A Story Of Karma With Michael Schauch
The road towards love and truth can be like climbing a mountain. While the journey can be difficult, it isn’t without its lessons and rewards. Join Katherine Twells as she sits down for a conversation with mountaineer, writer, and entrepreneur Michael Schauch. Giving us a peek into his book, A Story of Karma, Michael talks about his travels to Nepal, climbing the Himalayas, and meeting an extraordinary little girl named Karma who would change his and his wife Chantal’s life. This is an inspiring story of love, the drive for change, and breaking down barriers. Join in on this episode to not miss out.
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A Story Of Karma With Michael Schauch
Finding Love And Truth In The Lost Valley Of The Himalaya
I’m excited to bring to you my guest, the incredible Mike Schauch. It was 2012 when Mike and his wife, Chantal, undertook an expedition in the Himalayas to this remote valley that had been closed off to outsiders for decades. What unfolded in the mountains forced him to question his values, his own identity, and eventually resulted in the meeting of a little girl by the name of Karma. This meeting was one of the most profound encounters of his life and it changed the trajectory of both of their lives. This incredible adventure is chronicled in a beautifully written book called A Story of Karma: Finding Love and Truth in the Lost Valley of the Himalaya.
Let me tell you a little bit more about Mike’s background. He’s a mountaineer but he’s also an entrepreneur and a storyteller. He lives to explore remote places around the world and to share the depth and beauty of the human connection that he discovers along the way. You’re going to hear so many great examples of that in our conversation. He had early success as an entrepreneur at the age of fifteen and he’s got over twenty years of global financial investment experience. He brings his business acumen and altruistic heart together to help lead and support local and international mentorship, fundraising and educational initiatives. These include the education of girls and student mentorship in Nepal, outdoor youth leadership for those facing barriers to accessing nature, and holistic indigenous leadership development in British Columbia.
He holds an MBA from Queen’s University and is a member of The Explorers Club. He and Chantal make their base camp in Squamish, British Columbia. One final thought before we start the conversation, what I want you to know about Mike is he’s someone who embraces life with both adventure and a commitment to see others from the heart. Whether you’re working to establish a business or climbing a mountain to find a brand-new vista, Mike shows us that our progress forward is more powerful if we learn to listen to what makes us feel most alive. Also, to know that our journey is always connected to others who help us find the essence of who we are.
He knows that bridging cultural differences comes from seeing the gifts that are offered by our unique experience. When brought together well, something magical might happen. In this conversation, you’re going to hear about his incredible adventure in Nepal and how the mountain you think you need to climb might lead you to something even better than you could ever have imagined. Please enjoy the conversation with the adventurous and amazing Mike Schauch.
The Origin Of Mike
Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to join me in the conversation. I’m so grateful.
Thank you, Kathy, for having me. I’m excited to be on the show with you.There's this world up here in the mountains that we have no idea even exists in our everyday life. It's only accessible by our will to climb. Click To Tweet
I always begin the show with the bio. People will have the basic bio but we all know that bios don’t tell the whole story there. They are what we put out there for what we’ve done. We put that on paper. Tell us the story behind the story. Tell us a little bit about the origin of Mike and how did you end up where you are?
If I go back to when I was a child, my love and connection to the mountains were always there. My father would take my sister and me out camping in one of those campers with the pop-up tops. We’d go around North America. We live on the West Coast so we have mountains, nature and the ocean all around us but we’d go camping to the Rockies and down through the states to Utah, Yosemite, the West Coast down the Oregon coast. I grew familiar with a lot of these terrains. That’s what opened my mind and my heart to it. I remember when I was seventeen, a friend of mine who was an experienced mountaineer said, “Mike, I want to take you up a mountain.” I thought, “I have no idea what that means but let’s do it.” You’re a seventeen-year-old kid, what are you going to say?
He lent me his ice ax, crampons, his harness and off we went to climb this mountain. It was a pretty technical mountain. I remember as we were coming towards the top, it was this steep and icy snow slope. I paused to catch my breath. I looked over my shoulder and I saw the sunrise was coming up. I saw all these orange and purple hues on the horizon. All these distant peaks that were there were illuminated with the sunrise, peaks that I had no idea even existed. It was a whole different world. I realized at that moment that there’s this world up here in the mountains that we have no idea even exists in our everyday life. It’s only accessible by our will to climb.
To me, that was the tipping point and I dove into mountaineering and mountain climbing with full intensity. I never looked back. That sparked my connection to the mountains. We’ll be talking about the whole cultural side of things as well like the cross-cultural relationships and that sort of thing. I will quickly mention that my mom is from China so I grew up in this multicultural household. I’m half Asian. Growing up, that opened my worldview a bit to a different culture and a different way of thinking. That was key to informing my thoughts and actions further down the road in life.
Climb For The Vista
Mike, I’m not a mountain climber but I was following you as you were speaking and I was imagining. I certainly hiked smaller mountains with vistas but not like what you’re talking about. I was imagining in my mind the beauty that must be and the moment that gives you. As you said that, you have to climb for the vista. It also metaphorically made me think about how much our perspectives can change when we climb our social-psychological mountains. Even as you talk about growing up with the Asian culture and all of the social justice conversations and the challenges in the world. Your vista is different if you’re exposed to a different view. I’m hopping on this metaphor but it struck me as you were talking about that.
With that mountain metaphor, you go higher but you also go deeper and wider inside yourself. That’s key. I’m going down this tangent but this whole conversation about racial injustice and what’s coming up now is very important because it’s widening that lens. It’s taking off the blinders of what we’re not seeing. That’s the first step to trying to understand others. I grew up in a small farming community on the West Coast. It’s a predominantly white community at that time. I remember people and other kids were always asking me, “Mike, why are you always tanned? Why is your mom speaking so funny?” You get some comments on the playground around that stuff but it’s amazing now that all of that’s coming out. That’s no longer the norm. We’re bringing to the surface these conversations that need to happen. That’s absolutely an important thing in terms of us moving forward.
I was having a conversation with a dear friend and someone who is an Asian-American leader. She’s got so much wisdom and grace. We were talking about this dynamic. It was Maya Angelou that said, “When you know better, you do better.” As we think about greater vistas and greater perspectives, it is about our awareness becoming broader and understanding more so we can operate from a different place. We’re not there yet. The divide on many fronts is out there but as we start to see it, we all can be better if we can work on ourselves in all of this.
We’ll get into it. We’ll talk about the Himalayas, Nepal and all of that. Also, this deep family connection that my wife and I were able to create along the way over the last number of years with this little family in the village out there in the mountains. One of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned has been the more I try to understand others and the more I park my ego at the door or approach a scenario with total openness and open heart, not only do I learn more about that culture and the person’s story but I also can understand myself better. Through that understanding, I can make better decisions not only for myself but for the entire community. That’s a key thing to think about.
Thank you for going down that road with me. I appreciate that. I know from reading the book, the other part of your origin story and still living now is you’re very steep in business. This is a show where we have people from all over that listen to the conversation but the origin of it was from The CMO Summit, which is a business event about community and leadership. As we talked about domains and your experience with the mountains, you also have a lot of experience in business and you have lived in all of those worlds. Can you talk a little bit about that as well?
The funny thing about it is all through high school, I thought I was going to become this creative writer. My dream was to become a creative writer. Writing and math were my two best subjects growing up. Writing was always my top marks. I couldn’t wait for the teacher to assign an essay or short story. I ran home and write this thing out. My teacher oftentimes would say, “You should submit this for publication,” which I never did at that time.
In my first experience in university, here I am pursuing my dream of becoming a creative writer. I got my first writing assignment, my first essay in university, and it’s about a place that has impacted you deeply in the outdoors. I’m like, “That’s the assignment of my dreams.” I ran home and wrote it out. I looked over it 2 or 3 times and I was sure that it was the best piece of writing I had ever made. I handed it in and got the piece of paper back. I was so excited to see what the prof would write. When I looked at the piece of paper, there was this marking that I didn’t recognize what it was. My brain couldn’t quite register, “What is that weird symbol?” It was an F. I failed.
You have this out-of-body experience that’s like, “Clearly this isn’t my paper.”We're cultivated with this mindset of, “In order to win, somebody has to lose,” which is not right. Click To Tweet
I even glanced back up at the top of the page like, “Is that my name?” That was the beginning of the end of my interest in taking creative writing at university. What was happening simultaneously was this little business that I started when I was fifteen in high school started to grow. It became a national business. That’s a whole different story. That was going on while I was struggling with my English assignments at university. I thought, “Why not look more into business?”
I started talking to people in the business faculty, people who were taking the program and the profs. What I learned was that the people there were all about, “Here’s your blank canvas. You get to create whatever you want. It’s about innovation. It’s about how we are going to change the world. How are we going to create new things?” I thought, “Those are the people I want to hang out with.” The whole Creative Writing Program in the University felt like they wanted to put me in a box while this whole business program felt like they wanted to recreate the box. I’m like, “I’m going to pivot over here.” That’s what pulled me in that direction.
What We Can Give Versus What We Can Get
I wanted to ground everyone on that as we get more into the story of the Himalayas because not only are you so multi-dimensional but we all are. We’re going to talk a little bit about plans and how life has its idea of where you’re going to go but there are so many arenas that we can grow in. I know that whether you’re in business or you’re on this adventure in the mountains, you have this orientation on service to others. I know in one of the interviews that I watched, you said specifically that we can start to look at what we can give versus what we can get. Before we get into this specific story about the Himalayas, how did that service to others versus service to self get cultivated in you?
I never thought about it like that. I never thought about it as giving service. I remember one time I heard this wise woman say, “No matter who we are, young or old, rich or poor, sick or strong, we all need help. Because we all need help, we all must also help.” That’s stuck with me for the rest of my life up to this point. I was thinking that I’ve received a lot of help over the years from different people from different walks of life. Why shouldn’t I help as well wherever I can to do the right thing. I’m not trying to say, “I’m going to give service today or I’m going to give back or whatever.” It’s about, “I’m going to do the right thing.” It becomes a practice. The practice becomes a lifestyle and it’s opened up these meaningful and fulfilling experiences in my life as a result. It was never a thing where I was thinking about giving service and that sort of thing. It’s become part of who I am, I suppose.
That’s a natural orientation that you come to. Even when we were creating the architecture of the Summit, there are a lot of conferences. There are a lot of things out there in the industry but the idea was, how do you come together and create a community of help? We’re tackling a lot of the same issues and there are challenges for this particular community where we talk about Chief Marketing Officers. It’s super high pressure. How do you make sure you’re delivering the growth? It’s a big deal. There is the essence of how tides can raise all boats? How do we help each other out? It’s an important orientation for us all to have.
It’s a mindset, a lot of times. Oftentimes, specifically in the west, we’re cultivated with this mindset of, “In order to win, somebody has to lose.” I don’t think that’s right. We live in an environment of abundance. As soon as we realize that, everybody here can win and then we change our attitude towards the way we make decisions.
A Journey To The Himalayas And Its Lessons
I could not agree more. Abundance is the key. When we have a mindset of lack, it’s like some balance sheet. You’ve said it, “For me to get something, you have to lose something.” That is not the truth. There’s amplification when we join forces so it’s a powerful thing. Let’s pivot into a little storytelling. You mentioned your creative writing. As I said before, you are a beautiful writer. I would strongly encourage people to read your book. It’s beautifully written. I can see those skills. I would have to talk to that professor who gave you the F. He was having a bad day or something. Let’s set the stage for everyone. You identified this quest, this mountain, this beautiful place. It spoke to you and you embarked on this adventure. Can you set the stage and talk a little bit about what happened?
2011 was when we started planning. My wife and I sat down with this gentleman named Mick. He had been traveling through the Nepal Himalaya for over twenty years into some of the most obscure places. It had been my dream since I was a child, being a fanatic about mountaineering, to climb in the Himalayas. Part of the reason and the delay was I was working on my career so I couldn’t take the time off. When I was younger, I didn’t have the money necessarily. The bigger thing was I never knew what I wanted to do. For a time, I thought maybe I wanted to climb Mount Everest or one of these other places where people are going. I realized that’s not the case. I wanted to go somewhere far off the beaten path. You can call me overly romantic or dramatic about it. Nepal is such a special place to me. I want to go somewhere where nobody else is going. When we sat down with Mick, we were sharing these passions and these ideas. He told me, “Mike, I have to tell you about this little valley called The Lost Valley of Nar Phu.” I thought, “Wow.” He proceeded to tell me about it.
The name is romantic, The Lost Valley of Nar Phu.
He kept talking but I had already tuned down. I’m like, “You had me at The Lost Valley.” It was this valley that had just been opened up to the outside world at the time. Prior to that, it had been closed off. No outsiders were allowed to go in there. It’s far off the beaten path so the people who are living there at that time don’t have access to electricity, days away from the nearest road, no health care, no access to communication in terms of news, phones, internet, radio even. They’re isolated. Not even any books other than the scriptures in the monastery. These people have been living much the same way for the last 800 years.
I thought, “This is the place. Let’s go.” My wife and I decided to put a little team together because Mick told us that the whole valley is going to experience unprecedented change now that it had been opened. We thought, “Let’s bring a little team of artists in with different artistic mediums.” We had a musician, a nature artist, a photographer, and Chantal and I would do some filming. We thought, “Let’s go learn and observe from the people there, but then also capture a moment in time before things changed too much through these different lenses.” That was the intention.We all have that innate intuitive guidance system, which is probably how the human race got to where it is over thousands of years. Click To Tweet
I then came across this picture of this pyramid-looking mountain. It looked like a white pyramid coming out of the earth. It was the most glorious mountain I had ever seen. I asked Mick, “Where is this? What mountain is this?” He didn’t know. He’s like, “I don’t even know if it has a name or if it’s been climbed.” We had this intention but in the back of my mind, I was like, “I have to find and try and climb this mountain.” That’s how we set off into this Lost Valley.
First of all, it’s fascinating reading the story of having the musician and the artist. Is that common for expeditions? I was like, “Wait a minute.” As the story goes on and the magical moments that happened by the music and the connection with the villagers. I’m curious as to why you added those parts of the expedition.
We didn’t know each other before that but Chantal and I would put the vision out there of what we’re doing and here’s the expedition we’re leading. It was like putting a beacon out there and these pieces came to the table. If you had put us side by side in a line, it would look like a total mash-up. Somebody said to me, “Mike, this is a movie worthy crew.” It was almost like this neo-hippie with long blonde hair wrapped in a purple bandana and pointed goatee and then this cowboy with a brown brim white cowboy hat and this Polish professor. I could not have planned a team had I tried to.
It’s quite the Mötley Crüe. It’s so great and it added so much color to the experience. It certainly made a difference going on. You get there, you’ve got this crew, this band of misfit characters together. As we have our conversation, we share these life lessons that this journey unfolded for you. “The best-laid plans,” that is the saying. We make plans and life happens to us. You have this incredible dream, this vision that was calling to you at the deepest place of your being and you go on the track but something happens and you’re not able to get all the way there. Share what happened at that point.
There were a series of obstacles. I won’t get into all of them because people can read about it in the book. Suffice to say that my dream was crushed on the slopes of the mountain. I got caught in a snowstorm at 17,000 feet and the mule that was carrying my climbing gear ran off. All these things started unraveling. The closer I got to the mountain, the more it was almost like forces of nature were telling me, “This is not the way to go.” It forced me to hunker down in this little outpost village of Phu. If you imagine this place, it’s at 14,000 feet in elevation, in the middle of the Himalayas, way out there from anything.
We’re weeks in at that point. These little stone houses carved up the mountainside. These 7,000-meter peaks on all sides are almost squishing the life out of this place and yet these people have managed to survive. It is pure survival out there. Not only was my dream being unraveled but a big part of my life was being unraveled because all my life, I had thought that my destiny was to come here and climb this mountain. That was being questioned now. Part of my identity was being questioned.
When we have an idea about our life and our life direction and we think, “That’s going to be my life.” Suddenly, whatever that thing is gets questioned. It gives us pause and now we have to ask the questions, “What does that mean for my life? Who am I in this new context?” Part of our identity gets stripped away. That’s exactly what was happening. I was asking all these questions in that little village. At the same time, we began to connect a lot with the locals. We would spend time in their homes. They would invite us in to eat with them and prepare meals together.
I ended up meeting this one young gentleman. He had left the village when he was fourteen and he had come back at that time. He had been gone for seven years to get an education. He had to leave to get an education. He hadn’t seen his parents and his home in seven years. Our paths happen to cross. It was crazy to think about a fourteen-year-old going all the way down to India on his own. We became friends over those days and we would take walks together on the labyrinth of the pathways in their village. He would share with me about Tibetan Buddhism because they’re more Tibetan up there. He would share with me about the plight of the village and how the village is struggling to survive. He would share with me about the culture and the people. I was learning all of these things. Part of the thought that was emerging in my mind was, “Why am I so stressed about something that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things in climbing this mountain? There’s something much deeper happening here. I don’t know what but perhaps there’s a much deeper reason for me being here in the Himalaya.”
We all have this inner guidance system like this inner compass. We are being led if we pay attention. In some of the other episodes, we’ve talked about pace, space or lack thereof, and the ability to hear that voice and follow the guidance that you’re given. I know there were moments for you on the mountain where you had that tension point of, “I want to push ahead.” There were all these signs telling you that that’s not the way to go. As you assimilate your experience and think about this, has it made you more tuned in to your own sense of intuitive guidance after having that experience?
For sure. We all have that innate intuitive guidance system, which is probably how the human race got to where it is over thousands of years. Particularly in the West, we’ve naturally cultivated this idea of forward-thinking. From a young age, we were taught to set these expectations. For example, you have to get into a good college or university. You have to get a good home. You have to nurture a family or whatever it may be. We’re taught from a young age that this is our life. That puts us in this future-oriented mindset. We’re living in the future so these expectations drive our decision making and it puts our mind in the driver’s seat of feeling that’s what’s in full control when it’s not, but that’s how we’re taught. That’s also the source of a lot of suffering. Eventually, what we realize is that maybe our expectations don’t align with reality or don’t align with what is meant for our life.
When that happens, that gap between expectations and reality is where suffering occurs. That’s something important that I learned over the way. It’s not about constantly putting our mindset into the future of, “This is what my life should be.” It’s about listening to the more subtle signs, listening to the natural way of rhythm of the environment around me. What’s evolving? How do you adapt? How do you navigate that in a way that you’re not setting yourself up for failure by putting yourself too much into living in the future?
This idea of trust is an art and practice. The word patience has come up in so many conversations because so often, especially in the Western culture, we are achievement-oriented. We want to do all this stuff. As we think about the pandemic in 2020, it pretty much threw a wrench into everything. That wrench is still out there. It’s caused all of us to take stock of what’s happening in our lives. How do we want to live it? We talked earlier in this conversation about social justice. All of these events are challenging us to seek to understand what the right path is for all of us, not just the individual path but our collective path because we are creating something new on all these fronts. We’re returning to something but we’re also creating something. Going back to business class, we have to create and innovate in a new way.If we listen to our hearts first and connect with each other using the language of the heart first, we can transcend barriers. Click To Tweet
If you think about 2020, sometimes we think about it as something bad but it could be something good. It’s empowering us to look at maybe one door has closed but what other doors are opening? In business class many years ago, we talked about this idea of creative destruction. For something to foster and to be recreated, we need to destroy another part. That’s what happened to me in the mountains. Part of my identity effectively died on the mountain slope but part of me was being reborn. Reborn into what? I didn’t know at that time but it was important to trust in that process. Even though sometimes we can’t see with our mind where that path is leading, if we have this guidance around us, it is important to trust in that process.
A Girl Named Karma
In our failure or in the dismantling process that you talked about, when you’re stripped of all that, your ego has to step aside. You suddenly have to be like, “This is what I thought was happening and now, it’s not. What does this all mean?” That is a beautiful space. You mentioned rebirth and that’s a beautiful space of creation. In one of my conversations with Sarah Wells, an Olympian, the true brilliance of her story unfolded when she did not make the Olympic team due to an injury. She talks a lot about the power of belief, resilience and grit. That’s what we’re talking about. The human spirit is amazing in that regard in how new things can unfold. Let’s go forward in the journey and you realize, “This isn’t going to happen.” You’re in the dismantling process. You’re being led to a new place. You and your wife come across a little girl in a little stone schoolhouse. Share the moment when that happened and the power of that moment.
That was the moment that not only changed my life but changed the lives of others around me, Chantal and the little girl, her name is Karma, her family and many others. We were in this other little village called Nar. There are only two main villages in this valley. Had I forced my way and tried to climb the mountain, I would not have come to this little village called Nar. We got there and I learned about this little stone school. What was interesting about that was that because of my conversations with the young gentleman I met back in Phu, I also learned how difficult it was for children to get an education. Children would have to start working hard labor in the fields from the young age of 5, 6 years old.
A lot of girls at that time, 15, 16 years old, would have to start getting married and have their own families. What education does for the people out there or outside the education of the village allows them to have more choice in life. They realize that. The choice allows them to not only improve their own life, but it brings back a lot of benefits to the village as well. Education was this huge blessing up there. When I learned that there was this little stone school, I thought, “We should go check this out and see what’s going on.” We get there and this little seven-year-old girl is teaching English numbers to this group of seventeen kids. She had so much poise and confidence in teaching these numbers. There was also something markedly different about her. We had seen hundreds of kids up to that point but there was this familial feeling I had about her, not because of how she looked physically but almost a deeper feeling of knowing.
It’s a connection.
I was observing that. We found the real teacher. He was looming in the back. He told us that he was two weeks away from his village. He felt like he had been banished to the end of the earth because he had to be out in this remote place teaching. While this conversation was going on, the kids caught sight of this guitar that was slung over our musicians’ shoulder and they had never seen a guitar before, let alone heard one. You could tell that they wanted some music.
Michael taught them a song. Michael is a bit of an entertainer. He went up there and started teaching them some music. They got into it. They were singing and dancing. The teacher got motivated and he brought out this Nepali drum. He wanted the kids to dance in front of us one at a time. He started with this little girl who had been so confident in her teaching. He told her to dance. He put her on the spot and she shut down. She was petrified standing in the corner. She was almost internally crying.
Chantal couldn’t take it so she marched up there next to the little girl and started her best impression of this Nepali dance. The little girl forgot about everybody watching and focused on Chantal. The two of them were almost these two spirits dancing with each other in front of these 7,000-meter peaks. The scene was absolutely beautiful and it felt like time stopped moving at that moment. Also, it was the first time I started thinking, “Maybe this is the reason why I’m here in the Himalayas.” That was the first spark to opening this deep connection with Karma and her family.
Mike, you met so many people and lots of villagers on this journey. There was something and you spoke to it that felt like a deeper connection with this little girl and that grew from there. There’s so much to this. We have to leave the readers to go read the book because there are so many nuances to the experience and so many amazing synchronicities. What did that moment launch for you, Chantal, and Karma?
It was the beginning of our lives together, essentially. Over the years, our families have grown as one. Chantal and I are co-parenting Karma and her little sister Pemba with their parents and working together as four parents from these different worlds. Some of the questions that arose were, how do you prepare these two little girls from this remote mountain village with the tools to thrive in this modern world when the modern world is encroaching into their village as we speak? Also, do it in a way where they don’t lose sight of their values, cultural identity and their dharma.
This is something that we’ve been working closely with the parents to bring these two worlds together so that the girls, at the end of the day, have the choice. If they want to be in the village, that’s fine, but it should be on their terms. They should also have the choice if they want to go to the city of Kathmandu, what does that mean? If they want to dream bigger outside of even Nepal, what does that mean? That’s important. We see it not only in that one place but everywhere around the world as this modern world continues to grow and expand. If the villagers and the people in these different cultures are equipped with the tools to retain their control of keeping their cultural identity while choosing how they want to adapt to this new world is important, that’s important. It’s something that has to be thought about and prepare for.
What comes up for me as you’re sharing that is we started the conversation with your origin story and you mentioned growing up with different cultures within your own family. Fast forward, here you are blending cultures again. If we return to whether it’s the social justice conversations or the idea of raising our consciousness, how would you talk about the importance of seeing each other from a heart space and a deeper level? You’re blending all of this so beautifully.Never doubt the ability of one decision to change everything. Click To Tweet
That’s a key point because when we see each other from the heart space, we transcend all of these notions of difference. If I rewind to 2012, that first encounter with Karma at the little school in her village, we were connecting from the heart. That’s how any of this came about. It was because we had the courage. Courage comes from the word heart. We had the courage to listen to the language of the heart. We weren’t trying to apply our mind lenses to the situation. When we connect on that level, we can do remarkable things and create these meaningful and fulfilling experiences with each other. It’s when we start to bring our mindset into it and start judging the situation or judging another, that’s when we create these barriers. If we listen to our heart first and connect with each other using the language of the heart first, we can transcend that.
When you realize that everyone has their own degree of suffering to different degrees and levels, it’s such a powerful place to connect from. Imagine if we did that more. Our mind is a powerful tool and certainly can be an ally but it also can be a block in how we’re perceiving and how we’re thinking about things. We have a long road to go as we’re working through this. The other thing as I think about your story and as I read the nuances, everything from your experience in arriving in Kathmandu. There was this dynamic poverty, difficulty and sorrow right next to majesty, color and beauty. There were these opposites that are happening at all times. One of the Buddhist phrases, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” was all over your journey. The message of that mantra is powerful. I’d love it if you can share with everyone what that means and what the lesson is for all of us from that mantra.
It’s a deep mantra. It’s something that you’ll find deeply embedded in the whole Tibetan culture. At the same time as wanting to climb this mountain, I was on this quest to get to the depth of this mantra. Nobody could tell me. There were different variations of translation and this and that. I wanted to know what is the true meaning of this mantra. I remember this one Sherpa that we were traveling with, Dawa, he and I are close to each other on the trail. He said, “Wait for this Lama, this monk at this Tashi Lha Khang Gompa monastery,” which was one of the most remote monasteries in all the Nepal Himalaya and it was north of this remote outpost village of Phu that we were going to. I knew it was going to take another week or two for us to get there. I thought, “I’ll wait for this guy.” Anyway, we get to the monastery and the door is locked. The monk is nowhere to be found.
You’re never going to find out who he is.
It’s an eternal secret. I thought, “This young gentleman I met at Phu is here with me, I’m going to ask him.” I said, “What is the meaning of this?” He paced by these prayer wheels and thought about it for a little while. He said, “Mike, it’s a blessing because all life has suffering. To live is to suffer. We bless all life. We bless everything from sickness, health, life, death and everything in between because to live is to suffer, but that suffering is our karma. Our karma is life and we can expand through that karma. We bless life and suffering because that’s what it means to be alive here.”
I can’t imagine anyone saying it better than that. Even as we’ve explored your story and talked about the nuances of this, when we reach the obstacles and we come to that place of dismantling, that’s when there’s so much growth. It’s because we have to look deeper and we have to find more within ourselves. If everything’s smooth sailing, a great sailor is not made by smooth waters. It’s by rough seas that you learn to sail well, so that’s beautifully said.
As we talk about this combining of cultures, we can learn so much from our cultures. That’s why the more we open our minds and our hearts to our previous comments, “Tell me about your story. Tell me about your experience.” That’s how we’re going to raise our consciousness so that we cannot point fingers at each other, but learn to seek to understand with compassion and openness so that we can be that give and take that you talked about.
I will never understand what it’s like to be a particular person and their particular story, but if I can try and understand, at least I can remove some of my blinders. The more we make that effort and the more we can try and understand the stories of others, the more we will learn about ourselves in the process.
Here you are. You’re still passionate about nature and mountain climbing is a part of your essence, but yet you’re back and you’re doing your business. We were laughing before we started the show about, I’ve got my business clothes and my mountain clothes and all these different personas that are all a part of this multi-dimensional being that we are. As you think about all of this journey, how has it affected who you are now? How is it affecting your daily life and how you operate now in the business world as well?
It goes back to our previous conversation around expectations and looking at things with a present lens and trying to retain some degree of control over our futures. It’s about letting go of that. There are times in business or whatever where we need to set goals and this sort of thing. More so than that, it’s important to set intentions because a goal is a fixed thing in time. Whereas an intention is more fluid. It can be adapted. It’s important to ask the why. Why is it that I’m feeling this way? Why is it that I’m setting this goal? Why is it that I’m setting this intention? Why am I going down that path? Whether we do it or not, that’s beside the point, but the why behind everything we do is what matters. That’s something that’s been a huge learning for me through this whole process.
What these little girls, Karma and Pemba, have taught me, I could have never dreamed of not only this kind of connection. The connection that I’ve fostered with them and their family, for example with Karma, is the same connection I would feel with my own daughter. Chantal and I don’t have our own kids but I would imagine that kind of feeling and connection. Maybe even beyond that because it feels like we’ve been connected for multiple lifetimes. I would have never imagined that that kind of feeling was possible had I stayed in my head and tried to continue to control my life with that in the driver’s seat. One of the biggest learning for me is to let go, be gentle on ourselves, and not be so caught up in this idea of, “Things have got to be that way.”
Gentleness is important. We’ve talked about trust, patience and all of these things, even your comment about the why. Your perspective shifted because of these connections you were making. Climbing that pyramid mountain was your single focus of, “I have to do it. This is who I am.” You suddenly realize, “That is not my story at all.” Here you stand now knowing that you let go into the magic, and then the magic took over. Look at the gifts that it is bestowed on you. As we navigate this uncertain time, how much can we let go, how much can we seek to understand with compassionate hearts that there’s so much promise, and looking at those whys for all of us.That gap between expectations and reality is where suffering occurs. Click To Tweet
Looking around the room, I’ve got a little clay thing that my mom made for me. I’ve got a pine cone that Karma picked up and gave me. I’ve got this dry lavender that Chantal and I picked. All of this stuff has no monetary value whatsoever, but it has a tremendously deep value to me because of the stories behind it. It makes me think of why do we spend so much time chasing more of the surface-level things when the true depth of meaning of our lives exists in these little moments that have no monetary value but means everything?
Everything is the moment and bearing witness to the power of those moments. Mike, I love this conversation because it is so rich. I have one last question for you to be mindful of your time and the generosity of sharing your wisdom with me. I feel like this whole conversation has been full of life lessons. This last question has somewhat been covered, but I’ll ask it anyway to wrap up everything we’ve shared. It’s not just this experience, although it was super powerful, but also as you think about life lessons that you would tell the audience. Anything that you would want to tell your younger self. Can you share that as we conclude our conversation, anything you’d want to punctuate from what we talked about?
Never doubt the ability of one decision to change everything. Going back to that day at the school with Karma teaching there, we could have all just gone our separate ways. Yes, it was a beautiful experience. They’re teaching there. Chantal had to dance, but we could have left it at that and then all gone our separate ways, but we didn’t. I’ll go back to that word courage. To have the courage to listen to the language of the heart, and then act on it can change everything. Never doubt that one notion of a single act or a single series of acts, but do it in alignment with the language of the heart.
Mike, that is such a beautiful way to end this conversation. I want to thank you. Your story is a model for how to trust and let go and do all the things that we’ve talked about in our conversation. It’s such an honor to spend time with you and to hear the wisdom that you’re sharing. I want to say thank you from my heart. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Kathy, and thank you for the great work you’re doing here and for having me on the show. I appreciate it.
- Mike Schauch
- A Story of Karma: Finding Love and Truth in the Lost Valley of the Himalaya
- The Explorers Club
- The CMO Summit
- Sarah Wells – Past Episode
About Michael Schauch
Michael Schauch is a mountaineer, entrepreneur and storyteller who lives to explore remote places around the world and to share the depth and beauty of human connection he discovers along the way.
With early success as an entrepreneur at age 15, and over 20 years of global financial investment experience, Schauch brings his business acumen and altruistic heart to lead and support local and international mentorship, fundraising and educational initiatives. These include the education of girls and student mentorship in Nepal, outdoor youth leadership for those facing barriers to access nature and holistic Indigenous leadership development in British Columbia. He holds an MBA from Queen’s University and is a member of the Explorers Club.
He and his partner in adventure Chantal make their base camp in Squamish, nestled in BC’s rugged Coast Mountains and temperate rainforests.
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