Apr 3, 2022 • 16M

Monsoon on the Thai Seas

Two sides of one coin

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Renee Faber
Explorations into the philosophy and practice of what is compassion and how to understand its depth beyond feel-good phrases that fly past us, yet never take root.
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Hello everyone. Today I’d like to share with you one of my adventures I took many years ago. And like most adventures that take you away from your comfort zone, it shifted my perspective. This one was taken with my beautiful friend Anne, and this podcast is dedicated to her and all our grand adventures we shared. I wouldn’t have survived without you, Anne.

boat on ocean
Photo by Justin Aikin


-Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Flying fish leapt out of the inky, undulating sea, and my heart leapt with them. This was exactly the sort of thing I had yearned to see. I was on my way to heaven where clear sapphire-blue waters were promised by photos nailed outside the tourist expeditions’ office. And now off Thailand’s mainland, my friend Anne and I headed to Koh Phi Phi, an Island living in a nest of those clear waters.

On the boat, I peered into the ominous darkness below the bow and my stomach tugged with a sting of primal fear. We had to skate those waters to reach nirvana. That’s the thing with youth, you willingly skim dangerous territory. In fact, that’s part of the thrill, a thrill Anne and I grabbed onto during our months of travel.

We sat at the bow of the boat, forgoing the more serene stern because we wanted to be at the forefront of the small sea craft, cutting into the dense, movable earth, breaking into splashes of white to sting your eyes with its salt. Other adventure-seekers around us also knew the pull of devouring every ounce of their adventures.

Anne and I allowed our feet to dangle over the lip of the deck. I smiled at her, her blonde hair a crazy mess dancing above her head. I’m not sure she saw me smile, but her eyes shone with joy as she gazed at the sea before us.

I followed her gaze and saw, off in the distance, a solitary dark cloud. It seemed incongruous to the bright warmth saturating into all of our skins and the metal railing our arms flopped over. But innocence, or plain stupidity, glossed over what I assumed was a singular dark cloud and my attention was instead taken in by the sea whipping past us. Plopped here and there within the sea were dots of bright green lands poking their heads up from the surface like turtles as flying fish punctuated the collective excitement on board.

I don’t recall how long Anne and I sat on the bow, our legs draped over the ledge of the deck and our arms over the railing that warmed our tender skin. But somewhere in that space of timelessness, everyone silently disappeared. That should have been a clue. I was in a dreamy state, lulled by the boat and my dreams, so I didn’t even hear the others leave. When I noticed their absence, I assumed they became tired of fighting the elements of wind and salty spray and took refuge inside.

Not but a few moments later, and without warning, my toes touched the waters. I jolted, stung by the unexpected. Before I could comprehend why my toes touched the sea, rain pelted down.

“Grab on!” Anne shouted, her voice being swallowed by the aggression of wind coming from Greek gods who were visiting their southeastern cousins in Thailand. Anne’s hands gripped a thick white rope. Smart girl. I reached for it, too. With rope in hand and desperate for assurance all was okay, I craned my neck to look back to the captain in his safe plexiglass bubble. He signaled to stay put, don’t move.

That little black cloud, miffed at me for underestimating her, was proving her power and strength and was releasing her full wrath upon us. I considered praying to her. But praying to your captor seemed a bad idea, like it would anger her more.

How did Anne and I miss the cues to move inside? Why didn’t anyone warn us?

It felt ridiculous and stupid holding onto the rope. I looked back again at the plexiglass bubble. It was a relief to see a crew hand stepping outside and moving towards us. He slipped and leaned towards the willing, open mouth of the sea. I met his gaze. His good intent was obvious. But the Captain thwarted his desire to help the two stupid Americans, gripping for their lives with a rope, and demanded he abandon the mission.

My biceps tensed, working hard to support my weight. Large swells rose us up and dipped us back down repeatedly, my right foot tasting the salty grip of the sea over and over again.

A peculiar sensation arose. A feeling unfamiliar to most young people. “This may not end right,” I thought.

Anne and I hung on as our young bodies slid ungracefully to the left, only to slide quickly to the right, at complete mercy of the monsoon goddess. Our arms and legs fought in full battle mode, bracing and stabilizing us the best they could.

Then it stopped. And as quickly as the monsoon goddess had come, she left. My biceps relaxed, and the rope slid through my hands as a comforting height emerged between my feet and the waters, which were not inky darkness any longer, but a happy shade of emerald green. Anne and I sat there, mute, looking at the approaching refuge of Phi Phi Island. I glanced back at the Captain once again. He and a handful of crew mates smiled and laughed. I took it a bit personally. Laughing? We almost fell into the ocean, in a monsoon! There is no way that is funny.

I turned to Anne for much needed validation. “Scary,” I said.

“Oh my god!” she responded. Her pupils remained dilated and her usual carefree spirit had been submitted.

We skirted into the dock. Soft rain blanketed Koh Phi Phi as if we had sailed into a living Monet painting. The island buzzed with small village life meeting tourist demand, as if no storm had happened. I wondered if it had happened on this little piece of a mountain sticking up through the crust of the sea. The clarity of the waters we bobbed upon simultaneously joyed and disappointed me. The color did not speak sapphire-blue. I stuffed down my spoiled attitude and faulty expectations. After all, the emerald waters were spectacular, and more than that, Anne and I were alive.

A baht broke the surface of the water. A young boy immediately dove for the coin. A slew of bahts followed. Five other boys appeared, jumping off the dock for the easy money. Their wide smiles brightened up the mood of the passengers. But it took me aback and made me queasy, watching the children fetch the coins thrown in by tourists. I hoped for the boys’ sake it was not different for them from when I delighted in the challenge of diving for shiny pennies in my grandpa’s pool.

Anne and I had become accustomed to new and unsavory things like this, things like tourists and locals interacting in peculiar ways. We had grown accustomed to the unfamiliar and traveled by the seat of our pants without reservations. But that small monsoon shook us up more than we wanted to admit. Looking back, our tender pride of being fearless adventure-seekers had been bruised. However, because we knew how to rally under challenging circumstances, in less than a half an hour, we sat on firm beds inside a private island cabin. It always worked out that way for us. And that day gratitude did not escape us. The quietness, however, made the adrenaline still coursing through our blood something we couldn’t hide from.

The usually chill Anne retrieved a bottle of Nyquil, took a huge slug before offering it to me, and said, “Have some. It will help.”

I’m not one for masking anxiety, but that day I let the thick, noxious liquid pour down my throat.

As the syrup ushered us into the blank feeling of no-feeling, loud, tremendous thumps of significant weight beat on our cabin’s roof. Bang, bang…… bang bang bang. Canon bombs plummeted atop our heads.

With a bit of adrenaline still on the ready, we jumped up and opened the door. We burst into tired laughter. Coconuts. Our little scared selves had nestled in a coconut grove, and the storm had given the trees a haircut of sorts, the coconuts no longer able to hang onto their weakened branches. We closed the door and retreated.

The next day we awoke fresh and wide-eyed adventure-seekers again. We explored Koh Phi Phi, and the day that followed, we kayaked and snorkeled under the towering cliffs of the nearby uninhabited island. And this became the moment when I laid my eyes on sapphire-blue waters. They held a blue that speaks of the soul. A blue that drinks in your heart and mind.

But drifting from death defying waters of the open sea to paradisal waters of a pristine lagoon forced me to give up any pretense of control. And here, the first tentacles of adult trepidation, which accumulate as we age, took root in my psyche. I call these kinds of trepidations, half-blind wisdoms because we are no longer innocent and not quite fully wise. For the fully wise, there is no trepidation. But there is a gift from half-blind wisdoms. They teach us to embody whatever moment presents itself because you never know what’s around the corner.

Leaving behind the kayak for a snorkel, the stains from the fright on the boat vibrated in my bones as I looked through my mask, my lifeline a plastic tube pointing upward. The kaleidoscopic color of undersea life swarmed in the open water lagoon. I forced myself to turn my head away from bliss and peer into the depths pressing against the lagoon; it was a clear representation of eternity by the wall of water stretching on and on, getting darker and darker.

Out in the sea, thousands of miles away from home, I swam in my long sought after bliss of sapphire soul-blue waters, but with a visual reminder of the uncomfortable truth that bliss and misery are two sides of the same coin. They can’t exist without the other. Right? How can we know one without the other? I don’t think we can.

So, there I swam in bliss, surrounded by fright. How to hold both in the same moment? I tried, but I am sad to say I believe the fright overtook the bliss one too many times, especially when a current pushed and pulled me like an undersea frond. I was young. I was naïve. I was brave. And I had tasted my first real-life taste of discovering wisdom. And wisdom is gained by looking past bliss and into its other-half; misery. Eventually, as the Buddha taught, we look past both, and it is there that ultimate, not half-blind, wisdom rests.

I am still swimming in life, still pushing into misery and pulled by bliss, still learning how to capture the moment with no expectations, to snorkel without allowing fear to overshadow.

When bliss finds me, I always remember the monsoon. I’m reminded that bliss can shift without warning into misery. Yet, when misery visits, the truth of the inevitable shifting escapes me. If I only could remember. To be human is peculiar.

Maybe the lesson is to be like the boat; able to skate the turbulence and peace in equal measure, prepared for both and neither upset nor excitable when one leaves and the other shifts in.

I invite you to conjure up a time in your life where bliss and misery shifted into each other unexpectedly. Did bliss shift into misery or the other way around? Did it frighten you, or, pardon my language, piss you off?

I promised that within The Creator’s Compass we wouldn’t gloss over the difficulties of embodying compassion. And looking at difficult things is vital in order to understand the depth of compassion through the lens of wisdom. Therefore, being a spiritual seeker of truth requires us to be a bad-ass. Truly, we have got to be courageous and look at these difficult dragons of reality in the eye, to turn our heads to the dark waters pressing into our bliss, otherwise we are forever their subject and forced to bow down to the fear they create inside.

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments (just hit the comment button below). About this subject of bliss and misery and their connection, do you agree? Are you at peace with this dance? I’d love to learn from you and not be an echo chamber of my making. We all need your wisdom because we hold compasses of compassion not only for ourselves but for each other, and this is our place to keep each other motivated and strengthened, so we keep digging deeper, unveiling our awesome and innate power waiting to burst forth. We might burst forth just like the monsoon goddess of the Thai seas, not with destruction, but with life-changing compassion.

Yes, that’s me, kayaking towards my soul-blue sapphire waters. An old photo taken by a real camera!

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