Tuesday, August 21, 2012

study abroad experience

Study abroad experience
            It’s great to have a blog where I can record my thoughts as they are fresh. Looking back at them years later I will be able to get a sense of what I was thinking. This is especially relevant because my experience in Thailand may well be life-altering and this could serve as a useful account of one leg of my life journey. With this blog I can share my story while recording my thoughts for a future Jared to amuse himself with. There are two parts to this story; the first is in regards to the study abroad experience. I will write about Wat Pah Nanachat, the 2nd part, after this post.   
            Studying abroad in Thailand was a real treat - so many sights, so many people, and so many awesome experiences. We ate tons of great food and gain firsthand understanding of what it is like to live in a foreign country. It was an enjoyable experience, one that I look back upon fondly. But I’m not going to write the study abroad experience directly; I’m going to write about the lessons I learned. Cutting straight to the point, I didn’t fit in. Although I was included in the various group activities and hung out with many people, I was always slightly on edge, not quite sure what to say or do, a little tired, a little lonely. I didn’t naturally belong to any of the groups that would form. I ended up hanging out most with the drinking group. Yet, I didn’t belong there; the Thai drinking scene just wasn’t my scene - too loud and noisy and not enough inter-personal communication. I believe they sensed this as well, for whenever we went out together a part of me felt like I was included because I was a fellow Cal Poly student. Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely) I even knew I didn’t belong in that group. But the single and attractive women were in the drinking crowd, and I wanted their attention. The thing is, I now realize, is that I’m an introvert, a solitary Strider. I function best in small groups where people listen to one another, not in large, loud, noisy groups like the drinking group I was a part of. I was out of my element, and didn’t realize the foolishness of trying to attract beautiful women in an unfavorable context. As to why I did not hang out so much with the others students, I can’t exactly say why, but simply put, I found them to be boring. As I write these words I realize a viewpoint I’ve clung to for a long time now - that straight-edge people, the people who abstain from alcohol and weed, are boring. It is only now as I write these words that I realize the error of holding such a viewpoint. For the people who choose to abstain from alcohol and weed are often times some of the friendliest people, the type of people that can listen and respond with intelligent answers and know how to hold a conversation. But anyways, at the time of the study abroad experience I had no such insight. The straight-edge people I found to be friendly but nothing really came to fruition. So during the day when we had many planned activities, everything was fine. But at night, when people were free to do what they wanted, I felt somewhat left out, not really belonging. It isn’t any fun to not be included. It hurts. To have to work your way into a group, cognizant that you aren’t really a part of it, and there’s this vague feeling that you could be left behind, is a feeling that sucks. It’s a subtle unpleasant feeling that’s hard to acknowledge, yet it weighs one down just like iron shackles do a swimmer. I wasn’t socially rejected, but I wasn’t socially accepted either. I don’t know what I was. I was in limbo. Eventually I sat down and realized I was in pain.


            The thing about pain is that it’s a signal. It means something is wrong. Something needs to be changed. Usually if I’m feeling pain I’ve come to recognize and accept it means I’m doing something wrong. Not someone else, but me, and I need to take responsibility for it. One of my greatest strengths is not going around blaming other people for my being hurt: I take near full responsibility for my happiness. So where was I? Oh yes, sitting down and thinking about the pain I was experiencing. I thought about how the drinking group wasn’t panning out, how I just wasn’t acting like myself, how it seemed how participating in the circle of drugs never quite brought satisfaction. I thought about how I acted around people, how people acted around me, and how I acted around people I was really good friends with. I thought about why I acted the way I did, the sensations of hurt, the feelings of my breath, of the times when I was happy, the times when I was sad, the reasons why I felt left out, reasons why this, reasons why that. I deeply contemplated the matter, not rushing the process, letting my mind wander a bit and gently pulling it along, listening to my intuition, letting it all unfold in front of me. Here are the things I came up with to work on:
1)      Wise friendships: be nice to everyone but be realistic. I’m an introvert and don’t have tons of social energy so I need to spend it wisely. Better to invest energy in friendships with people who give me back love and kindness. I tried to go out with the drinking group too often and only near the end of the trip, after admitting social failure, began taking a closer look at some of the quiet, more reserved type of people, the type of people I had originally found to be boring. They were the ones that could listen and return positive energy! Also, if a group isn’t working out, better to pull back and be solitary lone wolf. Better to find a boring group that I’m a part of than a crazy, exciting, story-telling group. (And the boring group really isn’t so boring, I’ve always been a lover of small groups and amiable conversation). Lesson: I can handle Life on my own, its people that I sometimes have a hard time with. Give out positive energy to everybody and pursue the people who give positive energy back. Be more open to all types of people.
2)      I am socially confident: I know I can smile, look a person in the eye, listen to their words and body language, respond intelligently with kind words, help others feel better, am handsome and at least appear socially confident, so why am I not socially adept like so many others? Answer: I think about it. I don’t truly, deep down think I am the type of person that people inherently like, and that therefore I have to work for their affection. In order for them to get to like me, I have to try to impress them. Or something along those lines. Whatever the case, the lesson is that I care too much about having people like me. Solution: Fuck that. I know who I am and I know that I am inherently likeable and charismatic. I’ve worked too hard being mindful to let thoughts rule my head. In Thailand, I felt like I was trying to cater myself to the person I was with, to their personality style. Now, we all do this, we all act differently around different people, but I think I was getting off-balance. I tried to be friends with all 23 Cal Poly students. I wanted to be the one loved by all, admired. What I need to do is stay grounded with everyone I meet and interact with, so I can be myself in the present moment, and still be myself in the long run. This means being more reserved initially and not worrying about what others think. Easier said than done, but I know I can do it. Also, in large groups, hang back. They are not my scene. Listen. See if there is another small group forming or maybe just have the courage to strike out on your own. In any case, stop trying to get everybody to like you. It doesn’t work. Find a balance. This leads me to point 3.
3)      Stay grounded: I have to stop getting thrown by beauty, so caught by it. And I got to stop trying to please everybody. I realize I hold these subtle, grandiose dreams, that I will be the one everyone likes, that I will be the respected one, that I will....dreams all of it. Don’t chase after dreams! That never works, stay in the present. Now where was I? Oh yes, a beautiful woman starts talking and I immediately start tailoring myself to impress her. Never works in the long run. Can’t keep up appearances. Got to be myself, stay grounded, realize beauty is only skin-deep. In Thailand, the beautiful women kept me in the drinking group. But man, where the hell has chasing after a beautiful women ever got me? By all means talk to a beautiful woman, ask her out on a date, hang out with her, but man, after so much, give it up; if she isn’t digging you move on. If I’m chasing for her attention, best put that energy elsewhere. Putting energy to attract the attention of a beautiful woman who doesn’t reciprocate the energy is a waste of energy. And besides, I always feel sorta weak after not being myself and trying to impress a lady, like she has the upper hand and I’m futilely grasping for her attention. I have dig deep, stay grounded, be myself, smile, tease a bit, but stay true to my intuition. Same with pleasing people, I give too much energy to it. Why bother? People are people, I’m still going to be kind and all but why go to extra lengths to try to ensure they like me? Better to stay grounded, not try to get on their good side, be myself, I’ll naturally get on most people’s good sides anyways. I have to give more credit to other people and let them come to me. It’s too hard always chasing after others. Better to meet some people halfway than trying to meet with everybody. This way the friends that I make will know who I am and I won’t pretend subconsciously in any way and I can just be myself. Being who I am is key and staying grounded and confident is of greatest importance.  

Further thoughts

            I’m not an extroverted person, hell, I’m even more solitary than I thought I was. This isn’t a bad thing, just have to make sure I live in accordance with it and realize that this is the person I am. Only if one can accept themselves, strengths and shortcomings, can one be happy. And I got to choose how I make a first impression. The extroverted, energetic impression I made in Thailand was a mistake, people right off the bat got the wrong impression. A quiet firsthand impression might be a good thing because I am a quiet person. And quiet reserved straightedge people - the wise, healthy people, the ones that listen and don’t go out every night of the weekend – these might be my natural friends. I need to develop friendships based in this area, rather than friendships based on drugs as I have done in the past. I’m realizing that many of my friendships at college and at home have undertones of drugs. I’ve been a part of this culture for a long time now, and while the people I’ve met there are awesome individuals, I am beginning to realize that to some extent, many of them are unwise friends.  For me, I don’t really know why I got into weed, it was just something to do, a means to pass the time. I don’t think I had enough determination, energy, and purpose in my life to be able to exert continuous mental and physical effort each day. Yet now with my meditation and mindfulness practice, and an overall deepening confidence/conviction/devotion to Buddhism, I am experiencing some really great results and finding purpose in my life. It’s all coming together. I can do something worthwhile in this life. In particular, as of right now (I’m 21) I want to devote myself to bringing meditation and mindfulness to the general public. I don’t need to smoke weed to pass the time anymore. I need to make new friends in new areas. (for this I am going to join a climbing club and an improv laughter club) I am going to be much more open to cultivating friendships with reserved people. I’m going to take a closer look at reserved women. The flashier ones have always caught my attention and I’ve always been the moth, unable to look away from the light. Beauty is overrated. I think for the last 6 years I have tried to impress people too much, especially the more outgoing, extroverted people. I have to be myself amongst others and let go of praise and criticism.

Final word

            This pain was great. Pain, if utilized, will sear the lessons learned from it into one’s mind. I think these lessons I take away will be the best thing for me in the long run. Why? Because I sat down, took my time, deeply analyzed the situation, took responsibility for what I could take responsibility for, and am now acting on my conclusions. I’ve grown because of this process and learned more about who I am. With this knowledge I can go out and live a life more true to myself. I can’t wait to learn more. 


Skyler said...

Your writing is definitely improving, you seem to be finding your natural tone. Im glad you could turn the conflicts of your study abroad into lessons, that really is a great quality. I find the advice "Give out positive energy to everyone and pursue the people who give it back" to be wonderful advice. Im going to try to incorporate that into how i make friends and ultimately judge people. I dont agree however with what you said about dreams. I feel you were describing more of a personal fantasy about being adored rather than dreams (aspirations) and that one should actually follow their dream if it is something that makes them happy. I also participated in a improv activity this summer and found it to be very fun, and the people all nice. I would definitely encourage you to give it a try

Jared Levenson said...

Hey Skyler,

Good to hear from you, I value your feedback. As for the natural tone, I've been reading a lot of the Game of Thrones series. The author writes with a flowy style and pace that I found myself naturally writing with when I wrote this article. And yeah, in general I'm trying to write more simply because I can express myself through words, oftentimes more so than speech. I guess my writing is improving, yay! Practice, practice, practice right?

And yeah, you're totally right regarding dreams. Though sometimes, I feel, dreams and personal fantasy are one and the same, for both are projections of the future by our aspiring mind. I think the key is being able to identify which of those projections are unwholesome vs wholesome; for some projections are conceited (personal fantasies) while some are shining goals, that if pursued, bring one happiness.