I'm doing well now. It was a rough adjustment back to American life, much rougher than I expected. It was emotionally easy to leave everything behind, but hard to pick it all back up. The nine-to-five for a large company--hard to imagine. But then I've had so much time on my hands since I got back. I did a lot of traveling around the US in the first couple months following my return, then I attempted some entrepreneurial ventures. Then I found myself filling the days by reading and meditating and hosting house guests. I've seen quite a few of the good friends I made on my travels: Rob, Joshua, T, Clelia, and some others who's names didn't appear in the blog.
Joshua was always a good source of new ideas and stimulating conversation, and he left me with a lot to read and think about when he left Madison. He had been living at the doorstep of the Dalai Lama before he came to visit, and we had a good long conversation about causality, spirituality, and connectedness as we strode through Olbrich Gardens (to-date one of my favorite places on earth). He didn't change any of my views when he was in town (not that he was trying), but he set me on an interesting path.
While doing some research to find out if there was any scientific basis to "enlightenment", I stumbled upon a study that was done right here in Madison. They talked about this French-scientist-turned-Buddhist-monk who had the largest capacity for happiness and compassion of anyone ever scanned in an fMRI. That caught my attention. Happiness had been somewhat of an obsession for me over the previous several years, so naturally I grabbed the book by this monk titled Happiness and read it as fast as I could.
The book explained how I could cultivate enduring happiness by utilizing time-tested Buddhist techniques. I'd read lots of books and articles, and listened to lectures about creating lasting happiness before, but that was the first book on the subject that I really liked. As I read it I kept thinking Man, I wish I'd been living this way my whole life.
I started incorporating some of the practices from the book into my daily life, and I kept up my correspondences with friends from my trip that hadn't come to visit yet. One of those friends was a monk I met in Burma. He had an interesting story and I gave a few updates on him throughout my journey, but I'll give a brief recap here.
We met in a hilltop monastery where tourists go to watch the sunset. He was looking for a foreigner to help him register for an online English class. I did everything I could to help him register for the class, but with the state of the internet being what it was in Burma, it just wasn't happening. He couldn't take an English class in person because monks there were forbidden to learn anything but the Buddhist teachings. He was born into the life of a monk and wanted to leave it, but he had no resources, skills, or experience, and faced exile from his entire community. His situation was shared by lots of young monks and nuns in Burma, and I could imagine how hard it must be for them.
When I left Burma I got the Rosetta Stone and some learning materials from English teachers I'd met on my travels, and had the next backpacker I found that was going to Burma hand deliver them to the monk. His English came along swimmingly and we kept in touch ever since. He finally made it out of the monastery and moved to the big city.
It's amazing how fast you can get caught up in the rat race of western culture. Every time I talked to the monk he had a new plan, plot, or scheme (sounds kinda like me), and he always needed something else. I wanted to tell him: "Things won't make you happy! Strive for inner peace, community, and purpose, not money, status or a western lifestyle." Then I'd remember: That's how he was brought up, and that didn't work for him.
It got me thinking; thinking about the "right way" to live, thinking about all the people I've met and experiences I've had and how they've changed my life. I started to wonder if maybe the destination is the important part. After all, my journey around the world collapsed into an instant in my mind as soon as I got back. I can't even remember all the things that changed me or the ways I've changed, but I know I'm better for it, and perhaps that's what matters. I know I wouldn't have gotten where I am if I hadn't taken the journey I did, but perhaps I've been too dismissive of having a destination to journey toward. Though I didn't have any aim to my travels, I'd set a course for learning and growth, and that's exactly where I went. I'm immensely fortunate for all the people I've met and all the experiences I've had, and I hope to continue on my path and give back to the world more than I've gotten.
It'll be interesting to see what comes of the monks current path. Maybe our journeys will move in somewhat opposite directions but end up in the same spot, or maybe they won't. It's hard to say how big of an effect we had on each other, but my guess is that it's not insignificant.Soundtrack: Sight Of The Sun (fun.)