A Spiritual Gangster’s Paradise

There is so much traffic clogging the main streets of Dehradun that there is surprisingly no room for cows to share the road in this northern Indian city, and due to sidewalk inconsistency, one has to take extra caution when walking to places in order to stay safe from the incessant stream of cars that are either whizzing by early in the morning or standing still during most of the day. Oddly enough, Dehradun is ranked one of the safest pedestrian cities in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, but I beg to differ. Not high on my recommendation list of must see Indian cities for international tourists, Dehradun is nonetheless a place of academia, where many students from around the country attend universities of varying subjects. The feeling of the people is thus young, intellectual, down to earth, and polite. However, we did not come to Dehradun to be tourists, or students rather, but we were here to give chiropractic care to a community of Tibetan refugees under the leadership of our chiropractic guru, Dr. Rebecca Nystrom, and under the guidance of a very unique and special Tibetan Lama, Lama Tenzin.

Dr. Nystrom has been a practicing chiropractor for over thirty years in California, and to the outsider who doesn’t know her, she might seem like any ordinary person. On the contrary, Dr. Nystrom is an intuitive powerhouse, full of fire and wisdom, passion and grace, compassion and knowledge. She is an artist in every sense of the word, and watching her work is witnessing Mastery at the highest level. She is a true American Guru, and it is a great honor for us to be lifelong pupils of hers.

Lama Tenzin may at first seem unassuming with his hair shaved off, dressed in the only clothes that he will ever wear: a simple red robe that is commonly worn by Tibetan monks known as a kasaya. The life of most monks and lamas is usually somewhat recluse, spending the majority of their time tucked away in a monastery deep in prayer and meditation. Lama Tenzin is a bit of a rebel, and even as a very young man he felt compelled towards exterior action to change the world. Knowing that the secluded monastery life was not for him, Lama Tenzin set foot into the Dolpo region (a very barren and isolated area extremely high up in the mountains of Nepal bordering Tibet) over twenty years ago on a rescue mission. Lama Tenzin and his brother drove his car to where the road ended, walked twenty-five days over snow covered mountain passes into several secluded villages with a pair of yaks, and rescued five young children who were all but abandoned by the local villagers. A superstitious culture by nature, those that inhabit the Dolpo region will often reject children if they have any physical or mental deformities, or if a child was born out of wedlock or without consent, because they believe these children may be bad omens and will bring ill tidings to the village. Some of the children rescued were living outside in animal pens, suffering of significant malnutrition and anthrax. Lama Tenzin took these children and traveled back with them through the Dolpo Region, walking another twenty-five days, some of them on top of the yaks and some on Lama Tenzin and his brother’s backs, and brought them back to his small studio apartment in Dehradun, where the Children’s Education and Development (CED) Orphanage was born.

Fast forward over twenty years, and at this point Lama Tenzin has made many trips to the Dolpo Region, growing CED’s numbers to over thirty Himalayan kids. It’s an overcast chilly morning in Dehradun, I’m standing outside the hotel getting ready to go to our first adjusting destination, and I am greeted by Sonam and Karma, two of the original five that were rescued by Lama Tenzin over twenty years ago. They are both in their early twenties now, can speak at least three languages including their mother Tibetan tongue as well as fluent English, and are both at least midway through finishing their university degrees. I didn’t get very far in conversation with Sonam and Karma before I had to fight back the tears thinking about their life stories, the hardships they endured and overcame, and how Lama Tenzin had helped transform them into the inspirational world citizens that were now standing before me. Lama Tenzin is not an unassuming holy man in a red robe. He’s a rebel, a spiritual gangster, and the stuff that true heroes are made of. We had entered his paradise, and all his little superhero kids were there to assist and interpret for us chiropractors during our time in Dehradun. Lama Tenzin and Dr. Nystrom’s colorful friendship began years ago in California, and this is now Dr. Nystrom’s fifth Chiropractic service trip here in Dehradun in the last ten years.

As we piled onto the bus that first morning with our tables, we knew that our mission was going to be challenging, at times exhausting, but extremely rewarding. Our daily agenda was packed with four different adjusting stops all organized by Lama Tenzin: the Tibetan Women’s Shelter, a Tibetan home for seniors, another Tibetan community that we referred to as “The Mountain Village”, and lastly the CED Orphanage. For ten consecutive days straight through the New Year, with only one day off in the middle, we continued this routine, and in doing so, got the opportunity to adjust many different people. Sonam, Karma, and several other of Lama Tenzin’s elder kids were by our side the entire time, carrying and setting up our tables, as well as assisting us with our adjustments and translating, while Sam, another elder kid, quietly and artistically photographed all of us while we worked. In contrast to most chiropractic mission trips, including our previous trip in Delhi, where patients stand in a line for hours to get adjusted usually only one time and then are never seen again, the format of this trip allowed for multiple visits between patient and chiropractor. Chiropractic care, like many things, generally requires a period of time to adjust, integrate, re-adjust, and re-integrate in order to allow for long term healing and lasting change to occur. It was quite rewarding to have feedback from our patients at the next visit, and to watch the positive results of each consecutive visit as their care progressed.

The CED Orphanage is a special and rare site to see. As we exited the bus after pulling into the gates of the property, we were greeted by many children of differing ages, all smiling ear to ear as they gave us hugs and handshakes at our first meet and greet. There was a mini basketball court in the front where I would play my first game of pickup basketball in over fifteen years with four of the Tibetan children. Walking in through the front door, we entered into a covered courtyard area, bordered on the perimeter by all of the childrens’ bedrooms. The children enveloped us with their kindness and curiosity in a circle around us, as we sipped hot chai from our mugs, laughing and conversing with all of our new friends. After finishing our chai, we set all of our tables up and adjusted all of the children and all of the staff. We learned that the Tibetan children start each day with a thirty minute meditation practice, starting at 4:30AM! What amazed us most was how thirty children ranging from babies to young adults could live together under this one roof so peacefully and love so easily. They were always in small groups, hugging, smiling, laughing, and taking pictures together. Their destinies were brought together to this one place because of Lama Tenzin’s vision and dedication, and we were bearing witness to this incredible bond of sisterhood and brotherhood. On New Year’s Eve, after finishing with our adjusting session, the children at the CED orphanage put on a surprise talent show for us, filled with singing and dance, followed by a cake party.

The basic premise of chiropractic is the same for all people, young and old, of any creed or color: address the body in a very specific way so as to minimize nervous system interference, allowing the patient to express maximum life potential. Within each individual human frame lies their life story, and while there are a myriad of different variables and considerations involved when adjusting a small child at the CED Orphanage versus adjusting an elderly adult at the home for seniors, there was something very similar but bittersweet about adjusting this group of Tibetan refugees. We could all feel it, and we knew it in our hearts: we were adjusting a dying culture of people, people who no longer had a permanent home, people who had to escape their mother land because they were being exterminated by an empire and were thus left culturally abandoned, and children who were rejected by their families. As neutral as we try to be as chiropractors, we are still human, and we feel the great sadness of a fallen people. And yet, as we got to know these people more each day, we were constantly surrounded by their unconditional kindness, dormant in the souls of many Westerners, but seemingly stitched into the DNA of these displaced Tibetans. Their ancient smiles reflect the deep wisdom that lies in that kindness…it’s like that empire could take away these people’s land, and they can and have displaced their own spirits in doing so, but they could not rob them of that kindness. Those colorful Tibetan prayer flags waving in the wind have taken on a much deeper and more significant meaning now whenever I think about the people of Tibet. They may not get their homeland back anytime soon, and although their numbers continue to dwindle in Tibet, my heart is filled with hope and inspiration for the survival of their culture knowing that people like Lama Tenzin and his young Tibetan All-Stars are here in Dehradun, slowly growing in numbers, and forever radiating with everlasting kindness.

We’d like to extend a special thank you to Dr. Nystrom, for all of her leadership, her mentorship, and most importantly her constant fountain of inspiration. Thank you for making this priceless experience possible…we have so much love and appreciation for you!

(Additional thanks to Sam Gurung, Katy Kautz Smith, Rhiana Wiggins, and Miriam Hashemi for your generous photo contributions!)

4 thoughts on “A Spiritual Gangster’s Paradise

    1. Thank you Yael! This trip was pretty significant for both of us and touched some deep heart cords. It will forever influence future service work that we do outside the USA. Thanks for reading and I’m happy you were so drawn in:)

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