In 2014, Bruce, his wife Christine and their sons Bodi (7) and Taj (3) set off on an amazing six month journey with living in a remote Buddhist monastery high in the Himalayas as a goal and destination. Why, you ask? "One morning at breakfast, while gawking at his phone and feeling increasingly disconnected from family and everything else of importance in his world, it strikes writer Bruce Kirkby: this isn't how he wants to live."
That revelation and subsequent journey are chronicled in the newly released Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya.
I know I myself have questioned the time and attention I've given to being online. And I can say from personal experience, it is very freeing to turn things off and just see what is around you, and find the simple pleasures in life again. I was quite eager to read the Kirkby family's experience.
Bruce and Christine chose to slow travel, eschewing airplane travel to stick the goal of slowing things down. Instead they travelled by ship, bus, riverboat, train and by foot. This choice allowed the family to meet local people and experience new cultures, food, and more. Juxtaposing that is the camera crew that followed the family on their journey to the Karsha Gompa monastery. The Travel Channel sent along a crew to film the series Big Crazy Family Adventure. Kirkby does include the interactions with the crew only as it impacts the path forward.
I found the details Kirkby includes about the culture and customs of the countries they cross on the way to Karsha Gompa - South Korea, China, India and Nepal engrossing. What always fascinates me is the people met along the way. The arrival at the monastery ended the film crew presence. For the next three months it was only the four of them. Given a choice to live with a retired Lama or in a guest house, they choose to live authentically. They become part of the everyday life of Karsha Gompa - going to prayer every morning, teaching English to novice monks in the afternoon, letting the boys explore and play and more. But my favourite part of the book was meeting Lama Wangyal and the other monks, novices and village residents. Being allowed into their lives, their faith, their friendship, their hopes and their struggles through Kirkby's rich writing.
I admit to having limited knowledge of Buddhism. Kirkby provides much information in the pages before arrival and more as the family becomes part of the tapestry that is Karsha Gompa. Scattered throughout the book are detailed drawings by seven year old Bodi, a very talented artist. And there are full color photos of people and places along the way.
Before the family left Canada, Bodi was diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder. Bruce lets us see how Bodi reacts and interacts throughout this adventure, along with the challenges this brings for Bodi and his parents. Just and Bruce and Christine were looking for simplicity and connection, Bodi too achieves his own successes.
"And as the urgency of modern life faded, time stretched out in a reassuring way. There was a serenity to our days, a whisper of a half-remembered paradise."
What saddened me is that the very things that the Kirkbys were taking a break from are slowly but surely making their way into this valley. Progress in the forms of roads, goods and yes, those infernal devices. The symbiotic relationship between the peoples, their customs, their stewardship of the land and more is being eroded by this progress.
Kirkby is a talented writer - he easily captures his family's journey along with the lives of those met along the way. And it's hard to not want to take away a piece of the blue sky kingdom for yourself. Turn off the computer, go sit in the sun. Blue Sky Kingdom was simply an excellent read. Bruce Kirkby is a talented raconteur. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of Blue Sky Kingdom.
And the title? "A Blue Sky metaphor is often employed in meditative teachings. When storms descend upon our lives, as they inevitably do, we tend to focus on the clouds - problems conflict, anxiety, distress, depression - forgetting that the blue sky is always there, but hidden from view, somewhere above. Like an airplane breaking through the clouds, meditation is meant as a conduit to that peace, accessible to anyone at any time. One breath in. One breath out."
"A wilderness writer and adventure photographer, Bruce is recognized for connecting wild places with contemporary issues.
With journeys spanning more than 80 countries and 2000 days, Bruce’s accomplishments include the first modern crossing of Arabia’s Empty Quarter by camel, a raft descent of Ethiopia’s Blue Nile Gorge by raft, sea kayak traverse of Borneo’s northern coast, and a coast-to-coast Icelandic trek.
A columnist for The Globe and Mail, author of two bestselling books, and a multi-National Magazine Award winner, Bruce’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, EnRoute, Huffington Post, Explore and Canadian Geographic. His photographic clients include Patagonia, Lululemon, Time, Outside, NG Adventure and MacLean’s. Winner of a prestigious Western Magazine Award, Bruce’s photography was selected by National Geographic as among “the most compelling adventure images of the decade.”
An Ambassador for Mountain Equipment Co-op , the former host of CBC’s No Opportunity Wasted , and Producer of Travel Channel’s Big Crazy Family Adventure, Bruce makes his home in Kimberley, B.C." You can connect with Bruce Kirkby on his website, follow him on Twitter as well as on Instagram.