It’s two weeks before I get on a plane to Phnom Penh. “Within You, Without You” by the Beatles is playing from my laptop. I’ve been thinking about the reality of what I am about to do, and it’s all starting to hit me.
In one week I will be unemployed and finishing to pack for my open-ended trip to Southeast Asia. It all begins with a ‘vacation’ in southern Cambodia and Vietnam, then I’m volunteering for a month in a school in Siem Reap. From there, I am meeting my boyfriend in Mumbai, where our plans have yet to be developed beyond the first two nights in a hotel, and a list of places we want to visit. After India, we’ll travel up to Nepal, and after that…?
So how did I get here?
In January of last year I decided to do one of those silly “memory jars” that are all the rage on Pinterest. I added to it whenever I remembered to, and just now opened it up.
Across the top: map of Kripalu yoga center, map of “Farandnear” walking trails, pamphlet for the Lowell Folk Festival, leaflet with a restaurant owner’s name and a cool place to hike near Zion National Park, a sticker from the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, and my Kripalu nametag from my silent retreat.
Second row: various movie tickets, boarding passes, train ticket stub, MFA Boston tickets, business card from the Pomegranate Inn in Portland, ME, ticket stub from the Steamship Authority in Woods Hole, MA, and my business card.
Odds n’ Ends: a plastic ring from the abandoned Fernald State School, shells from Martha’s Vineyard, matches from a mortuary-turned-restaurant named Linger in Denver, CO, matches from Beach Road restaurant on MV, a rock from Bryce Canyon (shh, don’t tell), and a Chrysler emblem from my 1986 Chrysler Fifth Ave I sent to the great parking lot in the sky this year.
Bottom Row: entry tickets to the Neon Museum, tickets to the Museum of Science in Boston, and 6 plastic room key cards from various hotels.
Looking at all the items from my jar (and recalling the things I forgot to put in there), it’s interesting to visualize the past year in the form of ticket stubs and key cards. As it was happening, I thought, 2016 didn’t feel so pleasant.
I moved off of Martha’s Vineyard, a place I worked and lived year-round for five years. I moved from a place where I knew everyone walking down the street, to a place that makes you feel invisible and moves way too fast. I spent the last few months of 2015 and the early part of 2016 mourning the loss of a place I had called home. It wasn’t easy. At my new job off-island, I spent my lunch breaks looking for a vintage trailer to buy so I could quit my job and drive around the country for a while. (I never found one, though.)
As an avid yoga practitioner, I tried to lean on my practice during this trying time, but it took me a while to find a new routine, a new studio, and a new teacher to learn from. I went to Kripalu for 3 days of silence, but cracked after 2 days. I went to the Omega Institute for a weekend yoga retreat and left feeling energetic, but that only lasted for a couple of days. It wasn’t until I went to a meditation retreat at the Garrison Institute in Garrison, New York, that I felt a true shift inside of me. I ended up at the retreat by accident. I applied for a Hemera Scholarship late one night, picking the workshop on their website that spoke to me at the time. I had no idea what I was getting into, all I knew was that I was not feeling like myself, and needed to do something about it.
For 3 1/2 days I meditated and ate in silence with a group of strangers from the same Zendo who all knew each other. I struggled. I wanted to quit for a day and a half until I stepped outside one morning and I suddenly felt absolutely elated! I was joyous, I looked at everything around me and was in awe. The smells, the mist that clung in the air, the sound of the train passing–I have never been so full of joy.
Instead of going to work and escaping via a fantasy of driving around the country (which I still want to do someday), I started to put together a real plan. I was going to quit my job, and I was going to travel. The question of where to go was easy. I traveled to Cambodia & Thailand two years ago and absolutely fell in love with Cambodia. I loved the red dusty roads, the smell of cooking fires in the early morning, and the sound of monks chanting from the nearby temples. I knew I had to go back to Southeast Asia.
In two weeks I’ll be living my dream. Even though that sounds cheesy, I have been thinking about doing this crazy thing for a long time, and it’s actually becoming my reality. I am terrified.