This morning was the first in almost two weeks in which a clear blue sky radiated from my bedside window. Between rolling from beneath the covers and coiling into the cold shower, I took a long look into my cracking, plastic-lined bathroom mirror. It was just another day in Thailand, just another morning routine, only this time I saw myself as I truly was, as I truly am in this faraway country. My hair was blonder, and my eyes glowed a brighter blue as a result of the darker, tanned tone of my skin. My forehead was spotted with heat bumps that never seem to go away, and my rosy cheeks appeared a tad chubbier, as the rice is plentiful. But the most captivating observation of all was how content I seemed to be. And I was content – not overjoyed, not lackluster, but inherently satisfied.
I remembered the reflection of a different woman – I’ve written about her before. “Uninspired” had been transcribed in every fake smirk on her lips, while inner turmoil irritated her skin and saddened her gray-blue eyes. She had been distressed by the news that she’d been trotting in the wrong direction for too long, and her confusion created a drowsy fog so thick in her prefrontal cortex that she could not see anything, even her physical self, clearly in the mirror.
I have run a time-lapse video of the past five years over and over again in my head, and I am incapable of remembering the day-to-day reasons why I made certain decisions. It was like I had some type of “premonition” for how I was to live my life, and my mind controlled each move I made as if I were a string puppet. Pulled and pushed I fumbled into assured directions because that was how the story was to unfold.
Decisions of the mind are easy because every move you make is based on the premise of what is right, but who is to say what right is when it is really none other than the opposite of wrong? It was certainly right to go to college, right to be a “well-rounded” individual, right to major in a business-related field, and right to work for a top marketing research firm upon graduation. But right only got me far enough to realize that something major was missing in my life.
I ignored the truth that had nestled itself in the deepest cavities of my insides. It had once pitter-pattered its way into my thoughts every now and then, but after several years of my own ignorance it halted all protest and silenced completely. This realization reminded me of a passage I’d recently read.
In the classic novel, The Alchemist, a boy’s long journey towards finding his treasure is interrupted by a number of internal highs and lows, moments of small victory and immense fear of failure, and in one of these moments his heart speaks out,
‘Everyone on Earth has a treasure that awaits him,’ his heart said. ‘We, people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them… Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place. So we, their hearts, speak more and more softly. We never stop speaking out, but we begin to hope that our words won’t be heard: we don’t want people to suffer because they don’t follow their hearts.’
From then on, the boy understood his heart. He asked it, please, never to stop speaking to him. He asked that, when he wandered far from his dreams, his heart press him and sound the alarm. The boy swore that, every time he heard the alarm, he would heed its message.
In all its glory my heart sounded, and this time I answered. Threatened I was, not only by myself but also by the world, fearing that I would burn badly by playing with fire. The first step in making one of the biggest decisions of my life was taking back control, because in reality, we are the drivers and not the passengers. We are the writers, not the characters. We are the puppeteers, not the puppets. We hold the hoses to put out our own fires, and our hearts are the enablers.
Decisions made with the heart feel like massive contradictions, and in a way they are. When you’ve gone so long listening only to your narrow mind, it is nearly impossible to find a reason to say, “yes” to an exotic idea. Going to Thailand seemed like both a dumb, irrational move and the adventure of a lifetime. While the decision completely contradicted anything and everything I ever stood for, I wanted to see the world, immerse myself in a new culture, make a difference, and find a passion. Most of all, my heart craved happiness. The biggest gift Thailand has given me is purity, which has stripped me of any mental bias I’d previously had and allowed me to start fresh. It allowed me to see the world in a new light, with endless possibility and beauty, as if I were looking through a child’s eyes. With this purity I am rebuilding from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.
The Thai language is beautiful, for it has a wide vocabulary for any simple English word. In Thai, heart takes many forms. There’s gen, meaning, “core,” ruup hua jai, or “figure of a heart,” jut sam kan, meaning “important point,” huua-jai, meaning “heart organ,” poo-daeng, “the playing card suit,” and jai, or “spirit.” When I moved to Thailand, I stepped with the spirit in my heart, my jai, and it is also the first big decision in a long time that I haven’t regretted this late in the game.
This morning, when I looked into the mirror, I saw a woman far from perfect. I am nearing 24 years of age and still don’t know what the hell I want, but what I do know is, with each step of my heart, I am getting a little bit closer. I am playing with the idea of teaching in America or even going back to school for social work. I am imagining a future while still listening from within. From now on, I will continue to move in the direction that feels like home rather than that which is “right,” because every step with jai is productive, even if the end of the road is unknown.
If something is wrong, change it. If there’s a decision to be made, then with your jai you should make it – before it really is too late.