Today was one of “those” mornings. The mornings when you wake up at 2 a.m. and can’t fall back asleep. I tossed and turned for an hour, bought some mistakes on amazon.com, and then finally surrendered to the reality that I was just not going to get back to sleep. So, I got up, got dressed for the gym, and went and walked on the treadmill for over an hour. I pumped that sucker up to 10+ incline and got a nice sweat in. It’s become a bit of a routine for me to go for walks on Friday mornings – just not at 3:30a.m. The other days of the week, I normally tune into my workout playlist on Spotify and get pumped up for the workout, but Friday’s are different. Fridays, I get on gracechurch/va.org and listen to at least two of my pastor’s sermons. During that hour of walking I find myself doing a lot of self reflection…but let’s be honest, for anyone that knows me, I really don’t need priming to get lost in introspection.
As I was listening, I found myself thinking back on one of my favorite trips. During the year I spent in an undisclosed, sandy location, I decided not to return to the U.S. for my vacation time. Instead, I went further East, and traveled to Phuket, Thailand.
The first day, it was an all-day downpour. I honestly wasn’t disappointed. After spending nearly seven months in 90+ degree weather, breathing air that was roughly the same temperature as that which comes out of my hairdryer, and cleaning out sand from my ears and other crevices I didn’t know I had on my body thanks to the 30 mph winds, the rain was welcomed! I just sat and watched it all day long. It was just rain, but it was beautiful.
And then the sun decided to shine. I swear it was a different sun than the one I had experienced the months leading up to this trip. The sun revealed an incredible landscape. I took the hotel taxi and traveled to some hidden destinations, just to get an even better view of this simple island.
During the middle of the week I decided to go island hopping. The taxi driver took me to the port, and I joined a group of tourists from all over the world on an all-day tour of the Phi Phi Islands. It was a perfect day. I couldn’t believe how clear the sky was, but I especially couldn’t believe how clear the water was. I even conquered my fears of the big, wide ocean and went snorkeling. I don’t know why I felt safer swimming in clear water. That’s basically like choosing not just to get eaten by the shark but to watch it all happen on a 72 inch, High Definition, plasma screen TV…I literally felt my heart pounding through my eyes and reverberate off my goggles. But I did it, and I didn’t get eaten!
Ok, I’m getting off track. During the boat ride, our guide entertained us with stories about the islands and all the famous movies that used the beaches as their stage. One tourist asked the guide if he had ever been anywhere else in the world. “No,” he replied, “I’m not sure I have need to. Thailand is very poor, and it’s likely that I won’t have a retirement. However, I’m married, and I love my wife. I have kids that I love too, and my job is on a boat, with all this around me,” he said with a slow, sweeping wave of his arm, “I don’t think I really need anything else.” Simple.
I don’t think that guide had any idea I was listening, or even any expectation that what he said would stay with me a year and half later. But I found myself thinking about him and what he said during my walk this morning. We chase after a lot of things don’t we? Our society has a lot to do with that. It’s really just part of our culture. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it makes me really tired, and I find myself thinking about that guide and wishing I had a simple life too. The scary part of chasing after what our culture tells us is important, is that we often lose sight of what’s actually important to us.
I habitually chase perfection. I’m either not eating well enough, working out hard enough, improving my intellect enough, or setting the bar high enough at my office. The good thing about striving for perfection is that you usually find yourself performing at a fairly high level. The bad thing about perfection is well…that it’s impossible to achieve. And so chasing perfection is not just exhausting, it is also often disheartening. There’s always a flaw. There’s always room for improvement.
I suppose I can blame this exhaustion on our culture. But there was one thing I heard my pastor say in one of his sermons this morning that caught my attention. He said, “we can blame our culture because we didn’t choose it, but when it comes to our character, we can only blame ourselves because we made the choice to be who we are.”
So, while I cannot change the feverish rate at which our society is trying to perfect our eyebrows, our wrinkles, and our thighs, I can choose to simplify what is important to me. Thailand wasn’t beautiful because of any single person’s efforts. The sunsets, the crystal clear water, and even the rain weren’t worried about opinions or the criticism of the visiting tourists. They simply did what was in their capacity to do and were admired for it. Simple.