What I felt watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat

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The sun was rising in the most peculiar way over the ancient structures of the main Angkor Wat temple. It was as if the sun was ignoring the horizon and starting out further up in the sky. It was amazing, and everything was orange and beautiful. Angkor Wat looked even more magnificent that I had imagined. But a strange feeling came over me that was completely unexpected. I felt almost…underwhelmed. It wasn’t that what I was experiencing wasn’t absolutely breathtaking or awesome or wonderful – it had all to do with what brought me here.

It had been years since I had first read about Angkor Wat. Sitting in the uncomfortable chair of my shitty desktop at my shitty job, I wanted a distraction. I clicked on my Stumble Upon button, and my browser loaded a page showing a map and images of Angkor Wat. What I saw was incredible – I couldn’t believe that something like this actually existed on Earth. My mind was in complete awe as I read more about it, and I told myself that one day I would most definitely visit Angkor Wat myself.

It was pure fantasy. It was a promise I made to myself to get me through the day. And then day after day, I made myself more promises: “one day I’ll do this” and “some day I’ll go here.” But they weren’t real. They were all just pure fantasy. And as I walked up to this incredible ancient temple – the first of many on this journey I finally decided to take – it occurred to me that I could have actually done this at any point. When I first saw Angkor Wat on my computer screen and told myself that I wanted to go there, I could have literally booked a ticket that day. The trip would have costed me maybe one paycheck, but it was totally doable. If I really loved myself and really wanted to welcome happiness into my life, I would have just went to Angkor Wat that year. But I didn’t. In fact, it wouldn’t be until I sat at several more desks at four more different companies before I would even actually bring myself to actually go to Cambodia. And that thought – that I had basically created this fantasy which I wasn’t really intent on realizing just to get me through another day – was upsetting. It gave me an emptiness. I had deceived the best part of my humanity – wonder.

Wonder is that emotion that children get before they’re about to open a Christmas present. Wonder is what you felt when you first learned about your favorite animal. It’s that budding excitement you get when you see something that you wished you had dreamed about but you didn’t. It’s when, for a moment, reality defies your understanding of what you thought could have actually been, and your imagination does cartwheels. And wonder is something that fades as we get older because, obviously, we learn about most of the things that we’ll ever learn about.

When I first learned about Angkor Wat, it was wonder that I felt. And it felt good – it felt amazing. I was a child again, and the world was full of things that left me in awe. My imagination was doing cartwheels. But instead of running with that emotion, I used it. I harnessed that wonder and used it to get through another shitty day at my job. And that’s not how people should live. If you ever feel wonder – if you ever find yourself wide-eyed and quivering with excitement about something, just go for it. Accept it for what it is and go for it. Think about what your 8 year-old self would do if he were you – an adult in the free world that could probably do almost anything but instead continues to sit at his desk wasting away all the excitement in his life.

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