Note: This blog was originally posted on 10.22.2014 on my former personal blog. I updated it a bit and reposted it here.
Long before Way and I started nomading about, we lived in Bangkok, Thailand with the boys. It’s important that you know, I miss Thailand – very much.
It was during our time there that my brother was murdered. I returned to the states, to be with my mother. While there, I was offered a job at my first World Series of Poker. Needless to say, it was an emotional and trying time.
When it came time to return to Thailand, I had been separated from my kids for a few months and I had just finished working long days with very few breaks. The thought of going back was more than I could bear.
Or at least I thought. One thing I found out about myself during that time was that I can be as strong as I needed to be to make it through. I was and I did.
While I wanted more than anything to be near my family during this time of grief and healing, I reflect back and think living in Thailand may have been just what I needed to take my quest for happiness to a whole new level.
So without further ado, here is just a snippet of what I learned while living among some of the most beautiful (inside and out) people in the world.
Thai’s are content. Regardless of their station in life, the Thai’s are content with who and where they are. They are happy for those with more and help those with less, but they believe they are right where they are meant to be.
Karma plays an important role in the Thai culture and Thai people believe wanting what they have not earned in a past life can influence their future existence. Whether you believe in Karma or not, there is a basic lesson there we could all benefit from.
This was a difficult lesson to learn and I am not sure I learned it because of the Thais or not, but I did learn it while in Thailand so I am counting it.
Learning to forgive with an open heart was one of the most difficult things I have done. The hardest part was understanding that forgiving was for me and not for anyone else.
I, like many others, used to think that forgiveness was about forgetting. Forgiveness takes courage and to this day many people can’t fathom how I have come to this place considering the circumstances. Forgiveness to me means simply releasing the hold my brother’s murderer had over me.
I recognize and keep in my memory the action that changed my family’s life but I will not allow him to infect me with hatred. Allowing that would be allowing him to claim another victim.
3. Slow Down
Even in the bustling city of Bangkok, life proceeds a little slower. Businesses actually close and the 24 x 7 mentality just isn’t there. Everything will happen in time and the need for instant gratification is not prevalent.
Slowing down lowered my stress levels, decreased the amount of time I spent worrying and found me enjoying moments. Slowing down was a true gift.
This too was a hard lesson and one I am struggling to maintain since being back. I felt like I was finally able to step off the hamster wheel of life and enjoy. Since being back, I feel like the I am being lured back onto the wheel and I am fighting it tooth and nail.
4. Listen to Your Body
No matter what the latest study or experts say – your body and how it reacts to certain foods, exercise or other influences are what truly matters. I really came to learn about my body in Thailand.
Changing my diet, experimenting with sleep cycles and implementing different types of exercise helped me to know what works for me and what makes me feel good. I also learned that moderation is truly the key. As I approach 50 (in just a month – yikes), I believe understanding my body paired with slowing down will position me to age gracefully during the second half of my life.
*Today, I am 54 and I stand by this advice.
5. Look Up
You can only see and experience the world around you if you look up. When I look up, I always find something to marvel at. Thailand is not known for its level and well-maintained sidewalks and as a result I tripped and fell many times while looking up as I walked through the foreign streets.
While my husband and kids would roll their eyes, I would just laugh and continue on my way. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe the sprained ankles and sore lower back.
The truth is I realized how beautiful life really is by smiling back at strangers, taking in the majesty of some beautiful architecture and smelling flowers along the way. Life is truly wonderous but it will pass you by unless you take the time to look up.
6. Live in the Moment
Funny enough I learned about living in the moment from my local fruit vendor. She would come in from the farm with whatever fruit she could gather from her land and the land of others. When she sold out of her fruit she would disappear for a week or two while she went and gathered more.
I never knew if she would be there or not and it took me a while to realize why. Initially, I was sort of annoyed. I was still placing my “western” expectations on a very local situation. I learned to be grateful on the days she was there and was excited upon her return after an absence.
It also taught me to try new things as they were available because you never knew if they would be available to try tomorrow. No meal planning for a week ahead of time. We just made meals with what we could buy that day.
I learned that this moment is all we really have. The past is gone and the future is yet to happen. What I know to be true is that the future will be more of the past if you continue to spend time focused on the past. Live today. Move on from yesterday and make today the best it can be. Doing that will make your tomorrow’s a bit brighter.
Not understanding the language, a lack of consistent information plus a change of policy on the spur of the moment leads to developing patience because really what choice did I have? This lesson comes primarily at the hands of Thai immigration but the truth is much of the country can take some credit.
When you slow down and are content to live in the moment then what’s the rush? It’s true I used to fret over wasted minutes and now I realize how misguided that was. Now I enjoy the minutes I spend waiting and use it to clear my mind and just be.
The Thais really enjoy and celebrate life. You see it everywhere. There were plenty of holidays and festivals and the city just seemed happy and joyous most of the time. The lesson here, there is always a reason to celebrate if you are looking for it.
Even the protests that ended up leading to a military coup projected a fair-like quality with dancing in the streets, food vendors and booths selling swag. It was a celebration of their right to have their voices heard. That’s not to take the unrest in the government any less seriously because the message was very serious and it is resulting in some change.
9. It’s All OK.
One of my favorite Thai phrases is mai bpen rai (and since I am tone deaf I still can’t pronounce it). It is all about letting go of what you can’t control. When Thais get into a disagreement and no resolution is in sight, they leave not mad but with the attitude of mai bpen rai – it’s OK or it will work out as it’s meant to.
This goes against everything I have been taught about finding a resolution. Just the fact that I used to feel it necessary to always find a resolution goes against this theory.
I am sure many of you have heard me say “it will work out as it’s meant to” recently as I am making this spur of the moment transition back into daily life in the US and that is because I truly believe it.
10. Take Risks
Traveling around a region that you aren’t familiar with takes some risk. We would make arrangements not entirely sure what we were getting ourselves into. We would eat food we weren’t sure we would like or how it would affect our digestive system (if you know what I mean) and we often weren’t sure where our driver would be dropping us off.
Heck, just moving to Thailand was a huge risk in itself. But boy was it worth it! I truly believe life becomes a little more colorful and meaningful when you experience new things. And it takes an element of risk to get out of your comfort zone.
I will be the first to say while I have learned these lessons, I am not always perfect in implementing them.
For instance, I was tested while on the freeway heading up from Phoenix just a few days ago when a car in the slow lane and one in the fast were both going 60 mph in a 75 zone. I found myself on edge and grasping the steering wheel so tight I could have burst a vein.
Thankfully, I was able to recognize the situation for what it was and with a little more patience and focus on enjoying the moment, I started to enjoy the view … as it slowly (very slowly) passed by.
Because in the end … mai bpen rai.