Returning to The Happiest Place

A rainbow emerges in the hills of Lhuentse, Bhutan on one of the final days of our return trip.

A rainbow emerges in the hills of Lhuentse, Bhutan on one of the final days of our return trip.

When I returned from Bhutan after our cross-country journey, I felt unresolved.  I joined Expedition Bhutan because I had this sense that Bhutan had something to teach me - and the rest of the world - about how to find authentic happiness.  Yet, throughout the journey East I often felt trapped in our western, goal-oriented paradigm for engaging the country. 

We made our nearly 500-mile journey to cross the country on an incredibly tight timeframe, which meant that we were in transit for 8-10 hours almost every day -- after which the film team would dive into hours of production.  For most of the trip I was stuck in my head worrying about gear, production schedules, and interview questions.  

Part of this stress came from the feeling that we weren’t connecting with Bhutan in a way that would yield the most powerful insights and stories.  I wanted the time and space to go deep.

After returning from Bhutan and completing a first rough cut, it became clear that I needed to rethink my approach to the film.  Telling the story of Expedition Bhutan and the Bhutanese that the team encountered along the way was a strong linear thread for the film, but the narrative needed more context and coherence to draw out Bhutan's most important lessons.

So, in March of this year, we took a risk.  We started to include my voice in the film in voiceover.  The voiceover works a lot like it does in a Werner Herzog film, gently guiding the viewer and providing space for reflection.  Evoking our curiosity.  The approach also give us more flexibility to move beyond the team's journey, using it as a launchpad to dive deeper in our exploration of how we can experience more meaning and happiness in our lives. 

What has emerged even more clearly is the tension that is at the heart so many of the challenges we face in the West: the tension between head and heart, between striving and connection, between individuality and the collective.  The tensions that are at the core of our quest to experience more happiness and well-being.

A still from an interview with His Holiness Khenpo Karpo Rinpoche, the heart of the Guru Rinpoche project in Eastern Bhutan, and one of the inspirations for Ben's return trip.

A still from an interview with His Holiness Khenpo Karpo Rinpoche, the heart of the Guru Rinpoche project in Eastern Bhutan, and one of the inspirations for Ben's return trip.

I knew after my first trip to Bhutan that the trip wouldn’t be my last.  In June of this year I decided to return to Bhutan. There was material that we knew we wanted to shoot and include in the film, but this time, the pressure would be off.  My primary goal was to slow down and to create space for connection.  I had been encouraged by a Kickstarter supporter to take another journey East - this time to meet with one of the most revered monks in Eastern Bhutan, His Holiness Khenpo Karpo, who, for the last 12 years, has been guiding the construction of a 175-foot tall statue of Guru Rinpoche in Takela, Bhutan.

I had hoped that Khenpo might have answers to some of the questions that had gone unresolved during my first trip. What we captured during those 4 weeks in country was magic - beyond my wildest dreams.

A still from a timelapse of the 175-foot tall statue of Guru Rinpoche at night.

A still from a timelapse of the 175-foot tall statue of Guru Rinpoche at night.

I’ll be sharing more about the journey in the weeks to come, but for now please enjoy this Flickr album with select images from our return.

For the first time in this two year journey, I feel like I finally “get it” - what is behind Bhutan’s magic, and why her lesson is such an important and timely one for the world.  

Now we just have to fit it in a 90-minute film.