“What is this life if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare”
(William H. Davies)
What do you do when you have a long bus journey ahead?
Do you make sure your iPod is charged, load up on plenty of snacks, head to the bookshop and get yourself an interesting read? You may even have a laptop with some movies downloaded? A kindle full of ebooks? Or do you decide to do away with the entertainment and just pop a helpful sleeping pill, hoping to wake up when the endurance test is over.
So what if you had none of these distractions?
God forbid, what if you had to sit in your own head for an hour or perhaps a few hours just doing nothing? Could you handle it? Would your head explode? Would you start to sing every song you know, see how long you can hold your breath, try not to think about elephants, give fellow passengers marks out of 10 for cleanliness, attractiveness or hair style, go through the alphabet reciting girls names beginning with the letter A, B, C and so on… am I the only one who does these things?
The 27-hour trip from Vientiane to Hanoi – a test in patience!
You may have gleaned by these confessions that I have a problem with patience. Like a small child I need to be entertained constantly or I get bored. “Muuuuuum, I’m bored!” Perhaps this initial restlessness was what inspired me to travel in the first place and what keeps me eager to explore the new and not same-same.
Living and working in South East Asia, my patience threshold has been obviously tested on more than one occasion. Trains that take five hours longer than planned, spontaneous holidays that make banks, embassies, post offices and shops close when you just need to get that something done and a laid-back attitude to the point of slumber are just some of the things that I have struggled to get used to when trying to run a business.
Taking Buddha’s advice of deep breaths and trying to calm the mind in these situations has never helped much. I keep thinking that one of these days I’ll embark upon a meditation retreat where I’ll sit in silence for three days and stroll out cured… but the thought of doing this sends my body into violent convulsions. Think of the things I could get done in those three days!
Coming from a Western culture, we find it very difficult to just… wait.
Entertainment is on tap, deadlines are made and met and meeting times are adhered to. In today’s world of 24/7 connectivity, there is no reason to miss a single second of potential productivity or a moment where something could be ‘getting done’. Slipping into the mindset of ‘mai pen rai’ (it doesn’t matter) is a huge shift for someone who is used to a ‘to do’ list the length of your arm.
On a recent trip to the Philippines, I found myself on a four-day boat trip around the beautiful islands of the Visayas. On the second day we came ashore at a deserted beach on the island of Siquijor, (famous for its shamans!) and spent a wonderful afternoon snorkeling, swimming in the sea and lazing on the perfect white sands. After camping the night, the plan was to get up early in the morning and explore the rest of the island by boat.
The beautiful deserted beaches of Siquijor, in the Visayas, Philippines
Getting up with the sun, excited about the day’s adventures, I was raring to go! After rushing breakfast to get on the boat, the nonchalant sailors explained that they had moored the boat in the wrong bay and we would have to wait for the tide to rise sometime around 2pm before setting off on our adventure as planned. I could feel my old demon ‘impatience’ rising… with so much to explore, I wished we could get going NOW! “Muuuum I want to go now!”
At times like this you have to give yourself a jolly good talking to. What a hardship that I had to sit on a deserted beach on a beautiful Filipino island waiting for the Mother Nature’s rhythm to gently ebb and flow so we could continue our journey.
That morning I walked peacefully up and down that short stretch of sand looking out at the sea, up at the sky and down towards the smallest pebble in the grass, or the imprint that a starfish had left in the sand. I took deep breaths and my mind was calm. It was one of the best mornings of my travels in the Philippines and one that I wouldn’t have had if everything had gone to plan.
Early morning and the tide is out on the island of Siquijor, the Philippines
When the power of nature takes over and deadlines fade into insignificance. All you can do is sit by, realize you are a tiny part of a greater whole and appreciate the here and now.
“A poor life this is if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.”
* Interested in backpacking in the Philippines? Get more info from our Philippines Travel Guide Section!
Written by Nikki Scott, Editor of S.E.A Backpacker Magazine