Human to Human, Heart to Heart

by Daniel Hertz

I have encountered numerous situations throughout life that seemed senseless.  Some things are without logic and simply don’t have an easy way of understanding them. I turned 60 years old two weeks ago. Even at this age, there are still many things in the world I don’t understand. I experienced one of these situations on a recent trip. My wife and I traveled from Beijing, China, to Lhasa, Tibet, by train. It took about 6 days to travel the 3598 Km (2236 miles). The last 24 hours were on a train from Xining to Lhasa. The line includes the Tanggula Pass, which, at 5,072 m (16,640 feet) above sea level, is the world's highest point on a railway.

I was concerned about the altitude and how I would react to it. As it turned out, this was a real concern. The train ride began at 2:00 PM.  The elevation at the start, in Xining, was 7464 feet (2275 meters). This was a comfortable altitude for me. By 10:00 PM the train had climbed to 9000 feet and I was still feeling fine. But from that point on, the train continued to ascend.  By the time we arrived in Lhasa I hadn’t slept at all and had all the classic symptoms of severe altitude sickness.   The common symptoms include dizziness, light-headedness, headache, difficulty sleeping, nausea, and vomiting.  I started crying as I exited the train and took my first step in Lhasa. I was very woozy and extremely nauseous. My wife had to wheel my luggage and assist me with walking. For the rest of the day I vomited everything that I took in my mouth, even a sip of water. But I was not crying because of all the physical problems.

I was crying as I exited the train because I was saddened to see that Lhasa, the former home of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was now a Chinese city. He fled the city in 1959 and has been traveling the world ever since, never able to return to Tibet. I had known about this situation for a long time. As a School Counselor in the Minneapolis Public Schools, I had worked with many Tibetan refugees on their arrival to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the mid-90s.   It is one thing to be told that something happened and another thing to see it with your own eyes. Their struggles and the Global Diaspora of the Tibetan people became much clearer and closer to me when I saw Lhasa in person.    

The hotel we stayed in had a medical clinic which offered oxygen and other treatment for my altitude symptoms. The next day I felt much better and was able to see the spectacular and stunning Potala Palace, which had been home to various Dalai Lamas from 1645 until 1959. A previous Tibetan palace was said to have been built on the same site in the 7th century.  I couldn’t stop looking at it and admiring its beauty. I had seen pictures of the palace before, but there is something indescribably special about it when seen in person. It is now a very well maintained World Heritage site that is set up for tourists.  I don’t understand all the history and politics, but I could clearly see the red Chinese flag flying on top of it.

When our trip ended several days later, we returned to Minneapolis. One week after our return, we discovered that the Dalai Lama would be speaking at the Minneapolis Convention Center. We bought tickets and went to see him speak. Most of the auditorium was filled with the 3000 Tibetan refugees who are living in the area. Seeing His Holiness speak felt like a bookend to our trip. But it also caused confusion and consternation for me.

I was able to travel freely to and from Tibet, but the Tibetan refugees in Minneapolis could not return to their homeland. The Tibetans we met in Tibet had never seen their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and could not travel to Dharamsala, India, to see him. They were not even allowed to have a picture of him. We could freely see the Dalai Lama, wherever he was speaking. It did not make sense to me that I had the privilege to do all these things, whereas some of Tibetan origin could not. Yes, there are political reasons, and yes, I was born in a different country. But on a human to human, heart to heart level, it still didn’t make sense to me.

When we started our trip to Lhasa I didn’t realize I was on a spiritual pilgrimage. But I sure did by the time we arrived. It hit me in the core of my being. What kind of a world do we live in? When will we learn to treat humans as humans and stop separating people by country of origin, religion, and political power? 

Perhaps there will always be things in the world that are confusing and difficult to understand. As long as I am here, I will continue to try and make sense of these seemingly senseless things. My hope is that someday we humans on the planet will learn how to overcome all these obstacles.

Editor’s Note:

Daniel Hertz, MS, BCB, E-RYT 500, is on the faculty of The Meditation Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. He is the author of two books, including Swami Hari: I am a simple forest monk. All profits from the sale of the books go to SRIVERM, the needy school in the remote Himalayas founded by Swami Hari. Both books are available world-wide on Amazon. More information on the books can be found at this website: https://danielhertzbooks.wordpress.com/ .



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