7.42 UK time (22.43 Abu Dhabi)
I have been exploring the options on my inflight screen and discovered that next to the map icon you also have the ‘Mecca Pointer’ which shows you the direction and distance to the Holy Land, and when your next prayer time is. There is also a tab for the ‘Full recitation of all the verses of the Holy Quran,’ which is indeed a delicious sounding recitation in Arabic. It’s several hours long though so for my cultural enlightenment I choose from the music range, a friendly looking man with a headdress and a sitar called Abadi Aljohar. Lovely voice, lots of jingly bells and sitar strumming, like the soundtrack for the bit of an action film where they land in Egypt.
Or the soundtrack for my flight in which I absorb the wisdom of Jay Shetty. He smiles at me with excellent teeth and green eyes from the cover of the book and tells me that he will explain how I can, one: Let go, two: Grow and three: give.
It is quickly apparent that he is exactly the travel companion I need on this exploration as he starts off by quoting Charles Horton Cooley’s synopsis of the problem of identity: ‘I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.’
Well no wonder it’s so hard.
I have avoided the sentence because it’s so cliche, but I really am on a quest to find myself. I need to find out who I am when I’m not encased in the patterns of destructive behaviour that have turned me into a person I don’t think is actually me, and who has become exhausted, depleted and disillusioned with herself. The whole church doctrine of ‘live for the sake of others’ is one I didn’t let go of, to an unhealthy extent that manifests as self destructive workaholism. How much of it is me being a kind and caring person and how much is it a desperate need to be approved of as the good girl? Some untangling to do. And maybe some people to disappoint.
‘It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’ s life with perfection’. Bhagvad gita. Nice. P3.
After an introduction on the importance of knowing what your values are, Mr Shetty says something that I think is the motto for my adventure: ‘When we tune out the opinions, expectations and obligations of the world around us, we begin to hear ourselves.’
21.14. Descending into Abu Dhabi. They play us adverts for how great the city is. A child nearby screams in the pain were all feeling as our ears suffer the altitude change. Ow. Jesus ow.
May 13. 10am. Abu Dhabi airport is a shiny buzzing place. Very international, very 24 /7. At 3am it was quiet – ladies polishing shelves with spot-lit handbags, Costa workers slouching on their phones, bins being emptied – but still fully open. The departure boards showed flights right through the night. In among all the western commercial glitz, there are the many prayer rooms, the red crescent charity collection box, and the robes. Elegant men with neatly trimmed beards, in flowing down to the ground white robes, with perfectly swished headscarves held in place with a black band. Beautiful. And the stunning women, gliding elegantly through the duty free, full body black robes flowing silently, head dress nearly framing perfectly made up faces.
1128. I love watching the terrain below. You get a real sense of the immensity of the world. There are rugged grey and brown mountains, with wildly meandering rivers outlining the contours, and then nestled in safe little alcoves, near the rivers, are clusters of tiny little white buildings. Humans have explored and settled wherever they can, like insects building their colonies.
As we took off, the impressive geometric rows of Abu Dhabi – with shiny great buildings along ruler straight roads and perfectly arced crescents – spread out to the edge of the city, and then there was just vast dusty desert. Humans have built a stunning congregation of wealth and opulence in the middle of this sparse and sun-bleached terrain, which would have started as a simple settlement millenia ago, when some wandering tribe decided it was a good spot to pitch their tents. The essay on the problem of overpopulation is for another time, but for now the perspective up here, of seeing how the story of humanity and our need for survival and connection is helpful in reminding me of my place in it all. If I had been born here I would have different values, priorities, and fears. And my unique set of personality bits and bobs arrived because of who I was surrounded by, the church doctrine I was infused with, as well as the geography of the Wiltshire countryside and how our settlements grew up around those rivers and hills just like the middle eastern children growing up in those white buildings 40,000 feet below me. Here I am, the result of civilisations growing and reproducing and popping out another human who is wired for connection and driven by the fear of loosing it. My whole identity is based around an urgent need to keep connected, that I only deserve if I please everyone around me, even the ones I don’t like. Because the fear of disconnection is irrationally terrifying for a very powerful part of my brain.
Is this the bit where I start to talk about where it all went wrong in Melksham? Perhaps that story isn’t ready to be told yet.
7.15pm. Half an hour till Bangkok. If you don’t arrange your own sleep on a plane, sleep will grab you suddenly and will really hurt your neck in the process. With not even a jumper to support my head, I’ve slept a head bobbing hour or two full of confusing dreams. Snippets of colleagues, countries and quests. And in my last few minutes I grab a bit of Jay Shetty. He’s very keen to get me to understand my values, and suggests that every time I’ve done something I regret, it’s because it wasn’t aligned with my values. I haven’t fully pinpointed what they are now but I can begin to work out what they’re not, by what I regret. And I regret the things that I did because someone else wanted me to and my need to please them was greater than my own sense of self and value. He says in order to find out what they are, look at what you admire in others. This is great homework as I have just written out a stash of thank you cards outlining the qualities of the people I admire.
Strength, integrity, stability, compassion, care, wisdom, authenticity.
I didn’t realise as I was scribbling out lovely words that these are the values of the people I choose to spend time with, and the qualities I wish I had more of. The qualities that hopefully this trip will help to identify and strengthen.
Which is a good thought to hold onto as we start the descent into Bangkok.