The plan was very clear five years ago. I came up with a bucket list of items to do during the next five years before my own D-Day. D-Day was scheduled to be on my birthday. During the entire plane flight, I even thought to myself: even if the plane was to crash now, I have no regrets because I have lived and fought to do, regardless of failure or success, what I want to do till now.
My original plan was to stay at a guesthouse for a few days to be emotionally and mentally prepared to take the last step in my life. However, considering that the guesthouse was a source of livelihood and a place of residence for the owner, I recognized that I would be very inconsiderate and selfish to carry out my plans there. Hence I decided to carry out my plans at a nearby monastery on my birthday.
Never did I expect the transformation that would take place over the next four days.
Every morning I would get to the nearby monastery for my pre-booked meals. It was peaceful with a simple daily routine: breakfast, prayers/meditation, lunch, prayers/meditation, dinner. Prayers and meditation sessions are completely optional for visitors. I would bring a hot flask of hot water, a book and settle in one of the common study area to read for hours. One day, a very young Sri Lankan lady came up to me on my second day. I showed her the way to her room.
After two days of such routine, I got a little tired of reading and decided to visit the tea room on the third day. It was a place for visitors to purchase some tea and snacks while enjoying their stay there. I was on a budget as I do not wish to spend too much unnecessary expenses. Rather, I wanted to keep the savings for my funeral expenses.
I saw the young lady I met and sat down to chat with her while waiting for lunch. It was the start of a string of engaging conversations at the monastery. The Sri Lankan young lady was bubbly and outgoing. From her, I saw a living example of an independent single woman who is feeling empowered instead of self-pity. From her, I was introduced to another wonderful lady from Ireland, who proudly shared her mini United Nations family comprising five foreigners as her brothers-in-laws. The conversations soon expanded to other volunteers from across the world staying on a much longer term at the monastery. Many came to monastery either for temporary or permanent retreats, both spiritually and emotionally. One volunteer was contemplating monkhood after his mundane life with family duties were over. He shared with me his reasons for wanting to enter monkhood. It was indeed inspiring to hear people who are leading a very different life from what I see in my own country.
The long-term stayers have been staying at the monastery ranging from six months to over 15 years. Many wanted to seek out the purpose of life – just like me – and were in the process of seeking answers in their life on a spiritual and emotional level. The monastery does provide a very conducive sanctuary. Shy of striking conversations with strangers, I started to sit in a corner and listen to people’s conversations around me. Somehow, I began to feel that many visitors, through their conversations, indirectly answered my questions. For instance, during one of my meditation sessions, I was focused on the issue of dealing with loneliness, emptiness and the purpose of my life. It was the most intense meditation session ever experienced that I was weeping silently at one point, releasing my anguish and sadness. After the meditation session, I returned to settle down with a book in the study area. There was a group of youths who participated in a retreat course. One of the youth suddenly mentioned the topic of loneliness and said that everyone has to walk and live their life on their own. There is no way another person, even your spouse, can understand how you feel at all times. It was a totally unexpected aha moment for me that he answered what I asked previously just 20 minutes ago. Indeed, if there was sickness or death facing us, no one, not even our spouse, can help us to go through the surgery, or to die in place of us.
Another revelation soon came as I began to look at the volunteers with another perspective. They do not have much of their own, but they were leading a happy life and happy to give. I remembered I overheard a young lady saying she was surprised to learn that in my country everyone has a permanent job. Whereas holding a casual job in their country is a norm rather than an abnormality, I realised some of the things that we own in my country were really taken for granted. Yet she is more positive and optimistic despite living in a more challenging environment than me. Another volunteer announced her engagement, although she and her fiancé has no money for a wedding and decided to hold it in conjunction with another event. I decided to volunteer two days to help wipe tables after lunch at the dining hall. And it was a very good experience for me, knowing I could help in my own small way.
My own self-awareness began to develop and I recognised my old sense and values are perhaps wrong and not working well for me: what really matters in this world, how we should live, what we should do, the numerous “should’s” are very arbitrary. I took a very long walk that day by myself through the farms. The tranquility gave me the much needed time to absorb, digest and analyse new information that I had over the past few days. I realised many things: my thinking is so narrow and restrictive that I was having negative thoughts, leading myself to a path of doom. I have been suffering from depression ever since I was young. Growing up in a mentally and emotionally cold or abusive family environment, it gives you a pessimistic outlook in life. Although I am still not optimistic, I would say at least I began to develop awareness that I have often think of the worst, conjuring the worst scenarios before, and if ever, it happen and getting angry over it. The combination of anger followed by depression creates a vicious unhealthy cycle that kept spiraling downwards, dragging myself to the lowest of the valleys in my life. It destroyed all my hopes and leading me to think death is the best solution. Reflecting back, I was pretty silly. Why think and get hopping mad over situations that have not happened yet?
Another reflection was the realisation that I am no longer a child. I am a full grown adult with the ability to take control of my life in certain ways. I am able to support myself financially and I am able to do things I am unable to do as a child. I no longer need to rely on others for food and shelter. I can build my own social network if I wish to. I developed my first sense of gratitude. Lastly, I realised if I had a lifespan of 70 years old, I have already reach the mid-way mark. I should cherish the next 35 years to do something positive instead of concentrating just on I, me, myself. At the same time, I should also focus on self-care and self-love so I have the ability to help the others in a way within my means. Escaping loneliness by cramping it with meetings, appointments, classes is just wasting my physical energy, leaving me both tired physically and still empty on an emotional and spiritual level.
I would say that long walk transformed me on the inner side. I decided not to go ahead with my original plan. For the first time, I experienced positive thinking on my own without others’ help. And the feeling was priceless.
I hope through my own story, others will be able to stop destroying themselves. Very often, if we could stop thinking we should conform to this expectation or that standard, else we fall short in this society, we would just be shredding our self-worth to bits and feeling more miserable. Be kind to yourself, and be compassionate to others, and jumpstart your own positive cycle.