Wednesday, July 3, 2019
The Garden of Mindfulness
As we wind up our travels round the world, people often ask Ana and I what places or experiences have been “best.” It’s so incredibly hard to choose a pinnacle experience after a whole year of breathtaking, mind blowing, boundary shattering experiences, but it’s been easier to think of some of the superlatives. Kind of like those high school yearbook pages highlighting classmates who were smartest, kindest, or most likely to succeed (or most likely to end up being a stripper…but maybe that was only in the Florida high schools).
I’ve already shared about some of these – our trip across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway definitely offered us some of the most authentic interactions with locals, and our Himalayan adventures in Nepal offered us the opportunity to demonstrate the most badassery. See Exhibit A: Badass Himalayan Trekker below.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our time at Suan Sati, a yoga retreat in Northern Thailand where we spent two weeks in November. The name means Garden of Mindfulness, and it couldn’t be more apt, as our two weeks there clearly stand out as one of the most peaceful and reflective times of the entire world tour.
At first Ana and I were debating even going to Thailand, as Ana had been before, and it wasn’t on the top of her list of places to revisit. I had never been but wanted to go to Thailand at some point. The country seemed like such a gentle and mystical place to explore, and I also knew some folks that had enjoyed studying yoga in Thailand. Since continuing on my yoga journey was also one of my goals for the year, when I stumbled upon an article about Suan Sati, I asked Ana if she would consider it. This retreat seemed like it would serve my yoga goals and Ana liked the price tag and was up for the adventure, so Thailand was added to our itinerary.
|Our little home at Suan Sati
As a side note, one of my ahas about traveling for an entire year, is that I really didn’t spend as much time as thought I might being reflective about what comes after this adventure – there are lots of questions in my mind about where to take my career, where to call home next, how to continue growing some of my other interests, etc., but even at our more relaxed pace of journeying, the travel itself really became a full time job this last year. Between booking planes, trains, hotels, hostels, tours, expeditions, there was the constant need to scan our Lonely Planet guidebooks for highlights for the current or next stop, not to mention the days full of actually exploring on our own or on guided adventures. Sometimes we were collapsing on our beds at the end of a long day of adventure, some days we were headed back to our hostel with a bag of groceries to do battle in the kitchen for a home-cooked meal. Suan Sati offered a different routine and some space for deep thinking along the way.
I think Ana and I were both a little nervous when we arrived at Suan Sati on the first morning not really knowing what to expect in the days ahead. I love the practice of yoga, but there are some things that are even a little too hippy dippy for me, and Ana had very little experience beyond the other yoga classes I had dragged her to over the years. Since we’d traveled so far to be there, we had actually booked in for TWO back to back one week retreats, an uncommon but not unheard of practice. By the end of the first week, we were SO glad that we had given ourselves the chance to really experience Suan Sati so deeply.
|An invitation to practice
The retreat schedule had us starting each day with an early morning yoga and meditation practice. While I’ve always found this a more stressful time of day to practice yoga, since I love to hug the bed in the morning, and am often fighting to make it to work on time, my morning yoga practice at home often felt too squeezed to be really worth it. This morning practice was completely different – a way to reconnect and wake the body, knowing that the only real expectation was to connect with my breath. The practice was followed by breakfast in “noble silence,” meaning that we didn’t speak at all until after the breakfast was concluded, giving everyone some quiet time alone with their thoughts and the chewing noises inside their heads. For a non-morning person introvert like me, the lack of pressure to be cheery and chatty in the morning was so enjoyable! We then had some optional activities till lunch, group journaling, workshops on meditation, Buddhism, or working on alignment in the yoga postures taught in class.
|Stop! Hammock Time
Alternately, you could grab your journal and head out to a hammock in the far corners of the property and write to your hearts content, and this was my choice on most of the days. There was no wi-fi on the property and we were also encouraged to take a technology detox, a chance to empty our minds of our Instagram and Twitter feeds.
Following lunch, you might have more free time, or depending on the day, it might be your turn to do some chores around the property. My favorite was something called ecobricking, basically taking non-biodegradable trash from the property and stuffing it into plastic water bottles. Apparently if you are diligent enough at packing the trash tightly inside the bottles, you can create such sturdy materials that they can be later used as building materials. Since it was pretty hot still, this was a good way to work up a sweat, and a good reason to visit the outdoor showers next! There was an afternoon yoga and meditation practice, followed by dinner, and then an evening program that changed every night. Our little bungalow had the most divine and comfy beds to sink into at the end of the day – complete with mosquito netting for a bug-free nights sleep.
|Pondering the future
The simplicity and relative quiet of this routine was really effective at helping me turn down the volume of the outside world and tune in – to ME! The way that I went into this year of travel was so intentional, and I’ve created so much space by quitting my job, shedding so many of my possessions, and especially selling my condo – I want to take advantage of the freedom that this allows, and be as intentional about where I put my roots as I go forward. One of the entries in my journal included a quote that was shared in one of the classes, “There are many paths we can take, but when we quiet the mind we see there is only one path – the one with hearts.” It’s a powerful experience to sit with the question of what do you love; it’s maybe even more powerful to sit with the question of what doesn’t serve you in following that love and how can you let those things go? In a fire ceremony one week, we were encouraged to think deeply about the things in our life that don’t serve us, write them down and purge them in a giant bonfire. If that’s not hippy dippy I don’t know what its, but it felt SO good.
Each week there was a closing ceremony, sitting in a circle and sharing one takeaway from the experience. Each week my heart was so full of thanks for the time at Suan Sati and the clarity it offered. After two weeks in this space, my number one takeaway – and I could not be more certain of this – is that I am always where I’m meant to be. And there’s nothing more perfect than this knowledge as I face the future.