More highs and more lows -- these are the things I was expecting when I left on this journey. With this pursuit of aliveness and adventure comes the challenge of realizing that state of mind controls our wellbeing more than any other.
Five days ago...
I arrived in a place resembling paradise. In the south of Cambodia along a river is a quiet city named Kampot. Venture 20 minutes off the main road into the village, then down a bumpy dirt trail, and you find a soothing French getaway on the quiet river. The days are long and enjoyable. Hammocks and Americanos, bungalows and early morning swims in the river, lazing around with the guesthouse dog, and indulging on French cuisine all day. This slice of paradise has given me one of the most beautiful days of my travels, but also one of my lowest. The physical place and ambiance is without a doubt important, but what’s interesting is how my mind dictates how much I can enjoy the experience.
In the past five days, I haven’t left the grounds of this fairly remote ‘resort’ even once. It has everything I wanted during this backpacker-detox period. After being on the road backpacking for so many months, it’s crucial to stop in a quiet place and stay without any thoughts of doing much. Life in Vietnam was exciting and fast-paced, but eventually you just need to do nothing to recover. Packing and unpacking the backpack, checking in and checking out, booking a new place to stay and moving from city to city, saying hi and goodbye again and again – it becomes exhausting if you don’t take it slow.
But a few days into my stay in paradise I found myself in a bad place. I was thinking about life back home, about my future, about things I need to be doing to keep on track. Is all this hammock time helpful or harmful? Am I procrastinating figuring out my life, or am I relaxing so that I have a clear mind that will help me eventually figure it all out? These are the big questions I was asking myself, along with many other deeper thoughts. It led me into a melancholy state as I looked out to the lake that couldn’t soothe me. A spontaneous kayak trip down the river only resulted in me soaking my clothes and breaking my eyeglasses. This made me realize that the physical location may be stunning, but it only made me question myself. Paradise really isn’t always perfect as we wish it were.
I felt starved for familiar conversation. I craved enriched talks with friends and family from home but couldn’t find it so easily in this quiet paradise. I madly messaged people from home asking them to talk by phone, but I soon realized that the time difference and busy lifestyles made it difficult to talk to some of them. Paradise had sent me closer towards dissatisfaction, revealing that in the moment, I was feeling lonelier than I knew. Without people, this world is nothing.
With some support and phone calls with family and friends that I hadn’t spoke with in a while, I worked my way out of the slump that was keeping me drained in paradise. A tasty meal and a dessert was a further solution. Then came the decision to have more fine French meals at the resort without worrying about my budget. I realized that indulging was exactly what I needed to do. I needed to stop and appreciate where I was. I looked out to the lake in front of me- this tranquil, calming river. How could I be trapped in my own head about my past and my future when this natural beauty was right before my eyes? Things took a turn for the better at that point. Sometimes we just need to indulge and treat ourselves kindly.
That evening as sunset approached, my travel partner and I headed down to the dock to go for a swim. We borrowed a paddleboard and paddled out into the middle of the still river water as the sun began to set behind hills in the distance. It pulled us closer and closer into the orange reflection line cast by the sun in the water, its warmth luring me in.
All that could be heard was the birds in the distance and the sound of local musical instruments echoing down the river. Aside from that, there was complete stillness. I appreciated how my travel partner was able to be still and silent with me for minutes, just watching the sun slowly setting. This stillness was exactly what I needed to heal in the moment- and it's a rare gift to receive.
After the sun went down, I sat on my knees at the front of the board, letting the afterglow of the sun rays be absorbed as I reflected on my life these past six months of travelling. Six months already - how quickly it's gone, but how far away my old life seems now. Sometimes there's bad days, but these are just minor blips in a more fulfilling, exciting life.
As we paddled back to the dock we glided through dozens of birds who were dipping into the water to catch their sunset fish dinners. All I could hear was the fluttering of their wings and all I could see was the rings they made in the river with each dip. I attempted some yoga on the paddleboard, feeling the tension dissipate as I kicked my legs above me into the air on the wobbly board. I made it back to the dock completely dry, but realized that a swim was what I needed to wash away the remnants of the poor state of mind. We played like kids in the river water without a care in the world. This had been the most terrific sunset of my life.
No matter where you are in the world or what you’re doing these days, always remember that it’s ok to have bad days. You’ll use the bad days sparingly, but there’s always a sunset to chase, a meal to indulge in, or a friend to call to guide you back to your path. A life of choosing optimism and wellbeing takes dedicated work against a sea of people who try to knock you down. But in the end, you will heal again, and emerge stronger than before.
How do you get back on track?