Everyday has a sunset like this on Koh PhanganIt’s been nearly 12 weeks since my last post and I confess that recently I have been suffering a severe case of writer’s block. It didn’t start out that way, at first I wasn’t writing because I was too busy navigating grief but recently I’ve been feeling a lot happier and even had lots of things that I’ve wanted to share with you, but for some reason I just haven’t been able to put pen to paper (or more accurately fingers to keys). Today is the day to change this. This post, aptly titled ‘a simple update’ is exactly what it says. In order to get my blogger brain back in gear I can’t think of a better way to start than to fill you in on the last few months.

A spell in hiding

After I got back to Chiang Mai from the UK in January, I sunk into a kind of darkness. I felt such sadness at the passing of my Uncle that I withdrew from my life in a way that I haven’t since the angst-ridden days of my youth. I stopped wanting to go out, I stopped writing on this blog, I stopped wanting to see or talk to people and I felt such a heaviness in my heart that I didn’t know what to do with it. Good friends tried to bring me out of it, tried to encourage me to come out and play, but this was a sadness more stubborn than that.

During this period I found myself asking a lot of questions like what is life really all about? What is the point in anything? Why am I even here? Do I really have a purpose in life? Normally grateful and optimistic about life, it was really hard to have questions like this crashing through my consciousness and in all earnest I started to search for the answers. I read books that I had picked up from my Uncle’s house and almost as if he were reaching down from heaven to whisper in my ear, I found out about a Krishnamurti retreat in a place called Hat Yai in Southern Thailand. My Uncle talked a lot about Krishnamurti when he was alive and one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t pick up one of Krishnamurti’s books until it was too late to discuss my thoughts and questions with my Uncle. Despite that in his memory and to find out more, I changed my existing plan to go to Koh Phangan to do a yoga course and headed to Hat Yai instead.

A spell in retreat

Stream Garden in Hat Yai is a beautiful place completely situated in nature, surrounded by forest, a stream and several waterfalls. I knew as soon as I arrived that it was exactly where I needed to be. Being in retreat feels very different to being in hiding and here I Where I had my daily swim at Stream Gardenfelt no pressure to be anyone or anything. If I wanted to spend all day lying in a hammock searching for the meaning of life in a book called “Freedom from the Known”nobody here was going to have a problem with that. The retreat had no schedule other than three delicious, healthy, vegetarian meals a day. At 8am, Noon and 6pm a bell rang to alert everyone that dinner had been served, I have to admit I was usually there well before the bell sounded.

While I was at Stream Garden there were only two other guests there. We soon became friends and although we spent much of the day in our own personal retreats, each afternoon we would take a 45-minute hike through the forest to a beautiful waterfall and pool to swim and relax after our sweaty hike, before making our way back again in time for our evening meal. I spent ten days working, meditating, eating, walking and discussing my thoughts about Krishnamurti with a brilliant man, artist and writer called Louis (who, incidentally, wrote a book about another spiritual dude called Krishnamurti).

I found Jiddu Krishnamurti’s teachings hard-going. His message is, in my opinion, hard to know what to do with on a practical level (and I’m not going to even try to synthesise his teachings here). I even joked with my cousin that he needed to lighten up a little and had he met and spent time with my Uncle, perhaps we’d have a philosophy I could get behind. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in much of what Krishnamurti tells us, but I struggle to really understand how to live according to his teachings. I did, however, find comfort in the process of retreat, having time in nature and with myself, meditating and journalling, When it came to leave Stream Garden, I felt more at peace than when I had arrived, but I still hadn’t managed to shake the heaviness in my heart.

A spell in detox

After Hat Yai, I headed to the island of Koh Phangan where my good friend Ellen was staying to do the one-month intensive yoga course that I had originally planned to do before I realised I needed some time on my own. I knew I would be too late to join the course so I had booked to do an 11-day detox at the same resort instead. I had no idea when I signed up for this detox, that it would change my life.

To give you a rough idea of what an 11-day detox entails, I’ve detailed the main features below:

  • 8 days without food.
  • 15 self-administered colonics
  • Drinking several shakes a day of husk and clay (nothing like the mango shakes you can buy up the road!)
  • Many, many nutrition pills
  • Lots of water

The smile that made drinking husk and clay shakes bearable

Lets talk about eight days without food. This is probably the feature that would put most people off but it isn’t actually as bad as it sounds. You are drinking so many fluids (and clay!) as well as taking nutrition in pill form, that you don’t feel the kind of hunger you might feel if you had just skipped lunch. It’s a different kind of hunger, in some ways much easier to deal with. Well it was at least for me. I loved detox, aside from a really bad pre-fast day (which may have been caffeine withdrawal) and a day when I was on the verge of tears throughout (emotional detox no doubt), I felt pretty good and by day 6 without food, I started to feel happier and lighter emotionally than I had done in months.

By the end of detox I had lost over 4kg/9.2lbs in weight, I felt full of energy, happier, more balanced and with my whole attitude towards food and life changed. I haven’t had coffee, sugar or any processed foods now for a whole month and I can’t begin to describe how physically and emotionally fantastic I feel as a result.

A one-month yoga intensive

Next on my plan was to head to Borneo to tick another thing off my bucket list and climb the highest peak in South East Asia and see some Orangutans in their natural habitat. My flight was booked for the beginning of April. I was going to spend two weeks exploring Borneo and then spend another two weeks travelling North through Vietnam back towards my beloved Chiang Mai to take residence in a lovely new apartment that I had signed a lease on.

What happened next I can’t explain. The night before I was due to leave Koh Phangan, I went home to pack and after folding a few items of clothes, I sat down on my bed as the realisation that I didn’t want to leave dawned on me. What I actually wanted to do was stay and do the one-month intensive yoga course that I had originally wanted to do in March. The school runs the course every month and the next one was due to start on 1st April. I stopped packing, called myself crazy and went to meet some friends in a bar opposite my bungalow to announce my snap decision to stay.  

I’m now on day 11 of the yoga course and despite losing nearly £100 on my flight to Borneo and indefinitely delaying my dream of climbing Kinabalu, I have no doubt that I’ve made the right decision. I love the course which consists of a two-hour yoga class in the morning and then another 2 hour yoga class in the afternoon followed by a two-hour lecture on yoga and spirituality.

My body aches. I feel tired all the time. My mind feels stretched. I’m in my element. 

The Magic of Goals 

It dawned on me the other day that I haven’t given the annual plan that I wrote at the end of last year a second glance since I published it. In February, I was feeling painfully aware that I had made no efforts towards my goal of reaching my peak of physical Living in paradisefitness, neither was I doing any yoga or regular meditation. Today as I conclude this post, I feel more on track with my original goals than ever. Was this intentional? Not really, when I made the decision to do each of the things I’ve done over the past few months, I wasn’t cross-referencing these activities with my original plan for 2013. I was simply doing what felt right and what I felt my soul and my body needed me to do.

I don’t, however, think that this alignment with my plan is coincidental. I believe that when we make our intentions known to the universe, we set in motion a path that we can still choose to ignore if we want to, but that is lit up for us in way that we might not even be consciously aware of. It’s those lights, I believe, that make the path better able to follow, especially at times when we find ourselves in the dark.