Speeding Past Shangri-La
By Mark Boyer
We all have our stories of regret, and this is one of my deepest regrets that has changed the way I think and the choices I now make.
One summer my friend Ken Schunk and I travelled to a remote area of China near the Tibet border in North-western Sichuan. This rustic area is known as Aba. A few miles up a meandering road we found more than a hundred Buddhist monks diligently preparing a large ceremony along a pristine lake in the midst of surrounding mountains.
As Ken and I wandered among the monks to see what they were creating, a young monk motioned for us to sit with him on a hillside. A translator helped us to understand our mutual questions and answers. Sometimes we simply sat in comfortable silence, observing the monks, the lake, the mountains, and the beauty of a cool breeze on a sunny day. We easily developed a bond of trust and friendship on that hillside.
The young monk told us to come back the next day, and that he would take us on a hike behind the mountains to a place these monks called Shangri-La. The young monk said the hike would require about three days to get there, a couple days to spend there, and then about three days to return. Ken and I are westerners and we were on a “tight schedule” with our driver and visas. We needed to depart from China in two days, and just our trip back to Chengdu would be a gruelling 11-hour drive.
In short, Ken and I thanked this young monk for his generous offer to take us to Shangri-La. We told him that our “schedule” would not allow us to participate in a potentially life-changing experience. We were busy. We were busy. We were busy.
I learned from that moment that somehow, someway, rare and unique experiences need to take precedent over the mundane schedules and tasks of everyday life. I needed to find ways to slow time down so that I had time for myself. Even now as I am “retired,” there can be a rush to fill up social calendars and to find new ways of being busy.
I have travelled to 45 countries so far, but I am not in a rush to check off places on my list or to impress people with where I travel. My interests are simpler now. I find beauty and wonderment in just going out for a walk, and experiencing how the day unfolds. I want to be able to stop and look at what’s around me, and to feel what is inside me.
I know I will likely never have a second chance to experience Shangri-La with the young monk along that Tibetan border, but I intend to experience Shangri-La as much as possible in every day of my life. And this is always about the choices I intuitively make along the path. One thing is for sure. I intend to never speed past Shangri-La anymore.