“What were your best bits?”, “What’s the most memorable thing you did?”, “What was your overall impression?” are just some of the questions I have been asked since I returned from Sri Lanka to the UK.
Life has returned to normal and the usual responsibilities, work and deadlines have replaced the time and space I had to observe and reflect. So what are my most enduring impressions from my weeks in Sri Lanka?
Lessons from Sri Lanka – enduring memories
Firstly, I usually find upon returning from my travels abroad that the memories and experiences begin to fade and take a back seat in my mind as daily life reasserts itself. However, I am not finding this happening with my Sri Lanka experiences. I believe that some of what I witnessed and took part in has affected me at some fundamental level. My lessons from Sri Lanka are likely to be enduring. The trip has definitely got me looking at everyday occurrences with, if not exactly a completely different perspective, certainly a different slant on how I interpret them and react.
Having now understood more about the Buddhist faith there are aspects that I am now in complete accord with. I will remain someone who is not happy to embrace an organised religion (it’s just not my style) but that doesn’t mean that I cannot appreciate and agree with what to me sounds like common sense when it is explained.
The main concept was that Buddha stated all man’s sufferings come from our cravings. We always want something more than we have already got. When we decide that we desire something we are not happy until we have achieved or got it but it is not long before that happiness fades and we want or desire the next thing or something else. We are never content, and that lack of contentment leads to us being unhappy, anxious and stressed, in other words we are continuously suffering.
Now doesn’t that sound like the western world? Isn’t that how we are conditioned to be from the moment we are born? Even if we can put a roof over our heads, clothe and feed ourselves do we then say, ‘that’s great, I am content, I’ll stop here now’?
The Sri Lankan’s who practice Buddhism seem to be close to this sense of contentment. Don’t get me wrong, they still play their national lottery and if they won I am sure they would have the time of their lives splurging it. However, they genuinely seem to be happy with what they have got even, as I saw, when what they have is very little. They seem to have more of a sense of joy and peace with their world. Applying this lesson from Sri Lanka I have been trying to emulate this more laid-back approach to life since my return and have been pleasantly surprised at how much nicer my day and my work seems to be.
Lessons from Sri Lanka – community is important
I was also quite envious that the Sri Lankans are holding on to their sense of community. With very little state support, apart from education and medical care, it is imperative that they help each other. The elderly are helped and respected by the younger, the children are watched over and cared for en masse, the Buddhist monks who have no form of income are looked after by their surrounding villagers. If someone falls on hard times or is ill (or falls off a bicycle!) those around them rally around to make sure they are OK and offer assistance. I believe it is these attitudes that make the locals such authentic, friendly, kind, welcoming people. I hope that, as western values encroach into their country, they never lose these basic ways of behaving or qualities of character. I may not be able to do anything here in the UK to re-build the sense of community that we have lost, however, I am doing my best in my local area to be more approachable, be friendly, ask if people are OK and reaching out more. So, one of the lessons from Sri Lanka is to connect with and support those in your community.
Lessons from Sri Lanka – nature and getting on with life
I was also very struck by the wild beauty that still dominates Sri Lanka. The places I visited were mainly small and had been developed sympathetically with the surrounding environment and wildlife. You get to immerse yourself in their way of life and their surroundings and see and appreciate why Sri Lanka is such a jewel of a country.
However, I fear this may not last much longer. Near the main city of Colombo I noticed the only KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut I was to see on my trip. The shops were on a par with our own, many selling the useless things we favour such as French fashion, jewellery, perfume, and big shiny motor cars. Luminous signs flashing away incessantly day and night. And, of course, as tourism increases the tourists demand for bigger, flashier hotels will increase and the money that will lead to will be just too tempting for big business. I fear before much longer the Sri Lanka I was privileged enough to witness may well be disappearing.
And finally I liked the way that the State is still not intruding and dictating too much on the Sri Lankan’s lives. Yes the State is there and yes they pass laws, rules and decide policy however these seem to be very much in the background as everyone gets on with living their lives day to day. The lack of signage everywhere telling people what they can and cannot do was noticeable. Common sense and a wish to live as harmoniously as possible with one another and the environment prevail and that, my friends, was a breath of fresh air. Long may it continue to be so.
As you can tell from this and my previous blogs of my travels I was enchanted, enraptured and entranced by Sri Lanka as well as putting on a goodly amount of weight from their delicious food. If you are looking for somewhere to restore your faith in humankind and scrape off the capitalist dogma for a while I can thoroughly recommend Sri Lanka, the Island that Glitters.
If you missed my previous travel blogs on Sri Lanka, you can find them here: