Friday, January 17, 2014

You Can’t Have Pieces of Your Soul Sprinkled Around

There is an incomplete gap in leaving the country you have traveled in for hundreds of saturated hours and returning home to the life you used lead.

Used to.

Because you can never travel to faraway lands and return to the exact same cloth. Fold yourself in the exact same pattern.

Instead, there is a gap of wonder when you can witness the life you have without attachment. With an empty schedule.

How amazingly cool. 

We left Thailand two days ago, but because of the magic of flight and an international dateline, we had 38 hours of the same, longest Wednesday imaginable. We started with an early morning taxi midst the streets clogged with the “Shut Down Bangkok” tents and sleeping protesters, and took the final ride of our journey to the Bangkok airport.

Alexander Fuller wrote about returning home after a long journey. "It should not be physically possible to get from the banks of the Pepani River to Wyoming in less than two days, because mentally and emotionally it is impossible. The shock is too much, the contrast too raw. We should sail or swim or walk from Africa, letting bits of her drop out of us, and gradually, in this way, assimilate the excesses and liberties of the States in tiny, incremental sips, maybe touring up through South America and Mexico before trying to stomach the land of the Free and the Brave. ...."

I think it is true for any journey. The shock of returning home in a frantic series of generic boarding passes and irrelevant plane food is simply too much. The modern technology which mechanically whisks us from one land and culture to the next outpaces our biological rhythms without the natural cadence to slowly re-acclimate and re-assimilate.

And I now found myself abruptly in my living room with two bags of dirty laundry and a pile of souvenirs wrapped in Thai newspapers which inadequately explain the transformation of our journey.

And, the limbo which also allows me the space to not have to explain.

Because, time will slowly sift the stories out. Time will also allow my home to reabsorb the new possessions, and time will also let us quicken our pace and step back in to our life at home.

And, some of that is joyous.

Cooking my own food. Petting my dogs. Connecting with my community of family and friends. The boys played with their buddies today and they stripped off their clothes and played together naked with the raw joy of being together again.

And some is nostalgic. 

We spent our final days in Thailand talking about things we would miss. Fresh mango shakes. Warm, salty breezes. The saffron robes of the monks. Chaotic tuk-tuk rides through narrow streets. Bargaining for exotic items and paying in colorful baht. Open days filled with the time and space to fill them however we wanted.

And now, our sun soaked skin will slowly dry and flake off in the winter cold. The reptilian shedding replicating the new selves that we bring home with us.

My Montana home seems unreasonably vast when compared with the small duffle bag I have lugged for the past six weeks. My closet is overwhelming with the choices of color and texture compared with my four travel T-shirts. The first world abundance we have is something to truly be grateful for - the boys played with their toys today like a ToysRUs ad – relishing every plastic guy, every dress-up costume, and every colorful Lego.

I want to keep some of the powerful magic from our travels with us as we journey back to our pace at home.

I want to keep some of my time with my boys screen and technology-free. 

I want to put my phone down and have uninterrupted conversations with them. I love the new dialogue we have developed and I want for them to keep talking with me about the things that truly matter. And, I want to have the quietness of my mind without interrupting myself.

I want to maintain my commitment to simplicity. 

A simple schedule. Not overfilled with too many activities that drain me instead of fulfill me. I want to balance the necessary tasks - the laundry, the food, the work – with the activities that bring me authentic joy - reading, writing, talking to new people, and learning more about the world.

I also want to have less stuff. 

The first world bounty that can toe the line on excess. I want enough, but not too much.

And, I want to keep writing. 

Writing again has brought me so much joy. It’s been years since I wrote something because I wanted to write it. During our journey, the boys fell asleep exhausted under a mosquito net each night at 8:30, and I stayed up and wrote on the front porch of each bungalow most nights until past midnight.

I love writing.

During my journey, I started writing a book. It’s ridiculously fun. I feel alive and inspired and strong. I feel like I have another four books stacks up in my brain behind it. And, what I want to do is to try to publish my book.

And, if that works, I’d like to publish another.

A good friend of mine, Puma, a shaman in Peru, says the most important part of travel is to make sure to take your soul with you at the end of a journey. He says your soul gets scattered when wandering around this world. You can carelessly fling around and leave pieces of your being unless you concentrate on who you are and call your soul back to yourself.

He calls it a soul retrieval.

I have been with him as he has guided soul retrievals for individuals and groups. You shut your eyes and, with intention and conviction, say, “Huanpui” three times to call your soul back to you.

You can’t have pieces of your soul sprinkled around and expect to be able to do anything that is true for your raw self.

And that is what I want to keep. My uninterrupted attention to what is important to my soul. Happiness. Family. Intention. Friendship. Integrity. Love. Passion.

In any order.

And, as I sit with two half-unpacked bags and two gleeful dogs at my feet, in front of my home computer with my reliable internet, I feel good about the steps to reintegrate back into my home. My community. My life.

And, keep this new chapter of me as part of the fabric of my life.

Huanpui. Huanpui. Hunapui.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Booger Eggs and Banana Fritters

“Mom, what can I do?” Roam whined as he pulled on my shoulder.

“What do you mean What can I do?” I asked in exasperation. The day was hot and sticky from the jungle and I needed to drink more water. “Watch the show.” In front of us was an arena the size of my front yard filled with water and fifteen fully-grown male crocodiles.

“Blah, blah, blah,” he said, lisping through his missing front teeth. “So what? That guy has his head in a crocodile’s mouth. Who cares?”


No one ever talks about the days of travel when, frankly, you’ve had one-too-many bowls of rice and looked at one-too-many wooden carvings, and despite the fact that everything has the potential to be rich and cool and inspiring – for the moment, you don’t actually want to be there.

And I had apparently dragged Roam to one-too-many events that day.

Saturation point reached.

In the age of selfies that can be altered into skin-flattering snapshots and status updates that tell the world how marvelous life is – it can be hard to find a voice that sometimes says, blah, blah, blah. So what?

On this journey, there are plenty of moments that won’t make the hall of fame. The breakfast when we were served boiled eggs so raw and clear the boys called them booger eggs.

The sink loads of dirty T-shirts I have scrubbed in every hostel sink that have been dipped in mud and sandy beaches, pressed on the floors of ferry terminals, and coated in slick layers of melted chocolate ice cream.

The six-hour bus ride when we drank huge fruit shakes beforehand, and then the bathroom on the bus was closed because the driver didn’t want to bother with cleaning it. We would frantically leap from the running bus at each new city and sprint to the station bathroom in hopes the bus wouldn’t leave before we were done. And rushing while hovering over a squat toilet in a bus station can be disastrous.

The evening when we ate deep-fried banana fritters for dessert and I woke up four hours later when Roam vomited strawberry-Fanta and half-digested bananas on my pillow.

The afternoon spent weaving through the jungle-y hills in the open back of a noisy tuk-tuk.  After the open air, we returned to the city in full rush-hour with smog so thick the driver pulled over on the side of the road and washed his face with a bottle of water before taking us back to the guesthouse.

The way that well-intentioned and kind Thais have touched and pinched and photographed the boys to the point where the boys have started to scowl at any group of teenagers in fear they will be forced to pose for another unwanted picture.

But, those are the details between the lines, and when we get home, we’ll download our pictures and look at New Year’s Eve in Lampang, when we went to the main plaza and lit paper lanterns to join the thousands of other orange lights bobbing in the night sky. The gentleness of bringing in the New Year with Thai families who adopted us and, at midnight, we tried to countdown from ten in Thai with circles of new friends. They told us we got a wish for each lantern, and after 25 lanterns that we lit together in group after group, I feel lucky to have my wishes scattered with the thousands of other wishes and lanterns filling the night sky with dreams for 2014.

We’ll look at the pictures of Roam and Zane standing (yes, standing) on that same crocodile that bored Roam so much and wonder when life had allowed us to have such adventures.

We’ll remember the walking tour we did around the Old City in Chiang Mai, visiting Wat Chedi Luang and the temple complex, weaving ruins dating from 1441 with another modern temple festooned with gilded flags to celebrate the Chinese New Year. We walked through the grounds and saw a banner that read, “Monk Chat. Don’t just stand and look, come and talk with us!”

Monk Chat.

We sat with a 19-year old monk who practiced his English while we shyly asked him questions. The table next to ours had two American girls asking another monk dressed in saffron robes, “You really can’t like, even, date?” and “How often do you shave your head?”

Roam whispered in my ear a question to ask our monk, too bashful to ask for himself. I had talked with the boys about the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, and Roam wanted to know whether the monk considered himself pious enough to have earned another life, or whether he thought he would come back as a mosquito.

I delicately rephrased the question, and the diminutive monk with deep brown eyes spoke softly about mindfulness. About being attentive to each extraordinary moment. Paying exceptional attention to each breath. To not get mired in thoughts about the future. To not stress about the past.

Just be.

Do you understand? I asked the boys, as if I could honestly follow such a profound and full reflection. Zane rolled his eyes at me and muttered quietly that he wanted to go. 

Saturation point reached.

We thanked the monk and continued walking.

And as I wondered pithily about the practical applications of mindfulness within my western life, and the romantic notions of monastic life, I watched the boys take off across the grounds of the monastery at a full sprint.

Mindfulness. In action. Completely in the moment.

No wonder they didn’t get it. They are it.

Active in each moment right in the center of their lives.

And, as our days in Thailand are filled with colors and strange smells, hot breezes and the sound of mopeds – it is sometimes too much to take it all in. The good and the bad. The hard and the easy.

The booger eggs and the banana fritters.

Saturation point reached.