I feel my eyes become moist. A few weeks ago I had lunch with my friend John. John is from Shan state, Myanmar. I hired him as a videographer for a recent project and he delivered outstanding work. We went for lunch and he started sharing his life story.
“My parents gave me to a church very early on. I was raised in a church for the first 16 years in Myanmar. I don’t have parents. I don’t have siblings. At some stage I asked myself:
What if I would die? Who would bury me? “
I swallow and feel a sadness flow through my body. Then he continues.
“At the age of 16, I left the church because I was too much of a rebel. I lived with my father for a year. After so many years, It was strange to see a man that looked so much like myself. The whole village knew instantly I had to be his son when I arrived.”
“After one year I felt I had to leave. I went to a UNHCR refugee camp where I received education and eventually was offered a scholarship to study arts in Bangkok. After those studies, I came to the North or Thailand“
Today John lives in Chiang Mai. He is remarkably fluent in English and just delivered a video project that truly impressed me and my team.
Then I ask him:
“How do you deal with the bad air pollution and smog in Chiang Mai these days?”
He just smiles..…
“I am used to much worse pollution in the camps on the border.”
It’s like the pollution doesn’t even enter his mind space as something to complain about in even the slightest way.
I get a reality check again. This guy sitting in front of me is more radiant, smiling and grateful than myself. Even though I have many more opportunities in my life. I experienced this often in the years I worked in DR-Congo, Papua New Guinea, India and other places.
What makes the difference is where we direct our attention towards. I teach this stuff to my clients all the time but forget it all the time myself.
I take a deep breath. I touch again the ridiculous amount of conditions for happiness and contentment I have right now today. Which includes this lunch with this special friend. Probably more and more conditions were added over the last years, not to forget a lovely boy that cracks open my heart on a regular basis.
Yet, if I genuinely check in with myself, I was happier a few years ago than today. Probably much happier if I am honest.
When I sit with that realization, I notice some sadness. But it’s quite expanded. I can see as always, it’s a matter of what I choose to dedicate my limited mind space towards. What seeds in the garden of my mind have I been watering?
As one Zen Master once shared: The whole Zen teaching can be summarized in two words: Attention and Intention. If those are directed and practiced in a mindful way, we let go of suffering and develop equanimity and peace of mind.
So John (and to be honest my wife Laurence) helped me wake up again. Now the practice…
It’s back to basics for myself. Somehow my basic mindfulness practice was replaced by ‘more important things’, such as creating financial security as I am building a family (2nd boy coming…) expanding our organization (to help others be more mindful!) and delivering even more value to my coaching clients.
Those objectives certainly win very often the more and more fierce competition for my limited time and mind space. And at times I feel caught up in the rat race again. “And even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat” I remind myself.
So more and more often that inner voice tells me that this meditation, that yoga practice, that mindful walk at sunset, that mindful conversation with a friend can wait. Let me first create even more value for someone else or try to answer a few more emails and get that superficial, fleeting productivity dopamine fix.
Well, it’s a slippery slope I realize today with a clear outcome: I have never been as skilled, productive (in the narrow sense), experienced and knowledgeable as before, but I have lost many of those frequent episodes of gratitude, joy and delight of dwelling happily in the present moment.
I am determined to pull them back in. I am getting ready for this peaceful battle. Attention and intention are my buddies in this adventure. Laurence, Tao and friends like John will be my allies.
I am often seen as a dedicated mindfulness practitioner, but honestly I have not been walking the talk that much over the last year. In some parts, the practice is integrated, but on other areas I regressed. Part of me hopes that this confession refuels my motivation. I feel it already. I can’t bail out now anymore….
As I write this, I am wondering whether I should post this to my blog. Hmmm, interesting, a little bit of shame arises. Haven’t seen you for a while haha. I smile….
It’s OK seed of shame. You can be there. It means I am probably touching a bit of a shadow in me. I need to post this quick before I get second thoughts!
Thank you John. Thank you Laurence. Enough writing. Let’s go back to practice. Want to join me in some mindful breaths and feel gratitude?
There we go, press send….
P.S. If you’re in the region and need a videographer, get in touch with John. You won’t regret it.