Friday, June 28, 2013

Can't Control the Uncontrollable

“We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It’s also what makes us afraid.” – Pema Chodron

                The past month has been a whirlwind. Actually, our time in Thailand has been a whirlwind. To be honest, the first month-and-a-half at our new sight was the absolute hardest experience emotionally that I've been through so far. And really I’m not through it yet. Some days are better than others and in general this past month has been better than the first two at site, but I think that I still have a long way to go before I start to feel at all comfortable here.
                I've tried to express and explain this feeling of discomfort to others, but it’s really difficult to describe or understand. The only other people who really seem to understand are the other PCVs in my group and those who came before me. The best way that I can describe what I am feeling emotionally is to use the analogy that I feel like I am constantly on the edge of a cliff. I’m pretty sure that I won’t fall, but every once in a while it feels like my heels are the only part of me on the cliff, and if the wind is at my back, panic sets in. There are times when I believe that I may actually fall off. These are the worst times. During the better times, I’m rooted at the edge of the cliff but still feel the fear and discomfort of the elevation.
                It’s hard to explain where all of this fear and resistance actually comes from. Maybe it comes from having no perceived control. Maybe it comes from being surrounded by people who have no idea how to comfort me. Maybe it comes from relying on others to comfort me. Maybe it comes from being around people who say and do things that they don’t realize upset and hurt me. Maybe it comes from not being able to communicate the things that are important to me. Maybe it comes from feeling so disconnected from my family and friends back home whose lives have continued on without me. Maybe it comes from within myself, a fear that this experience is changing me in ways that I can’t understand right now.
                A fellow volunteer shared with me her perspective that this experience has a way of stripping away our perceived identities, and I absolutely agree. This process is terrifying, because it’s hard to know what will be at the core once (and if) you get there. Metaphorically speaking, this process has the potential to kill the person I was before coming here. Even though I talked about this change happening before ever coming here and even though I knew that this experience would change me, I didn’t anticipate how uncomfortable it would be. Before I joined the Peace Corps, I thought “Wow, this experience is going to be so amazing. I won’t be the same person when I come back.” Now that I’m actually here I think “I’m dying! I’m not gonna make it! I have to fight back!” My ego is fighting against the discomfort, fighting for survival.  It sounds obvious now that I am writing about it, but it is one thing to talk about these changes happening and another to actually experience the change and discomfort. Again, that would seem obvious but it’s really not.
                This might sound somewhat depressing, but be assured that it is getting better. Each day I am reminded to take myself a little less seriously. I see other volunteers who have been here longer, who are loving life and blending well within Thai culture. I bike home every day and start to appreciate the simple beauty of my community. I am encouraged by the smiles of my students and the kind gestures of the teachers and staff I work with every day. It is getting better little by little and I have faith that it will continue to get better. Deep down I know that I am here because this is where I need to be. This is an experience that I am meant to have. The changes that I am experiencing are meant to happen, and I need to stop clinging to the way things used to be or the way I’d like things to be and just allow myself to be here and feel this experience truly and deeply.

“We can use everything we do to help us to realize that we’re part of the energy that creates everything. If we learn to sit still like a mountain in a hurricane, unprotected from the truth and vividness and the immediacy of simply being part of life, then we are not this separate being who has to have things turn out our way.” – Pema Chodron


  1. I love the honesty of this post, and I have no doubts that things well get better for you, Laura! :)

  2. hang in there, laura! i absolutely wouldn't worry about what you will find as things (perspectives, assumptions, habits...) get peeled away by your experiences here. whatever it is will be beautiful. i brought one pema chodron book with me to thailand (chosen mostly because it was the lightest one), and since you obviously read her, too, i thought the following could also be useful: "right at the point when we are about to blow our top or withdraw into oblivion, we can remember this: we are warriors-in-training being taught how to sit with edginess and discomfort. We are being challenged to remain and to relax where we are."

    one thing that i sometimes struggle with (not just here) is remembering that the uncontrollable isn't only what's "out there," it's also what's "inside". maybe it's a green thing.

  3. Wow, Chris. Thank you so much for your comment. Staying with the discomfort has been the hardest thing for me to do here, and I honestly don't think that I've been handling it very well. Being here though is leaving me no choice though other than to just "stay," so I know that I need the practice and that maybe this is one of the many lessons I have come here to learn...