Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fear Not

To support my personal and spiritual exploration, I brought a lot of books with me on my Kindle and the first one I chose to read on this adventure was Life of Pi. For those not familiar with the story, it is a fictional tale of a boy on a journey from India to Canada who finds himself shipwrecked and stranded in a lifeboat lost in the Pacific, just him and a Bengal Tiger. As I continue to read life of Pi, I am discovering a wealth of knowledge and advice on life, ones outlook, and about overcoming even the greatest of obstacles. As I continue my journey around the globe, I am discovering first hand how imperative it is to face your fear, most often fighting our greatest obstacle and strongest opponents, our "selves".

Countless times along my journey, both in the planning stages and even as I sit in transit to Varanasi, there have been times of overwhelming doubt and a paralyzing sense of fear. Many times I have been able to face it, shining the light of truth upon it, continuing to move forward despite the voices of negativity in my head. Then at other times I have given in, waving my white flag, focusing on current comfort and ignoring the adventure and the countless possibilities hidden in the unknown.

One fear based moment that occurred recently comes to mind, my trip from the southern coast of Thailand to Bangkok. Having spent three blissful days in China with the Leija family, I was finally on my own, heading to the Andaman coast of Thailand. While I've flown alone before, I've never really traveled without a sense of purpose in destination. Outside of my desire to island hop and my first nights stay booked, I had nothing planned. I was lucky to meet two Aussies, Troy and Katherine, at the airport, got together with them at their hotel later that day, and ended up spending most of my time in southern Thailand with them. I met a lot of other people along the way, but Troy and Katherine were my crew and looking back I can say that, out of fear, I stuck to them like glue. Would I do anything differently? Not at all. But the problem came when I booked an overnight bus to Bangkok last minute. The combination of a rash last minute decision based off a self-imposed feeling that I had to travel more, along with many days of sun and sweat, brought me to my breaking point. Sitting on that bus, minutes from leaving the station, I lost it. In a moment of desperation, I called my family for $2.50 a minute at 3am PST, who graciously helped calm me down, guided me back to my hotel, and assured me that everything would work out alright.

Chapter 56 in Life of Pi hit me like a ton of bricks. I could attempt to explain all that the author conveys, but instead I will share his poetic words and then explain how they have enlightened and inspired me.

When talking about the fear involved with facing a tiger alone in the middle of the ocean, the protagonist exclaims,"Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed good soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread...

"Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you've defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.

"The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks if fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you." (Life if Pi)

That passage describes my situation perfectly. I was fearful. Fearful of traveling alone. Fearful of the unknown. Fearful of myself. I was completely reliant on my limited human reason, which at that moment was flashing "system failure," and was not trusting in the One who holds the future in the palms of Hhis hands.

The Bible says "fear not" 365 times, one for every single day of the year. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is. But how often do we listen to that simple biblical advice? Not often. Rather, we often choose the easy way out, the path of least resistance: fear and anxiety. I continue to do it time and time again, and I would venture to guess that many of you do as well.

In my studies of Mental Health and Psychology, I have found that there is really only one way to cure anxiety, by facing it. Xanax is not a cure, it is symptom relief. Alcohol is the same, but sold over the counter rather than a doctors prescription. The only way to overcome your fear is to face it head on. Ask any of my friends and they are sure to tell you of my belief in "exposure therapy." Why am I so passionate about it? Well, outside of its proven effects found in countless empirical peer reviewed journals, I can attest to it on a personal level.

So much of my outlook on life has been fear driven, and many of my choices have been fear based. I can't tell you what event brought about the change in my outlook, what moment fostered a desire to fight against my greatest adversary, but it happened, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Having struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember and trying every medical "treatment" under the sun, I decided to try something different. Rather than running, I chose to stand. Rather than cowering I chose to challenge. Rather than giving up, I decided to fight till my last breath. As the author points out in the following chapter, "It is the irony of this story that the one that scared me witless to start with was the very same who brought me peace, purpose, I dare say even wholeness." The very same goes with me, the moment I stopped running from my fear was the very moment I was free from it, the same moment I found out who I was and what I was capable of.

For those who struggle with acute generalized anxiety, I do not say these things to make light of your situation, nor can I guarantee that what I did will work for you. Only you can account for what you are gowing through, and only you know what you are capable of. That being said, I would always encourage you to test the limit of what you believe your abilities to be, to take risks, and never stop fighting for yourself. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Do one thing everyday that scares you."

As I continue this journey, I continue to push myself further and further away from my comfort zone. I know the truth, that He is in control, and that He is not a God of fear. I am going to follow the advice of Terry Cole who said, “Our natural human response to fear is to avoid it. I am asking you to look straight at it, feel the feeling, and lean into it instead of away from it.” After all, we were not made to cower, rather, as Pope Benedict reminds us, "The world promises you comfort but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Same-same, but different

On my self described "soul-searching missionary adventure tour around the globe," one of my main desires has been to explore other faiths. I believe this is of vital importance, because it gives you a greater insight into other cultures, their ways of thinking and behaving, and it serves as an opportunity to strengthen your own faith. One of the best ways to know what you believe is to know what you do not believe and why. Additionally, you are a greater asset in the mission field because you know what people believe from the source itself. It's great to want to walk into a place with a desire to save the people, but if you don't know exactly what you are saving them from, what use is it? You can say, "but their belif is a lie," or "they are practicing a religion of heresy," but they could easily turn around and say the same back to you. Maybe they never had an opportunity to explore different faiths, or maybe they grew up a cradle Buddhist the same way you grew up a cradle Christian. There is nothing quite like walking a mile in someone's shoes.

While wandering around Bangkok, exploring the various religious sights, doing my best to immerse myself in the culture, I was struck by how similar we are at our core. I think it can best be described in a phrase used by many shop owners, "same-same, but different." We have all been created with a God shaped hole. We all have a desire for meaning and truth. We all have a desire for a connection with the Divine. We are all same-same, but different.

I do not want my words to get twisted. I do not want you to think that I am adopting the "Coexist" stance, but as my philosophy professor taught me, there is a little bit of truth in everything, even in peoples desire to "coexist." Mother Teresa saw this when she that her goal was to make people the best Muslim, the best Hindu, the best person they could be. I believe that mother Teresa saw beyond all the legalities to the core of it all: Love. Love of people for who they are, where they are at. She worked with faith, knowing that as long as you do your work with love, God will make up for what you cannot do.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a class by a Buddhist monk on meditation and the origins and principles of the religion. It was fascinating and one of the best experiences of my trip. One question he asked us stood out to me, "are we same or different?" Depite my earlier realization, I immediately wanted to raise my hand and say, "different!" "I am Catholic, you are Buddhist. I am American, you are Thai....etc." Instead, I kept my mouth shut, maintaining an open mind and an open heart. His answer struck me at the core, "we are same because we all have anger, all have selfish, all have desire, all have hope, all want to become better people and connect with the higher." How very true he is.

The religious people I have encountered in Thailand have some of the strongest faith I have ever seen. The reverence they have is admirable and puts me to shame in many ways. They have a desire to amend their wrongs so they make christening offerings to monks (like confession). They have a desire to grow their temple (or Wat), so they donate their hard earned money. They have a desire to share their faith, so they send out missionaries and offer classes. They respect their faith, so they offer their free time to work at the temple and help the poor. They have a deep respect for their founders and leaders, so they venerate holy images. They desire to be of service and live strong, healthy, happy, moral lives.

These people are our brothers and sisters. Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, doesn't matter. As it says in the book, Life of Pi, "Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go out as far as the legs of reason will carry them-and then they leap." However misguided and misinformed as it may be, they all have faith. Faith in Nirvana, faith in the laws of science, faith in Allah, faith in Christ. But doubt is never an option. As the author points out further, "To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation."

This trip has taught me the beauty of different cultures, and the beauty of other faiths. I am learning to appreciate differences and incorporate common truths and practices. Jesus came into this world to love. He hung out with the sinners, spent time in their homes, and never condemned. I want to follow in His footsteps, that path that Mother Teresa joined, hoping that my presence will plant a seed, trusting that the Divine Farmer will bring about a full harvest in my life and the lives of those I meet.

After all, "the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably." (Life of Pi)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Proposition

Walking down Bangla Road in Patong, Phuket, Thailand I was propositioned by a girl who asked me to take her home. Grabbing my arm and speaking in very broken english, a fire of desperation in her eyes, she made it very clear that she wanted me to purchase time alone with her. At first i was startled, completely caught off guard and quickly smiled, turned down her persistent advances, and went on my way. At the moment it was all to easy to say no, but I was left with a sadness that I can not shake, and an imprint on my soul forever burned by those desperate eyes.

Having turned down a thousand Tuk Tuk drivers, and all but one offer for a massag, (the establishment I chose made it clear that they do NOT solicit sexual favors) it was far too natural to turn her away, almost ignoring her. However, as soon as I left I was overcome by sadness for her, her situation, the situation she may find herself in later with another man, and the fact that at that moment all I could really offer her was prayer.

I was also startled by my unnaturally high tolerance to such things. Bangla road is a place that houses a dark ring of sexual perversions and many cases of human trafficking and sexual slavery. How is it that I could walk down one of the most sinister streets in Thailand, completely immune to the sin that surrounded me?

Naturally I would like to claim ignorance, but that can not be said in truth. I am well educated on the topic of deviant behavior, and even chose human trafficking as the topic for my graduate school entrance essays. In all honesty I think it was a classic case of "out of sight, out of mind." I chose only to see what I wanted to see. I also believe that my many "prodigal" years have made me conditioned to such things and created an immunity to sin that is hard to shake. As the old Native American story goes, we are all born with two wolves inside of us, one good and one bad. The one that wins is the one we feed. While my bad dog may now have a muzzle on him most of the times, I find that his blind eyes are still stronger than those of the innocent one.

How often do we do this in our lives? How often do we walk around, ignoring the poverty, sin, desperation, loneliness, helplessness, and heartache in those surround us? How often do we ignore those same things within ourselves? As for me, I can tell you that I do it all the time.

That moment in Phuket is one that has stuck with me, and I pray that it continues to do so for a long time. Perhaps it needed to happen to better prepare me for the field social work. Perhaps it will give me a leg up when helping the vulnerable victims of human trafficking. No matter what, I have learned a valuable lesson, that ignorance is not bliss.

If I could do one thing over, I would have stayed to talk with her there, asking for her story. I can pray all I want, but what I really want to do is get involved. It is my duty as a Knight of the Holy Queen, and my duty as a man. As Pope John Paul II said, "God has entrusted to man the dignity of every woman." I will no longer take a blind eye to such things, or be guilty of the bystander syndrome, assuming that someone else will do the work. Rather, I will be the change I want to see in the world.

Beautiful young lady on the street, whoever you are, wherever you go, whatever you do, I hope you stay safe and discover the truth about yourself: that you are deeply loved, a daughter of the King, and that you have infinite worth and value. You will be in my prayers.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Beauty of the Unknown

I read a quote once that said, "traveling is about the beautiful feeling of teetering in the unknown." As I sit in a bus headed towards San Francisco International Airport, I realize how true that statement is. This is the first moment in weeks that I feel at complete peace with what is happening and where I am going.

Perhaps it's the fact that what's done is done, and what's packed is packed. I can't turn this bus around and anything forgotten can be purchased. But the beautiful feeling of the unknown is almost sedative. It compels one to trust, knowing that everything will work out in the end, and that challenges will be faced and conquered.

It is inevitable that I will face challenges along my journey. I pray it is nothing as big as a lost bag or a stolen credit card, but even if that were to happen, I would not be the first tourist to endure that. That's why you do your best to be safe, keep back up numbers and purchase travel insurance. Sometimes being too cautions makes you even more vulnerable to the very thing you are trying to prevent.

This trip is full of a lot of firsts: traveling alone, new countries, backpacking, no hotel reservations, and no computer. In my studies I have learned that "detachment" is just right ordered attachment, and that's what this trip is all about. Detachment from all the unnecessary distractions in life, and right ordered attachment to what is necessary and important: God, family, friends, human connection, and service.

I thank you all for following me along this journey of growth and self discovery. I encourage you to take a moment each day to observe and recollect. As my friend Dr. Jen pointed out, those are the moments that you carry with you forever. Never miss an opportunity to conquer and discover one of the most beautiful countries in the world, yourself.

I ask for your patience as I blog from my phone. All of you readers who have iPhone's or other smart phones know the joys of "autocorrect." Also, please keep me in your prayers and know that you'll be in mine.

I now walk into the wild.

- Jordan

Monday, March 4, 2013

What do you need? Really?

The past few weeks have been very trying and tiresome. I have realized that I did not plan as much as I should have for this trip. I have found out that waiting till last minute is not much fun. I have discovered that I don't really like planning, and that is why I put things off. Most important of all, I have noticed that life keeps on moving, even when you don't.  Seconds pass by, minutes fade away, and before you know it you fly to China in three days and have not even started packing.

Not only does life continue to move, but it has the tendency to throw you curve balls as well. In the middle of all my planning my hard drive decided to crash. I lost everything. EVERYTHING. No more music, no more pictures, no more trip planning materials. Resume that I spent hours creating? Poof. Candid shots of my semester abroad? Nada. Sure, I have a fair amount of photos on Facebook and I would also venture to guess that my resume may be found in the sent folder of my Gmail account. But in the moment, it felt as though my entire world had just fallen out from under me. Right when I was getting ready to put my world on hold to discover a new one on the other side of the globe, my comforts and familiarities at home were suddenly gone.

While I don't necessarily believe that God is sitting upstairs with puppet strings controlling when my hard drive is going to fail, showering me with anxieties like rain from a Seattle sky, I do believe he can teach me a lot through it. First, the importance of backing up and preparing for the unknown, because you don't know what you've got until it's gone! I'm not just talking about things digitally either. Tell people you love them, in the moment, when you can. Take the time you have to grow while you're young so you don't look back when you're old. Choose to focus on the positives, because if you really spend the time doing so you will discover that they always outweigh the negatives. Continue to press on in the face hardships and setbacks. Be a person of commitment, doing what you say when you say you're going to do it. We have three main choices: give up, give in, or give it all you've got.  I choose the later.

Second, I have begun learning what you really need in life, and it isn't much. I don't need an iPhone, or a MacBook, or a fancy car, or the best clothes. Are they alluring? Yes. Do I like my iPhone? You bet! But do I NEEEEED it? No. Looking back it is funny to think about riding around with my mom in our old white Mazda van, going about our daily duties before cell phones were even popular. We survived, and I imagine that in a lot of ways we survived much better. Now we live in an age where we have to know the answer to the problem or question in the exact moment. But as I have slowly been discovering, "life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived."

So, am I going on my trip? Yes. Do I have everything figured out and planned? No. Will everything work out alright? Most definitely. In fact, this is probably how it was meant to be all along. God uses the most difficult of situations to point you back to him, causing you to realize it's him first, everything else second. I am excited to see the world and all that He has in store for me along the way, because I know the learning has only just begun. My friend Joanie sent me an amazing quote to that I intend to remind myself of each step of the way: "Live in the present. Launch yourself on every wave. Find eternity in each moment." With that in mind I gear up to answer the call of the wild.

Romans 8:28 "We know that all things work for good for those who love God."