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Monk mode

We whip in and out of traffic and careen around corners, zooming past small cars and stray dogs, scooters and street vendors. The bright smell of Thai chili mixed with sweat, jungle, and exhaust fills my nose.

I breathe it all in.

I’m alone in the back of a songthaew, a red truck taxi with a covered bed and long seats wrapped in green vinyl. I paid the driver 30 baht (.93 cents) to take me the three miles from the airport into town. We’re making good time.

We pass a small store where a group of young monks in orange robes drink Coca-Cola from glass bottles. The walls of the old city of Chiang Mai come into view, tall bricks surrounded by a moat of murky water. People walk over footbridges and play human Frogger to cross the street. My driver whizzes by them without a glance.

A mile later, we pass through a gate and turn onto a narrow, uneven street flanked by an ornate Buddhist temple. My suitcase rolls back and forth over the grooves of the truck-bed and I squeeze it between my knees to keep it from falling out.

We round another corner and slow, slow, slow….stop. The heaviness of the air immediately catches up with us. Sweating and smiling I step out of the truck, say khob khun kop to the driver, and step into my new home for the next few months.

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Friends and family ask: Out of all the places in the world you could live, why pick Thailand? Simple. I’m becoming a monk.

Soon I’ll shave my head, don orange robes, renounce all material possessions and wander into the forest where I’ll live amongst the…nah, I’m just bullshitting you.

I’m not becoming a monk. But I am in a laidback version of “monk mode.” Which basically means I’m living alone, simply yet comfortably, and not doing much of anything beyond the basics. (And for the month of October I decided to play with a few rules, including no dating or sex, no alcohol, no spending money on non-essentials, and no new friendships beyond small talk. Fun!)

The past week has been rewarding and necessary, mostly because it comes as a sharp contrast to how my life was the month leading up to my arrival in Thailand. After putting a few boxes and my car into a storage unit in Montana, I went on my “farewell tour”, traveling to four different cities in four weeks. I spent time with dozens of friends and family members, went on a handful of dates, stayed out way too late, and spent too much money on eating out, AirBnB’s, and airfare.

I loved it all.

But I’m also really, really, REALLY loving being alone right now.

It reminds me of a quote from a book I’m reading, On the Path to Enlightenment, by Matthieu Ricard.

“Hermits don’t withdraw from the world because they feel rejected, can’t find anything better to do, or because they are unable to assume their responsibilities. They are not running away from the world. They distance themselves from it to put it in perspective and better understand how it functions.”

This deliberate narrowing of focus and stripping away of distractions has been liberating. Turns out I don’t need much to live well. Turns out I can sit for an hour or two in a room alone, not doing anything, and feel pretty damn good about it. (I already knew this from my 10-day silent meditation retreat, but it’s a nice reminder.) This may be naiveté—something I’m definitely prone to—but I feel like I’m tapping into a way of functioning in the world that’s becoming lost to the ever-increasing-speeding-up of modern life.

For example, here’s a typical day for me right now. Try not to yawn as you read it.

  • Wake up without an alarm clock
  • Make coffee and sit and stare into space
  • Meditate for 20-30 minutes
  • Check text messages and connect with a few people
  • Turn phone off, shower, and stretch
  • Walk to co-working space
  • Work for 4-5 hours, without distraction
  • Walk to lunch
  • Take a nap or read
  • Go to the gym or get a massage or sit and stare into space
  • Walk to dinner
  • Read
  • Go to bed

I’m incredibly lucky to have a schedule like this. It’s only been a week, of course. I may hate this schedule soon. (I’ll let you know.) But for now: ahhhhhhhh…….

Of course, despite my reading material, I’m far from an actual hermit. As I write this, I’m sitting in a beautiful, air-conditioned co-working space drinking Ethiopian coffee. I’m collaborating with the amazing team at Precision Nutrition and building a new working relationship with Men’s Health magazine.

I’m not cut off from civilization. I’m cut off from the craziness of civilization, at least for a short time.

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Does this mean I’m going to live in Thailand forever, read every esoteric book on Buddhist philosophy, and never go on another date or have a glass of bourbon again? Hell no.

But right now, I’m enjoying myself. Right now I’m trying to do work that helps others while trying to not let that work define me or my worth.

And listen: the food here ain’t bad either.

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