It has been five weeks since I boarded a plan to Asia. The anticipation, uncertainty and excitement of that day are fresh in my mind as if it were only yesterday. Life happens in the blink of an eye and the line between reality and living in a dream is still a blur to me. Sometimes you need to pause, assess and evaluate it all to make sure you’re still on the right track.I’ve been reflecting a lot lately. Trying to learn and grow from these experiences, challenging myself to be a better person. This post is more or less a collection of thoughts written throughout the past week so it may be out of order and not make a lot of sense. But It’s time to go beyond the surface of story telling and share how I really feel at this point in the journey. It’s not exactly easy putting it all out there for the world to read… but this trip has got me in the habit of going with my gut and not holding back. Life is too short.In five weeks I’ve experienced a wider gamut of emotions than I have in my entire lifetime. I can only imagine what the next 30, or even 60 years will bring.I’ve come to realize that my first 30 years of life were spent coasting by—a comfortable existence shielded from hardships and trauma that many others face. There were times I was trapped in my own hell but it wasn’t born out of external circumstances, rather my own fears and insecurities. I suppose when there’s nothing to challenge you on the outside, your own mind creates ways to torment itself. This is why I believe the only way to achieve absolute happiness and contentment is to detach from your sense of self, the egoic mind, and become conscious of Being. This transition from unconscious to conscious has changed everything. It was the lightbulb moment as I read Eckhart Tolle’s words on the plane descending into Bangkok, and it’s what has allowed this trip to transform me.
In The Power of Now, Tolle explains:
“The best indicator of your level of consciousness is how you deal with life’s challenges when they come. Through those challenges, an already unconscious person tends to become more deeply unconscious, and an already conscious person more intensely conscious. You can use a challenge to awaken you, or you can use it to pull you into even deeper sleep. The dream of ordinary unconsciousness then turns into a nightmare.”Five weeks ago I reached a breakthrough, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve broken through to a new world with unchartered waters, and it’s much more vast than I could have imagined. I’ve only taken the first step, not knowing how wide or deep this new territory is and without a map to guide me. I know much less than I thought I knew before—only that I’m in a better place and can never turn back. Even with this enlightenment, it’s hard to reverse a lifetime of conditioning and sometimes I break. To be clear, everything I’ve expressed here has been exactly how I felt at the time. It really has been a series of blissful moments and I’ve been riding that high as long as I can. I thought that by removing myself from everything safe and easy and familiar, I’d be forced to become stronger, better and happier on a deeper level. And I am… without question. But I also didn’t expect to meet so many amazing people and spend every day caught up In a new experience. It’s all been one big distraction and sometimes I wonder if I’ve been using that as a crutch, becoming dependent on outside factors to bring happiness. Maybe I use these distractions so that I’m not trapped in my own mind, knowing where it can wander. Not feeling strong enough to prevent it from bringing me down. No matter how alive and happy I feel outside of these dark moments, they’ll always be there, waiting to creep back in—distractions won’t fix that. Maybe I’m not ready to feel complete on my own yet… or ever, and will constantly seek connections with others to bring happiness. It’s a scary thing, having to rely on others to fill that need for you, and as I’m writing these words now I realize it’s my biggest fear in life—the one I’ve always struggled with. Learning to be completely and entirely whole and content on my own.I think back to my old life and remember how easy a lot of things were. How simple it was. Everything was all figured out, I just had to continue down that path. I was much more certain of things back then, but it was all for a life that I wasn’t meant to live. I’ve never liked not having things figured out. I want to be the person who has it together and knows what they’re doing and how to do it. We all want this, right? But sometimes we’re so zoned into the ideas we’ve formed from a young age and the plans we make for ourselves, and we decide it must be the only way to live.
Sometimes one small piece of the puzzle changes shape and gently guides us in a new direction, until the end result is completely different than our original vision. Other times something comes along and shakes us so hard that we’re forced to start from the beginning, not sure of how to put the pieces back together, so we build a new puzzle. But knowing we’re in control? That is the best part. We’re in charge of this thing and can change course at any time, with just one small step or by starting all over. I scroll through my Facebook feed and watch as friends and bloggers transition into autumn, posting photos of their homes perfectly staged with seasonal foliage, gourds and neutral palettes. I wonder what my fall home tour would have looked like. I used to love this time of year. Pumpkins and apple cider and cozy blankets and sweaters. Yet here I am in the eternal summer that is Southeast Asia, drinking warm beer in a stuffy boat with strangers floating down a river that cuts through a foreign jungle land. Without the changing of seasons and their familiar routines, my internal clock has stopped ticking. I could end up forever caught in this state of existence, living day to day where sunrises and sunsets are the only benchmark of time.Last week in Chiang Mai, after four days of perhaps a bit too much fun, I ended up in the hospital at 5am the day my visa expired and I was supposed to leave for Laos. It was nothing too serious—I was back in the hostel an hour later with meds and spent almost 2 days in bed recovering. But It was the longest I’d been alone on this trip—my distractions were gone, and I broke.The mind left unchecked can wander into some very dark and painful places. I couldn’t see what was below me when I jumped blindly into this new world, but I knew I’d have to navigate it alone. It’s a strange and lonely place though I’ve managed to find the light that lives on the surface and stay above water. But sometimes the light disappears and I sink. On the way down I reach for anything I can to pull myself back out, terrified of going to that dark, unknown hole. But then I remember I’ve been there before. I remember the emotional pain that forced me here and the physical pain on the trek that made me grow stronger. I realize there is so much left to experience and discover and I know I’m just beginning to learn. Its easy to feel complete and whole at your happiest moments, but when those are taken away… that’s the true test. Those two days alone in my room were my lowest point on this journey. I still have a long way to go.I’ve been in Laos for five days now. The photos in this post are from two days traveling from the border down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. This country is more beautiful than I had imagined and I can’t wait to share more with you. Until next time…