Duke Leto: I’ll miss the sea, but a person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.
It occurred to me recently while talking with the wife that we are definitely homesick right now. We’ve been thinking of people and things back home that we miss, and keep talking about what we’ll do when we get back home next year. Lately, I’ve been feeling less-than-enthusiastic about any and everything.
This isn’t the first time I’ve faced this though. In 2001, I lived in Hanoi, Vietnam for a couple of months for a grad-student study program*, and as this was my first trip to anywhere outside of Seattle, it was a much more dramatic culture-shock than anything I’ve faced since. I remember a clear evolution during my time there that went something like so:
- Fear and regret – Afraid of everyone and everything and regret that I’d ever gone on the trip. I spent a lot of time eating/shopping at touristy places.
- Elation and adventure – Once I started to get my bearings, I developed a much more outgoing attitude and started taking trips around and eating at local establishments.
- Depression – After something bad would happen, I felt withdrawn and actively counted down the days until I got home. I would also eat non-Vietnamese foods a lot during this time.
- Back and Forth – On a daily or weekly basis, I would go back and forth between Elation and Depression. This was the bulk of my time in Vietnam.
- Breakthrough – Toward the last weeks and days, the waves of Elation and Depression subsided a lot, and I started to finally get used to life in Vietnam, make genuine friends, and language skills had noticeably improved by this point.
So, as I look upon my year here in Ireland, I can see similar patterns emerging. My mother, who reads this blog (hi mom), told me recently that within 3 months I would be much more acclimated, and I suspect she’s right. Only in the last week of life in Vietnam did I really feel like I started to acclimate, but that was after two months, and I had to return home then. I’ll be staying in Ireland much longer, so it will be interesting in 3, 6 and 12 months how things will be.
The quote above from the 1984 movie Dune is fitting here because traveling and new experiences, even when negative ones, do jar something in you that would remain dormant otherwise. In Buddhism we are taught that there is no permanent essence within us. We are a product of our surroundings, our past karma, and the choices we make in our lives. So, my experience in Vietnam taught me a lot about life outside the Western world, particularly in an impoverished and oppressed part of the world, and changed how I looked at things. Even then, I had experiences (largely negative) about Buddhism, but they did teach me things then that stay with me now. The trip changed me a lot.
So, I can only wonder how Ireland will have changed me when I return home to the people I knew.
* – I dropped out of grad school after the program was done and went into computing instead. I realized that the academic community was much too small and too much back-biting and pride over petty topics. Frankly, I wasn’t at my best either those days, but learned a lot from the experience. Life in the Third World is far more difficult than people realize, and the kind of poverty that pervades an entire culture is something you have to experience once to appreciate. Just remember: unlike you, most of them live with it their entire lives.