Has it really been six weeks? When I first arrived in Thailand in January, all the sounds of the jungle were completely exotic. The bird songs were phenomenal. One type of insect however, would randomly surprise me with a shrill, constant, very long-lasting kettle-whistle type sound that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to handle for the duration of my stay. Another type of incredibly loud insect sings in a chorus with it’s brothers and sisters during sunset each day sounding like a machine so loud I honestly mistook them for some rude mechanic running an engine on full throttle. Along with these insects, there have also been very endearing sounds, such as the frogs, and the birds, and especially the Tokay gecko, whom I’ve grown to love and listen for. And now, after only six weeks, these sounds have somehow become……. normal.
I hardly hear them anymore. It’s the strangest thing.
If you think about it, it didn’t take that long. One of the great benefits of travel is precisely how fresh everything is when we journey into a new environment. Our ordinary day-to-day lives have become so “normal” we may not even notice how we are not hearing the forest for the trees. Not hearing, not seeing, not anything really… just assuming we know it all, “been there, done that”, and there is a tendency to believe it is just the same ol’ thing everyday. This is a natural tendency of the human mind to allow the beauty and mystery of our every moment to lose its freshness, its captivating quality, in the face of repetition.
Here’s an experiment: Imagine you were from Asia, born and raised in a distant culture, and traveling to Nova Scotia for the first time. What would you see? What would you notice? Can you even imagine it? It’s not easy. But for a traveler, even the most mundane thing such as what’s for breakfast, or the way the shops display their goods, or the way people interact is amazing. And it seems, amazing can become “normal” pretty fast.
In yoga, one of our practices is to continually try to see the poses as if it were the first time. To keep reviving the sense of awe and mystery surrounding the human body and truly see it for what it is. It’s part of a bigger practice of being present, releasing the impositions of the “I know” mind, releasing the past moment by moment. Noticing the tendency for all things to become normal, to become automatic, we try to keep cultivating renewed interest so that we can see what is truly here unclouded by judgment and projection. It’s much easier during travel because everything IS new, and we get a sense of what it feels like to live without history for a while, outside of our ordinary reference points. Through this practice, we can uncover the happiness and aliveness that is always right here waiting for us. It’s a deeper kind of freedom–it’s the freedom of being out of the box.
You might say, “Well of course you’re happy, you’re traveling!” But how many people would agree that no matter where you go, life always seems to present challenges along the way. While I’ve been here in Thailand, there have been great gifts, as well as some challenges for sure. Life is rich in all ways! Yet with the practice of yoga and meditation, I can attest to having access to a sense of freedom and happiness in the background no matter how big the obstacle. This is the fruit of cultivating presence in moments less challenging, for even as I accidentally went sliding down a gravel road the other day on my elbow and hand, scraping my palm, elbow, calf, and ankle I was able to stay home, with myself, in the present moment and not get upset. Alone, in the middle of nowhere, trekking in the jungle looking for a waterfall named Lost Paradise… it was lost alright! I never did find it, but I found myself. As it tends to go, all of a sudden by surprise, life serves up a situation where I need myself. I needed to find my way back to civilization with as little unnecessary suffering as possible.
We can’t predict how we are going to react except in situations. It is nice when we discover that our practice has produced fruit. When you find yourself in a pinch, with perhaps physical pain and thoughts of concern, it is amazing to notice how it is possible to discover that behind it all, even still, exists a deep, constant happiness inside like a warm sun. It depends on the quality of the relationship you have with yourself and life itself. Through the years now, yoga has continued to connect me with a deep joyful freshness inherent in the present moment, even, as I’m pointing out here, in uncomfortable situations. It’s a strange paradox. There are many things that can bring this about, but most of all practicing placing attention on the freshness of the present moment.
If you were wondering though, I did find my way back out of the jungle of course. I thought perhaps to go straight to the hospital, since infection can set in pretty fast in the tropics, but intuition guided me to visiting a pharmacy first since the scrapes seemed fairly superficial. The funny thing is that during the times when I’ve felt the grace of being present in the face of a challenge, magical moments have seemed to ensue. It’s the strangest thing. Pharmacies here, in general, seem to be run by well manicured women who speak very little English. And it’s like being inside of a medicine cabinet, sterile, shiny, and clean–all glass and mirrors–but the staff tend to be cold, uncommunicative, and maybe even a little crooked, sometimes overcharging the unaware tourist… but on this day, my experience was totally different. A kind middle-aged man named Yung took one look at me as I came in the door, disheveled and dusty. He went straight over to the first aid section and started pulling out all the necessary cleaning products and dressings. I asked if he minded I sit in his shop to attend to the wounds right away. He indicated for me to sit on the stool that was there and to go ahead. In the meantime, he put on a pair of rubber gloves, sat down facing me, and proceeded to help me clean and dress my superficial injuries. He was so sweet, like an unexpected Buddha that emerges from the woodwork when you are least expecting it. When I was all bandaged up and overwhelmed with gratitude, I offered to buy him something as a gift, “Anything!” I said. “I just want to thank you! Can I buy you a fresh coconut?” With a compassionate smile, he replied in what little English he knew, “Just be careful. Take care of yourself.” My eyes began to water in response, so touched by his incredible kindness.
Life is beautiful if you let it. Strangely, it can show you some of it’s most beautiful sides even in the midst of the most challenging of situations, as long as we keep learning how to open up to it all, and not move from our past ideas of good, bad, right, and wrong, but instead from the ever fresh and new. <3