“I looked in temples, churches, and mosques. But I found the Divine within my heart.” ~Rumi
One of my rituals upon arriving in a new location is to check out my surroundings by taking a walk. Walking down the busy street of Nimman Rd. in Chiang Mai, Thailand I could not help but notice there was a temple every two blocks. Literally, there was a temple every two blocks! (I later learned that there are hundreds of temples throughout the city). Of course, since this was my first “temple rodeo” in Thailand I stopped at the first two or three to take in the beauty and awe of my surroundings. It was during my third temple visit that I met Mr. Noi. Mr. Noi was an elderly gentleman who was a retired tour operator and offered to take me on a tour of a couple of other temples in the area. One of the benefits of traveling alone is that people are not afraid to talk to you. I meet so many wonderful people on my solo travels! It was Mr. Noi who told me about the lantern festival. The lantern festival in Thailand is a yearly tradition that happens every November (the 12th month of their calendar year). Flaming lanterns are sent soaring into the sky and others are sent floating in the sea. The burning and releasing of the lanterns symbolize letting go of all the old pains, challenges, obstacles, etc. of this last year and welcoming new abundance, prosperity, and happiness. This is something I have seen in pictures and would have kicked myself if I had missed it. So grateful for Mr. Noi!
Needless to say, I immediately bought a ticket for the first night of the festival. For the first couple of hours, I gorged on endless amounts of Thai food, watched beautiful traditional dances, and listened to the monks chanting in preparation for the lantern ritual. As I sat in the crowd of 3600 people, I found it odd that no one was giving instructions on how to light the lanterns. These lanterns were a good 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide and made entirely of paper mache with a ring the size of a grapefruit at the bottom that is supposed to be set on fire. I guess I thought that the ring would be easy to catch on fire and once it was lit, the lantern would magically take off. Nope. Apparently, there is a trick to the trade that many of us non-locals did not know. The lanterns work like a hot air balloon. Heat must build up in the lantern before it is able to float. To build up this heat, once the ring is lit, you are supposed to bring the lantern slowly to the ground until enough heat builds and the lantern floats away.
There were many factors that played into the tragedy of that night. One, many people did not know how to light the lanterns correctly so lanterns were catching fire before they were ready to take off into the sky. Two, it was an extremely windy night. Three, every decoration was made up of flammable material. And fourth, hay barrels were everywhere for people to sit on as chairs.
It was when my friend Jen who was lighting her lanterns on the other side of the crowd texted me saying, “So, we may die!” that I noticed it. As everyone was busy trying to figure out how to light their lanterns, no one noticed that a lantern hit the beautifully constructed temple in the middle of the crowd and set it on fire (Click the link below to watch the video and you will see the beautiful lanterns going off into the sky and then as I pan over the temple, you will see it on fire – and you will hear me repeatedly yelling “Oh shit!” – LOL!).
What was interesting about that moment was the first thing I thought was that it was done as part of the ritual. I remember thinking to myself, “Huh, wow, they even set the temple on fire. I wonder what that is all about?” Then I realized it wasn’t part of the ritual and my life flashed before my eyes. I immediately high-tailed it to the very small parking lot anticipating that very soon the 3600 people at the event with me would realize what was going on and there would be a stampede. As I quickly walked out of the circle of fire, I noticed that the beautiful tree that was filled with colorful paper lanterns was also going up in flames. My pace quickened.
I made it out OK and to my knowledge, so did everyone else and no one was hurt. On the shuttle ride home, I remember thinking that I was so glad I bought a ticket for the first night because obviously there was not going to be a second night due to the fire. Not only did the second night go off without a hitch but they rebuilt the temple in a day! THEY REBUILT THE TEMPLE IN A DAY! And, apparently on the second night, they continually gave instructions on how to correctly light the lanterns to the crowd (yes, we learn from our mistakes!).
The formal definition of a temple is a “building” devoted to worship or a place gods or objects of religious reverence reside. Temples are not something that is a common site if you grew up in the United States. We may see the occasionally mosque, but there is not a temple every two blocks. I grew up Catholic and remember always hearing that our body is our temple. Our body houses a very precious gift…our soul. It also houses our emotions, wisdom, thoughts, and memories. These are our sacred “gifts” that must be protected at all costs.
There are times in our lives when some of our gifts get accidentally “burned down”…we get hurt by someone we love, we find out we are ill, or a horrible memory haunts us. Sometimes, like in my case, we set fire to our own temples. We realize that we may have been paying reverence to something or someone that no longer serves us…this may be a job, a relationship, or even the place we live. I did not literally burn my apartment down in Scottsdale, but I “burned down” my life there in hope of finding another flicker or flame that would guide me to where I was supposed to be next. All I knew was that I did not belong there anymore. I could feel it. The Phoenix bird rebirths itself from the flames. The Thai monks rebuild temples in a day to give reverence to their gods on a holy day. They do whatever it takes to make this happen.
One of the reasons I travel so much is that I am on a quest for being awed. I love being awed by life and people! During my time in Malaysia, Bali, and Thailand I have been in absolute awe at the reverence and loyalty the people of these cultures show to their religion and the beautiful temples I have seen. In Malaysia, which is primarily Muslim, you hear their prayers 5-6 times a day over a loudspeaker. In Bali, which is primarily Hindu, you hear their prayers religiously at 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm. Not to mention the time they spend daily making offerings that they leave at their temples, places of work, and homes. And in Thailand, which is primarily Buddhist, watching these amazing people stop what they are doing, walk into one of the many temples, bow, and sit silently in prayer in the middle of their day leaves me in awe.
My witnessing of these awe-inspiring moments in Thailand has made me realize that at any moment there can be a death and an instantaneous rebirth. It is all part of the cycle of life. We may not have control over what departs our lives all the time, but we do have the power to rebirth our lives whenever we choose. It is simply a choice. I am not saying that choice is easy, but it is there for us when we are ready to step into it. It just takes a little courage, a lot of faith, and sometimes a flame to get us moving. (wink-wink)
Kop Kun Ka,
ChrisThe Girl in the Villa Across the Room from the Gecko in the Closet
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. ~Helen Keller
Bali. It was the first stop on my journey. I have been excited to go to Bali for so long. My visions of Bali were like the scenes from the movie Eat, Pray, Love. I pictured myself riding a bike, much like Julia Roberts did in the movie, along the roads by the rice fields, staying in a beautiful villa that is outdoors, and finding an amazingly handsome man to have a love affair with. What I have come to find in my 52 years of living is that when we are looking forward to something, we create scenarios in our heads of what we think the experience will be like. If we replay that said scenario in our head enough times, it becomes our reality. We do this with relationships, jobs, where we want to live, and almost every experience that has yet to exist in our future. This practice, which is a very natural occurrence for most people, has one drawback. It keeps us from appreciating the actual experience because we are comparing it to the made-up experience we created in our head. My actual experience in Bali was somewhat different than my vision…
It all started with checking into my beautiful outdoor villa in Ubud. This is where I was supposed to stay for a month and live in bliss. It was when the owner of the villa dropped me off in a parking lot and his wife was waiting to take me to the villa on a scooter (notice I did not say bike like I had in my vision!) that I realized my vision may have been a tad bit off. After the uphill mile-and-a-half ride from hell to my villa, I began to settle in.
Now, if you have never stayed in an outdoor villa, it is NOT like what you see on social media (unless you are staying in a 5-star resort).
When it rains, you get wet…along with everything else that is outside. You even cook outside… with the snails, ants, frogs, and geckos. I did sleep indoors (in a yurt) on a beautiful bed with a mosquito net and had a companion…but it wasn’t the amazingly handsome man I imagined. It was Gary the gecko (see the picture of Gary at the top of the blog).
Gary was the gecko who lived in my closet. He was unlike other men I have befriended in that he was very vocal and had a lot to say. He seemed to be most talkative at 3:00 in the morning when Rodney the rooster (the rooster in the villa next door) also began crowing very loudly. (Side note…since I encountered so many “creatures” during my stay in Ubud, I decided to name them all since we became so “close.”) Gary hid behind my t-shirts in the closet. He thought I could not see him (much like a small child who does not understand that when they cover their eyes to play peek a boo you can still see them) when I opened the closet door because he was only half hiding behind my shirts with his long tail sticking out. He never left. He was a bit sensitive and became upset and very vocal if I did not talk to him when I opened the closet to get my clothes, which he often pooped on.
Although I grew fond of Gary, the final straw for me was the massive thunderstorm that sent me flying under my covers like a 5-year-old little girl, with loud thunder and lightning that I swear touched down right next to my bed. I stayed a total of 6-days in Ubud and then threw in the towel. I said my good-byes to Gary the gecko, Rodney the rooster, Sammy the snail, Freda the frog (who liked to sleep in my only frying pan in the kitchen), and the many ants that paraded on my kitchen counter and headed to a new place in Seminyak which was all indoors…or so I thought.
My place in Seminyak was a combo of a hotel and an apartment. There was just one problem. When I checked in, the place looked nothing like the picture on the website. I came to find out the place had flooded the day before and they had no other rooms to put me in. At this point, I was sure that the water from all the storms in Ubud were chasing me! Five days later, I moved to a different room in the same hotel. Not great, but better. At this point, I was counting down the days until I left Bali.
I did some amazing things in Bali and some parts were very beautiful. But with all the traveling I have done over the years, I have come to find that there are some places we just do not jive with. Bali was one of those places for me. And believe me, I tried. I ate at some great restaurants, I saw a Balinese shaman, I visited beautiful islands (like Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan), I sat on a wooden swing and swung over the rice fields in Ubud, I drank Kopi Luwak, I visited the Garuda Visnu Kencana statue, and I took part in a beautiful ceremony with water fountains at Tirta Empul. These experiences were wonderful but no matter what I did, I still had an unsettled feeling inside. I could not “nest” and settle into Bali like I have in other places.
Sometimes we think our feelings have to do with our surroundings, which at times, they do. But other times we blame our surroundings (or people in those surroundings) for our feelings. I was thousands of miles away from where I called home and this time, I had no place to run to and no one to blame. I had no apartment anymore because all my things were sitting in storage. I was forced to sit in Bali and face how I was feeling without running for comfort and cover.
Sometimes, we need to be taken out of our ordinary in order to see the extraordinary about ourselves and our life. I began to really become present where I was. Not wishing I was someplace else or wishing it was different. I radically accepted my present circumstances. What is interesting about radically accepting “what is” is that miracles occur when we do this. My bum knee began to not hurt anymore, friends began texting me to check in and see how I was doing and they all offered me encouraging words that helped keep me going, and time seemed to move a little quicker.
I can’t say that I will ever go back to Bali but what I will say is that I am grateful for the gecko in the closet, the thunderstorms, the harassing taxi drivers, the so-so hotel room, and the scooter rides from hell. The uncomfortableness of all these things helped me find the place inside me where I can be comfortable no matter what my external circumstances may be. Not everything in life can always be perfect but the secret to life is that we can make any situation perfect by shifting our mindset. Perception is reality and my “reality” of Bali now is a place of wonder, lessons, water, and let’s not forget….geckos!
Terima Kasih Bali!
ChrisWhat to Pack or Not to Pack…That is the Question
Making the decision to travel for several months and live out of a suitcase is not easy. My decision was several months in the making. For those of you that may be wondering if this was an easy decision for me…it wasn’t. Watching my photos on social media and reading my blogs may lead you to think, “Wow, this girl knows what she wants and is going for it.” As much as that may be true now, as with any success story, the details, pain, struggle, and work leading up to that decision are rarely seen or talked about. And, for your information, the struggles and challenges do continue. Changing location does not magically make the internal challenges that we battle disappear.
Oddly enough the main question people asked me when I began letting people in on my little “travel secret” wasn’t, “Where are you going?” “Who is going with you?” or even “How long will you be gone?” People wanted to know what I was going to pack! That question was as crazy to me as watching people flock to the store to buy toilet paper during the pandemic! Admit it, you thought about it too when you heard what I was doing. Those who know me well know I LOVE clothes and shoes and they definitely had this question floating through their minds. I am sure of it!
In the months leading up to my departure, (in true Chris form!) I researched the heck out of what and how to pack. I followed groups on Facebook and Instagram, I read blogs, I Googled items galore, I made multiple lists, and as the date came closer and closer, I did at least 12 practice packs before I left.
It is extremely challenging to pack for a year. What do you take? What do you leave behind? What are the items you think you need, but don’t really…you just want to take them because you think you cannot live without them? Not to mention that there is a specific weight limit to your checked and carry-on luggage when you travel abroad. Unless you want to pay upwards of a couple hundred dollars for an overweight bag, it is best to stay within this weight limit.
At the end of the day, I knew a couple of things. One, I knew I needed to pack things that would fulfill me not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Two, I knew I was NOT one of those people who could travel around the world for a year with only a backpack (NO WAY!). In case you are wondering, I have two suitcases and a backpack. I wanted to have things with me that reminded me of home and that would comfort me on days I felt off while l was in the faraway places I would be going.
Below are the items I have found invaluable on my journey (where appropriate, I included links to the brands I purchased – I am not getting kickbacks for any of these mentions BTW…these are just amazing products that have been lifesavers for me!):
Some other items that I have found essential that I am SO glad I packed:
At the end of the day, we all have different needs when we travel. The key is to know what your needs are, what items will be cathartic for you when you feel homesick and realize that some things we think we “need,” we can get along just fine without. So far, there hasn’t been anything I wished I would have packed that I didn’t. Not bad for a first-time world traveler!