Trekking in the rain through Myanmar -- tiny rocks piercing my feet, my face down against the incessant onslaught of beads of water hitting my face, my pants, shoes and jacket thoroughly soaked -- I daydreamed of my cozy, warm apartment in back home in San Francisco. To get my mind off the pain, I cycled through the recipes I'd make when I got home. As I mentally listed things I'd bake (moussaka, blueberry crumb bars, a meat pie) it occured to me that not too far in the future, I'd probably be standing in my kitchen next to the hot oven, gazing out the window at the foggy bay, waiting for the timer to chime, dreaming of trekking in Myanmar in the rain.
The grass is always greener, isn't it? The more I'm on this trip, the more this reality continues to rise up everyday. I'm starting to accept it's just a fact of life: there is always always something better, a better hotel room, a cooler travel destination, a more impressive job.
Here I am, working my way through Southeast Asia, having just been in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia, about to head on to Laos and Sri Lanka, feeling a longing to be in other places. I look at pictures on Instagram from photographers in Bangladesh and Mali and Ethiopia, wishing I had added those to my travel list instead. I see Facebook posts of people celebrating July 4th on rooftops and city parks and the shores of Lake Tahoe, wishing I was surrounded by friends (and pine trees!). I've even fantasized about going to work on this trip, which sounds totally insane but somehow plausible when you consider I spend a lot of my days ambling from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, longing for the days of doing real work and mental stimulation and producing things.
Of course, the second I'm back in an office, I'll be wishing I was wandering around the markets of Morocco or the mountains of Macedonia. Life is like that. Because, in the words of Zsa Zsa Gabor's auto-biography, "One Lifetime Is Not Enough." If one lifetime wasn't enough for a glamourous Hungarian movie star, why would it be for any of us? One lifetime is not enough to quell all the desires our hearts dream up. The hardest thing that comes from getting older is realizing that the grains of sand are slipping through the fingers of time whether we want them to or not; we might never master Spanish or learn to deejay or safari through Africa or publish a book or become a famous movie star, or whatever it is we secretly fantasize about. Or, we will, only to realise there's a whole new set of dreams waiting for us on the other end.
This whole trip, I've struggled to put a certain phenomenon into words so that I could write about it and explain it. (Bear with me as I try my best.) I've had this experience for many years, starting with when I'd be trying to fall asleep. Right as I was falling asleep, I'd literally feel like I was falling for a second, suddenly perceiving something akin to the blackness and vastness of the entire universe. Like for one split second before sleep, the expanse of everything would suddenly open before sealing me off into dreamland. When I was on my trip in Kyrgyzstan, in our first night camping, we settled into a large farmer's field near the border of Kazakhstan, mountains rising up into the darkness giving way to a black sky lit up with a dazzling array of stars. Looking out at the pale ridge of light silhouetting the ridge of the mountains, descending into the blackness punctured by the light of a million stars, I suddenly felt as though I was in that moment of the largeness of the universe I experienced right before sleep. Where time and space were larger than life, and way larger than me. It didn't just feel "big," and I didn't just feel "small" or "connected"; it wasn't just "humbling" and it wasn't particularly "spiritual." It was just this feeling of awe at how utterly vast and momentous everything seemed to be -- like for a minute, God parts the blinds of human ignorance and gives us a glimpse of something holy and beyond us, beyond comprehension.
Throughout this trip, I keep coming close to this same feeling; I get it when looking out at a range of mountains, or at sky filled with ever-morphing clouds, or out at fields or sea running out to the edges of the earth. It's like for a brief flash, I have a glimpse into infinity and eternity, of a world forever moving and changing that is too large to be conquered by one of us, or truly understood by any one of us, in any lifetime. Perhaps it's what Wordsworth referred to as "a sense sublime," and it fills me at once with a sense of wonder at limitless, abundant creation all around us, touched with a wistful sense at the limitations of mortality, that we can only taste a fraction of the abundance, that one life is not enough to see all the world's horizons.
The other day, I hired a motorbike and drove around the edges of Pai in Northern Thailand. I stood at the edge of Pai Canyon, which features tiny, narrow dirt running pathways along the top of canyon ridges with very steep ravines on either side; the whole scene is surrounded by mountain ranges looking out to Myanmar and China. I stood at the edge of the canyon looking out at the mountains watching the large, white puffy clouds move overhead, struck by that same sublime sensation, realizing that it simulanteously satisfies the desire of longing, yet stirs more.
Ultimately, I think we aren't designed to see our longings truly satisfied. How else would we have the desire to keep pushing on, past discouragement, past suffering? How else would we get the motivation to make scientific discoveries, climb mountains, create companies, raise children, start bands? Longing and desire seems deeply connected to our human need to create.
I've decided the best thing I can do is to embrace the cliché: the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. And that it's a good thing. The more I let that sink in -- the more I accept that the longing for a million other lives and experiences is never going to go away -- the easier life seems to be. We're all handed one precious, unique life -- better to spend it the hopeful pursuit of our dreams than throwing our hands up in cynical defeat.
So, yeah, maybe I'll never see the Northern Lights or trek through Patagonia or write a book or win a Cannes Lion. And that will be OK; one lifetime is not enough.
But every time I look out at the majesty of a mountain range, or study the ever-shifting beauty of the clouds, or watch the waves never break from their relenting struggle with gravity, I'll get a glimpse into the infinite and the eternal, and remember what is like to be human and what a gift it is to be alive.
Here's to longing for new horizons and the joy of discovering what's on the other side of the fence.