Funny isn’t it, how time just passes us by? Caught up in the daily routine of making money, practicing an aspirational health regime, appearing to be the perfect friend, child, parent, partner, colleague, a superhuman, an influencer, mindful and compassionate, have a house, a car, go on holidays, buy the newest gadgets, dine in the trendiest restaurants, the list goes on… Keeping up with the Joneses… Tell me, who the f*** are these people and why does it matter to so many of us? That was me too, you know. Aspiring to that perfect life. Maybe it’s because I moved out of my aspirational twenties and through some difficult decisions in my mid-thirties. Those forties are going to be here in a blink of an eye, but it has taken me seemingly forever to realise that all this stuff only matters for one thing – to realise that it doesn’t. Simple as. And maybe reading this you already share this wisdom, maybe you disagree and maybe you’ve been asking yourself the one question recently that started everything with me. “I have all I ever wanted, so why am I not happy?”
I am lying in the sun, my gaze drifting into the blue sky. It is hot. My skin is warm and I can feel each grain of sand that has found its way onto my feet. The subtle breeze makes way to a soft rustling sound as the leaves of the palm tree sway high above and cast a dancing shade on the sun loungers below. It is my 33rd birthday and I am in heaven. As my mind settles into the experiences of the last weeks I think of the first day we stepped out into the streets of Colombo. Searching for breakfast we watched locals queue outside a small cafe and in haste pointed to the various dishes on offer. The overwhelming heat and stuffiness of the morning sun amplified by the fumes of the city and the open gas cookers in this tiny shack. A plastic bag was quickly filled with yellow curry, some sweet and spicy coconut sambol, fresh rotti and some string hoppers. Arriving late the day before and still jet lagged we settle in. The steel chairs and tables underwhelming, but the atmosphere buzzing with excitement, as we watch the madness of Sri Lanka’s city life unfold right in front of our eyes. Having only recently moved to London, a new chapter had begun for both of us and I felt excited about this adventure in a time where we had lost touch with what it meant to be a couple. With fire in our bellies… yes, it takes some time to adjust to the flavours of Sri Lanka…the warm sun on our backs and a lust for new memories we found ourselves laughing together again, as we watched baby elephants stumbling around the national park in their playful manner. We revelled in the local culture and history, explored the cities and countryside, learnt about cricket, and sought out tortoise sanctuaries to witness the conservation work first hand. And as our final days and with that my “special day” was approaching, we went to check in to our final beach front accommodation. Arriving at the hotel after a long four hour drive I was eager to slip into my bathers, dip my toes in the pool and sit back with a cocktail in hand, listening to the sound of waves crashing on the beach. My dreams shattered within an instant as the accommodation was nothing close to what I had hoped for. Irrational fear and anger came over me, rising up and forming a lump in my throat as I looked at the sad sight we had paid to stay in for the next few days. As soon as the porter left us in our room rage overcame me and I had an emotional meltdown. The reasons I produced to not spend another second in this awful testament to a hotel were completely ridiculous in hindsight and yet my uncontrollable outburst paved the way for me to get what I desired. A childish and foolish response – especially in light of the first hotel being totally acceptable for our standard choice of travel. For some reason I had it in my head that this should be a special place to celebrate and it had to come with white sandy beaches, an ocean view restaurant and a big pool. Well… what do you think happened? Of course I got what I wanted. At least what I thought I had wanted and yes – my day was wonderful, the food was amazing and I felt like a million dollars. I was surprised with a romantic seafood meal on the beach, we had a beautiful room, there was a pool and we could watch the gigantic lizards roam the property. He went out of his way to satisfy my unquenchable thirst for pampering and feeling desirable, special, worth every penny. Little did I realise then how this experience would help me learn and grow.
Today this is the first time I am allowing myself to write about this trip. The realisation that everything I thought to find in a luxurious accommodation would help me cherish and remember this day forever, was something I truly believed back then. What I walked away with from that trip of a lifetime was the realisation that I was still in search of the key to my happiness. Five years on and I am more confident in knowing who I am, what I love and what I want from life and yet it still takes an enormous amount of energy every day to remind myself that I am enough. What are the things that stayed with me from Sri Lanka? The memory of walking down a dark alley in search of the best local restaurant in Colombo and being rewarded with the most incredibly tasting crab curry. Watching the young men bathe in the port of Galle, seemingly unscathed by the midday heat. The smell of curry, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves lingering in the air. Staring into his eyes and knowing this trip had changed everything. Those are the memories that stay with me forever and they are the ones that matter. Emotional connections, spiritual experiences, sounds, smells and tastes that captivate the senses. Happiness is not created. Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like.