Miteri: What it means to me -Trina Bhattarai
The philosophy of Miteri emphasizes on living together harmoniously and mindfully. Radha Paudel, activist and author, pieced the philosophy together after surviving the trauma of Jumla attack in 2001 and while volunteering in the region afterwards. According to her, “Miteri is an ancient indigenous practice across Nepal regardless of caste, class, region, religion where mutual love and respect operate beyond blood and marriage relationship for the goal of living in togetherness. The birthplace and situation of an individual is not by choice. Miteri is a proven tool for peace and justice by connecting people from various strata and levels, reflecting and rethinking the deeds in past and encourage people to seek the reason of being born as human being in this wonderful world.”Jumla is a wonderful place to realize the meaning of Miteri– the life-style, the people and scenery all allow a person to ponder not only one’s existence but also existing among others. Or so was my experience.
I went to Jumla to mainly learn what the health-care and education looked like in poor and rural areas of Nepal. However, in this journey I learned so much more than what I had set out to learn. Jumla provided me with amazing introspection that I had denied myself for many years. It was easier to distract myself with the empty busyness of my western life, than to think about personal goals and morality. To put it in over-used terms, Jumla allowed me to actually stop and smell the roses. At first, transitioning from the comforts of the U.S life to minimalist living in Jumla was unsettling to the say the least. Walking up to my host-family’s house, I felt my mind freeze with anxiety. I doubted my strength to stay at such location for a whole month. However, I put my mind at ease by focusing on the beautiful scenery around me. The house was made of mud, lacked running water and windows, but it was amidst raw and beautiful nature. It overlooked a deep ravine, and I could even make out the mountains in the back. The hills were dark green had scatterings of cattle lazily grazing throughout the day. I made a note to myself to soak in the beauty. If I was to part with air-conditioner, phones, internet and hot showers, then I needed to actively appreciate what is around me. In fact, there was a lot around me to be appreciated. Without internet, laptop or TV, I had time to reflect on myself and my surrounding. To maximize my reflection, I also started journaling my thoughts and my activities. When I just sat, and marveled at my enchanting surrounding, I fell in love. Once in love, it is obviously very difficult not to care! It is such a simple but crucial aspect of the Miteri philosophy. Stop. Reflect. ENJOY. When one takes the time to engage themselves and become vulnerable in nature or whatever surrounding, then that is when one starts caring. Miteri philosophy applies to respecting nature and caring about the environment. Living in peace includes being in equilibrium in nature.
The Miteri philosophy asks to love and respect everyone despite their background, but truly loving another cannot be done without loving oneself first. For me, loving myself meant giving myself time to ruminate on my feelings so I can understand them and then move forward. Loving myself also meant accepting my flaws, inside and outside. It is what it is. I fell into this habit in Jumla because there were no mirrors in the house. Here, I wasn’t forced to look at myself in the mirror every time I washed my hands, went to the bathroom or turned the corner, unlike most U.S homes. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to not care about how I looked when there were no mirrors around. I lost my vanity just like that. The more I devalued outer beauty, the more value I placed on inner. This is when I began questioning my morality and my involvement with the world around me. I enjoyed this! It made me feel proud to finally feel like I am becoming the person I always wished to be.
Loving myself probably came easier because I was also shown so much love in Jumla. I was amazed with the kindness my host-family and the community showed me. At the time of my visit, the family consisted of Keshav Dai (brother), his wife (bhauju), his son (Omkar), his brother, his sister (Laxmi) and her daughter (Pratima). When I arrived, I was led to the living room area swarming with flies. I couldn’t believe that people have to live this way. Yet, everyone had big smiles on their faces. They were happy to share what they owned. I believe this is a rare quality in this world, not a lot of people are eager to adopt a stranger into their home and treat them as their own. My host family sincerely loved me, and wanted the best for me. I found it so overwhelmingly amazing. I was later led to my room, a small windowless area where I had to bow my head to avoid hitting my head. Towards the end of my stay, I learned that they had offered me the best room in the house. The room was all for myself too. Everyone else shared a bed, and had worse conditions to sleep in. Keshav and his wife slept on the floor. I have never felt so respected and honored, and from those feeling rose my own unconditional love for that family. As Radha didi talked to me about the Miteri philosophy, this instant popped in my head. In order to live harmoniously amongst other, everyone needs to respect and love each other as human being. I do not know if Keshav’s family treated me kindly because I was an educated foreigner, but I truly believe that they would behave similarly with any of their guests despite education, ethnicity or status. His family adopted me as a sister, and I was beaming to belong to such a family. I wondered why most people in Kathmandu and in the U.S hesitate to immediately become close and vulnerable with people. It struck me that most people in westernized society are too immersed in materialism to enjoy the company of human beings. That might sound extreme, but there is truth to it. There is an emphasis in western culture on independence, and “yours” vs “mine” concept that deters people from appreciating and immersing in togetherness. The family in Jumla struggled with money, but they had happiness in community and people. When people in western cultures struggle with money, then there is difficulty seen in deriving happiness from family and community.
Miteri applies to micro (self, family, community) situation and macro (society, country, world) situation. The concept embodies a non-violent peace movement because its foundation consists of respect, love and mindfulness. Violence does not even come into equation when respect and love are evolved. Radha Didi (sister) always says that lack of war does not necessarily mean there is peace in the community. Peace includes lack of violence but also includes equality, education, nutrition and health. So how can we use Miteri concept to achieve this meaning of peace? We must come back to the meaning of Miteri– equality despite race, ethnicity, background, education, caste or status, and love, respect and mindfulness for everything. With this concept in mind, people have a mantra to reflect when facing various conflicts whether its conflicts in work, family, community or politics. While fighting for social causes, Miteri advocates respecting and loving the opposing force while trying to understand them. Debates and disagreements can only be settled when people act in love and understanding. Otherwise, they’re bound to give rise to hatred and resentment. Therefore, Miteri is a non-violent peace movement. Miteri recognizes every human as equal. If one child receives world class education in one region, then it is unjust for another to be in an education-standstill due to the poor education quality. This is what I witnessed in Nepal. Schools in Kathmandu were providing children with innovative, competitive education, while some middle-schoolers in Jumla don’t even know basic math and English. In an ideal world, policy-makers would recognize the dire need for equal education ALL over Nepal, not just Kathmandu. With Miteri, they might even picture their own children attending Jumla’s poor school and feel driven to incite an immediate change. This is the hope with Miteri– inspire closeness to incite change.
Miteri knows no national boundaries. It can be practiced anywhere and is applicable in all situations. As a United States residence, I can speak for certainty that the political climate be more certain if the leaders embodied some concepts of Miteri. When acting out of love, respect and mindfulness, people have more empathy. With empathy comes understanding of one another. When we even begin to attempt understanding others, that is when peace settles in.