When I was in Thailand between mid and late December, I kept a journal. Here is one of my entries:
I’m sitting here at 1:30 in the afternoon on a bench in a small park by the Chao Praya River in old Bangkok. [My wife and her sister] have left me to myself while they go shopping. It’s nice to be by myself for a while in this grand city. It lets me feel like a grown-up, even if the feeling is more of an illusion than a fact. The truth is, I don’t know how I’d manage in this or any other part of Thailand by myself for any length of time. How would I get around or take care of virtually any of my basic needs by myself?
Of course, I don’t need to. I’ve married a sweet, loving, and extremely attentive Thai woman who grew up in Bangkok and has been to just about everywhere else in Thailand that I’d ever want to go. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to take care of myself here and to know that I could do it if I needed to?
I doubt that this is a conviction I’ll ever have, or at least not one grounded in reality. For this entire trip has made it ever more clear that I am not functioning with a full deck, as they say, or even with half a one. I don’t know precisely what’s wrong with me or why, but I do know that I am broadly and deeply defective, incapable of doing a huge number of things that most human beings can do easily and well.
Yet, for a few hours here on a beautiful Bangkok afternoon by myself, I can almost feel capable and confident, like an adult, instead of a perpetual child.
This vacation in Thailand has been an adventure. It hasn’t always if ever been joyful, but I don’t regret coming here or a moment of the time I’ve spent here. In fact, I wish I could stay longer. But [my cat] waits for me back home, as do a whole new set of life’s duties and responsibilities. I may never be able to mature into a fully-fledged adult, but I need to act as much like one as I can. Not like just any adult, but like an adult who consistently walks his own integral path centered on mindfulness. It’s a tall order for someone like me. Perhaps an impossibly tall one. But what decent alternative do I have to trying, to giving it all that I have for as long as I have left?
However, let me begin not by contemplating my future, but by rooting myself in the here- and-now of this lovely December afternoon, sitting on a shaded bench in a little park by the Chao Praya River in Bangkok as the sounds of traffic and music and chirping birds and people’s voices speaking mellifluous Thai and other languages fill the air, and young Thai women more heart-wrenchingly beautiful than human beings have any right to be, with faces and bodies like angels from heaven, stroll by. I am nothing to them, but each and every one of them is more beautiful and precious to me than all the grand palaces and temples and jewels and natural landscapes in Thailand put together. Perhaps someday I can feel that way not only about my wife and supernaturally gorgeous Thai girls, but also about every person and every living thing in existence. That is one of my loftiest goals, and I believe that the path to it is one of mindfulness. Breathing in…breathing out. Calming…smiling. Present moment…wonderful moment…I am alive…I am home…In the here and in the now…
A middle-aged monk in saffron robes approaches. He sits down by me and begins to make conversation. He teaches Buddhist meditation at a nearby temple. Thai Buddhist meditation is grounded in mindfulness. Breathing in…breathing out…Calming…smiling…Present moment…Wonderful moment…