Reflections on Nepal: Letting Go

It seems I have to learn the same lesson again and again: that when things don’t go how you expect—when you are beset by a sense of failure—you need to take a deep breath and let it go.  Buddhists call it detachment.

I learned that lesson in my forties when I gave up the frenzied and utterly goal-oriented life of a Wall Street banker to sail around the world in a small boat. During the years on that boat, where the essentials of life—wind and weather—were completely out of my control, I developed a profound appreciation for living in the moment, for a life in which failure wasn’t even an option. 

But trekking in the Himalayas in September, I forgot everything I’d learned.  I expected a challenge.  Thin air. Unfamiliar foods. Primitive accommodations. But I’ve dealt with all those things many times before. I assumed my body would cope, so my eye and my spirit could be nurtured as I climbed through the spectacularly beautiful and remote Khumbu region of Nepal.

For a time, things went according to plan. I didn’t get altitude sickness.  My personal plumbing worked fine. I enjoyed the Tibetan dishes our Sherpas prepared, especially the curried vegetables. But one day, I realized I was bone tired in a way I’d never been before.  I hadn’t actually observed anything of my environment in days. 

Why? The rough and irregular trails that never allowed me to take my eye off where my foot would land?  My age, twenty years more than when I last set out on a physically arduous adventure?

Neither. The simple fact was that I’d succumbed to the goal of reaching 20,000 feet, much as I had once succumbed the Wall Street goal of making a lot of money. Now, at only 15,500 feet, I knew I’d allowed myself to be driven to the point of exhaustion by a goal that ultimately didn’t matter. 

That realization didn’t change my overwhelming sense of failure. 

When I finally acknowledged I couldn’t go on, several others in the group admitted it as well. We renegades headed down with a Sherpa, at our own pace. For the first time in ten days, I could reflect on the beauty of the snow-capped mountains towering over us, contemplate the magic of the mid-day clouds below us, honor the ancient tradition of walking clockwise around Buddhist stupas.  

Once I let go of a meaningless goal, my trek in the Himalayas became a magical journey. 

The kind of journey it should have been all along!


  1. Isn’t it true how we can find the inner calmness we desire, and then without noticing lose it?
    I enjoyed reading your blog posts, as well as the exerpt from your book, Sailing Down the Moonbeam. I sailed the South Pacific in the 1980s and found Tonga to be the most delightful place. My two co-authors and I have written about some of our experiences there in our first book of memoirs, Beer in the Bilges, Sailing Adventures in the South Pacific, and will highlight more of them in the next one. Since that time I too have found that being goal-oriented leads to an unbalanced outlook.
    Travel helps me to find my center again, and writing about it is like therapy. My latest therapy is an article in the Canadian Teacher Magazine called Into the Red Centre, a description of traveling to Uluru in Australia.
    I look forward to reading more of your experiences.

  2. Alan .. Thanks for that lovely note … makes me wonder if our paths ever crossed. I’ve just ordered your book for Kindle … hoping it will be a bit of a walk down memory lane. You might find mine (SAILING DOWN THE MOONBEAM) will trigger some nostalgia on your part. And I should check out your article, as I lived in Australia for five years and loved Uluru. Do you have blog?

    • Alan Boreham says

      I hope you will enjoy Beer in the Bilges and will not be bothered by the salty language. It is the first of three memoirs that will span the Pacific.
      I have ordered Sailing Down the Moonbeam in paperback because my Kobo isn’t compatible with Nook or Kindle versions. It won’t be delivered for a week, which is too bad because I would love to have it to read on my trip to Hawaii in a few says. We are kicking off our publicity campaign in Honolulu where so many important events in the book took place.

      I have been writing travel articles for Canadian Teacher Magazine since 2008 and have collected some of them in a travel blog. Here is the url: .

      My two co-authors and I are social media newbies, and have just entered the online world with Beer in the Bilges. Here is our blog address: . We are enjoying sharing with friends on the facebook site as well, and learning so much about social media from people like you! We will have our website ( up and going within a few weeks.

      I look forward to reading Sailing Down the Moonbeam and following your tweets!


  3. Amazing, and I thought it all ended after Lin and Larry! It is a time-honored tradition, that the way down the mountain is the time for enjoying the scenery! Thanks for the story and the images.

    • Lin and Larry Pardey? read everything they wrote back in the day …. And nice to know that my experience is consistent with mountain climbing lore … are you a climber. Glad you enjoyed the piece and thanks for taking the time to say so!

  4. Don’t ever forget how amazing it is to be you, to have been you, and probably to be you in the future. Your stories go so far beyond entertainment that I just marvel. I’m glad you were able to breathe in some of that high-altitude culture.

    • Ron … how nice to see you in yet another venue. I’ve been very lucky to have some of these experiences, and I’m glad you’re enjoying my stories. I’m following your progress as well!

  5. So true, Mary. We get so trapped in self-imposed goals that deprive us of the joy of the moment – and experiences that open new doorways we hadn’t seen with all our planning. But I’m smiling while I write this because when I read your wonderful book Sailing Down the Moonbeam I discovered we’re the same age. No way I could get to 15,000 feet (: Kudos to you!

    • Joan … it seems you’ve been there … being trapped in self-imposed goals. I keep thinking that I’ve finally managed to see the light, and then I do it all over again. But for sure I won’t try for 15,000 feet again. And thanks for the kind words about Moonbeam!

  6. I appreciate your insights, Mary. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I don’t know you, Mary, nor do I know those who have commented, but thank you for this moment of honest connection between “writers” and a reader.

  8. Lloyd … thanks for taking the time to note your appreciation … am wondering what exactly the “connection” was for you?

    • Lloyd (#2) …. finally had time to check out your website, and the excerpt from Experiencing the Mystery of Life (now on my TBR list). I have a sense of why this resonated with you. You might enjoy the guest blog I did for J. A. Beard on sailing as a metaphor for life (

  9. Hi Mary, Love the way you use your mountain climbing experience in Nepal as a metaphor for knowing when to give up and start seeing the beauty around you. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize one’s limitations. In this goal-oriented, over -competitive society, it’s important to know the difference between what matters and what doesn’t.

    • Penelope … it sounds like you’ve been there … it never ceases to amaze me how we have to keep learning the same lessons over and over …. thanks for taking the time to comment!

    • #2

      Penelope … just checked your website … sorry that you stopped blogging, as I liked what I read. What are you doing now?

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