Thursday, October 24, 2013

On a long sabbatical

As some of you may have noticed, lately i haven't been very active on this blog: the last post dates back to May!
The reason why i haven't written for such a long time has everything to do with my changed circumstances.
I have finally quit my teaching position and left Hong Kong. Some may call it a "sabbatical", but technically speaking it's not. I have no intention to resume teaching in my department (explaining my disillusion with institutionalised education  falls beyond the scope of this blog). When and if i return to Hong Kong, i  will look for other ways to support myself.

Leaving my job and the city where i had lived for 17 years wasn't an impulsive decision. For a long while i had been concerned about the health impact of living in such a fast-paced, crowded and polluted city. Some family matters that required travelling for a few months to another country provided the perfect spur to finally address those concerns. Leaving the comfort of home and the security of your job isn't so hard when the price you pay for it is poor health and stress.

My  "journey to the West" has already provided me with a treasure trove of enlightening experiences, insights and discoveries. Of course it hasn't all been plain sailing. Life never is. I am dealing with a different type of  challenges, obstacles and disappointments, but it would be naive to expect them to vanish the moment you set sail.
I have also taken a break from computers and mobile phones. Occasionally I still need to go online to book tickets and accommodation, but  Internet surfing, blogging, social networks and email have been curbed to a minimum. I have been to beautiful places where an Internet connection is not something one should rely on...and it feels good! Being offline frees up a lot of  time that one can devote to healthier pursuits. The lack  of distractions make it possible to establish a deeper connection with those who are physically present, and think of those who aren't. By default, the "here and now" takes precedence over the "there and then".  .
Some friends have questioned my decision to leave HK, others have expressed admiration for doing it.
They have invariably asked me "how did you manage to do it?"

Many factors have made it possible. Being perimenopausal and approaching 50 certainly strengthened my resolve to change my circumstances; having no dependants and leading a rather frugal life enabled me to save money; practicing yoga gave me the emotional force to take the leap. I really believe that both yoga and hormonal changes brought about by perimenopause played a positive role.

At 50 one starts to contemplate her own mortality, there is little room left for compromise and procrastination. If one doesn't live her life to the fullest now, one may never do. If one doesn't try to know and understand her Self now, there may never be another chance.

I am not suggesting that traveling is the best way to follow the Delphic precept "know thyself". So many paths lead to self-discovery. Personally i felt that living in a natural environment was a necessary condition for living a more balanced life and reflect upon its essence. The horrible pollution in Hong Kong had started to take its toll on my body. I was constantly sick ...and tired of being sick. When the body is thrown out of balance by illness, what hope is there for the mind? What's the point of a daily pranayama sequence when the air that fills your lungs is toxic? When the food you eat is laced with pesticides?
I knew that going to work wearing a face mask was not the kind of life i wanted. No matter how financially rewarding that life could be. Don't we all deserve clean air and water? When has a blue sky become a luxury? 

This was the right time to leave. I can just about carry my heavy backpack, surely it would feel heavier in a few years time. I can still spend a sleepless night in some airport waiting for a 6:00 am flight, or embark on a 3-day long train journey where comfort is a cup of hot tea. But in 10 years would i be able to enjoy traveling on a shoestring (with all its discomforts) and socialising with backpackers who are half my age? Probably not.
Practicing yoga asanas while staying in a hostel dorm or in tiny room in a cheap guesthouse isn't easy. Luggage restrictions on budget airlines also mean i had to leave my yoga mat behind. But one can do many yoga poses without a mat! I spend a lot of time in lotus pose on trains and buses. And nothing beats tree pose in a forest!
Hiking for hours can do wonders for your mind and body. And so does lying on a deserted beach tuning your breath to the waves.
I have a feeling that my 'sabbatical' will be a very long one!


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