Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.
Downgrading my life from the first world to the third world has been an interesting ride, but I wouldn’t change any of it. Simplicity came by default as I sold all my possessions, quit my unsatisfying desk job and packed my bags for a one-way ticket to India and the Philippines. It came in the way I let things unfold, letting go of plans and expectations, and seeing what would blossom on its own.
On its own meant that I found myself in a four month Buddhist monastery retreat. Free from money, free from the “real world” and free from stress. I learned how to declutter my mind with meditation. I finally learned what it meant to say “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” as we were assigned daily chores. Truly, enlightenment can come with a simple repetitive motion like sweeping, or washing the dishes, walking or of course, just sitting.
Within the course of a year I had voluntary taken a career sabbatical, and this was just the beginning. I temple hopped in Taiwan Buddhist monasteries and attended an International Buddhist Youth Conference where I unexpectedly received $300 just for showing up which paid for the cost of my roundtrip tickets and then some.
I used the remainder of the money on a “walking meditation” pilgrimage where I intended to use mindfulness and the dharma lessons I learned and apply them to the daily walk. I was with a local Filipino at the time, a master in Filipino martial arts, and he kept me safe, acting as the barrier between different worlds, different cultures.
During the journey, I lost about 10 lbs. I picked up inklings of the local language, one that was technically my own, by birthright, but one that I had forgotten since my mom and I immigrated to the US when I was just three years old.
We slept on shacks along the side of the road, beach huts, and the locals’ humble native houses. Usually, a new family would host us every night. This way of energy exchange without money was new to me, but I began to understand how kindness goes a long way, and how we often filled a void in their life, as they lamented on their grown up kids that had went away to pursue their life and showed us many family pictures.
Often, we were treated like family. Invited to Christmas gatherings. Enthusiastically told we could come again.
I’ll never forget the first time I showered outside with a well, completely in the elements. Or the night before the start of our journey, spent in a beach hut in the open air. I couldn’t sleep and instead, I watched the beautiful harvest moon rise above the ocean horizon and creep slowly up in the sky. The perfect harbinger for the changes in my life and the changes I was about to face day to day.
My next adventure led me to a raw foods detox retreat space for two months. Paid usually in hefty sums but free to me, my new hippie borne spirit alive and awakening. No toilet paper was allowed within the facilities and despite having gone to India previously, I learned the art of the infamous “left hand” deed. I would pump well water every morning just to fill the tub of water and bathe with a bucket. The walker and I, after an arduous 27 day journey that ended in the paradise setting of El Nido beach, Palawan, were falling in love. Life was good.
Now I live in the Manila slums in a 30 sqm. concrete slab and tin roof house. Something more luxurious than some of the spaces during our walk. I still bathe with a bucket of cold water and I have learned humility, good health, and most importantly, the triumph of the human spirit. My journey to simplicity has led to my spiritual awakening. I could feel sorry for myself and the unconventional choices I’ve made, but instead, I feel complete gratitude.
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