I’m cold for the first time in Thailand. But I’m also cozy under a thick blanket, in a hillside jungle hut where my bed has a slight downward tilt – where I’ve been reading, writing, meditating, and yoga-ing to my heart’s content. It’s raining and has been all day. It feels like Portland, Oregon. This makes me think of my sister, and that makes me happy.
Less than 24 hours after my yoga teacher training finished, my parents arrived in Chiang Mai. I was so excited to see them – it felt like an out-of-body experience. Or more like an out-of-Thailand experience. When I pulled up to their hotel and happened to see my Dad just heading into the driveway from a walk (or as he calls them, “urban hikes”), I felt like an eight year-old kid whose parents made a surprise visit to my sleepaway camp.
My mom, dad and I hugged and laughed, soaked up sunsets and drank wine (a true luxury in Thailand!), sat poolside and caught up. We ate wonderful Thai food, mediocre Italian food, and got lost in Chiang Mai one night – which was awesome, because then the three of us got to share a tuk-tuk ride home. Our sweet-hearted driver insisted on shaking our hands — the warmest of good-byes — after spending all of seven minutes with us. So my parents got to see a spark of this kindness that I’ve appreciated and loved so much in this country.
Then, in a flash, they were off. A flight to BKK and then LAX on Thanksgiving Day. I checked out of their hotel with not one tiny idea of what I would be doing next. It was probably one of a scant few times in my life where I’ve had zero plans: no hostel, no destination, no job, no list of to-do’s. All I had was a Thai visa that would let me stay here for another 30 days.
And what I needed was quiet. In the rush from Yoga to Reuniting with Parents, I hadn’t had a moment for personal reflection aside from a blog post. Quiet – hmm. I DID have a lead: my yoga roommate Catherine was friends with a British couple who had recently revived a meditation / retreat center in the mountains of Chiang Rai. (Thailand’s northernmost, most rural province.) The website showed a yoga platform (well, just a gorgeous platform for anything at all – but I envisioned my mat there instantly) overlooking misty hills of terraced crops. It was called Shambhala. Perfect. Now I had a plan.
One friendly email exchange later and I was in the back of a songtaew with Peter and Janice, the kind, adventurous proprietors of Shambhala – along with a few other explorers who were also seeking stillness after the rattle and shake of the city. We drove into the mountains for an hour, getting to know each other. After a quick market stop and a successful hitchhike, we arrived at this secluded oasis, a cluster of huts (with hot showers, yes!) and 200 stairs winding up through the jungle to the beautiful wooden deck with views of the lush, misty countryside. My cabin’s name was “Nirvana” – of course.
Which brings me to now. I’ve had two days of time to read, study, practice, reflect, and write. Today, during a break in the rain, I went for a walk up the mountain to the local temple, and to the hilltribe village of the Lahu people. This was my first hilltribe experience; as Peter explained, until 25 or 30 years ago, the Lahu were completely isolated and self-sustaining. Hunters and gatherers. I can’t imagine this. Even today, most of them do not know how old they are, at least in any unit of time we understand. But they do know how to say “Hello” in English – modern life has seeped its way in, just as I did as I quietly meandered alongside the precarious homes on stilts, stopping here and there for piglets or roosters to cross the road, waving to tiny kids peering through the slats.
And tomorrow begins another day. There’s a vague idea of catching a bus to the city of Chiang Rai. Or a flight to an island. Or simply a little more solitude. I’ve caught myself not knowing what day it is, or the time. These details have fallen away. Which reminds me –it’s only when we stop planning that we are able to be here, now. In a timeless state. Perhaps a little bit like the Lahu. So I’ll endeavor to stay here as long as I can.