Reflections on My Time at Conscious Impact
By Ben Perlmutter
Everyone who visits Nepal will remember dal bhat. It’s omnipresent. Most Nepalese people eat this blend of curry, dal (lentil) soup, and rice at least once a day.
At first, this custom might seem a little strange to an outsider. Don’t they get bored of the same dish every single day?
Most tourists will probably get sick of it after a week. I know I did.
But then, after you spend some more time in Nepal, something curious happens. Not only do you get used to eating dhal bhat every day, but it weaves itself into the fabric of your life. It becomes a staple of your diet. You begin to appreciate the nuance in the flavor and you learn no dal bhat is the same. The flavor always remains similar, but every cook adds their own blends of spices to create a unique experience. In my almost three months in Nepal during the spring of 2017, including three weeks at Conscious Impact, I fully converted into a dal bhat lover.
And, dal bhat’s even vegan and gluten free, so there’s no excuse for not eating it!
At Conscious Impact, like everywhere else in Nepal, dal bhat is unavoidable—It’s the lunch every week day, be it served in the camp’s kitchens by Parbati and Pratima or in the home of a local family that volunteers are helping for the day.
Just as dal bhat serves as an essential and idiosyncratic part of Nepalese culture, Conscious Impact has a tradition of its own that has many parallels with dal bhat: the nightly Gratitude.
Every night before eating dinner, all volunteers at Conscious Impact come together and say what they were grateful for that day. The gratitude could be for another volunteer’s helping hand, a special moment shared with a local (I recall Mama getting an especially large number of shout outs), some natural beauty witnessed, or whatever else you might be grateful for that day.
When I first arrived at the Conscious Impact camp, I was taken aback by this tradition.
My only previous experience with pre-meal gratitude was during Thanksgiving dinner right before diving into the turkey. But to do this every night now? I was uncertain. It just seemed…weird.
But, when you have to do something to get your dinner, especially after a long day of plastering an earth-bag house or moving bricks, you do it without much hesitation. Like the repetition of eating dal bhat everyday grew on me, so did Gratitude. Every day’s Gratitude is different yet similar. Each moment and action to merit gratitude is different, but certain themes emerge: appreciation for the kindness of others, wonder at the beauty the natural world present for us, and thankfulness for the food the Earth has given to us and others have prepared. Just as dal bhat’s blend of lentils, curry, and rice provides a template for each cook to enrich with their own nuance and personality, Gratitude repeats on the same themes with the individual spice of the day’s events.
Despite my initial hesitancy towards the idiosyncrasy of Gratitude and daily dal bhat, I learned to love them both. Just because the rest of the world isn’t eating the same meal or expressing their gratitude everyday doesn’t make these traditions bad; they’re just different.
There is something deeply familial about Gratitude. It helps build community in the camp among volunteers who come from many walks of life and are staying with Conscious Impact for varying lengths of time, from a few days to the entire nine-month season.
Gratitude also helps create the atmosphere of positivity that Conscious Impact radiates. By explicitly expressing gratitude every night, the subtext of gratefulness that always underlies daily life becomes explicitly stated. Raising these thoughts to spoken word makes them become more real. The positive things that we think, but might not say in fear of sounding “different” or “awkward,” become the reality of our expression during Gratitude.
Furthermore, having to come up with something that we’re grateful for every night makes us think about what we’re going to mention during Gratitude during the day. The idea of gratefulness becomes a constant thought throughout the day. The value of gratitude—for a person, the gifts of earth, or any and everything else—raises itself in our consciousness and permeates all our interaction.
That Conscious Impact dares to be different, with traditions like Gratitude, helps make it a truly special place in the world. Things at Conscious Impact, like so much in Nepal, operate a little differently from the rest of the world. You live in tents, not houses; you choose what work you do each day, it’s not chosen for you; and bricks are made of earth, not clay.
I only got to spend three weeks volunteering at Conscious Impact before I was pulled back to the world of lower altitudes, being woken up by car horns not chickens, sit-down toilets, and a lack of dal bhat. Those three weeks at Conscious Impact, however, were some of the most—well—impactful days of my life.
While I’m not expressing my gratitude every night anymore, my gratefulness for the time I got to spend at Conscious Impact persists. I’m grateful for the friends I made there, some of whom I still talk to over a year later. I still regularly think about natural beauty of Takure, from the snow-capped mountains in the distance to the exotic flora and fauna we got to interact with on a daily basis. I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to help such a kind and welcoming community recover from the traumas of the 2015 earthquake. And, all of this was done in a manner that respects our planet and helps people live sustainably with it.
Conscious Impact is special. While the wifi at the camp may not have been fast enough to stream Netflix (although for rural Nepal, it really wasn’t too bad!) and the showers colder than I would have liked, it didn’t really matter. The trappings that can define so much of modern life and the values that come with it become less important at Conscious Impact.
Who needs wifi and hot water when you have dal bhat every day and Gratitude every night?
Photos taken by Antoine Maes, George Blower, and Yann Delalay.