The privilege of contemplation

I recently stumbled upon this draft of a post that I wrote and never posted. I wrote this one of my last nights in Cambodia.


As my time here in Cambodia comes to a close, reflection fills my mind. I hesitate to write about it, because I don’t know that I can do so without being a giant cliche. So, here goes nothing.

To say that this experience changed me as a person is an obvious and undeniable fact. A very large part of that stems from immersion into the culture, but a small part also is a result of the way I chose to live my life while here. I came to Cambodia with a giant to do list, and I knew that in order to accomplish what I wanted, I needed to spend most of my time alone, reflecting on what matters most to me, and thinking about how to best prepare for my future. That was made possible by the fact that I was almost completely free from external distractions. And to try and minimize the internal distractions, I took up meditating. More on that another day…

I have seen so many things here that I will never forget, even with my terrible memory. I’ve been in southeast Asia for almost 3 months now, and the poverty still shocks me. On my second day in Asia, while in Hanoi, I saw an elderly man squatting down on the sidewalk, picking something up off the ground and putting it into his mouth. I was saddened by this initially, because it seemed that he was eating food directly off the sidewalk (which is far dirtier than your average sidewalk in the western world, of course.) As I walked by him, however, it became apparent that he had just vomited onto the sidewalk, and was picking the food pieces out of his vomit and eating them again. I was so flabbergasted by what happened, it didn’t even occur to me to give him money. That is a decision I regret almost every day. I could have done something to help that man, and I didn’t.

People here work such long hours and live such difficult lives, there is no time for relaxation, hobbies, drinks with friends, etc. I found myself wondering “what do Cambodians do for fun?” and then sadly realized that the answer for most of these people is, they don’t have time for fun.

One of my goals while in Cambodia was to decide what I want to do next in my career. I am ready for a new challenge, a new direction. I’ve spent many hours here reading, surfing the internet, looking for direction and inspiration. They’ve been frustrating and stressful hours, as I try to find the answer to some of life’s most difficult questions. What an incredible privilege! Billions of people around the world will never have that chance.

The emotions that come from that realization are hard ones to process. I feel empathetic and sad for all of those who will never have the opportunities I have.  I feel shame and discomfort knowing that my place of birth alone gives me choices that I did nothing to deserve. And I feel anger that there is so much injustice and inequality in the world.

It has been hard not to become bogged down in the negativity of it all. The best way I can deal with this is to turn all the negatives into a positive. I try to transmute these feelings into drive and direction. Its not easy, and I’m no pro, but it can be done but practice. We can turn feelings of frustration and sadness into feelings of motivation and inspiration.

Prior to this trip, I read a book titled The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser. The very first page of the book stopped me in my tracks. I don’t have it with me so I can’t quote it word for word, but it goes something like this:

We have enough resources to provide a house, clothing, and food for every person on the planet. 

Yet billions live without their basic needs met. That sentence hit me hard. I had to put the book down and absorb that before I could continue.

Kasser goes on to say that the worst thing you can do, is nothing.

This was as much a mental and emotional journey for me as it was a physical one. I leave Cambodia with a greater perspective on life. I can more articulately explain what I want out of life, how I define success, and what I believe constitutes a life of meaning. And that is more important to me than any temple I visited, any beach I walked along, or any sunset that I saw.

Here’s to doing something… something that matters.



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