I traveled solo to Thailand for a month in order to get away. I expected just pure relaxation, but what I got was so much more.
I know it makes for a really bad country song, but it seemed life was giving me the boot. I lost my job, my relationship and my home all in the same week.
Then, life literally gave me the boot by injuring my foot during the apartment move.
I had to clunk around in this miserable boot contraption, sulking every three steps and being upset about all the change that was taking place in my life. I was crumbling inside as well as on the outside.
But, I got over the shock one day. It was a quiet morning, and I was feeling low. I swung my legs out of bed and made my way to the kitchen to pour a cup of tea.
I sat there at the kitchen table kind of out of it, just stirring the honey. I was stirring, staring and making figure-eight motions with the spoon.
In the stillness of the sleepy sun rising, I asked myself if all of these things I was crying over and holding on to were aligned with my heart.
Did I love the job I was doing? Did my boss really treat me or even pay me well? Did I love the guy I was dating and really want to marry him? Was he honorable or faithful? Did I love the old apartment I was in? Was it in the best location, nice or even spacious enough?
I grabbed my tea and made my way to the couch to be lazy. I tucked myself into a heap of pillows and picked up a free travel magazine from the stack of mail. I started to flip through it.
With each page, I was reminded of all the greatness that existed in the world, all of the greatness that lived beyond my tiny life here in the city. There were colorful pictures alongside articles about people following their dreams.
I wanted to jump into those pages: jobs that allowed you to travel the world, couples walking hand-in-hand on honeymoons, some people on vacations exploring different countries, others exploring chances to love each other again, homes that weren't cookie-cutter and flower beds that hung off mountainsides.
Then, I flipped to a page and saw a picture of Thailand with its Zen Buddha and temples on every corner, warm tropical sun, sandy beaches, bustling cities and locals smiling from ear to ear, basking in the simplicity of life.
I knew I needed to go.
Perhaps, life was closing old doors so new, better ones could open up. Instead of resisting this change, maybe I should welcome it.
It's when I came to this realization I started to see endings as a phenomenal opportunity to start a brand new chapter in life. Not everyone gets second chances, but I was given one.
I was given a fresh, clean slate, and the endless possibilities excited me.
It wasn't as easy as snapping my fingers, closing the magazine, and poof, my problems were gone. I rustled with this trip even as my friend was dropping me off at the airport.
I made my way though immigration — my single backpack bouncing behind me, filled with nervous trepidation — and I thought, "This is my first solo trip ever. F*ck, I'm scared!"
My thoughts kept toiling over the same questions: "Okay, so why am I doing this again? What is the point of all this? How is this going to make me happy again?"
Luckily, a soft whisper told to keep going, that I'll find out soon enough.
I continued snaking through the airport, and before I realized it, I was on the plane. I was now buckled into the seat, ready for take off. I closed my eyes and thought, "I'll finally be able to find out 19 hours from now!"
I landed in the city of Bangkok during one of the hottest months of the year. Bangkok is a city of tall, sleek high-rises bumped up against small, run-down three-story buildings.
Fresh food carts line the sidewalks, and their aromas drift to meet nearby incense burning out of windows of quaint massage parlors.
Scooters filled with far too many people zoom down busy roads, and pedestrians play leap frog across four-lane traffic.
For the next few days, I roamed the city, mixing and mingling with people and getting a feel for the area. In a short amount of time, I found out a few truths about Thailand's culture.
People live in the moment. They are oblivious about tomorrow and are unconcerned about what it means. To them, happiness only exists in the present.
The idea of sacrificing for tomorrow or some distant future is an incomprehensible concept. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, but right now, this very moment, is definite.
So, they dance in the street, and they sit under the stars for sweet night's end. They park scooters on sidewalks or through grass if they want to. I've even seen scooters parked in stores by barrels of rice and stacks of coconuts.
They open up shop when they want to, and they leave when they want to.
They go to bed with who they want to, and they even get sex changes to become who they want to. Thai people do what makes them happy. And this kind of priority of total happiness is what I found to be so enlivening and liberating.
Rules in Thailand are pretty relaxed: Do as you please, but just don't bother anybody. Their appreciation for time and what they want do with it is a choice they always honor.
They don't use words like "allow" or "grant." I was stopped mid-conversation one day at the bar. I was telling this expat from New York how much I loved Thailand and how I allowed myself to wake up on my own without an alarm clock.
I was also explaining how I allowed myself to write whenever I felt like it, instead of sticking to a schedule. This guy stood up in the middle of the bar, appalled by what I had apparently just said, and slammed his napkin down.
He looked me square in the eyes and waved his finger in my face, and he said,
"You are your own person. You got that? You wake up when you want to wake up, you go to bed when you want to go to bed, you do your writing when you want to do your writing, and you stop writing when you want to stop writing. The creativity will come to you when it comes to you. Stop worrying about what you are supposed to be doing. Just live in the moment. When you do that, everything will just flow naturally. And this nonsense of 'allowing' yourself and 'granting' yourself something is bullsh*t. Do you hear me? It's complete bullsh*t! That's such a Western way of thinking. You're too tense and uptight. The city life is killing you. Here in Thailand, I've never felt more relaxed and free in my life. Look! I don't even wear a watch. F*ck, I don't even own a watch. I have no where to be except where I want to be. You got that?"
I stared at him blankly, paused and then silently tipped my head in agreement. I took a swig of my beer and sat back in my stool chair. The guy had a point.
Yes, his hair was disheveled, and yes, he had a deep tan from a lot of relaxing. But, he did have a point. I had to give him that.
I, Jennifer, was unhappy in life because I was not being me.
I was living in the suffocating box of a schedule, and I wasn't living in the moment. I was trying to force life too much and too often. And he was calling me out on it.
Looking back on this trip, I know Thailand was the perfect place I could have escaped to.
Thailand: the land of acceptance and no judgment with a peaceful culture that welcomes you as you are.
When I stepped off the plane, I needed to be welcomed. If I had to walk down the street and cry because I felt abandoned, then I did that. Who cared? I wasn't going to see these people ever again.
If I needed to stay out all night after everything closed and ride my scooter with the wind hitting my face, then I did that. If I needed to write all day and not go to another temple, then I did that.
I removed guilt, a schedule and all the "had to's" and "musts" out of my vocabulary. In the end, what I needed was to detach from the one way of thinking I had from my life back home.
I needed to cross the ocean's vast sea to understand the boundless ways of living. I needed the invigorating sun to warm, de-stress and relax me.
I needed a fresh new environment to awaken my senses, and I needed new people to help open up my spirit again.
I needed to embrace this second chance.
Back home, I realized I got roped into playing by the rules and devoting myself to dead-end careers and a relationship that clearly wasn't working.
I was investing time and energy into these people who were clearly not returning the same investment. I did all that hard work for nothing. When I decided to go to Thailand, I also decided to turn things around.
In the weeks following my life becoming unglued, I was able to find another writing job. I was able to find an amazing, brand new apartment overlooking Lake Michigan, bedazzled with summer fireworks.
I was able to welcome new people into my life, letting them show me good times and allowing them to heal me. I came to Thailand for rebirth and to find my center again.
I learned I had to live life in the present moment and invest in myself — not in anyone else or some unknown tomorrow. Happiness exists only in the here and now. And happiness is showing me change is a good thing.
The past is the past, but the future looks better.