An Absurdly Beautiful Day


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the ruined temple next door to our house

 

The weather is perfect. There’s a soft drone of crickets and insects who live in the grass. The Goldfish have already gobbled the food I gave them.  It’s late enough in the morning that the roosters have calmed down. A lone dog barks in the distance. A few cars pass by on the road outside.

 

If I can’t be happy today, when can I be happy? I’m not under criminal investigation. Nobody’s suing me. I don’t owe anybody money. I’m in good health, after a breakfast with friends I’ll probably go swimming and then get a massage.

 

 

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CHOP WOOD


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I was riding my motor scooter from Mae Rim to Chiang Mai early yesterday morning and passed a group of women sitting by the side of the highway, crouched perilously close to traffic, all selling what appeared to be the same vegetables and fruits. As I drove by, the face of the newest arrival to the phalanx of sellers caught my eye. She was smiling broadly. Despite the fact that she was preparing to sit on hard concrete with her inventory spread in front of her on a piece of cloth, an inventory that in no way seemed unique, she was glad to be there.

Buddhism emphasises acceptance. If I were in her place, I would have a hard time accepting the fact that I was joining an already overcrowded market, and would find some way to stand out from the other sellers. If I could, I would also find a way to maximise my comfort. Maybe I would just throw up my hands and go home, vowing to find a better way. But not her. She was glad to be sitting on the edge of the road among friends.

In our neighborhood, recorded music comes over the public address system followed by announcements by the village head man. Listening to this is not optional. Here, there is no assumed or implied right to sonic privacy. I was complaining about this to a Norwegian woman who had been here longer than I, and she suggested instead of looking at this as someone stealing my right to privacy, I might view it as the gift of community.

As an American, I view my neighbors as competition. As Moe of the Three Stooges used to bark at his fellow knuckleheads “Spread Out!” Like Daniel Boone, when I can see the smoke from my neighbor’s chimney, I know it’s time to move on. Here in Indochina, tucked between the two most populous countries in the world, India and China, only the super-rich can afford such notions. Here, where most people drive motor scooters, those who have office jobs aspire to drive the largest trucks they can purchase, usually on loan, often with no money down.

As the Thai economy continues to tank, I imagine quite a few of those will hit the used  truck market. But none of this effects me, as I am not in the market for a loan, or a truck, or land, or a house. I’m here to live as simply and cheaply as I can, and maybe absorb some of that acceptance that allowed the woman I saw to smile as she joined her community.12791087_1691576444465036_1014755527651888389_n

Sanity as a Choice


ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE

 

A popular song with that lyric and title was written by Johnny Mercer, a troubled alcoholic who fortunately was buddies with Bing Crosby, the singer every song-writer wanted to pitch a song to. But he was right, happiness is a choice, and what you focus on will grow right in front of your eyes. If you find yourself staring in fascinated horror at something ugly, pretty soon the whole world will seem just as ugly.

 

If you are extremely jet-lagged, as I am at this moment, and you can’t sleep because the middle of the night is the middle of the afternoon where you just came from, you have a choice. You can toss and turn in bed, or get up and watch dawn brighten the skies and listen to the birds wake up. Every day offers a hundred chances to make similar decisions, and how you choose will determine your emotional reaction to that day. In fact, no matter what happens or doesn’t happen, just making a decision to accentuate the positive will make you feel happy.

I know this, but knowing it doesn’t help.  What about when I feel bored, or sad, or anxious?  Should I take action? If so, what?

 

There must be something that I can do to make my life more enjoyable and meaningful, but there are many things I can do nothing about, and I must merely accept as they are if I want to have a chance at peace of mind. Yes, Pakistan and India may be on the brink of nuclear war, yes boats loaded with unwelcome immigrants frequently sink, drowning all aboard. If you watch a lot of news broadcasts, it always seems like the world is in a terrible state, that turmoil is normal, and that peace of mind or satisfaction are only possible for the especially lucky or super-rich. This lie is quite seductive, and the persistence of its telling only amplifies its negative power.

 

There must be a way to find what is real, and thereby determine what is individually important. What do I really want to do? I can only answer that by first letting go of what I think somebody else thinks I should be doing.  Following somebody else’s guidance isn’t going to get me anywhere.  I won’t, however, be able to accurately guide myself if my thinking is clouded because I’ve been accentuating the negative and I feel like I’m marooned in a sea of problems.

 

Back when navigation was more difficult, people somehow managed to steer boats across vast distances and arrive at their intended locations. On a journey that took weeks, they did this by taking many measurements and making many small corrections.  It’s not fast, it’s not simple, but it works.  Today, GPS can tell you where you are within a margin of error of two centimeters, anywhere n the planet.  Still, there are many lost souls wandering the globe, waiting for something to happen that will give them a sense of destiny and a feeling of being at home.

 

                                                                       

I know, I’m one of them. But I don’t read maps so much as make decisions based on intuition. That valley over there looks interesting. Wonder what’s just beyond that next rise?

 

I find that maps are a tease.  They give you a false sense of security, of knowing a place when you don’t really know it at all.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a map and determined it will take me two hours to travel from one point to another, only to find it took twelve hours, because the road that seemed only inches long ended up as a twisting lane through spectacular scenery. Other times, I’ve endured the most uninspired landscapes merely because a map suggested it would be the best way to get where I was going.  No, I try not to pay any attention to maps, because map makers and I aren’t interested in the same things.

 

My traveling decisions are made on a gut level, bypassing my brain completely.  I’ve enjoyed some pretty dumpy places, and been bored silly in some pretty nice ones. I surely wouldn’t want to be in the business of recommending travel sites and accommodations to others, because I don’t think most people are delighted by the same things I am. That’s my beef with travel writing. It assumes a lot, and it pretends that recreational travel is more exotic and transformational than it can ever hope to be.  It’s promotional writing not just for the places it mentions, but for the whole concept of travel as a drug, a remedy for an empty life.

Channeling Tolle


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(photo by Steve McCurry)

When you look at everything as a gift, as grace, then envy and remorse disappear. If you consider it your duty to simply enjoy this day as much as possible, then you become child-like. You are less inclined to confront other people, to give instructions, to find fault, to blame.  You find it easy to cultivate patience, because the whole notion of waiting becomes absurd.  Who are you to decide which moment is more important than another? Why not find a way to enjoy where you are and what’s happening around you, right now? Any other response is at best arrogance, and at worst, insanity.