Hello dear friends,
When I first sat down to begin this blogpost I thought, “Where do I begin?” How could I possibly sum up the adventures, friendships, and magic I had experienced? There’s so much I want to share (as you will soon notice); where do I start?
So, I decided to start here: by reflecting on my big takeaways and what I really got out of my travels. When I go through everyday and notice I’m doing something differently than before or I have a new idea, I know these are the things that impacted me the most. These memories have changed my life and I hope they impact you too. ❤️
1. Thai people are the nicest people.
Because of the huge influence of Buddhism, there is this beautiful culture of giving back in this country. Many people believe that what they do in this life will come back to them, so of course they want to spread kindness everywhere they go! It’s apparent that it is so ingrained in the culture that it becomes second nature. People don’t hesitate to help, and they truly want to help. They don’t see it as a chore or as if you’re inconveniencing them like some do when they help others. They are happy to do it.
To show just how giving Thai people are, let me share a story.
When I was staying at the Mindfulness Project (more on that later), we went to the local city of Khon Kaen for Buddha day. That night, we needed to get a taxi ride home, but were having trouble finding one that would take us the 30 minute drive to our farm late at night. So, we decided to walk to a main road and see if we could flag down a taxi or maybe even hitchhike. When we got there, a couple of the volunteers put their hands up for a ride and almost immediately, a truck stopped. This guy was so kind and smiling as 10 of us packed into the back of his truck. Not only that, but then he decided to call his wife so she could bring their other truck to take the rest of us! These people were driving an hour out of their way to help complete strangers. I couldn’t believe it. Not to mention, this was the first person we flagged down. Incredible.
I also learned that monks can only eat food they are given. Meaning that locals have to provide food for them to make sure they’re fed. They literally rely on the kindness of others. And when I went for two Buddha days during my stay, both times the monks’ bowls were overflowing with home cooked meals, rice, fruit, and snacks. So much so that I imagine they had to donate the excess to local charities. What a beautiful image.
2. We need to reduce our consumption as a planet.
Ok, this one? Not so positive. But this is not a knock on Thailand. It just became really apparent to me while I was traveling. This seems to be a problem world wide and one that we could fix with a few small changes. In fact, some of the areas I was visiting in Thailand made me realize how simple and easy these changes could be, but together they could have a huge impact.
For example, night markets are a big thing in Thailand. They are full of local gifts and lots of delicious and diverse food. But some areas seemed to be much more conscious of what they were putting out there while others added plastic on top of plastic (for example, drinks were often put in a plastic cup with a straw and then put in an individual plastic bag for easy carry…it was a little much). At the same time, some areas I went to used cardboard containers or even banana leaves to serve meals. It was also interesting how understanding some vendors were of my sister and I using our own container while others were completely confused by what we were doing.
Again, this isn’t an isolated thing in Thailand. It happens all over the world. No matter what airline you use, there’s no doubt that the meal will be wrapped in plastic. And I know I’d get some weird looks from people all over the U.S. if I brought a reusable container to their restaurant.
These things just aren’t common enough, but are often really simple switches that could make a huge difference in the end. We can do better. We should do better, if we want to continue to survive on this planet.
3. Meditation is not what we think it is.
I can’t say exactly what I thought meditation was before this trip, but I quickly discovered that my idea of meditation was just wrong. I guess I sort of thought that meditation is supposed to help you live a constantly happy and peaceful life. Without realizing it, I imagined meditation as a way to be always positive. That’s so not it.
The more I talked about meditation with other travelers and the more I developed my own practice at the Mindfulness Project, I realized that it’s much more about observing your feelings and thoughts without judgement; to feel emotions and notice them without acting on them right away. It sounds so simple because it is. There’s really not much to it, but like anything else, it takes practice. It’s really hard at first to ignore the distractions of daily life and look within. It’s especially hard to look at what you’re thinking without judging it or being hard on yourself. We put way too much pressure on ourselves as we all continue to strive for perfection.
The funny thing is, the more I’ve meditated, the happier I am. But not for the reasons I originally thought. I guess I thought that we were just supposed to ignore the bad things happening in life and just smile through the pain. When in reality, it’s about seeing the struggles in your life with new eyes and not necessarily putting the label “bad” on anything that happens. It’s all an experience.
This is just me rambling and I’m no expert, but even being back at work, I’ve noticed this change. And I know it all has to do with my practice.
4. Traveling abroad is the best way to grow.
I truly can’t think of another trip that has helped me so much. It’s like all the things in the universe aligned so that this adventure, and the people I met from it, would come together at a time I needed it the most.
Ok, that sounds a little dramatic. But it truly did wonders.
I ended the last school year feeling lost. I knew I loved teaching, but I hated all the b.s. that came with it. I was tired. I was overworked. I was overwhelmed.
Then I would rely on my summer break to make it all better. But, as it turns out, my summer was not living up to my expectations. It’s not that it was bad, but it just wasn’t what I needed it to be. I was still in a weird place.
Then, just like that, our trip to Thailand was happening. Whether I was ready or not, we were getting on the plane.
While it took a little time to get our bearings (and to catch up on sleep), we fell into the culture surprisingly easily. Before I knew it, we were making friends from all over, trying new things, and having some of the best experiences.
When you’re in a completely new environment surrounded by strangers, you start to do some serious self reflection: How do I explain myself to people? What kind of person am I? What are my beliefs?
Before long, you start to realize things about yourself and the type of person you want to be. You start to become more self aware and comfortable. Maybe even proud. And you carry what you’ve learned with you, all the way back home.
5. There truly is more that unites us
Lastly, I can’t say this enough. It’s so easy to make assumptions about people or judge them based on the small amount of knowledge you have. We all do it, way too often. But the reality is, we are all human.
I’m stating the obvious here, but you really see this when you go halfway around the planet, talking to people who only know the area they grew up in. Or when you meet well-traveled foreigners who start to feel comfortable wherever they go, because they know how true this is.
There’s a good chance I’m going to write a whole other blogpost on this, but I experienced this the most at the Mindfulness Project, a volunteer program that guides you through yoga, meditation, and a journey of self awareness and self love. There’s no other way to describe it. Yes, you’re helping the project grow and volunteering your time to achieve future goals for the area, but in that process, you are learning a lot about yourself.
Soon, you realize that every person there is going through the same thing. Any prior judgements or feelings you had about them slowly slip away, and those things turn into quirks you love. Just like with my students, I realized that everyone has such a unique personality. Why wasn’t I viewing people my own age that way?
I guess as adults, it’s easy to view some people as “good” and others “bad,” but just as I mentioned before, mindfulness helps you take away those labels. People become people, beautiful just as they are. And you realize, there’s really not much difference between us.
Thanks for taking time to read. It means so much.
Sending each of you love, wherever you are.