Monday, September 11, 2017

Primary Food

Babies learn about the world by putting everything into their mouths. I have learned what I've learned about the world and people by bumping and jumping into things - sometimes without looking. This summer I did a blind experiment: rappelling into three new cities with three different languages and cultures without doing any research - apart from learning how to say 'hello,' 'please' and 'thank you' in Portuguese and Croatian (I already speak Español decently well). While this way of being feels liberated and fluid - and is the way I like to roll, - bumping and jumping has also catapulted me into suffering on more than one occasion.

Badass Croatian children

My brilliant and beloved friend, Nupu
Three cheers for free-spiritedness. . . it has both inspired and served me in my travels. Travel has helped create a liminal space - a space which I use to work internally, to find new ways of seeing the same things. It is this free-spiritedness - a decision to plant my feet and my expectations firmly in the air from time to time - that has also brought suffering upon me. . . suffering that is inevitable when I ignore warning signs - it's a shame they don't appear as a label across the forehead - or when I lie to myself about what I can and cannot handle. Suffering occurs when I am intoxicated by potential - potential that exists primarily in my own magnificent imagination. Suffering occurs when I ignore disclaimers in favor of my own delusional projections, allowing myself to be seduced by blank lines, empty space, possibility.

The Blue Cave and an underwater land bridge

Hope is the taste of the sea

The Alcazar - Seville, Spain

The Iberian Peninsula, where Spain and Portugal reside and with its history of Moorish occupation, is covered in decorative tiles - which, some argue, are a visual response to the fear of emptiness, or 'horror vacui.' This kind of visual over-population or crowding is also associated with art made by artists who resided in psychiatric hospitals and prisons. We seek to fill the emptiness - the empty stomach, the empty heart. In Buddhism, the space of the empty mind is actually a goal. Personally I'm afraid of words that are empty - words that have ceased to hold any shared or enduring meaning, leaving our communication as little more than lobbing beautiful iridescent bubbles back and forth. Love. Friendship. Truth.

Despite mine and most of humanity's abiding commitment to cultivating pleasure and avoiding pain, I also recognize - I've read a few Buddhist self-help books - that suffering in its embodied and existential forms is as much or perhaps an even greater opportunity to awaken than all the gorgeous sun-and-gelato-filled days on the Adriatic with Adonis-like Croatian sailors. . .not that there's anything wrong with those! Following a trail of moldy pain crumbs (engage the pun, Francophiles!) out of the gnarled forest of victimhood and taking full responsibility for whatever I think has been 'done to' me, I find myself walking in the light of Lisbon. Here, the plaintive voices of fado echo in the alleyways of the second oldest neighborhood in Europe. Fado means 'fate' or 'destiny' - it is the Portuguese blues, which give voice to saudade, or a feeling of longing for what has been lost, and the damage that loss has done. It is the wreckage left behind after the hurricane has passed.

Blinded by birds

New York City is a place of becoming, and maybe this is why it has a heavy energy. It is in a constant state of constructing itself. As its inhabitants and its builders, we are dragging around the existential sand bags and 2x4s, trying to invent and reinvent an identity. It's exhausting! It's like being eternally adolescent. Other cultures know this about us - Americans are known for our idealistic striving, which is sometimes interpreted as free-spiritedness. It is a living in 'what could be.' While this quality has brought a wide variety of delightful innovations into the world - slip n' slides, wake boarding, scented markers, - it can also set us up for profound disappointment when we live in what we wish to be true rather than what is. It is also what can be relieving about being in more 'adult' cities and countries that have a longer and deeper history - places that know who they are fundamentally, who have been around the block a few times. Of course, the flip side of knowing who you are is that you can become complacent and stagnate there in your self-satisfaction. 

Seville, Spain

There is a big gap between what New York actually is and its wannabe self - and that very gap is one I am learning to pay more attention to in people, especially in myself. Can I accept New York exactly as it is today, or am I convinced that if it only lives up to its potential - its wannabe self - then I will be happy? If it never changed, could I be here forever? If I never changed, could I love me forever? These are the same questions to engage in all relationships - lest my eternally idealistic storyteller convince me of something other than what-is. . . until that lovely iridescent bubble bursts and there is. . . nothing.

Sometimes I think New York is a city that would rather watch porn than have sex. It would rather text than meet in person. This is the same tendency I get into with choosing to live in 'what could be' instead of 'what is.' Right now I am choosing to be with this porn-loving cad of a city, despite my misgivings - but I need it to know that I am struggling to stay in reality. I am struggling to not get resentful when it doesn't fulfill its promises, when I am not the exception to its rules, when it is more neurotic than happy with itself. Where can I exist that isn't pummeled by natural, political and economic disasters? Is there a place in the world that is fundamentally happy with itself, that accepts all that is there - the simple joys, the transcendent ecstasy of being alive. . . the mundane, the repetitious, the tragic?  

Selfie instant karma

My dear friend Lya Mojica - yogi, chef and mystic healer are among her infinite identities - is doing a course on wellness - something apparently we are all lacking and willing to pay for - because wellness, coaching and therapy are right up there with wedding planning as socially required services, achieving status in the educational and professional marketplace. This is our hunger. Lya told me recently about the distinction made in her program between 'primary food' and 'secondary food.' Primary food is relationship - with the self, with others, with life. Primary food is joy, passion, fulfillment, satisfaction, freedom, engagement with beauty. Secondary food is what we actually feed ourselves - and it's called secondary because apparently it's less important than the primary stuff.

Lya tells a story about her aunt, Tia Lupe, who lived into her 90s on a strict diet of cigarettes, coffee and Coca Cola. (I thought the third thing was motorcycles and preferred to see Tia Lupe cruising around town on a Vespa than drinking that multinational swill, but Lya set me straight). Tia Lupe lived in Mexico her whole life, never married or had kids, and lived as she pleased. She didn't attempt to pedal her way to enlightenment at $35 Soul Cycle classes or brag about spending $1200 a day on her diet of live sprouted almonds and magical elixirs only available on Gwyneth Paltrow's website. . . and Tia Lupe rocked it into her ninth decade. So. Hmm. I guess the wisdom to take from that example is to put the focus on cultivating relationship with the self, with others, and with a life that extends beyond the rote instructions delivered to us about what we are supposed to do, feel, think, want and be. . . which brings us full-circle back to Buddhism, and embracing everything that's there - the suffering, all the empty spaces, and the sand bags.

Sintra, Portugal

Life is full of calamity - some of it predictable, some of it less so. It is wind and water, it is burning buildings. Sometimes it has orange hair. I look for survival skills: people who tie knots and build fires, maybe throw down an anchor occasionally. I look for primary food, for what connects me to what I have lost. I look for what brings me home. I hunger for this moment. I am called into its beauty and its misery. I go where it leads.