A half-hour window of time presented itself to me, so I began some calligraphy practice, which evolved into free writing. From this play with letters and words, a phrase evolved. It represents that our balance and security needs to come from within, and that once we have found this, we become immeasurably stronger in the face of the whirlwind of things that life lays before us, or throws at us.
Songkran is one of the three occasions that Thailand celebrates as New Year. And I had a plan. It was to be a legendary road trip. I had gotten a hammock with mosquito net and fly sheet, so that I could sleep anywhere where there are trees trees—which is everywhere in Thailand. I had my motorbike loaded up. I had weeks off work. The vision was big: ride as far south as I could, perhaps spending half of each day on the bike, and maybe even get as far as Malaysia.
Except it didn’t go according to plan. It was April, which is the hottest time of year here. It’s exhausting to spend even half a day on a motorbike, in the blazing sun, blasting down the roads which only get hotter as you move further south. So instead of finding some pristine spot of nature to pitch my hammock camp, I went looking for a cheap guesthouse. A cold water shower can sometimes feel like all the luxury you would ever need. After reading a novel on my Kindle, getting a good night’s sleep, and then breakfast, I got back on the road, and wondered where I would be sleeping the next night.
When I got near Cha-am, which is under 200 km from Bangkok, I headed for a small national park that I had already researched and marked on my GPS. It was almost deserted, but the few staff left said it was fine for me to stay there in my hammock. I dumped my stuff and went for a walk around this small park.
And that was it. No more! Sometimes we’ve got to toughen-up and be strong, but sometimes we have to go with the flow, which is always towards the sea, and find somewhere comfortable to lay low. I found another guesthouse, parked my bike inside and decided to stop trying to be a hardened woodsman and start enjoying things the Thai way.
When I first met the Quakers in 2006, one of the things I was drawn to was their value of simplicity. I guess this is because my life had got so full of stuff. Mental stuff, emotional stuff, and physical stuff. The value of simplicity seeks to strip away the non-essential to create space inside our hearts and houses, and this space brings clarity.
Spending a year as a backpacker, where all the things I needed were in my backpack, taught me that you really don’t need a lot of physical objects in order to be happy. But back in England there were draws, boxes and cupboards full of things, all waiting for my return.
I got rid of a lot. In the UK there are loads of charity shops where you can dump your stuff. It makes getting rid of things much easier when you know they’re going to be useful to someone else. In Thailand there is a similar service, but you just leave your stuff on the street outside your house. People drive around on improvised motorbike-sidecar-trailers at dawn and pick it up. They sort through it and then sell it on.
Sometimes it hurts. Getting rid of my guitar, which I had owned for many years and which held a lot of fond memories for me, was difficult. But I didn’t play it any more, and I had no plans to start again. So it’s gone.
And with each thing that’s gone, there’s a bit more space.
In a post last year I wrote about why I wasn’t going to pay for a streaming music subscription like Spotify. I made a list of reasons, which are still valid, but a lot of it hung on the fact that I wanted to own my music. I wanted to hold onto it for my whole life. And I didn’t want to pay money for this music if I couldn’t archive it on my computer and feel like it was truly mine. When you cancel a Spotify subscription you lose the music, and I didn’t like the thought of that.
Which is a bit funny really. I pay for mechanics to service my motorbike. I don’t own their service; I need to go back again in the future to keep it running nicely. I don’t own a haircut, but I’m happy to pay. So getting into streaming music required me to change my mindset.
Enter the 30-day free subscription, and it’s all been changed for me.
I love streaming music1I don’t use Spotify, because they don’t offer the service in Thailand, but there’s something similar, Rdio, which does.. The reason I love it is because I can explore freely in a sea of music, experimenting, trying out a lot of new artists, and be free of the burden of having to download music, add it to my library, and then make a decision of whether I like it enough to buy. I can just enjoy it. And here’s the thing: I am enjoying music more now than ever before in my life.
So it’s a 180° turn for me. Subscription music is great. And it’s taken away another burden, the burden to download or buy a music collection, and to keep that collection organised. More space. More life.
The peace is always there—around you, inside you—the question is whether you connect to it.