I'll try and explain.
I'm coming to the end of a month of living in the mindful community at New Life Foundation. New Life is a recovery centre, founded on Buddhist principles by a man called Johan, who spent time at Wat Thankrabok as a patient dealing with substance addiction, where he met Julien, who was a monk there and a former addict. It was Johan's dream to build an affordable recovery centre based on the principles extolled at this monastery that had so profoundly changed his life.
Johan died a week ago, and I heard the story of how the Foundation came to pass. This extraordinary visionary bought the land, erected some buildings and 18 months later sent Julien, who had forgotten about him, a text message asking if he was interested in being the Director. Julien simply said "yes" and, a month later, was in Chiang Rai with a handful of keys and no idea what to do.
But Johan had faith in the vision and in the person. He saw in Julien something that told him he was the man to lead this Community. And having been here for almost a month, I can see that Julien in many ways IS the Community. His inexperience matched only by his ancient wisdom, his childlike wonderment yet outward composure, his human idiosyncrasies, patience and boundless compassion; he embodies the Community and makes its heart beat.
Anyone who comes here can feel the support, the humanity and care that permeates everything from the food and socialising to the residents' program and working meditation.
There is something here that doesn't exist outside.
And so, as I'm about to head out into the big wide world for a 2.5 week break to discover some other parts of Southeast Asia, I find myself from time to time asking the question 'why?' The discovery that goes on here each and every single day is more true than any amount of sightseeing and backpacker hostels. I hasten to add that I'm not making a point about different types of travel here; Full Moon Party or immersing yourself in the local culture, it's kind of irrelevant. The real exploration is within.
Don't get me wrong, I love travelling. But too often we do it because we're in search of something that, chances are, isn't to be found out there in our external reality. Sometimes we talk about travel, when really what we mean is escapism. Wherever we go, we will always be there, so can there really be any kind of travel more worthwhile than the exploration of ourselves?
I now see that whether it's travel, eating, holidays, life, work... it's not important what you do; what's important is how you do it: Consciously aware, in the here and now. So perhaps it's more accurate to say that I have no desire to plan my travels. I am heading to Chiang Mai on Sunday, and after that? We'll see...