Reading Time: 25 minutes
If you saw this handsome curly man doing tarot reading on a beach in Thailand or playing guitar in a mountain village in the Himalayas, you would never think that just a few years ago, Cristian wore only expensive suits and worked as a manager in a large company in Argentina, dedicating all his time to developing a career and making money. Now, having reevaluated his own life, he is traveling a lot, volunteering in different countries, and studying to become a certified mindfulness teacher.
“DOES MY JOB MAKE ME HAPPY?”
My name is Cristian Junkos. I am 38 years old. For almost two years, I worked as a top manager in a large telecommunication company in Argentina. I developed a successful career and received a really good salary, which allowed me to live well and save up. It seemed that everything was just perfect, and things went as they should until 2014 – that year became a turning point in my life.
First, I broke up with my girlfriend after three years in a relationship. Second, I started to question myself about my job – Does it fulfill me? Does it make me happy? “Well, not really,” I honestly said to myself. These unexpected answers surprised me. I realized that I needed some changes. So I quit my job and started to travel.
GOT TRAVEL BUG IN ITALY
The idea of traveling was not new to me. First, I left Argentina when I was 19 – to see my sister in Italy, where she lives with her family. Oh, I loved it! Like many other people, of course, I enjoy learning about different cultures and discovering new places. At the same time, I think that traveling also offers a rare chance to put myself in different situations. Hence, I can observe my own decisions and actions in an environment that I have never experienced before. And never would be able to if I stayed in Argentina.
It`s like discovering a new Cristian who is born in the moment of facing new challenges. That time in Italy, I met some backpackers and thought, “Wow, that would be just awesome, simply travel the world.” So I guess this is when I actually got a travel bug that was sleeping inside me and woke up 12 years after. (Smiles.)
ENJOYED PARTIES AND NATURE
I started backpacking when I was 32. It`s never too late, you know. (Smiles.) It was a 3.5-month trip through South America, in particular, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Whoa, I really liked that way of traveling – simple, cheap, and interesting. I enjoyed the noisy parties as much as the fantastic nature. Sad to say, but when I was living in Argentina, which is known as a nature lover’s dream, I was spending most of my time in a glass office in Buenos Aires.
“MY MUM HAD PARKINSON`S”
Then I got sad news. My mum was diagnosed with Parkinson`s disease… I wanted her to feel the family support, so I moved her to Italy and stayed with her for the following year. After that, as my mum got better, I started preparing for my next trip through Southeast Asia. In 14 months, I went to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, India, and Nepal.
“BE AT THE MOMENT BUT STAY ALERT”
To be honest, I had mixed feelings while traveling. On the one hand, I absolutely didn`t have a plan, so I could have spent months in one place and tried to be in the flow. “Do as you feel, be open to everything, and live in the moment,” it was kind of my trip slogan. I tried to be spontaneous. I experienced lots of new things, such as hitchhiking, volunteering…
For instance, in exchange for free food and accommodations, I worked as a waiter in a bar in Koh Rong (an island in Cambodia). Actually, at first, it was quite challenging for me – you know, being a waiter after having held the position of a manager of a big company, but soon I found myself enjoying chatting with customers and serving them.
On the other hand, I had to be alert as my mum was very sick. And things were getting worse. I knew I had to come back to Italy at some point to help my mum.
And I did. This trip through Asia, during which I started my spiritual practices (Read below about Cristian’s meditation retreats and experience in volunteering. – Ed.) made me realize that it is never too late to do or change anything. It made me realize how important is to spend time with my family, with my Mum – to the end, until she died… How important it was to be there at that moment and face the difficulties all together. It was not easy at all but the important thing was to be there… My mum suffered a lot… (Remains silent for a few moments.) After Mum`s death, I realized that I wanted to go deeper and explore myself more, so I came back to India.
STARTING WITH MEDITATIONS
In Asia, I discovered the concept of spirituality. I cannot say I was a spiritual person before. Although at school, I liked philosophy classes. Being a teen, I taught Catholicism to kids, and as an adult a few times, I attended a yoga class in the gym. Does that count? (Laughs.) So yes, I wasn`t interested in yoga or meditations – it`s not like I declined them or anything, nah, they were out of my focus. I found out what meditation was when I went on my first one-week retreat in Thailand. It was incredible! What a discovery – I learnt how TO BE without doing anything to keep myself busy!
Then I did Vipassana meditation [a 10-day meditation course. You are supposed to sit and meditate for 10 hours a day, concentrating on your breath and observing your body. You are not allowed to talk or communicate in any way with other participants – Ed.]
TAROT AND PALM READING
There was a period during my travel when I started to do palm reading and tarot cards reading. I remember I was highly impressed by the book, A Fortune Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East, written by Italian writer Tiziano Terzani where he was warned by a fortune-teller not to risk flying and chose to travel by road, rail, and sea. I was delighted with this journey of self-discovery! He sees astrologers, shamans, magicians, palmists, frauds all over Asia… Just an incredible story!
So when I arrived in Myanmar to do volunteering in the Thabarwa monastery [a place where volunteers from all over the world offer simple services to homeless and sick people – Ed.], I found out that there was a fortune teller. Soon we became friends. He taught me how to read hands.
After that, I started to practice tarot reading – first, for fun. But with practice (you know that in Asia you meet many travelers who are interested in this kind of thing), I realized that it was natural for me and most importantly, that it helps people. When I was in Co Tao island (Thailand), I did tarot reading on a donation base.
“THE MOST OF LIFE I EXPERIENCED WITH THOSE WHO WERE GOING TO DIE”
It was hard. It was all around death – physical and mental suffering, diseases… But strangely, there was no despair. The opposite way, I saw lots of courage there. The people made me feel very present in my life, not expecting to be better or worse – just to live what it is. Also, the way I faced this experience was surprising for me – there was no aversion but lots of love instead. This was something new to me. For the first time in my life, I did not try to escape suffering but accepted it.
There were 60 patients and maybe ten volunteers. We worked for three hours each morning and sometimes in the afternoons, too. We fed people, helped change their clothes, did laundry by hand and hung it, and washed men. Have you ever washed strangers? Or assisted someone in the bathroom? Well, I was really out of my comfort zone. But you know what? You want to help, and that person needs help, so this is where your goals meet. And then you see people`s relief and happiness from simply being clean… This has been one of the most beautiful feelings that I`ve ever had. I was so happy to be able to help someone! Paradoxically, that at the place where people are preparing to die, I experienced more life than anywhere else.
NEW PROFESSION – A MINDFULNESS TEACHER
After learning and living so much during my trips through Asia and South America, I felt like it was time to come back home to Argentina, hug all my friends, and, of course, continue my spiritual journey. I am very excited as I enrolled in the mindfulness program to become a certified mindfulness teacher. Its purpose is releasing stress and suffering and developing our natural capacity to deal with overwhelming situations, not automatically, but to be able mindfully to choose our responses for what is best for us.
Now, as I have something to compare with, I can say that when I was building my career in Argentina, I had two-sided happiness. On one hand, I enjoyed my life and was very thankful for what I had. At that point in my life, I needed to feed myself with “Cristian, you can do it!” vibes – so I did. I put a lot of effort and willpower in my work and developed my skills to achieve something. Yes, I was feeling pretty content – a good job, good salary, good health, good relationships.
On the other hand, these all were external factors related to society`s values. Let`s say – it`s quite conditioned how you put worth on things and perceive them. And conditions are not chosen by you but by the environment where you are – all of these I realized, of course, with the time. I can`t say I was fulfilled. Nope. I had money, but I didn`t have time. So all I could think about was spending money on some pleasure things – expensive restaurants and vacations, for instance.
The more I earned, the more expensive restaurants I visited, and the more costly overseas tours I booked. At some point, it stopped making any sense to me. I understood that I don`t want to experience that lifestyle any longer. That I want to get out of the matrix.
“MY LIFE WAS JUST ABOUT THE JOB”
Well, looking back, I realize that all my life was built up around the job. When I was at school, I had very simple dreams. I wanted to become a manager, make lots of money, and buy a car because my family didn`t have one. I did it. I can`t say I became happier, after all. While making my career, I was feeling like I lived in a world of the eternal race – always chasing something, continually proving that I`m better than the others to get promoted. Like I am never enough. To keep living in this rhythm, you have to put in lots of effort and time. In the beginning, I enjoyed doing that, but soon, I was fed up.
“LIKE I WAS LIVING IN THE TRUMAN SHOW”
My lifestyle was far from simple things that, at some point, became very important to me. I worked in a skyscraper with no greens at all. Almost all relationships were based on the role you had, and your feelings were never taken into count. Like you never listened to yourself because you were just a character. Yeah. I felt like everyone was wearing a mask, including myself, and playing a particular role that had a specific set of features and followed unspeakable rules. And the relations were not between real people but characters. Like in The Truman Show.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit right now, but that is what I was feeling, to be honest. I felt that something was fake. But I could not figure out what until I stepped back a little and looked at it from the outside. Then I changed my way of living entirely.
Now I am much more connected to myself. I`m exploring my mind to understand myself and the reality better. I`m working on building a lifestyle where I can experience more lasting happiness or at least the happiness which doesn`t depend on outside factors.
I remember I was sitting on a riverbank in a cozy village in Laos. The kids were playing next to the river, screaming and laughing loudly while someone`s mother was washing clothes in the river, watching them and smiling. The water buffalos were quietly passing by in the river. It was so natural. So true. Of course, I could not avoid comparing them with families in modern society where a father usually is with his laptop or a phone, and the kids sit in front of the TV or play with tablets… They do not even say a word – sharing the room but, in fact, being very far from each other.
I was thinking of the different colors of happiness these two different environments have.
“YOUR KIDS WANT YOU NOT A NEW TABLET”
I remember many of my colleagues at the office often said that they were working for their children and families, but they were going home at 9 p.m. when the children were already asleep. I feel like their words and actions were not coherent. I think sometimes we make ourselves more and more busy with work just out of ego, not out of an actual necessity to provide for a family. After all, your family wants you to spend more time with them. And your children often don`t want a new tablet but dream of their father playing with them for an hour.
“CONTENT WITH WHAT THEY HAVE”
The simplicity of life – this is what I appreciated a lot living in little villages in Asia where people are so humble, content, and happy with what they have. Look at the farmers! They work hard, but they always have that beautiful smile on their face. They don’t pretend to be anything they are not. They don`t try to chase better material conditions. They just do what they do. They eat the same food every day, and they are happy with what they have.
Life is a bit different in the West where our happiness directly depends on the possessions we own. We have a car – we are happy. For a few days or even weeks. Then we get unhappy again because now we want a house. We are never satisfied. Never enough. It`s an endless story.
“WE DON`T SEE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL NEXT TO US”
Now while I am sharing this with you, I understand that I actually can`t blame society, but I regret more that often we are not even aware that there is something so beautiful just next to us. Something so genuine and natural. So at least if we are aware, we can decide and live differently. But unfortunately, we do not see that. I was so lucky to get out of the big city and see the other side of the coin. See at least that this side exists. And understand that this is what makes me peaceful and happy.
“IT‘S ALL ABOUT TIME”
Time is the most important thing we have. It’s a pity that the value of every minute I realized later than I would like to. Much later. When my loved ones are not with me anymore. I regret it a lot. I often say to myself, “How stupid you were not to find one more moment to call your mum and ask how she is! Not to have a cup of coffee another day. Not to listen to the same story thousands of times again and again because she is simply old and has a bad memory?”
My mum died, and I cannot change anything. But if I could have realized before that our loved ones are not eternal… If I could become more aware that the most precious gift you can give to your family and friends is your time. If I could… Lot`s of regrets.
At the same time, I understand that burying yourself in guilt does not make sense. You have to stay realistic, compassionate towards yourself and others, and know that, although you can not change the past, you always can do something right now. Always.
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