I hope you are well.
When I told my friends about two years ago that I was going to live in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for six months, many were surprised, not to say shocked. Once I had broken the news, I noticed that every answer or reaction I got would consist with a variation of « Aren’t you scared? » or « Oh my God, I would never be brave enough to do that ! » which made me smile. A lot. Now, do not get me wrong, I like to think of myself as a brave person. After all, I have survived Africa for crying out loud !
Truth be told, it did not take much bravery for me to leave. I had to leave. Like many other people my age I had just graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree and I had no idea as to what I wanted to do next. While all my friends seemed to have it all planned and sorted out, I had no plans at all. And by nothing, I mean NOTHING. To top it all off, it had dawned upon me that I was no longer excited about life. I was not going through a phase of depression, I just was not excited. As a matter of fact, I was not feeling anything. For years, I would wake up in the morning, every day, only to realize that I had nothing to look forward to. I was monotonously navigating through the days with no sense of goal or purpose but one single thought in mind to keep me going : « just make it through the day Leo ». A new day was not something to be grateful for but rather one day later from yesterday.
So, when the opportunity to broaden my horizons presented itself, I saw it as a chance to experience my own Eat, Pray, Love. A chance to recalibrate my aspirations, tune in to my respiration and reconnect with my emotions. I readily seized it with both hands.
I hopped on a plane for Siem Reap on Christmas Eve 2014, embarking on a journey that would change my life forever. A journey that would constitute a shift in my definition of what it truly means to be happy.
From the moment I set foot in Siem Reap, I instantly felt home, right where I was supposed to be. The immaculate blue sky, the perfectly balanced combination of both heat and wind tickling the back of my neck, the overcrowded streets, the buzz and activity of the tuk tuks and motocycles, the spicy food (oh the spicy food), the simplicity and generosity in the faces of people who, althouh life had deprived them of many of their basic human rights and prerogatives, were still willing to give. Unconcerned by life’s only promise that tomorrow will be no different from yesterday, they laugh it off. Unbowed. Undefeated.
I went to Siem Reap carrying a very specific urge. I was yearning for an epiphany, a very privileged moment in which life would chose to reveal itself to me and give me enough reasons to be a happier person. Needless to say this was not going to happen. At least not the way I expected it. I fell in the trap we are all so keen on falling into, head first. I envisioned a segment of my future through the prism of the universal culture of more which consists in almost always thinking that life will improve with a new job, a new house, a new love interest or thousands of miles away from home. We spend most of our lives waiting for the next big thing, planning the next big event that will bring us joy and excitement but what if there was no such thing? What if the next big thing was just the gift of being here, now in the present, living and breathing? I though Cambodia was my next big thing but to be honest, life was not any different there. I was still me. I still had to deal with life’s whims and my own insecurities. Sometimes I would be thrilled about certain things and other times I would feel as lonely and as bored as Anna Karenina in the absence of her lover. But it was OK. At least, I was feeling something.
I have had read once that « happiness is a decision ». I believed it. However, I had no idea how to apply that concept into my daily life. While I was away I realized that it really was as simple as switching the light on and off. You just have to switch it on. Are you still asking how? I am sure we all have already been invited to a party where the music was not what we enjoyed dancing to the most. But in that moment, if you stop focusing on how bad the music is and start focusing instead on how badly you want to have fun, the quality of the music will no longer matter. You will just let it invade you gradually to the point where you both become one. This is how you decide to switch on the light.
Take the time to think about things that make you feel alive and do them as much and as often as possible but without becoming too dependent on them. Surround yourself with people that allow you to become, yes I am about to quote Oprah Winfrey here, « the truest expression of yourself as a human being ». Remove yourself from any abusive situation be it with your immediate family members, your chosen family, your boss… Be kind and compassionate to other people. They are just like you, fighting their own demons. They will just not admit it. Most importantly, be kind and forgiving to yourself, at least pretend to until it becomes as easy as breathing. After all, you are all you have got.