We all have those unique moments and places we most remember when we felt most alive. Some of these, even in the specific sense, are more universal. For others, the specifics may be more peculiar – more niche – but the life themes remain the same.
A few years back I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia with my brother to visit the world-famous Angkor Wat Temple Complex. This was in fact part of a larger special vacation to Hong Kong and Thailand with my parents – it was their first time ever in Asia – and my brother and I had planned the Angkor side trip for a little bros getaway.
As is my typical fashion – it doesn’t matter where I am or how odd or inconvenient it might seem to some – there came a point on the trip where I felt the need to pump some iron. To get my lift on. To find a gym.
I asked around a bit and after a process of making sure I was headed in the right direction, I arrived at Angkor Muscle Gym. 90°F (32°C) outside, open door gym, no A/C. $1 day pass. Unexpectedly, I noticed how this place here was a serious weightlifting scene. It was almost all local Cambodians and they were sweating their asses off like I’ve never seen, but were relentless in their concentration, grit, and determination to pump out every last rep they could. They were concentrated on one thing and one thing only – giving it their all to what they had committed to for that moment. It felt alive, primal, deep, even spiritual. I couldn’t wait to join in – to go into my own world of iron-pumping oneness :), yet fuel off of the collective energy of all those around me, united in our common yet individualized experiences.
I remember that workout as one of the top of my life. I felt like an animal, invigorated.
Yes, I understand that not everyone can relate to me on this. For most people weightlifting specifically may not be your thing. Or at least not in the language how I am describing it. But I do believe everyone should have at least one thing that makes them feel this way. I remember that workout as one of the top of my life. I felt like an animal, invigorated. Yet at the same time disciplined, conscientious, and goal-oriented. And interestingly I felt more connected to other Cambodians and Cambodian culture (albeit for this one sub-culture) than I did on the entire rest of my trip in Cambodia. Here, I felt more just like one of the locals.
But don’t get me wrong, Angkor Wat Complex was in fact stunning…a bit overcrowded, but both my brother and I managed to find many pockets of beauty there. And the half-day ATV drive I did across the surrounding countryside was absolutely breathtaking and full of adventure – a highly memorable experience. However I still remember that workout as at least on par with the ATV trip as the highlight of my time there. The most deep experience, the most culturally connected experience, the most raw experience.
I’ve traveled and lived abroad for much of my adult life. And during that time often when I would mention to a friend or group of other travelers that I’m going to find a gym, they would look at me with shock and confusion. ‘Really? You’re going to the gym? There’s a gym around here?’ We all have those things that make us feel inspired, invigorated, refreshed. So for me, no matter where I am or how much routine change (or lack of routine) I can go through, there are those core things that can form a base in my lifestyle to keep me balanced, no matter what the world throws at me, or what I throw at the world.
It’s about how great training makes you feel. It’s how great travel abroad experiences make you feel. And it’s about what connecting those two in the right place and at the right time can do for you.
The vast majority of my memorable, in-the-moment life experiences while abroad have nothing to do with weight-lifting or other training or exercise, of course, as that is just one sub-set of so much more that is out there to experience. But it was quite profound for me to realize in fact how much lifting… or running… or boxing / muay thai… or for others it could be aerobic dance… or, yes, yoga too of course 🙂 etc., at an inspiring and/or unique setting, and having other ‘in-the-moment, connected’ travel abroad experiences, have in common. The monkey-mind stops. The over-analyzing ceases. No planning. No doubts, no fears. Those things are out the door for that moment because you’re too entrenched in either the beauty or uniqueness of the moment, the passion and spirit of the experience, the intensity, or all of the above at once. It’s about how great training makes you feel. It’s how great travel abroad experiences make you feel. And it’s about what connecting those two in the right place and at the right time can do for you.
Just as not all travel experiences are ‘connected’ and inspiring, so is the same of course with training. I don’t have much deep remembrance of every time I went to New York Sports Club after a day at the office, just like I don’t remember all the countless times I stood in a crowded sea of humans at mainstream tourist attractions abroad. But, as one example, I do distinctly remember that time I drove down that random dirt road by myself near the Atacama desert in northern Chile to find the most stunning lake I have ever laid bare eyes on, with my only companions being the llamas in the far distance that lined the edge of the lake, as I pulled out my guitar from my trunk and merged with my surroundings. And upon reflection it’s interesting how, in much the same vane, I remember that first workout in Angkor Muscle Gym, Siem Reap, Cambodia.