I was almost 30 years old when I arrived in Myanmar (Burma) and prepared to have my head shaved at a monastery in Yangon.
I sat down on a wooden chair in the middle of the monastery courtyard that gave way to a full view of curled barbed wire lining the walls of the premises and the armed guards at the gate. This gave me an alarming sense of comfort. No one could come in, nor could I get out. Perhaps I should have been terrified. But instead, it was like a blanket keeping me warm. This was the place I was meant to be.
An old nun then grabbed an old rusty single-blade razor and a cold bucket of water. I frantically prayed to Jesus that he wouldn’t strike me down with lightning. Surely becoming ordained as a Buddhist nun would be considered a major sin according to the Bible I had been strictly raised on.
Oh, shit. What was I getting myself into?
The good news is that shaving my head was one of the easiest parts of the ordination process. Living in silence for one year and barely eating would be an entirely different story. I vowed to eat only two meals a day, wake up at 3:30 AM every morning, sleep four hours a night, forego reading and writing in one hundred degree weather with voracious mosquitoes, and never knew when the government may decide to turn on or turn off the electricity. All of these combined made for a much different story, indeed.
With no friends, phones, margaritas, the internet, or sex, the silence was my last hope to regain the life in me that had been lost. I prayed this would be my salvation and wasn’t going to leave until it was.
Within walking distance of the monastery, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Myanmar democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi was being held captive for about thirteen years under house arrest by the military regime in power. I had all the time in the world to ponder on the dichotomy of my surroundings and my ever puzzling and sometimes scary past:
I went from being a nobody in a small town to working with celebrities and partying with the Latino elite, taking way too many ecstasy pills in Mexico and even surviving a run-in with the Mexican mafia. I traveled in and out of war zones in East Africa. And as for my biological background from Korea, I still didn’t know why my birth parents and three biological sisters in Seoul had mysteriously passed away before I had the chance to meet them.
I’d been to almost forty countries already. I’d met so many people—some dangerous, some masters of kindness. I’d made lifelong friends and also lost some along the way, so unexpectedly and seemingly so unfair to both them and the world.
I’d been immersed in extreme chaos. I’d loved being immersed in chaos. But then, I’d grown tired. It was time for the next sacred step, the shaving away of the bad and the dressing up in the new. Despite the rather extreme nature of the stoicism I was entering into, I knew this was the only option to help me find my balance.
Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar, is a city that glitters in gold on the outside but is far from having that much luxury on the inside. The contrasting city mirrored the shiny gold facade of the empty life I had been living that had thoroughly betrayed my isolated heart. But that isolation was the golden ticket to restore the life in me that had been lost. My spirituality, my purpose, and the vision of what my life should have been were nowhere to be found.
The normal, everyday people I have met around the world and the ever-changing environments challenged my worldviews, perspectives, and beliefs. Sometimes everything I had known in my entire life to be true was flipped upside down and crushed.
How can one small person wandering around a very big world find that reason to live again, or that energy to wake up excited to get out of bed, excited to contribute to the world every day?
It’s not easy. But it is possible.
So I invite you to continue Our Masterquest that is filled with forgotten adventures and unexpected glories too. You have a past filled with ordinary and extraordinary transformations that give us strength for the future if we join together to listen.