13 years ago I visited Hong Kong as part of a semester abroad program during my junior year of college… 13 days ago I went back.
When I accepted lululemon’s invitation to be a global ambassador on its Unroll Asia Yoga Tour, I nearly forgot that I’d been to Asia before. It was so long ago and such a short trip and, dear god, I had highlights. That is to say I was a kid, really—searching for myself in a number of ways (including hair color), in each of the 9 countries we visited. In South Africa, I contemplated joining the Peace Corps. (I would go through the interview process but reconsider following the delicate days of being an American overseas following 9/11). In India, I contemplated yoga, poverty, spirituality, and the intersections of all three. I struggled with “what I wanted to do with my life,” how to make it meaningful, how to make money, and whether I could do both. I wanted to help people. I wanted to write things. I thought I’d be a lawyer. I devoured Indian culture, art, and religion. I could walk through a museum or temple filled with ancient Hindu statues and tell you precisely who each deity was (Ganesha, Shiva, Lakshmi), what their hand gestures meant, and what they were saying to you when you stood there awestruck looking at them. Would any of this knowledge ever be useful, I wondered? In Vietnam, I contemplated war and politics and protest. I thought about what I would have been like as a 20-year-old in the 1960s rather than 2000. By the time my college trip made it to Hong Kong, the tail end of our voyage, I was homesick. I remember my roommate and I guiltily ducking into an American style sports bar, craving familiar food after months of adventurous eating. We slid into a cushy booth only to find a framed photo of Drew Bledsoe hanging on the wall above us, which made me cackle with delight. What were the chances! The quarterback of my hometown team in New England on the other side of the world in Hong Kong. No one had heard of Tom Brady, yet.
My, how some things change. Then again, some don’t.
I returned to Asia last week, as a yoga teacher and writer of things. I try to help people live well. My life is very meaningful. I make a little bit of money. I’m still deeply moved by Eastern philosophy and religion, including Buddhism and Hinduism. I still like museums and temples.
It’s fitting that on my first day back in Hong Kong, in 2013, I’d find myself riveted in the Taoist temple of writing and fighting. The air thick with incense and people shuffling, praying, or Instagramming all around me, I’d stand for a while, beneath dozens of lanterns, on which the devoted write their prayers and wishes. The lanterns are lit with incense, “food of the gods,” to help the prayers ascend. If you stand still enough and quiet enough, you can practically hear each prayer on its way up. Some are benevolent. Some are desperate. All are heartfelt.
I had no idea someone was watching (or photographing), as I considered, in brief flashes, how my life had come to be that I was standing where I was. How lucky to be chosen, along with 5 other people with whom I immediately felt connected. Not yogi hokey hippie connected, but connected as in, did lululemon tap a high caliber psychic to divine the most cohesive, grounded, fun, smart, and skilled group of ambassadors it could fathom? Crap, maybe I am yogi hippie hokey? Fine.
My point is maybe someone or something is always watching. When your prayers are benevolent or desperate, when you know who you are and where you’re going or not at all, on one side of the world or the other. Sometimes, your deepest wishes alight and ascend with possibility; sometimes they fall short or feel unanswered. Neither happens instantly, and often, the path is unclear until much, much later. Like, 13 years later, in a smoky temple, in Hong Kong.
Which is why you have to pack light, journey far, and see for yourself.