Fabric

The day I wrote this (in bits and pieces throughout the day, as I often do), at least three people in three separate, isolated settings asked me how much longer I was going to be here and commented about how quickly the time is going.

By the third time I just smiled and laughed softly to myself before responding. All I could think was; I am so goddamn lucky to be here.

Life isn’t something you possess. It’s something you take part in, and you witness.”

-Louis CK

Last week;

It’s supposed to be a holiday, but the government workers I spend my time with don’t usually get these days off. They spend them organizing events, going to ceremonies, and driving around to different villages. As such, I am tasked with going to a tree-planting ceremony in a nearby village. I admit to being a little grumpy about it, but I try to put on my best face and just go with it.

Before we have even left the government office, two of my counterparts are asking me if I will cancel my classes on Monday to go dance in a performance for the governor’s visit. My annoyance flares up and through my (admittedly very thin) facade of calm.

I resist. I tell them I can’t, I tell them I don’t want to cancel my class, I tell them it’s not convenient, but they won’t let up. Eventually one of them calls up the teacher at my Monday school to move my class to the morning so I can go. Oh, also we will be spending the afternoon practicing for it, so there goes the rest of my so-called holiday.

My counterpart accuses me of being childish and petulant. I think she’s right, but I also tell her I can’t accurately explain why I don’t want to do it, and leave it at that. The real reason is that I don’t like being used as a prop — I would imagine that very few people do. I know that that conversation would not lead to anything meaningful or productive, so I just drop it.

Fast forward a bit;

The weekend is over, Monday has come, and so has the dance. My annoyance has subsided and, although I still don’t like the way I was asked to participate, I appreciate having been a part of the event. We’re back at the government office and I’m sitting at my desk waiting for my ride home to be ready.

In the room with me is one of the mayor’s deputies and the public relations coordinator. In the midst of a normal, everyday conversation, the deputy asks me the same question I have had to hear almost every day for the last six months; “วิลจะกลับเมื่อไร,” “When are you going back home?” I tell him the month and he proceeds to count the remaining months on his fingers. He reaches eight and says what most people say, “ไม่ต้องกลับแล้ว,” “You don’t have to go back anymore.”

It seems odd that this would annoy me so much, but I think I get so annoyed because I don’t know how to answer these questions. “What will you do? Where will you go? Why are you leaving?” I think the annoyance covers up the fact that they’re asking me this because they care, because they’ll be sad to see me go, because they would rather that I stay.

He ends by asking me if I will cry when I leave. I say, of course I will, as I always do when people ask me this. I tell him it will be very, very hard for me to leave. After that he asks me, “จะกลับไปทำไม,” “Then why are you going back?” I can’t explain the reasons to him, partly because I don’t have the words to do it justice, and partly because I don’t rightly know the answer myself. I think about it for a moment and just respond with something like, “Sometimes we have to do things even though they are difficult to do.”

I’m not special here anymore.

This is something I have only recently realized I am struggling with. I am just a part of the fabric of everyday life. I’m not The Foreigner, I’m just Will (or Weeo, to be more accurate). I don’t need special attention, I can take care of myself (mostly), and I can solve my own problems. I think I often take for granted how strange it is that I’m here, that I’m such a fixture here. Guests and visitors will walk into the office and look at me like I’m some kind of alien, sitting behind my desk like I belong there or something. The people I see every day, my friends and coworkers, expect me to be there. I do belong there.

It sounds really selfish, but while being such a normal part of things here is a heartwarming and incredibly unique feeling, I never expected to feel so slighted by not being a priority anymore. When it rains in the morning, no one calls me to see if I need a ride. They know if I need one I’ll ask. I don’t have people texting me while I’m on the bus to ask if I made it to wherever I was going. People don’t invite me to things directly as often as they used to. They assume I know what is happening and that I will find a way to get there if it’s important to me.

They’re right. I can do those things. It’s cool to be such a seamless part of the fabric of this place. I have to admit that it also stings a little bit, and that sting is unexpected. I also realize that this is the price of independence.

One of the things that makes it sting is that I sometimes feel I’m not special until they need me to be. When they have an important visitor come, you can be damn sure they make sure I show up to take photos and impress the guest of honor with my white skin, tallness, and nationality. They don’t ask me to share my work, or talk about how it feels to be a volunteer. They ask me to show up, speak some Thai, and be white.

What I have been realizing recently, however, is that these things are often one in the same. They ask me to do these things in part because I am a farang, and having a farang working in your office is impressive for some reason. They also ask me to do it so that I can take a part in their life. These things that we hate doing, that annoy the shit out of us, they bind us to the people here. I feel honored to take part in something so beautiful, to share life with these people.

These conversations will continue to happen. People will keep asking me when I am leaving, keep telling me the time is going too quickly, keep telling me I should stay, and keep making jokes that I’m going to cry when that day inevitably rolls around. Even though it is challenging on the days when the uncertainty of the future feels like a thousand ton weight resting on my shoulders, I want to try and get used to having them, and to try to have them with grace and understanding.

The trajectory of my time here is fascinating to observe. When I first started I retreated so far into myself. I was so afraid of making mistakes, of screwing up, of doing it wrong, that I kept most of myself hidden, reaching it out once in awhile when it felt safe. After a time I started to feel more like myself, more willing to risk, to dare, to challenge. Once I finally felt like I could be myself here, I started reaching even further, trying new things, challenging things within myself that I didn’t even know were there. Now I find myself trying things that seemed beyond possibility not too long ago.

So here is us, out on the raggedy edge.”

It’s beauty and scope is horrifying and full of possibilities. Who knows where I’ll be six months from now; what kind of things will I put out there? What kind of things will I take in? What will I want?

The answers will come with time. Or not. And that’s okay, too.

The only thing I know right at this moment is that I will never be able to make the people here truly understand how deeply knowing them has impacted me. I can only hope they are able to glimpse a fraction of its magnitude before our time together comes to an end.

-w.

 

Liminal Space

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The blues seem to be going around lately. Maybe it’s just that time of year. Maybe there’s something in the air. Maybe there’s a dip on this part of the graph. 

We start to wonder what it is we have done here. We start to wonder what it will look like six months from now when we are preparing ourselves for our final goodbyes. We question, we seek, we doubt. 

An old friend who is no longer part of my life used to support me in times like these. His thoughtful presence, intent, and attention made me feel seen, loved, and free in so many ways.

There was something that he would always say to me on days like these — days when it feels like nothing is going right and I heap the lion’s share of blame on myself. It was something I needed to hear, something that still echoes in my ears in his steady, soft voice when it needs to be heard;

You’re not doing anything wrong.”

Lately I feel as if the way people see me doesn’t line up with the way I see myself, or with the way I want to make people feel. I feel confused.

I feel as if I am losing myself. This is both good and bad. In that losing there are so many things to discover, and I can begin to let go of things that don’t serve me here in the present — relics from a time long since past, but not forgotten. I’m not fighting the same battles. I’m not facing the same demons. I’m not walking the same parapets.

Sometimes I feel there is no winning with me, like I’m fighting a battle against myself. When I’m alone I want to be with others, when I’m with others I want to be alone.
This is true and it’s not. I want so badly to show myself but I am still afraid. In spite of everything I am still afraid. I’m afraid that people will see me and think I’m weak. 

But what’s wrong with weakness? Where does this aversion come from? I want to cast it off. It doesn’t belong to me. I don’t want it and I never did.

In my most satisfying fantasies no one expects anything of me, especially not strength or composure.

So where are you right now?”

I feel like the adult.

I feel tiredness wrapping itself like a cocoon around my body.

I feel a weight settling on me and I don’t have the power to shake it off anymore.

Depressed. Into the ground. Energy and motivation are fleeting.

I feel like other people need me.

I feel afraid that no one will be there for me to need, for me to crash into.

I still feel lost.

I feel like I’m emptying out.

And nothing is coming back in.

I feel not myself.

But who am I?

Is this what letting go of yourself feels like? What is in that space between the person I was and the person I will be? That’s where I am and it’s dark and lonely and scary. I am afraid I will get lost here or that I’m not strong enough to endure it.

So break. So get lost. So flounder, drown, flail.

Drown, drown
Sailors run aground
In a sea change nothing is safe
Strange waves
Push us every way
In a stolen boat we’ll float away

-Beck, Little One

สายใย

 

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The connections I feel with the people here are unlike anything I have ever felt before. I don’t know if it’s due to Thai people specifically, my perceptions of connection changing by circumstance and place, more letting in and more letting go, increased sensitivity to connection, increased appreciation for it, or all of the above. All I know is that I have never felt so fulfilled by everyday interactions before.

They told us at staging, a lifetime ago, and all throughout PST that Thailand is a high-context culture. I think I am finally starting to feel what that actually means. Not to understand it, but to feel it, at long last.

These tiny interactions, microscopic in scale, blooming into infinity. It’s so unbelievable to me that an interaction lasting all of five seconds can make me feel so much. Like an infinite glowing warmth in my chest, a river of light without source or mouth, a lightness that makes me feel as if I may just float away, as if my heart has melted into warm air to lift me up off the ground. And from such simple, every day things, too. Acts of love, acts of kindness, acts of familiar intimacy.

The purest, most gentle force in the universe — I want to know you. I want to be close to you. A drawing forth. A wanting. 

We experience it in so many different forms, from so many different people — from a friend, from a brother, sister, mother, father, from a total stranger, from a lover, from a mentor, from a teacher, from a child. The string that binds us all together laid bare for all to see, the connection obvious and stark and clear for that one moment, and lost again among the noise of life, the static, the thoughts and concerns of being.

The heat fades, but it’s still there. The string is always there even when we think we can’t feel it. It’s there behind every conversation, every sweep of the hand, every intertwining of fingers, every inhale and exhale, every head on a shoulder, every smile, every pulsing beat of our hearts, like a grand symphony of connection.

Pushing it away feels so wrong, but I don’t want to pull it in too far either, to grasp it, because it doesn’t belong to me, or to any of us. Can I let it float there in front of me without grasping it?

It is a privilege to be able to miss people, and to be missed.

I struggle with this some days, because the Thai people I know seem to be so much better at not forcing these connections in the same way that I often feel compelled to. They seem to be much calmer about missing and being missed, much more comforted in the knowledge that we will meet again at some point. That’s not to say that they don’t miss, they just seem much more at peace with it than I feel. Then again, there is undoubtedly a lot there that I never see. There is undoubtedly so much context there I have yet to feel.

I am reminded often of the different kinds of love. Some loves are flashy. Some only last for five minutes. Some are secret loves, unspoken but very much felt. Some are brand new, and bring with them all of the raw emotions that new love stirs within us. Others burn slowly. They don’t flash or create intense bursts of heat, they don’t dazzle or amaze, but we know they won’t go out easily. They will continue to burn long after we are there to stoke them.

It’s always there, whether we feel it or not. Sometimes the string feels taut, and other times it feels slack, but it’s always there.

Duality

I’ve been working on my meditation practice more lately. Something that I was introduced to through Pema Chodron’s teachings is the Tonglen practice.

I have found that this practice helps me feel more connected to the people in my life even when they’re not around, and to find my way into the heart space more easily. It has also helped me to practice letting go of attaching “good” and “bad” labels to thoughts, ideas, and emotions.

All the things that we experience bring us closer to enlightenment. There is no enlightenment without suffering. There is no lotus without the mud;

nomudnolotus1

As a Youth in Development volunteer I have very few opportunities to spend time bonding with my kids in an unstructured environment. I have often found myself envious of the fact that TCCS volunteers get to spend so much time with their students, go to the same school every day, and be a reliable presence there.

I go to five different schools every week, sometimes two different schools in one day. Spreading myself so thinly makes it hard to develop meaningful connections with my students. I don’t live near any of my schools — I have had students come to visit my house once ever in the 16 months that I have been at site. It also doesn’t help that I usually do my class at the end of the day during the free hour, after which the students and teachers scurry home, leaving little to no time for unstructured play.

The camp environment, however, is a great opportunity to build that relationship. Not only is being at the camp together a wonderful shared experience, but even the logistics, traveling together, and exploring the space provide really wonderful opportunities for connection.

The first day of the Leadership Summit when we sat down to think about and write out our expectations and hopes for the camp, I made sure to say that one of mine was strengthening my relationship with the students.

The small moments for me are always the ones that feel so important and meaningful. A shared look, an expression of care or curiosity, just showing up for one another. These are the kinds of things that made me feel closer to my students, the kinds of things I rarely have the opportunity for when we spend so little time together, and when the time we do spend together is usually goal-oriented in some way.

Riding in the car, choosing snacks at 711, joking about being car sick, a student leaning over during a session to ask me if I understand what we’re doing and then explaining it to me, hearing a student say it’s more fun if we do it together, being sought out, being asked why I came to Thailand to serve as a volunteer, riding bikes together, being taught, being included, being seen, being together.

These are the moments of intimate familiarity that mean so much to me and help me feel connected and seen.

On the last day of the camp we sat down to do our action plans. One of the facilitators put a graphic on the board with nine orange bullets that had the abbreviations for the next nine months written on them. She then asked, “How much time do you have left before the volunteers go home?”

The answer was revealed by another group of students and I just sat there wondering what my kids were thinking in that moment. Did they already know that? Did they think it would be longer or shorter? How did they feel about it?

Because all I could think about was how short that amount of time sounded, and how much it was going to hurt to leave.

Nine isn’t a big number at all. We are officially out of the double digits. Some folks’ number is even smaller. Some people are undoubtedly looking forward to that day. I, however, am not one of them. Sometimes I’m not even sure how I can begin to absorb such a Truth.

At the end of the last day we did a great activity where we expressed love and care for one another as a group. Afterwards, I made the rounds to say goodbye to everyone once I realized that my counterparts were all waiting for me to wrap it up so we could leave.

As we rode away in the van it occurred to me that these camps are like a microcosm for our whole service. At the beginning it’s kind of bumbling and unclear, you have to establish boundaries and find what works for you, establish expectations and desired outcomes. Then you build relationships and unity through struggle, solving problems, and just spending time together. Some hopes are dashed cruelly upon the sharp rocks of reality, and other new opportunities arise out of unexpected places. Hopefully you accomplish something good, though the impact won’t be obvious until much later, and at the end you say goodbye and go your separate ways once again.

One day soon we will have to say goodbye to one another without knowing when the next time we will see each other will be. It won’t be “See you soon.” There won’t be the comfort of knowing that your friends are still within reach, that you’ll see them again before too long.

That is doubly, triply true for our students and Thai friends. Meeting up with a friend in the States or abroad is one thing, but I can’t even begin to calculate when I will have the opportunity to return to Thailand again. A year? 5 years? A decade?

When I think about it this way, no amount of remaining time seems long enough. The continual fluctuation I experienced when I first came here doesn’t seem to have abated so much as it has just changed form. Some days, when I feel a really strong connection with my students or my friends, I think about extending my time here beyond the perpetually-looming COS date and it seems totally possible. Other days it sounds absolutely, “No f–king way!” crazy to me.

I think a big part of my experience here has been accepting this duality, that change is the only constant, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Stability and predictability are myths. I can begin to revel in that Truth instead of fearing it.

To be like water — ever flowing, ever adapting, never stable. To be like stone — wearing away with each drop, changing the flow by the simple fact of its existence in that space, ancient yet impermanent.

-w.

Conversation

My God, It’s full of stars!”

-Dave, 2001: A Space Odyssey

One of the coolest things about being a PCV is having the opportunity to talk about ideas, thoughts, perspectives, and viewpoints with people who have never been provided the opportunity to consider such things. We are also given the opportunity to explore these same ideas from a totally different perspective than our own if we are able to listen.

I’m not talking about the classroom, either. I’m talking about everyday conversations with friends.

It’s almost as much for me as it is for them. Having to break an idea down to its component parts, look at it, translate it, and spit it back out sheds new light on it. It helps me understand it more on a fundamental level. I can see all the pieces laid bare and figure out different ways to assemble them, all the possible constructions and meanings.

I can see the essence of it more clearly;

ONE

The other day someone asked me what heartspace meant, because I had it written on the white board in my house.

I asked her, do you ever feel sad for people that you never knew, that you will never know? Do you ever feel their pain almost as if its your own? Do you ever think about people from history, from an age hundreds of years before you were born, and feel their suffering?

I told her that it’s that place where you feel connected to everything. People, trees, flowers, ants, dirt, dogs, lightning, blades of grass. Yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Maybe she understood and maybe she didn’t, but having to explain it this way shed new light on it.

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TWO

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about the different ways in which we view relationships.

From what I have seen, heard, and experienced myself, Thai relationships are remarkably traditional. Monogamy is the standard. Trust is hard to earn and hard to keep. Cheating is rampant, even expected. Oftentimes when I ask why someone isn’t coming to an event, or going on a trip, the response is แฟนไม่ให้ไป, which means their partner won’t let them go.

I told my friend that I believe the best thing you do for someone you love is to let them be free, to let them choose for themselves what they want. Trying to force or compel someone you care about to do something you want is the antithesis of love, in my opinion.

The analogy that I have been using for a long time is that of a butterfly alighting on your hand. If you close your hand around the butterfly to try and keep it from getting away, you’ll crush it. If it was meant to stay, it will. If it wasn’t, holding it prisoner will only prolong suffering for both of you. You cannot make it stay without destroying it, without clipping its wings and changing it into something else.

At the end of the day, it will always leave. After a month, a year, 40 years, a lifetime. Impermanence shows itself in all things.

She thought about it for a minute and then remarked that I was weird. When I asked her why, she said something like, you don’t want to compel others but it seems like you are always trying to compel yourself.

This unexpected insight stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t have a response besides, you’re absolutely right.

THREE

One day I was sitting in the car on the way to get coffee and having a conversation with my friend who was driving. We were talking about relationships. She, a gay female, was talking about some of her personal observations about common behaviors among Thai women.

She used a lot of not-very-flattering words, like งอแง (childish), งี่เง่า (foolish), and โง่ (silly). She told me that Thai women are overly sensitive. They’re prone to sulking (ขี้งอน), jealousy (ขี้หึง), and sudden changes of mood.

I didn’t agree or disagree, mostly just listened. We did agree, however, that if you have a problem with your partner, you should talk to them about it. Otherwise, even though you may feel better about it over time, the problem will likely continue to arise again and again.

As we sat having this conversation a strange feeling came over me. It was not an entirely new feeling. I experience it from time to time and it’s always kind of exhilarating yet disorienting at the same time;

Sometimes, I think about how I spend a majority of my day comfortably speaking a foreign language and it elicits the strangest sensation — an odd combination of excitement, and a strange fear at how malleable our brains are.

Less than two years ago these sounds had absolutely no meaning to me. Now, I can sometimes speak with people in a way that feels so natural, at least as far as everyday conversation goes.

It makes me wonder; what kind of things that I experience now, which make no sense to me or have no meaning, will be an essential or even totally natural part of my life in the future? What things are there that I am completely unaware of that I’m missing entirely? Or things I wouldn’t even consider as possible at all?

I don’t mean just language, either. Ideas, philosophies, worldviews, opinions, deeply-held beliefs. Anything is possible, and the implications of that realization are simultaneously wonderful and terrifying in scope.

It’s like staring out into a vast open space. Awe-inspiring yet overwhelming in its magnitude, like a mind incapable of comprehending itself.

Lost In The City

“Self-love is a good thing but self-awareness is more important. You need to once in a while go ‘Uh, I’m kind of an asshole.”

-Louis CK

I have to admit that I am a very judgemental person.

Occasionally, I attempt to comfort myself on this count with two thoughts; 1) I believe that I can and should accept people as they are, including all of those things I see and experience from them that I feel very activated by that may cause me to judge them, and 2) that I judge myself at least as fiercely as I do others.

Now that I write it out, that second one doesn’t seem all that comforting.

This is something I am constantly working on. I do not like judging others, or myself, but I do it all the time. I remember once thinking many years ago that if my friends knew some of the things I had thought about them that they would never talk to me again. I try, whenever I can, to be kind and soft with others, to realize that they are struggling too, and that there is no right or wrong way to be.

This softness, however, always fades over time. I need to be constantly reminded to be soft to others and, maybe even more importantly, to myself.

 

I recently spent some time in Bangkok. Being there always fills me with contrasting emotions, which is activating in both good and bad ways. During this trip I found myself in a particularly salty mood. In the interest of transparency and living my truth, I wanted to bare my soul a little bit here. The darker parts, the parts that I wish I didn’t have and I certainly hoped no one would ever discover. It’s all part of the journey and so I want to share all of it.

I wrote this the first day I was there;

The City

Feeling judgemental. Comparing to home. Thinking about how selfish we all are.

Listening to a bunch of people act like just physically putting their body in a place is some kind of achievement. “Look at how much money and privilege I have,” they seem to say.

And I’m such a f–king hypocrite. I’m sitting in the same restaurant they are, waiting for my ฿250 plate of pasta so who the f–k am I to judge? I console myself by saying that I’m not like them, that I’m giving back, that I am somehow comparatively less selfish than they are. What a bunch of bullsh-t.

Why do I constantly find myself doing this?

When I overhear the spoiled white girl at the adjacent table complain to her spoiled white friends who have the privilege to come and earn college degrees in a foreign country complain about having to pay ฿40 per day to travel to and from school I just want to scream “What the f–k is wrong with you?”

I want to grab her by the hand and lead her to the house of my 12 year old student who doesn’t even have electricity, whose dad wants him to drop out of school to earn more money for the household so they don’t starve. I want to take her to school and show her the kids who wear the same unwashed government-issued white shirt and navy blue shorts/dress to school every day because they can’t afford to buy a second set or their parents don’t care enough to get it for them if they’re even around at all.

The saddest part is that even if I could it wouldn’t matter. She would point at the iPhone in my pocket, the Nike’s on my feet, and the Timbuk2 bag on my back and say, “F–k you, too, buddy!”

And she would be absolutely right.

It just fills me with so much sadness to see a $60,000 Mercedes barrel down the road past houses on stilts made of rotting wood and corrugated metal, to see people piss away thousands of dollars to go and see things that most people in the world could never even dream of seeing, to step inside a home where a single month’s rent could pay a teacher’s salary at one my schools for over 3 years.

How can people live so far above others? “Earned” or not, how do they do it? How do we do it? How do I?

This is the question that plagues me as I walk around this city and see tourists, foreigner and Thai alike, indulging themselves. This is the question that burns a hole in me as I sit and listen to backpackers speak proudly of all the places they have been, as if that actually means anything.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t ever had similar thoughts about other volunteers with regards to privilege and complaining, or if I said I had never judged myself for the same thing.

 

I thought a lot about this after I wrote it. I think about it often. So much bile. So much anger. So lacking in compassion and empathy for others. Why?

Partly because it makes me look at my own privilege, about how far above others I live, and that’s hard for me to accept.

Partly because it just feel so goddamn unfair, and unfairness is very activating for me.

I realized that perhaps the biggest part is that I feel just as lost as all of these people I judge for being so lost. Some days I still feel like I have no idea what I want or need to be happy and fear that I never will. By judging them I am also being unkind to myself.

The only difference between us is that I am full of hubris, and this idea that I am ascending to something greater, something beyond selfishness.

What a bunch of self-righteous bullsh-t.

In spite of it all, this lost feeling comes back again and again, like a hammer slamming into the side of my head, a stark reminder;

WE’RE NOT DONE YET.

There is beauty in this perpetual struggle. A big part of that beauty to me is that we share it. We are all lost together.

-w.

Next

Why do all my relationships cause me such pain? I’m so tired of being in pain, of feeling this way. It always comes back, inexorably returning to remind me that we’re not done yet.

Someone once encouraged me to explore my pain around connection. I wonder if it’s just my pain, or if it belongs to all of us?

Why does it hurt so much to be present in the world?

All this time and effort trying, all of this perseverance, and it doesn’t seem to do any good — it doesn’t seem to get any easier for me.

Who said it would, though? Who ever said that easy was within reach?

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

-Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Next. After. ต่อไป. หลังจากนี้.

Where will I go? What will I do there? Who will I be? What do people expect of me?

“So what’s next for you?”

This question stops me in my tracks every time. People have started asking it with increasing frequency. I still have no earthly idea how to answer it. My life feels so open, and right now that is paralyzing. I feel as if people need me to have an answer. They won’t leave me alone until I do.

Why does it seem like it’s so much easier for everyone else? I’m not even saying it is, but why does it feel that way? It feels like it’s easier for other people to choose, to know what they want. How do other people appear so certain, when all I can give as an answer is, “I don’t know yet.”

I feel like I’m running into a wall over and over again, or walking around in a dark forest looking for answers that aren’t there, or that I’m not ready to find yet.

What I really want to do more than anything else is just sit down, put my back to that wall, light up a cigarette and do nothing at all. Defiance for defiance’s sake. I’m tired of this wall. So f–k it, right? I’m tired of not accepting it, of fighting, of climbing, of musing about what may or may not be on the other side. I want to reject the entire premise. I want to walk away from the wall and just leave it be.

Because the truth is too hard to bear. I have to leave. Not today, maybe not even in 9 months, but one day. I have to leave people I love, people who feel like family.

When I was preparing for and imagining my service in Thailand, I dreamt up all kinds of scenarios about the things I would do and how it would be. I imagined eating dinner with a host family every night. I thought about teaching kids in my community how to play basketball. I fantasized about going on grand adventures with other volunteers. In the months leading up to departure I would go on Google Maps and drop the little street view guy at the end of a road up in the mountains of Thailand just to try and get a glimpse of what my life in Thailand might be like, what my home would look like.

In spite of all that predicting, I never in a million years thought that it would be like this — that this wouldn’t be “The Peace Corps Experience,” it would just be my life.

Love, connection, friendship, support, pain, struggle, family. I never thought it would feel this way. It doesn’t feel like a break, or a step to something else. It feels like part of the fabric of my life, taken altogether. Different in color and shape, but made from the same cloth and, in many ways, indistinguishable from the rest.

Now that I’m here at this point in my life, another junction where I have to choose a direction or just stop walking, I have no earthly idea what I want to do next.

I want to love. And be loved.

I want to live my truth. I want to be honest.

I want to feel unafraid.

I want to be free. From expectation, from should and should not.

I want to impact the lives of others and be impacted by them.

I want to feel deeply connected to the people in my life.

I want to feel seen.

I look at this list of things and know that I can have them anywhere. That’s part of the beauty in them. In an ideal world, these things are there for all to have, no matter their physical or geographical location. I acknowledge the immense privilege I have of being able to choose that and have access to so many of those things.

Somehow it still matters to me where I have it, though. It’s so hard to imagine or pretend that it doesn’t. But I still don’t know why.

-w.

Vessel/Vision

vessel / noun /

a :  a container […] for holding something

b :  a person into whom some quality […] is infused

As I sat in meditation one day a singular thought popped into my head. It’s one that I’ve had before;

“I am a vessel.”

“A vessel for what,” I ask myself.

The answer; an entire universe. One that only I am privy to, one that I couldn’t possibly show in its entirety, explain accurately, or represent faithfully to another human.

I can only open as many windows and doors, take down as many walls as possible and let people see in. Only then will I reach some kind of understanding. Only then will I get closer to feeling understood, understanding myself, and understanding others.

I won’t reach that place of understanding by furnishing a story, by creating something, by approximating it. I certainly can’t show it through closed doors. I can’t keep it closed up and attempt to explain such a thing, nor will that make others open up their doors for me. Then, there we are, alone in our own universes that no one else can see.

What a terrible place that would be.


vision / noun /

a :  something seen in a dream, trance, or ecstasy; especially : a supernatural appearance that conveys a revelation

b :  a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination

c :  a manifestation to the senses of something immaterial

Many years ago, during one of the most chaotic times in my life, I sat in meditation and had what some might call a vision. For the record, and as I have said many times, I do not believe in a world of spirits, visions, prophecy, magic, revelation, or the supernatural. The word vision carries with it many connotations in which I do not see truth, but it will have to do.

This vision was full of symbols; stories, lessons, representations of the people in my life, hopes, dreams, nightmares, fear, and a million other things. Cliffs, herds of animals, a raging storm, predators, guiding voices, running, earth, stone, fire, and an endless field of stars.

Never before, or since, have I been so consumed by an experience that occurred entirely within my own mind, within my own universe. For the time that I was experiencing it I did not feel as if I were present in the physical world.

Because of what was happening in my life at the time, my mind needed to find a way to show me these things. It created a story for me to follow, one that I could analyze and think about, but most importantly one that I could feel. It was something that felt real to me, that allowed me to access things I had locked away long, long before.

So, another thought occurred to me one day as I sat in meditation, trying to always bring myself back to the breath;

“What if this life is the vision?”

What if my real life is the one I thought I had seen in a vision all those years ago?

This thought was new to me. For a moment, I let myself pretend that this was possible. I asked myself, “What would that be like?”

If this life is a vision, then what is it showing me? What things that I have kept buried is it unearthing for me? What is it teaching me about myself? About others? About my connection to all things? What is it revealing to me?

What if my entire life is some kind of grand vision — one that I will look back on and contemplate upon awakening? What will I learn from it? How will it impact me?

So many questions, so few answers. I may never find them, but it’s fun to think about.

It’s true as much as it isn’t. Just like most things.

Imagine/Anxiety

The other day after my meditation practice I sat with my hands at heart center, the outside of the thumbs pressed against my chest to feel the the soft beating there. 

I imagined filling up that tiny little space between my hands. When it was full I imagined my heart coming out of my body as I opened my palms inward to catch it, to hold it. 

I was overcome with emotion and cried there, holding my heart in my open hands. One thought stood out above the din of emotions that stirred inside of me;

Look what I found.”

Imagine that you’re sitting and enjoying your dinner, when suddenly you can feel every nerve ending in your mouth at the same time. The subconscious packets of information that are constantly being sent to your brain from those nerve endings suddenly all take top priority and bunch up on top of one other. The brain, unsure of what to do about this sudden influx of sense data, panics. There must be something wrong. Your mouth is deforming at this very moment. You’re having an allergic reaction and you’re doing to die, it seems to say.

As you try to assure yourself that everything is okay, a cold sweat oozes from your pores and makes you feel like you’ve just been dunked in a vat of ice water. Your heart races, your skin tingles, you feel short of breath. In spite of the fact that you have felt this very same feeling dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, you cannot stop it or talk yourself out of it. No rational thought will stop this ball from rolling.

The alarm bells go off as your brain screams at you. There’s something very wrong with you! You know that there isn’t, but this knowledge does nothing to quench the fire that has been started. It surges as the panic floods every extremity, down to the fingernails and hair follicles.

The person sitting across from you asks if something is wrong. You respond in the affirmative, but follow by saying that you can’t really explain what is happening to you. They inquire further, looking worried.

Words strung together tumble from your clumsy mouth. Most of your effort is concentrated on making yourself sit still and not succumb to full-on panic. The part of your brain that still thinks you’re a hunter-gatherer persists in its mission to remind you that you are going to die any minute now.

You tell them that you feel afraid but you don’t know why. You tell them you feel like your mind is working itself too hard and you can’t make it stop. You tell them you know there is nothing actually wrong with you but that that won’t make the fear go away.

They are unsure how to respond. They ask you if you’re worried about something specific. You say, “I don’t know.” They sit and wonder out loud if this has ever happened to them or not. You try to finish your meal but every time you put a piece of food in your mouth the signals being sent to your brain make it impossible to keep the panic at bay.

You stop yourself a few times from getting up to go to the bathroom and cry. Eventually, you get up from the table, pay, and leave.

In the car they ask you if you feel better yet. You respond in the negative. They ask you if you want to go home and you say, “No, it’s fine. I’ll be fine.” They drive the car down the road and you reach over and grab their hand. You sit there, your fingers interlaced with theirs, and the alarm bells begin to dim ever so slightly. The amount of effort it takes to keep from tumbling over the edge lessens just enough that a slight sense of relief mixes with the fear and panic and dread.

For just a moment, the roaring torrent of water becomes a steadily flowing stream, and in this moment of clarity a genuine thought is permitted to rise to the surface, momentarily unimpeded by panic;

“I just spent the last week planning my last ten months in this place. A year from now this person and this place will no longer be a part of my life.”

You look over at them as they drive. You are flooded with a sense of loss that defies description. Heat warms your face and tears rise up to your eyes and you briefly wonder if you will worry them more by crying but decide that you don’t care. You let that feeling of loss wash over you and the thudding in your chest swells and then subsides. A crack appears in the stone and you remember that you couldn’t keep this out even if you wanted to. You wonder how it is that your body can bear such a feeling without you even being consciously aware of it. You wonder why it has to fight so hard to get through, and feel grateful that it has.

Later, with a bit more clarity, you try to explain again. You explain to them that you feel sadness at the thought of not being here. You tell them that it’s like you miss them even though they’re standing right next to you. Isn’t that such a strange feeling? How is that even possible?

You feel like they finally understand. “You’re still here,” they say.

Sometimes I wonder if my experiences are unique to me at all. Sometimes I wonder why it feels like all my dials are turned up to 10. I wonder why it is that, no matter how much emotional labor I think I’m doing, these kinds of things keep happening. No matter how open I think I’m being, the resistance is ever-present.

If I could choose not to focus on the facts of my life that are painful to accept I would. I can’t even choose to not focus on them, though, because my mind will always bring them to the forefront one way or another, no matter how much I struggle against them. So how do I accept it when I don’t even know that I’m not accepting it? Am I doomed to live this cycle over and over forever?

Even as I profess my belief that suffering is a fundamental part of human existence and is a source of great beauty, connection, and growth in our lives, I’m still searching for the path of least pain.

I just wish I had the answers to some of these questions. Maybe I never will and maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s all okay. Maybe the panic and the repression and the resistance are just as okay as the acceptance and relief and connection. Maybe there is so much beauty in this struggle that it defies explanation, defies answers.

Maybe.

หน้าฝน

You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.”

-Mary Oliver, excerpt from Dogfish

The rain has come again.

I love the rain. I love the sound it makes at it pings on the corrugated metal roofs so abundant here in Thailand. I love giant, flashing, dark columns on the horizon, and thunder cracking and rolling across the sugar cane fields and banana orchards. I love it when the sky just opens up and dumps rain water indiscriminately on everything and everyone. I sometimes wonder how it is that everything is still here, how it doesn’t just wash away.

It also makes me wistful. The slow, steady rain and day-long cloud cover just reminds me of Portland. If I close my eyes I can almost imagine I’m standing on a street corner in Southeast Portland listening to cars cut through the rain.

Honestly, I don’t usually miss Portland — at least not as much as I thought I would before I left. I mostly just miss the feeling of being there. The cold. The way the streets feel under my feet, and all of the emotional energy of my 20’s imprinted upon the trees and stones and concrete. I miss riding my bike down a rainy street and smelling the petrichor and fallen leaves.

Rain is such a huge part of living in Portland, so it’s hard not to feel homesick when the rainy season starts. Even though it is very much not the same, it is.

IMG_3519

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be here without all of the support that I have from my friends and community. I wonder if I would be able to stand not feeling connected to the people here, if I would have gone home long ago.

I don’t know how or why, but the urgency and dissatisfaction that plagued me weeks ago has subsided a bit. Coming back to site after training felt like I was just a piece of a jigsaw puzzle being set back into place. It just clicked. Without effort, without any intentional jostling or tending. Maybe it is being reminded that I don’t need to do anything in particular to be loved, that I don’t need to try and be any certain kind of way.

If I just allow my heart to be soft, if I just let my light shine, all the things that are meant to happen will happen.

Fear comes with the possibility of not being accepted. If I show myself fully, if I allow all of the barriers to come down, the people I love will reject me. Somewhere, some day long ago the seed of an idea was planted deep within my mind;

You are a bad person.

I have a feeling I am not the only one who feels this same thing that planted so deep the roots curl right around my heart. No matter what I do, no matter how I am able to prune the leaves, trim it down, salt the earth, the roots remain and it always seems to grow back. I wonder if maybe getting rid of it isn’t the point, but trying to live with it — trying to accept that I will always think this, but that it isn’t true. It is one story among many, and I can choose not to believe it.

I haven’t been back to school yet but I feel a lot of hope for this year. I feel like I am actually ready to do something. Something specific. Something planned. Something with intent.

I am looking forward to seeing my student Rot, who was allowed to attend one of my schools for the first year of high school, the same kid whose house I visited last year. I am looking forward to trying, once again, to succeed where I have failed in the past. I am looking forward to getting to know a whole new group of students at a new school and showing them what I have been trying to teach myself for 31 years; that you don’t have to be anyone other than yourself for me to love you, or for you to love yourself.

Most of all I feel less afraid, because I know that even if I fail I have people here to support me. People who see when I am struggling and show me that they care, people who let me know every day, in their own way, that they love me.

I am the luckiest. I never thought I would be able to say that and actually believe it.