It’s 2019, I’m 32 years old and I’ve surrendered to the natural flow of the universe. I have about 90% less money than I have had in the past 10 years. I have about 95% fewer belongings than I have had in previous years. I left everything behind in exchange for an 11kg backpack and another one-way ticket to destiny – and here I am, the truest and happiest version of me. This year’s mantra was “live your truth”, yet for so long I didn’t know what that truth was. I think this year I may have figured it out. You see, your “truth” is not one thing. It’s wholly allowing yourself to fall into your natural flow, be guided by your soul’s intentions and trust your instincts. It’s opening up your third eye to signs and signals that guide you to be the person you know you are meant to be, underneath all the social conditioning, the expectations, the illusions.
Life seems to have a magical pattern of directing me to destinations that just – well – fit. It happened in Nepal, it happened in Cambodia, it happened in Italy and now it’s happening to me here on an island in the Gulf of Thailand called Koh Phangan.
How I ended up here is quite a serendipitous story. I came here to learn about Vipassana meditation. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s an intensive 10-day silent meditation retreat where one embarks on a journey inwards – no speaking, no writing, just meditating. You meditate for something like 10 hours a day and, supposedly, it brings many of your deepest, truest, emotions and feelings to the surface, allowing you to acknowledge them and in many cases let go of them. I’d heard about Vipassana many times over the years but the concept scared me. As an overthinker, I couldn’t think of anything worse than the idea of being trapped alone with my own thoughts, swatting them away like flies, or alternatively, embracing them and going deeper down the rabbit hole of my own consciousness. It freaked me out! However, during these past few months I’ve noticed a change in myself and for the first time in my life I’m not afraid of being isolated with my thoughts, I’m a little intrigued. The Vipassana concept has merit and I feel it’s something I could embrace. So, about 2 weeks ago I started to Google meditation retreats in Thailand. The first one that came up was in Koh Phangan. My eyes lit up. Koh Phangan! My body was craving sun and sea. I wanted to spend the Christmas season in a warm place by the ocean and now I find an introduction to Vipasanna course on Koh Phangan! I jumped onto my computer as quickly as I could and sent them an email. I had no plans after December 14th and so I tried to get into the December 16th week-long workshop. I sent them the email and returned to my activities. A few days later I was notified that I got accepted and naturally was on the first bus out of Bangkok en route to revisit one of my favourite Thai islands.
Every experience like this gets me thinking if there really is such a thing as coincidence. Did I manifest this? Did the higher powers that be create this plan for me? All I knew was that the light inside of me was attracted to this island, I was drawn to it and it felt right. I wrote once about how the best plan when travelling is no plan. While the concept can be a little reckless I have found, more often than not, when I don’t make any plans I find myself drawn to the possibility of something thrilling waiting just around the bend of this beautiful life.
I arrived on the island on December 16th, after a 12-hour bus ride followed by a 2-hour ferry ride which I shared with a lovely Brazilian man named Pedro who chatted with me about his life as a nomad. He shared stories with me about his experience volunteering in a hostel in Israel for 3 months and how he was able to travel much of the region for as little as $40USD a week. We talked about life, travel, connection and I read him passages from my book Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul. We’re another race, us travellers, the ones with no borders. We’re global citizens, and when we meet each other our conversations run far deeper than anything superficial.
It was a rainy morning when we arrived in Koh Phangan. Approaching the yoga retreat, Samma Karuna, I saw flags out the front, one had the word ‘yoga’ written on it, the other ‘meditation’. This week was certainly going to be a journey inward and those have come to be some of my favourite types of journeys. I got to the counter and the women behind the desk checked me in. She proceeded to give me my schedule for the week. Each day there were yoga classes, meditation classes, Tantra workshops, Tai Chi workshops, Reiki circles, Qigong classes and more. The only mention of Vipassana meditation anywhere was at 7 AM each morning. This wasn’t what I was expecting at all, yet I was strangely unnerved. I had come here to learn about Vipassana but instead had been gifted a path into an abundance of other practices. I might have had an ulterior motive but the circumstance had brought me to the place I was meant to be.
That night I slept the most deeply I had slept in a long time. I woke bright and early for my first Vipassana meditation. The rain poured down as we sat in the open terrace, the ocean in front of us and nothing but the sound of rain falling on the surrounding gardens. We would meditate for exactly 1 hour as a practice for the real deal. The hour passed surprisingly fast for me. My mind was clear, sure there were a few thoughts here and there but nothing that stuck around for more than a few seconds. Overall I found it to be a positive experience and I was already excited about tomorrow’s session. After Vipassana meditation I did an intense Hatha Yoga class followed by Qigong, a form of meditative martial arts similar to Tai Chi. I could feel my energy shifting. I felt lighter, yet stronger. And these feelings would only intensify as the week progressed.
Samma Karuna became my home and the people became my family. I’d see the same friendly faces during the classes and throughout each day. The atmosphere was different from anything I had felt. People greeted each other with long, embracing hugs. There was more touch and more compassion.
On the first day of the course we started with a community meeting. About 40 people sat in a circle, holding hands, creating an open, safe space full of what could be expressed as unconditional love. We were strangers yet the atmosphere brought us together as friends and fellow humans. Everyone on the campus was on their own inner journeys and over the course of the weeks or months that each and every one of us would be here we would surely cross paths again and again.
Samma Karuna defines themselves as an International School of Awakening. The school provides a safe and open space for people to explore new age spirituality. Contrary to religion – the journey outward to gods and idols and books and scriptures – new age spirituality has no place for this. It’s a journey inside the body, the mind and the soul. It’s finding your own inner peace and therefore not throwing judgement or prejudice on anyone else, because there is no one else. Only you.
For the next week I embarked on a spiritual journey inwards, along with soaking up every little aspect that I love about Thailand. I ate Thai food for every meal – is it just me or does Thai food never get old? I found a cute hole-in-the-wall restaurant where I could get home cooked meals by Mama every day for less than a few dollars. I indulged on the fruit and the fruit shakes, waving my metal straw around trying to inspire the small cafes to be more environmentally friendly. Surprisingly many of cafes have already adopted the use of bamboo or steel straws. This made the little environmentalist inside of me very, very happy.
I made new friends with my fellow yogis, was drawn to Reiki, Kundalini and Qigong, and spent 6 consecutive mornings starting the day with meditation and finding the most peaceful place I could possibly find – inside my own mind. What a paradox to learn that the most peaceful place can be right here right now. If you close your eyes, listen to your breath, drown out all the surrounding sounds and let your mind become calm you can find serenity. How often do we look for peace of mind in so many other places than the right here and now? I’ve crossed oceans to find a peaceful mind, I’ve taken pills, filled my body with intoxicants, anything you can think of – all with the motive of finding a peaceful mind. And here I am, having acquired the ability to find peace without the latter. I think about how much I want to bestow this gift upon others, maybe I could relieve even just a little of their constant suffering. But then I have to remember that I only found peace after I weathered the storm that is suffering. And one day I might even have to weather another one of those storms. But God am I grateful to have been granted this wisdom and to be able to share it with whoever is reading right now.
This week was a second awakening for me. I wrote about my first awakening in Nepal nearly two years ago. And then the slight set back I had upon my return to Sydney. I loved both those times – equally. And I am in love with this moment right now as well. I am growing every day and changing every day. I am finding balance. I am healing. I am living…..