I’ve only been able to touch my toes a few times in my life: when I was young, briefly, and then this past summer when I attended yoga classes several times a week with my best friend. For most of my life, I’ve been able to get close but not quite reach. It’s just not a natural ability for me.
This entire placement so far has been a struggle to reach my toes. I came here pretending I had no expectations, but of course I did, and my experiences haven’t met my expectations on any count. This isn’t to say I’m disappointed, because I’m not. I was just prepared for the experience I wanted, not the experience I’m having. I have been stressed, overly emotional, and kind of horrible to spend time with lately because I’m learning things about myself that are good and important but are also painful lessons. I’m learning to let go of my expectations and I feel like I’m in the gym again, and I’m failing to touch my toes, and my instructor is pushing on my back, forcing me down those last few centimetres. It hurts, but it has to happen, and honestly there are worse places for it to happen than a tropical island.
Shanti is Sanskrit for “peace”. In Buddhist and Hindu tradition, chanting “om shanti shanti shanti” is an invocation of peace in body, speech, and mind. At this exact moment, I am at peace. This is one of the rare days when I can reach my toes and nobody is forcing me to do anything or be anything I am not. Not every day is like this, but they’re happening with increasing frequency, and this is a blessing and a relief. In the three years I have planned and prepared for and dreamed about this placement, I never imagined that I would be sitting at home on a Saturday afternoon, having spent my entire morning in silence because there’s no one else here, or that I would be so happy about it.
I also never imagined that I would have had the experiences I have. In the last week and a half I have cried more than ever before (which is a lot, for those of you who didn’t know me as a kid), and I’ve also done and seen and learned more than ever before (which is also a lot). I could write about how difficult a time I’m having, but I’m trying this new thing where I view everything as contributing to wholeness rather than happiness and for me that means letting go of my expectations and my plans for the future and facing each day as an individual. The difficulty I face is a big picture thing, so for the sake of my own health, I’m not looking at the big picture anymore. Maybe this is a temporary solution, or maybe this will work for the rest of my life. For now, it’s opened the door to good things.
- Finally, after long weeks of feeling like I don’t have a place, I have figured out a job at my organization that is exactly what I want to do with my future. It’s equally beneficial to WDC and me, and it’s challenging. I’m performing micro environmental assessments on all of WDC’s facilities and addressing those results in WDC’s first ever environmental best practice policy. This work existed all along, but I got too inside my own head to see it, and that’s why I’m only starting now after 2 months. This is better than the job I thought I was moving here for.
- I made friends with the tuktuk drivers who park at the bottom of my hill, and now I not only get free rides home on a regular basis but I also have a friendly group of people looking out for me. The servers at my favourite restaurants do the same, and will sometimes seat people with me so I’m not eating alone. Out of nowhere, I have a community.
- I got SCUBA certified last weekend, and hid on the balcony of a beautiful beachside hotel avoiding the calls of I honestly believe the most connected man southern Sri Lanka who wanted Karen and I to go to a party on the beach. I sat on the roof with my feet hanging off the edge and watched the sunset and spied on all the tourists walking on the street, oblivious to my presence. I drank coconuts on the beach and got a sunburn and swam in the ocean.
- I sat in the front of a store, feet stained brown from wearing Birkenstocks in monsoon rains, talking to a colleague about what life was like during the Sri Lankan civil war, which is in such recent memory that she still looked scared. Her heart was broken and so was mine as she mourned over the fact that she, as a Sinhala Buddhist woman, didn’t help the Tamil people at the height of the war because doing so would have put her and her then-6-year-old daughter at a serious risk and she had to choose. And even though she made the choice that most people would reasonably make she was sad about what could have been, what she thinks should have been.
- I interviewed some of the beneficiaries of my organization and started to believe even more in the work that WDC does because suddenly it’s no longer vague and faceless but it is Laka and Dineshini and Nilmi’s story. I sat in on a network meeting for WDC and saw dozens of women on fire for what they do, most of them Tamil, who have experienced far too much hurt in the last 10 years than anyone should in a lifetime and are now fighting the system that continues to keep them down despite everyone telling them to give up.
- I bought a book about mindful remembrance and willful forgetting, written by a Jew raised in Germany but now living in Sri Lanka. I’ve been fascinated with the concept of willful forgetting for months now since I did an assignment on it in INDEV 476. We studied it in the context of the Holocaust and the American war in Vietnam, and now before me is a book that presents it through a Sri Lankan lens and this is the first time in forever I have been excited to learn.
Things are up and down all the time, but I’m okay, and I’m at peace. 100% of the reason I’m okay is because of my friends and family who have been looking after me from all over the world. I know I’m exhausting and you all have your own lives to deal with, but you’ve all surrounded me with love and made sure I have never felt like I’m going through this alone. Thank you for your endless patience and understanding, and thank you for not forcing me to reach my toes just yet but letting me stretch and figure this all out at my own pace. I doubt anyone is quite as lucky as me.