Photographers call the hour before sunset the ‘magic hour’. Even amidst the dark shadows and dark foliage of the jungle, the light was beautiful, the last rays of the day streaming tremulously through gaps in the leaves.
I found myself unable to enjoy the sight. As the sun set about its daily demise, my heart also fell deeper into worry and anxiety. With darkness creeping all around us, I could feel the same choking darkness settling inexorably within me.
At the time it seemed that the jungle’s soothing Muzak, its ever-present cacophony of insects, had taken on a muddied, moody complexion. In my fear, even the fragrance of flowers seemed to acquire a far more savage stench.
The sight, sound and smell in the jungle have somehow converged to create an atmosphere of fear and hopelessness. They formed the backdrop of a near-death drama, an experience that my family and I went through and which became one of the enlightening moments in my life.
Let me backtrack and share with you about what happened more than six hours prior to that moment. Just that short while ago, the Liew’s were going through a different ambience, mood and feeling.
We had arrived for a holiday at what I called a ‘floating bungalow.’ It was a huge boat-house on Tasik Kenyir, the largest man-made lake in South-east Asia.
The floating hotel was located at the edge of one of the world’s oldest tropical jungles. From afar, the view of the house, lake and jungle looked like a spectacular vacation postcard.
If you were there, you would be amused to see the Liew’s scrambling around the rustic environment, exploring every nook and corner and taking in the sight. We were like little kids discovering so many new and exciting toys that we have not seen and experienced before.
There was an abundance of smiles and laughters, and everybody was in an almost ecstatic mood. It felt almost like we have left the worst of the world and arrived at paradise.
We would never expect that the experience would shortly take on a complete change. Our emotionally-peak experience would soon become a valley experience, bringing our spirit right down a bottomless pit.
The owner of the zero-star hotel had introduced us to the skeleton crew, a motley bunch of people who were employed to look us. Although they lived nearby, they were trained to operate mostly out of our sight.
Before leaving us, he suggested that we hired one of them who was an Orang Asli, a former native of the jungle to lead us on a short stroll in the jungle.
He told us, “Don’t worry. We will ensure you have a soft landing.
“The guide will take you on a short and refreshing walk. Before you know it, you will fall in love with the jungle – just like I did many years ago.”
We were so excited that we started off almost immediately. All we took was a haversack and we did not quite know what was in it.
At the start, it was all fun. A heavy downpour had caused the trees and plants to look fresh and they glistened beautifully under the sun.
We were pointing excitedly at one new discovery after another. And then a dinosaur came out of the bushes!
Oh no! We ran away but it came after us and grew bigger and Bigger and BIGGER until it was the size of my wallet!
Ok! That did not happen. I just wanted to make sure you were following the story.
It did not take me long to realise that our ‘short stroll’ had become a long and tiring walk. One look at our guide with sweat running down his face made me realised we had another trekking companion – Trouble.
Apparently, the heavy downpour had altered the landscape and our son of the soil had taken a wrong turn and was visibly lost.
Instead of backtracking to determine his position, he decided to push on and follow his sense of direction. It was quite clear that his out-of-touch instincts were leading all of us further down the wrong track.
When I reflected on this experience, I learned that if I have gone down the wrong track in life, I must be brave enough to backtrack and start all over again.
Alternatively, if I have done sufficient research, I could start from where I was and worked towards reaching a better destination.
My reading of that situation was that it would take a very experienced native to track confidently through the thick of the cruel jungle.
In addition, the guide has to be closely in touch with the latest changes in the landscape to find his way around.
Looking at the native with his modern attire and knowing that he had tasted the luxuries of his new world, I was having less and less faith that our lives were in the right hands.
What’s more, he did not have a compass or for that matter anything else other than a walking stick or branch to help him find the direction back.
To make matters worst, we were definitely not prepared for a long journey, neither were we prepared to stay overnight. We had no water or any food – unless you considered candies as food.
As the hours went by, we were getting more tired and thirsty.
Fear started to play games in my mind. I was imagining all kinds of scenarios, all of which did not have a fairy tale-ending.
I imagined animals lurking in the shadow of the trees, salivating and smacking their lips and waiting patiently for a good Chinese meal – me.
I was hoping they realized that I have high cholesterol and renown doctors would definitely not recommend me for a healthy diet.
Consuming me was bad for their well being and would definitely lead to a whole lot of modern-day ailments, including heart sickness, diabetes, high blood pressure, and possibly, even cancer.
I was all set to deliver my best speech on how to live a healthy life. I would even be willing to do it pro bono if only the animals would listen to me and provided they understood Singlish of course.
In times like this, I found that a good dosage of humour certainly helped. We also motivated ourselves with inspirational stories and wise quotations.
Fortunately, I had saturated my life with loads of wisdom from the Good Book and the ages. They have acted like a compass for me in the jungle of life.
When faced with challenges, I was mindful that the biggest challenge was ultimately in my mind.
Therefore, I should never lose hope. I must press on bravely and by sheer determination and action, overcome the negativity that was assaulting my mind.
The jungle taught me that it resolved constant challenges by renewing itself constantly.
Any challenges in the jungle of life could be overcome if only I was committed to learn how to do it and achieve ongoing improvements.
Every challenge in the jungle could make me a stronger and better person. If I overcome the worst that the jungle posed to me, I could become a better me.
When I have persevered through the obstacles in the jungle, I would be able to see beautiful sunrises, waterfalls and landscapes. I could take myself to a higher level of living.
At that point in time, I was not worried about trekking slowly but of not achieving progress. I was more afraid that I have not lived my life wisely than of being dead in the jungle.
While finding our way out of the jungle, we were deep in prayer. At one point, we came to a fork junction and were wondering which path we should take.
My wife sensed that our Creator was directing us to choose a particular track. Fortunately, we did.
If we had taken the other track, we would have either become modern day ‘Tarzan, Jane and the family’ or fresh meat for the jungle party that night.
Miraculously, just before sunset, we managed to bash out of the jungle. Emerging from the grey-green gloom of the jungle and into the evening’s last rays, we felt reborn.
To our ears, the insects’ trilling conversations were as nature’s symphony itself. The air was fresh, the wind gentle – if hope has a smell, surely it was carried on the breeze that night.
From that final clump of trees, we had stepped out to a sight that soothed our sore feet and worried brows.The bank of the lake was before us, and we were not too far from the floating hotel.
In that very instant and not a second before- a phenomenon that to this day I can only regard as miraculous- the sun slipped deftly away and plunged us into an almost absolute darkness.
This time however, the darkness did not suffocate. Instead its presence reminded us warmly of the light that had just passed, and of a deeper warmth also, one from life. Life that should be valued and appreciated, and not taken for granted.
Looking backing, I could still feel fear running down my spine.
I could still recall how scared I was even though I had to put on a brave front. However, it was not unclear in my mind that I had to lead my family through the jungle with faith, hope and optimism.
After that setback; instead of being dejected, we went back into the jungle again the very next day.
I knew the values of fear as a warning signal. However, I needed to make fear my servant and not my master.
The greatest fear was oftentimes fear itself. I must learned to embrace fear and even fight fear with fear.
I must overcome fear and conquer the jungle within me with courage and determination.
There was no way I could discover a better track in the jungle unless I was willing to move out of my comfort zone. Every time I went through fear, uncertainties and doubts, it could be the beginning of breakthrough results.
What I discovered was the jungle might test the human spirit but there were enough flora and fauna to make it exciting and fun. Even at nightfall, I could enjoy the wonder of the stars.
I could never get out of the jungle without being bitten by mosquitoes and struggling through difficult tracks and thick vegetation.
Every now and then, I might be tempted to take short cuts. It was easier to go down the mountain but the view would be much better from the top and the air, fresher too. More importantly, I could see my way better to get out of the jungle.
The jungle was challenging but I needed challenges to live. When there were none, I knew I was dead.
I was not referring to a physical death but to life devoid of meaning, purpose and significance.
Therefore, I did not wish for an easier jungle but for a stronger mind and a more resilient spirit. I endeavoured to build my capacity, ability and agility to take on the toughest jungles in life. A journey to expand my potential and serve my highest calling.
Since that time, we have gone back to the jungle again and again. Obviously, we have become more astute and we took time to plan for the trip.
I learned that if we don’t know where we are going, we would always be in the jungle. As we focused on the objective, we saw less of the obstacles and challenges.
We did everything possible to make sure we could find our way there and back. Over time, we develop the necessary competence to survive in and enjoy the jungle.
We have even gone on more challenging trips. To me, I would not know what I could achieve unless I took the risk of going deeper into the jungle.
We have trekked many jungles, mountains, national parks, glaciers, and nature reserves. We have stayed in different accommodation, including tree houses, tents, rafts, and sleeping bags.
We have crawled through caves that were barely one meter in height to look at bats in their natural habitats. We have also climbed mountains that had stunning views, trees and vegetation.
During one trip, we spent time with the Karen tribe. They were known for their women with elongated necks that were decorated with brass rings.
In my observation of the natives’ lifestyle, I realised they might not have what I have but they could be happier than me. They lived simply and therefore, they have less delusion and distraction to prevent them from enjoying a healthy and happy life.
My family and I have promoted jungle trekking to our relatives and friends. Somehow, the idea never took off with them.
I remember once we brought our extended family for a jungle trekking trip. Shortly after walking into the jungle, one of them said, “Let’s go back. It’s all the same.”
He saw only trees and plants and they look alike to him. I saw beauty beyond any description. To him, it was just a jungle. For me, it’s a spiritual recluse.
I have learned powerful lessons in the jungle to help me achieve success in the jungle of life.
Every time when I have bashed through another part of the jungle, I felt that I have developed more grit, tenacity and resilience. Through it all, I have savoured the thrill of achievements and expanded my treasure cove of memories.
The jungle affirmed my belief that I should not follow others to where they have gone. I want to go where our Creator wants me to go and leave a track for others to learn from it.
I’m thankful to our Creator for all the jungle-trekking experiences.
Please enjoy the mountains and jungles in your life. Learn to go and grow through them.
By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.
Visit my Inspiration blog at http://liewinspiration.wordpress.com/
For my opinions on social affairs, please visit my Transformation blog at http://hsrpatrickliew.wordpress.com/
Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.
Life is FUNtastic!