By Zalina Gamat
At the end of the two-semester course that I attended in IPI from September 2015 to April 2016, one of the last tasks that we were assigned was to write appreciation notes to each other.
We were each handed a small white folder, with sheets bearing the names of each of our classmates and teachers, which we had to fill up, and at our ‘graduation’ ceremony each of these folders with our name on it, with the letters from each of our classmates was handed to us.
Our class was small, nine participants, two main teachers and one auditor/staff member. Through this journey of eight months, we had revealed more to each other in our presentations and class discussions than we had perhaps previously revealed even to ourselves. We had seen each other face our fears, our insecurities, and transform them.
The degree of affection and esteem we held each other in was palpable, and there was great care and thought put into these notes. Thanks for kindnesses extended, strengths and uniqueness celebrated, inner beauty that we were not aware of pointed out.
Indeed, this little folder has been a constant source of strength to me, in all my many moments of self-doubt.
I cry every time I go through it, and feel so grateful for every single word. However, there is one sentence that struck me the first time I read it, and has ever since. I think about it often, and that sentence is this:
“Thank you for taking the time out from your life to travel and learn.
This line really made me pause, because for the first time, I felt a complete acceptance of my way of life for the last four years. Not only was it complete acceptance, but she was actually thanking me, and hence giving value to this life choice.
At the age of 35, I decided to travel solo. It took eight months for me to allow myself this ‘indulgence’. Reading Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ helped, kindly gifted by a friend. I had received a small inheritance, and though I was rather lost, depressed, and had been in self-imposed isolation for a long duration, I still thought that I should ‘suffer’. That I should invest my money ‘sensibly’ in a house. That I should attempt some kind of job or work, push myself.
I had no interest in spirituality when I started travelling, but soon got drawn into Buddhist philosophy and practices. I started receiving answers to existential questions, clarity on how to live. This has led, and continues to lead to a clarity in prioritization of values, to the exploration of Ashtanga yoga, and the philosophy and psychology of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
However, throughout this journey, I have been plagued by my social conditioning. At times I would feel that meditation and all was okay, but I really needed to do something with my life. At that point I would struggle to write a script, or work on a documentary proposal, but I would fail every time, because I was just not ready for it. There was too much pain, much to be worked through, understood and healed.
These episodes would be aggravated by remarks from well-meaning friends. One conversation in particular, with someone I am very fond of, I will never forget
“So, are you working on a script?”
“No, I’m trying to transform my heart… Isn’t that important?”
“No, it isn’t! Writing a script is!”
I can laugh about it now, and feel affection for my friend, but at that point he was reflecting my self-doubts strongly back to me.
So often I would be questioned why I was not doing anything productive with my life. Okay, if you are travelling, at least start a blog, write, take photographs, submit articles to websites. Okay, if you are learning yoga why don’t you start teaching? Whatever you do, something should come out of it!
There was never an appreciation for following what felt right for me, for doing what I needed to do, for just being, and experiencing my experiences for myself without turning them into products for consumption. Forget any understanding or appreciation of how difficult it is to work on oneself, to transform one’s mind.
After nearly five years, it’s been a long process of disassociating with ego-identification with its entourage of needs for recognition, validation, even fame; of allowing myself to enjoy creative processes rather than have an eye on a goal, that slowly make me feel more relaxed with my lifestyle. Approaching forty, I feel healthier, more energetic, more joyous and more alive than I did when I was in my twenties!
This ‘self-indulgent’ travel, learning and practice have put me in a better place to help others, to be of service, to inspire.
And now I can look myself in the eye in the mirror, and say with love, this simple sentence that my friend wrote to me:
“Thank you for taking the time from your life to travel and learn.”