In January 2007 my New Year’s resolution was to “be brave”. In February 2007 I came to South East Asia. My first extended period of traveling, my first time in South East Asia, mostly on my own, armed with my schedule of how to see all of Asia in 9 months.
After two months of traveling, and just after my scheduled ten days in Laos, I arrived at Mutmee Guesthouse in Nong Khai and saw an advertisment for a 1-week intensive yoga course. I thought that I could be flexible enough to adapt my schedule to fit that in.
I hated the first day of the course. It was physically and mentally challenging and I spent most of the time in tears. At the end of the day I said to the course co-leader, Pancho, that I didn’t think I could continue. He, very kindly and gently and without any knowledge of my resolution, told me to “be brave”. That comment, combined with a whole string of similar synchronicities, enabled and supported me to complete the course.
When I look back it seems very clear to me that if I hadn’t completed that yoga course I would not now be in Laos researching my PhD about happiness. The week (which continued to be difficult) provided a space for me to reflect upon and experience the changes that I needed to make in my life. Shortly afterwards (after a few inevitable twists and turns) I returned to Laos, nurturing the love and fascination for the country that became the basis of my current research. I never saw the whole of Asia.
Yesterday morning my 2012 resolution came to me during my meditation practice.
In 2007 I carved out a space that I needed – and at that time that was a very good thing. In 2012 I want to start recognising and using the spaces that present themselves to me. I want to allow spaces to open rather than forcing them to open.
Now, this might sound like hippy-shit to some of you (I’m imagining rolling eyes) but actually the idea comes from my research. Before Christmas I increasingly found myself missing out on interesting ethnographic research opportunities because I already had a meeting or a workshop planned. I find this balance difficult; it represents a cultural difference (Lao people plan less than Brits), a methodological challenge (I’m treading a line between ethnography and participative groupwork)
and a personality trait (I like to be in control). Consciously shifting the balance back towards unstructured and spontaneous interactions will be very challenging for me, but I think it will benefit the quality of my data.
I think it will also benefit my quality of life. For example, I know that I write best in the evening and into the night and that I need long periods of time for ideas to mull and digest, yet I still beat myself up for not sticking to a 9-5, sat in front of my desk, structure. I need to find a different discipline of allowing myself to listen to the natural rhythms of my life and the rhythms of my research and trusting that the work will get done.
So now, 7am on 31st December 2011, I find myself back in Mutmee Guesthouse contemplating space. I’ve been back a few times over the past few years; I love this beautiful garden overlooking the Mekong and am in awe of the community of beautiful spiritual interesting people that gather here. I’ve been ill and in low spirits over Christmas, so when my friend Kathrin invited me to an art therapy workshop over New Year I battled my beliefs that “I should be working because I’ve only just had a holiday” and “I should be saving the money not spending it” and “I’m shit at art” and came with her over the Friendship Bridge. The workshop starts at 9am, I’ll let you know how it goes.
Happy New Year. Happy 2012.