The Eyes of Boudha

It was just a few short months ago, somewhere in my last semester of acupuncture school, sometime after completing my last board exam, and shortly before graduation and leaving for a trip to China, that my colleague Jackie proposed the idea of going to Nepal as a volunteer acupuncturist with Mindful Medicine Worldwide (MMW).  For many reasons I was hesitant, but the day before Jackie and I left to finish our clinical hours in China, I submitted my application to Mindful Medicine and let it go, somehow thinking that I would never be accepted to the program.  So it was with great surprise that we received an acceptance email from MMW while we were in China and 6 short weeks after our return from that trip along with some major fundraising efforts, we boarded the plane to Nepal with excitement and wide open eyes.  I carried with me the offerings of good luck for this learning experience and offerings of financial support from more people than I could have ever imagined. The weight of the financial burden was lifted substantially and I somehow transformed my gratitude for all of the support into a humble walk toward the unknown of being a volunteer acupuncturist at the SheChen clinic in Boudha, Nepal.

We came to Nepal to be volunteers. We came to Nepal because we were now acupuncturists and it would be a great step to transition into professional practitioners.  We came to Nepal to learn from Bob Flaws and Honora Wolfe, and as recent acupuncture graduates, we were bounding with enthusiasm to get into the clinic and start treating patients. It was very early on that we started to realize this trip was going to be life changing and deeply moving, and for me, that realization was evident before we even started in the clinic. It happened when I saw the Great Stupa for the first time from the rooftop restaurant the day after our arrival and my heart quickened, and again the next day when we met Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and I welled up with tears at the sight of him, a profound teacher that I had never even heard of before.  Being an acupuncturist was just the catalyst to get us to Nepal, and even though we were there to serve the local people, the meaning of the trip transformed into something much different.

To really understand the community around Boudha and the people that we saw in the clinic, I must take you on a somatic journey.  While you are reading this, imagine that the air you breathe is thick with pollutants; you can smell exhaust fumes and feel a burn in your throat.  Imagine there is no central air which means no heat and the air is cool around you especially in the shade, riding through the town on a moped, and more so during the dark hours.  The cold and damp temperatures sink to your bones and for many older local people four or five layers of clothes may or may not be enough.  Now, imagine walking down a narrow street lined with shops containing Himalayan wares, convenience stores, meat or vegetable shops where the meat sits on the counter all day and the vegetables are fresh and colorful.  Also you will see cyber cafes and restaurants with both traditional and western type foods. You notice that most shops are probably no more than 15 feet by 15 feet in size and filled to the brim with products to sell or workers sitting/squatting on the floor crafting their product.  The restaurants appear to be bigger in size and frequented by non locals called “Engies” (the local term for English people or Westerners which may include anyone Caucasian is my understanding).

As you continue to walk down the street, you find it difficult to walk in a straight line because you are constantly avoiding walking into someone else, quickly avoiding an oncoming motorcycle, stepping around a beggar or stray dog, or getting out of the way of the cow that is about to pass you without stepping on a trash pile.  As you look up, you notice that the buildings are colored with squares of red, blue, white, yellow and green prayer flags; some are new and some are tattered and weathered but every building is somehow decorated with these.  Most people hold brown or colored malas in their hand or wear them around their neck.  The clothes that the people wear are multicolored,  multilayered and mismatched (US judgment) and the appearance of the deep maroon robes the monks wear is just as common as anything.  We are, after all walking the streets of Boudha, the home of the Great Stupa.  The neighboring streets feed into this focal point of the district and as you enter through its gate, seeing the size of the stupa alone may stun you, and if it doesn’t then maybe it would be the large painted eyes peering out at you from near the top of the structure.  After a deep breath of fragrant incense, you start on the clockwise journey walking the kora and listening to the complex and wonderful sounds that fill the air.

Imagine this complex symphony of sounds:

  • General talking/begging in multitudes of languages
  • People haggling over prices of items
  • Himalayan music played on speakers from the shops
  • Singing bowls
  • The gurgling and flight of the hundreds of pigeons along with the sound of popcorn being thrown onto the ground to feed them
  • Barking dogs
  • The shuffling of hundreds of slippered feet on brick
  • Bells
  • The sliding of wooden pieces (attached to a person’s hand) across the brick as they do prostrations
  • Hundreds of people saying mantras, some may be a whisper, others may be a vocalization, but separately all together they accumulate into a powerful resonance

The complexity of the area surrounding the Stupa is AWEsome.  Not only is it intricate as a visceral experience, but also in the vast amalgamation of cultures and belief systems that reside in the area: Nepali, Tibetan, Sherpa, Indian, Caucasians of all sorts, Buddhists, Hindu, Monks/Nuns of various sects, and so many more.  My mind boggles at all of the apparent differences in culture, but there is a common theme of tenacity, commitment, and graciousness to those walking the kora and walking the path to enlightenment.  These were our patients and our teachers.

I thought a lot about safety while I was there.  Not because I felt unsafe but because I wondered what the crime rate is in an area where concepts of compassion, kindness, and stillness of mind are at the forefront of daily thought.  Prayer is constant there and in the 2 ½ weeks of our visit, there was not a day went by without experiencing some sort of interaction with prayer.  We began our day with a walk around the stupa or a quiet breakfast by the fountain with a Buddha sitting on top and ended our days with a walk by the stupa and then through the monastery.  During these times we would often pass by a person saying their mantra, having a Buddhist philosophical discussion or we would witness the younger monks at the monastery practicing a drum ceremony.  The walking was a relaxing and refreshing way to interact with the complexity of the traditions with which we were just getting acquainted. The constant hum of mantras or the drums of the monks were reminiscent of a subtle deepening and expansion occurring within.  I found myself wanting to say hello to every person I passed because I loved putting my hands together in prayer position and bowing to the other person.  To me it was like a reset button on my soul and it opened my heart to strangers in a new, fearless and humble way.  It allowed me to experience the concept of non-separateness like I have never before.  It helped me feel appreciative for each and every experience with another human being.

The clinic was saturated with grateful people.  Being new practitioners and never having experienced a real life community style acupuncture clinic, Jackie and I were quickly in it- trial by fire.  For various appropriate reasons, Bob and Honora vigorously encouraged us to needle freehanded and taught us some wonderful new techniques to do just that.  The patients were amazingly tolerant even when we were sure to be hurting them while honing this technique, and still they would get off the table and bow over and over again repeating their thanks and return to the clinic in two days for more treatment.  I will never forget the day when we were helping an elderly Ani (nun) walk out of the clinic after her treatment (I believe this was the day that Jackie got to treat her) and she kept bowing repeatedly and then took off her little hat and insisted on putting her forehead to each of our foreheads.  It was a touching moment, literally and figuratively, and again my heart (and eyes) welled up, especially upon learning the significance of the gesture.

Before we left, I believed conceptually that there is no separateness between people.  However, until Nepal I had never experienced this type of connectedness nor had I expected to experience this on such a deep and real level while I was there.  There existed so many moments of synchronicity and deep connection with people and knowing that feeling may wane upon our return home, I loved up every moment of it while I could.  At one point before leaving for Nepal, I remember Honora talking about how traveling to Nepal requires a certain toughness of skin and at the time I believed her to be referring the ability withstand such drastic change of conditions of a sudden decrease in creature comforts and seeing the poverty among the people in a third world country.  I now believe that this toughness of skin is also required to reintegrate into the craziness that exists in our US society.  Going home has been more difficult than the traveling because the mindlessness, ignorance and greed are overwhelming once you’ve had the physical experience of such extremes.  I say that returning to the US from a third world country visit shortly before Christmas is something that every American should experience!  I believe it would return and increase the lasting time of the true ‘Holiday Spirit’ to a larger majority of the country and the money that is spent endlessly on children who tear through their gifts and move onto the next one without even looking at the previous gift would soon be spent on sending Nepali children to school or on building better schools across the globe.  Let us not forget our brothers and sisters around the globe and in our backyards, and let us remember that we can manifest greatness; the potential of the mind and the heart are too significant to ignore and it begins with a few simple acts done in multitudes.

As I reflect on this trip, I will always see the eyes:





A monk’s new socks

Wednesday was an incredibly busy day in clinic. We saw 23 patients between 9a-12:30p alone and then another 10 patients in the afternoon. Apparently it was a record number of patients in one day that the clinic has ever had. At one point we had all four tables filled plus a line of chairs for the knee and shoulder patients. We hit an incredible zone of treating people….and the dance around the small two clinic rooms with eight patients at a time and 5 practitioners was fluid and timeless.
Thursday brought welcome quiet and a more relaxing day with patients. We saw maybe half the numbers as the day before. One of our early patients was a 80 year old monk with severe asthma and joint pain among other things. He walked with a cane and a shuffle, and his breathing is so heavy that it is audible. Dressed in the standard monk wares of robes and slippers, he likes to pat your face as a greeting and every time Honora would ask him a question about his condition, he also liked to share in a dirty joke or two. His breathing is labored but his spirit is light. Jackie and I were busy in the neighboring room assisting treating with Bob as we hear Honora yell across and ask if Bob has an extra pair of socks in his pack. “This man needs socks!” she exclaims. Life is very hard here and add to it that most people don’t have heating. The cold and damp weather penetrates to your bones and it is apparent to us in all the knee pain that we have been treating.
There were no socks on Bob’s pack so Jackie quickly ran up to our room and produced a pair of thick wool socks to the monk by the time he shuffled out to the front door. It was a simple act for her but a great gift to him. A very touching moment for all of us.


A week in review

Week 1 in Boudha is finished and it has been wonderfully productive. It has taken a bit of time to compile my thoughts about all that has happened thus far, and I’m still not sure how to describe this area other than with a few adjectives:
Deeply diverse
Beautiful and yet not
Spiritually Rich

Our clinic this week started out slow but quickly picked up the pace and we ended up seeing somewhere over 60 patients. As is with the diversity of the area in general, the clinic patients are equally diverse. We see many local folk including the monks and nuns that occupy the monastery next door, as well as many “Engies” from North America and Europe. The Engies are especially common right now because of the week long teachings of Choyki Nyima Rinpoche at the White Monastery near by. A common link between all the patients is the extreme appreciation for the treatments they receive. There is such gratitude they show and it seems especially apparent because of the bowing that is common practice for greeting each other. This is a very unique treatment situation because we get to see patients often as much as three times a week. This is something that we will likely not see while treating in America.


As I mentioned, the beginning of the week had a lighter patient load which allowed for us to reorganize the clinic and the herbal pharmacy.


Our space is small but it works well. We have two connected rooms.
Here is a beautiful moment as Jackie treats a nun who was so appreciative. As she left us that day she continually bowed and muttered blessings to us…


Here is Honora teaching one of her unique treatment methods:


While Thanksgiving came and went in the states, we were blessed to be invited to a gathering of Engies at the apartment of a friend of Grainne’s (our fearless leader). Waking out beyond the gates of the great Stupa can be intimidating and overwhelming because of the traffic, both vehicles and pedestrian, and the pollution. Pictures, of course don’t explain well…


It was a lovely evening of community and a very memorable Thanksgiving. Even though there was power load shedding occurring upon our arrival to the gathering, the candle light conversation was still delightful (pun intended).


No Thanksgiving is complete without “hand turkeys”


The area around the stupa is wonderful to explore and is RICH RICH RICH with culture and the spiritual heritage that is Boudha. It really is quite something and still yet cannot be explained. Honora took Jackie and I around to some of the better shops and in doing so ended up sharing some of the depth about the Buddhist traditions. Joined later by Bob, we got quite an amazing tour and teaching, and we shared the Friday sunset on the rooftop of a temple. We are so grateful…


Today we had day one of our pulse reading class. My one descriptive word is AWESOME!!! I am looking forward to practicing looking for these pulses more in clinic next week.

Of course I could post a thousand pictures but I will save some for another time.

Many clowns in a very small car…

Well my faithful travel companion and colleague Jackie and I have arrived on Nepal. With the exception of a momentary confusion lost in translation wherein which we thought our clothes bags were going to be left in Dehli, we had an uneventful trip across the globe. Carrying 5 pieces of luggage and 2 backpacks, we were grateful to easily pass through customs with 100+ pounds of granular herbs. Upon meeting up with our Mindful Medicine founder and liaison Grainne, she took us out to begin our fabulous fun filled journey with a circus act called “How to fit 5 pieces of luggage, 2 backpacks and 4 grown adults into a mini-Cooper sized vehicle.” With all of us smashed in the car and two of our largest suitcases on the “top rack,” we set off through the narrow dog and cow filled streets of Kathmandu towards our end destination- the SheChen Medical Clinic (also where we are staying). Without any warning, our ears were suddenly filled with the short scraping and final thud of Jackie’s suitcase crashing to the ground. Our poor taxi driver was mortified and more so because, before he realized it, his three very strong willed DIYS (do it yourself type) passengers charged out of the car almost faster than he did. It only took me a second to start the giggling as I realized the cars and motorcycles are going around us on all sides and he was trying to wrangle us back into the taxi which was as futile as herding cats. He only wanted to move off to the side of the road so he could safely remedy the loading of the luggage but language barriers and stubbornness prevailed and we quickly rearranged into a different stuffing of the car. As we continued on down the road, Jackie and Grainne very quickly got to know each other as they were sandwiched into the backseat with most of the luggage, and my arm felt exuberant with cold from holding on to the suitcase on the top. It was all really quite hilarious!!!

As we got further from the airport and closer to our clinic, the once thickly polluted air thinned into more a tinge of fire smell and the road resembled a four wheel drive track littered with trash piles and dogs along with a few sprinkles of cow. Our pace slowed considerable but we still arrived in quick time and the taxi driver was a fabulous road negotiator despite all that was weighing his car down.

The next morning, we were invited to attend the teachings of the popular Tibetian Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche who happened to be in town at the same time and was conducting a week long seminar. As weren’t able to go in first thing in the morning because we were not attending the full seminar, one of our other colleagues Amanda joined us in a walk to the local Internet cafe (we were anxious to let our families know of our arrival). It was also a wonderful opportunity to meet each other before the work week begun. We headed back to the teachings at their morning break and Grainne introduced us to Choyki Nyima Rinpoche who we found out was her teacher. She had given each of us a kata with which the Rinpoche gave us each a blessing and then allowed us to sit in for the remainder of the morning session. This was such a gift…Thanks Grainne!!!! Especially after we found out that he is her teacher and they have a very special bond. I really enjoyed meeting him. With his big round eyes, and beaming childlike smile, He is the cutest and closest to Yoda that I’ve ever seen. To meet him and hear his teachings, This was a real gift!!!

We are staying on Boudha (Boudha) which has one of the holiest and largest Stupas in Nepal. Similar to many old churches in Europe, this Buddhist temple dominates the skyline and the village has been built around it. I will share more stories and details as we explore further.

Day 1 in the clinic was a gentle pace. We hear that it has been pretty slow but as word that the acupuncturists are back spreads, we anticipate a larger client load. In total we probably saw close to 20 patients between two rooms but this was ok because it allowed us to get orientated to the clinic and the flow. (Amanda and Ferran were with Bob and Jackie and I assisted Honora) We saw mostly pain patients with an occasional internal medicine problem here or there. We got to collaborate on herbal formulas for most patients and of course Jackie and I really loved that!!

More to come…..

Paintball for a Cause


Click here to open the informational flyer:PAINTBALL FLYER

I will be going to Nepal with Mindful Medicine Worldwide as a volunteer acupuncturist. “Mindful Medicine Worldwide is a non-profit organization established in 2009, which seeks to bring long-term integrative health care to people of developing areas, domestically and internationally, by establishing and operating integrative health care clinics. Our professional volunteer practitioners provide medical services and health care education to our patients as well as create sustainable health practices by educating local lay people to be integrative health workers within their communities. Mindful Medicine Worldwide is rooted in a practice of mindfulness, education, research and training” (MMW website 2011)


To donate directly to Mindful Medicine Worldwide (make sure to mention the donation is for AMY CHAVEZ):


Dona Nobis Pacem

Today is blog blast for peace day so I thought I’d contribute a few small words.

Dona Nobis Pacem- Grant Us Peace.

A quote so appropriately given today by Dr. Roger Teel says, “We realize that we are made in the image and nature of our creator to be creators in our own experience and our own personal universe.”

The question then is what are we creating in our lives and how are we creating that? Are we creating chaos by scheduling ourselves accordingly? Are we buying into the fear that is offered to us on a daily basis in the media? I know at times, and sometimes more often than not I do.   Let us not forget that we have a choice in the matter and we can choose peace for ourselves internally and externally. Yes, peace is an inside job. No doubt about it but the question now is “How do we get to peace within?”

With simple repeated CONSCIOUS acts of kindness to another, I believe that we can also accomplish a sense of peace within ourselves.  It is the same concept as “Thoughts are Things.”  So when we are in a moment of internal struggle and/or difficulty, the act of offering kindness to another (some people buy Starbucks for a stranger for example) or the gift of love can be a reset button inside yourself.  Focusing on a conscious peaceful moment with another reminds us that peace exists and because we are thinking about it, we start to believe in the possibilities of peace for ourselves.  The more we think about peace, the more it exists.

So, if we are to be the creator of our experience and our own personal universe, I ask you-what are choosing for your universe today?

For information on my fund raising project read my blog titled “The Word about the Work” or to donate click the link below: