Arriving to Koh Phangan can feel like arriving to paradise at the sight of the beautiful beaches and the feel of the heat. Or it can feel like arriving to a messy hub of unconscious travellers, slippery sand, and sticky heat. Usually, and naturally, the longer visitors stay on the island, the more they become aware of the duality of this tropical paradise. Koh Phangan looks great on postcards, which don’t usually illustrate some of the things which can be experienced as annoying around here.
Generally, when we get irritated about something, it is very easy to automatically, almost even impulsively, react. And when we react with an annoyed attitude, that is usually the response we will get reflected back to us. And there is usually more happening at hand, and it’s good to slow down, zoom out, and see the big picture of it all...and realise it’s not all about us.
The first step is always awareness- not only of the already to us obvious occurring act which is causing us stress, but of our inner reaction thereof before we externalise it! This simple practice of awareness will already make a huge difference and you will learn it’s a great way to get to know yourself better, and live more harmoniously as well.
To speak a little bit more concretely, I’d like to share a list of typically stressful situations here on Koh Phangan (and of course you may find these occurring anywhere else in the world too), and suggest some of the ways in which you could deal with it in, let’s say more ‘yogic’ ways. With this I do not mean that we should necessarily break out a Yoga pose in the face of a stressful situation, although that may in fact help heaps but at the same time be slightly socially awkward.
One Yogic thing though that is applicable to all the situations which I will mention, is to check your breath. When we are angried, our breath becomes quicker and more shallow, which doesn’t particularly put us in the more relaxed, zen attitude which helps us to live more harmonious lives. I am not saying by the way that stress is all bad bad bad, I am just willing to imply that it is most of the time not necessary and there is a lot that we can do to deal with this feeling that can easily bubble up for so many of us. So again, check your breath, and if you notice it being more agitated than usual, make a conscious effort to deepen it, and to slow it down. Do this 10 times. I am sure we have all heard this before, and yet we simply don’t do it enough! Having said this, here’s the list:
1 - Traffic
You came to holiday on a small, relaxed island, and you find yourself taking ages to get from A to B, looking left and right as scooters pass you or randomly stop in front of you in the middle of the road. And some of these drivers look like they have never been on a scooter before, and like they should really be wearing a helmet, and that perhaps the backs of their scooters should have two small wheels attached to them like those kiddy bicycles. What to do? After slowing down your breath, become aware of your judgemental thoughts, and perhaps check in if they could possibly ever apply to parts of yourself.
We tend to judge others for what we ourselves are guilty of. No? Ever heard the saying ‘Denial is not just a river in Africa? (*referring to The Nile in case that wasn’t obvious). You will likely be surprised that some of these judgements do indeed apply to yourself, and by the time you realise this, the road will be a little clearer, and you can continue your mission. Lastly, why are you rushing anyway? Leave earlier if you want to make sure you arrive somewhere in time. We often try to ‘save’ time by rushing to places, but in doing so we actually end up stealing more energy from ourselves and also make the experience all the less enjoyable.
2 - Delayed boats
Hopefully this doesn’t mean you will miss your connecting flight if that’s where you’re headed, but there are signs all over the place suggesting to make sure to take a boat in time to ensure you can arrive on time to the rest of your travels. A lot of people say they ‘hate waiting’. I used to! Until I changed my outlook and started seeing waiting as ‘new time that just became available’. This is time that you could spend doing some journaling about your journey, or some reflective meditation. You could also use it as an opportunity to make new connections. Look around you, and say hi to someone who seems like they are in your same situation. You never know where a simple kind hello to a new soul could lead! You could also just chillax, have a shake, and listen to your favorite groovy music on your iPod and laugh off these happenings of the easygoing island life.
So, the above two typical situations really come down to better planning actually - leave your place earlier if you are aiming to get somewhere in time! However if, and when faced with any stress related to still finding yourself in any of these cases, I hope that some of the above tips will be useful for you.
Moving on to some other things typically happening on the road…
3 - Dogs
Koh Phangan dogs are all over the place, and they are unpredictable! One moment they are sleeping on the side, the next they are growling or even worse, jumping at you while you are trying to keep your balance on your bike! First of all - do not freak out and lose control over your bike! So many people end up having terrible accidents in this way. Keep your centre, stay calm (even if that feels counterintuitive - actually freaking out will just make the dog freak out even more), bring your legs together and closer to your center, speed up and keep driving. Before you know it, the situation will have passed and you’ll be all good. Your heart may be racing a little faster than usual...let it pump that prana (life force) through your body without worrying about it too much - it will naturally slow down to its normal pace, and you’ll soon be sitting down on your next stop enjoying a young fresh coconut and laughing about the crazy dogs.
4 - Driving behind a truck full of sand
This situation always used to annoy me, until I found myself complaining about it to a friend about it and then started laughing as I heard myself nagging about something so silly. When there is a truck full of sand driving in front of me, and I feel unsafe to pass it because the road I am driving on is so narrow that I could be risking a full-frontal clash with another vehicle (I have a friend to whom this happened...thank God he survived and is O.K. now but I do imagine that to be super scary and extremely dangerous!), I think: ‘Koh Phangan - the postcard vs. the reality’. In this case, it’s really just best to find some humor in it, and to just stop at the side of the road for a little bit (slowing down usually doesn’t really help, because these trucks seem to always be driving so slow that if they would be driving any slower, they would actually maybe be driving backwards!). This will take you only two minutes or so. You could take a photo with your phone of the truck driving away, or perhaps make a short little video clip of it, put a nice filter on it, and save it for a funny social media post you could share later with your friends! Also, more ‘philosophically’ you could embrace the idea of the duality we live in, somehow everything in this reality is paired by its opposite, and we cannot really escape it, so might as well embrace it!
5 - People littering on the street
Perhaps this doesn’t annoy you. But it does tend to call my attention when I see it happening, and I find it difficult to not act. I can be quick to get judgemental types of thoughts about people who seem to be flowing through their lives so unconsciously. And then I come to realise that it’s probably simply because they don’t know better, or don’t care, which essentially does come down to the same thing as not knowing any better. And so I do something which many would perhaps even find humiliating, but I find it humbling and effective, as often the best way to teach others something is to lead by example.
What I do, is: I go near them, pick up their trash, smile, and put it in the bin. I notice people are generally surprised by this, and they get rather embarrassed looks on their faces. I have found this (speaking from my own experience) to be more effective than approaching them verbally about their behavior, which generally causes them to react in defensive ways. I also find it a good practice to not be so much up in my ego, and to be humble enough to pick up that trash and throw it in the bin myself if I care so much.
After now having talked about some typical situations that happen on the road, I’d like to conclude the list by a few that often happen in public places such as shops and local restaurants.
6 - People cutting in line
Elbow them and punch them in the face! Just kidding guys. Please do not do that even though I know you are fantasizing about it. I have! There’s a few options you have here in regards to dealing with this in a zen way. You could shrug it off, and let it be, but only do this if you can really shrug it off and not be still annoyed by it later on while you’re trying to enjoy your dinner and find yourself still thinking about it. You could also just say something simple such as “I was in line first.” I find that what makes the huge difference here, is how you say this. When you say it, say it softly and kindly, while at the same time stepping in front of them and taking your place. If the person is Thai, then say it to them in Thai and I promise you they will be surprised and be O.K. with you taking back your place: “C̄hạn xyū̀ nı t̄hæw ræk” would be what you say to them. I do advise you to check with a thai local about how to pronounce this properly as it’s kind of hard for me to do this for you here through writing and intonation in Thai language is key! Really it is much more important than you would imagine (we don’t have this issue in English, but if you say things with a different intonation you could actually be saying something completely different so this is just a disclaimer to be careful in your pronunciation and intonation of Thai phrases you learn!).
6 - People pushing or stepping over your toes and not bothering to apologize
With this one, just whatever. Let it slide, especially if it’s only your ego that got hurt but physically you’re O.K.
7 - Ordering food at a Thai restaurant, and seeing the Thai workers sitting around but not attending to the order
This has happened to me sometimes, even while being the only one at the restaurant! Just stand up and talk to them and kindly ask if they can start preparing your delicious meal soon. They will get to it. I haven’t really figured out why this happens, but I’ve heard from some friends it has happened to them too. With this one, it’s again applying the yogic principle of ahimsa (Sanskrit for non-violence) in your communication, and seeing the humor in it, realising there is really no big harm done and that it’s a funny story to share with your friends back home.
8 - Overtly ‘conscious talk’ in public
Even though I consider myself a yogi, I have recently found myself rather irritated when I am sitting in a restaurant in Srithanu, the so-called ‘conscious’ area of the island most of the yogis find themselves, and I overhear conversations from people who are bragging on and on about their spiritual lives and their profound awakenings. I find myself thinking thoughts such as ‘keep it real man!’ And then I again find that I have brought myself in a loop of judgemental thoughts about a situation which is not harming me whatsoever, and that actually it’s at least way better (although perhaps less exciting) than overhearing a conversation by a duo scheming up their next crime scene.
I try to become aware of the passing nature of my thoughts, and to just laugh it off. To be honest, I have surely at some point found myself sitting at some restaurant telling someone about what a great meditation I had and what a profound meditation I had. *Rolls eyes.* If it’s not causing any harm, this is a good chance to practice the yogi principle of aparigraha (Sanskrit for detachment), just let it go! Once you make a firm decision to let a thought go, it’s not that hard...you just let it go….and then wait for it to come back! Just kidding there...although you know they say there’s a truth to every joke.
Anyway, hopefully you will all enjoy your stay on this beautiful island, find some humor in some of the simple situations that we tend to get annoyed by, and perhaps find some inspiration in some of the yogic ways to deal with them which I have shared with you here in this article.
Be safe, and have fun!
Love & namaste,