My decision to spend a year teaching English in Taiwan after graduation coincided with an experience that had a dramatic effect on my outlook. In the summer between my graduation from university and my year in Taiwan, my best friend Yoni’s younger brother Sol was diagnosed with leukemia, and eventually passed away just before his eighteenth birthday. Wow. Now everything is different. That happened. It was the start of my philosophical obsession with the differences between knowing and living. It was the start of my understanding the depth in which we are unable to live with perspective. I began to see how immature we were in the ways of appreciation, and in the ways of accepting the unpredictable nature of life. This is a reality I’ve carried with me ever since, and I don’t think it could be lost.
The truth of our culture is that most of us are consistently swept up and consumed with matters of very small importance on a daily basis. Rarely do we contemplate how fortunate we are for the amount of life years, or experiences we’ve been given. Most of us don’t, and that is an immaturity. Why? Simply, because it is important enough to demand our daily consideration, and to guide us in all thoughts and actions. But it doesn’t.
This was what I saw. It was the beginnings of my path toward letting go to the flows of life. The most difficult part for me was knowing that it would be a path toward becoming more isolated in the style of my life (luckily I had practice growing up). However, not feeling included will still always hurt from time to time. But now in my back pocket I had perspective. Appreciating life more fully was not a just a good idea and interesting conversation to have, it became a mandatory way for me to live.
Off on a plane to the island of Taiwan hanging just below the southern coast of China I went – because time keeps moving and decisions have to be made. Talk about sensory overload! Not only were my eyes seeing all sorts of new things, but I was on my own in a way I never had been before. This was the time when I began to really get to know myself – who I am and what I like. I began to know my deeper strengths because that was what I had to hold me together. I taught children. I taught Taiwanese children. Ages from below kindergarten up until high school. Leave it to traveling to the opposite side of the planet in order to gain a better understanding of the human species.
Many times I was challenged with standing up in front of a room and trying to teach those who would be able to understand only a few of my words. Presence. I learned about presence – about body language. I learned that if I wasn’t relaxed and at ease, that my students couldn’t be. If they couldn’t be, then they couldn’t learn. I have often said that it wasn’t until after I graduated that I developed my love for learning. This was a part of it. I saw very clearly that if learning wasn’t fun and enjoyable, then it could never go a fraction as deep in it’s effectiveness. If it is fun and enjoyable, then why wouldn’t I make it a worthy habit or addiction for my life?
For a long time I have felt that addiction is inevitable no matter what. But the key is to become addicted to the right things – the things we really want and consciously choose to repeat. We watch ourselves as we develop these trends. That year, I developed a newfound affection, a trend, for giving myself time to just be by myself. There is of course something great about being around others, but there is also a beautiful purity that arises when you are alone. Barriers for growth and true desires seem to more easily fall away. Taiwan is where I discovered my love for being alone.
The year was long, and I won’t deny that for much of the time I was counting down the clock. But looking back, I still feel it was the perfect experience for where I was at. I wasn’t yet ready to let go completely of my trained habit of focusing on what was negative. This situation was a great mirror for showing me the drastic differences in how we are able to view reality. I’m having this other worldly experience. How will I choose to perceive it?
In the end, I chose to perceive it very well, as I am flooded with positive memories of taking Taiwanese students to Singapore for summer camp, lots of quality alone time, a motorbike trip with my brother around the island during my final week, and of course great friends and tremendous eating experiences along the whole way. Act one of stepping out of the box and taking a leap – great success..