Last week I talked about how I combat feeling a little lonesome on the road. This week I'm trying a new strategy cheerily entitled "letting the loneliness in!"
KK Hut (situated up in the hills of Pai, Thailand near the circus school) is run by quite possibly the nicest two people you could ever hope to meet. Kwan and Kon are a husband and wife team who are accompanied by their psychotic rooster Shalong at all times (warning - do not wear black flip flops*.) They offer a mosquito net suspended over a mattress in a bamboo bungalow with hammock and the three quid price includes a fab breakfast of fresh fried eggs with toast and jam. It’s the cheapest place to stay in Pai and also one of the friendliest.
First thing in the morning I brush my teeth at an outdoor sink in front of the toilets in the breeze block shelter and feel like I’m at Glastonbury. It’s amazing how far I’ve come from the Champagne and Chanel of my London corporate life. If some of my city friends back home could see me now they’d hold an intervention. After travelling the world for a year I’ve spent the last 6 months in Thailand working on what’s next and now the rainy season is upon us.
It’s Forrest Gump kind of rain. You know the type:
"Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath"
The corn fields opposite are lit up from the thunderheads. I spend the rest of the day lying in my hammock watching the broad leaves of the banana trees drip and glimmer in the drizzle and reading "Remains of the Day" with a steaming mug of hot tea. It’s all making me feel very homesick for Britain. A central tenet of Buddhism is trying to accept things the way they are - because it is our craving for our present situation to be different that creates "dukkha" or suffering. But I am not being very good at accepting things the way they are! Right now I don’t want to be in Thailand. I miss roast lamb dinners, a crisp glass of Chablis and cups of PROPER English breakfast tea! I want to see fine art and wear mohair jumpers and hear the crunch of autumn leaves under my boots. I miss dancing the night away with girlfriends or snuggling up on the couch with a boyfriend and the latest HBO dvd box set. How can you accept something when you don’t want to be here?
I come to realise that recognising my resistance is the first step. There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely and perhaps loneliness is actually my resistance to being on my own. Eventually after tiring myself out with feeling miserable I gradually come to realise why most spiritual practices harp on about acceptance and letting go - its actually rather practical advice. If all we do is stay in the negative mind set of not wanting to be where we are - how can we find the perspective and clarity needed to find a way out of it. The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Rinpoche gives this example: Buddhist travellers used to have to take an isolated path in Tibet high up in the hills and invariably those crossing it would get attacked by bandits but they had no choice but to make the voyage. The clever ones made friends with the bandits, and offered them money to escort them safely to the other side thus warding off other bandits and allowing the robbers to make more money as well.
The lesson he says – is to become aware of our problems and then let them in:
"Once you've made your enemies your friend there is nothing left to fight anymore..."
I'm helped in moving to a state of acceptance by remembering another tenet of Buddhism, Vipassana meditation. This technique encourages us to focus on listening and reflecting on the impermanence of the world around us and in ourselves. Listening to, for example, the sudden whirring into life of a cicada's wings or noticing the sensation of a flaring up of pain in one of our joints and then also noticing when the sound subsides or the pain dimishes. Right now because I’m alone I’m able to do exactly what I want and when I want. I spend long lazy days, swimming and writing and reading and eating amazing Mango Pie (found at Art in Chai.)
Who knows when I’ll get the chance to do this again or even where i'll be this time next year. Soon I may be married with a couple of kids in tow or living abroad with an exotic argentinian lover (here’s hoping!) Maybe i'll be ensconced in another capital city working on my own business. The times in our life where we really get to pare everything away and be by ourself are few and far between and I may not have the beauty of this alone time again for a very long time.
Appreciation through Mindfulness
I move to a beautiful place in Pai called Pai Chan Cottage. For just four quid a night I get a little wooden bungalow with big ensuite hot shower and they have a great chill out area with hammocks, a swimming pool and restaurant that does some seriously good breakfast bagels. Now that I’ve become conscious of how temporary this state is I know I can truly begin to appreciate it.
Mindfulness is a non spiritual form of meditation that encourages us to let go of thoughts and just concentrate on what we are experiencing in any given present moment. When I wake up in the morning I try noticing the intense luminous green of the sun light filtered through the melon tree outside my bungalow, how the crisp water of the pool envelopes my skin as I go for my early morning dip and the ripples on the water left by the dragon flies that skate the surface. In the distance the rice fields are filled with bright yellow butterflies. I feel truly blessed and lucky to be here.
The Pain of Being Human
As I've got older I've come to believe in the Jungian concept of the collective consciousness. Somehow, somewhere - I believe that on a spiritual level we are all connected. Or to put it in a more poetic way - No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. As written by the 17th century poet John Donne. Yet the very nature of taking earthly form in a human body and becoming an individual means that from the beginning of our life we bear the pain of our separateness from the whole. It is this pain that we feel - I’ve come to realise - when we are truly alone with out any distractions. it’s easier to work a 50 hour week, read a newspaper, jam our ears with our ipod , row with lovers, watch mindless tv,or drink the night away than face the fact that - as Rilke said:
We are all unutterably alone.
When we peel all of that away and just connect into silence and being alone we also connect into that deep emptiness and pain of isolation that is a natural part of the human condition, that is both exquisite, and terrifying in equal measure. And then something else happens too. With no job, no lover and no family around to make demands on me and having stripped my life of all external influences I’m able also for the first time to see clearly the internal obstacles I create all by myself. Who would have thought that it would be my perfectionism or my need for recognition or a million other little insecurities that have probably been so much more expert, insidious and skilled at holding me back from achieving what I want all this time than anything the external world threw at me. And yet up until a couple of years ago – it was so easy just to blame the shitty job or the wrong lover. How much more insightful and valuable to know that its actually me that's my own worst enemy! And scary too - but at least once you see that part of your self you can take responsibility for it, own it and change it - see the darkness and shine a light into it.
There is a great interview on Conan with the stand up comic Louis C.K on what it means to face up to the deeply exquisite pain of what it means to be human. I highly recommend a quick look here if you haven’t seen it :) The truth is this year has been difficult at times, for all those travel blogs out there who witter on about how easy it is to make friends on the road and how you’ll never be lonely the truth is however many new friends you make there will always be times when you find yourself alone and if you end up doing some long term travel there may well be points where you find yourself feeling lonely. But that doesn’t need to be a bad thing. Let the loneliness in. Because what better opportunity do we have than when we are off travelling the world and have left behind all of our relationships, work, friends, family and the bombardment of media that assaults our senses on a daily basis to take the space and time needed to live with ourselves and see ourselves just as we really are.
Have you had a similar experience on the road or off? - I'd love to hear your stories in the comments below.
- PS Shalong the Rooster thinks black flip flops are other roosters and tries to engage in a cock fight by racing at your legs, flapping his wings and pecking you on your feet (the little b****d.)