Expat: Can’t Keep Up? One Way To Take Care Of Yourself

Expats often don’t take care of themselves.

It’s a shame because we need it most due to the emotional turmoil we’re going through when relocating abroad.

A few weeks ago I talked about the 3 myths that make us gamble with our life. No doubt you recognized some of the 9 excuses we all tell ourselves to avoid self-care.

 In an attempt to improve the situation, I drew on the recommendations from Alice Domar, author of the book “Self-nurture” – learning to care for yourself as effectively as you care for everyone else. In her work, she makes continuously reference to meditation.

In order to deepen this topic, it’s my pleasure today to welcome Linus, a Swede who lived abroad for 10 years.

Talking about his meditation practice rooted in Chinese buddhism, Linus mentioned:

Linus “If it wasn’t for meditation, I would not have been able to do what I did:

leading expeditions to the Himalayas

and taking on responsibility for the safety of clients and team members where split second decision making was an ordeal about life or death.”

Linus offers us practical insights into what meditation is about and how it can support us, as expats, throughout our life.

This is how it all started…

Linus: When I was 16 years old, I was interested in martial arts. I heard that meditation worked wonders in Kung-Fu and asked Chinese monks from the Shaolin temple who were living in my Swedish hometown if I could join them. “Sure” they said. “Come tomorrow morning at 5 am.”

I did. And this changed my life.

I’ve been practicing ever since. It’s now been 18 years.

What’s the purpose of this type of meditation?

Linus: The purpose is to get intimate with yourself. You gather your mind/consciousness in the here and now (not thinking about the past or the future) and you sit with it.

Meditating aims at peace of mind to attain enlightenment.

During this practice that generally lasts for about an hour, you look at whatever is without grasping to anything. Whatever arises arises, lasts for a while and then dissolves.

Sometimes, you can direct your thoughts to different objects: your sense of self, your body, your emotions.

It’s a tough process because you really get to know yourself, the good and the bad.

When you’re practicing in group (with the help of a teacher which is recommended at the beginning) sitting all together in one room, you can’t go out because you would disturb all the others. There’s no escape!

What do you do when you see something in yourself that you don’t like?

Linus: The key is to NOT suppress it. Because if you suppress it, you strengthen it.

Suppose you decide to live a simple life and to get rid of money. In all what you do, you’re very careful to live with as less money as possible. In fact, your life is dominated by money.

Meditation instead offers the following process: whatever is, is energy. You take whatever dark side you see, you look at it, you allow it to be but you don’t act on it. You don’t let it take control of you. After a while, it’ll disappear, because everything changes. Nothing lasts.

The process is to transform this negative energy into a positive one.

Everything in life is constantly changing.

Our cells are renewed every 7 years which means every 7 years I’m a totally new person. When we look further, where our body comes from, we’re brought back to the origins of the universe, the big bang. Where do I come from? My body is part of the cosmos.

Very often, we view ourselves as separate entities. But if you change your sense of self, from isolated to connected with the universe, you get a sense of wonder.

I have a striking example of a lady who was terribly afraid of dying. She was in her sixties and this fear had ruled her whole life.

So what we did was just sitting together. And we thought about the body. She said “This is amazing. There is no word to describe this experience”.

A few months later, she was diagnosed with cancer and she died. But she was never afraid of death any longer.

This is how sitting on a cushion can change the vision of yourself. From something limited to something much bigger. And at that level, there is not much room for fear any more. Because there is not much to lose.

Anne: This reminds me of the excellent book from Erich Fromm “To have or to be”. In it, Fromm argues that there are 2 trends in all human beings:

* on one hand, a tendency to possess, acquire, accumulate – the “having” mode – (this is the dominant form of Western society),

* on the other hand, a tendency to be, to experience, to live genuinely, to share and to give.

Fromm argues that our fear of dying comes from the fear of losing our body, losing our life because we consider them as possessions. He asserts “Losing our fear of dying should not begin as a preparation for death but as the continuous effort to reduce the mode of having and to increase the mode of being”.

You mentioned earlier that we’re constantly changing.

How do you view yourself after so many years living abroad?

How do you reconcile the many experiences you’ve made from your origins in Sweden to your active practice of meditation, a typically Eastern tradition?

Linus:  In my meditation practice, I often think of what is the self. Where is it? What is it made of?

Rather than talking about identity (that implies a static concept), I prefer to talk about identification, which is an on-going process. We’re all defined differently according to our environment.

If I’m in Sweden, I’ll be identified as a native, living in a particular town. If I’m in my hometown, I’ll be identified by the neighborhood I grew up in and the school I attended. If I’m in Africa, I’ll be considered as a European.

Everything is relative.

During my many years living abroad, I made an observation though. For many of my compatriots in exile, I’ve noticed that they find it very important to get together for significant events like Christmas for example. They go to great lengths to gather as if they needed to come together to physically reconnect with their Swedishness and affirm their sense of belonging.

I guess I’m somewhat different because I don’t feel this need so strongly.

Meditation helped me to view that I’m part of a bigger picture. And I get a sense of belonging to all human beings (not restricted to nationality, professional occupation, …). It helped me tremendously to gain clarity in myself. I’m learning everyday and that’s a gift I’m very grateful for.

Greed for results, for something dramatic, undermines practice completely. The effects of meditation are subtle and take time to mature. When we are constantly looking for some kind of sign or attainment from our practice, we are essentially looking outside ourselves.

Ken McLeod in Six Ways Not To Approach Meditation.

Now, tell me: are you tempted to try? Don’t hesitate to share your experience in the comments!



  1. Anne, meditation is now more than ever, due to my health issues, something I’m interested in. I still don’t understand the process entirely but will try to get some information.


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