the Me Ra Koh Blog

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Overcoming Fear

In Process: Letter to a Friend with a Thousand Faces

Me Ra Koh

So much to process after living in the jungle. How does one come home from a journey like ours and assimilate back?

The Langur monkeys did not show up our last morning to say goodbye. They had come almost every day until our last week. They were either entertainment or headache. And yet, they were always one step ahead of me, even when it came to saying goodbye.

In the beginning, we thought we were observing them, watching them eat, watching them care for their babies. Our ears became tuned to the sound of breaking branches and a distant squeal as the mother swings with her baby holding tight. In the beginning, we thought we were observing them. In the end, they were observing us. The monkeys knew when we left, when we ate, when we showered. As I sit at my second story window, looking out over my neighborhood, it’s amazing to think I often had an audience of monkeys when I showered.

I think we were all equally fascinated with each other. But after they’d ransacked our kitchen for the second time, the locals said we needed to leave. We needed to break up our routine, our pattern. We needed to eat out for the next few days b/c the monkeys had figured us out. Figured us out? They were ahead of us from Day One. We thought we were breaking the pattern for them. All along, they were changing us. Our habits, our mode of familiarity, our sense of control–it was all being broken up. And then when it came time to say goodbye, again, they were ahead of me. For the time being, however temporary or lasting, they have taken their babies and moved on. They have set a path for me. On the last morning, no matter how much I wanted to stay in our jungle house, tucked under the limestone cliff, hidden under the palm trees; it was time to take my babies and leave.

I miss waking up under our mosquito net, feeling the cool morning air. Pascaline, my morning girl, would already be sitting on the deck with binoculars, watching the monkeys’ activity while we were sleeping. I’d crawl out from under the net, tiptoe to her, and try to rub the morning fog away so I could pinpoint what she was watching. She would look at me and smile. “Do you see them mama? They are being so silly this morning.”

I miss showering in the rain, seeing the Tokay lizard crawl down my bathroom mirror. I named her Dori. She was half the size of my mirror in length and took it upon herself to eat the flying termites on my behalf. Her dedication and focus gave me the luxury of uninterrupted bugless showers. Did I ever think it was possible to be a kindred spirit with a lizard?

Since I’ve been home, I’ve seen one bug. One. Isn’t that funny. In the jungle, I had hundreds of bugs around me all the time. Before Thailand, I’d scrunch my face in disgust if I crossed a bug’s path. Yesterday, I knelt down. I wanted to see what kind of bug it was. And instead of scrunching my face, I smiled. Instead of the bug being a nuisance, it was a gift. A gift that reminded me of all the amazing bugs we’d been living with.

Instead of hearing the King Fisher bird’s creative songs, I hear the buzzing of the telephone wires.

Instead of hearing the Gibbon apes morning call to their mates, I hear the deep exhausted exhale of a city bus as it closes its doors.

I smell the approaching Northwest rain and miss the tantalizing smells of the honeysuckles and wild jasmine.

It’s amazing how you can go away, leave all that is familiar, and somehow find yourself with more clarity than ever before. I always thought I was an A-type personality. High energy, go-go-go, focus, focus, focus–multi-task at insane decibel levels. After living in the jungle, I found that I was a product of my environment.

In the jungle, I was like a sponge. I soaked in every smell, every sound. After two weeks, I surrendered to the sticky heat and let myself sweat without disdain. I woke to the Gibbon’s whooping sounds. I fell asleep to the buzzing of Cicada beetles–a humming that was so loud and fierce, I thought we had a lumber yard working at night the first week.

I didn’t cry once in Thailand. At home, everyone knows me for being a crier. My assumption that tears were my only release proved to be unnecessary there. Instead, my release was the daily 4 mile walk through the roadless, carless jungle…or rock climbing with a single focus to find one place to set my balance b/c all I needed was one place-not dozens of options. Instead of 45 minutes in the gym, I woke, walked to the beach and swam laps in the ocean, swimming against the tide’s pull, letting the salt dry my hair and body.

I never once used a hair dryer. I never once wore deodorant, a bra, makeup or perfume. And I never once missed any of it.

My mind was free. Despite the intense heat, I could sit and write for hours on end. My fingers, often soar and tired, but still trying to keep up with my creative thought.

Most importantly, I was connected with myself.

I wore a two piece for the first time since I was 8 years old. But I didn’t just wear it, I wore it with a type of confidence that is wrapped in ease. Why is it so hard to be at ease with oneself, to let others see your imperfections, and be ok.

I have never loved myself so much as I did in the jungle. And now I know there is a place in this world, where I’m not hiding from myself. There is a place where I am able to breathe deep and not worry about how I look, how bloated I am, how up to date my clothes are, how nice my home is. It’s me and only me. And me is good.

I realized that my home is not on a well manicured neighborhood in the Northwest.

My home is where Brian, Pascaline and Blaze are.

I realized I didn’t miss a single item from home. I was able to not only live without, but thrive. When we left for Thailand I was sure we didn’t pack enough in our two backpacks. I’m now convinced we needed even less.

I found great reward in taking pictures of people who don’t own a mirror and have never seen a photo of themselves. I found fulfillment in making soap with village women who were trying to make up for the money their husband’s once made, before the Tsunami took their lives.

I found that I wasn’t the only sponge. My kids were too. Blaze felt recognized. And neither Blaze nor us, ever realized how invisible he had felt before. Pascaline found a deeper trust for humanity. She is the type that assumes you are making fun of her, laughing at her instead of with her. But when the Thai people couldn’t say “Pascaline” and thought her name was Gasoline, she let her guard down and laughed with them. She decided to trust the people, and they proved to not hurt her. And Brian, Brian slept through the night. After two years of struggling with insomnia, having the slightest sound wake him for the rest of the night, he slept like a baby. He slept soundly under the mosquito net with wild cats roaring, big boa snakes slithering overhead through the trees, and owls cooing.

As a family we found a passion for going back. I know we will take many more adventures. We are now determined to create a life that is simpler and supports such excursions. Brian and I have a feeling the adventures will grow from six weeks to six months. How this will happen, we don’t know. But the vision is all that matters. This is what we found-the surprising desire and strength as a family to make our life an adventure. Julia Cameron talks about how it is one thing to validate you as an artist, but to aspire to live artistically–this is another matter. “We hunger for what might be called creative living–an expanded sense of creativity in our business lives, in sharing with our children, our spouse, our friend.” It took coming home to know that our hunger for creative living is real, true and nece
ssary.

A Hawksbill Sea Turtle glided alongside of me on one of my last dives. He showed me his favorite food-bubble algae-and all the places it hides-under coral, tucked in rock crevices, behind electric sea anemones. He can eat many things, but finding the bubble algae is what he wants most–even if this means, I’m tagging along with him, interrupting his solitary search. His eyes are deep and old. His motion is fluid, soft, and slow. He has lived longer than my great grandparents. His lessons and wisdom come slowly to me as he intermittently visits my dreams. He is my hope that the jungle was too complex for me to solve in an email to you and writings in my journal. It is too complex to solve in one trip.

The mysteries of how the jungle transformed us continue to unwind, seeping into my sleep, shadowing me on my walks, slowly bringing clarity.

T. S. Eliot wrote, “You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance. In order to possess what you do not possess. You must go by the way of dispossession. In order to arrive at what you are not. You must go through the way in which you are not. And what you do not know is the only thing you know. And what you own is what you do not own. And where you are is where you are not.”

I close my eyes and picture the white mosquito net around me. It is a thin film that covers me. Yet it is thick enough to keep all the distractions at arm’s length. It is warm here. quiet. I can see all the needs around me, but I still have a place of rest. I am able to be carefree–care wholeheartedly but remain free. When I’m standing in line at the grocery store, and all the options are sliding over the scanner with a constant beep that starts to overwhelm me, I close my eyes and try to visualize that white blanket that covered me.

See why I couldn’t call you? You would have asked how my trip was. And because I feel so safe with you, so understood…I would have wanted to share all this.

But you can’t say this over the phone.

  1. Ashley Julian

    April 16th, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Reading about your trip and reading this letter has really made me think about a lot of things. Is this really where I want to be? Am I who I want to be? What do we really need? What have I really taught my children?
    I think about Blazes’s “ivisible in America” comment everyday now since I read that post.

  2. lindy

    April 16th, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    I know how it feels to miss a second home. the thai’s call it layjay (like lie jie) means many hearts… i am sorry you had to come home! but glad that you can always go back! your life there and here inspires me to do that to ~ as i always wanted to! i miss it there.

  3. Jill

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I’m still processing what you wrote…so not sure what to say now. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Addie

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela

  5. Me Ra

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    You are all so sweet to leave your thoughts. This was one of those posts where I held my breath and pushed the upload button. Wow Addie, I love that quote. And Lindy, the word you shared is so powerful and means so much to me. Thank you.

  6. Jen MacNiven

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I love how much this journey has transformed you and your family…and I love more that you shared it with us. I can completely sympathize with your feelings…bittersweet coming home. But in reality, I think going to the ‘jungle’ was your coming home…it hushed the noise we call LIFE…and allowed you to be quiet in your own mind and learn so much about yourself and your family. I can only imagine what you’ve been journaling. I’m sure I’ll purchase that book when it hits the market ;).
    A truly fantastic blessing you have received.

    If you read jasmine stars blog…she has a post on living and loving. Let the lessons from the jungle be your cancer (it may sound weird, but you’ll understand if you read the post)

  7. Jen MacNiven

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Ditto about thinking about Blaze’s ‘invisible’ comment daily. I will from now on think about children differently ;).
    Way to change lives Mr. Blaze!

  8. Sara

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I read this and I want to spend hours and hours learning from you. Figuring out a way of how to simplify life in America, how to stand alone as our crazy intense influential culture entangles us. I love the freedom you experienced and I love your journey, not just in Thailand but every where you go. Thank You for sharing!

  9. angela

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    you truly inspire me.

    as a photographer, a wife, a mother…but most of all a woman. your ability — intentional or not — to open yourself body and soul to an experience is simply magical. a new reader to your blog, i imagine you may feel this doesn’t come easy for you……..which is what makes it even that much more extraordinary.

    i’ve been telling about your family’s thailand trip…adding how amazing i think it would be to open up that world to our daughter once she’s older. he looked at me with a little more skepticism than i would have wished (then again i’m not a *camping* type of girl — so who can really blame him :)) but we both agreed to add is to our “wishmarks.” {we both have a “wishmarks” folder in our bookmarks for all things we think may be impossible but we wish for…}

    any info you can post on how we can plan our own adventure would be AMAZING.

    Here’s wishing you peaceful nights under the stars….even if they’re in your own backyard and to the soundtrack of the telephone wires…:)

    cheers!
    angela

  10. Jasmine*

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    LOVE this post…so beautiful!! 🙂

  11. Paris Parfait

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    This is a beautiful post about your journey and what it has meant to you and to your family. I hope you all continue to enjoy wonderful creative adventures and travels to far-flung places. I think travel and seeing and understanding how other people live is the greatest gift we can give our children.

  12. Jasmine*

    April 16th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    LOVED this post…so beautiful and poetic…just like you! 🙂 Glad to hear the trip was amazing!

  13. Michelle

    April 16th, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Wow, what an amazing post. Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts. I go through phases about living a “simpler” life, but then get caught up in the “wants”. My husband and I often talk about what our ideal life would be, yet don’t do anything to get there because it seems so out of reach and almost abstract. Once again you leave me with so much to think about in terms of who, what and where I want to be.
    Jen..I thought that same thing about the Jasmines post being similar.

  14. Jennifer

    April 16th, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Beautiful.

  15. Jeanne

    April 16th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Beautiful post.

  16. Kate

    April 16th, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Oh Me Ra….I’m speechless. What an exquisite arrangement of words to describe an indescribable experience. So well done.

    And congratulations. I think you may have found the secret to happiness. 🙂

  17. Maureen

    April 16th, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    I have LOVED reading your Thailand posts. They were amazing. You have given yourself and your family such a wonderful gift going on such a trip. I hope one day I can do that with my family. You are an inspiration!!

  18. Sharon

    April 16th, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Amazing…

    You have actually inspired this “homebody” to maybe want to travel!
    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us.

  19. Suzanne

    April 16th, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Me Ra,

    You have been given a beautiful gift that most of us will never have. You know what is important without having to have the threat of losing it first. You and Brian have given your children an amazing gift as well. You have given them a voice and you listened.

    You have also given, us, your readers a gift. I checked EVERY day for your post and can’t tell you how disappointed I was when there wasn’t a new one. So, I re-read your previous posts. So we too have learned so much about what is important. The biggest example is the post where you tell us that Blaze feels so invisible here in America. What a smart person he is. My children are grown, but I sure look at other children differently now!

    No, Thailand isn’t your home, but you do live in an amazing part of the world with so much to offer. Now that you know what you need, it will be so much easier to find there. The western culture is so consumerist and for the lack of a better word, needy. It’s good to get away from that, eh?

    So, welcome home. I look forward to your posts and to learning more from you. You are amazing people. go out there and embrace your home and maybe give some Thailand to your community!

  20. abbey

    April 16th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Wow! Wow! Wow!!!

    I hardly have words after that AMAZING post. So many of your words are so important to me and so true and soo inspiring. I love that quote. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts!

    Your words “my mind was free”….. I mean…. Wow!!!

    I loved reading all the responses….. awesome women!

  21. Janice

    April 16th, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Me Ra,

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I have enjoyed reading about your, and your family’s, adventure. I could almost smell the ocean and feel the sand. What an experience for your children! I doubt I will ever make it to such a place, but I almost feel as if I had been there with you. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. Welcome home.

  22. Allison G.

    April 16th, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Breath-taking. Me Ra, you are a gifted and giving writer. You are a loving mom and wife. You are a dear friend. You are living a life we all dare to dream about and you inspire us all.

    I think your next book should be about your journey to find “the simple life”. Awesome! 🙂

  23. Betsy Jo

    April 16th, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Please, please write a book. Pretty please? This is so beautiful. And it’s how I feel about Ireland; leaving there was so hard. I still feel like I left a piece of my heart on those green hills. So please write a book? 🙂

  24. JE

    April 16th, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    As one who lived in the south american rainforest for two years, but without my children, before they arrived, I welcome you home. It is hard to transition back into the life you so comfortably lived daily, caught up in every moment like a tornado ripping through days at time. But, if you give yourself time to transition. To mourn what you will definitely miss. To smile about moments you can still breathe. To feel the warmth of those who touched you each day of the journey. You will find that you are back where you belong, but perhaps your path has simply changed a little, more this way here and more that way there. You will find your space here and it will grow comfortable again, but in a new frame of mind. And you will forever be thankful for the gift of others who are patient and willing to teach one another the simple ways of ‘living.’ Much luck. I’m a new reader and intrigued. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and much peace in your journey back home. It takes a while before it feels just right again…and when it does, it usually looks different than it was before you left. Whew, thank goodness huh.

  25. Sue Christianson

    April 16th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Wow Me Ra! This is so beautifully written. Your lives will forever be changed and so will ours through this post today!
    Thank you!

  26. KateG

    April 16th, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Me ra I am speechless. That was an amazing post. See you soon.

  27. Jen

    April 16th, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Me Ra –

    I first discovered your blog on the first day of your Thailand adventure – I have been living vicariously through you ever since. I have always been an *adventurer*…but I married someone who isn’t…thank you for helping me to see that i need to convince him to try…because hearing about your trip CALLS to me.

    You are such an amazingly gifted writer….thanks for letting us share your journey!

    jen 🙂

  28. Genie

    April 16th, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    ahhhhhhhh …..
    khap khun khaa

  29. Charla

    April 17th, 2009 at 1:52 am

    You and your trip have inspired me beyond anything I can write!! I have some big decisions coming up in my life and your thoughts have really helped me! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  30. ann page

    April 17th, 2009 at 3:43 am

    thank you for sharing such an amazing, eye opening experience, your thoughts are so true – regardless of where or what you’ve done. thanks!

  31. Katie Torres

    April 17th, 2009 at 3:49 am

    Wow, you are able to articulate this transition so beautifully. It’s a hard one and not slight, but you are doing it with grace. Your observations are so true. Thank you my dear.

  32. Linda

    April 17th, 2009 at 4:57 am

    That post was incredible. I’m glad you found your peace. I’ve always heard of people travelling to the East to find themselves, find peace and spiritual enlightenment. They come back calmer and happier, but don’t really explain *how* they were transformed. They just say they were stressed, and now they’re at peace. Your post puts details into the feelings you had, and how they changed into new and incredible feelings. I loved reading it. And I’m surprised you haven’t looked for a mosquito net to put over your bed at *home*, so you can imagine you’re back in Thailand, lol.

  33. CA

    April 17th, 2009 at 4:59 am

    I too find this so beautiful, honest and even relaxing to read.

    In echo to what a few others have said, yes, Blaze is definitely changing the world with his comment. I find myself bending down now to greet children and really trying to connect with them not just their parents. I hope one day he can realize what a powerful little boy he is.

    Thank you for sharing your lives with us.

  34. Gretchen

    April 17th, 2009 at 5:55 am

    Me Ra- Thank you for sharing your thoughts as you process through your return to “home”. I honestly felt like I was almost an intruder in something so private, yet could relate 100% to your thoughts. What an amazing gift your family has shared with all of us.

  35. Jennifer Flake

    April 17th, 2009 at 8:28 am

    So profound.

    I wish we all could go live somewhere simple and out of “our element” just so that we can learn more deeply what you have learned and shared with us so eloquently… to “live in the world” and not be “of the world”. It’s a constant stuggle sometimes to be satisfied with what you have and who you are without trying to adapt to the fit into the demanding world around us. I love what you and your family learned in the jungle and only hope I can help my children to learn those same lessons.

    I just also want to add that I am so glad to be able to learn from you. I started out just watching your Photograpgy DVD’s and being SO glad to finally “get it” when it came to figuring out my camera…but now I have found you to be a wonderfully insightful and inspiring person who, through your life experiences has helped me to “get it” when it comes to more important things that ISO and shutter speed. Thank you for that.

  36. Rhonda

    April 17th, 2009 at 8:51 am

    I know you’ve heard it several times, but thank you for sharing. I’m going to miss Thailand too – now that you are home.

  37. Katie Thurmes

    April 17th, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Me ra-

    oh my. i am speechless. and reminded. and grateful. and inspired. it is amazing how one person’s ramblings can slow you down, stop you in your current path of the day, shake you real hard.

    this resonated with me so so much. Just as much with where it inspires me to go but also to where we are now and the choice we can make each and every day. we’ve all been there – not specifically to thailand or amongst monkeys – but in that spiritual place where you have so much fear about losing the ‘YOU’ that was discovered in a faraway place. the fear that no one will ultimately identify. that your life in the states somehow loses its meaning.

    i was about to respond to emails, get on my merry way with my day, get stuff done. enter: stopping power. And that is just the moral of the story (and one that we must constantly refresh ourselves on) – adventures are important and need to be taken. our lives are for this life only and it would be a cryin’ shame if we didn’t stop to fully take it all in. But that life is everywhere, including today.

    Do know that your sharing this is so very much appreciated. I have no doubt you will continue to find ways to squeeze the very marrow out of life – to live with intention, loudly and boldly – and with a type of confidence that makes the joy honest and the intensity welcomed.

  38. Carrie Hasson

    April 17th, 2009 at 9:53 am

    one of my favorite posts. i feel your heart and soul. that photo of you is breathtaking. and your words leave me speechless and thoughtful. hard to hold back the tears when you said, “My home is where Brian, Pascaline and Blaze are”. what a wonderful truth…i too can’t wait to be home.
    xo

  39. Debbie

    April 17th, 2009 at 10:15 am

    You are amazing!

  40. jeramy

    April 17th, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    wow.

    i can feel the transformation in your words. i long for a peace like this. is it possible for us? i hope so…so fitting that you’ve spend the last 6 weeks discovering your freedom and safety…who you really are….so much to give that it overflows and spills out over your fingers.

    inspiring! i’m happy for your family….see you soon!

    take care.

  41. Jennifer

    April 17th, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    How do you do it?

    How do you accomplish/experience/feel so much and manage to share your deep thoughts so matter-of-factly? With so many “strangers?” You are gifted in countless ways, and your keen senses of seeing, feeling, empathizing and describing are so inspiring!

    For most folks, stream-of-consciousness emoting becomes a tangled mess. But the flow of your thoughts seems so organized… and poetic all at once. Love your perspective!

  42. Melanie

    April 17th, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    This was such a poignant post that my words seem like just mere words. You are a true inspiration, Me Ra. As I recall one of your previous posts, where you felt as if you were at a roadblock, it is fascinating and exciting to read this metamorphosis occurring. Again, thank you for taking the time to share your life.

  43. DawnS

    April 18th, 2009 at 5:09 am

    I think that these are the most beautiful, insightful, inspiring & honest words that I have ever read. You are amazing.

  44. Pamela S.

    April 19th, 2009 at 7:18 am

    thank you

  45. tracie

    April 19th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    not sure why tears are running down my face … this has struck me deeply …

  46. Dinea de Photo

    April 19th, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I have really enjoyed your stories and reflections. Thank you. I hope you integrate and blossom even more than you have.

  47. Sarah Alston

    April 20th, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Wow!!! What a journey! Thanks for letting me be inspired by it.

  48. Me Ra Koh Photography Blog » Guess the Answer and WIN!

    April 20th, 2009 at 8:38 am

    […] thank you so much for all your comments on my Thailand post. Your thoughts, responses, reflections have been life-giving to read. What a wonderful community […]

  49. Kate Noelle

    April 28th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Reading your account of life in the Thai jungles brings back so many memories for me. I lived with some of the Hills Tribes up by Chiang Rai for a little while and I remember the Tokay lizards making their windup chirping noise… the buzz of the jungle… the smiles of the people… and the raw experience of nature and God. Thanks for reminding me… And riding an elephant through the Jungle definitely was one of my favorite Thailand experiences too.