While travelling through Sri Lanka, I was fortunate to visit the city of Anuradhapura. Here, I took in a visit to Mahamevnawa Dhammachethiya Buddhist Monastery to learn about Buddhism. In particular, I was here to learn more about Theravada Buddhism, the more conservative of the two major traditions of Buddhism (the second being Mahayana).
It’s here where the VegVoyages tour group took time with one of the resident monks. This monk hadn’t always been a monk. He had spent much of his adult life in the corporate world in Sri Lanka as a lawyer. In the small amount of time I spent with this monk, he explained why he chose the path of a Buddhist monk. When he was a lawyer, he explained a moment in time when he felt his ‘file’ was always at the bottom of the ‘pile’. His clients’ files were always at the top of the pile, while his file was always pushed to the bottom.
It was this sinking feeling that put his heart and mind in motion to change the dynamic; to make a change whereby his file would be at the top of the pile. He chose to shed his contemporary possessions – suits, material belongings, credit cards – and enter the Buddhist monastery to become a monk.
His story resonated with me profoundly. About five years ago, I experienced a similar point in my life. I was in a stable position – steady job, secure marriage, a roof over my head. It all looked good on paper. Yet, I was increasingly being pulled in another, completely opposite, direction. Each morning when I woke up, I felt a gut-wrenching heaviness in my stomach. My job had become overwhelmingly stressful and I was being pulled in multiple directions. I couldn’t keep up with my daily tasks, I couldn’t keep up with household demands and I lacked time for travel and creativity.
Work-life balance was non-existent. Demands kept forcing my file deeper and deeper to the bottom of the pile. Deterioration ensued under the weight of stress, the weight of demands, and the weight of the world around me. Obviously, it was a world I had created but I began to question if it was a world I truly wanted. There was no room for meaningful travel or play; no headspace to create, imagine and volunteer. It was time to take a stand.
I decided that my file needed to rise to the top of the pile. How can anyone be of service to others and the greater causes in this world if we are compromised physically and emotionally? What good can we bring to this world and what good are we if we are not pushing our file closer to the top of the pile?
This might seem to be a selfish pursuit, but I think this Buddhist monk was on to something. If we can’t prioritise ourselves then the world can’t benefit from us, our presence and what we are here on this planet for. If we don’t have the space to pursue what is true to us and our unique self-expression, then what can we hope to bring to this world?
Travel means the world to me. A vegan lifestyle means the world to me. Being of service to others means the world to me. Expressing my creative attributes means the world to me. Four years on, I have set up my life so that I can live through these four crucial elements of my being. Work-life balance has been achieved, sure. But it’s what happens once the file is at the top of the pile. The world is a better place, I am better for it and, just as importantly, others are better for it.
Don’t be scared to put your file on the top of the pile, too.
The all-vegan tour company VegVoyages Vegan Adventure Tours travels to Kandy as part of its Sri Lanka 14-day Finding Serendipity on the Island of Serendip tour. VegVoyages’ 2020 Sri Lanka tour is scheduled for August 23 to September 5.
The tour costs US$2,795 per person twin share and covers all accommodation, meals, activities, transport and guides. Single supplement is also available. The tour starts and ends in Colombo. For all tour dates and pricing, visit the VegVoyages website.
Justine de Jonge travelled with VegVoyages in August/September 2019. All flights, tour fees, activities and tips were paid for in full by Justine de Jonge. All views expressed in this blog post are her own and did not receive any remuneration in exchange for this blog post.