As a small child I remember an adult once telling me with a distinct tone of self-suffering that, whilst for them life passed by in a blur of appointments and responsibilities, life for a child stretched out into the dim future, decadent with possibilities.
But even then, I didn’t agree. For me, childhood swung by in big strides. Holidays passed by in the blink of an eye and years flipped by as quickly as the pages of the books I read. I guess I always had a tendency to look far in to the future – I wasn’t so much anxious as I was impatient for all the excitement life had in store for me.
Days in Year 6 were spent day dreaming about all the new friends I would meet at high school, and days spent studying my final high school exams were spent wondering where the next year would take me. Which is all well and good, but there is something to be said for training yourself to live in the moment. At least, sometimes.
Over the last 12 months I have been living in that spicy slip of a country we call Indonesia. A country made up of hundreds of islands, languages, religions and cultures. A country that, if you ask me, lives firmly rooted in the dulu, or, in the present.
This certainly has its downfalls. It has led to a country where infrastructure is so poorly implemented that basic services are often unobtainable by more remote communities. It has led to a population that cheerfully discusses the high rate of diabetes as they sip on a cup of tea half full of sugar. But it has also led to a population that consistently rates itself as one of the happiest in the world.
So for me, living in Indonesia saw my life slowly shift gears….and it wasn’t easy. Because whilst we so often hear people complain about being too busy, too stressed, or too time poor – the reality is that most of us actually like being busy. We like planning ahead, we like ticking off a to-do list. It comes with a sense of achievement, a sense of direction…and dare I say it – a sense of meaning. That disconcerting whisper in the back of your head – the ‘what does life really mean’ is so easily squashed by a life lived at full tilt.
I remember sitting down to one of my first classes in Indonesia. It was a lecture just like we have in Australia…except for the fact that the lecturer didn’t turn up. I expressed my frustration – I had woken up at 6am to get to class on time! But my Indonesian friends just shrugged and told me to be more patient. MORE PATIENT?! What a waste of my valuable time!!! Laughing, my friends continued to chat and giggle and gossip.
My Australian-self could hardly believe it. Surely this bothered others as much as it bothered me! But apparently not…and why would it? Because in Indonesia daily life is just that little bit more complicated. An unpredictable climate, weak infrastructure and an incredibly complicated bureaucratic structure are just some factors that make efficiency a foreign concept. If you have an appointment and it starts raining, you don’t push through the traffic to make it on time – you pull over and sit quietly until it stops. And if you want to get your drivers’ license, you don’t go directly to one office – you go to about four to get a variety of ‘official’ forms and documents first.
So in essence, the way I defined and lived my life was completely challenged. I had to take each step more slowly, and relinquish a certain amount of control. At first I found this not only frustrating, but also really confronting. But in the end, why did I have to follow certain routines, why did I have to check off a long to-do list? And if I didn’t have either routines or responsibilities, what did I have?
What did emerge was a new appreciation for the value of being content. In between traffic jams and late lecturers, a hot sun and a new culture, I gradually realised that there is a certain magic to sitting out the front of my veranda all day, drinking coffee and waving to the neighbours passing by. To be comfortable to end the day without having achieved anything more is a true achievement in itself. I don’t mean that we should all laze around all day watching TV – of course not. But I do think that to be comfortable with your own company and a blank schedule is an incredible skill.
I’m back in Australia now, and I’m quickly fitting into my old routines. It’s easy and comforting – and it’s me. I do like to work hard and I like to earn my rest. But my year in Indonesia didn’t pass without realising a few home truths…one being that sometimes, sitting down and thinking nothing more than how beautiful the breeze feels, is the biggest achievement of all.
Image: Riza Nugraha