Monthly Archives: January 2014

on traveling and relationships, part 2

The farm reminds me of the Camino, both because of its natural beauty and also because of the depth of my relationships formed here. I think the internet has ruined us, as it’s been the long days of disconnection that have caused the best conversations and closest friendships during my travels.

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There are some couples on the farm that are giving me renewed faith in relationships. They perfectly compliment and support each other, but are also independently whole. And even when separated—which they are completely comfortable doing—you can see the unconditional love they have for each other.

This is what I'm waiting for.

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One of my favorite things about traveling is how short interactions with people change. I've stopped worrying about how people perceive me, instead I just always do and say what I want. If I do something embarrassing, I never have to see that person again, if I don't want to… there is such little risk.

The downside is that if you do want to see someone again, it's more difficult to keep them.

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I've used the word love a lot since I left but if I'm being honest, I'm not sure when the last time was where it really would've applied.

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the river is everywhere

I watch the former monk spoon-feeding a French baby from his own bowl during silent breakfast and I can’t stop smiling. This slow, calm, giving lifestyle is full of unexpected beauty.

I want to keep this mindfulness that I am cultivating. It is about living in the present, acknowledging the thoughts we have in our mind but sometimes letting them pass. The past, the future—these are things that we should not dwell on when there is so much right in front of us at this very moment.

This morning—my last morning here at the farm—our teacher tells us the goal, and it is everything I want.

“No serious. No angry. No sad. No lonely. No depressed. No confused.”

But even before I board the bus back to Chiang Mai, I feel the hurriedness and worry of city life begin to creep into my thoughts.

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sat nam

“No talking. No reading. No writing. No thinking.” And with that, I am left alone in the forest for 12 hours of Vipassana meditation—on exactly the date of my fifth month away from home.

I am volunteering at an organic farm run by a former Buddhist monk, and so far I’ve found that living a simple life takes a lot of work.

The goal is to always be mindful—live in the present, be conscious of our effect on the earth, gain control of our thoughts and emotions.

I am really bad at all of this… which is why I think this might be really important for me to learn.

So I am eating vegetarian, doing yoga as the sun rises, sleeping under a mosquito net protected by more or less two walls, waking up to a view of gorgeous misty mountains, meditating each night by candlelight, and working on shutting off my brain and giving the worrying a rest.

(Oh, and there’s a little bit of gardening thrown in there somewhere.)

And while at first I was a bit judgmental of the hippie-ness of the other volunteers sharing the farm, now I am finding them some of the most interesting people of my whole trip. They are passionate, informed, self-aware, worldly, giving, and they are always working on improving themselves and everything around them. This is the perfect environment for growth.

When I am volunteering, I usually wear my glasses. This morning during silent breakfast I took them off to clean them on my shirt and everything looked clearer after. I think this farm is doing the same thing for my mind.

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the right doors for the right reasons

“The world would be a much easier place if, instead of handing over superstuffed syllables all the time, we just said what we really meant. Words got in the way. The things we felt the hardest—like what it was like to have a boy touch you as if you were made of light, or what it meant to be the only person in the room who wasn’t noticed—weren’t sentences; they were knots in the wood of our bodies, places where our blood flowed backward. If you asked me, not that anyone ever did, the only words worth saying were I’m sorry.”

alternative travel

“You don’t like to do things the same way as everyone else.” A Columbian boy tells me this when I decline his invitation to take the bus with him to the next backpacker town, choosing instead to spend another week where I’m at in Chiang Mai, training Muay Thai at a local gym, with future plans to stay at an organic farm run by a former monk.

I guess he’s right.

But it’s hard sometimes to find meaning when you’re traveling for a long time, and slowly the hostels and bars tend to meld together the same way the churches and museums and temples do. Sometimes you’ve just got to break out of the mold.

And people are weird, often paying ridiculous prices in order to experience extreme discomfort in the name of authenticity. My touristy elephant trek brought us to a “local” village overnight that sold overpriced beer… it was nice, but being woken up by the rooster in my open bedroom at the orphanage and the meals cooked for me by teachers at the high school will be what I really remember.

I’m still a tourist, and I’m okay with that. I think there’s a reason why some things are popular. But I’m still not planning on changing my strategy any time soon.

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on traveling and relationships

Solo travel has made me selfish. Or, rather, what’s the positive word for knowing what you want and just doing it, regardless of the people around you?

I just said goodbye to a new friend who came with me from the orphanage to Chiang Mai and I feel lighter. Not that I didn’t like traveling with her, but after five months of independence, even just having to consult with another person when making plans felt stifling. It feels good to be back on my own.

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I have become a expert at leaving people. My friendships tend to reset every four or five days… and I kind of like it that way.

We don’t really ever say goodbye, though. The backpacker trail is so well-worn—almost predictable—that you tend to run into people again eventually… and I kind of like it that way, too.

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I think I’ve ruined myself for future relationships. I met a few couples at the orphanage, and their complete dependence on each other bordered on insane, in my eyes. I never want to be so reliant on another person that I can’t work out a bucket shower alone, and I don’t think I’d ever get used to constantly telling another person where I am. I need freedom in a way that I never did before.

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I find myself angry at my Houston friends for their total lack of contact with me—or, really, I am angry at myself for my utter failure to keep in touch with them.

After so much time together, why is it so easy for us to end friendships once our location is no longer convenient?

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I tell him to wait for me, that I will meet him in New York in six months. I urge him to travel with me and envision us exploring a new continent together.

But I can’t tell if I’m lying. I don’t know if I want to—or if I even can—shed this solo travel skin.