Existential Crisis in the Land of Smiles

I am a blessed individual. I am following my dream to wherever it will lead me, and I have a wonderful, caring, intelligent man who has chosen to accompany me on my journey. I am in relatively good health, although the smoking has just got to go, and am losing weight (albeit slower than I would like to). Other than some minor stresses, like the still-empty house at home and an unfortunate and unforeseen exchange with our previous renters, life would appear to be grand.

So what’s wrong with me?

When I went to Japan, I had a little more than a whole week to myself in Tokyo upon landing. That was one of the hardest weeks of my life. The utter foreign-ness of it all, my fear of being alone and lost, and my severe and sincere unhappiness with who I had become contributed to a pretty rough nervous breakdown, which while it was a low point in my life, would also turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. It accomplished in one fell swoop what would have taken years of psychiatry to do – it purged all of the old, the unwanted, the memories and inferiorities that had come to dominate my existence; it broke the previous me-statue into a new block of clay, one that I would work over the next year to mold into what I wanted, for the first time in my life. I returned home feeling grounded and energized at the same time; I felt as though the universe were open before me. I felt no better than anyone else. I felt at one with everyone else.

That sort of sensation and centering takes a great deal of effort to maintain over several years – effort that I either didn’t choose to expend or didn’t know how to expend. I felt it slipping away but ignored it. I substituted it with lesser feelings; I became a bit of a manipulative bully. I could no longer feel at one with everyone, so I opted for feeling better than them. Other than being shallow, this is both destructive and self-destructive. I gained all my weight back. I fell into depression. I smoked like a chimney.

All along I thought the magic was the traveling, and maybe it was to an extent – but it was also being alone, being fearful, being honest, and being focused. Japan was just the setting, an extraordinary one. My body has reacted in most of the right ways to the extra exercise and healthier diet, as it should; but my mind and spirit have not. I am not alone, not fearful (except the once), not honest, not focused. I snap at Rhys, who doesn’t deserve it – but he is the only one left here. I hate him sometimes just for being around. I hate myself more for feeling that way.

I decided to look into some program that would help me. I could perhaps do this alone again, but maybe not, and who’s to say it would stick? I need some guidance. I happened upon two that looked promising, and both in Thailand: one is a fasting/detox/meditation/yoga retreat (yes, that’s a lot of slashies) that I will be staying at for 8 days – after a few email exchanges with the director, I felt pretty good about it, although it does cost a bit. It is small – only 10 participants at a time against the staff of 24. It is a full physical detoxification, with a larger emphasis on mental and spiritual centering than any of the others I looked at. I have signed up for this. The website is here if you are interested in reading about it. But Indi, you may be saying (if you’re still with me, that is, after the whining above), that seems so commercial. Yeah, it does, a little. But I want to go through the medically-supervised fast for not only the reasons stating above, but an additional one – TO HELP ME QUIT SMOKING. You are not allowed to smoke while there. People who have gone through it before have been able to kick the habit because they are taught replacement “crutches” for times of need, like meditation and yoga. That’s the primary reason I’m doing the fasting first. The fast may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but that will probably only remain true until I go to my second plan…

The second thing I ran across that interested me cost virtually nothing at all. It is far stricter, and I am likely to get far more out of it. It is a monastery retreat, a 10-day descent into complete silence, meditation, short sleep hours, little food, and chores with the nuns and the monks (Buddhist). I would live with them. It can be longer than 10 days – but 10 is the minimum they will allow a participant to join them. I am strongly considering this as well. I need the periods of solitude, the enforced silence, the microscope pointed at my mind and spirit and nowhere else for a while. Silence is scary. Lack of distractions from the beasts of my own temperament is probably not going to be welcome. But I think I will come out the other side a better person.

I know many of you look at what we’re doing as a holiday, and that’s fine – I know not many people in the world can “afford” what we’re doing (both in time and in money) for as long as we’re doing it – and it may seem impossibly ungrateful that I’m feeling this way at all. But I undertook this journey not only to see how others live, but to find myself again, and that comes with the bad as well as good. For the most part, I have resisted blogging about my struggles; I have become very withdrawn over the last few months. With some urging from my unmistakably better half, this is written. Thank you for reading, your support and any criticism.

7 thoughts on “Existential Crisis in the Land of Smiles

  1. For a long as I remember I have always wanted to spend time is silence at a monastery. For me this would be the no brainer. A $58.82 deposit (I love goggle!). I got that in my sofa cushions. To be surrounded by an entire population of people that are nice! And even if they are not, how would you know? None of the BS you have to listen to every day. For so long I have wanted to tell the world “Shut the FUCK UP!” If you have ever held a similar emotion then THIS is the choice for you. I mean, as long as they have wifi.

  2. I know, like I said, it costs nothing. I would pay far more than that just for room and board for 10 days – far more!But alas – no wifi! Still, I think I'm going to plan on that in October or November (timing is tricky, have to start at the 1st of the month – visa situation needs figured out.)

  3. You're putting too much thought into it all. Just enjoy every minute of it and you'll discover who you are in the process. I don't think you really need to meditate or spend time in silence as what will you do when you come back from that situation? It is a temporary patch. Instead you might need to change your whole outlook on the world.Who you are changes during your life. It will never and can never be the same as the last time you saw it.Purposefully trying to find yourself is like trying to see eye floaters. It is always just out of sight.The best advice I can give to anyone about life is this:Live your life expecting you will die tomorrow. What that boils down to is living life with no regrets, not taking shit from anyone, sucking the marrow from the experiences given to you, and not sweating the small stuff in life because everything in life is small stuff.You start to appreciate the beauty in the mundane, the joy of just being here. And a lot of the worrisome problems that seem to loom over you disappear if you just focus on life today and not count on anything in the future.The serenity prayer kind of hints at this idea. "God grant me the serenityto accept the things I cannot change;courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference."Basically work on what you can deal with right now and let the big shit go.Carrie, be glad you have someone to share this adventure with and to keep you company and to keep you going when it gets rough. Better yet just relax and take it all in and just stop thinking for awhile ;)As Ferris says:"Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

  4. Well REOIV, as much as I understand what you meant I feel that as Americans we are indoctrinated into a culture and that is all we know. We are products of life’s collective experiences. To do something like this is stepping out of your comfort zone and drilling deep into your psyche. I don't view it as a temporary patch at all; I view it (potentially) as a life changing event. Being alone with your own thoughts for a prolonged period of time is something that few of us will ever get the chance (or dare) to experience. Your response was to change what you think about it. I KNOW this. Doing it is different all together. These Buddhist Monks might just teach her a thing or two. And her me. And so on and so on. With this experience many of us would view the world in a more (dare I say it) enlightened way.

  5. Indi, I say go for it! There is the physical journey that you and Rhys have undertaken and yes it would seem that should be enough, but if something is left undone on the inside, can you fully appreciate the outside?The monastery would be an inner journey. That's a journey that few in our culture ever experience. I admire your willingness and bravery in considering it."Someday perhaps the inner light will shine forth from us, and then we'll need no other light." ~Johann Wolfgang von GoetheNamaste

  6. Wow, this post has garnered a lot of comments – five online, and 15 via email. Thank you all for reading and posting!It's funny to read Randy and Rick – you two are on opposite poles. I agree that what Rick says should work, for most; but perhaps my ego is particularly stubborn. It won't let go without a fight. It's had mastery and domain over me for too long to just raise the white flag and allow me to march forth without it's constant harbinger-ing. I DO think I need the silence. Silence scares the shit out of me. I think prolonged silence would eventually scare the shit out of most people. Your mind speaks louder when there are no other sounds, and so that is the perfect time to really listen to what it has to say, and since it's not just a few hours or even a few days, it's time enough to hopefully quiet it down, too. PERHAPS, that's even enough time that once I'm done lassoing my wild mind, I might hear something outside of myself in the silence too.That is what I'm ultimately after, in the end. But one cannot come without the other. A ragged and worn mind running inside its hamster wheel has a hard time stopping and appreciating the present – I am very envious if this is something you've been able to do for yourself without such extraordinary means! I am not quite so lucky; I don't think most of us are.Randy – I hope so, I surely do.Liz – thank you. That inner journey beckons.

  7. I believe in the detoxification, but more in letting no one thing control or dominate a control in your life. It doesn't matter if that is a cigarette, person or job. If it is hurting you by being in your life, it's time to get out of your life. As far as the 10 day retreat. Do it, I would think that surrounded by eastern philosophy in itself would be good. But doing it on top of the detoxification is the best way to instill the discipline that your seeking. The two basic lessons being, know you can do this, one day at a time. The other keeping an open mind and learning as much as you can.

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