In November 2010, the St. Regis Lhasa Resort opened its doors to guests, boasting 200 luxury rooms, an on-site butler, a spa, numerous restaurants, and countless amenities. This would be considered luxurious in anyplace but in Tibet, a formally independent country occupied by China in 1949. Occupation is no vacation and tourist operators need to understand that business in Tibet is not business as usual.
Under Chinese occupation, Tibetans’ basic human rights are regularly violated, including their internationally recognized right to control their own land and resources. Since 1999, the Chinese government has pursued its â€œWestern Development Plan,â€ encouraging large-scale migration of Chinese settlers into Tibet and extending business opportunities to foreign companies. This plan is intended to help China consolidate control over Tibet and attract foreign direct investment to finance its occupation.
The operation of the St. Regis Lhasa could exacerbate the abuses that Tibetans face unless immediate measures are taken to ensure business is conducted in compliance with their needs and interests.
Students for a Free Tibet has contacted the CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Fritz van Paasschen, and the owners of Â the St. Regis property with our concerns. We requested more information on the St. Regis Lhasaâ€™s operation to determine if this luxury hotel could truly be part of the solution in empowering Tibetans in Tibet, rather than part of the problem in contributing to their further marginalization under Chinese rule.
Discrimination and intimidation tactics on the part of Chinese officials has made it increasingly difficult for Tibetan guides and tour operators to compete with Chinese businesses. In 2010, Dorje Tashi, a successful Tibetan hotelier, was sentenced to life imprisonment following a closed-door trial. Chinese authorities have yet to publicly release the details of his alleged crimes. No tourist operator should collaborate with the Chinese government in repressing the basic rights of Tibetans â€“ or others â€“ and Starwoodâ€™s executives need to think carefully about the implications operating in a conflict zone could have on their brand name and corporate reputation â€“ especially in the event of another popular uprising in Tibet.
Economic development that brings an end to the decades of marginalization and repression suffered at the hands of the Chinese government and respects their right to control this development is welcomed by Tibetans. However, businesses that fail to both address the deep-seated inequalities Tibetans face under Chinese occupation and respect Tibetansâ€™ political, cultural, and religious rights, will only intensify the injustices that Tibetans suffer. The Holiday Inn, British Petroleum, and KFC are amongst the corporations that have canceled their business plans or withdrawn from Tibet after facing intense public campaigns from Tibetan rights organizations.
We hope Starwood and the St. Regis ownersâ€™ will do the right thing.
Tibetans Target Starwoods AGM Over New St. Regis in Lhasa
A Joint Open Letter to Investors of IHG from Free Tibet Campaign and Students for a Free Tibet:
Tibetans and Tibet Supporters Target InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG)â€™s AGM
Read more about this effort led by Free Tibet Campaign:
Hey readers! My name is Elyna. Iâ€™m interning at the SFT headquarters this summer. Just bringing you all up to speed with what weâ€™ve been up to.
If you havenâ€™t already heard of Lhakar (â€œWhite Wednesdayâ€), it is a Tibetan-born, non-violent form of protest that promotes Tibetan culture. Every Wednesday â€“ in honor of the Dalai Lamaâ€™s soul day â€“ Tibetans make a special effort to, essentially, be Tibetan. This summer, Tenzin and I plan to do celebrate Lhakar by spreading awareness regarding the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
Last Wednesday afternoon, I was standing in the middle of Union Square wearing the Tibetan flag as a cape, and a sign around my neck, reading, â€œCHINA: STOP FORCING TIBETAN NOMADS OFF THEIR LANDâ€. It was most certainly not a familiar feeling for me. In fact, I donâ€™t think it was for anyone who passed by me, either, considering how many funny looks I received from the countless New Yorkers passing by. Zaeda and Tenzin wore paper-constructed yak masks along with their flag-cloaks.
I wasnâ€™t even aware of the nomad rights violations taking place in Tibet until the four of us starting researching about it. In 1998, Qi Jingfa, China’sÂ AgricultureÂ Vice Minister, announced â€œall herdsmen are expected to end the nomadic life by the end of the centuryâ€. That goal was not met, but the Chinese government is still doing what they can to force Tibetan nomads â€“ who have lived nomadically for approximately 9,000 years â€“ to settle.
We were able to collect 80 signatures in Union Square supporting Tibetan nomadic rights. Those signatures were signed on postcards, all of which are addressed to Ban Ki-moon, the current secretary general of the United Nations.
Weâ€™re planning on doing something a little more creative with the postcards than just simply mailing them, but thatâ€™s something weâ€™ll keep you updated on. As far as our Lhakar Wednesday goes, Iâ€™d say it was pretty successful. After all, itâ€™s always fun making friends with perfect strangers!
If youâ€™re at all interested in learning more about whatâ€™s happening in the world of Tibetan nomads, visitÂ http://nomadrights.org/ for more information.
For more information on Lhakar, visit http://lhakar.org/.
Mobile phones are playing an increasing role in movements for social change. Since the birth of smart phones, documentation of rights abuses, mobilization, and mass communication have been revolutionized.Â As smart phones get smarter, we have an ever-expanding market of apps to make our work for Tibet more effective.
Apps for Android:
BhoView: Tibetan Text Viewer
BhodView lets you view any Tibetan webpage by using the “Share Via” feature of other apps like Browser, Email or Messaging. Just open a Tibetan website, email, or message and click â€œshare,â€ then select BhodView. A great app for anyone who wants to view Tibetan on their phone. Free.
Congress is an amazing app. Itâ€™s a pocket directory that allows you to quickly get detailed information (including photos and bios) on your members of Congress, and what they’re up to. With Congress you can follow the latest bills and laws, and see floor activity and votes as they happen.
This is the perfect app for Tibet Lobby Day or for becoming more fluent and up-to-date in US congress happenings and info. A must have. Free.
Tibetan News & Music
A great new app which brings Tibetan video newscasts from Voice of America and Radio Free Asia as well as the latest headlines from Phayul.com to your Droid. As an added bonus, Tibetan News & Music also brings you the best new Tibetan music videos. A big shout out to Digital Vajra for developing this. Free.
uTalk is a good app for learning basic Tibetan phrases, numbers, and vocabulary. uTalk has an interestingÂ recording and playback function, although it didnâ€™t prove to be too useful. The word games and quizzes are perfect for a long subway ride. Even without Tibetan font support, uTalk displays Tibetan letters. This is a great app for anyone who wants to learn Tibetan or expand their vocabulary. Price $9.71. Also available for iPhone for $9.99
Beiks Tibetan English Dictionary
The Tibetan-English Dictionary is for both Tibetan speakers who need to look up words in English and English speakers who need to look up words in Tibetan. This was my personal favorite of the Tibetan dictionary apps. This app is not in the Android market. Price $12.95.
English Tibetan Dictionary
English Tibetan Dictionary (Romanized) is travel dictionary to translate English to Tibetan displaying a list of words in Romanized Tibetan. The dictionary also translates from phonetic Tibetan to English. The dictionary has an impressive collection of words but also lacks some basic ones. Price $4.02. Also available for the iPhone for $2.99
Free2Work is an awesome app. Free2Work promotes transparency by rating major brands based on their policies to address this human rights issue. With Free2Work, you can easily find specific Companies, get updates from other activists, see the latest video and photos from the field, and share information. Learn how companies like Nike, Adidas, and Patagonia are rated and how they are improving. Also available for iPhone. Free.
A “Visual Privacy” photo app developed by The Guardian Project with Witness. Obscura Cam detects faces in photos, then protects the identity of the subjects by obstructing their faces. It also removes EXIF metadata from photos. This is a fantastic app and itâ€™s inspiring to see apps head in this direction. A great app for human rights defenders an d activists living under repressive regimes. Free
Orweb: Privacy Browser + Tor
Enhance your privacy, break through firewalls and communicate more safely. Orbot is the official port of Tor to Android. Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Devoloped by the Guardian Project and the great folks at Tor. Find more about Tor for the iPhone here. Free.
Another great app by the Guardian Project. Gibberbot is a secured chat client capable of firewall and filter circumvention, surveillance blocking and end-to-end encryption. Free.
Share instant updates with your friends, favorite organizations, and the world. Twitter has been successfully used for organizing protests, and keeping the world updated as events are happening. It has played a key role in revolutions and freedom struggles. As citizen journalism becomes increasingly important, Twitter is an essential app for any activist. TweetDeck makes it easy to link and post to all your social networks. Twitter and TweetDeck are also available for iPhones. Free
Apps for iPhones
Phayul Newsâ€™s iphone app is a great way to read headlines from the Tibetan world. News is updated hourly Free.
AiCandleÂ is Amnesty Internationalâ€™s iPhone application. Read the latest international human rights news and share news and actions and with your friends, colleagues and fellow activists via Facebook and email. A true activist app. Highly recommended. Free.
Human Rights Watch
This app brings you the weekâ€™s foremost human rights news from around the world as well as Human Rights Watchâ€™s in-depth reports, allowing you to learn more about current challenges and opportunities to create change. Highly recommended. Free.
Last week photos of a brave protest in Ngagrong County in Kham from April 2010 were released by the Central Tibetan Administration.
Especially for those of us who have walked the streets of Tibet, the images of the 3 monks throwing handfuls of pamphlets in the air and waving homemade Tibetan national flags, are both inspiring and chilling.
Whatâ€™s probably most inspiring about the photos and video is the age of the young monks. All under 23, they risked everything to send a message to the Chinese government that Tibetans are not happy under Chinese rule, that Tibetans want the return of the Dalai Lama, and that Tibetâ€™s new generation will take action.
The fate of the four monks, Khu Tashi 22, Tsering Gyaltsen 19, Tsering Wangchuk 22, and Ringzin Dorjee is unknown. The prison where they are being held, their condition, and their harrowing story may never be heard. But their courage, sacrifice, and message was. To Khu, Tsering, Rinzin, and Tsering, we heard your brave cries.
Similarly last week in Kardze, Eastern Tibet, up to 20 monks and nuns staged protests. Like the 4 monks from Ngagrong, their brave sacrifice was heard.
All 17 monks and nuns from Kardze, like the monks from Ngagrong, are part of Tibetâ€™s new generation, a generation of brave, brilliant, and restless youth who feel the “temptation of freedom.”
In March I wrote about how foreigners were banned from traveling to Lhasa, and it seems the authorities are denying entry permits to the Tibet Autonomous Region yet again.
In March, the official (read: Chinese government) reason for the ban was the over-crowding of tourists and extreme weather.Â These were blatant lies, as there were few tourists in Lhasa at the timeâ€”only domestic tourists were allowed permitsâ€”and the weather was sunny, occasionally cloudy and windy.Â The real reason was that the government did not want foreign tourists to view firsthand the current crackdown and the heightened military presence in March, due to fears of potential unrest on the anniversary of the Uprisings of 1959 and 2008
In April, permits were re-issued, and fair-skinned foreign tourists toting heavy cameras began trickling in, trailing their tour guides around the city.Â It had been one month since I had seen any foreigners save the few that I knew lived in Lhasa, and I stared and studied them with the same fascination as the Tibetans, not used to the sight of them.Â A recent news article stated that areas of Sichuan, most likely Ngaba, were closed to tourists in April, following the self-immolation of a monk and the subsequent protests and crackdown in the region.
In May, another politically sensitive anniversary occurred on the 23rdâ€”the 60th anniversary of the signing of the 17-Point Agreement, which China dubs the official day of Tibetâ€™s â€œpeaceful liberation.â€ (read the â€œ17 Points of Disagreementâ€: 60 Years of Chinaâ€™s Failed Policies in Tibet)
It is now June, and the two anniversaries have passed, so why is Tibet yet again closed to foreign tourists? Documents cited the May 23rd anniversary, but it seems more likely that the ban is in response to the upcoming July 1st anniversary of the Communist Partyâ€™s founding.Â Likewise, the recent protests in Inner Mongolia may also have something to do with it:
In May, Beijing told foreigners not to sow unrest in its vast northern region of Inner Mongolia, after rare protests by ethnic Mongolians sparked by the hit-and-run death of a herder garnered international attention.
While blaming foreigners for unrest in Inner Mongolia is flattering, credit must be given where credit is due, and the people of Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and East Turkestan need to be recognized for their brave efforts.
The fact that Tibet is so frequently closed due to fears of potential unrest and heightened military crackdowns is absurd and horrifying.Â March through October is the tourist high season, yet three out of the past four months saw bans on foreign tourists in numerous areas in Tibet. Tour guides who have no work in the winter must toil grueling hours in the high season, making most, if not all of their income in that half of the year. A ban on foreign tourists means that hundreds, potentially thousands of tour guides will be making next to nothing this year.
Right now, Lhasa is being built up into a tourist hot spot, with new luxury hotels like the St. Regis Lhasa Resort and the Intercontinental popping up, along with malls, movie theaters, department stores, and restaurants emerging and vying for tourist dollars.Â The St. Regis Lhasa Resort opened its doors in November, boasting that they are offering training and employment opportunities for local Tibetans, but how can a hotel thrive when there are no tourists?Â They have built it, but no one can come.
How can tourism successfully function in Tibet today? It cannot and it will not until Tibet is a free and independent nation, free of military oppression, economic marginalization, and religious and cultural repression.
Today Meldro Gongkar valley, especially Gyama township, has been ravaged by mining operations that are now owned by China Gold International Resources, a Vancouver-based company partly owned by the Chinese state. The company’s executives are using Canada’s name, reputation, and money to steal copper and gold from Tibetans in Gyama (Ch: Jiama), near Lhasa, Tibet’s capital. Tibetans in Gyama are telling us that China Gold is polluting their rivers and ripping apart their ancestral grasslands.
Tibetans in Gyama sent a petition to Chinese authorities in 2009, a copy of which can be viewed on this page. Scroll down to read a summarized translation of the petition’s contents.
Students for a Free Tibet is calling for divestment from China Gold International Resources and their unconscionable mining project in Tibet. Join the protest and help deter shareholders as well as other Canadian corporations from doing unethical business in Tibet.
TAKE ACTION: We can help by showing global support for this divestment campaign.
1) Send a letter to the President and CEO of China Gold International Resources, Mr. Xin Song.
2) After you send a letter to the CEO, please pick up the phone and call China Gold’s headquarters at +1-604-609-0598 to convey your opposition to mining in Tibet. Helpful talking points are included below.
3) You can also take action by posting a comment on the company’s website here: http://www.chinagoldintl.com/s/SendMessage.asp
GYAMA’S SURVIVAL AT STAKE
As we petitioned many years ago, I would like to state again that in Meldro Gongkar county’s Gyama township, mining operations have shown utter disregard to the grasslands, forests, mountains, rivers, wildlife, environment, local people’s life and livelihood. The mining operations have caused great destruction to our farmlands, mountains and rivers. With factories that contaminated the water, killed many cattle and continues to cause severe damage, causing severe disputes between local Tibetans and Chinese factory workers.
In 2009, June 19th, Nyima Tsering, Passang, Phuntsok, Kalsang Dhondup and other local villagers went to the village and township authorities to appeal that the mining facilities are harming the farmers and damaging the farmland. They were told to go to the facility’s authorities, but they could not find the authorities. In the end the local villagers were so desperate that they blockaded the facility’s trucks to find the company authorities.
A company leader of work unit 18 shouted, “Kill some of the farmers, the price of their life is cheap, so I will pay for it.” Immediately some Chinese factory workers brought sticks and metal beams and started severely beating Nyima Tsering, Passang, Phuntsok and Kalsang Dhondup. The local villagers and Meldro Gongkar county’s policeman Jampa witnessed that Passang and Lobsang were most critically injured. The local people understand that some leaders in the Gyama township’s government are guilty of corruption and embezzlement, receiving bribes from the company.
The mining company’s leaders made some people collaborate with them in their sinister plot to deceive the nation and terrorize the public to achieve their own selfish interests. Following this incident, instead of helping 20 of the beating victims including Phudup, Penchung, Tenzin Dawa, the authorities detained and jailed them for up to a month. Further due to the mining operations, the local population of 4,000 Tibetans in Gyama have been turned into an insignificant and voiceless minority by the nearly 10,000 Chinese miners who have arrived in Gyama only because of the mining operations.
Due to all the problems created for us through the mining operation’s devastation of the rivers and the land and the communal disputes, the villagers finally gathered in front of the facility and protested against the mining authorities. This is how desperate we became.
On May 23, thousands of Southern Mongolians, led by students, took to the streets of Shiliinhot. ProtestsÂ demanding the Chinese government respect the rights of Southern Mongolian herders quickly spread across Southern Mongolia.
Students as young as 12 along with herdsmen held banners reading, “defend the rights of Mongols” and “defend the homeland,” and shouted slogans as they marched to Government offices.
These protests erupted after a 100-ton coal-hauling truck owned by a Chinese company crushed a local herdsman, named Mergen. â€œThese coal-hauling trucks have randomly run over local herdersâ€™ grazing landsâ€¦killing numerous heads of livestockâ€¦ [and] further damaging the already-weakened fragile grassland,â€ wrote theÂ Mongolian blogger Zorigt.
The mass protests by Southern Mongolian students and herdsmen in Shiliinhot andÂ Hohhot have sparked a massive security clampdown. As a result, many universities across Southern Mongolia are under strict curfew andÂ martial law has been imposed.
Chinaâ€™s premier internet search engine Baidu (www.baidu.com) continues to filter information about the protests. Searches related to the protests return no results.
Like in Tibet, Chinese populations now dominate Southern Mongolia’s major cities. Resulting from China’s land divisions, Mongolians now make up only about 17% of the population of Southern Mongolia.
Despite China’s attempts to dilute the Mongolian population by bringing in Han Chinese farmers, Mongolians have held strong in their desires for freedom, human rights, and democracy.
In 2008, the Tibetan uprising rocked the Chinese government’s hold on Tibet and gave birth to a new generation of Tibetan activists. Following the Tibetan uprising, thousands of brave Uyghurs protested in the streets of ÃœrÃ¼mqi for rights and freedom. Will the brave herdsmen and students of Inner Mongolia triumph? Or will China be faced with another long-term freedom struggle?
Is it you, the flame that burns in the middle of a storm?
Is it you, the boat that rocks in the sea?
Is it also you, who offers the torch of life in the darkness of night?
Is it you, where there is no freedom?
Is it also you, who is chained and shackled?
Is it you, who writes history in blood?
Are you a warrior?
Where are your battlefield and the weapons?
Are you a prisoner?
What crimes have you committed?
Is it your sky that the sun shies away from?
Is it your vow to let yourself be silent?
Are these your border guards, the long guns surrounding you?
Freedom is different from restrictions
Because of which you move,
Because of which they tie and bind you, isn’t it?
Isn’t it you who is being murdered?
Isn’t it you who is being arrested?
Isn’t it you who is being tortured?
Why is it that you still want to move?
Do you want to move amidst shadows of guns?
Isn’t it you who can never be cowed down?
Isn’t it you who fiercely burns with passion?
Isn’t it you who marches ahead into history?
Don’t you need to move even more?
Don’t you need to move till the time runs out and the life ends?
This is a road
A recently-completed road
A road that is well traveled
A road of rock mixed with steel, men with demons
A road connecting Beijing and Lhasa
Holy Lhasa is at one end of the road having old dreams
At the other end is Beijing, reading an incomplete plan of action
Between Lhasa and Beijing, this road
Runs like a tongue of a poisonous snake
On this road
The life-soul of Lhasa and its wealth
Is being transported, day and night
Nearby this road
Are terrified wild animals of Tibet
Running, running, dying, dying
This road, like the butcher’s knife,
Drills through the hearts of the mountains
This road, like an axe in the robber’s hand,
Cuts across the chest of Tibet’s grassland
On this road they come, the guests with greedy minds
On this road they run away with the hosts’ wealth
At the end of this road are the satisfied faces of the bosses in Beijing
At the other end are dusty faces of the people of Lhasa
In the night this road kills my quiet dreams and my sleep
In the daytime it murders my thoughts and drives me restless
Every so often this road boils my heart with anger
Suddenly I Remembered Lhasa
The sound and the vibration of the train
Suddenly shakes the computer
And the fingers do not have control over the words
At such times I suddenly, suddenly
At the end of the railway track
With a moving train
I remember Lhasa
The statues and butter lamps of Tsuglakhang
The golden roofs of the Potala Palace
Even the faces of the old women on the road
Flashes like the computer facing me
Anyone remembers them
With sounds of trains coming and going
Ah how remembering Lhasa suddenly
Is like remembering to get up
And shout out in freedom.
A Secret Petition to the Government Penned in a Computer
One dead body, ten dead bodies, one hundred dead bodies, one thousand dead bodies
One news, ten news, one hundred news, one thousand news
truth – 0, false – 9, truth – 20, false – 900
Red hands that take out the innards
If you are not on our side punish us
Black boots that crush heads
If you don’t understand then just imprison
freedom, harmony, equality, democracy
open the door, open the constitution and look inside
freedom? harmony? equality? democracy?
My government, if you suspect that your faces will burn with brightness
Accuse me of everything and punish me
Because I am your citizen,
Like a bird that flocks to the cliffs
I am a loyal citizen who will say ‘yes’ to everything you say.
Monologue In Hell
Today, if the radiant hands scratch the face of darkness
Tomorrow, will the world of dawn lift from amidst the darkness
If a few ready-to-gallop horses
Went missing along with their saddles and reins
Is there any horse owner who is ready to point at the thief?
If a well-planned wolf jumps onto the shepherdâ€™s dog
The unarmed shepherd, of course, can loudly shout out everywhere
Donâ€™t lie when the ears are listening to the truth
When the able eyes are watching do not create disharmony
The people are watching you, even the natural world is sighing at you
Even though I do not own the five physical senses
And the five meanings and six vessels are stolen
I permanently own the five pure visions of the senses
Long live freedom, long live nationality
Long live truth, love live democracy
Long live the blood that runs in my veins
Long live! Long live!
Prisoner in Hell
Hell is a fortress made from iron and steel
A doorless fortress of shackles and handcuffs
Freedom-loving people are the prisoners of this fortress
Or they are criminals seeing the darkness of the hell
These people have fallen to the darkness of hell wanting to see freedom
They are the ones who blew vapour from their mouths outside the door
They are the ones who raised their fists up in the air
However, according to the decree from the hell
Each of them are considered criminals in prison shackled and handcuffed
The crime they are accused of is â€˜love for freedomâ€™
Mother says amongst the prisoners is
A very young kid brother of mine
The youngest prisoner in the world
If the crime that this kid has committed is not made
When he was piling stones to play with
Then this kid is truly an innocent kid
Freedom, equality, democracy, livelihood
One prisoner, two prisoners, three prisoners, four prisoners
Hell is really a hell
Freedom, equality, democracy, livelihood
Will there come a time when everyone will be free from the fortress of hell
News from Hell
Because of intense cold wind in hell
Those in hell experience disturbance in the temperature
Many in hell suffer from diseases
Yet, the news from hell is always fine and good
The news from hell is a newspaper
A newspaper that has lost the word â€˜democracyâ€™
A newspaper filled with secret numbers and —
Under the volatile weather of the hell
The hellâ€™s news comes as a medical prescription to those who are suffering from cold
Prescription that charges money but gives no medicine
A prescription with stamp of approval from the authorities
News from the hell is contagious
That is transmitted through peopleâ€™s mouths and ears
Those who suffer from this disease are servants in the hellÂ
The hell is basically a sick person carrying his shit in his pants
Isnâ€™t the newspaper in hell that paper which one uses to wipe oneâ€™s bottom?
Speakers included well known democracy activists along with others who have taken part in the 1989 protests in Beijing. Fang Zheng and Xu Liping are people who survived Tiananmen but not without losing their limbs and their family. Both were in attendance today, and spoke movingly about their experiences. Both SFT and Tibetan Youth Congress were there to represent Tibetan support for the Chinese democracy movement.
Today Beijing remains the single-biggest enemy of freedom worldwide. From Tibet to East Turkestan to Southern Mongolia, from Burma to Sudan to North Korea, China’s top export is not shoes or electronics but oppression! Appeasement of Beijing raises the global freedom deficit. So it’s indeed everyone’s business to root for Chinese democracy.
By Josh Schrei
I set the intention of running the Jemez Mountain 50k trail marathon last October. I had recently returned from a series of devastating mudslides in Ladakh, India where over 1,000 people lost their lives. I came back in a difficult place, needing some time to heal and reconnect with friends and family. I also came back keenly aware of the preciousness of this life, and with a renewed sense of what is possible for the human being, how much brilliant potential we carry around with us every day. The heart of the yogic traditions and practice that I’ve studied for years is the systematic and total transformation of the human individual. If there’s one thing my time in India last year taught me, it’s that this transformation is not a lofty ideal — it is a real, tangible, thing. After years of somewhat non-committal practice in which the transformation of myself remained a ‘nice idea’, I felt it was time to put all the concepts into actual practice and, more importantly, I felt a clear path to do so.
From the beginning, when I set the intention of running this race — the first race of its kind that I’ve ever run — I set goals. Personal goals, fundraising goals for my beloved charity, Students for a Free Tibet, and, of course…. the ultimate goal.
My personal goal was always to finish the race top ten in my age group. For my first ultra, I decided this would be a good measure of success. I’d never been much of a runner before — though I did grow up hiking and backpacking on the trails of New Mexico — but I knew something of my physical and spiritual potential from my yoga practice, and wanted to deeply challenge myself — not just to finish the race, but to finish strong, stronger than would be expected from a first time marathoner.
The fundraising goal was one I felt achievable — $5,000 in pledges for Students for a Free Tibet.
And of course, the ultimate goal…. winning the race. What if, I asked myself as I began to log some fairly impressive training times, what if by some miracle I could actually win. Although I knew from the start that there were professional trail runners competing in this ultra, and that it was by all counts a very difficult course, I let myself dream of winning, for motivation and inspiration, if nothing else.
In the Tibet movement, we have always had a very one-pointed and somewhat lofty goal — freedom for an entire nation. It is easy sometimes to look at the current situation in Tibet and feel discouraged, to feel that the task is too daunting and that our efforts — since they have not yet resulted in freedom — are falling short of our goal. But our work along the way pays off daily in deeply significant victories. In a sense, we are still at the beginning of the race… and as in any race of significant length, its important that we pace ourselves, that we stop and replenish, that we recognize and celebrate our victories along the way, and that we not overlook the value and significance of each of those little victories. Each of them deeply matter, and each of them move us toward the goal. Our path to freedom is a long one — and although there is a lot of urgency in the Tibet situation, I would like to also suggest that its OK that it is a long path, because that actually works in our favor. We will outlast them. If we are steadfast in our conviction of the rightness of our cause and we pace ourselves for a nice, long ultra run, we will eventually win. They will lag, and we will outlast them.
On race day, I kept a good pace at the back of the leader pack for the first 10 miles to the base of Caballo Peak. I climbed the 2,000 steep vertical feet to the top slowly, still shaking off the cobwebs from the lack of sleep the night before. I had decided that the descent down Caballo would be the first time I would open it up and risk a little real speed. Downhills are my strength — something about having the steep trails of New Mexico in my childhood blood — and after a 10 mile warmup I wanted to start attacking the course a little more. I paused a minute in the gorgeous sunny meadow at the top and popped in my headphones for the first time to give me some extra juice for the run down. One of the race staff made a comment about the other racers she’d seen running with headphones on.
“Yeah,” I grinned. “But I bet they’re not listening to bagpipes.”
I tore down the mountain full speed, flying past racer after racer on the descent. If I could keep this pace on the downhills and keep my energy levels up on the uphills I knew I stood a good chance of breaking the top 20. I screamed around a corner at top velocity, felt my left foot slide out from under me on loose Jemez pebbles, went airborne for a long second in which i registered that there was nowhere I was going to land but on a bed of sharp rocks, and then slammed down hard.
I got up immediately. Both knees and elbows were bruised and bleeding, my left hand was completely numb and immovable, and a lot of the skin of my right forearm was missing. It all hurt like hell, but nothing felt like more than surface scratches and bruises. Until I started to run again and felt a stabbing pain in my right knee. It had landed squarely on a rock and — while there was no twisting or structural damage — it was badly bruised and hurt every time i stepped or moved or tried to bend that leg.
Immediately, I knew that this was going to badly effect my finishing time. I knew that there were still 20 miles left to run. And I knew that with every single step of that 20 long miles I was going to feel that knee screaming at me.
I kept going. To me, looking back on Saturday, this was the defining spiritual breakthrough of this run — not some amazing finishing time, not “winning” which of course was never going to happen on my first ultra — the fact that I kept going. And in keeping going, I learned a lot about myself over the next 20 miles. And I learned a tiny little bit about what we call pain.
In a couple of the pre-race writeups and interviews I referred to drawing on a small amount of the immense strength and courage of Tibetan political prisoners I’d worked with. People like Ngawang Sangdrol, whose steadfastness and perseverance in the face of extreme suffering had been a great inspiration to me. As I labored up the next hill (there’s an immediate 1,200 foot climb after the Caballo descent), shedding all my expectations of a top 10 or top 20 finish, I put my words into action. I visualized the former prisoners I had worked with and I asked them for strength.
As my knee kept telling me in no uncertain terms to immediately stop what I was doing, I repeated to myself — whatever this is, this is not pain. Ngawang Sangdrol — SHE suffered pain. This is nothing. Its not pain. In fact its not even you…. I remembered the Vipassana insight meditation I had practiced, in which you go deep into a sensation, strip away all the external labeling of it, and just dive into what the actual sensation is. And time and time again, as I dove into it, I found it wasn’t as dire as my mind made it out to be. In fact, it was hardly anything at all.
This is your spirit running, I told myself. Your spirit is so much vaster than that little body on the trail. That tiny voice crying out to you from your body, that’s not even you.
Over the hours, as the pain continued and the number of miles I’d logged began to physically wear on me and each step required me to access deeper and deeper reservoirs of determination and strength, I found that I could use all these deep emotions that I have around Tibet and the Tibetan cause to propel me forward. My deep-seated anger at the Chinese government for all they’ve done to the Tibetan people rose to the surface.
However, I quickly discovered that the baser emotions of anger, frustration, rage, and a desire to defeat or to destroy only got me so far. They served as short term fuel. They gave me a quick burst and just as quickly dissipated. What I needed to get me through was far deeper. Serenity. Acceptance. Peace.
I would imagine, that if you asked political prisoners like Sangdrol what kept them going for all those years, it wasn’t anger. In fact, I imagine the angriest of prisoners were probably the first to break. If someone like Sangdrol can be motivated by something far deeper than anger, why can’t we?
At mile 22, I found that peace. Or rather, it found me. I stopped fighting. I got out of the way. And everything shifted.
I crested a ridge and came into an open meadow as the soundtrack from Gladiator kicked in :) and suddenly the pain stopped being pain. It just became the way things were. I accepted it for exactly what it was. And that acceptance gave me strength.
I’m sure you could find a scientific explanation for it involving endorphins and serotonin and the body’s natural pain killers kicking in. But it was more than that. It was something that over the last year I have experienced quite a bit. One of the most important and vital experiences for the human being, and one that gets lost all to frequently in our culture of individual achievement, in which we expect ourselves to forge our way forward with no outside assistance — it was Grace.
There is a place where human effort ends and grace begins. There is a place where we let go and let ourselves be carried by currents far greater and stronger than we are. And in that letting go, we are carried to places more profound than we could have ever gotten through our own effort alone.
In relation to our work for Tibet, I would like to offer the idea that our own effort can only carry us so far. If we rely solely on our effort, we will exhaust ourselves. There are things — most things, in fact — that happen outside of us. Outside our small spheres of control, outside the Chinese government’s tiny manipulations. The gears that are at work in the turning of this world are so much vaster than our minute lives.
Grace is available to us, and will continue to come if we are open to it.
What does this mean in relation to our daily work for Tibet? It doesn’t mean at all that we should let up in our effort — certainly it was a great deal of effort that took me across the finish line and that effort is a necessary aspect of our work. It means in addition to effort, we bring in all the other qualities necessary to running a good, long race. We pace ourselves. We replenish. We ask for help. We let go of doubt and cynicism. We remember the ideals that we are working for involve peace and compassion and we see how that is reflected in our word, our deed, and our lives. And we draw from the immense spiritual resource that the Tibetan culture has to offer us.
In the end, I did not, of course, win the race :) But I did finish top ten in my age group. Together, we raised about $12,000 for SFT. And most importantly for me, I had a moment where I experienced some pretty deep adversity, I immediately readjusted expectations, and I kept going.
These experiences aren’t remarkable — they are what dedicated trail runners go through, all across the world, every time they run. And there’s nothing particularly remarkable about my finishing time. As of today, there are just over three dozen people in the world that have run the Jemez Mountain 50k faster than me. And I can tell you with full conviction that this will be true for exactly 364 more days, so I hope they enjoy it while they can.
Until next time,