“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
One morning, I found myself at the bottom of a small mountain. In front of me, pointing upwards was a sign that read ‘temple’ in Thai and English. I was in a remote part of Thailand, close to the Malaysian border. What had taken me to that spot I don’t remember, what I do remember is seeing monks making there way up the steep path in front of me. I followed them, wondering if they’d turn and ask me to stop, they didn’t.
We all have triggers in our lives, ones that change our course. People, experiences, books, thoughts. I’ve had my share and I bet you have too. This mountain and temple was one of my more pertinent, a small miracle that in retrospect was larger than I’d realised.
It took a while to get to the top, the monk athletes in front of me were clearly in better shape. When I eventually got there, gasping for air and sweating like a backpacker who’d been drinking the night before…oh wait, hang on… it was breathtaking, imagine a remote Buddhist temple at the top of a small mountain in Thailand and chances are you’re picturing what I saw for real.
I stayed up there for most of the day, and although the monks didn’t talk to me, they smiled often, offering me bowls of tea and water, not once ushering me to leave.
I remember sitting with my legs crossed by a stone buddha, reading Marcus Aurelius’ meditations. I remember because after a while my legs began to ache and my back hurt. So I stood up to stretch and admire the lush Thai countryside, feeling truly alive for what I think was the first time. So many things came flooding into my mind. What had I been doing all my life? Why did I exist? How did I exist? It was in that moment I realised my education wasn’t about getting a job and making money, it was an opportunity for moral and intellectual growth, I’d got it all wrong. Society, my family, the people I had been learning and working with, we’d all got it wrong.
“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows” – Sydney Harris
In that moment I realised I needed to find out how I could lead a meaningful life. Clarity had appeared like a beam of sunlight across my face, it felt warm and nice. Tension lifted, I was beginning to smile like I’d never smiled before, perhaps I was enlightened? Maybe my hangover had subsided? Either way, I was on a new path.
Not long after that, I found myself in Kuala Lumpur, on an adventure with a new found friend. Someone who introduced me to the notion of recreating myself and understanding a number of laws that others would use for and against me, I’ll tell that story next time.