Thursday, August 29, 2013

Essential experiences for fleeting moments on this earth

Ok, I’ll admit, the title is a little much. Do we really need to portray this list as a life and death situation? Are these experiences REALLY that important that they must occur within our limited time on earth to make our life worth living? Yes. Read this list, and go experience each one as quickly as possible.

Feeling the weight of all your possessions on your back, as you stare at a completely unplanned future –Everybody needs to, at some point, drop the existence they know, don a backpack, and hit the road. People constantly say they “wish,” they could travel. The not-so-secret dirty little secret is you CAN do this. The real trick is whether or not you actually want to. It isn’t easy to quit the existence you know and stare a big question mark in the face. In fact, it is terrifying, but the amount of growth one experiences, as well as the pool of wisdom gained, is well worth the moments of feeling uncomfortable. If you set your sights on this goal, things will work in your favor. All you need to do is stop making excuses.  

Unabashed love for yourself, the person you are, and all that you do – In a world where news and media have been completely overtaken by sensationalized advertising, it is all too easy to hate yourself. From an early age, it seems as if we are programmed to dumb down the thoughts in our heads and the desires in our hearts. We are feed American-sized meals of who we NEED to be, and what one MUST do to succeed. Never, though, are we offered a nice healthy serving of, “who is it you are, and what makes you tick?” If we were, we wouldn’t have such a booming market for pharmaceuticals. You are a great person, and the world should know that. If you haven’t had a moment where you wake up, look in the mirror, then think “damn, you are awesome!” then something needs to change.

Untamed, unkempt, unadulterated love – To put it eloquently, fall the fuck in love. Love is becoming as scarce as clean water in this world, and the only way to replenish it is to do it. It can hurt. It can be short lived. It can leave you miserable. These consequences are minuscule when you realize the truth behind the worn out, yet worthwhile cliché, “it is better to have loved then lost.” It just feels a little something like this.

Heart wrenching failure – The token “bad,” feeling on the list. Failure sucks…but damn does it help you gain perspective. The first time you have the familiar, soft earth ripped out from under your feet is one of the worst feelings. After hitting the ground, you are left to brave the unfamiliar landscape that used to know by heart. It is almost as if you need to learn how to function again as a human being, starting with simple skills like how to walk. It may be awful, but nothing can have a greater impact on your life than starring up at the top of the well from the cold, unforgiving, rocky bottom. The only way to go is up.

Watching a beautiful sunset from a grassy perch while the rest of the world battles with rush-hour traffic – It is simple, easy, and makes the world look a whole lot brighter. Pull the car over, let the suckers too stuck in their heads continue to rage at the perennial stagnation of the highway, and watch one of life’s magnificent phenomena unfold before your eyes. 

Complete and total understanding – We, as humans, will never know everything. No one person is omnipotent, but that doesn’t mean we need to always be confused. There are fleeting moments where your understanding can be on par with the divine, but it isn’t easy to attain. With the perfect recipe of the right ingredients, it is possible. All it takes is letting go of judgment, clearing your mind, and fully immersing yourself in a single moment of time. With a quiet head, an open heart, and a focused mind, the cogs and cranks of the vast world become apparent.  

A solitary moment of freedom-

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

One foot in the water, one foot in the sand

Some days, it is great to feel the cool, cleansing water splash against an individual leg testing the temperature of a rushing stream. The air outside is warm, and your body is moist from the humidity associated with the season’s heat. You know you want to fully submerse yourself in the flowing liquid, but you go in slowly. One foot first, followed by the other. After one foot broadcasts safety, the rest of the body joins in the fun. You may even put your head all the way under if you’re bold enough. What happens, though, if you find yourself perpetually caught with one leg in the refreshing, moving liquid, while one remains firmly planted in the sand?

For the last 2 months, I’ve been living in a city in northern Thailand called Chiang Mai. The city is known as the staging area for people wanting to explore the northern region of the country. While it boasts all the charm of Lanna culture, what it also offers is a beautiful mix of the west and the east. Amongst the busy Thai streets, one can only awe at the precision in which the two cultures are intertwined. Temples and monks are as ubiquitous as western style cafes, free wifi, and guesthouses aimed at backpackers. Pad Thai can be procured as easy as a hambuger, and the Wat Prah Signh temple exists caddy corner from a 7-11. It seems only fitting that my inner diatribe revolving around duality would come to light here.

With each passing day I come in to contact with two halves of a whole that create our existence. Be it the battle between good and evil depicted in most temples, or the separate, yet, associated existence of the rich and the poor. The world seems to be constructed of small parts that are actually the result of two distinct halves (call it the ying and the yang if you will). I’ve realized that I am no different. All things are one and all the things are equal, right? Why would my existence be any different? It is true that being a tumbleweed has its perks. My days are presented with an unrelenting sense of freedom. While overwhelming it can seem, if I want to hop on a bus, catch a flight, or just lay in my bed and read, I can do this. My free roaming lifestyle can’t last forever (damn you economics!), but at the moment, I find myself in a good spot. The fact is, though, most tumbleweeds, at some point, come to a impasse. While they have found themselves engaged in a new existence, a firm part of them still resides in a place which they call home. While they are physically in one location, remnants of their mind, body, and soul have yet to make the journey abroad. Normal, yes, but one has to wonder if living so torn is actually sustainable.

After a year or so into my travels, I’ve seen myself start to slowly drift towards one pole or the other. While I’ve definitely had stints of belief that I would return home soon, I'm nearly completely off of American news and media after watching the acquittal of George Zimmerman. But, with each step toward, I’ve also realized that my feet are no closer to meeting on either side. As things from my home start to fade away, or certain aspects of travel become less important, all that happens is the metaphorical cream rises to the top. The purpose of my travel becomes more apparent, and the people I love become even more important. I can’t tell you what the fuck twerking is or what happened at the VMAs (I did hear Drizzy killed it though), but I can tell you how much I care for those who are willing to brave the harsh reality of international communication. It may not be the most concise way to live, but as of now it hasn’t done me wrong.

Though the duality of my serrated life does weigh on me, I’ve started to see it in a positive light. Maybe there is hope for us strange few who choose to try and live in two places at once.

Photos courtesy of Training with Matt and author

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Treading water in a Transient lifestyle

Sometimes, when one person opens up, sharing something heartfelt and personal, it has a snowball effect. One person’s honesty can be the abra kadabra necessary to ajar the floodgates of built up emotion in those around you. Even if it is your family and close friends, truthfulness begets truthfulness.

I got an interesting email from a family member yesterday. It was a forward of an email that said family member had sent to a spiritual guru explaining some misplaced feelings. The confounded air of the message had been the result of many stimuli (past heartaches, current media, the seemingly unchanging nature of humans) all taking action at once. While this person is normally seen as a rock, the invitation to view and live their instability was an eye-opener. It made me realize that much like Ro Sham Bo, rock does have its weaknesses. For the person who opened up to me, I feel like I need to open up also. This week, the transient lifestyle has started to weigh on me.

For those back home, don’t get too excited. I’m booking my ticket for Kolkata as we speak, and have no new plans to return to the Good ole U S of A. I love where I’m at, but what I’ve realized is that in between the moments of ecstasy, there are strong feelings of longing, loneliness, and fear. There is nothing wrong with feeling this duality of joy and pain, but I knew that they were abundant and needed to be explored. Luckily, the beauty of travel is as if it were magic, when one asks, one usually receives.

On a twelve hour long visa run to the border of Myanmar, I realized I couldn’t write while in a bumping, honking, speeding bus. This led to Watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower. During the film, (along with falling in love with Emma Watson) I found myself becoming increasingly nostalgic for simpler times. While I’ve often looked back on the punk rock scene I loved so much, as well as running, I rarely look back on high school with fondness. It isn’t that I didn’t have fun, I just know that I’ve worked hard to become the person I am, and wouldn't mind forgetting certain aspects of my being back then. But in this moment, I was longing in a way that I had never and it felt good. As I reveled in the feeling and shuffled through songs from those days, I came to the realization that it wasn’t high school or being 18 again that I was longing for; I was longing for community.

The thing about being an angsty teenager is everything matters so much. While looking back now, you can see how silly some of the worries and “life or death,” situations were. The fact is, though, people cared back then. On top of that, your friends were all that mattered. Any time of day if you received a call, you friends were there. Morning or night, mid-class or mid-movie, your friends came to the rescue. The only thing that mattered were the people you had around you, and the only moment worth living was the one you were in.

In the west, as we grow and develop we also tend to isolate ourselves. While some do this as a downsizing mechanism, leaving only their immediate family, their spouse, or a few friends, others use it to immerse themselves in work or school. This CAN be a positive process, but along the way, it seems as if we lose that sense of caring, that sense of magic that accompanied so many things when we were younger. Friends become fleeting phone calls and texts messages on birthdays. Scheduled coffee meet ups become Facebook stalking. The spontaneous show up at your door and say “WAAAAZZZZ UP,” of course, becomes creepy and not endearing. People grow, change, and along the way, lose the sparkle in their eye that made them who they were. As modern day philosophers Blink 182 put it, “I guess this is growing up.” But is it really?

In this past week I made a huge jump coming back from the secluded village life in Lahu to the hustle and bustle of the city. On top of that, I received news my best friend may not be returning to our home for the better part of a decade, as well as realizing I was saying seeing a few people for possibly the last time. These experiences amalgamated to a longing for purpose and community, only exasperated by the strong nostalgia rendered from the film (or maybe these feelings fortified the nostalgia?). My transience had reached a road block, and being alone in a hotel room didn’t help. So where is the resolution?

As Explosions in the Sky back the melody of my fingers dancing on keys, the resolution exists here. What I experienced this week was a longing for purpose and community, when really, the purpose and community were in front of me the whole time. At this moment, I’m immersed in a community of great people wandering the globe. On top of that, my purpose is pursuing happiness. While yes, this does in fact take finding an ACTUAL purpose, it also takes finding out who you are and what makes you tick. For me, what makes me happy is this existence. Somewhere between the work schedules, relationships, and lack of time in the west, I lost my magic. The sparkle in my eye disappeared, and the only real way to re-ignite that flame was to go in search for the right fuel. On that journey I found that the magic still exists in those who take the time to appreciate the little things. The small cranks of the greater good that turns day into night every 24 hours. It exists everywhere, yet, without my travel community, I may have continued to overlook it.

Traveling isn’t always easy. While from an outside view it looks like the best thing in the world (and it is) the moments of loneliness, fear, and obfuscate futures can weigh on a wander. If one doesn’t have a strong sense of self, community, and purpose, it can be too much. Luckily, my sense of community in both those around me and my loved ones back home only grows with the small cranks turning every 24-hour cycle. Through them, as well as the work dedicated to a better sense of self and purpose, that nearly lost magic gets a bit stronger each day.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Images of the Sunshine Network Massage School in Lahu Village

There is no lack of abundance of massage in the northern region of Thailand. While one can get a massage anywhere around the country, professionals and interested parties alike have begun to gravitate to the north to receive, and learn, the ancient trade. For myself, I decided to mix my massage with a bit of off-the-grid living, heading to a course in a Lahu Village between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (run by the Sunshine Network). Through rooster wake-ups to veggies and khow neeow for every meal, living in the small village was an adventure every minute of the day. Enjoy some photos from the 12-day immersion course.

My beautiful lodgeing

The main cafe in town, fresh with some new supplies

The view from the top of the world

Early morning fog on the mountain. Sounds like a folk song to me

The ensuing monsoon

more and more rain

One of the guard dogs

An inhospitable house guest

The course in full swing

Action shot!

Letting my healing flow

Breakfast each morning

Jefar looking like he has a little back pain

V for Vendetta?

Ain't no party like a Lahu party

"Coming to save, the mother f*cking day, yeah!"

Our group on the massage-free afternoon outing

Lahu surfing

Our thrown

ditching our massage course for tango

How I feel when I see sticky rice and veggies on the 10th day

The mangy cat not happy with paparazzi

Lahu at its finest

A rare glimpse at Beetle Nut teeth


Massage school in all its glory

Happy travels!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What foreigners (farangs) should know before getting a traditional Thai massage

Before coming to Thailand, I had only heard about Thai massages being associated with pain…and possibly happy endings. While both of these things CAN be part of the bill, there is far more to the traditional massage than most tourists care to discover. While getting a massage in Thailand is on most people’s do to list, it isn’t something that should be taken lightly. Massage is an ancient tradition in this part of the globe. Wise travelers will come in with some sort of understanding as to what they are getting themselves into. Here are a few good pointers to know before strapping in for a crazy couple hours of existence.

1.) Thai Massage is ancient and rooted in tradition- Much like in the Far East, Thailand bases a lot of its health care on massage, chiropractics, and herbal medicine. Well trained masseurs in Thailand give thanks to “Dr. Shivaga,” and “Komarabhat,” whom are both, “…loved by all the deities.” Thanks is given pre- and post-massage, which is also supposed to be performed in a meditative state.

2.) It is sensual, not sexual – While these two terms are often associated, sensuality doesn’t inherently have to be sexual, much like Thai massage. In fact, the great part about the massage is the desexualization of certain body parts whom are often overlooked. Thai massage may touch parts of the body like the bum, chest, and upper thigh, but it isn’t because the masseuse is trying to insinuate something. These parts of the body hold tension and need to addressed just like the arms, legs, back, and shoulders. For those interested, there is even an entire school of massage devoted just to sexual organs known as Karsai Nei Tsang, which works in a completely non-sexual fashion.

3.) The massage is based on energy lines, not necessarily anatomy – While all of the well trained masseurs in Thailand have a solid understanding of anatomy, the traditional massage is based on energy lines or “prana,” lines. The idea is rooted (giving insight into where the traditions migrated from) in Indian philosophy, helping patients re-root and center themselves through focused, concentrated efforts on the part of the masseuse.

4.) Traditional massages hurt, but that’s a good thing – If you are looking to have a nice, relaxing massage with someone gently caressing your back, traditional Thai massage isn’t for you. Traditional massage is much more rooted in the deep tissue philosophy. The truth is the pain is all part of an overhaul of your system that positively affects your body. The body holds tension in certain areas, and unless these areas of issue are addressed, you will suffer from long term problems. Releasing this tension helps in the overall efficacy of your body, while expelling built up toxins. The result may be an hour or two of pain, as well as a day or two of soreness, but your body will love you afterwards. Make sure to rest, stretch, and drink plenty of water for 24 hours after your first couple massages to reap full benefits.

5.) Becoming emotional during the massage is normal – While it doesn’t fall in line with western thought, many philosophies believe that coiled muscles hold repressed or harbored memories. These recollections, which we somehow stymied to experience fully, build up and play a role in the soreness and coiling of muscles. Patients who fully accept the sensation during a massage often find themselves experiencing a myriad of emotions beyond that bestowed by the physical touch. These sensations are normal, showing that the massage is working on the physical and emotional level.

6.) One Massage isn’t enough – Thais typically receive massages at least once a week. While just getting one doesn’t hurt (phrasing?), the impact of traditional Thai massage is fortified with reoccurring exposure.

7.) Thai massage is a cultural experience - The fact is, Thai people can come off as a little rough around the edges. In fact, Thai people are metaphorical coconuts. Though they have a tough exterior, inside they are sweet and nurturing. You just need to foster relationships to get to the center. Thai massage, though extremely tough on the exterior, is something that has deep roots. Once understood, it has fantastic results much further than what is seen on the base level. Those interested just need to put in some work to understand the process completely.

8.) Above all else, Thai massage should be relaxing – I swear this is true…it just isn’t relaxing in an oil massage on a secluded beach type manner. With massage being a sometimes bi-weekly thing for Thais, the atmosphere surrounding it begins to resemble daily life. The best massage places are the ones in a small space, with multiple mats in one room. The masseurs and customers will be doing normal things like talking on their cell phones or watching Youtube music videos. Thai massage is a regular facet of life, and once you figure out how to be calm and relaxed in normal, day-to-day life, you are going to be more relaxed in general. Those fully profiting from the benefits of Thai massage will find themselves asleep or in trance amidst all the chaos.

Photo courtesy of Siam Thai Massage