Expat Diary August 11, 2018 – Adam finds the reset button.
As my month in Bali grew to a close, I was becoming alarmed.
With one month remaining until my return to the United States, I was getting the distinct feeling that I was somehow blowing the whole Asia thing. With most of my time here spent on my laptop, and then fighting an illness (an outgrowth of the ear problem I’ve been battling for 13 years) that got worse with each passing day, prompting two trips to two doctors for two sets of drugs, I got the unmistakable sense that I had cycled somehow back to the worst parts of my life in the U.S. This had not happened since I’ve been here.
With my return coming up so soon (and with my old life, and work, seemingly opening back up to me as if I’d never left), I wondered if I had unwittingly closed back up my escape hatch. If I was going to just recreate my old existence in a new place, then what was the point? And when I came back, what would be the way forward?
It’s not like I wasn’t aware of the problem, or didn’t try to do anything about it…but if you go to the beach and see it’s beautiful, but you’re somehow not really there, or you walk down the street and people are there that you know but you just don’t feel like talking to anybody, then what can you do?
I had to sit down and really analyze where things had started to go south. It was definitely when I started to turn my attention back to working and to sustaining a living. But that was something that I nonetheless liked doing and that needed to happen. I had to sustain myself, and everybody needs a through line in their lives to order themselves around. It wasn’t like I had done anything wrong. But somehow this had very clearly moved me off my path. And worse, now my health was declining again and without that, there were really no paths forward in my life.
To do the things that were still left for me to do, I needed to have the will and the energy to do them. I didn’t want any more slogging through things out of a sense of obligation. I wanted to be fit and ready and present, or else what was the point. And I wondered somewhat bleakly if the threads that I needed to pull to complete a life – the threads of work, a social life, mental engagement, and health, so tantalizingly close to meeting here in Asia – were just destined to never quite meet.
And then today, I figured it out.
The happiest I’ve ever been in my life wasn’t this past year in Asia. Nor was it twenty years ago when the L.A. pop scene was in full flourish and I was at the center of it. It was actually the fall of 2014, when I was fat, sporting a huge grey beard and going to yoga six times in a week. I have never felt so happy, relaxed, and at peace in my entire life. The word bliss comes to mind.
The only reason I left that state of being was that I realized that it was simply not financially sustainable….but I reasoned that with a certain amount of planning and preparation, it could be, and I set about doing just that.
The idea of becoming a yogini got lost in the ensuring three years of shifting my life around. There were good reasons. I got immersed in the work, in the challenge of coming to Asia, in falling in love, in any number of things that happened during that time frame – all good and necessary things. But when I finally achieved my goal of coming to Asia, while health was important to me, getting back into meditation and things like that just were not very attractive. Resting was, yes, and the first couple of weeks in Bali I just stayed in bed mostly. But I was also lonely and bored, and immersing myself in life here, making new friends, learning languages, that was the fascination that kept me riveted. It wasn’t time to sit around and go ommmm. There was stuff to do.
And then, there came the point when I decided I was going to stay here, that I had to get serious about money. I turned my attention to that problem, and I started to knit that in to the nest of my life.
But here’s the thing – I like working, actually. I have a bad habit of getting too wrapped up in whatever it is I’m doing, and then I come up for air, two weeks later, and my body’s all in a different physical place and my mind is craving stimulation and companionship, but in the meantime I’ve isolated myself. By letting go of the other parts of my life and focusing too hard on one thing (work), when it comes time to pick up the other threads, there’s a gap of lost time and energy that always takes a while to make up, and I’m not in the mental or physical place to do that. This was the problem in L.A. – and in L.A., where your friends are busy and geographically remote, that can be an insoluble problem. It’s not insoluble here…but it certainly can be, if I re-assume that pattern of living.
People talk a lot about the benefits of meditation and yoga, but one that’s not immediately obvious is it resets your nervous system, and puts you in a different physical and mental state of being. While being in work mode and obsessing over this or that project can be useful in small doses, it also creates a tunnel vision that can blind you to other, more efficient ways of doing things, or other ways you could divide your time that could create new pathways to the same goal. I used to say that I made $2,000 every time I went hiking. While this was an exaggeration, I would frequently find that when I was worrying over a problem like a dog with a bone, once I was in nature and let my thoughts wander to a different frame of mind, I would come up with a new idea that would solve the problem and often in an easier and more profitable way.
It’s not like I’ve stopped walking around here – I’ve probably averaged 7km a day since I’ve been in Asia – but it’s been as tiring as it’s been invigorating because more and more it’s about getting from point A to point B than it is about seeing things and appreciating them. It’s another way I’ve let something good start to lose its effectiveness by beating it to death. This is something that I do…and I realized if I wasn’t careful, I’d do that to the very environment I had found for myself, that had spurred my sense of wonder and creativity – a place that was, in some ways, unimprovable. If I screwed that up there really was no place left to go.
So last night, I limited myself to a short bit of work and, still feeling pretty sickly, I just put out the yoga mat and I laid there for something like 3 hours. I let a podcast play in the background so I could engage my mind if I wanted to – it wasn’t pure meditation. Rather than fussing over my wounded nose and throat, I did my best to just focus on relaxing the inflamed tissues. Then when I was tired of that, I went to sleep. I slept a good 9 hours, and got up. For the first time in about 10 days I didn’t feel sick.
I had projects that needed to be taken care of – but – nothing that had to be done today. I didn’t allow myself to get into “well I’d better get ahead on it so I can play later” mode – because this never works. Once you get into this mindset, you simply never play. You just keep on getting ahead, because there’s always something to do. You have to work, and then at some point you have to stop working. I put the task aside for today, and instead did an easy yoga routine. I had made plans to see someone here before I left and when that wound up turning into an afternoon-long thing, I didn’t cut it short or think about other things I had to do. I simply did that. And by the end of the afternoon, my body had slowed back down to a place it hadn’t been in for a while, and I started to remember the blissful addiction of the fall of 2014.
I walked into Sanur…and the wonder was back. I was seeing things instead of just moving through them. Everybody was friendly again – because I was no longer preoccupied physically or mentally, and I took the time to acknowledge them. I didn’t feel sick anymore and the symptoms that I always deal with were now less annoying. The cool breeze blew at the beach, and I felt it. I went down to the jetty, and rather than walk onto it as a pro forma exercise, I reached my arms up to the yawning sky, and matched my breathing to my movement. Then I went into the sand and did some slow yoga movements with my hands digging into the soft ground, the same beautiful feeling that I remembered from doing this out in the Mojave Desert. I’d been to the beach almost every day since I’d been back…but now I was really there. It wasn’t the Bali which I had recently unwittingly turned into the cartoon backdrop of whatever mental life I’d caged myself in. It was the Bali of old, magic Bali.
Then I went out with a different set of friends, a bunch of rowdy Australians singing along with Bon Jovi tunes in the bar. And it wasn’t annoying; because I was a part of it, not apart from it. And that’s what the idea of yoga is about; it’s very easy to tell yourself you need to be present for your own life. But when you have shit you gotta do, and it’s always there, it’s very hard to tear yourself away from that. Meditation, and yoga, are mechanisms by which you reset your body and allow yourself back to being present and one with what is around you, so you’re not fighting it. You’re resonating with it.
I remember the last time I reconnected with an old acquaintance named Rivers, who since we had known each other had taken a very different and successful path – one that keeps him constantly busy and under pressure – the main thing he was interested in talking about was meditation. He said “since I started doing it, I do it every day. Every day. I haven’t missed it once. If I can do it, you can.”
And you know what? He was right.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to go full yogini again (nor am I going to regain 40 pounds). I have to be realistic that sustainability for me doesn’t just mean money, but a certain amount of stimulation, discovery, and socialization. But all that stuff is maintenance. At the end of the day, once you have all of your physical and monetary needs fulfilled, that doesn’t get you anywhere, really. Nothing that any of us does matters; we’re all going to die, all the people that knew us are going to die, everything will pass into dust. All the physical things that you experience, good and bad, are temporary. What’s left, then?
Transcendence. The world of the spirit. Different people reach that different ways. But rather like the part of the world that I am making my adopted home, those practices have always brought out the best in me. All the things I’ve assembled in my life here – they’re important. I need them. But to move ahead, I need to allot proper time for developing the inner part of me. If I do that, everything else will fall in place around it…and the world will never cease to be magic.
And now I need to shut off the laptop. But I think I’m back on the path now, and ready to move ahead.
Next stop: the Philippines. And after that, to the strangest, scariest and most foreign destination of all: the United States of America.