Climb Every Continent, Surf Every Ocean
What I learned from my global surf-and-turf challenge.
The rinpoche has staying power. According to his followers' best estimates, he has had at least six incarnations spanning three centuries, and he's been living at Thyangboche for most of the last 100 years. As far as I can tell, he's spent most of that time sitting on a cushion.
It's not every day that you get to talk to someone who's been meditating for 300 years, so I stopped in to ask him the meaning of life. The translator whispered my question to the rinpoche, who paused in deliberation. Finally, he leaned into the ear of the translator and whispered a phrase. I prepared for an epiphany. The translator cleared his throat and said, "He'll get back to you on that."
That evening, I heard rustling outside my tent. I pulled up the flap to find a young monk with a scarf-wrapped bundle from the rinpoche. When I unfolded the scarf, I found a freshly etched amulet.
I rushed to the tent of my Sherpa friend Pemba and asked him for a translation.
"It is written in old language," Pemba responded, "I don't know it."
"What do you mean, 'nobody'? Obviously, the rinpoche knows what it says. He wrote it."
"No, the rinpoche doesn't know. It is very, very old Tibetan from scrolls. Everybody just recites—we don't know what it means."
The next day, Pemba took my amulet and sewed it up tight in a pouch woven from the fabric of a blessed scarf. He explained that I should wear it around my neck and not take it off, even if it itched. I obliged.
Francis Slakey is a professor of physics at Georgetown University and a lobbyist for the American Physical Society. As part of the 2002 Olympic Games, he carried the Olympic torch from the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
Photograph of Francis Slakey by Matt Girard and April Sauerwine.