“Why are you going to Sri Lanka?” I’ve been asked at least a dozen times in the past couple of weeks. I stutter as I try to find an answer that would provide at least a morsel of acceptance to the person asking me when all I really need to say is, “why the fuck not?”
Sri Lanka, originally named Ceylon, which gives you a hint about what grows there, is a small country south of and separate from India. It was colonized by the usual suspects once upon a time but gained independence midway through the 20th century. A walk around the southern coastal fort town of Galle feeds you a delightful dose of colonial style architecture, which now houses quaint little shops that smell of tourist moolah. From the lighthouse is a spectacular view of the Indian Ocean and the Japanese Peace Pagoda in Unawatuna across the small bay.
So I chose Sri Lanka as my next stop in life because of its proximity to India which is where I will head next month to finally study yoga in the world’s yoga mecca. But it’s not the only reason I chose Sri Lanka. I chose it because I don’t know anything about it and I like surprises, even when discovery involves large snakes, massive spiders, and humidity that makes your skin slicker than a car salesman. Because the beaches are incredible. These are not the quiet, washed-up feeling, tranquil beaches of Indonesia’s remote islands. They’re lined with tall, hearty palms and mountains of cashew-coloured sand. The surf is wickedly inviting, or uninviting, depending on what level of surfer you are. I’m the kind that just appreciates watching dark handsome surfer guys ride things, like waves for example. I wouldn’t dare approach that booming surf.
Settled in a village between Unawatuna and Talpe, both coastal towns in the south, is the little home I’m renting for the next few weeks. Accompanying me is my beautiful friend Delphine. We’re surrounded by dense jungle and dirt roads leading to paved ones. Twice a day the bread tuk tuk makes its rounds down our road. The signalling morning jingle is Für Elise. The afternoon jingle is, as you would expect, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which I’d say is fairly accurate given the delicious curry type thing wrapped or rolled in yummy bread/pasty type stuff being sold. There are a few local families nested around the neighbourhood and they stare and smile as we come and go. Most people speak English quite well, which means I can default to my innate laziness and still be able to communicate with the locals. Perfect. But the two official languages are Sinhala and Tamil. In Sinhala, “āyubūvan” is the phonetic spelling for the common greeting, accompanied with prayer hands and small bow. It literally means “may you live longer”. Isn’t that nice?
While my initial impressions of this tiny little slice of Sri Lanka show me that it is not India, I will say that it feels like a gentler version of India, perhaps the Beginner’s India for those who are slow to warm to things. This is relating it to my past stay in Calcutta several years ago, which shocked, terrified, and humbled my ass right back to Spain after just three weeks. It’s a much cleaner dirty, its streets a more organized chaos, and the men make friendlier obscene gestures than in India where the deadpan stare is ubiquitous. We’ve had a couple of pink tongues flash us as we drive by, which when you consider what it’s like to walk past a construction site in midsummer in Canada, is quite a tame gesture.
But the driving is not for the faint of heart. It’s an extreme sport. If you feel too chilled out, perhaps you’ve smoked too much ganja and want a dose of afternoon anxiety to balance things out, hop on a motorbike and hit any major street in this coastal town, but maybe not right after a blaze. The gigantic flat-faced buses bully on down the road at mach four speed, taking any available lane without regard for the little guy on the bike, or any other vehicle. It’s what might happen when we give the guy with the small-man complex keys to the bumper cars. And the horn is an irritating jacked-up squeaker toy that will likely result in a heart arrhythmia by the end of my stint here. Thankfully, there are signs reading, “Do Not Enter the Expressway Drunken” just outside the expressway. Obvious head-scratcher aside, do drunks note road signs as they drive?
As I was trying to pull out into traffic the second day, a massive entourage of vehicles bombarded down one of the main streets. Painted faces and flags sprouted from cars and trucks and people hooted and hollered. It went on for several minutes. WTF. Civil unrest? No, cricket. So not unlike any other city in the world.
The energy in these streets running alongside the coast is colossal but when I turn up a side street towards my temporary home, all of a sudden the world is quiet, small, rural. Pavement becomes dirt and stone, motorbikes become pedestrians, and those pedestrians are gorgeous dark-skinned people with flashy white smiles and they hold colourful umbrellas to block the burn of the sun. I feel like I am in a foreign land. I feel like a tourist once again. I don’t want to be that one out walking around taking stock photos of villages and local people but I simply can’t help it because my surroundings are just so gorgeous.
This is no longer the South East Asia with which I’ve become familiar and accustomed to, though there are still clear and delightful Asia-isms. I’m no longer in the Far East. My impressions are premature, naive, belonging to a person just beginning to travel, which is what makes entering a new land such a great thing. Unsettled settling, joyful complications, expected uncertainty. This is the obvious reason for choosing any new place to travel. I will discover why I’m in Sri Lanka a little bit every day.
I want to be cold but I want to be hot.
I want to be rich but I want to be poor.
I want to be full but I want to be empty.
I want to have grand expectations in every situation but I want to let things be.
I want to have more than I could ever need but I want to know how to do without, to forage for survival.
I want to push myself until I can’t take anymore but I want to let go until I am lost even to myself.
I want to be amidst a vast mountain range watching the snow fall from a starry sky but I want to be surrounded by the buzz and colour and thrills of a city or cycling in the dusty streets of a third world village.
I want a calendar full of plans to go to incredible places but wide open spaces of time to spontaneously meander through the world.
I want to feel raw suffering and exquisite joy.
I want to drown in debauchery and cleanse myself with strong will and fresh water.
I want a stiff breeze and silky piercing rain.
I want to be deep in the ground to see where life originates but I want to be high up with the clouds to have a grander view of what life can become.
I want to sleep through the day and lie awake in the small hours of the night.
I want to carry life within me but I want to appreciate it from outside my grasp.
I want to own beautiful things and pass beautiful things on by without needing to own them.
I want to love another person until it leaves me hollow but I want to create more love than I’d ever imagined.
I want to be hateful and ugly, wretched and sour so that I recognize sweetness and beauty and choose that instead.
I want to bang my fists against the wall until they’re raw and bloody, to stay in the fight but I want to turn my heel and walk gracefully away from those things that don’t matter or that I can’t control.
I want to walk a mile in fancy shoes to find out I’d rather be barefoot.
I want to fly the plane and land it safely or die trying, either way I want to fly it.
I want to be something every single minute I’m alive so no time is ever wasted wondering why I’m here.
I’ve experienced many relationships whilst travelling. I’ve created them, forged them, negotiated them, deconstructed them, unravelled them, fought them, dissected them, systematically destroyed them, sewn them back together, acquiesced to them. Relationships with food, nature, people, myself, money, security, fear, pain, loss, and grief–dear sweet grief. That’s what travelling does. It gathers up all those experiences with the world, spread out over a lifetime, and stuffs them sometimes into a few months, sometimes into just a few moments. It intensifies life. But one of the most significant relationships of any long term traveller is the one she has with a place because every place is a potential home.
The relationship we have with a place is a little bit like the relationship one would have with a person. There is an initial infatuation stage before you start to notice all the little uncomfortable or irritating things that make you want to run away, that diminish the perfect view infatuation helped you to create, the one that sometimes leads to false realities or disillusionment. The one that makes you want to grab the next flight out and never return. And then if you stick around long enough, there’s the stage that gives you the opportunity to see the crack in the pavement take on the shape of a heart as it contracts and expands with the seasons, or the delicate sapling grow into a massive, hearty monstrosity in your front yard that hails acorns every September. That has been my relationship with South East Asia.
The first time I came to Thailand was over four years ago in October 2012, just 10 months after my now ex-husband and I embarked on a trip-turned-self-discovery-and-marriage-demise-of-epic-proportions. We took teaching jobs in a small city called Ayutthaya and thus was the start of my relationship with this incredible part of the world.
My introduction to Thailand was as anyone’s introduction to South East Asia would be. It was hot, humid, and smelly. But orchids grew randomly, the birds sounded orgasmic, and the sun shone every single day. People were so friendly, helpful, and an admirable degree of resourceful. And the food, oh the food…. But that was the surface stuff. As my days there stretched into months I developed a different kind of appreciation for it. All the seemingly yucky surface things, like dehydrated fish being sold on the street and a bum rash whose appearance rivalled small pox became kind of endearing after a while. This is testament to how much you love a place when bum rash becomes endearing, kind of like how you come to enjoy the smell of your lover’s morning breath, no quality is left out when you really, really love something, even those you hate. I wanted to experience everything on this journey, even the really hard shit, because that’s where true love hides out.
As much as I love to travel, to experience the novelty of a new culture, climate, or irritating banking system, there are certain places that hold me, that keep my heart so grounded it’s like it’s made of stone. It was a feeling I waited two years for in Indonesia that Thailand showed me within a short time, that Laos showed me instantly, that exists in some space in time along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It’s one I don’t experience in Canada, even amidst all the trees and the people I love. Because the idea of home has less to do with a physical construction and more to do with the space where you grow into yourself, where you become the person you’re most comfortable with, the one you accept in spite of all the bullshit she’s put you through. And I firmly believe that this most often happens in the quiet company of our own solitude. Outside of stimulants, cellphones, epic speakers, or other people. It’s the place where your mind stops moving and lets you take a look around, even if your body is still in motion. For some that happens in our childhood home because it’s infused into our temperaments (present company not an example). For others, it happens on the top of a mountain when we’re 36, shivering, and confused as fuck about life and how to get back down the mountain without breaking a leg. It happens when, as Elizabeth Gilbert so eloquently puts it, we “get tired of our own bullshit” because such a revelation is a state of mind, not a place.
Pico Iyer in a recent Ted Talk, speaks of the importance of stillness in finding that place. In a world where we are constantly moving from one place to the next, such wanderlust may only grow into true love if we can find a stillness in each place, a soul spot that gives us all the freedom of travelling but makes us feel everyday like we’re home. So much like a relationship with a person, a relationship with a place has more to do with the relationship we have with ourselves. A peaceful soul is a peaceful home, anywhere in the world.
There’s an idea out there that long term travellers are constantly on holiday. I understand why it appears that way. One minute I’m in Vietnam motorbiking through the mountains and in the next moment I am in Thailand swimming in lagoons far too magical to be real and writing blogs about places I never knew existed a year ago. Those Blue Dot Days as I’ve come to call them (think Google maps with location set to ON) are pretty awesome. In the past I regularly felt guilty about the things I get to do and the places I get to go instead of grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in my life that have led me to such circumstance.
Sometimes I feel like I am living my life to write a book about it. It’s not actually a bad way to go through life. It’s about creating my own story. One that will entertain me, shock me, make me feel something I’ve never felt before, teach me something. One that I don’t want to put down. One that I would read again and again. So I am constantly on the search for the next chapter, an outline, the bones of a great story but lived in truth instead of fiction. And the details create themselves as I give them license to, as I approach life, as I let things be to become whatever they may, without feeling guilty for having the life I asked for and actively created.
So part three of this blog is a culmination of the reasons I continue to travel, to develop the next chapter in that story and make it a piece I would want to read over and over again. A story I would want to pass onto my beautiful niece for when she’s ready to throw herself out into the world and I am ready to reign myself back in.
I wrote once that travelling costs money. Of course it does, everybody knows that and it is often used as a main excuse for not travelling more. But it costs less than living any place in Canada long term, and that includes the cost of my flights. Really. It actually doesn’t cost a lot of money to travel. I subsist on about $1000 a month for all my living expenses. That’s only $12K a year. I have no mortgage, car payments, or fancy dinners at fancy restaurants. My clothes come mostly from markets or second hand shops. I ask people to cut my hair and I hit up dentists in places like Thailand where high quality care is a fraction of what it is in my home country. So yes, part of the reason I travel is because life is cheaper when you do, contrary to popular belief. Where you travel doesn’t matter so much as how you travel. It’s a simpler life, sometimes masquerading as an intense, jam-packed, holiday-within-holiday to stay-at-homers. But the more material things, comforts, and securities I remove from my life, the more evident and cherished are those things that remain. Life gets surprisingly clearer.
I have met children from all over the world. Some as young as six have served me in restaurants in places where the whole family is expected to work. I’ve cajoled many local kids into cleaning up their beach by making a game of it and rewarding them with candy afterwards and then direct modelling of how the candy wrapper goes in the garbage bin. I’ve held babies and played peek-a-boo whilst the parents work. I’ve watched three year olds play in a boat out on the ocean, totally unsupervised. In small Asian villages they play games in the dirt barefoot. They have ruddy little faces shiny with smiles. They play simple made-up games in groups, outside, under the sun. There aren’t any screens or expensive gadgets stealing their attention or interactions. There aren’t ridiculous safety rules enforced to smother their curiosity and protect them from life. They’re learning in the most natural way.
I’ve made unlikely friends travelling. Different ages, socioeconomic statuses, nationalities. People with problems, people without cares, people running from something, people trying to confront something. People completely lost and lonely, without homes or jobs or money. People with more friends and more money than they know how to manage. People absorbed by darkness and people surrounded by beautiful light. People who show me what I could become if I am not careful and people who guide me towards a better place. I’ve spent afternoons with amazing women, laughing until we cried and nights with beautiful men I’ll never see again. I’ve walked miles through villages watching simple people doing simple things amidst a complicated world and wondering how they control their curiosity about the world when they will never leave the island or the village they live in. Do they wonder about the world and what else is out there? All those incredible places that are normal everyday backdrops for seasoned travels like myself. I have learned to give my attention to people more fully because they are the ones with whom I share the present moment. Because everybody needs somebody to notice them, hear them, understand them, somebody to make laugh, and sometimes that person is a complete stranger.
Travelling helps me communicate better, more creatively, without relying on useless words that only just symbolize for one person feelings that everybody has. That everybody smiles in the same language is cliche and inaccurate because some smiles are false, hidden behind an agenda that will never be fully understood because as much as I travel and as long as I stay in any one place I will never know what it feels like to belong to that environment completely. So I communicate by spending time with people, by respecting cultural ways, by giving of myself what I can to help another person or community in some small way.
I often feel ageless and formless, just a spirit amongst many. Some days travelling takes me on this incredible metaphysical trip into Nevernever land but it ultimately grounds me more than the motions of regular life in Canada. I recognize this most when I hike for long stretches, without regard for calendar days or time other than that guided by nature. In the grandness and vastness of the mountain ranges I have been in, under a wide sky, I feel so full though I am so small and insignificant in comparison. Those days feel long and stretched out, excused from time, though they pass so quickly, those beautiful days spent walking. A month in Laos last year tripped me up, slowed me down, and acquainted me with a light brighter than I ever imagined to experience. I admired the dirt under my toenails and baked into my ever so welcoming skin. Days of carelessness, solitude, vastness, and light, bright beautiful natural light. Days spent amongst a river, the seaside, in the mountains where space and time become the source of my gratitude for everything in life. Like they are all I need to wash away the reality of aging, impermanence, and loss. Of the memories of a life left behind a long time ago.
And I learn how to cope with change through travel. Whether I spend a week, a month, or a year somewhere I create a little life inside of my big one and with each move to the next place I must say goodbye to that mini life. Not just to the experience but to the friends I’ve made there, my favourite streets, the laundry lady, the old guy who sits at the same coffee shop at the same time, everyday. To the routine that I created for myself in that small slice of my existence. I throw myself into sentimentality and attachment, rather than protect myself from them because if I can’t feel something amazing for those little everyday things, how could I ever feel something for those really big life things? With those goodbyes I learn how to let go and transition into a new and sometimes completely different environment. It makes me a warrior of my vulnerability, rather than a victim of it. I learn how to carry on through life totally alone but never feeling that way because the world is not a lonely place when you engage with it.
I’m always moving so I don’t have to conform to any type of person, lifestyle, or environment and because of that I can adapt to any place I go, some more than others. I can wear different masques, assume different characters, all which are shades not previously exposed to the light. Travelling makes me throw myself into that light regularly and know myself better.
But I don’t want to hungrily scarf down every adventure that presents itself, not forever anyways. I want it all but in trying to take it I wonder if I will only ever have pieces or fragments of these things, instead of experiencing one thing in its wholeness. A friend of mine once said that dividing my time between so many experiences and people prevents me from ever fully engaging with any of them, as if time is all there is and effort or love have nothing to do with it. With all of the experiences that travelling presents, creates, destroys, and reveals, I get the sense that although everything changes, nothing really changes at all. I’m always exactly where I started, at home in my own skin, in the same body, with an ironclad sense of self.
Be careful what you ask for. Not just because you might get exactly what you want and few things are more heartbreaking than that, but you may not actually know what it is you’re asking for. That’s the heartbreak bit.
I drive like a bit of an asshole. I don’t drive like I own the road but I definitely treat it with less respect than it deserves. I woke up one morning last week, got on my motorbike to pick up my friend Manos for a drive up the mountain and I thought, I wonder if today is the day that I crash. The law of motorbike driving is that everyone has a number. Fate is not concerned with IF, only WHEN. I thought about how it might happen and what injuries I might sustain. I don’t consider this a morbid thought, only a quick little reminder to pay attention to the road (which, ironically, is not at all what I’m doing if I am daydreaming about motorbike accidents). But on I went.
So as it turned out, I did have an accident that day but it really wasn’t a big deal at all. Even when bad things happen in Chiang Mai they’re not really all that bad. I had to brake hard because the guy in front of me did, and we went down. To be fair, some of it had to do with the fact that I’d rented a shitty little tin can with tires like the skin of a grapefruit. But we experienced the strangest sensation. We went down like feathers. We landed on bouncy pavement. And with outstretched arms we slid forward on the hot asphalt like naked flesh across silk sheets. The road was totally open and that particular road is almost never free of vehicles so we slid into wide open space instead of under a truck. The motorbike trapped my leg as we slid to a stop but I felt nothing, no weight, no pain or discomfort. We both wore helmets but our heads never came into contact with the ground.
I lifted the bike and moved it out of the road whilst a couple of people stared but no one offered help–rather unusual for Thailand. Manos was okay with some scratches on his hand and knee. My knees took a bit of a beating but nothing more serious than the playground scrapes of a five year old kid. We had the tremors though. It could have been so much worse. We could have been scraps of torn flesh and broken bone stuck to the pavement or the windshield of a car. We could have been beneath the wheels of a truck. We could have been dead. We relinquished our plan to drive the winding mountain road up to the temple. Instead, we eased ourselves down onto a curb, inspected our injuries and reeled in the after sensations of disbelief and gratitude. I told him of my morning thoughts and wondered if I’d somehow willed the accident to happen.
Chiang Mai has this strange lesson about the Law of Attraction, which essentially names the universal law that “like attracts like”. I love this law because of how beautifully science and spirituality overlap. At the most basic level, the Law of Attraction posits that what we perceive as objects, sound, or people are all vibrations and similar vibrations are drawn together. To get what we want in life we must first know what we want. Then we must learn to control our own vibrations in order to attract vibrations of a similar frequency, instead of relying on external things to work in our favour, or as sometimes happens, to our detriment. It means that we control our own reality merely by how we think about and approach life.
The Buddha said, “with our thoughts we make the world.” Life doesn’t happen to us, we happen to life. But what an odd and confusing contrast when I think about all the little fucking things that happen on a given day that require a mental response. Everything it seems! And what’s chicken-and-egging here then? My thought about what happened or what happened because I thought it?
When you focus your attention on a thought or indulge in an emotion, that energy showers across the universe and touches people on the other side of the world. Vibrations are far reaching. It’s a bizarre phenomenon I’ve noticed lately and I’ve heard other people speak of it too. Those days I wake up feeling amazing, in awe of the world, are the days all kinds of wonderful things happen. I hear from long lost friends. I find money on the ground. I receive an offer of work. Someone comments on one of my articles. Butterflies and dragonflies perch on my toes. Colours are brighter and I experience beauty with all my senses. I meet somebody amazing because like attracts like. But the most important thing is that I think differently and that thinking affects how I see, breathe, smell, taste, hear, feel and interact with my environment. Am I actually willing such wonderful things to happen or am I merely noticing and appreciating what is always there?
Much of what I read about the Law of Attraction focuses on positive thought and good outcomes so I wonder about negative thoughts and bad outcomes, like my accident. It’s a bit like the Law of Gravity in that sometimes I wish it didn’t have to involve my aging body in its business but I’m certainly happy it keeps spiders from floating around in the air. Absolutely every phenomenon has two sides, a yin and a yang, an essential balance. I believe the Law of Attraction works to our detriment as well. We don’t just get what we continuously desire but we also get that which we are averse to because aversion is bred from fear and fear is so closely related to desire. We all fear losing what we have or just never attaining that which we desire. And fear requires energy so when we deliver it that by focusing our thoughts on the “what if”, possible in every single situation in life, then we actually will it to happen, even if we don’t want it, because we conduct ourselves accordingly without even realizing it. Either way the law works, we get some degree of necessary learning.
So I thought about crashing and it happened, maybe because I’d created an energy and thus manifested it to happen. There are rational reasons for that of course, such that allowing my mind to wander instead of focus on driving creates a situation ideal for such events to occur. But I believe it is less tangible than that. It’s really about intuitively recognizing when something is slightly amiss in certain situations, moments or entire months. If a seemingly random thought continually scampers through your brain, is the Universe is trying to alert you of something or is there something you desire or fear of which you are not fully aware?
Much of what I get in in life results from what I am asking for, whether I know I’m asking for it or not, but I can certainly trace back and make those connections later. If I want good things to happen, I have to consciously ask for good things, not just through gratitude and explicit prayer, but through my actions, through the company I keep, through my daily habits. Most importantly, by how I select my thoughts everyday, like I choose the best looking cherries. ’Be careful what you ask for’ is wise advice but I think it’s more accurate to say, ‘be careful what you think about.’
It’s uncomfortable, dangerous, and it costs money. But it will take you under the seas, over the mountains, and through yourself. To travel is the best decision I’ve ever made and I’ll make it a thousand times more. Because of travel, I’ve managed to cram about a hundred mini lives into my given one.
When I left Canada to travel years ago I’d never been outside of North America. I didn’t go because I had a dying urge to see new places and learn about new cultures, though that was a definite bonus. I wanted to test myself, challenge myself, get to know who I am in in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to learn how to unchain myself from my silly ideas about how life is supposed to go because other people think that is how life is supposed to go. I wanted to slow time down rather than be dragged down by handfuls of indistinguishable days.
My reasons for continuing such a lifestyle, call it Gypsy, Drifter, Nomad, Escape Artist, whatever term helps it make sense, are plenty. Many of them are evident in my past stories. All of them are present in my continuous movement forward to the next place, the next experience. Five amazing months in Chiang Mai has brought all my reasons for travelling to the surface. This city has a way of making me feel like I’m eight years old again, riding my bike to the playground on a warm summer evening to meet up with my friends. Climbing trees and jumping down into soft grass. Skipping rocks across puddles. Watching the light change as the sun makes its descent. I may never have had such child-like fun as a grown-up. And I don’t want to leave but I don’t want to stay either. I want to continue exploring, to try on new shades of challenge, discover new types of electrical sockets and showers, get lost in new streets instead of the same old ones.
So I’ve made a bit of a summary here of my reasons for continuing to travel. Perhaps it is about finding the right kind of familiar as I wrote about in Part One*, or maybe it is just a collection of random things that make me feel really happy.
Travelling makes me realize that there is time for everything in this life. There is time to love and time to grieve weeks of your life away. There is time to have a second breakfast. There is time to contemplate all the colours in the sky as you wait for the traffic light to let you on your way. There is time to hike enough mountains to make you feel like you’ve finally overcome one. And there is time enough afterwards to soak your feet in coconut oil and your heart in whiskey while you watch one more sunset because at the end of the day that certainty is the most beautiful thing we get in life. There is time to kill time. There is always time to indulge in life because if we can’t do that, what the hell else are we living for? Even the Tao Te Ching states, “those who enjoy life are wiser than those who employ life.”
I never spent hours of my time in a book store in my old life. But travelling gives me a lot of time alone, which I can use to indulge in such activities that unfold my brain and open it up. This is a tricky thing to do if there is always someone there, if the distractions of friends, family, work, and school abound. I used to go into the bookshop in Surabaya next to my grocery store. There was an unwrapped book in there titled, “The Book of Answers”. Gold. I felt like I’d found the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s like a bible. You rest your hand on the cover for ten seconds whilst thinking about your question and then open it up randomly and there’s your ambiguous-as-fuck answer. I searched regularly for answers that would make my time there easier to tolerate. And I simply killed time. I once asked the book if I should do my ironing that night because I really, really didn’t feel like it. It told me, “there is a time for everything,” meaning–no ironing! Damn right there is a time for everything: for ironing (once a year), for peanut-butter bacon sandwiches (also once a year), for asking stupid questions and taking chances (daily), for debauchery (asap), for loneliness (with each new moon), for life and death (every minute).
Travelling teaches me that there is time for balance. My sister asked me the other day what my plans are for after Chiang Mai. “I’m going to Sri Lanka for a couple of months,” I explained. “But what are you going to DO?” She asked. I felt a niggle of irresponsibility and guilt for my reply. “Um, write, do yoga, practice massage, go to the beach, read, explore the area by motorbike… exist.” Was there something else I was supposed to do? Ahhhh, work. But if I don’t have to earn money to support myself at the moment, must I make myself work anyways? There are many ways to “work”, aka, keep myself busy, feel productive, meet personal goals, that don’t need a monetary value attached to them. Having a job is just one of those ways but one that takes up most of our time because we get addicted to having more and more money. Or we’ve chosen a lifestyle that demands we work our lives away to make enough money to support it. I worked two years in a city I didn’t like and now I am enjoying the fruits of my labour. This is balance, albeit spread out over years instead of throughout the week to culminate at the weekend, but balance nonetheless.
I enjoying meeting people and travelling is a great way to do that. People are generally more open and responsive to chatting with strangers when they travel because many are on a quest, a journey, an epic mind-blowing spin across the world and that makes us receptive to experiences we’d never consider at home. What I really love is the smorgasbord of people that travelling presents. It is uncommon for my evening’s social group to consist only of 30-something Canadian women, which is typical at home. On any given night out there are at least three or four countries or continents represented at the table, a mix of ages, lifestyles, sexualities, languages, professions.
I take more notice of people when I travel, when the day’s objective is just to observe where I am. Who are the ones eating alone, contentedly or lonely. They’re usually the people I notice when I feel alone. Who are the ones who rush past, towards a goal, a date, through a traffic light. I notice them when I feel lazy, unproductive. Just a glimpse of all these people show me where I am on a given day and how much I accept myself. If I feel alone or included, strong or insecure, settled or in total disarray.
Travelling puts me constantly in touch with things that piss me off, test my patience, challenge my standard of personal hygiene. Travelling teaches me to chill out. To choose my battles. To learn how to not give a fuck about things that don’t deserve a fuck. And because I am less concerned with the small and unimportant details I can take more risks towards the things that help me create happiness, peace, and good vibrations. This is more difficult to achieve when I am at home or surrounded by the familiar.
I learn about my limitations because I am regularly in situations that challenge my comfort. They introduce me to different sides of myself all the time. The one that makes me want to slither out of my own skin or the one I wish to wrap more tightly around myself. I learn about what I can and can’t handle. I learn about what I want to handle and what I don’t ever want to learn how to handle because my actions are my character and my character is my choice. And my limitations teach me compassion, not just for myself but for other people whose limitations are often much more evident than mine. And where there are limitations strength is necessary to continue on appreciating every single little thing that life gives us.
I think it’s about gratitude in the end. Travelling teaches me not just to FEEL grateful, but how to BE grateful. Instead of feeling guilty (a habitual past time) for living with such freedom at the moment I am grateful for every encounter I have every day, whether it be a shitty, uncomfortable moment or one that makes those shitty uncomfortable moments worth it. And for everything there is an answer, whether it’s truth or a lie, from a book or from your gut, today or years down the road.
There will definitely be a part three coming!
Photo: Tha Phae Gate, Chiang Mai
I read somewhere recently, “promote what you love rather than bash what you hate.” We become what we focus our attention on after all. So rather than be angry with a man who deserves every ounce of my viciousness, I instead choose to be grateful for what a year with him has taught me about myself and other people.
Now I’ve seen the love that exists within me, surer than the sun, and it is stronger even than his betrayal. I have glimpsed time in a way I never did before. How easily we give our time to people not worth it. Years, months, even minutes too much. A year spent with him and I have a better appreciation of my time.
I thank him for teaching me about my anger and for showing me what can happen if we care too much about ourselves and not enough about other people. For bringing out my crazy side, my monster, so I can identify what triggers it.
Because of him I learned that some people will go to incredible lengths to mask their self-repulsion. They will lie and cheat in order to get what they want. To temporarily fill whatever void exists within them. They will take, use, consume, chew up, and spit out whatever leftovers remain. But it’s only because they are desperate to relieve their profound unhappiness, the infinite black cloud that follows them around, the one they create. For such people I have compassion because hate and resentment would only breed more people like them, and the world certainly doesn’t need that.
So I thank him for giving me a reason to practice compassion for someone who doesn’t know what compassion is. That might be one of the greatest things life can give us but that he will never have because he suffers too much over himself. Just as I will never know what it feels like to violate the lives and hearts of others for selfish fulfillment.
I thank him for showing me what loneliness looks like so that when the option to use other people like I consume food or toilet paper presents itself, I will recognize that this is not the kind of person I want to be. Loneliness results when we run from ourselves and we run from ourselves when we don’t like what we see.
He stood as a necessary point of reference for love. I thank him for disappearing for days at a time, then reappearing. For pushing and pulling me away over and over again. Now I know what it feels like to go slightly mad because I thought that was what love looked like. Thank God that wasn’t love.
I thank him for abandoning me when the only place he should have been was at my side. For that, I learned to take care of myself. I learned that I can carry myself through any kind of pain. Had he been there after all he would have only stolen my energy and contributed to my pain.
I thank him for drawing me in so I could identify up close the kind of man to stay away from, to protect my potential daughter from, to warn any son against becoming. His desire to know me was only because I have something he so badly wants but may never have because he is simply incapable of an honest life.
I thank him for teaching me about balance. In this life we don’t get all good or bad but in order to recognize either we must have the other. He has shown me that good exists the same way that darkness shows us the stars. The light in my life is brighter now because of his blackness. A mind-twisting year with him showed me how far away I was from a balanced, honest and loving relationship with myself.
I thank him for his storms, his blackouts, his acid rain, his months of deep, dark winter. For his smoggy, polluted skies. For the trash he left strewn about to fester and rot. For the hordes of useless junk he piled around himself. For his barren trees and empty pockets, cracked pavement and stained streets. It’s a world I could never live in but had to see so I know where to turn to avoid such a place. I thank him for showing me everything I don’t want to be, that I don’t want in my life. I can see myself much more clearly because of him and I’m grateful my self-image is nothing like his.
This loss has become my gain. I’ve been exposed to a type of character my previous sheltered life would never have shown me. I’ve learned about the type of person I could have become within his clutches. A warning of a fall rather than the fall itself, thankfully.
This does not weaken my heart, it strengthens it. It will not make me old or bitter. It may draw new lines on my face but that will only be because I’ve rejoiced in finally having my freedom back and to have laughed in the company of the honest, loving people I have in my life. We never lose, only learn. With this last thought, no remnants of him remain.