When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes, I already have everything that I really need.
--The Dalai Lama
As I wrote about last time, I’ve lost my job due to the messy state of my divorce. I have been told repeatedly by friends how amazed they are at how I’ve turned a bad situation around into a great adventure, which I suppose is true. But it is most of all the result of logic, open-mindedness and contentment.
With unemployment, and thus no income, looming, I was trying to figure out how I could best afford to live until the trial at the end of the year. With extremely limited credit (and anyway, I hate getting more into debt than absolutely necessary), virtually no savings, and only a few paychecks to go, I needed to do something cheaper than live how and where I am living now. Whether I am content with what I have or not, the fact remains that what I have is what I have. Wishing I had more money or other resources isn’t going to help me get through this challenge. Contentment with my situation is really the only way, when I look back in a few months, that I will be happy with what happened and where I will be then.
My family thought I should get a temp job, but it would probably end the same way as my current job, IF I could even get one in the first place. In the meantime, while looking, I would still be faced with the same financial situation I’m in now, with the costs of living eating into my savings.
So I started thinking outside the box. If it is too expensive to live here, where could I go and what could I do that would be cheaper? I had enough budgeted to last me several months of fixed expenses during unemployment, but only if I had no rent and very limited daily living expenses (food, transportation, etc).
And, as long as I could not stay here, where would I even want to go? Since I have to drop everything, what would I want to do instead? If I already have everything I need, how could I best apply these resources?
So I made a list of places I’d like to go, both domestic and international. (I’m a big fan of lists – I have a whole stack of them on my desk, and quite a few on my computer too). Then I checked up on some basic living expense comparisons for each place, and airfare or car expense to get there. This cut out quite a few choices, including practically everything in the U.S. and Europe. A few options, such as hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, were not feasible because I needed to be able to stay connected at least weekly in case my lawyer needed to reach me. It would have been great to just start my Centauride, but I am nowhere near to being ready for that with such short notice.
I had to act fast, so a week after I found out I’d lose my job within the month, and with my list of places narrowed down to a few countries, I delved into my research for opportunities and costs for each location. Visa requirements for each, travel shots required and appointment made, several travel guides read through, discussions with numerous experienced travelers, and even more information, gathered and sifted through. I looked at USAid, teaching English, and several other programs, and settled upon WWOOF (WorldWide Opportunities in Organic Farming, also called Willing Workers On Organic Farms), which provides room and board at farms in exchange for part time assistance with farm work.
A week later, I had my decision: India! In the approximately 12 weeks I will be there, I plan on visiting the foothills of the Himalayas in the North, the deserts (and camels!) of Rajasthan in the west, the jungles of the East, and the beaches and tropical farms of the South. I still have to contact each farm and make arrangements, but I am hoping to work on a tea plantation, a Buddhist nunnery, a World Heritage ashram, a camel safari, an elephant stable, a water buffalo dairy, and also farms that grow cocoa, coffee, rubber, and other things that I have never seen grown before. Plus do some sightseeing, of course!
It is a great exercise in contentment. I could have spent my last two weeks angry, depressed, and upset about the loss of my job and the lack of progress in my divorce, but instead I accepted that I am where I need to be, and looked ahead to where I want to go. If I couldn’t work or live here, I might as well do something worthwhile that I could not do when employed. If I had to find a way to live even more cheaply than I already have been, I could find a solution that would be enjoyable too, and not just tighten my belt and hope for the best. I have lists of things I want to do and learn, and with many months of unemployment ahead of me, I will have all sorts of time to achieve some of them.
That’s not to say that the situation is not upsetting. It is. When I think of the reason I am going to travel, I get queasy and a little angry. But I think this is a great solution to a terrible problem. As hard is it can be to feel content with a job loss and financial difficulties, it is possible to see what opportunities also exist in that moment – and then grab them with both hands! When life hands you lemons, don't just settle for lemonade... make yourself a whole dang lemon meringue pie!