Hello and welcome to Episode #38 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. They are moments that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. For the introspective mind that likes to reflect, discover, and find solutions or meaning in a complex life, this is for you. I’m your host Emily Kay Tan. In this episode, you will hear about Who Had The Saddest Story, Encounters With Buddhism, and Explain Why.
A moment of adversity called: Who Has the Saddest Story?
From quite a distance, I could already see the miles-long gold bar. It was shimmering brightly; it was incredibly long and a fantastic sight to see. Before I knew it, I stepped foot on the Gobi Desert. It was just sand, sand, and sand, but walking up and down on it and seeing nothing but sand, it felt like I was on another planet. I laid down on a slight slant of a dune to enjoy the vast sand that surrounded me. Surprisingly, my tour guide just laid down on the slope next to me. I enjoyed some dialogue with him. There were moments of silence, and it didn't seem to bother either one of us as we were taking in the magnificence of the desert. After a while, we walked back to the car. My tour guide also sat next to me, and tour guides don't usually do that. Anyway, he said he discovered that it was more comfortable sitting in the back seat than in the front seats.
He was blinking a lot, and it seemed like something was wrong. I asked, "What's the matter?" He said some sand from the desert got into his eye, and he was trying to get it out." He said, "Why don't you tell me a sad story, so I could cry and get the sand out of my eye?" I said, "I can't think of one right now." I felt bad. Then he said, "I'll tell you one, and then maybe I'll cry."
He said when he was in college, he rented an apartment and shared it with his sister. It was winter, and winters in Mongolia were deadly cold. His family needed money, so he and his sister sent money home. He said they could send money home because they moved to a cheap apartment. After all, it had no hot water and no heat. I wanted to cry. I had been poor before, several times over, but never that poor. I told him I was sad for him. He didn't cry. He said he didn't tear easily. He said even when his grandma died, he couldn't shed a tear even though he loved her dearly.
Then he said, "Now tell me a sad story; I already told you mine." I came up with one. I told him how I ended up living on a small island far away from my home country and ended up with an opportunity to come to Mongolia. I said, "I was a teacher with a safe and secure job, but I quit to pursue a dream of making millions and making a difference for millions of people by going into business full-time. I kept at it for five years and didn't make much. The company went out of business, and I was out of business. At the same time, I lost my business, my house, my boyfriend who cheated on me, and my bank account emptied. I lost everything, so I ended up on this island not far from Mongolia. So here I am." My tour guide said it was a sorrowful story, and if he could cry, he would cry. He remarked that my account was sadder than his story. I thought his story was more heartbreaking. Anyway, he suddenly noticed that the sand in his eye had left him. He wasn't crying, but the sand in his eye left him. He said it must be because he was so engrossed in the details of my story that he forgot all about the stinging pain of sand in his eye, and somewhere along the way, he must have shed a few tears because the sand was gone. "Glad I was able to help!" I said.
Interesting how my sad story helped him. Aside from sand out of his eye, he said he was amazed at my ability to survive and be able to get to Mongolia on vacation after such devastation. It is interesting how his sad story helped me, too. Sometimes we need to hear someone's more heartbreaking story to make ourselves feel better. When I feel the pain or remember the pain of poverty several times in my life, I think of this guy's sad story and stop feeling poor. Suddenly I feel rich. I was fortunate to have such rich conversations with this person. And now I have moved from a sad story to a happy story of a small sweet chatting moment!
A moment of an encounter called: Encounters With Buddhism
I met my first boyfriend when I was a teenager. When I was twenty-something, he gave me some books on Buddhism. I kept them because he gave them to me, but I never read them. I moved many times after he gave them to me, and I always brought the books with me. I wasn’t interested in reading them, but I kept them anyway. Anything he gave me I kept and valued.
Decades later, when my last boyfriend broke up with me, I suddenly thought about Buddhism. My last breakup was most devastating. What occurred to me after the separation was that nothing was forever. That thought made me think of the little I knew about Buddhism. Nothing is permanent, and we only have the present moment to live. Suddenly, I felt like I understood the little that I read about Buddhism, and I was living it. Still having the books my first boyfriend gave me, they remained on my bookshelf unread. However, I began to have a slight interest in the ideas.
Yet nearly another decade later, I decided to go to Bhutan. An acquaintance had shared about it with me, and it piqued my interest. I went online to do a little research and discovered that it is one of the happiest places on Earth. Also, it is the last Buddhist country.
I arrived in Bhutan to vacation for only seven days. Knowing that Bhutan was a Buddhist country, I asked my tour guide to take me to a bookstore. I was sure I’d find a good book about Buddhism. I found a book called Taming the Mind by Thubten Chodron. I bought it because I loved the title. This book was the first book I read about Buddhism, and it was fantastic. I reread it and underlined parts of it to reread some more. I love analyzing things about life, and the book had plenty of interesting and practical ideas.
As the tour guide took me to many temples or places related to Buddhism, I had the opportunity to ask him many questions about Buddhism. Though he was a great believer, he didn’t have many answers for me. Most of my questions would be answered from reading rather than from him. However, his behavior was a great model for me to understand Buddhism. I thought him to be an unusual tour guide, but part of it could be related to Buddhism. He didn’t offer much information unless I asked him. He didn’t demand anything of me or direct me on things. Instead, he only asked what he could do to help me or serve me. Though there was a schedule of activities or places to go each day, nothing was hurried. Everything was taken leisurely. I felt no judgment and no demands from him. All that seemed present was acceptance and living in the moment. I was not told what was next or when each meal would be. Since I wasn’t told, I told myself to move along, and whatever will happen will happen! If I asked, he would tell me. If I didn’t ask, he would not say anything! Talk about living in the moment as if we had all the time in the world!
While in the car on the way to a destination, you would think the tour guide would tell me some stories or history about Bhutan. He didn’t. However, I would ask, and then he would answer. If I didn’t ask, it would be quiet. Long periods of solitude didn’t seem to bother him or the driver. Since there were no distractions, I spent time feeling the bumpy rides and observed the mountains all around.
Luckily, I asked to hear some Bhutanese music to see what it sounded like. The driver turned on the radio. For the first time in my life, I heard Bhutanese music. All I could feel was joy and peace. My mouth couldn’t stop smiling. The uncomfortable bumpy roads did not bother me because I enjoyed the music too much. With three people in the car and no one talking, it was also solitude. It was an excellent time to enjoy nature and think about nothing.
Often upon arrival to a destination, it would be a steep hike up a mountain to some temple. Since we were at high altitudes, I would quickly be out of breath. Not in the best shape, I’d walk slowly. My tour guide wouldn’t say anything. He would just let me take my time. I’d show that it was difficult for me, and he’d only offer to carry my coat. He’d walk a bit and stop to wait for me. He waited patiently with no comment. This is what I mean by no judgment! I’d say that I might not make it up to the top, and he’d have no comment. He’d patiently wait for me when I fell behind him. He didn’t say that I had to get to the top, and he didn’t ask if I wanted to skip the hike. He puzzled me, and his behavior reminded me that I had better speak my mind if I wanted anything. If I didn’t, I was left to go with the flow and learn to be patient to go with the flow!
I learned better to go with the flow instead of knowing what was next. I realized that I would know soon enough. Not knowing ahead of time wouldn’t kill me! I learned to actively be more in the present rather than thinking about the past or the future of the moment. I learned to be present to the beauty in nature and the company I was with rather than analyzing everything with my opinions! I felt like I was practicing Buddhism with my tour guide’s example.
After one week in Bhutan, I returned home. I began listening to Bhutanese music and reminiscing about my trip. I’d dance with joy as I listened to it at home. The music is relaxing and joyful. The trip stayed with me, and I stayed in a state of peace for about a month. But each time I listened to the music, I would transverse to the kingdom of happiness.
After coming home from the trip, I finally pulled out the Buddhist books that my first boyfriend gave me all those years ago. At last, I began to read them. I read all of them. One book was particularly thick, but it turned out to be easy reading, and I finished reading it, too. It was amazing how fast I read them! It reminded me that the teacher would appear when the student was ready.
It took several decades, but I finally read those books my ex gave me. I even bought more books on the subject and listened to talks by Thubten Chodron. I enjoy her style and humor. What have I gained from all the encounters with Buddhism? In a nutshell, I’d say I can generate a mind at peace by being present in the moment, observing and appreciating nature more, and going with the flow. Demand less and offer more to others. Analyze a bit less and enjoy a bit more. Remember that we are interdependent beings, and what we do does matter. Remember that a bit of kindness goes a long way, and a lot of anger helps no one. Giving unto others is far more gratifying than taking from others. Judge less and love more. We’ll all be happier beings.
A Moment of a Perspective: Explain Why
On the small island of Taiwan, I found that people there always seemed to explain the unexplained with fate or destiny. It means to have no control over what happens. I thought it was odd and opposite from where I grew up and lived most of my life: the great USA. In America, we believe we are in control of our destinies or make our destinies. I always thought that, so I worked hard, sought opportunities, educated myself, and did whatever I could to achieve my goals. There is nothing wrong with all that in and of itself, but when all those efforts do not find fruition, one must wonder what else it takes to realize dreams.
Perhaps it is the influence of Taiwan; maybe it is the desire to explain the unexplained; perhaps it is the stars in the universe, our astrology, or horoscope. Whatever it may be, I wanted an answer! I guess this is where or this is why people seek a faith or a spirit for guidance.
Me? I went on a spiritual journey to Bhutan. I read books on Buddhism. I reflected on life experiences. I wondered if there was any truth to fate or destiny, to astrology or horoscopes. Where is the answer? If I relied on my background or western thought, the answer would be that it lies within me to create whatever I want. However, efforts don’t always pan out, so the answer begs for another solution. If I were to accept the ideas of fate or destiny, something out of my control, my compromise is that while there may be some truths in it, it is up to me to navigate it and direct it to something more in the lines of what I want. Still, a part of me is about to throw in the towel and say I give up! Universe, do what you will to me!
Once a Bhutan tour guide told me that our meeting was fate because what are the chances of us meeting at that time, day, and place? Once a new boss said our chance to know each other was fate (without any explanation). I found the perfect language partner twice, where our language ability levels matched well enough for maximum benefits. And once I connected with my soul mate, who knows me inside out. Considering the billions of people on Earth, it is impressive how we could meet certain people and not others. So, maybe it is fate, but I think we still have a hand in it, and if anything, we should appreciate or learn something from whatever happens with us.
On another trip to Bhutan, a kingdom sandwiched between China and India, I found a kind of peace and happiness I had never experienced. From the mountain views to the smiling faces of the locals, I found another explanation for satisfaction and fulfillment in life. As part of the universe, we live with the splendor of nature that surrounds us; we need to appreciate its beauty and magnificence. We also need to wake up to the greatness of humans and acknowledge their complex and extraordinary ways of being. We need not explain everything with the combination of nature and humans; we only need to marvel at their greatness and enjoy each moment of life.
Key Takeaways: Though I thought I had a sad story, I heard a sadder story than mine and it made me more grateful for my life.
Though I am not a religious person, I have learned some Buddhist concepts that help me in finding peace and happiness.
Though I didn’t particularly like hearing that it is fate or destiny to explain away the unexplained, I came to realize that we don’t need to have an explanation for everything; we should spend more time marveling at the wonders of the world.
Next week, you will hear three new real-life stories called Under the Leafy Roof, No Shoes, and The Young Prisoners. If you enjoyed this episode of Eye-Opening Moments, please share it with others, subscribe or click like on Youtube, support the show by clicking on the link in the description, or go to www.inspiremereads.com and leave a message. Thank you for listening!