When the Road I Traveled Becomes an Open Path

Do you ever wish you were a better person than who you are? Me too. Like all the time.

A couple weeks ago we had a terrible thunderstorm with torrential downpour and lightning that sparked the night with a purple white glow. Since the street to my home is riveted with deep muddy potholes, I was nervous that my friend’s car might get stuck or damaged when she dropped me off, so I decided to walk. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do, but as soon as the car sped away, I felt a real sense of stupidity and fear.  I was going to have to wade through knee-deep water to get to my home. The story of a colleague’s neighbor getting bit by a baby cobra was stuck in my head and it too added fuel to the fear that was sloshing in my mind. I realized that these flooded waters could very well be full of water snakes and other creatures that could cause harm. But if I was going to return home, I really had no other alternative but to walk through these deep “puddles” that were a block long. I chanted “Please God help me” as I entered the road and stepped into the dimly lighted water, my flip-flops searching for an ounce of high ground. 10 minutes later, I arrived at my gate, very wet but very relieved that I somehow managed to make it through to dry land.

the truthAs I stripped off my wet and muddy clothes, I recanted my daring act to my husband and realized that I may very well have this experience again. This is Laos and I have signed up for an adventure, clearly. Why did I think this was a good idea? I wanted a postcard type of experience, you know–coconut trees swaying in the breeze and an easy going pace to life, but this is what I chose. I had the luxury to choose to live in a developing country and now I faced the reality of what is it like to live in a country that is so poor that most of the streets of its nation’s capital aren’t even paved.

All of sudden it got me thinking, if this experience was a lesson, what did I learn? How am I going to meet this “road”–My attitude? Am I going to go running and screaming down it (kind of what I did) or can I manage this experience a different way–My actions? How else could I go down this “road”–My opportunity? And who do I have to become in order to travel on this “road” that I have chosen–My identity?

I am in the process of answering these questions and was reminded recently of a poem by a famous Indian poet,  Rabindranath Tagore, whose message made me awaken out of self-absorption and see the truth that I am not alone on this journey. (None of us are.) Although I am unique, I am not different, because we all wrestle with the circumstances and the choices that create change in our lives.

Closed Path

I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,—that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

I connect deeply to this idea of  “new country”; this experience is revealing how much of me is a work in progress, as I reflect on who I am and how I see the world. There’s quite a bit that I can improve upon, let’s just say. However, to meet this challenge with self-loathing of all the things I wish I could be would be squandering the possibility for serious transformation. I still haven’t sorted out how to approach this task but I know that this discomfort is the first sign of the real potential for change. And if I keep focused….well who knows where this road I traveled where lead me.

In Transit

I can hear a bleating gong that seems to signal the coming of the monks for giving of alms.  My neighbors will bring out in bags and baskets food for the monks, as they pass by and give their good wishes and blessings. And this is how the day begins, an ebb and flow of giving and take within my neighborhood. It’s 5:45 am here in Laos and I am trying to prepare my mind for going to school, for a day of unexpected experiences as I am getting to know my new school community as well as the delightful students who are in my care. Not only that but my little nuclear family is trying to figure out what will be our new normal and establish a semblance of routine.  Although I can identify my feelings of unease as a natural part of adjusting to these new concentric circles of culture (my family, my work, relationships outside of work, my neighborhood, Laos)  it doesn’t make them go away and I wonder how long will I stay in this tentative emotional state.

ambivalence.jpg

Although this place is special, it is not unique, meaning that I have encountered so many of the same frustrations in other countries. At first, I found this ambivalence akin to having still not arrived here, feeling that somehow a part of me is still in transit, being processed and on its way to this destination, and was an odd feeling to grapple with.  But I have come to realize that in this new life here, I, like a piece of solid iron, am being smelted by this experience, reformed and fashioned for a new purpose. I know to decide to be happy, to enjoy how quirky and different everything is here, is surely the first step in this appreciating the transformation. I am trying to find some sort of ritual, some sort of antidote to these simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward our new life in Laos.

beauty.jpg I am reminded that my thoughts become my words and my words become my actions and my actions become my habits, and my habits become my character, and my character becomes my life. So I have decided to start making lists of things that create small moments of happiness in my life, like air conditioning at a restaurant, the beauty of lightening as it races across the sky, and the contentment I feel when Hannah enjoys local food. I want to find the beauty in this world and in my new life.

So I thank you, dear reader, for allowing this blog post to help me expedite my shift and define who I will become in this new environment, articulating this idea. I hope that wherever you are in the world, you too can find the beauty in it.

Moving Towards Fear

I am often in awe of people who can be so deeply passionate about something–how did they turn an interest into full-blown commitment towards a problem, cause or issue? I was reading  about solving challenging math problems, and I find it incredibly inspiring and fascinating how one can dedicate years to working on a math theorem.  I know, how geeky of me, but really? — how did they overcome the anxiety, self-doubt and worry in order to explore something so diligently and deeply. Their unfailing curiosity and dedication is really something of a phenomena.

But I think that there are lots of life lessons to be gleaned from people like Andrew Wiles. And I really appreciate his nonchalant demeanor  and advice towards reaching a goal:

It’s like training in sport. If you want to run fast, you have to train. Anything where you’re trying to do something new, you have to go through this difficult period. It’s not something to be frightened of. Everybody goes through it.

-Andrew Wiles-

edison

I find his perspective refreshing, in which conquering a challenge is a skill that can be developed and mastered. However, when you look at things from his point of view, you move from fear to faith in possibility.

His belief in his ability to figure things out superseded his fear of failure due to the mindset he cultivated: just because I haven’t solved this problem today, doesn’t mean I CAN’T ever do it–I just haven’t done it YET.

I think this attitude helps you to move towards your fear, engage with it, and eventually crush it because this belief creates a feeling of certainty and compels one to keep making strides. With that in mind, thinking bigger helps one to put in more effort, to the point of success.

For example, look at these beliefs:

  • Failing at something doesn’t mean I am a failure.
  • Doing something stupid today doesn’t mean that I am going to do something stupid tomorrow.
  • I can learn from my mistakes and grow from them.

Pretty empowering, right?

If you can give yourself the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps you have what it takes right now to get started, and can acquire all the skills, knowledge and resources along the journey, then mounting an extraordinary feat seems inevitable.

As I think about the year ahead and the things I wish to accomplish, I want to do things that scare me in order to gain the confidence that comes from playing full out. Perhaps you will too.