an initiation I’ve been going through to let go of the past and begin to walk down the path into the next chapter of my life.

And this was just the first day I spent with my son and daughter. What a blessing it was.

Jane at Villa Marin Jane in front of Villa Marin
Jane and Sonam at the Sacred Fire
Jane and Tsetan

During the remaining days we had together, Tsetan, Sonam and I told each other our life stories. She had graduated from Mentseekhang first in her class. Tsetan did very well, too, and was the Captain of the soccer team. They both have a very strong work ethic and are dedicated to healing the sick. Tsetan is more involved in the pharmaceutical aspect of Tibetan Herbal medicine, and Sonam is interested in being a botanist.

One day we went with all the Grandmothers to Grandmother Aama’s village for a celebration of music and traditional dance, with speeches by political leaders and dignitaries, and the local people who had prepared a fantastic feast for us. The love expressed for Grandmother Aama was astounding. She is truly considered a beloved “National Treasure” and has revitalized shamanism in Nepalese culture.

Jane at Villa Marin
Jane, Grandmother Rita Pitka Blumenstein, Sonam, Karen Hanson

One day we drove in jeeps to Namo Monastery, a Tibetan monastery about an hour and a half from the Hotel Tibet International. The monastery is perched high on a hill. With my knees in terrible shape, I couldn’t walk up to the monastery. While Tsetan and Sonam scampered up the hill to the main temple, I sat in a wheelchair around a table outside a Nepalese convenience store at the foot of the monastery with Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim, several people from CSS and Dig B. Tamang, a representative from the Embassy of Nepal in Washington, DC who arranged our Visas to Nepal. Dig has served as Grandmother Aama’s interpreter for many years.

During our conversation, I mentioned to Dig that on my past visits to Nepal I had focused more on Hindu culture, architecture and spiritualism, but with Grandmother Aama, I experienced Buddhism in a new way, through the influence of shamanism which was quite thrilling. There is definitely a symbiotic co-mingling of Buddhism, Hinduism and Shamanism in Nepal.

My friends Thomas Kelly and Carroll Dunham who I met in 1994 on my first trip to Nepal, attended several days of the Public Program and came for dinner one night at the Hotel Tibet International. It was wonderful to reconnect with them and to introduce them to Tsetan and Sonam.

Tom and Carroll knew about my relationship with Namgyal and the consequences of her life and death on my life. They were happy to meet her brother and sister-in-law. Carroll had a lot to talk with them about concerning Tibetan herbs and uses in healing in regard to a current project she’s working on.

Tom and I got to catch up on life in general, and specifically the great transition I’m experiencing at this time. Tom first came to Nepal in 1978 as a USA Peace Corp Volunteer, and has been there ever since. He has a very good life in Nepal and a successful career primarily as an internationally known and respected photographer. We were musing about whether it might be time for him to go back to Santa Fe where he comes from.

At lunch our last day in the Kathmandu Valley, Jyoti announced that a representative from the Office of the Dalai Lama in Nepal had come to the hotel that morning to present a thangka painting to the Grandmothers. It was of the Thousand-Armed Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who in each hand has one eye so that he can see all sentient beings whose suffering he has vowed to relieve.

Sonam told me that her father was an official thangka painter for His Holiness and that it was probably painted by him. When I mentioned this to Jyoti, she took Sonam up to her room to see the painting, and sure enough, Sonam identified it as her father’s painting. It was actually a print of the original painting, but a highly regarded gift just the same. Another moment of SynchroDestiny has occurred.

Later that afternoon, when Sonam and Tsetan and I were just hanging out talking, she said, “Mom, I had a younger sister who was being trained by my father to be a thangka painter, but she died in an accident the same year and around the same time Namgyal died. This is one of the reasons Tsetan and I have grown so close because we can understand what each other felt about losing our sisters.”

My heart nearly broke when I heard this story, yet I could see the karmic connection between them and there was some comfort in that. There were so many moments when we realized how karma had brought us together. It was no accident that we should meet in the context of my life with the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers and that Tsetan and Sonam’s lives where intertwined with the Grandmothers as well.

Jane at Villa Marin Jane in front of Villa Marin
Tsetan, Sonam and Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim
Tsetan, Jane and Sonam

Our goodbye at the airport in Kathmandu was tearful and heart wrenching. Tsetan and Sonam stayed by my side to help and protect me until I boarded the plane bound for Seoul and on to San Francisco. As soon as I got to Villa Marin, I sent them an email letting them know I’d arrived home safe and sound. We’re already planning for them to come to the U.S. to visit me and Sonam’s parents who are currently living in the U.S. as well.

I quickly received the following emails from my son and daughter-in-law:

“Dear Mom, we are very happy to hear about your safe arrival in San Francisco. Do take a good rest since it was really a hectic schedule in Kathmandu. We enjoyed our holiday with immense joy and we felt great to have met you in person. You are such an amazing mom. We really feel blessed to be your children. Wasn’t everything so perfect? It was so amazing. We certainly felt that strong karmic connection between us. Doesn’t it seem we know each other for years and years?

Mom, do take care of yourself. Our heart felt with warmth and our eyes with tears when we were together. It was a special relationship between us we will cherish forever.” Sonam

“Dear Mom, we are very happy to know that everything is going well with you after your long journey. Here we are also doing great in sound health with more energy and satisfaction after meeting you in person. It was truly a dream come true. This meeting brought us to you in the closest way in everything, especially emotionally.

We gave the gifts to our family members that were bought from your Nepalese rupees given to us, and they are very happy and asked us to convey their gratitude.

Please be careful in the bathroom (he’s afraid I might fall), and do not forget to take your medicines on time, and also you can have a bottle of coke, but not more than one bottle a day (my son the doctor talking to me here). You are always in our heart and prayers. With lots of love and tashi delek. Tsetan and Sonam”

In meeting Tsetan and Sonam, it feels like a missing piece in my heart has been found, and Namgyal is more alive in my life than ever.

So there you have it, my “Life Update” for 2012, and what a life it has been. I’m going to Santa Fe for Christmas and New Years and am looking forward to the next journey with love and gratitude in my heart.

                                                                              Jane's photo

 
 
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