Every day at approximately 11:35 am I stride purposefully into the canteen amid a regular pang of hunger, as I have been resisting the ordinary Thai breakfast of rice and pork soup for a simple banana. Somewhere in between the jolly greetings of my students and helping myself to lunch, I feel the stares on my skin like concentrated heat from laser beams. The Thai teachers inspect my every move, from the way my skirt flows with each step to how much green curry I scoop onto my plate. When I sit down, smiles and “Sawadees” are exchanged, but they are never quite willing to leave the intense conversation among their inner circles to speak with the farang teacher.

On one particular day, I decided to rest my plate of Pad Thai across from the assistant director at our school, Miss Usa. She is an older, more serious woman but has a special generosity that can only be described as “grandmother-like.” Expecting to engage in polite conversation, my lips were nearly parted to ask her how she was doing when she asked me abruptly, “Are you lonely?”

To be completely honest, I didn’t know how to answer that question. I had not thought about the way I must “seem to feel” in the eyes of others, nor have I truly understood the way I feel at all. It had been nearly two weeks since the last American teachers left Sawi, and in that time period I had not conversed with anyone but the Thais. I stand alone at assembly every morning at 8am, not understanding a word that is spoken. I enter and leave school alone, I see my students while I am walking around town alone, I eat dinner every single night alone, I sit on my balcony and watch the sunset alone, alone, ALONE. Yet my answer to Miss Usa’s question was, “No, not necessarily…”

And that’s the truth. I am not lonely. But why?

I have spent a majority of my life dealing with “clutter.” This is not to be mistaken for mess-type clutter, as I am irked at the thought of an unmade bed. The clutter I speak of is mind clutter. I made decisions based on the beliefs and values of others, I engaged in unruly gossip, and most predominately, I claimed the problems of others as my own, making every effort to try and solve them along the way. Opinions, judgments, and dependency cluttered my mind with a never-ending string of empty, meaningless thoughts.

In my little sanctuary of Sawi, I am living free of this clutter, this continuous “overcast” that has prevented me from having productive, meaningful thoughts. When this little town began feeling like home, things I had once tried so hard to see became clear without intent. In solitude, I am discovering my strengths, weaknesses and interests. In solitude, I am forced to be strong as much as I am subject to vulnerability, the two extremes meeting me harmoniously in the middle. I am aware, I am observant, and I am content. I have self-reflected more in the past three months than I have in my lifetime. My thoughts, without interference from external sources, are really all the company I need.

This past weekend I voyaged to the beautiful Cheow Lan Lake of Khao Sok National Park in Surat Thani Province, about two hours south of my little town of Sawi. And yes, as you may have already guessed, I traveled alone. I stayed at a floating raft house, nestled into one of the many narrowing nooks of the vast lake. Upon my arrival, I hopped onto one of the kayaks and paddled out past the small lake community, heading towards one of the several massive limestone rock formations protruding from below the water. I extended my back to the base of the kayak in the incredibly still turquoise lake with my face towards the sun, looking up at the mountainous rock ahead. I wondered how it had come to be, how the non-living mass before me must have an incredible history that no one would ever know. I heard animals of all kinds – birds, insects, and amphibians – making conversation in the jungle just a few meters away. As I write this, I can still smell the moist, grassy air mixed with thick fog not yet burned off by the sun. At the time I was so overwhelmed with gratification that the glass of my eyes had blurred, I may have shed a tear or two when I realized:

I am never really alone. None of us are.

Yes, I miss being able to discuss with like-minded individuals. Yes, it would bring me great joy to tell someone how I had just spent five minutes laughing my ass off in the bathroom after spraying myself in the face with the bum gun. Yes, I miss being able to stare at good-looking white males. Just this weekend, I encountered two very attractive Englishmen on the express train to Surat Thani and my heart fluttered like a 13-year-old girl’s after meeting Harry Styles backstage at a One Direction concert.

But I wouldn’t exchange this experience, lonely or not, for anything.

Independence has always been important to me, even as a young girl. Coming from somewhat of an unstable home, I learned to fear dependency on others, therefore valuing my freedom exponentially. This is certainly benefiting me now more than ever.

Coincidentally, as I scribbled down the notes in my journal that have become the contents of this blog post, a few meaningful words by Buddha streamed across the top of the page:

We are shaped by our thoughts, we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows.

At the beginning of this journey, I set out to “find myself” in Thailand. While that is somewhat true, something has changed. Yes I want to find a passion, but I never should have started out with the intention of finding “me.”

The more I sit here in solitude, the more I realize that I was never really “lost” at all. I have always been here, only letting the clutter of my mind interfere. If I am shaped by the thoughts I have in Thailand, then I think i’ll find joy in the person I become.

I just have some thinking to do, that’s all.

I found Wilson.

I found Wilson.

The post Solitude appeared first on Tori Slater.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *