As I have discussed previously, I had some extremely rough times during 2016. Although I had gone through the most pain of my life, I was able to find empowering meaning in the bad experiences and I feel that they have helped the ongoing cultivation of my highest pharaoh.
Last year, my new years resolution actually turned out to be my main core value, to try to always stay presence. Although it took me a while to actually start succeeding in monitoring my own presence and paying attention to the small sensory details, I think its a goal that can never truly be fulfilled. Many of my core values are ongoing processes. I am sure that I will never fully be present, and that I will be a lesser or worse version of myself at times due to the fact that life comes with struggles and we are not perfect. As long as I’m able to be aware of my own unconsciousness at times, and am able to slip back into myself, I think that that is what would allow me to be mainly present. And when I’m present it is what allows me to achieve or practice all the other values.
The experience in which I felt the most present in 2016 was my four days in Seoul. The following quote best describes what I felt, “we travel not to escape life, but so that life doesn’t escape us.” My first night I was extremely exhausted after flying for countless hours. I had gotten pretty tipsy on the plane, but luckily got a short nap. I got to my hotel around 6 PM and decided to get out the door right away and start experiencing Seoul. A phenomenon that very rarely ever happens to me occurred: I was completely focused on the present moment. I had stopped thinking about my ex, LA, poker, or anything from the past. I wandered around looking at the different sorts of restaurants and stores. They had a pretty funny robot cow dancing outside of one of the restaurants I saw. His lights sparkled like ornaments on a christmas tree. I forgot my fatigue and did a couple of different laps around the blocks around my hotel. I forgot a lot of things. I wasn’t focused on what I knew, but I was looking at the world with the eyes of a child, in wonder, curiosity, and total appreciation of all the beauty around me.
After walking around for about an hour I finally decided on a restaurant. I was by myself, but two Korean guys were sitting at the table next to me, so I figured I would try to ask them for some recommendations on party spots and things to see. They actually had just started working that year in their company, and had just moved to Seoul as well a few months prior, so weren’t extremely helpful, but were fun to drink and talk about our respective countries. They recommended that I go to Hongdae over Itaewon because those were the two places I was interested in investigating, so I decided to go to Hongdae.
I absolutely loved Hongdae. It had such an inviting and relaxing yet upbeat vibe to it. There were lots of restaurants and shops with students and a lot of 20-24 year olds in the nearby UNI strolling around which was quiet, but then there was a street with all sorts of bars and clubs, so like I said, relaxing yet upbeat. After wandering for about an hour and talking to all sorts of people, an Estonian author, a couple of fellow arabs from Australia, I decided to finally go clubbing. The club vibe in Seoul was polar opposite to a club vibe in LA or Vegas. It felt like a rave. What I mean by this was that the crowd seemed to be in total synchronicity, actually shuffled and enjoyed the EDM, and then took an active interest in what I was doing in Seoul or what my story was. I ended up meeting a pretty sweet, energetic, and very fun Korean girl, 23 and we ended up dancing and drinking for the next span of time, not that I was keeping track. Good times 😉
The next day was by far the best experience of the four days in Seoul. I really wanted to go to Bukhansan park for a hike, and sadly I find out that it would be a 75 minute bus ride each way. Luckily it was only 10 AM, and I didn’t have plans until later that night, so I decided to go for it. The bus system in Korea is amazing. I couldn’t fathom taking a bus in America, but in Korea it was extremely cheap and convenient. The bus ride turned out to be extremely enjoyable. Time flies when you pay attention. The line on the way to Bukhansan showed me where Gyeonbokgun Palace was, another sight I wanted to see, and then also that there was a history museum a little ways onwards down from Gyeonbokgun. Time flew quickly as I gazed at all the little stores, restaurants, and people through my window. Soon the endless buildings ceased to exist, and luscious trees were in every direction as we approached Bukhansan.
The hike was about 1.6 miles up which took me a couple of hours. It was surreal. The landscape was so much more green and colorful than the brown and grey I was used to in Vegas, or when I had been to the Grand canyon. Seoul was so far off in the distance as I elevated higher, but time or space weren’t of concern to me. As I continued higher up the mountain I stumbled upon a little detour which took me to a small shrine
Back on the trail I was extremely surprised that the majority of people hiking were 55-70! I eventually caught up to two older guys that were 60 towards the summit that took a liking to me. Although they spoke no English, we used limited English and hand gestures to communicate. It definitely was one of the more unique experiences of my life and gave me a prelude to what teaching would be like. Is language really necessary when you can joyfully share silence? I ended up hiking the last half mile of the trail with them and then we stopped for a break. They gave me these delicious rice balls and some water. I was extremely lucky that I ran into them because I ran out of water a half hour earlier.
When I had started stretching the one who spoke a little English pointed to my foot. He motioned me to take off my shoe and then started massing his own foot while pointing to parts of his body; his brain, he made circling motion near his stomach which signified digestion I would imagine, and then pointed out his arm, looked at his buddy, and they started laughing. I assumed they meant their Johns. They asked me what it was in English, and, of course, I told them. We then kept up the trail til the end and they wouldn’t stop yelling penis LOLOLOL. None of the other elder Koreans paid attention to them, so luckily it didn’t make a difference, and eventually became hysterical. I started yelling it too. Why not do what makes you laugh when you’re in nature and totally free!
Eventually we got to the very top and I had the most incredible panorama view. Our elevation made it seem as if I could just reach my arm out a little higher and grab the clouds. Seoul was off in the distance, only a few small skyscrapers visible. They looked as if they could easily be flipped over like a row of dominoes. It was extremely hot, even this high up due to the humidity, but I felt no discomfort whatsoever. I felt liberated being outside of my mind and inside of nature. We eventually started making our way down and went our separate ways. They truly were inspirational. I hope that I can maintain my health and heart like they have done such a tremendous job of.
That night I met a friend in Itaewon, which like Hongdae, is an area with lots of restaurants and bars for people to party, but unlike Hongdae, I felt was targeted to an older crowd. I would say most people there were 25-30. It also is way more of a melting pot of cultures than Hongdae. I saw sooooo many different types of people from all over the world as well as different types of cuisines from all over the world. I may have seen a couple of Korean restaurants there. We had dinner at an English pub, smoked at a hookah lounge, and then bar hopped until 6.
Over the next few days I would eat a raw Octopus, wander around Gyeonbokgun palace, have another epic night in Hongdae, try a Korean spa which has all sorts of different hot and cold tubs that you could alternate back and forth between, and having another date at the Han river. The han river is an amazing idea for a date. Theres an illuminated path on both sides of the river and there are lots of grassy areas to stargaze and talk at. We stayed and talked for a while before getting a late dinner and giving our goodbyes.
In Seoul I feel like I had total access to my soul. I was not elsewhere in my mind foreboding joy, wondering what IF, worrying about time, or any other forms of mindlessness. All I did was pay attention and its pretty awesome what I found I was missing out on.