Dr Shlim’s Memoir: A Gentle Rain of Compassion

A page-turning tale about Travel medicine, Tibetan lamas, and love in the Himalayas…

Finding a fascinating and gratifying medical practice in Kathmandu saved his medical career, but befriending a reincarnate Tibetan lama transformed his life.

This compellingly written memoir is a grand adventure tale of travel in Nepal and Tibet, tense and highly emotional medical encounters, new romances, and ground-breaking medical research. But all these eventually take a back seat to what the author learns about Tibetan Buddhism and the ability to train in compassion. The author reveals the details of his personal tutoring in Buddhism and his gradual exposure to mysteries and hard-to-explain events that he personally witnesses. For all the readers who dream about what it might be like to travel to the Himalayas and achieve a genuine spiritual connection, this book is the story of how that dream can come true.

What the critics are saying  |  Reviews of A Gentle Rain of Compassion

I loved this book. Dr. Shlim’s story is candid, wise, fascinating, funny, tragic, astonishing, hopeful, and wonderfully entertaining. It reminded me that compassion, if cultivated with purpose, can expand without limit in each of us, enriching not only our own lives, but the lives of everyone we encounter.

An extraordinary story about finding meaning and purpose. The book is profound and moving, infused with clarity and wisdom about life, death, and everything in between. A brilliant, life-changing read.

David Shlim has had a remarkable life, both in service of those in need in remote parts of the world and of spiritual discovery in the presence of some of the greatest Tibetan masters of our times. In Nepal, for over fifteen years, he was the physician of reference for visiting travelers and was also often called to look after the health of monastics, lamas and teachers. Uniting his medical vocation with the essence of Buddhism — altruism and compassion — he published a remarkable book, Medicine and Compassion — which led to his teaching physicians around the world on how to bring back compassion at the heart of their profession and day to day activities. His lively and insightful memoirs are a delight to read.

I really believe that the author has written an important and wonderful book—this is not just the story of a young man in foreign parts (although it is that), or the story of his own, gradual enlightenment (although it is that too), but it is the story of how seemingly accidental the most important steps in our lives can seem.  What is transcendent and original about this work in a sometimes tired and overcrowded memoir field is that the author somehow magically makes himself less important and the journey more important as we go along.  How rare and lovely.  I also think the writing and anecdotes are wonderfully done – he manages glimpses of humor and self-awareness, even as the reader is drawn along by the sheer edge-of-the-seat, life-and-death material.  The work is tight, boiled down to a narrative that’s focused on this lovely, slow-opening of a realization – the work shifting from the adrenaline of trauma of medicine to the need for compassion in it.

This is one of those rare books that makes you a captive from the first sentence. The exceptional aspect of this life story, however, is founded on Dr. Shlim’s close contacts with Tibetan lamas and meditation teachers. The gripping chapters describe how Buddhist practice transformed the way he approached patients. His fascinating memoirs are touching – highly recommended for anyone with an open mind.

Click on the arrows to advance the pictures. You can navigate to the right or left.
Photo Gallery of Images
To Go With The Book
The relief of the Himalayas is difficult to comprehend. If you look closely at the right side of the forested ridge in the foreground of the photo, you’ll see the Thyangboche Monastery. The monastery sits at 12,700 feet (3870 meters). The top of Mt. Everest is visible behind the Lhotse-Nuptse wall at 29,032 feet (8848 meters).
The Pheriche Aid Post in 1979. The yaks in the left foreground belong to Ang Rita Sherpa, my assistant at the aid post. Pheriche was just a summer yak herding village before the advent of trekking tourism. The Aid Post was built with funds from the Tokyo Medical College.
This is a photo of Barbara, deeply unconscious and getting steadily worse, despite the oxygen that she is receiving. She was the first case of altitude illness I had ever treated, and to this day remains the most severe.
This photo is in 1980, as I was preparing to work my second season at the Pheriche Aid Post. I had arrived early with the American Baruntse Expedition, so I borrowed some skis and headed off with Richard Collins to ski on the Changri glacier, where “the man who skied down Everest” had prepared for his adventure in 1973. I’m standing at 17,000 feet (5180 meters) on the way to the glacier with Mt. Everest behind me.
This is the shot of Richard Collins skiing on the Changri Glacier, at around 19,000 feet, with Mt. Everest in the background. We were the first people to visit the glacier since the Japanese expedition was there in 1973.
This is my second season at Pheriche, in 1980. Firewood was very scarce in the Khumbu, so we limited ourselves to a fire in our wood stove for about an hour each evening while we ate dinner. Shown here are Ang Rita Sherpa, my assistant and companion at the clinic, myself, two volunteer Japanese doctors, and my new friend, Lynne.
The Khumbu Valley, in front of Mt. Everest in Nepal, is felt to be a beyul, a sacred valley. I’ve often thought that if one had to design a bird to be the main avian attraction in this valley, you would come up with something like the Danphe pheasant, shown here. This pheasant is unique to this part of the Himalayas.
On my last day working at Pheriche, we were called out in the middle of the night to assist in a delivery in a yak herding tent high above the village of Pangboche. When we got there, the baby had already been born. A few years ago, I managed to find the woman who had been born that night, in her native village of Pangboche (thanks to our trekking guide, who grew up nearby). She was now thirty-three years old with children of her own.
This is the only photo I have of the original CIWEC Clinic. I started work at this clinic in August 1983. This is where the second Jane first looked me up. The clinic was on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Two years later we had outgrown this building and moved closer into town.
My 1982 BMW R80 GS motorcycle. This was my main form of transportation during my time in Nepal. This photo was taken at Kakani, on the valley rim, overlooking the mountains due north of Kathmandu. I sold the bike to friends when I left Nepal, and it is still in use.
This is the front yard of our house in Kathmandu, where I lived for eleven of the fifteen years that I was in Nepal. The photo captures the lushness of Kathmandu Valley. People are usually surprised to learn that Kathmandu is at the same latitude as Orlando, Florida, but at 4300 feet in altitude (1310 meters). This allows for an extraordinarily wide variety of plants and trees to flourish, and to stay green all year long.
Lisa Choegyal figures prominently in my memoir, as she should. We shared a lot of experiences together over the fifteen years I lived in Nepal. Lisa, in those early days, was a key figure in running the Tiger Tops Lodge in Chitwan National Park. Her duties often took her down to the lodge which was about a thirty-minute flight from Kathmandu. Because we were friends, she often asked me to go with her.
At the end of our long, delightful walk through the jungles of Chitwan National Park, and having cooled off in the hidden Golden Pond, the first Jane and I waded down a river with our packs over our heads to keep them dry. An elephant and driver had been sent out from the lodge to pick us up and take us back through the elephant grass meadows.
Chakpori Hill was the site of a Tibetan Medicine College in old Lhasa. It was destroyed in 1959. I’m tying a sacred thread as an offering on the top of the hill, overlooking the Potala Palace. This was in 1987. A radio antenna was built on Chakpori Hill sometime later.
This photo is from a fall seminar, translated by Erik Pema Kunzang. This beautiful hall, with the large statues in front, personally crafted by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, was damaged in the 2015 earthquake, and can no longer be used, although it is still standing.
This is a shot of the “Honeymoon Trek” gang at our high point in a meadow at 13,000 feet (3960 meters). From left to right is Vanessa, Don, Thekla, Brot, Jane, and me. When Jane and I left Nepal, we ended up living next door to Thekla in Kelly, Wyoming, while Brot ended up living about 20 miles away in Wilson, Wyoming.
Jane walking on the icy, precipitous trail through the canyon that led to the highpoint of the trek. This was one of the easier sections. The river at the bottom of the canyon was about two hundred feet straight down from here. Note that she is trekking in a skirt, which was considered culturally appropriate at the time, as few women in Nepal wore pants.
This is the day in May 1990 that Jane Gallie arrived back in Nepal. We were married five days later. This type of banner is traditional in Nepal for weddings and other celebrations.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche predicted that I would get married someday, and that he would perform the marriage ceremony in his Gompa. This photo shows the moment that he called us over, after we had made offerings at the front of the Gompa, and he placed traditional white scarves around our necks. He then said, “Now that you have decided to get married, you need to make up your minds to be nice to each other.”
Jane at Swayambunath Stupa, shortly after we were married. Not only does she look amazingly appealing in this photo, but the background also shows the delightful chaos that surrounds so many sites in Kathmandu. The guy in the leopard print shirt, the dog that seems to be posing, and the incredible artwork, for which the artisans of Kathmandu were famous throughout Asia.
Jane and I, with Gil Roberts and Erica Stone, overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. Gil and Erica played an outsized role in my life over the many years that I was working in Nepal (and beyond). Readers will recall that they were present when I proposed to Jane.
Having read about Sir Edmund Hillary first at age twelve, I was thrilled to be able to meet him in Nepal. One of the first times I met him was up in the Khumbu region. He had become ill, and I ended up taking care of him. Later, we would meet regularly when he came through Nepal each year. In this photo, he’s meeting our son, Matthew, for the first time, along with his wife, June.
This is one of my favorite photos of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. On many mornings he opens his chamber to the public, who come to him with requests for blessings, or for advice on problems that they may be having with health, work, school, travel, and so on. To see him do this so skillfully, with such joyful energy has been one of the biggest inspirations in my life.
Galen Rowell was a world-famous climber and photographer. He was working on assignment for a book and wanted a photo of Tulku Urgyen and myself. Here, Tulku Urgyen is giving me a blessing. The photo didn’t make the cut in the book, but it’s always been one of my favorites.
This is Taga, the Tibetan refugee whose moving story I tell in the book. He’s just a few days post-surgery in this photo. When he was sufficiently healed, he received prostheses that enabled him to walk. He moved to Dharamsala, India where he studied to be a Thangka painter. He married the girlfriend that escaped with him over that pass and carried him on her back when he could no longer walk.
I’ve always thought how fortunate our children have been to grow up around prayer flags, monks, nuns, and reincarnate lamas, and have it seem like it’s a normal way of life. These prayer flags are at Nagi Gompa, where Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche lived on the flanks of a mountain called Shivapuri, overlooking Kathmandu Valley.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche died at Nagi Gompa, on the side of a mountain above Kathmandu. The next day he was transported to Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s Gompa in Boudhanath. As the truck got closer to Boudhanath, the streets filled with throngs of grieving people.
This is the statue that Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche gave me at the moment that we first met. A photo of this statue was used by Eva Van Dam when she painted the cover of the book.
We went trekking with Matthew when he was just six months old. We stayed below 6000 feet (1800 meters), but obviously had stunning views.
Our daughter, Anna Tara, at age thirteen, posing in the Khumbu at 16,000 feet (4878 meters). Both our children have been back to Nepal many times and maintain a close connection with the country and the people.
At the end of significant prayer ceremonies (pujas), the head lamas give out blessings to the people in attendance. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche is near the center of the photo in the large red hat. The young lama in the other red hat is the reincarnation of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s father, Yangsi Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche.
In 2007, Prativa Pandey, shown here, became president of the International Society of Travel Medicine, becoming the first woman and the first person from Asia to hold that position. Six years later, I was elected to the same position. Our little clinic in Kathmandu has produced two presidents of the most important travel medicine society in the world.
In August of 2000 I hosted the first Medicine and Compassion conference. This is the group photo from that event (after it stopped raining). The conference was the first time that Tibetan Buddhist concepts of training in compassion were presented to a Western professional audience, mainly doctors and nurses.
“Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam…” When we decided to leave Kathmandu in 1998, we weren’t sure where we should live. We decided to move to Jackson Hole because we felt that, after 15 years (8 years for Jane) in Nepal, we needed to choose a place that had an edge to it. In this case, extreme natural beauty, filled with wildlife and easy access to all kinds of outdoor adventure.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche has come to visit us several times since we’ve moved to Jackson Hole. On this visit, we made a video of Rinpoche teaching my son Matthew how to meditate. This dog belonged to the filmmaker, and he sat patiently watching as we did the video. When Matthew got up to leave, Rinpoche remained seated, and the dog, on its own accord, came over and sat next to Rinpoche, crossed his paws, and appeared to meditate.
This photo shows my rescue on Teton Pass with a heart attack. It shows how difficult the terrain was: a steep snow slope with deep powder snow. Nine people are attempting to carry me across the slope so that we can reach the waiting helicopter. My wife, Jane, can be seen in the blue jacket at the back.
I don’t go into it much in the book but joining The Rolling Stones on tour over a three-year period was one of the highlights of my life. Thirteen years earlier, I had a nice dinner with Mick Jagger in Kathmandu at Lisa Choegyal’s house. On tour I was not allowed to take any photos backstage, so I slipped out front for this one.
Our son, Matthew, at age seventeen, with his namesake, Mathieu Ricard at our home in Kelly, Wyoming. Mathieu was one of the first Westerners to learn Tibetan and get teachings from great Tibetan masters. He’s had an extraordinary career as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, translator, author, photographer, and philanthropist.
This is the retreat house I stayed in at 15,000 feet, above the village of Dingboche. The dominant peak across from me is Ama Dablam. The seven days I spent there gave me a taste of what it might be like to do a longer-term retreat in such a setting. The beauty and isolation were incredibly inspiring.
This is a famous bench outside the Patan Museum near Patan Durbar Square. Men (mostly men) gather there every day to relax and chat. This photo was taken in a return visit to Kathmandu, many years after I lived there.

A note from the author, David R Shlim MD…

I’m honored that my memoir won the International Book Awards prize for best autobiography/memoir in 2022.  The award covers books from the last three years.  I’m happy that my story about my relationships with great Tibetan teachers and my adventures, medical and otherwise, in the Himalayas can finally be shared.

The book is now available for purchase in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and audiobook formats. I know that many of you are excited to read the book, but probably not as excited as I am to have you read it and tell me your reactions.  As strange as it may sound, I’ve been writing this book for seventeen years.  To have it emerge like this and get this immediate recognition is like a dream. I would greatly appreciate it if you consider posting a review on Amazon once you’ve read it. Below, I’ll share some of the personal reviews that have been flooding my inbox over the past few months.

Indeed, although the book is a nice end in itself, my purpose in trying to share this story is to point to the ways that I learned about training in compassion, and the value of compassion in the world. Thank you for supporting this mission by sharing your experience of the book.

Remarkable Reviews for “A Gentle Rain of Compassion”

Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I learned so much that I didn’t know in all these years of friendship and working together. Now I have listened to you reading the stories on the Audible version and found it even more moving and illuminating.

Your life is an amazing story which you tell so well and movingly. Your writing is so expressive and lyrical that it took my breath away at times and brought tears to my eyes.

I just finished your book and can only say wow to it all. I am so excited to be strengthening my practice. And I am grateful to you and for your book. Got me thinking about how much teachers need teachings on compassion! For themselves and their students.

The part of your book that really helped me was the part about compassion fatigue… how one can empathize with someone and feel compassion but let it go once you are not together.

I am DEEPLY moved by your book! I finished it last night. You absolutely NAILED it!

I’m a fairly slow reader and find I get bored with many books very easily. Not so at all with this one. I found it to be a very fast read and one I just kept wanting to see what would happen next. SO well done! AND…..now I’m VERY interested in learning more about cultivating my own compassion.

I just finished reading your memoir, and am a little sad it is over. It was exciting to read about the incredible travels and adventures you have experienced! I was especially fascinated by the stories of your medical practice throughout the years, and how you were often at the forefront of discovery.

Your book really demonstrates how as physicians, we are often limited in our ability to medically treat patients by resources, knowledge, or simply the inevitability of their disease progression. The only thing we will always have to offer our patients is our compassion. Your book really sparked a curiosity in me and an interest in learning more about cultivating compassion.

After a third of the book, I thought this would make a good movie. But after a little more, it occurred to me that the ebook was so visual, it was better than a movie.

The stories of serious medical conditions and sometimes death were quite vivid, as were the stories of altitude sickness and other kinds of illnesses we usually don’t see in normal life here in the States.
The doctor’s medical and spiritual journey in the Himalayas was fascinating, as was his final return to Jackson Hole. It is well worth reading!

I love your book. It’s a great read and I learned a lot about you, medicine, Buddhism, and life. It inspired me to write this blog about becoming more aware in our daily activities.

Peggy on the Train

Music and Lyrics copyright by David R Shlim

The first chorus of this song is printed in Chapter 8.  These are the lyrics of the full song.  I’m in the process of making a recording of the song that I will post here as soon as it is available.

Maybe if she hadn’t been so kind
If she hadn’t been living with a man at the time
We fell hopelessly in love like only strangers can do
Peggy was sitting alone with a book
There was something about the way that she looked
As I sat down beside her wondering what I could say

But now that I’m alone again
It’s wintertime with falling rain
And time alone will ease the pain
Of Peggy on the Train

It’s been a while since I’ve been in love
Been with a woman that I thought much of
Sometimes I wonder if I’m on the wrong track
I never really had to try with her
I never wondered if I was sure
It’s a strange warm feeling now that I’m looking back

And now that I’m alone again
It’s wintertime with falling rain
And time has greatly eased the pain
Of Peggy on the Train

[Musical bridge]

The autumn leaves rustle on the ground
I dream of loves that I’ve lost and found
I still feel like that lonely kid standing at the high school dance
But now I’ve been all over the world
And the memories are mixed like these leaves that swirl
Around my feet like the dust of summer romance

And now that I’m alone it’s plain
Like sunny skies or driving rain
Like light from dark the pleasure came
From Peggy on the Train

(Repeat last chorus)

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