When I left America to live in Thailand, not everyone believed in my ability to succeed there. Some doubted I’d last a month – convinced I would miss my “creature comforts,” whatever that meant. I can understand why it was difficult to see that I had an adventurous side – for it was me who chose to constantly seek security over risk in all aspects of my life. But I soon became just as surprised in my capabilities.
A little over nine months have passed in Thailand – eight of them in rural Sawi – and I am more comfortable now than I had ever been in the United States of America. I have sought comfort not only in my surroundings but also within myself – a foreign concept coincidentally found in a foreign country.
On Friday night, after preparing a healthy dinner for my precious friends Andi and Roya, we began discussing the past (oh, how dangerous that can be). While critiquing old photos on Facebook, I went on about how I always felt like I had to place a great emphasis on my physical appearance. I had been a vehicle for my own discomfort for ages because I could never reach perfection. I could not be truly comfortable in my own skin – no matter where I was, no matter what I was doing, no matter who I was dating. And then Andi’s voice of reason suggested what I had already known – that the past doesn’t matter one bit in pursuance of greatness.
In the States I was “comfortable” in the sense that I could sleep in a warm bed, eat plentiful food, go out with friends, and hug a family member at arm’s reach. But I still felt like I had to get out, to get away.
This made me think about the definition of comfort. How could I, in such a “comfortable” living situation, have the capacity to feel so uncomfortable? What is comfortable, really?
It’s damn hot in Thailand. I take icy showers. I can’t always communicate effectively. I haven’t seen my family in almost a year. I get sick once a month. I yell at kids all day. Why then, do I feel more comfortable here?
Because comfort is a state of mind, and the mind is easily influenced.
It’s true – there are comforting things in life that give us the feeling of “home” – where we grew up, where we lived most of our lives. Sometimes, when it’s a windy day and I’m standing on the Sawi coastline, when I feel the crashing waves against my shins and smell the salty air, I can close my eyes and imagine the Jersey Shore as if I am there.
But despite the (very) occasional longing for home, I have learned to become comfortable in a place that had been completely unknown to me. I have found comfort in the uncomfortable by trusting others, building relationships, understanding culture, and discovering my surroundings. I have found a favorite place to eat, a favorite place to watch the sunrise and sunset, a perfect beach, a happiness from teaching my students, and a solid group of friends that I will carry in my heart forever.
But still, these things are not the only reasons why I’ve found comfort.
In the words of Siddhartha Gautama,
Crushing out of the conceit ‘I am’ – this is the highest happiness.
True Buddhists deny the existence of a self. Ever since I finished my Vipassana meditation course in October, this is a concept I have wanted to understand fully. At first, it seemed strange to not think of myself as the entity of “me”, because everything in Western culture encourages us to think of ourselves as unique. For example, we are given individual grades in school, we possess personal style, we work out at the gym to improve ourselves physically, and we follow a destined career path. People are defined by what they do for a living, where they live, what they look like, and how wealthy they are. This, seeking an identity, is what pushed me to insecurity and ultimate discomfort.
By thinking of myself not necessarily as a “self” that needs improving or gratification but rather as a vessel, or an extension of God that holds the ability to do good in the world, I have become comfortable with me, this body that houses my spirit. By not categorizing myself as a white girl from New Jersey but rather as a human being, trying to find the work I must do in order to best serve the world, I have found a peculiar comfort – one that exists on a larger scale. Surprisingly, this feeling is not too different from eating a shit ton of Chipotle burrito bowls, or sitting by a warm fire on Christmas Eve, or even dishing out on a bag of popcorn while watching a movie.
It is the comfort of knowing that I am not just Victoria, but one of the billions who inhabit the planet. It is the comfort of knowing that the world is my backyard. That no matter where I go, I am home.
Living abroad has helped me to see the big picture, something I am lucky enough to know.
I am not just “me.” We are not just “us.” We are one.
Despite new everyday comforts, I am a creature of the world, and this is my creature comfort.