「week 25」Returning and the cave

I decided to write this piece with as least thinking and organizing as possible.

In the past month or so that I didn’t write, I was busy with many things. Travelling alone in Laos. Starting the new job. Getting annoyed and exhausted by the new commute. A short and reminiscent trip to Shanghai. Seeing someone that means something to me. Meeting many that mean little to me. Being distracted for silly reasons. A few silent and chronic heartbreaks, for the soured friendship, the enlarging gap on a society level, the fleeting intimacy.

On top of all these undercurrents, I feel like I was really just busy doing one thing. I was waiting for them to pass. I was waiting for this moment that I can sit down back at my desk and type, with a more or less neutral mind. The moment of returning.

There were twice I tried to force myself to sit down and pretend I’m here, but both times I failed. I wasn’t here. I was somewhere else. I discarded the unfinished drafts that I wrote as if they were mind garbage. I don’t want to force it. It has to be flowing out of my mind naturally. It has to be that I really feel ready to be here, instead of the adult version of me ordering me to be here. When I was in primary school, the schoolwork that I dreaded most is the weekly journal we had to write. I always felt deeply stressed by that assignment and would have a mini-breakdown (a mix of tears and curse) most Sunday afternoons when I didn’t know what to write. Funnily enough, I almost replicated the same scene in my middle-age adulthood.

I won’t say I’ve completely shrugged off the aftermath of this mini-storm in the past month or so, but here I am anyways, giving it a try, and documenting with my maximum honesty.

I started to meditate for 15 mins every night before I slept (if I’m not too drunk) recently, as an attempt to regain some control in the midst of a turbulence, or simply out of a need to spend some “quality time” with myself out of a crazy life schedule.

When I close my eyes, the one scene that keeps emerging is when I was in a dark cave in Laos. In some way, it seems my mind was trying to take me back there. The cave experience is not very pleasant to think of. I was at the end of a full-on doing-stuff day in Vang Vieng. And the last activity in my booked private tour was visiting Jung Cave. My driver dropped me off at the entrance of the area and I started to walk in myself. I was quite exhausted already and thought, let me just get this over with.

When I was walking in, I realized this scenic area is bigger than I thought. Since it was already the last opening hour of the day, people were walking out as I walked in. The whole area was getting quiet. I didn’t see any peer tourist around except myself. At somewhere, I saw a group of Lao teenagers hanging outside a small entrance to a cave, they were playing guitar and singing. I walked over, and saw a buddha at the entrance of the cave. I walked into the cave without a second thought, assuming that was the cave I was supposed to see.

As I continued to get in, the natural light was quickly lost. It was pitch dark inside and it became more and more challenging to climb. I had to use all my four limbs to climb up. I remembered seeing a group of elderly tourists walking pass me as I entered and wondered how they climbed this challenging cave. Despite of the suspicion in my mind, I proceeded to climb in pure darkness. I had to use my phone as torch so I can make out the inside of the cave – it was absolutely a wild cave, extremely narrow and steep. At one point when it was simply too narrow for me to climb through and I didn’t see any other possible ways around, I knew it was time to give up and retreat. And it was at that moment, when I tried to step down with my body in a completely twisted posture, that I missed a step and fell off in the cave by about two meters in height, with my arms and legs scratching against the rough rocks and my phone dropped off my hand. The typical “FUCK!” moment. I probably did say that, gasping and evaluating the damage. My phone was ok. I managed to stand up and reorient my body to be temporarily safe. Some scratches and broken skins on my arm and my right hip hurt terribly, but I managed to get out without further surprises.

It was an unfortunate but minor incident and I didn’t linger on too much for the rest of the trip. It was also a stupid mistake. I found my way to the “right” cave I was supposed to visit, a huge one that no climbing was involved at all. I hastily dressed the wounds and scrapped the whole wild cave excursion to the back of my mind.

When my subconsciousness took me back to the dark cave, I had no choice but to revisit the scene, the whole process, and especially the state of mind in the few seconds right after the fall. I remember feeling a fluttering fear in my heart, becoz I was all alone in a pitch dark wild cave and I just fell. If I injured myself more seriously, I could be in a real danger and it’d be very tricky to get help from where I was. I remember telling myself to stay calm and figure out a strategy (to move my body around the tricky rocks in dark) as soon as possible, I quickly switched my mind to a “surviving is key” mode. I was alone, absolutely alone, not just physically. It was like in an instant, that fall cut off all my connection with the world outside the cave and I slid to a parallel universe where there was just me. I also didn’t have any intention or bandwidth left to connect. I was 100% there, body and soul. In an obvious way, it wasn’t an ideal situation. But in a less obvious way, it wasn’t all bad. In fact, having revisited the scene repeatedly in my meditation, I realized it isn’t a situation that could be easily labelled as “good” or “bad”. It is simply an irregular heartbeat in the scale of life.

I’m not sure why this scene, of relative insignificance, kept emerging in my meditation. I could only assume it’s my subconsciousness reminding me of that feeling of my sheer existence, the kind that one sometimes can only feel through an irregular heartbeat.

Not many of us is in search of that cave. I’m certain that many of us aren’t even aware of the existence of caves like that. But the cave is just there. I have been there, by chance or by choice.

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