The Importance of Being Centered

How many Sex and the City fans do we have out there? I watched Carrie and the gals on the reruns over and over again on TBS, I’ll admit it. One comes to mind in particular that applies to my post today. Now what could a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Thailand have in common with a gal-pal, sex filled, fashion television program set in New York City (outside of being really bored and watching every episode at least once in my time here, I haven’t yet)? Remember when Charlotte is trying to get pregnant? She tries everything from teas, a new husband, and even Eastern medicinal practices like acupuncture.

At the urging of one of their dinosaur-esque and married-to-someone-everyone-thinks-is-a-gay-man friends who was pregnant, Charlotte goes to see Dr. Mao. He sticks her with needles and as he’s leaving the room, tells her to get ‘centered.’ With the jack hammers going, her worries about her infertility, and general type-A New Yorkerness, Charlotte is unable to tune out her surroundings and focus on centering herself in the moment. It takes having to listen to one of the typical, exterior, superficial characters later in the show for Charlotte to understand how to do this and then use it again seeing Dr. Mao another time.

Dr. Mao, even as a fictional Chinese (I think?) doctor on a HBO sitcom, is onto something here. Call it what you want, centered, meditation, or being present, but it’s something I’m finding is integral to my life here. Before I arrived in Thailand, I worried how I was going to deal with roosters calling at 4 AM or the infamous Thai music that is so loud that you can see its effects as much as hear them. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you ‘being centered.’

I didn’t even realize I was there until I was on a bus with 50 or so Thai teenagers, music shaking the bus, a ladyboy in full make-up gyrating and humping other kids around 7AM when I did the oddest thing: I fell asleep. No one was as consternated as I was when I woke up. How did I do that? In America, I’m a natural insomniac and an impossibly, light sleeper. My brain went there.

Almost eight months in and I’ve found where I float into my Thai centeredness. Waking up from my nap (not from the music, but because we reached our first stop), I realized other things that come from this state of mind: my Thai is better, like Flo Rida, Thai frustrations (such as not truly teaching for a week) are shrugged off with a mai-bpen-rai, my new yoga regiment is done willingly and loving every second of  it, my brain performs Jedi mind tricks and slows down Thai speech to a rate that I not only understand, but can keep up with, things in general slow down and simplify so that I sit back and just enjoy life without a care in the world, or sitting calmly as 15 year olds drink whiskey and DDR their way through our bus ride and I escape without a headache.

I usually associate being centered with being on an ‘up.’ These are the times I love Thailand with a capital L. The goldenly glow feeling and things come naturally and easily. I make wild proclamations like sure, I’ll stay here for five years and be the principal while you live with my Grammy in the United States. (Yes, this actually happened with my principal.) I feel that I am my true self again, the ‘I just like smiling, smiling is my favorite’ self.

But for all the good it does me, riding on the feel good train, when I come back down, it’s nearly always a crash. I realize how tired I am from being ‘on’ all the time. Exhausted actually, I took a two-hour nap the other day and had difficulty rousing myself awake. I get crabby and hide out in my room doing singular activities like reading for an entire weekend. I get so homesick that I feel my body aching for escape to far and distance lands. I snap at my little sister for being a little, lazy chubster or breaking into my room without knocking. I shoot the death glare at my coteacher for translating the sentence that I want my students to understand, by themselves, in English. I read a new favorite blog of mine, Zen Habits, and roll my eyes instead of embracing the words and practicing them in my life.

The worst part is realizing how off track I am from being in the ‘zone’ and wanting to do anything to get there, but the harder I try, the further I fall into that little hole of a PCV down, skipping on the record of centeredness. I’m in a bit of one now, coming down off my last flying high. Lasting nearly two months since Reconnect, I would say I’m due for a down though. The last one, before I went off to Suphan and met up with other Volunteers though, was particularly vicious. I didn’t know how to get out. This is perhaps the most important part, learning how to re-center yourself.

Being at a low-point, allowing yourself to have the feelings and meditating on why you feel that way has helped me acknowledge it and move slowly on my way. I’ve realized that I don’t always need to come up with a specific solution to my problem because usually, like the loyal friend that it is, my brain comes back from crazyland, resurfacing like a submarine, letting me feel free again and accepting my issues for the small bumps they truly are. I think that’s what helped keep me so high for such a long period of time.

Part of that means knowing yourself well enough to do the activities to bring yourself out of that slump. I realized how much I need my other Volunteers, to keep writing, to keep reading, to keep studying Thai, to keep forcing myself out into my community. What do you need? Is it a fat pregnant lady blathering on about her baby’s nursery like Charlotte? Whatever it is, keep doing it. You’ll be amazed with what a smile can achieve, particularly so in the Land of.


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