Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top 6 Things I Did Not Do In Thailand (Without Pictures)

I've had a great seven weeks in Thailand, but it was noticeably marked by all the traditional tourist things I did not do. And no, I haven't been living off the grid in some far away-super-amazing outpost that the backpackers won't start blogging about for another decade. As mentioned in prior posts, I've mostly been working on my website and experiencing more of an internal journey. But everyone loves a good listicle, right?

Top 6 Things I Did Not Do In Thailand (In My First Seven Weeks Here, At Least)


Grand Palace, Bangkok

In Bangkok there's this massive Grand Palace estate in the heart of the city. It's been there since Bangkok was just a little river town (I assume) and is filled with palaces, castles, gilded temples, fancy furnishings, dragon staircase bannisters, and Buddhas -- one carved of emerald and one gigantic, gold and reclining. At least I think they're both in there. Maybe the reclining one is next door. I'm pretty sure it's considered part of the same complex, though. But I don't know for sure because I haven't been there.

Elephants

Who doesn't love elephants? I mean, except for the Chinese who kill them to ground up their tusks to make man more potent! People used to come to Thailand and ride on an elephant, get their picture taken riding an elephant, etc. But then we learned that those elephants are not well taken care of. So now you can go visit elephant sanctuaries, where they help rescued elephants. I'm not sure if these elephants ever make it back to the wild, or if they just live in a white-collar prison. I don't know because I didn't go see any elephants in Thailand. The sanctuary visit sounds like a fun day, though, having playful mud fights with elephants.

Long-Necked Women 

You've seen these women of the Karen Hill Tribe on a National Geographic special before. They're the ones who, at a young age, begin putting those gold hoops around their neck. The hoops are stacked and they use them to elongate their necks. Every now and again they add another hoop and it forces their neck to keep growing longer. I'm not sure why they do this. Does it look sexy to the Karen heterosexual men and homosexual women? Or just to the heterosexual men? Or do they not even have such words for sexual sub-groups? I don't know. I didn't go see them even though I was 100 meters away during a rural walk the other day. The signs were pointing me there. It was clear that someone wanted me to visit. But it didn't feel right to me. They must want my money, but I'm not interested in a financial transaction that involves me paying money to gawk quite so gaudily at another culture's norms. I guess I prefer to do my gawking in a more subtle way.

Temples

Thailand has many Buddhists. Buddhists make many temples. They are all covered with gold and dragons and gold dragons. Inside there's a big Buddha with incense. There are hundreds of them, but I saw enough temples in Japan to take care of me for awhile.

Beaches

You know the movie "The Beach" starring one or two of those really famous actors? The good looking ones? Yup. It was filmed in Thailand. Thailand is a long, skinny country with lots of oceanfront property. Plus, there's a shitload of islands. The young party people love the Thai beaches. The eco-yoga retreat people love the Thai beaches. I always enjoy hanging out on a beach for a few hours if there's a steady supply of cold beer and not too many people. And not too hot. You know, like low-mid 80s Fahrenheit is alright. But much hotter than that is just too hot for my cold soul. I haven't been to a Thai beach, though. Haven't seen the movie, either.

Full Moon Party

At one of the famous Thai islands is a famous monthly Full Moon Party. Every full moon they host a rager with lots of dance music and backpackers and hippies and drugs and booze. There are beautiful people partying in bathing suits. Probably some casual sex going on. I'm not sure, exactly. I haven't been.

Might be fun, though.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Is This a Spiritual Awakening?

When I transitioned out of corporate America and later found myself selling everything that I owned and setting out to travel the world, I guess you could say that I was looking for something. I knew that I wanted more out of life than I was getting, but didn't really know what else was available. So I set out to explore the world to see if there were other cool places to live, other cool cultures to learn from, other cool experiences to have.

Two years later it feels like I was on some sort of a spiritual quest all along, though I never knew it or identified it as such. Whether I knew it or not, I believe a spiritual journey is the best way to describe some of the experiences I've had in the past year.

It started with the 10-day silent meditation retreat that I went to because (1) I had the time, (2) it seemed like I could learn something, and (3) it was recommended by a friend.

That experience opened the door a crack and the door has been opening further ever since.


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There's an outdoor bar in Pai, Thailand that sells magic mushroom shakes. I saw these advertised in Indonesia when I visited there in 2011, but didn't try because I wasn't sure what to expect and was a little nervous. 

Yesterday I was ready for the experience, even though I still didn't really know what to expect. 

What intrigues me about magic mushrooms is that they are completely natural and organic. They simply grow wild in our world, unlike other "drugs" like meth or heroin. Monkeys and neanderthals and homo sapiens have likely been ingesting them forever. They grow all over the world and many cultures have ancient rituals that involve eating psychedelic mushrooms. I'm ready for this.

People around here said they're good to do more during the daytime and when the sun is setting. The place to get them is a bar is called Sunset Bar. I heard it opens at 1pm. 

Around 2:00 I swung by a local hostel to check in with some new friends. I asked if any of them wanted to join me on the 'shroom experience, but they weren't interested. It had just been raining quite heavily and the ground was wet and muddy and I was told that it's better to do it on a dry day because you end up exploring the jungle nearby and probably don't want to get all wet. 

I went anyway.

There were no other patrons when I got there, so I ordered a shake (more of a juice, actually, and quite tasty) and sat down to drink it. It cost about $15 US.

Within 20 minutes I had a nice buzz, but wasn't having visions or anything. It felt good but I wanted more. I walked down past the end of the road to a jungley area with a couple cows and found a dry place to sit down on a pile of rocks. I thought that maybe walking around would stir up my system to make it more potent.

After sitting on the rocks for a bit, I decided I was ready for a second shake. It had been about 1 hour since I drank the first one.

When I went back to the bar, there were 4 young Brits there who I had met on my way here earlier. I was glad they were here as I began drinking the second shake. I felt more comfortable knowing that I had friends around, just in case.

None of us had done magic mushrooms before and didn't know entirely what to expect, but the young Brits kept talking about wanting to see visions. I think they were expecting to watch the world warp around them and see colors and spirits and stuff. I thought that maybe that would happen, but I really didn't know.

The Pai river runs through the jungle not far from the bar property. I remembered hearing the other day about someone who had taken the 'shrooms and "gone and sat by the river for 4 or 5 hours". So I went over near the closest part of the river and just sat down, closing my eyes a bit and starting to get a pretty nice feeling now. With my eyes closed I laid back on a ground covering of gigantic leaves. I could see shapes and patterns morphing in my head and it was beginning to remind me of my ayahuasca experience last year in Peru -- a very earthy, natural feeling. A connectedness was felt, though not particularly strongly. I began yawning, like I had in ayahuasca where I was told it was part of a purging process to release energy from the body. But then some ants started to crawl all over me and I didn't want to lay down on a pile of big leaves anymore.

So I went back to the bar and found a quiet place to lie down on an elevated platform with a pillow beneath my head. Things began to intensify.

I lay down on my back, closed my eyes, and just listened to the sounds of the environment. I could feel the humming energy of all the insects and birds and motorbikes and everything. It felt great.

After a little while of that, two of the young Brits came over and called my name. They asked how I was doing and lamented that they weren't feeling anything. I suggested they just lay down and close their eyes instead of talking and smoking cigarettes and checking their phones. But they didn't appear to be interested in that. They wanted an eyes-open, walking around, distorted hallucinogenic view of the world. I think for that they'd need to drink a couple more shakes.

More people were starting to show up now, and they were coming and hanging out where I was lying down. I was getting bit by mosquitoes so I went over to the bar to lather up with the bug juice. The other Brits were over there and so I sat with them for a minute. Again the young woman lamented that she wasn't getting anything and, again, I suggested that she just close her eyes and breathe and listen. She checked her phone instead.

There was another gentleman now lounging in one of the hammocks, a Brazilian guy. He heard me ask the British woman if she ever meditated, as a way to help her find the psychedelic experience she was looking for, and he invited me over to share his joint. He told me that next week he's going to a Buddhist monastery to live for 6 months. He had done this before, so I was curious to hear his story, even though I also just wanted to stare into the garden and watch the gorgeous colors being illuminated by the setting sun. He kept talking and talking, mentioning how he had done the 'shrooms the other day and, at that time, just wanted to be alone with the river. He had gone to the river and spent hours there. He told me that there's something special about the river.

He just kept talking and talking and I wanted to be a good listener to whatever he was processing. I hung out for a few more minutes, but mostly I wanted to go back to the jungle. Back to the river. So I wished him well and walked back down past the end of the road into the jungle.

This time I could see the river better. Last time I was out here I thought the depression in the land over yonder was just a meadow for the cows. Someone had said that there were caves so I though that maybe it was one of those super cool caves that you just descend into the earth to explore. As I walked closer I could see this other stretch of the river but it was being guarded by thickets and brambles and a solitary cow.

My American mind said: you can't go out there. That's someone's cow pasture. Someone owns that land and you can't just trespass on it. I stopped, unsure of what to do. I turned back toward the bar and distinctly saw two local gentlemen waving me toward the river. They were making that gesture with their hands, motioning "get outta here. go over there, to the river". 

The cow felt like a guardian. It was standing directly in my path and was roped up to a stake. But I was feeling the call now and knew that I needed to go to the river, even if that meant overcoming guardians. 

As I neared the cow I broke out of the shadow of the trees into this amazing golden late-afternoon light. It was that kind of warm light that you normally only see in movies or professional photography. POW! BLAM! Like a slap upside the head I was woken to this vibrant reality of the living jungle. The glow. The warmth. The peace. Butterflies were flitting about, dancing between the grasses. The cow now looked like a cow on one of those ice cream or milk logos, where it is super cute and has a little blue bow on it's head. She was glowing in the light so I approached her with the back of my hand outstretched. 

She came up close to my hand, but didn't lick it or anything. As I looked at her face closely, I saw common traits to a seal or similar marine life. Then I remembered that we use the word "cow" to also describe manatees, or sea cows. They have similar chins and whiskers.

Then the cow snorted at me, so I decided it was time to move on. It was only 10 more meters to the river so I walked past the cow and over to the bank up above the flow of the chocolatey river that I hoped was downstream from Willy Wonka's Thai retreat.

"Starry Night" - Van Gogh
It was so beautiful. There were wildflowers and green grasses, butterflies, more cows across the river with clanging bells, and the sounds of the jungle were buzzing everywhere. It felt like the heartbeat of the earth was right here, right now. It was golden hour as the sun was lowering itself across the river.

I laid down in a patch of long, soft, flower-filled grasses. I laid down on my back like they have you do at the end of a yoga session: palms up, legs comfortable with relaxed feet gently tilted outward. I could feel the earth and wanted to melt into it. The more I cleared my thoughts the more powerful it became. As I emptied my mind I fell deeper and deeper into connection with the earth, my body melting into the heather.

Ayahuasca had taught me: Don't think. Just be.

I melted completely until there was no Kirk anymore. There was just energy. I could feel all the energetic vibrations of the jungle and the critters and the sun and the universe. There was no distinction between all the energy and me. I was a part of the energy, boundless.

I laughed. 
I cried. 
I burst forth with exclamations of wonder.

As I lay there completely at one with the universe, I had a bit of a tightness in my throat (whoa! whaaat?). It wasn't enough to cough or spit or puke, but there was a tightness. So I held my breath which seemed to relieve the clutch. As I held my breath, I realized that the act of breathing is nothing more than a pump to keep this terrestrial body alive. I was not my body. I was universal consciousness and, if I wanted, I could just keep holding my breath until my body died, and that I would still exist as a conscious being. It made complete sense. I exist in the cosmos, just floating or whatever, formless, and I could leave my body anytime by just stopping the pump. Death is really no big deal.

In this dimension, the body pumps in oxygen and pumps out carbon dioxide. But at the universal level, the energy of the universe is love and the human breathes in love and breathes out love. Love is a river that flows through our body. It flows through everything. Everything is a river of the divine energy, love, constantly flowing.

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Phew.

Ok.

Breathe.

As I am wont to do, I started analyzing it. Thinking it. What was going on? How was this happening? In my head I played back how I got here. First there was the spiritual Brazilian who told me to go to the river. And then, when I hesitated, there were the two local gentlemen who motioned me to continue. They run the bar. They must know what I was experiencing. They see it every day. Are they angels?

I was coming to the realization of the one universal consciousness/energy/divine with the understanding that my realization would not have happened without these guides. At least it wouldn't have happened here and now. I was meant to be right here right now. That led me to this difficult-to-describe circular understanding: It was like everything in my life had led me to this moment of realization. As I looked back it just could not have been any other way. And it also felt like every moment in our lives is like that: the inevitable outcome of everything, at this moment, in a singular point of being.

I quickly realized that leaving my lifeless body next to a river in northern Thailand probably wouldn't play too well with friends and family. And then I kept thinking that the people who guided me here must have had this experience, too. They also felt the oneness of everything and they also chose to go back to the three-dimensional world. But why did they choose that? There must be a reason for this existence. But what's the reason?

It felt like I had a choice: to either inhabit this 3D world, or to become one with universal energy. The 3D world simply has a set of rules that the human being needs to play by. I struggled a bit to learn more: what's my purpose? how can I go back with this knowledge? am I supposed to teach? to love?

The only message that I feel like I received was threefold:
  1. We each exist as part of a greater universal consciousness
  2. That universal consciousness is a river of love
  3. I am not my self. By which I mean that the Kirk that exists in this body in this dimension is only part of a greater Kirk. They're separate, but it's easy to get sucked into the 3D world so deeply that we lose our connection to the infiniteness of our being.
I think I also felt that there is no purpose, exactly. At least not from that higher dimension. Everything just is. So be a part of this world and engage in it with this new understanding. 

Epilogue

For me and my curious brain this raises all sorts of other questions. If spiritual awakening is a real thing, then there must be a reason why all these monks sit and meditate for years, right? Do they know something I don't know? Many people have had this sort of a spiritual experience before me. And with that understanding they are choosing to interact in this world. 

The Buddha said that desire is the root of all human suffering. This makes complete sense to me. So we can agree that human suffering is still a bad thing, and maybe the goal is to relieve suffering?

Am I supposed to help people go to their metaphorical river, like my guides did for me? 

I did get a sense that if every human had this experience then the world as we know it would essentially just fold in upon itself, and that that would be the end/beginning of a greater universal cycle of expansion and contraction, of breathing.

Spiritual philosopher Alan Watts famously said
When you get the message, hang up the phone.
I feel like I got a message loud and clear. I guess I'll just go about my business, leading with love, and be ready in case the phone rings again. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

New Business Developments: Logo!

I'm in Chiang Mai, Thailand for 3 more weeks and am hard at work on my new business: Prepared Passing. Last year I mentioned it here when it was in its early stages. Now I've hired professionals to help me take it to the next level as a paid, educational service.

Prepared Passing helps people reduce stress and gain more peace of mind when they have a parent who is dying.

Still working on that tagline.

We finalized the logo last week and I think it turned out really well.
The website is being developed now and my original educational content being re-written by a professional. When the content is done then I will develop the accompanying videos. All that is the easy part, after which the hard work begins: marketing.

What's Next

In 3 weeks I'll be traveling back to China to meet up with buddies Money & Big D for a couple weeks visiting Beijing and then the famous Shangri-La region near Tibet. Then I'll make my way into Tibet and Nepal which have been #1 on my To See list for the past 25 years. Himalaya ho!

I'm not sure what will happen after that or when I'll be able to get back to business work, so it will likely be at least a few more months before I get the videos done and the new website launched.

It feels great to be making progress, though. Choo choo.