Flow and Reflection @ 4 months

During the past week, I really began to feel the ‘flow’ of traveling, with an exceptional amount of time to stare out the window, examine my trip and my thoughts in order to see where I am at on the ole pilgrimage.

I have found myself once again looking ahead a lot – plotting ideas on getting to Mongolia, back from Mongolia, eventually traversing China into Kathmandu to get there before the snows start. I’m racing the onset of winter rather than embracing it. I am not finding time to meditate, often busy traveling or surrounded by other travelers in small spaces. My trip was getting away from me, becoming a logistical effort in planning and movement. As I write this, this is still happening but hopefully this acknowledgement will enable me to take the power back.

Today was fantastic practice in this. I will write about Beijing later, but essentially due to the 60th anniversary celebrations and beginning of a weeklong holiday, I wasn’t able to freely move about the city and today I literally circumnavigated Beijing, going to three bus stations before finally ending up with the magical ticket to the Mongolian border. I was as close to losing it as I have been in a long time. Instead of my original plan of my guesthouse booking my bus ticket and spending the morning seeing sights in Beijing, I discovered that today pre-bookings were not being done due to the holiday and I would have to go to the station myself. I can only compare the feeling of being in a busy Chinese bus station to that of being on psychedelics. Everything is so vastly different: language, body language, emotions are simply not transferrable. As I raced for a ticket on one of the busiest travel days in China I felt completely helpless. Angels did appear and helped me to my goal. But during the process I was being very irrational – what was the worse thing that could have happened? Another night in Beijing? A slight delay to my plans? I don’t need to be ANYWHERE at ANYTIME. It was a sign that I do need to re-evaluate aspects of my approach and mindset in travel. Wanting something for tomorrow is no excuse to ignore today.

I have been looking recently at what it means to travel, why one (me really) would choose to leave everything behind to sail into uncharted waters. A nagging insecurity that has been with me the entire time is the fear that I am walking a path of escapism rather than growth. My life drastically changed in the few months before leaving home. New paths were opening for me, I was walking towards something that would have required enormous discipline and commitment- and yes I am talking about a spiritual path. I sometimes wonder if I chose to extend my freedom once again, seeking new places, people and experiences rather than moving within the world that I worked so hard to manifest over many years.

That world primarily contains a home, people, and activities that I have slowly discovered over many years bring me contentment. I’m not sure abandoning them for an indefinite period of time is necessarily best for me. Travel will always be ONE of those activities, but with the risk of sounding too definitive, one thing I have learned is that I will never be a long-term vagabond, sorry to disappoint those of you who were hoping to live vicariously forever! I am even considering coming home for a couple of months over the holidays, to have myself a little mid-year review, examine the next steps in life in earnest. My intent would be to return to India and continue the journey, but the truth is it will depend on many circumstances. What’s different for me than for many travelers I meet is that my life is this. Right now. I am not returning to school or to a job or to something else and this trip is not a break or vacation from a different lifestyle. Every moment I am working with huge questions around who I am and how I want to be in this world. Listening to myself, I believe a reflection and rest from home (or my friends and families couches) is needed soon. I overestimated my ability to critically look at options for the future, to network with those at home and try things out (even mentally), while traveling. It could be done if chose I single place to live and exist, but I am constantly moving, seeing, doing. This lifestyle does not provide a great environment for really intellectual inspection of various options. To my point about long-term travel, I do envision a future for myself where my career enables me to take pointed, 3 maybe 4 month trips, but return to a place and an existence that I have built and am building. I too easily discarded aspects of my life that are simply not replaceable in a matter of months in the far reaches of the world. I also see the potential of a future trip to a single city or region, where I can develop roots, volunteer in the community and live a more normal existence.

One thing I miss tremendously is meaningful conversations with my friends, ones that allow me to see that hyperbolic mirror, to help me look into these big questions and decisions. I do meet some incredible people on the road – but how well can you get to know someone in a few days – are you going to share your deepest insecurities and desires with these people? Likely not. That creates a vacuum in my own head – and if there is ONE thing I have learned in the past few years, it is that I am not successful in processing my emotions and problems within my own head. I used to THINK I was successful, but really just sublimated and stored them away. Its those close to you that allow you grow as an individual. Life is relationship, I trust in this as I trust that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.

Another thought I have been sitting with has to do with fate versus freedom. I have been discussing it with a few close friends over e-mail and generally pondering it as I travel. I hinted at this above, when I discussed extending my freedom. I realize now that as I wake each day with no commitments and endless choices before me, that this is some sort of pinnacle of the concept of total freedom– total freedom being a western, material view on what freedom entails. Freedom of choice and location and speech. Total freedom is not this however, as I have learned from Krisnamurti’s teachings – Total freedom is freedom from the known, choiceless awareness through cessation of the fears that bind our daily lives. It is psychological and spiritual freedom, not necessarily the aspired-to physical freedom of the west. Anyway, I feel that I had to reach this point in life, this apex, to see if this was truly the freedom I was looking for and the one would bring me joy. You have to be something before you can not be it. I use the word apex, or sometimes think of a ‘top of the bell-curve’ metaphor to describe how I feel, because I see my life moving in another direction in the future. Not one where I make all decisions based on the level of freedom they allow my life, but making decisions that are correct in that moment, sometimes accepting signs from the universe and the commitment that comes with this acceptance. Now, there is a fine line here between accepting ones fate, and living in accordance with the moment. I don’t like the word fate, because it does imply pre-determination. I don’t believe in this at all. BUT, I do believe as one becomes wiser and more self-aware in their existence, they can more clearly wade through he waters of what the universe presents to them on a daily basis, choicelessly choosing the correct path based on the principle of listening to themselves.

Much of this thought process follows from my own reflection, but I have clearly been influenced by close friends – many of whom are now getting married, having children, solidifying careers, generally moving into new phases of life that limits there physical freedom. Almost without fail however, each of these friends accepts the new challenges of this path and doesn’t fight the ‘loss of freedom’. In many cases I believe they are gaining something through these commitments. While I don’t want to imply I’m looking to buy a house, get married and have a few children, I am considering what it means to move into a life of acceptance of my path rather than a constant disregard to things that require commitment and limit physical freedom.

OK, I think that is enough for today. I’m killing time in a Chinese Border town – if I thought my hassles in Beijing were rough, I just found out that the Chinese border is closed due to a holiday and that I’m faced with waiting in this nondescript town with nothing to do for 36 hours instead of 12 and then taking the overnight train for 16 hours to UB (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia). See you on the other side.

Freedom of Choice

I’m typing this from the porch of my bungalow in Munduk, Bali. Munduk is a sleepy mountain town with a cool, misty ambience set among lush hillsides covered jungle, rice, coffee, cloves, vanilla and almost every kind of fruit imaginable. I can hear several waterfalls raging through the gorge below me. So why exactly was I jumping at the bit to plan my next destination? As I poured through Lonely Planet, looking into the island of Java, reading about Bromo as well as other destinations in Bali, I suddenly had to stop and remind myself of something my Zen teacher says – “No other location”. A flip of words on the overused “Be here now”. 

In one week I will be headed back to Bangkok to start a long march through Burma, China and Mongolia. What is so wrong with sitting tight, enjoying the mountains and then a few more days on the beach? The serious alternative I was researching meant driving a moped that stalls every 15 minutes hundreds of kilometers in order to find greener grass and ultimately turn around and have to truck back to the center of Bali to catch a flight. Thank you dear blog for helping me see the ridiculousness of this and agreeing to enjoy central and northern Bali for a few days at a slower pace. Once again, I have to understand that this is not vacation, I am not out to see as much as possible, and there are points during this journey that I will treat as work days, blogging, emailing, job searching, etc. Often it is these times when you surprisingly get to know a place by getting your face out of the guidebook and into the community.

In my post about One Hundred Years of Solitude I bring up the freedom of choice, and its often paralyzing effect. I believe this at the root of many issues for people in the West, the endless freedom of options. I mentioned the characters in the book and their acceptance of fate – the last two months I’ve seen a lot of this. This morning, the woman raking the cloves or the teenage boys carrying hundreds of pounds of bamboo up a steep hillside or the duck herder (literally) aren’t thinking “should I go back to school to get that graduate degree? Should get my massage today and then go to the movies tomorrow? Which of the 20 restaurants within 2 miles of my home should I go to tonight? Which of my 50 articles of clothing am I going to where today?” No they don’t. And I’m not arguing that this is the lifestyle I want – clearly poverty plays a big role in simplifying choice. However there is something to be said about the way these people live when faced with limited choice. Simply, peacefully, and lovingly from my observations.

Where am I going with this? Back to my plan to explore half a continent in 6 days- through endless choice and so called freedom, we can avoid the present moment. Our mind jumps ahead to these potential paths our life might take – as simple as where to eat or as complicated as marriage or career. In the past I actually set up my life to create as much flexibility as possible – not committing too deeply to my career, to other people or a location, etc. In fact I am still doing this now, living temporally, having created the ultimate freedom of a daily choice of what to do and where to be. The truth is I think this trip is an apex for me – an apex of this exploration where I begin to move down the other side, accepting more aspects a permanent existence, once where the choices narrow and I find a deeper poise in these limited choices. Krishnamurti uses the term choiceless awareness – where when we are acting truly from a position of wisdom and clarity, our so called choices are not really choices, they are an act of truth based out of love.

A Chinese sage once said “ Why go on being like goats, picking up things at random and putting them in your mouth? Or another metaphor is that we act like a fly in a glass jar, seeking liberation through everything we see but ultimately just bumping into a piece of glass. What we don’t realize is that the top of the jar is open, and if we are quiet, truly listening to the world we can fly out into the true beauty that is actual existence.

***** (One day later) *****

I remained true to my word, sitting tight in Munduk. I went for a walk, ate at a few local restaurants and found amazing strawberries at the market. I spent the evening listening to the sounds of the hillside and woke early to exercise and meditate. I started thinking again about my temporal existence – while it is in fact true that I have an unbelievable freedom of location and action, the normal daily distractions are very absence. I’m typing this many miles from any internet connection, I haven’t seen a television in 2 months, I can’t pick up the phone which I don’t own and call a friend at any time. All of this boils down to spending a lot of time with my own thoughts and self, the true purpose of this journey. The biggest opportunity to distract myself is movement – riding the scooter, taking the bus or boat, exploring a new area and figuring where I will eat and sleep. Of course that will be part of any trip – I just need to balance movement and stillness, ensuring when I do move, it is because I am ready to move on, not because I need the distraction.