The Day I Met Fate

Your hands are full and someone appears to hold the door open for you. You feel underdressed and then a stranger compliments your outfit. A friend calls you and says the exact words you had been needing to hear. Sometimes people pass through your life leaving your soul feeling grounded and refreshed. I call these people angels. Whether they are in your life for a moment or a lifetime, they give you whatever you need and then go along their way.

These angels are everywhere. All you need to do is remember to slow down and see them.

LET ME SEE THE ANGELS

I am in Las Vegas. It is the morning of day two of a work trade show and one of those days where it seems like everything that can go wrong does. From the second I step out of bed, nothing is easy. I am running late. I make my way down the forty seventh floor of the hotel to the bus stop out front, only to realize I forgot my project folder upstairs. Once I go and get it from my room and get back out to the bus stop, I realize I left my wallet upstairs. Back up to my room again.

When I am in my room for the third time, I decide to stop and reset my energy so that things don’t keep spiraling in the wrong direction. I stop, take a deep breath, and look into the mirror. I pray that things will start to go more smoothly today. I could really use some angels in my life to help me get through the day. A voice in my head says, say it out loud. I look into my eyes in the mirror. “God, please let me see the angels today.” With that, I grab all of my stuff and head back down to the bus stop.

MY FEET LEAD ME TO FATE

I get to work and my feet already hurt from wearing heels on the concrete floor all day the day before. Today is going to be a long day. Once an hour, I sneak back behind our booth and take off my shoes to give my feet some relief. There are two security guards standing behind there for most of the day.

One of them is a well dressed gentleman about my age, wearing some thick framed stylish glasses. He looks over at me as I step behind the booth and take off my shoes. He laughs and says, “Feet hurting you?” I laugh and tell him yes.

He walks over and introduces himself as Fate. I look at his name tag which confirms this is indeed his name. He asks what I do for work. I tell him I work events for various companies like this one, but would prefer to spend more time on my social media business which I work on the side. He says maybe your feet are hurting so that you have enough of this and are more motivated to concentrate on what you actually want to be doing. I laugh and say, “Maybe you are right.” I tell him to have a good day and walk back to my booth.

THIS STORY IS ABOUT YOU

Fate is back there all day in the distance. At the end of my shift, he is standing there alone. “I made it!” I tell him. He laughs. He says, “I hope your feet feel better tomorrow.” I tell him thank you and mention that I wasn’t trying to complain about my feet all day. I hope it didn’t seem that way.

He says, “It is okay to state when things are negative. You need the negative to keep balance. Life is all about balance. Negative things happen and they are necessary. Especially in love. Even disagreements, arguments, etc. The point is to let them happen and now dwell on them or let fear or worry or negative emotions blind you.”

He then tells me a story about how he likes helping people and really loving them. Sometimes people will tell him that if he keeps loving people like that then he will get taken advantage of. He shouldn’t keep giving to those who take take take. He wants to love everyone anyways and for some reason it bothers him that some people do not understand that. He ponders why it bothers him so much and realizes he just needs to keep doing what he is doing no matter what anyone else says.

I feel like he is telling my story. I can relate to this so much. I tell him “Yes, I can completely relate to that!” He says, “Well this story is about you.”

I pause.

He smiles and says, “We did not meet by chance. I am here right now because you recently prayed to hear me. You wanted to see the angels and I am a messenger.

I instantly feel overwhelmed with emotions that I can’t explain. He says there are things God wants to tell me. 

So, I listen.

YOUR GIFT IS TO GIVE

He says, “Everyone has a gift. Your gift is to give. Like a doctor gives medicine. You give people love they need in different forms. Sometimes like medicine, people don’t want to take it. Give it to them anyways. That is your job. Sometimes people won’t even know they need it. But you have to use the gift God gave you. Do you understand?” I nod.

He says, “A lot of times there are things you need to tell people that can help them. You overthink it because you don’t want to make them mad or don’t know the right words to say. Don’t overthink it, the spirit will guide your words.

He continues, “You have prayed a lot and you need to now that you are not crazy. Just because people don’t understand you doesn’t mean you are crazy. You know who you are. Keep being you. A long time ago I would wonder why I had to be a messenger. Why couldn’t I be normal like everyone else. “Normal” people don’t know so they have no responsibility. Once you are aware you are assigned responsibility from God to do better and use your gift of knowing. One day I decided to embrace my gift and you need to embrace yours as well.”

FEEL THE ENERGY

He then says, “I can walk into a room and sense people’s energies. I want you to put your hands together. (Like praying but your hands are about 5 inches apart.) Start moving them like you are warming your hands but don’t touch them. Wait until you can feel something.”

I feel the tingle of energy that I describe as love. I tell him I can feel the energy. He tells me to now move my hands farther apart. I do. He asks if I can still feel it. I say yes. He says to move them further and asks again and we continue until my hands are all the way out.

He says, your energy is so strong. I have only met about five people in my lifetime with energy as strong as yours. 

He continues to talk to me about more personal matters and there are times when the things he says are exactly the things I have been praying about. I get a little choked up. He says, “You know, it is okay to cry quite often. For you, you need to get the negative emotions out this way in order to make room for the good ones.”

IT TAKES A REAL SOLDIER TO STAY POSITIVE

He then says, “I have one more message for you. I teach meditation and other related courses and last week I was working with a bunch of Marines. I told them, what you do doesn’t take all that much strength. Anyone can get angry and fight and want revenge. It takes a real soldier to stay positive in the presence of negativity. To keep your peace within and continue to spread love is tough.”

He then says, “You need to remember what your gifts are and use them. Will you?”

I tell him that I will try.

He says, “Then you missed the moment. God works in moments. Moment by moment. You must do it, not try.” I say that I will.

“It was nice to meet you. Enjoy your evening, Jill.” I tell him thank you and to do the same. With that, we go our separate ways and never meet again.

Watch Out For Sharks

A few years ago I googled “off the beaten path hippie surfer beach towns” and wrote down every city that showed up in the search results. That is how I ended up in Byron Bay, Australia.

Byron Bay is one of those towns that make you feel like you stepped back into the 1960’s. A place on the coast, where in the movies, families go to spend their entire summer vacation. VW vans parked along the beach. Long haired boys and girls carrying surfboards toward the water. Cute little shops downtown selling ice cream cones and kabobs. Byron Bay is one of the most beautiful and chill places I have ever been.

But this week has been sort of eerie here in Byron. There is an electric energy in the air as the town is buzzing with people in town for an annual surf competition. There was a pretty bad shark attack yesterday, and today, two backpackers went into the water and were never seen again. Helicopters have been patrolling up and down the coastline searching for the boys, while also looking out for sharks. On top of it all, Cyclone Irma is moving closer to the coast, bringing wind and choppy water. What a place to be.

A GUY NAMED MATT

So here I am in Byron. Playing pool with a guy named Matt and his roommate. I met them yesterday at a local brewery. The beach was closed due to the shark attack, so obviously a brewery was the next best thing. I walked in alone and they immediately invited me to join them at their table. We have been hanging out ever since.

Matt is the quieter of the two, but incredibly sweet. Wherever we go, people seem to know him. I imagine him to be one of those guys that you start dating and when he introduces you to one of his guy friends, they put their hand on his shoulder and make some joke to you about, “You better watch out for this guy!” while they wink and smile at you and pat him on the back. Him just standing there shaking his head and smiling. You know, a genuinely good guy that people like to be around.

I am drawn to Matt. He has a mysterious way about him. He doesn’t talk about himself much. His roommate will tell a story about him, and Matt will just nod and say something like, “Oh yea, I used to be the top chef at the best restaurant in town.” or “Oh yea, that happened when I lived in a tent in the bush for 2 years.” Things that make you say, ‘What did you just say?!’ He definitely isn’t the type to boast about himself. Humble but extremely interesting.

It is Sunday night. Matt has to work tomorrow so he offers to drive me home. We decide to stop by the beach before he drops me off. The moon is full which makes the sky bright. We walk for a bit and then sit down to talk. I feel completely at peace next to him. The conversation is relaxed but deep. Nothing is forced and even silence is comfortable. Conversation is just too easy. We decide we will spend the afternoon at the beach tomorrow.

FEARLESS BUT STILL MINDFUL OF THE SHARKS

During the week we sort of develop a routine. Matt gets off work, picks me up, and we head to the beach. Once we get to the beach, we sit down and each roll a cigarette. I can never roll mine right, so he ends up having to roll both. We talk for a bit and then get in the water. I quickly learn that Matt is fearless. Especially when it comes to the ocean. He absolutely loves being in the water. Each day, I watch him run right up to the water and dive in. Just like a little kid. I absolutely love this about him. It is incredibly refreshing to watch.

Me on the other hand. I tip toe in and think about all of the sharks in that area. But for some reason when I am with Matt, I feel fearless too. He reminds me how it feels to really live. I usually stay waist high where I can still see my toes, and he goes in deeper. Even though there are so many people in town, we end up having the beach to ourselves almost every day. While he body surfs, I walk around and stare into the water. Just enjoying each moment. I am mesmerized by the way the crystal clear water reflects the light so beautifully. How I can see fish swimming all around me. After awhile, we meet back up by our stuff. Then we sit and talk until the sun starts to go down.

Over the week, our conversations get deeper and more personal. I feel as if we can talk about anything or nothing at all. I tell him a story about my heart being recently broken right before this trip. He tells me about the last girl he loved. They were together for quite a long time. Then, one day, he woke up to find out that she had been walking home the night before and was hit by a car. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it.

I can feel the heaviness in his heart as he tells me this story. My own heart is exploding with love for him as I listen. This Thursday is the anniversary of the date that she died. Wow. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I really feel like we met this week because he needed someone next to him. I won’t get into it, but I really needed someone too. We definitely met for a reason.

THURSDAY

Thursday comes and I know this is a tough day in Matt’s life. We get to the beach as usual. As we are walking up the pathway, we are talking about my blog. I haven’t had anything to write about in quite some time. He looks at me and winks. “I’ll give you something to write about.” I laugh and say okay, just try to make it exciting.

As soon as I can see the water, I feel the wind and see that the waves are pumping. You can definitely tell that the cyclone is coming in. He mentions to me that this is a nude beach, there is just no one here right now. Oh, interesting. Well don’t expect me to take my clothes off. He smiles.

We sit down first as usual. As he rolls our cigarettes he says, you know, a year ago on this very day, I came to this beach and went out into the water. My plan was to go out and drown myself. I just couldn’t handle the pain anymore. But someone saw me and pulled me out against my will. I wanted to die. But I guess it wasn’t my time.

This story breaks my heart. Well Matt, I am so happy you are still alive.

THE WAVES ARE PUMPING

I look out to the water. The waves are rolling in fast and hard. There is an advisory not to swim and the beaches are actually technically closed. But regardless of the missing backpackers, the shark attack, the strong current, etc. Matt still wanted to come to the beach and go swimming. Sounds about right.

I walk to the water. Usually I get in, but something about today feels different. It doesn’t seem safe out there. I tell this to Matt but he brushes me off and says he will be fine. Like I said, he is fearless. He grabs his bright yellow boogie board, runs right up to the water, and dives in. I imagine the smile on his face. The happy little boy that he turns into the second he hits the water.

I look to my right and see a naked man has arrived a few hundred feet down the shore. I guess this really is a nude beach. I look back towards the water to watch Matt. The waves are coming in hard. There is no break, just one right after the other. Matt has already made it out pretty far. So far that I can barely make out the shape of him, just see his yellow board.

A huge wave comes in and I see him duck his head to dive through it. I wait for him to come up but he never does. I look around for him but the waves are coming in too fast. I can’t see between them at all. I strain my eyes to try to see further. I don’t see Matt anywhere. He is a strong swimmer so I am not all that worried. Okay, maybe a little. But I relax, close my eyes, and feel the sun shining down on my face. 

WHERE IS MATT

About ten minutes go by and I still don’t see Matt. I start to get slightly worried. I scan my eyes up and down the water. Looking for a person anywhere or any sight of his yellow board. Nothing. Hmmm. I walk down the beach in case the current has pulled him down further.

Another ten minutes go by and I definitely start to panic. Where could he be? Please God, let Matt be alive. Should I go in the water and look for him myself? The waves are too strong. I will definitely not make it. My phone is up the beach by our stuff. But by the time I call for help and they get here, it would be too late anyways. But I really should tell someone, anyone, that my friend is missing. Right? Ugh, I don’t know what to do. I just stand there and continue to search with my eyes. Holding onto hope.

Why is this happening? Please just let me get a glimpse of him. How ironic would it be if the Universe took him on the anniversary of his girlfriend’s death? On the anniversary of him trying to kill himself? I don’t know what to do. I look up and down the beach. Start to walk faster along the water. I haven’t seen Matt for about thirty minutes. At this point, I am even looking along the sand for a body to wash up. Fuck. 

WE SHOULD BE SCARED OF THE WATER, NOT SHARKS

I picture him in my head. Him and his cute smile. Don’t cry Jill, stay strong. Think through this. It has been forty minutes now since I lost sight of him. There is no way he is still alive. I can’t believe this is happening. Not to Matt. I will go and get our stuff and call the police and ask them to notify the coast guard. I will call his roommate and tell him what happened. Sit there and wait while they search for his body. I feel so alone.

I start to run back to our stuff to call for help. Just then, up the beach I see his yellow board wash up on the sand. No. My heart drops. Please no. I am shaking. I can’t breathe. I start to run towards his board. All of the sudden I see a body lying there face down in the sand. The waves rolling in over it. Matt. He is moving. He is coughing. I am in shock. My knees are weak. I go over to him and he is white and shaking. I help him stand up. We slowly walk back to our stuff and sit down. Just stare into the ocean for a minute in silence.

FIGHTING TO SURVIVE

I ask if he is okay. “Jill, I didn’t think I was going to survive. Every time I came up for air, another wave would crash over me, throwing me back under.” He had literally been fighting for his life for the last forty minutes. “There was a point where I said to myself, ‘This is it.’ And I was about to let go and just give up. Then somehow I was pushed up to shore.”

I think about what he told me just a few hours before. How on this day last year, he went into the water purposely trying to kill himself. How he had wanted to die. And how ironic it was that today he found himself in that very situation, this time fighting to stay alive. How far he has come.

LIFE CAN BE REALLY FREAKING HARD

We walk to the car in silence. Me in my head. I think about all of the things that Matt taught me that week. He showed me what it means to be fearless. He reminded me what it feels like to really connect with someone else’s soul. But I think most importantly, he reminded me that sometimes life can be really freaking hard. Sometimes so hard that you don’t want to go on.

But also how life can, and most often does, get better. Sometimes so slowly that you don’t even realize anything has changed. Then, before you know it, you find yourself in a situation where you are fighting to survive. Hope is no longer gone. You realize the tears you are crying are now made up of some happy instead of only sad. It is in these moments that you realize for the first time that even though you may not know how you got here, you are actually thankful to be alive.

We get in the car and head back home. “Well at least now you have something to blog about.” Yea, too soon, Matt. Way too soon. 

Couchsurfing Chronicles: The Boyfriend

There are two types of travelers. The first is the kind who would never sleep on a stranger’s couch. Especially if they are all alone. It doesn’t matter if it is through an app and the stranger has good references. They just don’t feel comfortable. Then there is me. The adventurous and thrifty solo traveler who will do anything to save a buck. Sleep on the floor of a stranger man’s kitchen with the cockroaches in a remote village in the middle of Africa? Is it free? Sign me up.

Don’t get me wrong, I am cautious. But over time, I can admit that I have probably become too comfortable. I have been lucky and had so many fantastic experiences staying with strangers. And these experiences have caused me to completely let my guard down. I had forgotten that there is still danger in this world. That sometimes it is good to be more cautious like the other type of traveler. But don’t worry, I will be reminded of this. The hard way.

RENTING IN LA LA LAND

When I made up my mind to quit my job and travel, I took the next logical step and sold every single thing I owned. Which included all of my furniture and household goods. I didn’t want to have anything tying me down to any one place. And it felt great. It made me feel free. But I still didn’t feel ready to leave Los Angeles yet. So I decided to rent month to month until I felt the time was right to leave.

In case you have never lived in LA, rent is pretty dang expensive. [Me looking at places.] Oh look. A place in Santa Monica. Weird, it looks like a massage parlor. Oh, it IS a massage parlor. Rent one of our tables to sleep on as long as you are out before we open each morning. Honestly, that is pretty tempting for only $700 a month. Oh here is a place for only $900 a month in Hollywood! What does BYOT mean? Ohhhhh. Bring Your Own Tent. Duh. Pitch a tent in our front yard for a low monthly rate. Bathroom not included. Hmmm sounds okay but a little far from work.

Finally, I find a furnished room in someone’s house in Marina del Rey for around a thousand a month. I immediately book it, pay for three months, and head that way.  The owner, Jenn, seems really sweet. I am also introduced to her boyfriend, Steve, who lives there as well. She gives me the key and shows me my room. Her and Steve’s room is directly next to mine. They will be just a knock away if I need anything at all. Perfect. I tell her thanks and head to my car to move a few things in before I head to work.

WHY YOU WEARING DEM SHORTS

I get home from work late that evening. It has been an incredibly long day. But luckily I recently went on a date with a guy who was bragging about his weed and gave me some to try. As if on cue, I get a text from him. “You try any of that weed I gave you yet?” Not yet dude, I will here in a minute.

I drop off my stuff in my room and then head out front to smoke a joint. It is a little past midnight. The moon is full and bright. The air is still warm. A car pulls up to the house. Jenn walks past me and jumps in. She waves and says, “I will be back later. Have a good night!” I smile, say goodbye, and spark up the joint.

I take a seat out front on the curb while I smoke. When I look back towards the house, I notice Steve standing in the doorway, staring at me. His expression looks slightly angry. Weed is legal here so hopefully he isn’t mad about that. Then, under his breath, I hear him saying something about me wearing shorts. Hmmm. He is swaying as he stands there like he has had too much to drink. This is weird. Maybe if I disappear for a few minutes he will forget I am out here. I take a walk around the block. When I get back, I peak around the corner and see he is gone and the front door is closed. I drop what is left of the joint and tiptoe past his door to my room.

MOOOOORE WHAT

Back in my room, I lie on my bed, close my eyes, and enjoy my high. In the room next to me, I can hear that Steve is still awake. He is talking to himself and still sounds quite angry. He is mumbling words under his breath that I can’t quite make out through the wall. This goes on for about fifteen minutes and then there is silence. He must have fallen asleep. Maybe he was even sleep talking to himself in the first place. That would make sense. I close my eyes and drift off to sleep.

Suddenly, I am jolted awake as I hear a loud crash that sounds like a beer bottle being thrown and breaking against the wall. I sit up straight, as tense as can be. I quiet my breathing. I can hear his voice again, this time louder. He is roaming around the room. Bottles and cans are being kicked over as he stumbles into them. It sounds like furniture is even being pushed around.

It is like he is in a blacked out rage or something. Either that or pretty fucked up on some kind of drug. And of course, I am here alone in the house with him. His screaming starts to get louder and he starts yelling out, “MOOOOOORE!!!! MORE!!!!” over and over and over. Then he continues to say things in gibberish that don’t make sense. Please God, don’t let him remember I am here in the room next to him.

Right then, I hear footsteps walk up toward my door. The footsteps stop and there are a few moments of silence. I hear two loud knocks on my bedroom door as his fists pound against it. Shit. I stand up very quietly and stare at the door in silence. I watch the handle jiggle. He knocks again. Obviously there is no way I am opening that door after how he was looking at me from the front porch. He will have to break it down if he wants to come in here.

I look around for something, anything, to protect myself with. On my desk there is a brass elephant I got from Thailand. Probably the heaviest thing in this room. I tiptoe softer than I ever have in my entire life and grab it. Turn around and face the door. Ready to strike if he gets the door open. I stand up in the middle of my room and just stare at my door. Watching the handle continue to jiggle. Does he have a key to my room?

I grab my phone and text Jenn to tell her what is happening. I ask her when she will be home. I get a message right back saying that he is probably just locked out or something. She will be home a little later. Hmmm that’s not really what it seems like. I continue to stand in the middle of my room staring at the door. Phone in one hand, ready to call 911. Brass elephant in the other. I text the guy I am dating and tell him what is happening. Damn how much weed did you smoke? I told you it was strong. I barely smoked any. And it was only decent.

After about 2 hours, she is still not home but the knocking has finally stopped. I am guessing he fell asleep outside of my door. It is now about 3 am and I am also exhausted. I decide to try to get some sleep. I quietly slide underneath my bed, curl up into a ball, and eventually fell asleep. The next morning, I grab as much of my stuff as I can, open my door, and run to my car. As soon as I get to work, I contact the rental company to tell them what happened. I have already paid for 3 months but there is no way I am going back there.

IF THEY WON’T HELP YOU, TWEET ABOUT IT

The rental company is not much help at all. They say the only way I can get out of my lease is to talk to Jenn about what happened. If she agrees to let me leave at all, then it is up to her to decide if she wants to also refund the money. I am slightly scared to talk to her because I don’t want her to ask Steve about it and for him to get even more upset with me.

Why won’t this company help me? I feel like I am in danger. I used their app to book this place. I try to think about what would make a company want to help me. I decide to tweet about it. “Umm hello. I am in a scary situation. In case something happens to me, I just want people to know.” I @ the company. Seconds later I get a message from them. Of course. They agree to let me out of my lease at the end of the month. I guess that is better than nothing. Only two more weeks here. They say they will call Jenn and tell her whats up.

I also send Jenn a message and tell her I am slightly scared to come back. She apologizes and says that Steve was really drunk last night and that he says he is sorry. It won’t happen again. They even left me a box of chocolates and a gift certificate for a massage on my desk to make up for my troubles. She reassures me that it won’t happen again. Plus, they are going out of town today so I am free to come back and stay without worry. Okay. I will head that way after work, thank you.

SOMETIMES DATES ARE FOR DINNER AND SOMETIMES THEY ARE TO SAVE YOUR LIFE

The next week, I have a date with Brett, a pretty looking muscly bartender guy I met over the weekend. Not really the look I usually go for, but maybe that is a good thing. He picks me up and we go on our first date to a restaurant near by. While at dinner, I get a text from Jenn saying that they are coming back in town. Ugh, great. The rest of the date goes okay even though while Brett is talking about his love for working out, all I can think about is how I am scared to go home. When Brett drops me off, I see that Jenn’s car isn’t there yet. Great. They must not be home yet. I head to my room.

As I close my door, I immediately hear that Steve is home and talking nonsense again. This time in the hallway. You have got to be kidding me. He is roaming around aggressively, pounding on the walls. He sounds much, much angrier than last time. Jenn said she wasn’t going to leave me alone with him. She has to be here. But I definitely don’t hear her. Great, now I am alone with him and he knows I complained to the company about him.

Ugh not this again. PLEASE. Steve is pounding on all of the walls around my room as he walks up and down the hallway. Maybe he doesn’t know I am home yet. I hide in my wardrobe. I immediately call 911. Tell them what is going on. They say someone will be here shortly. Who knows how long that will be with LA traffic. Fuck it. I call Brett. Tell him I need help. Ask him if he can please come back to where he dropped me off and help me get the fuck out of here. He is confused but says he will be back here in a few minutes.

About five minutes later, I hear the front door open. I am guessing Brett is back. I then hear Steve run towards him yelling. What are you doing in here! He slurs. I am here to visit my friend. He says okay and lets him continue walking to my room. Well that was easy. Must have something to do with the fact that Brett is built like a Greek God. He walks me to his truck and says to wait while he grabs my stuff. I don’t see Steve anywhere but sit on guard just in case he comes out. I am shaking and decide to smoke a joint while I wait. I open the truck door and the alarm goes off. Fuck.

I immediately see Steve open the front door to see where the noise is coming from. He is yelling. Still angry. I don’t see Brett anywhere. Steve and I make eye contact and he starts quickly heading toward me in the truck. Oh Universe, please let me survive. Please. I am praying at this point for the police to come or for Brett to come out of the house. The Universe must have been listening because Steve randomly turns around and heads back into the house. Right then, Brett comes down the driveway with two suitcases full of all of my stuff.

Here you go, I think I got everything. He loads up my car and asks if I want him to wait with me for the police to come. I say no thanks. I wait 40 more minutes for the police to come. They never do. I call them and cancel. Drive off and never go back again.

THE UNIVERSE WILL ALWAYS GIVE YOU EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED

I am still slightly traumatized by this event because it reminded me how small I actually am. For so long, I felt invincible. But this experience reminded me that not everyone is always kind and caring. And for that reason, how important it is to keep your guard up a little bit in order to stay safe. I think after traveling for so long, I became too trusting. I forgot that there are people out there who can actually hurt me. While it did shake me up, I think this happened at the perfect time and was just the reminder I needed right before I left to go on my 10 month solo journey. 

As for Brett, we never ended up talking again after he saved me that night. He must have thought the situation was kind of crazy given that he had no context or idea who this guy I was living with was. But it is amazing that out of all nights, that was the one we ended up going on a date. The night I needed him the most. Life is absolutely wonderful like that. People are often like angels the Universe sends to us at exactly the right time to help us along our path. And then they are gone. I am so thankful Brett was there to help me that night. If he hadn’t been, who knows what would have happened.

Moral of the story. If a big buff dude asks you to go out on a date with him and you don’t normally go for that type, do it anyways. He just might end up saving your life. Oh, and be careful when you stay with strangers.

Couchsurfing CHRONICLES

When you have been traveling for close to ten years, you are bound to have a few bad experiences. Couchsurfing Chronicles are written not to scare you or to make fun of anyone. Just odd stories that remind us not to get too comfortable when staying with strangers.

Staying with locals is something I support 100%, while traveling or even in your own city. Whether it is a rental, a homestay, or legit couchsurfing, it is the absolute best way to really get a feel for the culture, to meet new people, and maybe even save a few dollars.

* These stories are not all exclusively from couchsurfing.com, they are a collection of stories from people we stayed with via all apps and websites, and sometimes just meeting people randomly. Names have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned.


More Couchsurfing Chronicles

Finding Beauty in the Struggle, Together

This pandemic just so happened to reach me during one of the toughest times in my life. Maybe because of that, it seems to have magnified every single area where I feel stuck. It has reminded me in a not so gentle way, of the things about myself that I still need to work on. Suddenly spending all of my time with another person when I am used to being alone, has reminded me to practice being more patient. Constantly making mistakes, like sanitizing groceries and later realizing I could have done something more carefully, has reminded me to not be so hard on myself. Taking things out on others because I am frustrated and sick of hearing about all of the bad going on, has reminded me to stop, breathe, and be more mindful.

It has been hard to watch these parts of myself come out. Especially during a time when there aren’t as many things to distract myself with. Its like here you go Jill, some things to work on! And you have nothing else to do so what are you waiting for. And me pretending I am sleeping so that I don’t hear anything this imaginary voice is telling me to do. But maybe this voice is right. Maybe it actually is the best time to turn inward and deal with the not so pretty parts of ourselves. What else do we have to do? Trauma tends to bring out issues. And this may be one of the most traumatic events in our lifetime whether we realize that yet or not. But there is good news. Roughly 8 billion people understand what you are going through.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES

When a group of people go through something together and that circumstance is infused with the are we going to make it, we might not make it, we can’t stop until we make it, drive that pushes you to your limits. You don’t know if you are going to survive but somehow you do. Together. It bonds you for life. You can go your separate ways, but you never forget.

This is why when someone asks me what my favorite countries have been so far, Cambodia is always on my list. They went through something significant and it really changed them. In the late 1970’s, a mass execution took place across the entire country, killing nearly 2 million people. This was a fourth of the country’s population. Amongst the survivors, you can feel their sense of community. It as if they understand the pain each other endured and it continues to ground their souls and connect them in the deepest way.

You can feel this the second you step foot there. The locals seem to genuinely appreciate each other and enjoy spending time together. As you walk down the street, you are greeted with warm hellos and smiles from every single person you pass. You existence is acknowledged. Your presence is welcomed. And it feels really good. In Buddhism, it is the contemplation of death that makes one understand and appreciate life. In Cambodia, it is as if they have embraced this ideology and used this tragedy to create a culture full of love and connection. If you ever visit, take the time to stop and feel the energy. It is truly a beautiful feeling.

COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS

I remember feeling this same type of energy in the United States on and after 9/11. In the days following, the pace of life was slower and it seemed quieter outside.  Being reminded of death had made us more mindful of life. Strangers were nicer to each other. We were mourning, but together. And for a moment, it felt as if we were united as one. You could just feel it in the air. If you were around, you know the feeling I am talking about.

There were even several studies done measuring collective consciousness and the energy surrounding 9/11. In a study by Princeton University, researchers found that such a large number of people around the world were affected in the same way that their collective mental energy actually altered the operation of computers!* Which shows you how powerful this energy actually is.

“Large scale group consciousness has effects in the physical world. 

Knowing this, we can intentionally work toward a brighter, more conscious future.”

Imagine if we all changed our energy and feelings about this pandemic at the exact same time. From a perspective of fear, to one of love. If we used this situation as a catalyst to start to remember what really matters in life. One thing about collective consciousness is that whatever energy is most prevalent, is also contagious. And the stronger it is, the more sustainable it becomes. And we need now more than ever, to feel love. In order to keep us going.

THE ONLY WAY THROUGH IS TOGETHER

The entire world is going through something that most of us if not all of us, have never experienced before. And I think that is why this could potentially end up way more traumatic than we are yet to realize. We are currently fighting a war where the enemy is invisible and silent. I think that is so incredibly scary. We know that this thing can potentially kill us and we can’t see if it is hiding in our homes. We don’t know if it is on our clothes, in our food, in our bodies. And even if it is, we don’t know much about how to fight it.

It is understandable why it took or is taking some people so long to take this seriously. It seems like something out of a movie. But it is real. And I think that as that sinks in, it is going to start hitting us pretty hard. We are going to need to lean on each other as much as possible. When everything else is stripped away, we are left only with each other. And that is what is happening right now. People are losing their jobs. Plans are ruined. We are beginning to mourn the loss of our former lives. 

We may live in different countries. Have different backgrounds, jobs, religions. None of this matters anymore. What matters now is that we are all going through this together. We need to help each other through this by remembering how similar we actually are as human beings. We have the same fears. The same daily struggles. We are simply trying to survive. We get frustrated at times. Other times, we feel trapped or are scared of the future. And sometimes, we even feel like giving up.

IT STARTS WITH YOU

While the struggle of this is real, it is also incredibly beautiful. And humbling. I saw a nurse on TV today crying and it really pulled my heart strings. She had spent the last thirteen hours caring for COVID patients and it was really starting to break her down. The severity of the situation was becoming real for her.  And how hard it is for her to try and help patients all day when she doesn’t know if they will survive. She was begging people to stay home. Because it is getting worse and will stay that way until we work together to stop it. I felt her pain. I cried her tears. My heart was overflowing with love for her. This is hard for everyone. But that also means we aren’t alone. And that is the part that is beautiful.

A world where everyone is going through the same thing is a world full of empathy and understanding.

We have a huge opportunity and I think even responsibility, to use this pandemic and our current situation to reunite globally. To create a collective energy that is positive, loving, and supportive. One that is lasting and that can be felt across the world. It is a way we can create something beautiful out of this tragic situation. And the only way to change the energy of the world is to start within ourselves. It is the best time to do this. Surrounded with a world of people who understand, it creates a safe space to be vulnerable. To let other people help you. To help them as well. We can all share in this experience together and by doing that, create lasting change. 

We need to use this time to be willing to look at the not so easy to see parts of ourselves. Think about how we can grow and become better people. We can take our uncertainty and use it as a reminder to appreciate who and what we have today. Let the recent changes in our lives remind us that nothing is permanent and use it as a reminder to learn to let go. Let our fear of death remind us to embrace life. Let’s take this time to stop and reset our entire way of being in order to create a more peaceful and loving world. Now is the time to become one again. And it starts with you.

“Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness 

and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

– John Lennon

ADDITIONAL INFO

kalibiru wisata alam heart

RESOURCES

It is easier to connect now more than ever. Everything is online, you can join groups with people from all over the world. Talk to people who are going through the same thing. Use these resources to stay connected and become more mindful.

A Magical Thai Tattoo

A girl friend and I are walking around a suburban looking neighborhood in Chiang Mai, where our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off about thirty minutes prior. We have been wandering around lost, up and down each street, unable to find anything that looks like it could be the place where we are trying to go. Disappointed, we begin to mentally give up and start wondering how we are ever going to find a tuk-tuk to drive us back to our hotel.

If you haven’t noticed yet, most of my travel stories seem to involve a similar version of this situation. Wandering around lost in a foreign country. Walking in circles. Finally thinking I am on the right track, only to pass the same building for the four hundredth time. A sense of defeat filling my soul as I sit down on the curb and pout about it for a moment. Then out of no where, like clockwork, a random stranger boy usually appears and whispers, “Psst. Follow me.” Which at that point, I gladly do, because what other choice do I have. I mean I guess I do have other, safer choices, but the whole, “Am I going to get robbed/kidnapped or not” adrenaline rush seems to make the experience more exciting. Kidding. But really. I actually do usually decide to follow this stranger boy because at least there is a chance he will lead me to my destination. And I obviously cannot find it on my own.

SEARCHING FOR MAGIC

So a few months prior to getting lost here in Chaing Mai, a friend and I had decided to take a trip to Thailand together. It was the first time either of us had been to Asia so we wanted to do something special to commemorate this milestone in our lives. After some researching, we found an article about traditional “magical Thai tattoos”. What better way to remember our first trip to Asia than to have it branded on us forever?

This magical tattoo is more formally known as a Sak Yant and involves the tattooing of sacred geometrical designs and ancient text on the skin by Buddhist monks or other holy men. A sharpened needle is screwed into the end of a bamboo stick, dipped into ink, and then basically hammered into your skin. These tattoos represent customized magical and spiritual reminders and have become known in the Thai culture as a way to provide both protection and good luck to those who wear them.

It takes years of training to become a Sak Yant practitioner (often known as an “Ajarn”, or learned master) and an in depth study of the magical arts is required before you can begin tattooing. Throughout their lives, these masters must practice meditation techniques to help them harness the magic that is used in this sacred blessing, enabling them to transfer it to those they are tattooing. The years of study involved allow the Sak Yant master to customize each design and sacred blessing specifically for each individual.

FOLLOW THE VOICE OF THE STRANGER BOY

So yesterday we contacted an Ajarn and told him we would be coming to see him. We had both selected to receive the most common design, the Hah Taew, which is a five row yantra (basically lines of text that can be chanted during worship or meditation). I decided to get mine in one long line down my spine and she went with the more common five line sequence on her shoulder blade. This design is said to encompass every aspect of one’s life. Each of the five lines representing a different area, protecting from unwanted spirits, bad fortune, and black magic, while bringing good fortune and success.

The Ajarn agreed to these designs for each of us, confirmed we could come in the following day, and sent us his address. Which catches you up to why we are lost in this random neighborhood. So here we are. Right then, as if on cue, we hear a stranger boy’s voice whisper from the abyss. “Psst. Follow me.”

Startled, we look up and see a man peaking his head around from the side of a house. Where did he even come from? And how did he know where we were going? Regardless, we head in his direction and he points to a house a few down from where he is standing. “There.” We look at each other. Sure, okay, why not.

We walk around to the back of what looks to be a one bedroom house and open the sliding glass door in front of us. We step into a large open room with dozens of beautiful Buddha statues on the far end. Inside sit about seven people. In front of them is the Ajarn master with a man in front of him, sitting with his legs crossed. The man is facing us, so we can’t see the tattoo being done on him but his overall demeanor is pretty calm. So calm, it is as if he barely notices the long, sharpened bamboo needle being repeatedly jabbed into his back.

AN INVISIBLE TATTOO

We take a seat amongst the others and watch. When the tattoo is finished, the Ajarn master turns the guy around and starts chanting, performing some sort of blessing on him. We can now see this guy’s back and what is strange is that there is no tattoo at all. Just a bunch of red dots where the needle punctured his skin. We are a little concerned but then realize he had been using clear ink. I remember reading that these tattoos are received by many locals for the sole purpose of their meaning. I think this is pretty sweet because it shows how much they believe in their magical powers and aren’t just getting it because the ink looks cool.

The man stands up, pins some bills on the donation tree, and walks out of the house. The Ajarn master then looks over at me, directly into my eyes, and nods for me to come forward. Welp, I guess I am next.

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

I walk over and show him the photo I had sent the day before of the placement I want (down my spine) and in a nervous small voice, ask if he could please use a new needle (I had heard that they don’t always change the needle and wanted to be somewhat safe). He looks at me blankly so I attempt to say this in a few different ways to try to get him to understand my English. He finally seems to understand as he nods and reaches for a new needle. I let out a sign of relief but this feeling quickly fades as I watch him pour more ink into a bowl he has obviously already used for someone else before me. Before I can object, he dips my needle in the bowl and is ready to begin. Hmmm. At least the needle is new. (Don’t worry, I have been tested for HIV and everything else since and luckily am okay.)

He motions for me to sit facing away from him, with my legs crossed, and to lean forward, so that my back is curved, vulnerable and exposed for him to jab the needle directly into my spine. I am nervous but that quickly dissipates as I remember how calm the other guy’s face had looked when we walked in. This thought quickly reassures me that this can’t hurt all that much. Right? 

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT SOMEONE IS GOING THROUGH ON THE INSIDE

Ummm, not at all. The first time the needle hits my spine, it immediately sends an excruciating sharp pain down through my body that is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my entire life. Did I just yell out loud? What the fuck was I thinking? Why would I ever choose my spine for this kind of tattoo? It hadn’t even crossed my mind that this would physically hurt me. Can I ask him to stop? What if I get paralyzed from the needle going too far into my spine? It sure feels like he is pounding it in pretty dang hard. Why so hard, dude?

The room around me is calm and quiet with excited people happily anticipating their turn. While this scene of serenity is taking place around me, screams are filling my head so loudly that I wonder if anyone in the room can hear them. A needle is being hammered into my back. Over and over and over. I began to pray to the Universe asking for help in getting through this. Pulling my palms together as I pray. Chanting anything and everything I can think of to possibly take this pain away from me. I close my eyes and squeeze a pillow that is on the floor in front of me. Clenching so tight that my knuckles turn white. I have to remind myself to breathe.

I need to open my eyes so that I don’t get lost in this pain. I manage to slowly lift my head up a few inches and look at my friend who is sitting happily with the others in front of me. She looks directly at me smiling, giving me the thumbs up sign as if she is excited for my current situation. I wonder if she can see the look of terror on my face. I don’t want to scare her since she hasn’t gone yet, so let out the best half smile I can and drop my head back down to look at the floor. The smile immediately leaving my face as I close my eyes again and feel my jaw clenching tight. Finally, after what I guess to be about fifteen minutes, he taps me in the back signifying that he is finished. Thank you, thank you.

PROTECTED FROM THE PAIN

Wow, okay. That wasn’t so bad. I mean I survived, right? I stand up and return to my seat on the floor with the others, and let out an audible sigh of relief. My friend is excited for her turn and as she stands up, asks me how it was. Hmmm, it is nothing you can’t handle for fifteen minutes. She looks confused and says fifteen minutes? Your tattoo took over an hour. What. I guess I blacked out from the pain. Maybe the Universe really is listening.

When my friend is finished receiving hers, we both take a photo with the Ajarn master and open the sliding door to leave. A random guy is standing there, apparently waiting for us on his scooter. Feeling all protected and shit with our new tattoos, we jump right on, not thinking twice about where he came from or how he knows where we want to go.

He drives us a few miles to the main road, stops, and motions for us to get off the bike. We start walking down the road, not knowing where we are headed, but also not caring in the slightest. The sun is shining down and now that the experience is over, we feel a new sense of confidence having just survived. Our tattoos also look pretty darn cool.

NOTHING IS PERMANENT, EVEN A TATTOO

No longer in the midst of the pain, I realize at that moment that the whole experience wasn’t actually horrible at all. It was mentally empowering. And actually incredibly spiritual. I feel like I have grown closer with myself because I went through it and survived. If I could get through that, I am pretty sure I can endure and overcome anything that is thrown my way.

I think this can be applied to many situations. We can be in the middle of something that brings us great pain. Whether it be heartbreak or anything else that creates some sort of turmoil in our lives. During it, we become focused on and even obsessed with the pain we are feeling and maybe even angry at what we think is causing it. I certainly wasn’t happy with the Ajarn master as he was stabbing the needle into my back. Even though I willingly chose to be there. I didn’t think I would make it through. But now here I am walking in the sunlight. With the pain only a memory in the past.

This experience taught me so much about the power of the mind. And how important it is to remember that nothing you are going through will last forever, unless you choose to stay stuck there. Being branded on my body, this tattoo not only protects me in life and as I travel, but also serves as a reminder that I can make it through anything, no matter how painful. What a powerful way to remember my first trip abroad and to take with me for the rest of my journey in life.