Before feeling my way into Ladakhi culture, I had thought that leaving home was part of growing up, a necessary step toward becoming an adult. I now believe that large extended families and small intimate communities form a better foundation for the creation of mature, balanced individuals.
A healthy society is one that encourages close social ties and mutual interdepedence, granting each individual a net of unconditional emotional support. Within this nurturing framework, individuals feel secure enough to become quite free and independent.
Paradoxically, I have found the Ladakhis less emotionally dependent than we are in industrial society. There is love and friendship, but it is not intense or grasping - not a possession of one person by another.
I once saw a mother greeting her eighteen-year-old son when he returned home after being away for a year. She seemed surprisingly calm, as though she had not missed him. It took me a long time to understand this behaviour.
I thought my Ladakhi friends reacted strangely when I arrived back after being away for the winter. I had brought presents I knew they would like. I expected them to be pleased to see me and happy at the gifts. But to them it was as if I had not been gone. They thanked me for the presents, but not in the way that I was hoping. I was wanting them to look excited and confirm our special friendship. I was disappointed. Whether I had been away for six months or a day, they treated me in the same way.
I came to realize, however, that the ability to adjust to any situation, to feel happy regardless of the circumstances, was a tremendous strength. I came to appreciate the easy, relaxed attitude of my Ladakhi friends and to like being treated as though I had never been away.
Ladakhis do not seem to be as attached to anything as we are. Most of them are, of course, not completely without the attachments that so affect our lives. But again, there is a difference - an all pervasive difference - in degree. One may be unhappy to see a friend leave or to lose something, but not that unhappy.
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.86-7
Images from "Another Year" (dir. Mike Leigh, 2010)