12/27/2012 03:11 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2013

A Lesson About Less

Exactly three months ago I was standing in awe in front of the Taj Mahal on one of the first days of what would be an excellent, ego-shifting adventure. It was just a simple vacation booked online at a discount, offered at a time I really longed for one. I couldn't afford a grand holiday with all the trimmings, and I'd found the chance to trek in Nepal for a couple of weeks while also booking an inexpensive side trip to India. Sold!

Opportunities often come to us when we need them most; trouble is, we might not have the means or the courage to take them. It's easier and more comfortable to stick to our routines and not try something that might challenge us. Was I afraid that I'd get a dreaded tummy bug in India, struggle along the trek in Nepal or have a hard time with the morning yoga routines in Kathmandu -- considering I was as limber as a board? Oh yes. But did that stop me from informing my husband that I'd already paid for it so he needed to get leave from work for three weeks and, by the way, ask his parents if they'd take care of our kids while we're gone? No chance.

And with that (you see, he was a bit excited at the prospect, too) we were off.

I could try to describe to you the amazing array of colors we saw in India, the incredibly spicy and sometimes smoking-hot curries we enjoyed, hilarious antics we witnessed along the roads with vagabond troupes and their herds of cattle or buffalo ambling along the highways, as many as 20 people packed into each tiny tuk-tuk, quite a few riding on the rooftops of cars, or whole families perched on one moped or crammed into the back of heaving construction vehicles. My list pales in comparison to the technicolor, real-life version of India. You've just got to see it for yourself. I guess the most awesome thing about the people of India was that despite what we perceived as their having a lack of means, all of them gave us smiles and a wave; they simply were happy. Our Western minds cannot easily grasp the idea that people can be content in life without having "stuff." And Nepal had even more lessons to teach us.

Outside of the chaos of Kathmandu, Nepal's raw, simple beauty helped us forget how bone-tired we were at the end of each day of trekking. Our slim, young porters carried at least 120 pounds or more on their backs, each one singing and laughing as they hopped up and down treacherous stone steps laden with our gear. I carried a tiny daypack loaded only with a camera, toilet paper and water and thought I was about to expire in the sweltering heat! But I'd made a secret pact with myself that I wouldn't complain, not once, along the way; it was a promise that helped me to appreciate and enjoy every step. And so, met at each lodge with little (if any) hot water, sometimes no electricity and an abundance of dal bhat as sustenance, the incredible vistas of the Annapurna Ranges were not lost on me. My husband and I met some wonderful people on the trek with us and we all often discussed the beautiful openness and giving nature of the Nepalese. They had very little but shared their joy with everyone, which was a humbling, warm experience. And I learned from our yogi, who had such patience with his pupils -- it turned out most of us were not yoga and meditation experts after all -- about the art of how to "re-lox, re-lox, re-lox," until those niggling little worries about nothing very important started to melt away.

All well and good for me, but how can a trip I took to India and Nepal help you? Quite frankly, I found it difficult to carry the practices I learned home to my daily grind. Taking a journey to become enlightened seems to provide the answers to the universe at the time, whether on a church camp, family retreat or spa visit. But back in the real world, it's hard to translate those experiences and lessons into school shuttles, work meetings and never-ending to-do lists. Heck, I've been so busy with all of the everyday requirements I set for myself, it's taken me three months to write this!

In a nutshell, I can tell you that taking inventory of what your demands are, personally and professionally, can help you make a clear assessment of what's important and what absolutely is not. You will find expert after expert asserting the value of finding time for meditation or prayer first thing in the morning. Kathmandu Yogi even says it's so. (He also recommends naked yoga in the mornings in full sun, but we don't have to go that far... ahem.) Another thing that is key for me, and possibly you too, is not to think so much about what stuff you either have or don't have. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to live simply. As our family drives along in our 15-year-old car toward our century-old and not-much-updated home, I tell the kids that we have so much more than 99 percent of the world with a roof over our heads, food to eat and something fairly reliable in which to travel.

Life doesn't always work out just as we'd like, but I believe it does happen according to "some plan," whether grand or otherwise. The one thing we can do is remind ourselves to consciously work toward making it the best we can... and let go of the little things that don't actually matter. And when we think of life in that way, especially at the end of another long year, we too have a good reason to smile and wave.

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