BLOG POST: After living thirteen years in East Asia I now find myself living back in the old country, Australia. In fact it has been sixteen years since I left The Lucky Country; and just three weeks since I got back. So what do I notice that is different?
The first thing I appreciated is just how quiet it is here. To be fair, I am living with my brother in a small country town of Morwell (two hours drive from Melbourne), so it’s a huge contrast to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. In Hong Kong it’s a fight just to find a seat at a coffee shop or at the shopping mall. The streets are teeming with people, and quite often you have to literally shoulder people as they push and shove their way around you. When I walk down the street here, I am lucky to see any other human beings at all! The quiet is both nice… and a little disconcerting. One is often left to deal with one’s own sense of life and experience.
It is beautiful here. There is green grass, there are trees. The sky is vast and blue, with crisp white and grey clouds moving slowly overhead. There are birds too, something that one almost never sees in China. Indeed I have been attacked by several magpie mothers; a common hazard in the spring, as mothers attempt to protect the nests which contain their young.
At night the heavens here open up to the vastness of space, a million stars greeting the observer from scores, hundreds and thousands of light-years away. I can’t ever remember seeing a star in China or Hong Kong. It was often hard enough to see the moon or sun. In Beijing the sky is almost always grey, even when there are no clouds.
My brother and I drove to a house just fifteen minutes away from here a few days ago. There was abundant scenery to be seen; in the yard there was a horse, a goat and three dogs. I sent my wife a few photos. She is in Beijing at present. She said she was very jealous of the natural world she saw, and the “endless rolling fields”.
But it’s damn expensive here. When I arrived at Melbourne airport, I caught a fifteen-minute airport bus to a downtown train station. It cost me AUS$17. By contrast, the fast train to Hong Kong airport from downtown only costs about AUS$11. It travels ten times further than the airport bus in Melbourne. In China I can travel on a fast train from Beijing to the coastal city of Qingdao – a six hour journey – for about AUS$30. Everything else is really expensive, too. The cost of living here is extreme – with some exceptions. I was in a department store today and saw men’s shoes for as little as $12 – made in China, of course! Rent is much cheaper than Hong Kong, and that even holds true closer to Melbourne than I am. In Hong Kong an extremely unfortunate situation has developed whereby the government and property developers have taken a stranglehold on the city. With each passing year people are forced into smaller and smaller apartments at higher and higher rents. Most are 400-500 square feet, and that accommodates entire families. The latest trend is for the young in Hong Kong to live in subdivided flats. Landlords can make more money by dividing their already tiny flats into several rooms. There university graduates living in “flats” as small as 16 square feet. That’s about twice the size of your average coffin.
In Hong Kong and China I ate at restaurants every day, often two times daily. My wage was high, and the food cheap. In my three weeks back in Australia I have not eaten once at a restaurant. I am making my own lunch and cooking dinner again for the first time in over a decade. That is not an exaggeration. I cannot remember the last time I cooked a meal before my return!
Everything else costs more too. The internet, mobile phone bills, cinema tickets, coffee shops, you name it.
I have been complaining about the cost of living here, but then yesterday I listened in to a webcast by my favourite spiritual teacher, Leonard Jacobson. He was talking about abundance. He said that abundance does not always come in the form you think it does. Later that day I went to the gym not far from my brother’s house. As usual, after entering the gym I brought myself into presence by focusing on my breath, and my body. To do this I bring my energy out of “the head”, and get really grounded. When I did this yesterday it hit me. I already have access to abundance beyond imagining. All my immediate needs have been met since I arrived here. My judgment at the cost of living was just getting in the way of my experiencing how “rich” I already am.
After my workout, I went into the changing room, and ran the water in the washbasin. I cupped the water in my hand, and brought it to my mouth. I drank. It was cool and refreshing. “Wow!” I said to myself. For thirteen years in Asia I was unable to drink from a tap. Pure, fresh running water is available to everyone in Australia. What a gift! Then I looked in the mirror, and saw a very healthy 46 year old man staring back at me. How wonderful it is that I have my health, and can even engage in the vanity of going to a gym to shape my middle-aged physique. That was unimaginable in my parents’ day. I then walked out into the parking lot and jumped in my recently purchased car. Before my return to Australia I had not driven for thirteen years. Now I find myself driving in a wonderful vehicle; second-hand but in great condition.
When I got back to my brother’s place, he had cooked dinner for me. It was a cool winter’s evening, but the gas heater was already on, warming the simple house.
Yes, that was when I really got it. The present is already rich in meaning and wonder. Why then do we always want for so much more? Many modern “spiritual” philosophies also encourage people to want more, and even that it is “spiritual” to do so. The New Age movement is full of such thinking. The best-selling The Secret (video and books) is perhaps the classic case. It has sold countless millions of copies. Yet as far as I am aware, nowhere in any of its teachings does it tell us the greatest secret of all. That there are riches beyond imagining right here and now, if only we stop, breathe deeply and still ourselves long enough to see and feel the magic.
In presence the mind stops longing and returns to a state of grace, where goodness is seen in everything; love in everyone. Gratitude becomes spontaneous. That is because in the silence of the present moment, we become love itself. And what a priceless gift that is.
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