On December 13th I fly home! To the United States, where I will forge a new idea of “home” that will include bouncing from couch to couch for a while. And I say good-bye to my home of the last eight months – Thailand. I’m spending my last two weeks here in my favorite city – Chiang Mai – trying to soak up as much of it as possible. (If there’s a shortage of coconut shakes or outrageous floral leggings after I depart, I apologize.)
It seems like so much longer than eight months, which in a lifetime, is just barely a turn of the page. I came here thinking that I needed a perspective shift, a new path, to shake things up. What I didn’t know was that I also needed to slow down, observe, appreciate – and this has made these eight months joyful, purposeful, and full of light.
I came to know myself better here – through the ups and downs of teaching, through learning and practicing yoga, through traveling with friends and on my own. Through the inevitable realization that travel brings: that we are all more alike than different. And that goodness and kindness prevails.
I’ll miss the experience of walking down the street, which is so uniquely Thai: the smoky smell of street meat cooking, the plumes of exhaust barreling out from behind jovial, slightly maniacal tuk-tuks, 7-11’s on every corner, motorbikes driving on the sidewalk, the tangy spice coming from the mortar and pestle under the strong hands of a woman making som tam (papaya salad), and rapid-fire Thai being spoken in its direct yet sing-song-y way. I’ll miss monks chanting at 5 a.m. and the National Anthem every day at 8 and 6.
Thailand is either a feast for the senses or a sensory overload depending on your particular mindset that day – I’ve had my share of both. But I have a feeling that walking down the street in the U.S. will feel decidedly…easy. Almost absurdly normal.
But more than the haphazard delight of the streets, I’ll miss the smiles and the kindness of the people here, which just glows in every moment, in every interaction. There is a sense of community here that I hadn’t experienced before. An understanding that we are connected and so, given the choice to smile and be kind, to do those two things rather than any alternative.
As of now, I’m headed home and am planning to spend ample time just soaking up the loveliness of being with my friends and family. I’ll also appreciate Colorado microbrews, Portland’s foodcarts and fresh juices, and California’s particular brand of sparkling sunshine in December. After that, who knows? I’ll see where my path takes me.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent some time with the thoughts and philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk. His words below represent much of what I’ve learned in Thailand – to live with greater awareness, striving to be more mindful and compassionate with my heart, actions, and words every day. My teachers in this lesson have been many: my wild but wonderful students, new friends and old friends seen anew, fellow travelers also seeking life writ large, my radiant yoga teachers, and the kind Thai people.
So thank you, all. I will miss you. But the next adventure beckons. If it’s anything like this one, then there is much joy and love on the horizon. And I am the luckiest traveler I know.
“You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.
Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.
Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.
If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.
You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.
Life is like that.
If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.
You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.
It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished.
Learn from it and let it go.
The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.
Worrying is worthless.
When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.
Then you will begin to experience joy in life.”
~ Thích Nhất Hạnh