Breakthrough in Bhutan

Tiger's Nest Monastery Bhutan

Tiger's Nest Monastery Bhutan

A story about magical wedding ceremonies, mystical penis temples, past life healings, generosity, contentment, having tea with the king, and a synchronistic encounter with a venture capitalist. All perfectly designed to awaken the truth within me that as an entrepreneur, my one goal is to be of service to others.  

These days Bhutan is best known for its choice to value GNH (Gross National Happiness) over GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as an indicator of the overall health and wellbeing of their country. Oddly more foreigners can reference GNH than locate Bhutan on a map.

After recently spending 10 days in Bhutan with my chosen family and attending the first ever Gross National Happiness conference, I can confidently share that the “G” driving GNH is Generosity. To illustrate this point, let me start by introducing four men who have fundamentally changed my perspective of what it means to be a human being. Their names are Dorji, Sumjay, Pema, and Neem.  

Dorji

Dorji was the mastermind of our journey. When I first met Dorji, what immediately captured my attention was the sparkle of goodness in his eyes. You can see that he is a wise old soul who inspires others simply through his presence and unwavering commitment to contentment, service, and generous living.

Sumjay

Sumjay is the essence of sweetness and joy. It is actually difficult not to continuously hug Sumjay and wonder about ways to take him home in your suitcase so you can selfishly marinate in his joyful expression. I nearly cried when I found out that Sumjay drove for two days through the mountains of Bhutan to share in our journey.  

Sumjay and Dorji (left to right)

Sumjay and Dorji (left to right)

Pema

Pema has a voice that cannot be forgotten. His vocal cords carry you to a place where you remember what trust and friendship truly means. Within Pema there is no selfishness, just a man who is available for authentic connection, friendship, and service. Pema graciously offered to document our entire journey and is currently editing our trip into a documentary. #Seriously?  

Pema, his wife and camera

Pema, his wife and camera

Nim

And finally Nim. For 10 days I watched Nim show up reliably for us in every moment. As each of us navigated intense emotional and spiritual experiences, he was there to ensure we had water, food, and tea. He loved tea and every time he offered us a cup of warm goodness, it felt like a guru giving me darshan. Tea was Nim’s channel for love and transformation.  

So those are the four men who brought us on a journey of lasting transformation, and here are the highlights of the journey that led to breakthroughs in many forms. #Breakthrough

Nim! Tea!

Nim! Tea!

Days 1 & 2

When we (four couples) arrived in Bhutan, Dorji informed us that the following morning we were hiking to Dodedra Monastery tucked away in the mountains of Thimphu. He had a small surprise for us. That small surprise ended up being a wedding ceremony for the four recently married couples in the presence of 155 monks and three Rinpoches. Some surprise Dorji. How about blowing our minds and giving the eight of us a life experience that will surely pass before our eyes as we let go of these human bodies. I will forever be changed by the beauty of the monk’s chants and prayers amidst one of the most beautiful natural backdrops our planet has to offer. That was random act of generosity number one.

Monks calling out from Dohedre Monastery

Monks calling out from Dohedre Monastery

Days 3 & 4

Pema and Neem brought us to a Tibetan Buddhist temple that paid tribute to the Divine Madman Drukpa Kunley. As we walked up to the temple we were surrounded by phallic symbols. Penises everywhere. Kunley was called the Divine Madman because of his unorthodox buddhist teachings, specifically his emphasis on releasing shame around sexuality. He brought the message that we are human and were given our sexuality for a reason, embrace and celebrate it. The temple was also the place that couples went after getting married to enhance their fertility in preparation for children.

Before leaving the mystical penis temple we were asked to roll the dice on this halloween day. Apparently 13 was the number of good luck in the Divine Madman’s presence, and I was fortunate to be the one who rolled lucky 13. As a sign of gratitude, my beloved wife Juna and I bought a huge wooden penis from one of the local shops and journeyed on with curiosity as to how my divine good fortune would unfold.

Days 5-7

We hiked seven hours into pristine wilderness to reach a small village that Dorji aptly named “The Contentment Village.” The people of this village are hunters and gatherers, and until recently they had no physical homes. Sir Dorji took it upon himself to raise money through his non profit and provide these people homes, self-sustaining organic agriculture, and a temple to deepen their spiritual connection.

When we arrived we were given another random act of generosity. For weeks the villagers had been preparing for our arrival. They built us wooden baths and hiked hours down to a river to retrieve sacred stones so we could enjoy a hot stone bath upon our arrival. I noticed a hesitation to receive this act of generosity. I could not fathom that these wonderful people would carry heavy stones up a mountain and roast them in a fire for hours so we (not them) could take a hot bath under the stars. As I went to bed one emotion clearly surfaced. #Awe    

The next day we had lunch with around 100 villagers, and it was inspiring to see how much these people loved and trusted Dorji. What was equally inspiring was to see the immense joy that Dorji experienced in their presence.

Dorji in his element

Dorji in his element

I could see that Dorji was savoring a gift that can only be received when you selflessly devote yourself to the wellbeing of others. I learned that one of the ultimate rewards of being human is knowing that your generosity and kindness has improved another’s life in a meaningful way. Dorji embodies this message (see his blog post about contentment village), and while many of us claim to know the power of generosity in today’s modern world, our actions are often not aligned with this truth. We live in a culture that values consumption, acquisition, and success in the form of money, big houses, expensive cars, awards and accolades. It was refreshing to be in a place where that egoic value system wasn’t part of the conversation. #BeyondEgo

Before leaving the village my good fortune arrived in the form of liberation. The full story is too long to share here, and the short version is while meditating in the sacred temple of Contentment Village, I received clear intuition from temple's spirits that I had lived here before. In a past life, I experienced suffering and isolation in these mountains, and somehow, through a series of synchronistic events, I was brought to this moment in time to heal a wound. I was being called to liberate my Samsara (repetitive history). Tears flowed as I presenced this profound gift. That is why the photo below of the sunset from the temple at Contentment Village will forever be cherished. #Healing

Sunset view from the Contentment Village Temple

Sunset view from the Contentment Village Temple

Days 8-10

We ventured back home from Contentment Village. Our next stop was the inaugural Gross National Happiness conference. I could see in Dorji’s demeanor and body language that he was sad. He was leaving people and land that he loves with all his heart. #ExceptionalMan

When we arrived at the GNH conference, Dan Cordaro (one of my best friends, a partner in Good Startups, and scientist at Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence) gave a talk on how his research of the wisdom traditions revealed that contentment (not happiness) is the most sustainable form of human wellness. Dan brought the house down as he embodied a spiritual version of Tony Robbins and inspired a crowd of 500 leading thinkers and monks into a realm of consciousness that is always present within us. 

Dan defines contentment as “an indestructible sense of wellbeing that comes from an unconditional acceptance of the present moment.” He reminds us that our goal is not to chase after happiness, but rather to accept whatever life is providing us as a perfect next step on the path of our unfolding. Thanks brother Dan for your wisdom and gifts. #WiseBuddha

Before leaving the GNH conference, I met a venture capitalist who was attending the conference in search of a different type of entrepreneurship and venture capital. One where entrepreneurs are given the tools to self-actualize and embody entrepreneurship for good. How perfect that we met, and how refreshing to expand business opportunities while giving myself this journey of spiritual transformation. #Synchronicity

After the GNH conference Dorji continued to “Dorjitsu” us, a phrase we used to describe how Dorji regularly told us we were doing something simple (like going to breakfast), only to find out that he arranged for Dan, his wife Lisa, and a faculty member of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to spend two hours with the king in his study. Yes that’s correct, they spent two hours having tea with the king talking about the importance of emotional intelligence. The result was an opportunity to bring Yale’s leading emotional intelligence curriculum to Bhutan schools.

Dorji, Lori, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Dan & Lisa (left to right)

Dorji, Lori, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Dan & Lisa (left to right)

At this point our group was numb to extraordinary experiences, but Dorji had one more arrow in his quiver. He and his sister spent a day preparing a ceremony that was designed to heal past karma for Dan’s wife Lisa. When he told us of this plan, it was as if he was telling us that we were having lunch tomorrow. “No big deal, I just arranged for a ceremony to bring past life healing to beautiful Lisa.”

I am sharing this journey on a blog designed for entrepreneurs because after this epic 10-day experience in Bhutan, I integrated some of the most important lessons a human being can learn:

  • We are here to wake up

  • We are here to be of service

  • Our generosity is the path to true happiness

  • Contentment is the path to true wellbeing

Now the question becomes, with these reminders, what type of entrepreneurship do you want to bring to the world? 

For Dorji, it is generously bringing homes, health, and contentment to a village of people who live 33 miles from any trace of civilization. As soon as our group offered gratitude to Dorji in the form of money, he immediately responded with “I will use this money to finish the artwork in the temple at Contentment Village.” #Selfless

For me, right now, my intention is to bring Dorji's level of passion, generosity, and selflessness to my work. Maybe now that I am married (again) in the presence of monks and have a large wooden penis powered by a Divine Madman, I am ready? I hope so...

Thank you Dorji, Sumjay, Pema, Neem, and the rest of the members of the contentment family (Juna, Dan, Lisa, Lamara, Timothy, Emilio & Alyssa) for the immense gifts that these words unfortunately cannot capture.  

Justin Milano helps mindful entrepreneurs build exceptional companies. As a serial entrepreneur and leadership coach, Justin uses a unique blend of business and leadership coaching to help entrepreneurs create breakthroughs and fulfill their maximum potential. What's most important to Justin is to grow his self awareness and live a life where is every action is aligned with the truth of who he is. 

To explore integrating Good Startups coaching into your startup, click here to learn about our signature program Breakthrough and fill out the form to receive a free needs assessment for your startup. If you are looking for individual coaching, please send an e-mail to melissa@goodstartups.com and she will get back to you shortly.