Most days I find myself so withdrawn the only thing I can bring myself to do is gaze out my window, finding a way to escape empty conversations. It's become the most peaceful way I can handle it. I listen. I am quiet. I overhear the chatter that is there just to fill up space rather than to say something.
Even hitchhiking across Myanmar with a broken phone, little to no idea where I was headed apart from “East to Kalaw”, 20 cents in my pocket, no food in my belly, and zero knowledge of the language has left me excruciatingly lost in the ways I feel now.
There are days where the only thing I can do is cry.
I feel guilty for being sad. Most of all, I can't identify to myself when I'm aching this way. Hurting just doesn’t feel like me. My natural state of being is more along the lines of jumping for joy and squealing out of delight, dancing, making up silly songs to sing at the top of my lungs, laughing until my belly hurts. I am eager and giddy and constantly in awe. I'm the sister who chases her brothers around the house shaking my booty at them until they are cry-laughing. Making a clown out of myself is, in fact, my specialty.
(Well, Joy is quite my specialty. Get this: I even took on this nickname by different people throughout India who had to relation to each other. Most friends call me Jo. A handful of individuals I met called me joy. Never had this happened in my life. But for two months, I was referred to as a synonym for happiness. Simply enchanting.)
Since my return home I don't feel like I used to. My feet aren’t on the ground. I feel dishearteningly disoriented; something comparable to walking upside down. Everything is the same, but appears wildly distorted. Things that were easy before feel strangely difficult. Driving my car, eating a meal, taking out the trash, and speaking are exhausting as thoughts of consumerism, fake food, commercialism, nationalism, and connection fills my mind. I can’t remember a time I’ve been more conscious of the impact (social, economical, environmental, as a big sister, and everything in between) I make by simply existing.
I think the hardest thing that is to accept about life here is the lack of mindfulness.
The very breath we take goes unnoticed and I’m gasping for air.
But I’m here, and I learn every single day. This type of learning isn’t always pleasant. It’s sucked. It’s been real ugly. But i’m trying to accept this as part of life, too.
Vital parts of the person I loved in myself have been slipping right through my fingers. It’s frightening how quickly the layers of myself I thought I shed off are sneakily making their way back; I'm afraid I'll fall into my old habits, that I will lose the person who I worked so hard to become. I fear going backwards.
I often have flashbacks of my days spent in Asia. Daniel (the friend I was traveling with) and I were in Agra, India, waiting for a cooler time of day to go visit the Taj Mahal with time to kill. We went to go take a look at what was around these well-kept roads and fancy cafes that surrounded the Taj. We wandered. Just a street away from the clean streets were slums. Hills of garbage. Children using the bathroom in the street. Hungry, yet smiling people.
I tried not to think about it too much for my own selfish reasons. I wanted to remain completely oblivious to the poverty that was happening just outside of a world heritage site which rolled in thousands a day. I didn't want to feel guilty for the money I was about to spend. We went to work on some projects as we waited for the day to cool down; journaling and photography. We ate. I tried keeping thoughts about the amount of money I had in my bank account, and how many families I could have feed instead of spending it on my own selfish desires in the back of my head. I was disgusted at my privilege. Only my luck allowed me to be born in the USA, where I could easily make money, get a passport and afford to travel the world. I locked these thoughts up in the back of my mind so they wouldn’t disrupt my plans for the day. I just wanted to eat and enjoy myself in peace.
Not long after I had these thoughts securely locked away, I saw two little boys around 5 and 6 years old rummaging through the rubbish just outside the cafe, collecting plastic bottles to make a couple rupees.
I thought of my youngest brothers, 4 and 9 years old. They weren’t going through garbage to find bottles to get money to be fed. I thought of the way they had a cozy, warm bed to sleep in every night. Clean drinking water. A warm shower. Toys. They could never comprehend what it’s like not to have a fridge filled with food. How could they even fathom something like having to earn money for themselves in order to fill up a hungry stomach?
Can I even describe the pain of a big sister in this situation? Equal waves of relief and pain crashing into my heart. I’m thankful my brothers don’t have to struggle with the basics of survival, and equal parts disgusted that this all exists. Poverty. There is nothing is fair about some people having food, and others not.
It’s just not fair.
There’s a lot I don’t understand, but there is so much more I can’t wrap my head around as I’ve returned back to my own country.
I know- I shouldn’t feel ‘guilty’ in the ways that I do for coming from a country that just happens to dictate my ability to travel the world. Or to make a lot of money. Or whatever. It was not my choice.
And I speak about these boys to reflect on the idea of poverty. It is not pity that I’m asking for. It is a reminder of the diversity of daily struggle that goes on all over the world. It is important for us to remember the only thing which separates ourselves from poverty to privilege is pure circumstance. We are no better. And we are no worse. We are only just people.
More than anything, my time in Asia taught me what richness really is. It’s kindness. Hospitality. The peace that lives in us. The appreciation for all things. Love. It’s helping a solo hitchhiker on the road with 20 cents in her pocket, a broken phone, an inability to speak the language of the country she is traveling in, little to no idea where she is going to a destination 8 hours away, and still giving her food, supplying her with water, getting her where she needs to go, and asking nothing in return.
That her was me.
It may sound naive what I did, but adventure was waiting. People try things they’ve never done all the time.
And when I thought I may be sleeping in a field or outside of a pagoda, I was met with richness instead.
I have been taught again and again that you can have so ‘little’ yet so much,
The same way the way we have so MUCH yet emotionally so little.
This man did not make a lot, and my mind automatically thought “How can I accept such an offer when I have nothing to give to him” He taught me I had everything to offer. This is exactly the problem I see here, We are so money-driven that we forget we can give the gift of deep and meaningful human connection.
Do you get what I’m trying to say here?
I see us striving for fancier cars, and nicer shoes, and more equipment, and more luxurious houses. That’s all fine. Buy your shoes and your cars. But what hurts is this: we fail to recognize our overwhelming abundance. Privilege that isn’t recognized. We have food and a place to sleep, but we are ignoring the basics of what being a human is: connection to one another. I see loneliness. Fear. The inability to trust. I wish we could live in a world where ego doesn’t rule and we’re too busy loving and helping each other to worry about what we may get in return.
I listen to the patterns of conversations; the ones that seem to revolve around other people stained with judgement and the tarnished with the inability to listen. I can’t help but notice the way we all seem to be waiting for our chance to speak rather than listening to each other's woes and passions. Too busy thinking of another way we can show how much we know rather than take time to care about who is sitting right next to us. Too occupied thinking ‘busy’ means ‘successful’. I've seen the tendency in people to just speak louder when they feel they aren't being heard or to assert their dominance, and in some weird way, seek respect. There are too many gatherings to count that have involved only looking at screens rather than each other.
I can't understand what the intentional focus on negativity is all about. How is this gossip a thing when there is so much more we could be speaking about? What is its root?
How about the obsession over self and our image? How do we make scrolling through instagram and Facebook more of a priority than spending time with our friends, or kids, or our parents? What about the hurry we always seem to be in. Where is there time to be mindful when we’re frantically going from one place to another? Why don't we eat with each other? The overabundance we live in. Looking in a full fridge and saying "there's nothing to eat"- Can we, for just a moment, understand how much we have? How lucky we are to have what we do?
I’ve explored the idea of gossip, of loudness, and stating our big juicy opinions all over the place as a means to fill ourselves. Opinions are the only thing we have control over when we feel life is controlling us, perhaps. Even when they’re over the most ridiculous, shallow topics like how people are dressed, and which makeup she uses, and what kind of job he has now. Are we unhappy with the lives we’re living we’re engaging in gossip over anything we can get our mouths to mutter? Why are we out of touch with our own passions, and so unsatisfied with our lives that we’re using this as a means to fill us?
PLEASE. Diminishing the lives and successes to make us feel good? I’ve never heard of something more wrong. Either out of insecurity or boredom; it’s not kind and it’s certainly not necessary.
Everything seems backwards.
Unfortunately I don't have the magical cure to all things wrong in the world. But, I like to think the cure is in ourselves. Perhaps we could try doing small things that bring us great joy? What if we got a bit more in touch with the things and people we love. What are your DREAMS? What if we just ate together at the dinner table. Rang up an old friend. Wrote a letter. Watched the sunset. Read a book. Who do you love that you have not told?
Are we grateful for our warm shower, and our clothes, and warm hugs? When was the last time you someone you appreciated them? What if we trusted a little more. Listened a little closer. Noticed smell of the flowers and the way the leaves change? Above all: are we grateful?
Maybe we could live with little more mindfulness.
A little more joy.
And a hell of a lot more love.
I have been trying to write these words all day long but I am doing a splendid job finding other ways to pretend like I'm doing something better with my time. I'm scared to write. I don't like goodbyes even if I've gotten exceptionally good at them.. and written words feel like solidifying my departure. I have had to say goodbye almost every day to friends for the past seven months. I'm sitting in the airport in Warsaw waiting to board my flights on my way back to the United States after spending 6 months in Asia, and 3 weeks in Europe. In ways it has become harder for me to say goodbye to a country, a place, an experience than to people.
If Experience was a person, I'd have him standing just in front of me, softly kissing him on both cheeks, wrapping him up in my arms, and just thank him for joining me on this big, beautiful life adventure we're on together.
I'm so grateful, but i'm aching too. It's silly because this is not just something that vanishes into thin air. In every moment, Experience sits next to me, holds my hand, and nods its head while watching me grow. He always tells me to keep on going. Experience doesn't leave me when I leave a country. He will follow me back home when I greet my family at the airport and snuggle up in my own bed when I don't have to think of which city I'll be sleeping in each night. He'll be giggling when my little brothers wake me up too early in the morning all they want are hugs and kisses and tickle fights and going on bike rides, along with dance parties and pillow fights in my bedroom. He'll be pushing me to keep things going after my days become routine and I'm antsy enough to jump out of my own skin. He'll take shotgun each night when I drive out to the endless waves of wheat fields as I watch the sun set into a hundred different colors while my favorite songs blast through the open windows of my car as I drive down the long, empty country roads. Experience will board the plane with me when I set up my new life in Amsterdam.
I hold tightly because I want to keep this magic of this experience ongoing within me. I feel wildflowers growing inside me. Some are still sprouting, while others are just beginning to bloom. Now they are beginning to take their deep colors and their own sweet smell. I'm afraid to leave because I think it's the environment I've been in that has let me grow them.
But, holding on tight is just as straining. All I can do now is to trust in my flowers' ability to grow in different spaces.
So, I write so I don't forget. I write to keep them blooming. I want to remember the personality of each country; the smells and the noises, the hearts of people who have touched me, the taste of the food, the colors of the streets. Washing my clothes in the sink of a hostel, and my excitement when I knew I wouldn't have to take a cold bucket shower. Store owners welcoming me back to their place for a chai. Squealing on the back of a motorbike. Sunrises over a thousand temples. Loving strangers and falling into cultures. Hitchhiking alone halfway across a country. Meeting people who share the same soul. Finding myself sleeping in the homes of people I don't know. Trust. Waking up to the mountains, reading on the roof, journaling on 18 hour train rides, and my toes in the Indian ocean.
The unbelievable amount of love I hold in my heart and the warm kind of gratitude that melts inside of me. I just get scared I'll stop growing and I hate to say goodbye because this is the end of such an important chapter; with the boldest colors, loudest noises, and the most heart-wrenching pain and numbing inspiration.
But I can't help but feel so lucky to have stories like this that make it difficult to turn the page.
I was sitting in a cafe in London a few weeks ago where a Brazilian man and I started to chat. After some time, he asked me what the most important thing I learned during my time in Asia was.
I laughed and simply told him, "That I know nothing"
He smiled and understood.
I really used to think I knew something. At least something. But in each country I go to I live out an experience so completely different from itself and find people within cultures I could sometimes not even place my finger on. This never stops slapping me in the face. Nope, I'm wide-eyed in amazement as this continuously happens. It feels so silly to think that it would get easier. Like doing your time in one country would give you some kind of advancement in knowing another. That's just not the way it works.
Every time I have somewhat of an idea of what's going around me is when confusion arrives, knocking on my door yet again. This usually happens as soon as I feel like I have some kind of grasp on the things around me.
But I arrive to an unknown city and I'm disoriented, looking for a place to sleep, and curiously watching those surrounding me. I listen to the way this new language sounds rolling off their lips. What currency I need to convert to. I am trying to distinguish what is the appropriate way to dress. Behaviors. City names and languages and customs and food and history; names of political leaders, musicians, authors and philosophers. How to say hello and thank you and beautiful. It reminds me that knowledge and experience is never-ending. And this is what India showed me, too. Because, the more places I had been in to in this country, the more I realized I haven't seen anything. And the more I know, I understand I know nothing.
This realization is the sweetest honey.
This is not discouraging. No, this is curiosity and excitement wrapped up in the happiest little bundle. It makes me want to dip deep into the depths of humanity. It's encouraged me to start where I am. It makes me more silent so I can really start listening. And boy oh boy, it makes me in love with the world around me like never before.
But this wasn't and isn't an easy path to walk in order to get here, or to stay here. In fact, it has made me ravishingly aware of my weaknesses.
This part has been particularly hard. To love and accept my weaknesses as a part of who I am; making peace with the not-so-beautiful parts of who I am is not an easy trail to walk. Let me tell you something; the things you're trying to run away from with catch up with you anywhere in the world. Even a remote village in Northern Thailand, Meditation centers in Myanmar, and cute little juice bars in bustling Kuala Lumpur.
There was so much I was trying to escape. But honoring my light and dark, I have found, this is where I must start in order to become a better, truer, kinder person. A person of honesty- a person of truth. Being honest and true first requires being honest and true with myself. Everyone in the history of mankind understand we're not perfect beings, so I'm starting with the only thing I have control over, Me. Johanna Marie Patton.
This is why I knew I needed to go. I felt myself becoming stagnant in my ways. Growth doesn't happen from being comfortable. And this is why I make a conscious effort to share my struggles, not just the sunny moments in my life. I never want to give off the impression my life is perfect because it absolutely is not. What's more boring than perfection, anyways?
But there is something that is especially special. It's that going through these struggles amplifies my love because in so many ways I, for lack of a more flowery way to express myself- so freaking grateful to be here. I'm oozing with love. I have been given everything I could ever dream of; both good moments and bad. I've learned from every single one of these experiences which brings me back to:
I know nothing.
But I am wrapping myself up in this humbling thought every day.
I am reminding myself to be quiet. To open my eyes and my ears and my heart to what Experience has to offer me each day.
I have already seen so much goodness. I have learned from every single person I have met around the world. I have seen unconditional love and I have seen light far greater than any darkness.
And let me tell you something else, it makes it terribly difficult to be anything less than passionate.
I am learning and I am growing and I am constantly, consistently becoming the next version of myself by honoring who I am today.
And all the days after that.
And it feels so silly about things coming to an end,
because this is only ever the beginning.
It's inconceivable how the universe conspires to see you thrive. My mind has been stuffed. I haven't been able to feel happy; mostly numb and in a dream-like state. The heaviness of losing loved ones, and not doing too well at living in the present moment.
I am in a place where I am leaving an experience and diving deep into the waters of another- but more on that later. I'm trying with all my might to understand what I can learn from the experiences. Doing what I can to be a good daughter. The best big sister. Loving myself and those around me. I've become closer and more aware of my weaknesses than I have ever experienced. It's not a bad thing, but it can be heavy.
I'm trying not to push away these feelings, but really experiencing the depths of confusion. Every feeling demands to be felt; and what a shame it would be to push away what is not pleasant.
My inner voice tells me it will pass, to be patient.
So I wait, and here I've been sent. Following my best friend to Dharamsala, India. Only a few miles away from where His Holiness the Dalai Lama resides. I'm staying in a small village on top of a mountain where rivers gush fresh water, forests and tenderness of the Tibetan people surround me. The little shops all have photos of the Dalai Lama. In fact, the pool hall I go to on Friday nights filled with tattooed men, blaring hard rap, reeking of cigarette smoke has a happy little photo of His Holiness on the wall. Even the young scar faced Tibetan man who approached me mid-game who I thought would laugh at my ability to miss every ball I shot, gently gave me instructions on how to improve my game. Speaking me with such tenderness and smiling so brightly I could have melted into a little puddle.
I asked Tenzin, my new friend, if he could describe the personality of Tibetan people to me. He responded, "kind, patient, and peaceful."
Yup. The people here are just that beautiful. How I ended up in a place like this at a time when my heart is in such need for rest is beyond my comprehension. And how I ended up being in a purification ritual?
You can't just make these things up.
The welcoming to my first sang puja, or ritual, went a little bit like this:
There was a monk in the corner, sitting; chanting his chant. Drumming his drum. He wore deep red robes, an orange vest underneath, prayer beads hanging around his neck. A presence of peace. Just next to him on the bedside table was a shrine of Buddhas and glowing candles.
The room just seemed to feel so clean- spotless, purified, and filled with warm light. This is the point of the puja already working its magic, perhaps. I sat there, taking it all in. This ritual has been used to gain clean the impurities in the mind.
I share the room with a nun, a monk, and a couple of my new friends. The universe placing these moments in my life when I need them most. It's an ancient ritual that has been going on for several thousand years. In Tibetan, sang means to remove, purify, cleanse, and awaken. Not only is it intended to purify the our minds, but our guests, too, which was the next step, and what I found to be an especially beautiful part of this ceremony.
The first guests are called the "Three Jewels", which are the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We offer to them because they have overcome all kinds of obstacles and delusions. Offering to the Three Jewels therefore increases our merit and wisdom, which enables us to receive their blessings and guidance.
Then, the "Three Roots" are called upon, which are Lama, Yidam, and Dakini. Making offerings to the Three Roots enables us to receive their blessings of protection, as well as be free from obstacles and receive help from them in our careers.
Then we ask the protectors of wisdom to come.
And finally, energy in need of karmic debt are welcomed to the ritual, too. These are called the six protectors of Samara. By welcoming them we can be relieved from supernatural obstacles, are able to pay our karmic debts, and lead them to liberation.
Yes. We can release them to freedom. There's something particularity special about inviting dark energy in need of karmic cleansing, that shows the goodness of this culture. After conversations about trying to understand the fundamentals of what it is to be Tibetan- and trust me, I'm not anywhere close to having it all figured out- I have found that there is one very distinguishable characteristic. Acceptance.
You know, I've been taught to be afraid of negative energy my entire life. For the sake of this post, lets refer to it as a ghost.
We used to tell scary ghost stories as a child before going to sleep at a friends' house, or watch spine-chilling movies where these spirits woke up people at night and were nothing else but terrifying. Bad luck. The phantoms that needed to be expelled completely from homes, communities, and were certainly not welcomed to come and spend time with us during a purification ritual. And this is the difference. Acceptance seeps within the this culture. And where acceptance is, love and peace are free to flourish. In fact, acceptance is so deeply a part of this culture that they warmly welcome spirits to join intimate rituals in their homes because they know that they, too, need love and liberation.
Now, the offering. It's a fire: it can be small or big; the most important part of this is that it's clean. There's different versions of these offerings, but most traditionally it is a mixture of "three whites", "three sweets" (for example sugar, honey, flour, butter) called sangdze, incense, 5 different colored cloth representing the different elements, medicine, alcohol, and stones or jewels. But, it must absolutely not contain meat, garlic, eggs, or onion. Other example of offerings can also include beer and wine.
The offerings are put in a bowl and then deposited inside the fire reduced to ashes.
There it is. The Sang Puja.
And this made me revisit my past self, six months ago, when this all was so foreign to me. I remembered the first time I saw monks in Hong Kong I remember squealing out of sheer delight. I could hardly get myself to look away from their enchanting presence. I took a photo and sent it to my friends with a big arrow around their bodies with a pointed arrow that said "Monks on the subway!" I was a child wide eyed in amazement, stepping into my kind of candy shop.
I craved so much to know different ways of expressing belief and spirituality, in any shape or form.
And I still do. It's why I'm here.
I just couldn’t believe I was in a part of the world where it was normal to see monks taking public transportation. Or monks in general. My heart sang to me, "this is where you're supposed to be" after my 16 hour plane trip to the other side of the world. From Mid-Western United States where my state is composed of cowboys to the bustling metropolis that was Hong Kong.
Now it has become normal, but never less mesmerizing. The chanting. Shaved hair. The devotion and detachment of material things in this world. Seeing vibrant tapestries of the Buddha in the homes I visited. It's all magic to me. Finding myself within different philosophies of the world. Learning humility. The overwhelming appreciation for all that is in the world. Living in the present. Knowing people continue to exist and share his love and wisdom. The understanding that God was in each of us in the room I was sitting in for this puja. Knowing all of us around the world have God inside of us.
This is especially why I love Buddhism.
It's taught that God being a fundamental part of each of us. Many of us don't realize this part of it; how we are beings of light. Of love. I've been taught my entire life to look for happiness outside of myself.
I am learning that everything I have been looking for can be found right inside of me.
The adventures of a wildflower