The Cosmic 2 x 4 part 2 – The Answer Lay in the Garden

March 12, 2015

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“OMG what have I signed up for?” I have just arrived in Bali and am looking at the outline of the twelve day retreat I have joined. I am horrified to realize that I had registered for five hours teaching a day – every morning would be in class followed by sessions each evening. I struggle to believe my eyes. Somewhat typically I had never read the program; I had made the decision when chatting with the organizer after fifteen of the sixteen applicants had dropped out; March in Bali just seemed like a wonderful idea and I had assumed it would follow the familiar pattern of an hour or so in a session then activities in and around Bali.
During the first evening my resistance, like the Mississippi in Spring, was in full flood. I did my best to engage but felt my barriers stiffen at the first Ah Zeem – this teacher likes Sufi Zikrs and I don’t. I did my best to embrace the dance of universal peace but could not shake the energy of misgiving I was feeling. The program was called The Garden of Wellbeing and I sure wasn’t there. I wondered if the solution was to just cut the classes, our teacher Atum O’Kane encouraged us to make our own way. Yet my experience with the literal cosmic 2 x 4 made me just a little cautious.
So the next morning at nine I found myself sitting slightly outside the inner circle ready for a quick get away. Fortunately I am very familiar with resistance, some of you may have come across the many blogs I have written on the subject, and I was prepared to spend some time assessing what it could mean. Had I just made an enormous mistake or was there some other meaning?
We began by drawing a card from a set of teachings by Thic Nhat Hanh – mine interested me because it was about reconciliation and that we had to understand both sides. In a strange way it seemed relevant to my confusion.
Then Atum announced we were going to do a drawing. My reaction was immediate and negative yet even as I assessed my feeling, I realized I had a love/hate relationship with this activity. My card seemed even more synchronicitous.
Drawing is a way we engage our active imagination by allowing the unconscious to guide the process. It begins with a meditative state then some simple instructions. I hate it because of my lack of ability to draw, I love it because of so many positive experiences. The key Is not to think but rather to allow an image to appear. I decided to at least try.
The suggestion was to draw an image of a garden. Unfortunately the image that persisted in my mind was one I did not want to draw. My garden was behind a tall fence with gates and I was standing outside. However it was aptly descriptive of my state relative to the group as a whole so I drew it anyway.
I felt kind of sad, a little resigned and helpless at the image before me. I wondered if I was going to spend the next ten days feeling excluded from the garden everyone else was enjoying. The second step in the process is to place your image in front of you, close your eyes and still the thoughts and feelings then engage with the image again but with a soft gaze allowing insight to emerge.
Suddenly I smiled. The gates were not locked. I could enter the garden whenever I liked. Then I realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. I do not live in the garden, my place is in the manifest world but I will go when I need refreshment and revitalization. It was an amazing moment. The opposites were reconciled. It reminded me of a Jean Houston lecture on the Hero’s journey, we are to become the masters of two worlds – the world of the sacred and the one we inhabit each day.
In that moment something occurred that I can’t explain. There was a palpable energy shift, suddenly I felt at home. This was my place, I no longer had to fake my participation, I could embrace the whole process and enjoy my ten days in the garden of wellbeing. The name of the picture emerged, “The Garden of the Lover and the Beloved”.
At this stage I did not consider this the answer to my question of the cosmic two by four. That came in the last day. After a truly blissful and joyful week in the company of a beautiful community my eyes were opened.
About a year and a half earlier I completed a workshop series with Atum O’Kane and this community and had decided it was time to move on. My new teacher has become the eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis. He has become a superb catalyst to help me unravel my psychology. However that decision was an error. It only fulfills part of my Soul’s desire. My second declared intention is to explore my relationship with the Mystery. This was not being fulfilled, it requires another teacher and also a community to open my heart.
It seemed so clear and so obvious yet it took a bang on the head by an errant tree branch on a beach in Thailand to get my attention. It’s an amazing journey.

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Testing my Tolerance for Anxiety

March 5, 2015

One of my daily affirmations is to unravel my own psychology so as I departed for my six weeks in south-east Asia I set a clear intention to experiment with how much flexibility in my plans I could tolerate and to explore the relationship between four aspects of travel that I am curious to untangle.

The first is that the more planned the trip the less anxiety one is likely or supposed to experience. The continuum will stretch from one extreme – the totally comprehensive all in travel holiday where everything is taken care of – to buying a ticket and arriving somewhere with nowhere to stay and no concrete plans. My trip was to be a combination of both.

The second is one’s capability to manage the stresses that arise. Each of us will adjust differently depending on our current psychology. I understand enough about myself to know that I use planning and control to manage my anxiety. It all stems back to a child’s desire to manage the relationship with the powerful other, therefore I may feel more anxiety than others in the same situation. (This becomes particularly obvious when I encounter what I refer to authentic travelers who shift from one place to another enduring fifteen hour bus trips.)

The third is the fact that a total planned experience inhibits the magic of spontaneity to expand the magic of the journey.

Fourth there is the issue of how much money you are willing to spend to minimize anxiety. For example a car arranged by your hotel to meet you at the airport will cost up to twenty times as much as a taxi.

My niece Amy created a term for a trait that she has observed on my side of the family called “the Simpson Spin” so perhaps there is some genetic influence in all this. The Simpson Spin is a reaction to events not unfolding as hoped and expected. Its features include but are not limited to: impatience, anger, ungroundedness, an inability to make a sane decision, irrationality, loss of centre, frustration and sheer panic. All are consequences of loss of control and the resulting anxiety.

I began this trip with a desire to test my tolerance for anxiety without pushing myself to the point where I get distraught or trapped in the Simpson Spin. I decided to combine some strategic planning with laissez-faire. I knew I arrived in Bangkok on February 3rd and left Denpasar in Bali on March 17th. I knew I needed to meet a group in Bali on March 1st for the more organized part of my trip. The rest began as empty space as I assessed what made me comfortable without over planning.

First I decided I wanted to arrange a Bangkok Hotel so I booked the Mandarin – not the Oriental another one. I decided I would not arrange for the hotel to pick me up ($100) but take regular taxi ($13). This of course led to its own anxiety as the driver had no idea where my hotel but the end result was I saved eighty bucks so the forty minutes of anxiety seemed justified.

I also decided to book a flight to Bali from Kuala Lumpur as I found an inexpensive option and it seemed in the right direction for my travel. I also booked  a flight to Phuket as that was also on my agenda for the same reason.

Both of these in hindsight seemed to be mistakes. My need to manage my anxiety resulted in unforeseen consequences. I ended up having to change my Phuket flight because I spontaneously made what turned out to be a very good decision to go to Siem Reap in Cambodia. The result was it became expensive not cheap and ended up being one of the worst flight experiences of my life. I have learned that my least favourite airline in the world is AirAsia but that’s a story I covered in another blog.

I also decided I had no real desire to visit Kuala Lumpur – it seemed a good idea at the time but I began to regret it. I was only going there to catch a flight. (Ironically after I got there I really enjoyed my time. This very modern, first world style city became a wonderful hiatus from the chaos and drama of Thailand.)

So on this trip my desire to minimize anxiety by planning sometimes had just the opposite effect, conversely the times when I have risked and perhaps have been more spontaneous have worked out very well. I really enjoyed my time in Cambodia, the people are so lovely and Angkor Wat is amazing.

I realized very quickly that I did not want to spend more than six days on Phuket Island; although I enjoyed my time, it wasn’t really the Thai experience I hoped to find. I also had no desire to return to Phuket Airport. To my relief I figured out I could fly from Krabi to Kuala Lumpur and that this created a lot more flexibility and the opportunity to move. Now I could take a ferry to Ao Nang, a lovely beach area near Krabi that I recalled from twenty-three years ago.

I immediately ran into a challenge as I could find no reasonably priced accommodation that wasn’t at least six miles from the beach. I realized this offered me a choice – change plans again or risk the anxiety of having nowhere to stay. Expedia was less than reassuring showing every place as sold out however somehow I convinced myself to take the chance. It seemed a reasonable way of assessing my tolerance of anxiety.

I used a James Hollis strategy – convert the anxiety into fear that can be managed. It came down to fear of not being able to find a place to stay but in fact the only risk was having to travel further. So I set off on the ferry to my destiny. Everything worked out fine thanks to a Tuktuk driver named Noot who for $8 agreed to find me a place to stay. We visited ten hotels before a room was available so I am glad I wasn’t on foot. It was only ten minutes to the beach area.

The outcome of this was somewhat unexpected; a bit like finding the Holy Grail and then realizing you didn’t want it; Ao Nang had changed beyond recognition from the quiet haven I remembered to a typically tacky Thai town lined with massage parlours, tourist offices, restaurants, hotels and convenience stores. The beaches have shrunk and lost at least ten feet of sand. I realized I had no desire to spend the rest of the week there but where to go?

I had heard of an island named Koh Lanta, a two hour ferry away so decided to head there. I found on booking.com a sweet bungalow complete with AC, a safe, tea making gear only 300 metres from the beach for $40.; it has proved to be the best decision I made.

This was the experience I had been craving and although the travel aspect created some anxiety it was well worth it. The trip began poorly when a 9:30 collection from the hotel by air-conditioned mini van turned into a 10:30 pick up in a small truck with bench seats and the ferry departure was scheduled for 10:30! I just made the overcrowded, precarious ferry for the two and a half hour trip and came closer than desirable to the “Simpson Spin”.

It is clear after the first four weeks of my trip that the only real way to eliminate anxiety is stay at home and I am not ready for that quite yet. Following the breadcrumbs laid out for me seems the best solution – accept your mistakes and move on. Travel is unpredictable and leaving flexibility allows room for magic and spontaneity. As the Scot’s poet said, “the best laid plans ….” It’s important to remember it’s all about the journey.

NB Details of my travels are at http://www.hangin.wordpress.com