12 hours of Panic

At first, COVID-19 seemed like the other recent health scares, swine-flu, zika virus, SARS – a bunch of hype that didn’t really affect me. Especially living down in the little surfer village of Bahia, Costa Rica.

My little bubble burst rudely the morning of Wednesday, March 12th, when I made my weekly trek down to the local farmer’s market only to find it closed, the normally bustling community center standing empty in the morning sun. 

My first reaction was annoyance. Fucking coronavirus getting between me and my organic mangos. God I love ripe mangos. The sad, underripe mango-shaped rocks we get in the US are just depressing after you’ve had a real mango. 

Anyway, I picked up some wilted produce at the dusty mini-mercado, walked back home, and didn’t think much of it the rest of the day.

Until 10pm later that night, talking to my Belgian neighbor, Jerry. I’ve been in a sort of self-imposed media blackout since returning to Costa Rica, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the news. Jerry told me about the NBA game cancelled after the players had already warmed up and everyone was in the stadium. 

That really shook me, cuz that makes no sense, to cancel after the fans are already there. This is a sign that panic is rising. People – leaders – are making illogical decisions. 

I retired to my gypsy caravan and got on the intertubes to further investigate this coronavirus. Then my FB friend Colleen, in a comment on another post, tells me the US is banning all flights from Europe, starting Friday. 

Holy fuck, shit just got real.

I google it, the top two hits are from some weird sites with names like FlightGrubber – maybe this is fake news. But nope, the number 3 hit is an article from the BBC – looks legit. Shit.

My mind races. Maybe I should fly back now, like Friday. It takes most of a day by bus to get to San Jose, the capital city, so any exit strategy is at usually two days out. 

I check the American Airlines website, they’re waiving change fees!

I try to change my trip to Friday, March 14th. I select the flight, choose my seat – ooh, I can upgrade to extra legroom on my flight from Charlotte to Milwaukee for 26 bucks. I click pay – System Error – fuck. Right now, people in Europe are probably scrambling to find flights, overloading the airline websites. 

Jerry says the Delta website is also crashing, he’s looking at his tickets back to Belgium…

Panic, the world is starting to panic. I’m not that scared of the virus itself, I’m scared of the panic. I reeeeaaally don’t want to get stuck in Costa Rica. It’s a magical place, but I’m near the limit of my tolerance for the heat and the motherfucking no-see-ums (tiny, satan-spawn little gnats). The thought of being stuck here any longer than my intended stay of two months makes me squirm. 60-degree, spring Wisconsin weather is sounding mighty fine about now. 

I try to call American, they have a separate number for Costa Rica, maybe I can get through without fighting all the panicked Europeans. Then I remember the balance on my Costa Rican prepaid SIM card is empty… I was supposed to recharge it at the mercado today, but after the farmers market, I was so flustered I forgot. 

Fuck. 

I try to recharge it online – there’s some problem with my SIM card, it can’t be charged online. 

Fuck. 

This is like the beginning of one of those disaster movies…

I start WhatsApping with my family – mom, sister, and brother-in-law – telling them I’m thinking about coming home early. They tell me to go for it, but they always want me to come home early…

What to do?!?!

Then the power goes out – I shit you not – and a still darkness descends. And then, my caravan starts rocking – earthquake. Are you kidding me right now??

(Ok, the earthquake didn’t happen till the following night, but I want to throw it in here for added drama 😉.)

But it’s only for a second, momentary power outages are pretty common here, although it seems like recently there’s been a couple per day, instead of a couple per week…

With the power goes the internet. It takes a few minutes for the router to spin back up, so I’m cut off, forced to just sit.

Breathe. 

Don’t give in to the panic.

Breathe.

It’s now midnight. After the router is back up, I WhatsApp my housemate Alys, “Are you up?” – “Yeah” she responds, “what’s up?”

We meet outside for a cigie. She helps talk me through the mounting panic, and discovers the Europe travel ban does not apply to US citizens – a key detail I missed in my frantic googling. That allows me to breathe a little easier, the fear of being locked out eases. Maybe I’ll just sleep on it, decide what to do the next morning. 

Miraculously, sleep comes easily.

The following morning, Thursday March 12th, I wake up and resist the urge to look at my phone immediately. Instead I follow my morning ritual: get up, pee, boil water for green tea. I can’t break my fast with a piece of fruit, as I usually do, cuz I’m out of fruit…. An oatmeal cookie then, it’s not the best way to start the morning, but I want a little something in my tummy before I sit down to meditate. Less gurgles makes it easier to quiet my mind.

Breathe.

Quiet eludes me, I sit there for a half-hour, watching my mind race… what should I do, what should I do?

I write a little, I look at more flights, there’s another good possibility for Sunday, March 16th… it seems I have some time, maybe that’s a good option. The American website still won’t process a flight change… I’ll need to add balance to my SIM card so I can call them. 

9am, I wander outside, a few housemates and neighbors are gathered around our wooden blue outdoor table, we talk about the mounting panic for an hour or so. Most of the other expats are more worried about being able to return to Costa Rica if they leave. Jerry and I are the only ones scared about getting to our home countries. 

What to do, what to do?

Panic – I was on the verge of panic. You can read about the resolution here.

Sometimes we just need to pull ourselves back from the edge…

Note: This was originally written as part of the a post on Elephant Journal, in the article linked just above, but this section was taken out, because it was too long, so I reposted here… in case anyone wanted the gory details…

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Time for a Full-Kerouac Experiment (aka Why editing is important)

Shit, I had it, then I lost it. It was going to all flow out, but now it’s gone. 

Breathe

What is there? 

If it’s not the idea I had for this experiment, what is it? What is there?

Sit up straight – I finally have a desk built in my…room. It’s not really a room per se, it’s a little wooden gypsy caravan, built by hand by Dennis, who lives somewhere around here, I’m not sure where, but he also manages the Arboura Eco Cabins a few lots down from Flutterby House. 

Anyway, my ‘room’, my gypsy caravan. I shit you not, that’s the name Alys calls it on AirBnb, the Gypsy Caravan, but I don’t think any gypsies ever lived in it. 

It’s about 13 feet long by seven feet wide. A queen mattress occupies the back 1/3, sitting on the bed frame Dennis built out of pallets. Aside from the bed and the wooden wheel-hubs, the rest is of the caravan is open space, which I dig, it’s not too claustophrobic for a small space. 

I am the world’s worst speller, it’s something I’m ashamed off, how I cannot in this moment figure out how the fuck to spell claustrophobic. Ooh, that time it suggested the auto-spell correct. But I’m serious, I feel kinda dumb for my inability to spell – ooh, this triggers a memory from a 7th grade spelling, 7th grade-hmm…. 

Breathe

But I don’t want to digress that far, now.

The point is, there will be spelling errors, please don’t judge me. 

Oh, and I’m aware I’m not using m-dashes when I should be, but I’m writing this in Pages instead of Word, and I don’t know the keyboard command to insert one, and I don’t want to try to figure it out now. Again, please don’t judge me. 

(If you haven’t figured out yet, I’m still scared of being judged…)

Breathe

But I feel like this is happens, if you follow the rabbit-hole of specificity to it’s – what’s the word,  to it’s logical extent. No, not the logical extent, the absurdist extent. 

So maybe I don’t need to take it to the absurdist extent. 

That’s an interesting question, why do I feel compelled to play it out to it’s absurdist extent? Maybe that’s one of my defense mechanisms, from my little childhood trauma. Hmm. 

Yeah, I feel like my reptile brain is having this reaction to Waylon’s criticism of my work. It’s this little snotty snark-back in response to saying my precious words aren’t – what – he’s not saying they’re not good, he’s saying they could connect with readers more. 

Well, technically, he’s saying what would draw him in… 

And I feel like he wants more detail than I do, there are big-picture people and detail oriented people, and a whole spiraling spectrum in between. 

Breathe

There I go, down the rabbit-hole of specificity…

He’s just saying add more detail. There’s room for that, but I’m reacting like “Fine, you want specificity, I’ll give you some fucking specificity!”

I just need to add more, that’s all he’s saying. My ego wants to make it into some big thing. Why?

Maybe cuz I’m scared of success. I’ve never really understood what that meant until now. 

Maybe, my sneaky subconscious is trying to sabotage me, because what if this Elephant Academy thing pans out. Say my wildest dreams come true, or even say I just start earning a living from writing, but then it turns out I’m still not satisfied. 

Yeah, it’s just like the relationship merry-go-round.

But here’s another thing, sometimes my flow, my writing flow, is not in the specifics. Sometimes there are ideas I want to convey in clear language, and the details get in the way. Sometimes the details detract from the meaning. 

Or rather, the lack of meaning. 

Maybe this is the key, my flow, my pure, unadulterated, ego-free flow, isn’t going to 100% resonate with any other individual’s flow. It can’t, we’re all snowflakes. 

So that’s what feels like a rational explanation for my resistance to specificity.

And that reason is sound, no one is saying I have to play specificity out to it’s absurdist limit, I’m the one creating that response. 

I just need to make it a little more specific, balance it out, so more people can feel the flow, still keep the essence of my authentic flow, but garnish it with the details that help pull other people into the flow. 

Maybe that’s the key to a good writer-editor relationship, or a co-writing relationship. People with some flow in common, but other differences can balance each other out and create a piece that resonates with a wider audience than any individual could reach. 

I absolutely adored the Good Omens book, written by Terry Prachett and, what’s his name, I love his solo writing too – Neil Gaimen. I loved Good Omens so much I read the authors’ notes afterwards. I rarely do this, cuz again – too many specifics for my taste usually.

Terry and Neil each wrote about their experience collaborating, and it sounded awesome. They were across the Atlantic from each other, so Terry would write something, then Neil would wake up read what Terry wrote, laugh his ass off, then send back his thoughts. (or something like that, maybe I have it reversed). 

Anyway, it sounded like a lot of fun, and I love what they produced. So I guess I’m saying I wish I could find a collaborator like that. But I’m too scared to ask because I’m afraid of being rejected.

God, I sound like such a baby sometimes…

Why do I feel the need to defend myself. 

To whom am I defending myself?

Well, right now I feel like I’m defending myself to Waylon, partially. No just that last one, correctly using ‘to whom’ (fuck I hope that’s correct), I feel the need to establish that I know grammar, cuz he harps on it a lot, in a rather Judgy Mc Judgeface way… And I want him to know that I’m happy to play the grammar-nazi game, I worked for a bit editing pharmaceutical regularly documents – that is some hardcore shit, grammar mistakes could blow a fucking NDA or IND application for a drug. 

Breathe

Why am I reacting like this, the need to defend myself.

But before I spiraled out into the specific example of defending myself to Waylon, behind that, feeling the need to defend my baby behavior. Who was I defending that to? Not Waylon, he encourages that (as long as it doesn’t stay into Emotionalism).

The point is, I constantly feel the need, in my head, to defend myself in words. Keep up this running dialogue of defense for my actions, why I’m doing what I’m doing. 

To whom is this internal voice defending it’s actions?

This is nothing like Kerouc, but I’m only a third of the way through it, I’m reading it for the first time after Waylon harped on it. 😉

But I guess I wanted to try a stream of consciousness experiment and see what happens.

Maybe this is just a demonstration of why editing is important…

Bathing in Beauty

“This sudden plash into pure wildness – baptism in Nature’s warm heart – how utterly happy it made us! Nature streaming into us, cooingly teaching her wonderful glowing lessons, so unlike the dismal grammar ashes and cinders so long thrashed into us. Here without knowing it, we were still at school; every wild lesson a love lesson, not whipped but charmed into us. Oh that glorious Wisconsin wilderness! Everything new and pure in the very prime of the spring, when Nature’s pulses were beating highest and mysteriously keep time with our own! Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the winds and streams and the sparkling lake, all wildly, gladly rejoicing together!”
-John Muir

That glorious Wisconsin wilderness – in the last couple months, I’ve been introduced to the Wisconsin wilderness, and glorious is a fitting description. I’m going to write a couple posts about the stunning scenery up here, starting with the trees.

The forest here feels different from any I’ve encountered before. I suspect one reason is the vast size of this timberland. These woods are considered part of the Eastern Deciduous Forest, which used to stretch from Florida to Canada and from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. Although much of that is fragmented now, immense tracts of forest remain up here, and I think that is a key factor behind the unique feeling of these environs. In many ways, a forest is a single living organism (check out Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees for more on that subject). So the bigger the forest, the bigger the being you’re connecting with when you enter the woods.

Driving provides a good sense of the magnitude of the forests up here, you can drive for endless hours, surrounded by woods the entire time, broken only by tiny towns with populations in the hundreds. Riding in a car up here can be an amazing experience, especially on the little county roads, each modestly named with a simple letter, e.g. County Road C. I’ve found 45 mph to be the optimal speed for cruising the forest: fast enough to get there, but slow enough to appreciate the scenery. Coasting along a narrow ribbon of pavement, winding through a sea of green under a cerulean sky bespattered with downy clouds, it’s easy to forget the world and feel only the wonder the trees.

While driving is great for appreciating the immensity, to really connect with the forest and feel the awe, walking is ideal, especially walking alone. Don’t get me wrong, a hike in the woods with other people is lovely, but then your focus is on them, your attention is on the conversation and you’re still interacting with the human world. Walking alone in the woods allows me to perceive the forest on a different level, lose myself in nature and commune with this mammoth entity. Away from the things of man, all of my senses consumed by the sights, sounds, smells, and feeling of the Forest.

A mature forest is like a cathedral of trees, towering above and stretching off into an emerald infinity. I love the sensation of walking under a canopy of trees, it’s like a hug, a great big warm embrace from this colossal being. I feel soothed and comforted, tension melts away as I soak in the vitality of the trees. The Japanese have a term for this, shinrin-yoku, roughly translated as forest bathing. That’s a good term, because the experience is cleansing and immersive, especially if you slow down and really connect with the trees. There are lots of books on this subject, but a good one for slowing down and surrendering is Forest Bathing Retreat, by Hannah Fries.

After a couple hours in the woods I emerge cleansed and restored, refreshed and rejuvenated. Nothings is fixed, the world is still a mess, full of pain and suffering, but internally I’m aligned with the harmony of nature, so I can exist in peace and love. At least until my interactions with the world suck me back into the shared delusion of hardship and adversity, and once again I must flee to the wilderness to sooth my soul in that glorious Wisconsin wilderness.

Concluding the Experiment

My Experiment: Part 13

You can read Part 12 here: Removing Barriers

My goal when starting this experiment was to determine if a complete change in circumstances would help me break out of the unpleasant mental states I was experiencing in San Francisco. I felt stuck in a life lived on autopilot, reacting automatically to circumstances that were making me miserable. (See My Experiment: Part 1 – Introduction for a refresher). I reached a point where I had to try something different.

After six months in Costa Rica and two months in northern Wisconsin, I’m calling the experiment a success. My life is unequivocally better now than it was before. I’m much more present in my daily existence, choosing the life I want to live. I had many theories for the cause of my misery, but now I think the critical factor was not spending enough time outside, living too far away from nature.

The most important lesson I’ve learned from this experiment is that I need to spend a lot of time outside. I’ve noticed a direct correlation between time spent outside and happiness. I suspected this before, my best times in the Bay Area were spent outside. The only thing I truly liked about my previous job was the location right next to the bay. While having lunch next to the water each day, I felt great. It was only while trapped inside, in another mindless meeting that the soul-sucking commenced.

A growing body of evidence supports this idea. I recently listened to an audiobook, The 3-Day Effect, which describes research into the physiological and psychological effects of nature on the brain. Spending time in nature produces measurable effects on the mind and body, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m feeling better. One aspect of the book that particularly struck me came from work done at the Greater Good Science Center, about the feeling of awe created by nature.

That’s something I can relate to, I’m constantly awestruck by the beauty of the natural world, it fills me with wonder and stuns my overactive brain into silence. Since starting this experiment, I’ve had much more awe in my life. In Costa Rica, I lived next to the beach surrounded by jungle, now I’m next to a lake and surrounded by forest. Being in nature, especially when I’m alone, soothes me like no other balm. I can just bask in the grandeur of my surrounding and feel the splendor suffuse my entire being. I forget about anything bothering me and everything feels right with the world.

Even though I’m definitely happier than I was. I sometimes catch shadows of my former negative thought patterns arising. I still have to spend a significant amount of time in front of a computer, and I still have to deal with bills and the depressing news about our world. But It’s nothing like my former life, where I felt like I barely survived each week. I can see how I could slip back into negativity, if I’m not careful. Luckily, easy access to nature helps me focus on positivity, instead of dwelling on negativity. I have some more things to figure out, but now I’m on the right track. While the experiment is far from over (it will never really be over), I’m going to write about some other topics for a while. Especially nature 😉

Chaos in Harmony

Photo Credit: Eric Allen

The story picks up from my last post about EnvisionSunset in the Vortex

Saturday night, I’m not sure when, exactly. Time is starting to lose meaning after witnessing a miraculous sunset and spending what seemed like an eternity relishing the most delicious mango I’ve ever consumed. I’m at the Lapa stage, where the deep house DJs have been laying down thumping, hypnotic beats since the festivities commenced. The other stages have bigger names and more elaborate productions, but Lapa is my home, nothing moves my body like house music.

The DJ, Alejandro Franco, is taking us on his journey, and we’re kicking into high gear. The music has seeped down into the foundation of my being, I’m helpless to resist it. I close my eyes and surrender to the beat, fully, completely. Often when dancing I close my eyes, it helps me feel the music, blocking out my other senses. Usually only for brief periods of time, because there are people around, and I don’t want to bump into anyone. But here, in this place, in this time, I totally let go and I’m swept deeper into the music than I’ve even gone before.

The music consumes me, I am the beat and the beat is me. As I dance, eyes still closed, my awareness expand outward, sensing everyone and everything in my vicinity. I don’t need to see, I can feel my surroundings, flowing with the music where I need to move.

My awareness unfurls beyond the dancefloor, I feel the rest of the festival. Lapa sits at an intersection between the other big stages, and behind the rhythmic pulsing of the beat, other music bleeds through, from Luna and Sol, as well as the smaller Village stage, and the dozens of other pockets of music interspersed throughout the grounds. All of these surging, throbbing swells of energy seethe around me, like Lapa is the center of a giant vortex, where all the disparate wavelengths from everything transpiring at the festival swirl together into a cacophonous, glorious amalgamation of sound and vibration. The dynamism writhes around me, at times conflicting, at times syncing, but underneath it all, a magnificent unity of existence, utter chaos in perfect harmony. Everything is connected in a wondrous melody of essence, and I feel my place in it, part of the whole, at total peace amidst the maelstrom.

The universe is showing me this metaphor for the spectacular mess we call life. We all broadcast ourselves at different wavelengths, vibrate at different frequencies. Sometimes we resonate with others, sometimes the dissonance is nauseating. The beautiful thing about Envision is it creates a space that encourages everyone to fully express themselves. When we reveal our true selves and let others do the same, without judgement, harmony emerges from the chaos. We’re all different, but we all fit together perfectly in the greater whole. It can be dissonant and repulsive or resonant and beautiful, but it’s always perfect, it’s always right, it’s always exactly what it needs to me. We just have to open ourselves to the experience without demanding that it fit into our preconceived expectation of how it should be.

Removing Barriers

My Experiment: Part 12

You can read Part 11 here: Digging Deeper

At the end of yoga class the other day, the teacher (the wonderful Dagmar from Montezuma Yoga) shared a poem from Rumi that deeply resonated with me: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and remove all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

I’ve heard variations on this teaching in the past, my meditation teacher used to say that the feeling of love we experience with another person may appear to originate from that being, but actually they are only reflecting back the love that is inside us. You can feel love at any time, it doesn’t have to be dependent on someone else. That lesson sounded nice at the time, and I wanted to accept it, but I wasn’t ready then, I didn’t believe it in the core of my being. Hearing Rumi’s poem, this time it really sunk in.

This is a topic I’ve often struggled with, the quest for the “One” has been a major preoccupation throughout my life. I’ve had this basal, underlying belief that once I find the right person, everything will be ok. In the first months of a new relationship, when I’m deep in the throes of infatuation, it does seem like all is right in the world. But then the infatuation fades and I begin to think the person isn’t right for me. This has been a pattern that has repeated itself over and over again, because I’m looking for someone to complete me, but no other person can make me feel complete. I’m already complete, I just need to remember that, but it’s been a challenge.

At sunset that evening I headed into town for the weekly open mic. The moon was two days shy of full, hanging bright and low in the sky as I started my journey down the road along the coast. Moonlight danced with the sun’s final rays on the shimmering ocean, creating an otherworldly landscape that pulled me out of my head and into the moment. The teaching from Rumi resurfaced in my mind and unlocked something deep within me. For the first time, I felt a feeling of love coming not from another person, but from within me, from my connection to the universe. The sensation started in the center of my chest and radiated throughout my body, filling me with joy and contentment, happiness and bliss. I felt full, complete, I didn’t need anything from the world or from anyone else.

I arrived into town with a huge smile on my face, and the rest of the evening was amazing. Walking into a social situation like that, already feeling happy and complete, makes it easy to have fun. My usual mild social anxiety of wondering how I fit in was absent, because I felt like I fit in wherever I was, with whomever I conversed. I experienced some enjoyable connections with other people, conversationally and musically. Needing nothing, wanting nothing from others allowed me to just radiate joy, and I think people felt that and responded with positivity of their own.

This experience felt like an immense breakthrough for me. A decade of spiritual seeking and self-discovery finally yielding major changes within me. At the time of this writing, I haven’t been quite able to get back to that state of feeling intense love within me, but I feel changed, fundamentally different since then.

The path continues!

Digging Deeper

My Experiment: Part 11

You can read part 10 here: Walking the Tightrope

Sunset at low tide, I’m wandering among the rocks at the nearby point, and I happen upon an enchanting little cove. Most of the time it’s under water, but when the tide is out, a small sandy beach is revealed, maybe thirty feet wide, embraced by a semi-circle of boulders and totally secluded from the shore.

I explore the area, enjoying the sensation of the soft, wet sand squishing around my feet. The encircling rocks serve both to insulate me from the shore and also amplify the sound of the crashing waves, making it feel like my own little world, nestled down there in the craggy point. This is one of the moments that totally engrosses me in its splendor, pulls me out of my head and into the present, immersed in the stunning grandeur of this astounding planet.

A prominent boulder lies in the center of the cove, and I scramble up to perch on top of it and let the peace consume me. As I sit there, immersed in the resounding ocean and fading golden light, I let my mind quiet and ponder all the plans my mind keeps forming. I’ve written extensively on this topic and now I start digging deeper into the root cause.

Why? Why does my brain keep devising these schemes, all these things I shoulddo. Even with activities that I enjoy, such as music and writing, my mind often creates a list of tasks I need to accomplish in order to reach some end goal. Take music for example, I want to become more comfortable playing and singing in front of people. There’s an open mic every Monday in town, so I’ve been performing there frequently. But then I feel this pressure to practice throughout the week, learn new songs, perfect my old songs. Pretty soon I’m practicing songs because I feel like I shouldin order to reach this goal of being better, not because I want to.

Most of the plans my mind concocts arise along similar lines. In order to reach some future state of happiness, I need to do X, Y, and Z. Once I accomplish these things, then everything will be ok and I’ll finally be happy.

I dig deeper. Why? What does happiness mean to me? For me, happiness occurs when I’m totally absorbed in the present moment. Something is fun when it totally engages my attention, leaves no room for extraneous thoughts and worries. Allows me to forget about myself and feel like I’m part of some greater whole.

With music, I have this vague idea that if I get better at performing, there will be some magical future moment when I’m playing with other musicians, and it will be awesome, we’ll get lost in the song together, co-creating some epic jam of entrancing beauty. At the root of this fantasy is the desire to totally absorbed in moment of creating music. That sometimes happens to me when I’m playing music alone, when I don’t have any plans and just play what I feel. So why all the plans?

Sitting there, pondering, I realize I have this core belief that things are not right, that something needs to be different before I can be happy. I need to do something, change something, get somewhere before I can be happy. I can often feel it in the depths of my mind, a tightness, almost like a muscle cramp, that prevents me from being at ease. This persisting idea that if I do these things, follow this plan, at some magical point in the future, everything will be ok, I can finally be totally happy.

Intellectually, I’ve understood all this for a while, but out here in this enchanting little cove, it sinks in at a deeper level. Feeling, in the depts of my being, what it means to be happy. To be free of worry, free of thinking that things need to be somehow different than they are.

External circumstances can help pull me into total absorption in the moment, but ultimately, it’s my mind that gets engaged in the present. I’ve been feeling that often here, in Costa Rica, where the sublime beauty of nature often consumes me. But the beauty just helps my mind relax, helps my mind let go of thoughts and be fully present. It’s the tightness that forms in my mind from the plan that prevents me from being present.

Recognizing that tightness as the root of my inability to be present felt like an epiphany. Now that I can identify that tension, I can work to release it. Similar to relieving a cramp by gently kneading the muscle, applying gentle mental pressure to the tightness in my mind helps relieve the strain and allows me to fully relax into the present.

But it requires constant attention, my mind easily starts racing off into a plan to make things better. I’m happy when I’m present, I’m happy when my mind isn’t full of thoughts. I don’t need to be doing something to be happy in the future. I can be happy right now, if I just let go of all my ideas about what I need to doto be happy, and just behappy. I’m sure this all sounds very cliché. My meditation teachers have been repeating this message throughout the ten years I spent studying with them. Now this understanding is finally sinking down into the root of my being, I can feelthe truth of the words instead of just understanding them intellectually.

More to come soon! Since that evening, I’ve had a couple more realization that I’ll share in future posts. Stay tuned…

Chao!

You can read Part 12 here: Removing Barriers

Walking the Tightrope

My Experiment: Part 10

You can read Part 9 here: Going with the Flow

I want to thank my friend Chris for the title of this post (he was quoting Stevie Ray Vaugh). It’s another metaphor for finding balance, I think I’m going to need lots of those, because this is a recurring theme that keeps coming up for me. After the profound experience at Envision, where going with the flow was effortless, I remained in that mindful state for several days, listening to my instincts, feeling the next right thing to do, living in the moment. But with time, I slowly started slipping back into my head. Ironically, Envision itself is partly responsible for my backslide into planning. I was so excited about the festival, I wanted to write a bunch of blog posts, describing my adventures, and my brain started creating all these schemes around writing. Before I knew it, I was back living in plans, instead of living in the present and going with the flow.

It seems like every breakthrough I have becomes the seeds of the next plan. I have an enlightening experience, and then my brain starts strategizing to recreate that experience. But the most illuminating advancements usually just happen, without planning, when I’m going with the flow.

I’ve identified three factors that tend to pull me out of the flow and into schemes. One, I often need some measure of planning to navigate daily life, bus schedules, tides, yoga classes, local bands, there are concrete times I need to work around. Two, sometimes I can’t feel the next right thing to do; when I think about my options, nothing sounds appealing, so I don’t know what to do. Three, there are times when I need to work but I really don’t feel like it.

Although I’m starting to understand the appeal of giving up everything for a life as a wandering ascetic, I don’t think that’s my path. The only option I see is to find the balance of dealing with the constraints of my life while constantly striving to flow, to walk the tightrope of creating plans to handle with life without getting so attached that I stop listening to my feelings and my environment. I need to be willing to abandon the plan when the flow calls.

My balance on the tightrope is improving. The other day, after finishing up my work and other tasks, I had a plan to walk down to the river for a quick, refreshing dip, then come back home to write a little before heading into town for the open mic at night. But when I walked out onto the beach on my way to the river, the waves looked really fun, the ocean was calling to me. So I abandoned the plan, went back and grabbed my board, and surfed instead. It was really fun, the waves were gorgeous, not many other people, I caught lots of fun rides. Afterwards I felt refreshed and rejuvenated.

After that, the rest of the evening just flowed. When I started walking into town, almost immediately a young guy on a motorcycle stopped and offered me a ride, without me even asking. At the open mic, instead of my usual constant inner dialogue of mild social anxiety, worrying about how to fit in with the social scene, things just flowed. I ran into a cool group of people from Vermont whom I had met the day before, so I sat down with them and had nice conversations. When I was tired of talking, they left, and a spot opened up for me to play. After playing I wandered out onto the street and ran into other people I knew for more enjoyable conversations. Then the music called me back inside and I danced to captivating jams. To cap off the evening, as the music died down, I ran into another friend who offered me a ride home. It all just happened, effortlessly, flowing from one scene to the next.

I used to frequently struggle in social situations, but since I’ve been here in Costa Rica, I find it much easier to flow through crowds. I think it’s because I’m better at getting out of my head, thinking less and being more. It’s easier to just feel how I can fit in with the social environment.

You can read Part 11 here: Digging Deeper

Sunset in the Vortex

Photo credit: Eric Allen (I pulled this from the Envision website)

Saturday night is upon us, day three, the pinnacle of the festival. All the big names play tonight, the crowd is swelling, excitement building in the air. My companion at the time is Julie, a beautiful, athletic woman of Indian descent who’s striking grey hair belies her thirty-some years of age. We met earlier that day, and evening found us starting the adventure together. As daylight fades, we join the throng leaving the festival grounds through the rear gate to reach the beach. A short stroll on an uneven path through jungle leads us to the market, a narrow walkway lined on both sides by outdoor shops selling a sundry range of food, drinks, artwork, and trinkets that create a dazzling visual miasma. Vendors clamor for attention while music blares from a dozen different directions in a as many different styles. Aromas from grilled, sautéed, and fried foods blend together in an amalgamation of savory and sweet herbs and spices. The cacophony of sensory stimuli continuously morphs as we shuffle through the bazaar, immersed in the excited chatter of the crowd.

 

Eventually we spill out onto the beach, Playa Hermosa, which literally means beautiful beach. The name is well-earned, it’s a vast, sandy, expanse that seems to stretch on to the edge of infinity. The wide, shallow beach yields row after row of breaking waves, continuously rolling in after each other in an endless parade of white water. The sun hangs low on the horizon, illuminating a sky shrouded with clouds lit up in dizzying fractal patterns, layer after layer unfolding, like an Escher painting in peach, amber, and fire. Stunning, absolutely stunning.

The scene on the beach is even more raucous than the market. Thousands of people clump together in disparate bands. Performers of all kinds ply their crafts, fire dancers, acrobats, drummers, everywhere I look, some feat of physical prowess is on display. More stands line the back of the beach, each one blasting its own music, creating a sonorous soundscape that shifts as we amble along the beach, yet is seemingly united by an underlying beat that pulses through the masses. Paragliders soar in the sky, swirling and spiraling in the eventide glow before swooping down and landing on the beach to wild applause from onlookers.

It’s chaos, electrifying, exhilarating chaos, so much stimulation, in countless forms. Thousands of people, all doing their own thing, yet all part of this whole. Raw, unfiltered expression, creating a multitude of different energy lines swirling together, merging and splitting, joining and departing in constant, effulgent motion.

As the sun sinks into the ocean, a curious phenomenon materializes. Bursts of dynamism swirl down the beach, causing people to spontaneously whoop and holler as they feel it pass. You can see and hear it roil along the beach, a coalescence of all the mingling energies into some kind of emergent power vortex that whirls through the crowd. As it sweeps towards us, my body instinctually responds with a whoop of its own, starting with a low “wooo” that spikes in tone and intensity as the wave washes over me with a palpable, visceral sensation. It continues to churn through the masses, wheeling back around and passing through us again. Once more I let out a whoop in response, giving voice to the thrilling feeling.

Then the last edge of the sun disappears behind the horizon, and the vortex dissipates as quickly as it appeared. Julie and I look at each other, wordless, wondering if that really just happened. It was fascinating, I’ve never experienced anything like that before, a spontaneous efflorescence of the combined creative expression of the mob.

Envision calls us back inside. The horde slowly drifts back to the gate, like cosmic detritus sucked inexorably towards a black hole. The night is young, the party is just beginning.

For some context on Envision, click here: Going with the Flow

Going with the Flow

My Experiment: Part 9

You can read Part 8 here: Fitting Right In

Before I delve into the magic that transpired at Envision, I’d like to set the context. A recurring theme in my posts is a tendency to get caught up in the schemes created by my mind. I often find myself evaluating the current situation in terms of how it relates to the plan, instead of simply living in the moment and reacting to circumstances as they unfold. I get so caught up in my head, strategizing how to maximize enjoyment, that I stop enjoying the moment as it is.

The Envision festival was an illuminating lesson from the universe in going with the flow, living in the present without a plan. I had lots of amazing, memorable experiences (which I will describe in due time), but I’m most grateful for the guidance in living life in a state of flow, rather than according to a plan.

I started hearing people talk about Envision a few weeks before it started. It sounded cool, but I didn’t really think about it too much. I hadn’t attended a music festival in over fifteen years, it wasn’t something I really considered doing. I’m getting crotchety in my old age, loud music and huge crowds usually aren’t something I enjoy, but the idea did peak my curiosity. Then a week before the event, my friend Andy said he might have an extra ticket for cheap. I started debating the merits of going, weighing the pros and cons, and I was thinking so much that the right choice was hard to see. So I made a deal with the universe, if this ticket works out, I’ll go to the festival.

Three days before the festival, Andy told me the ticket is available, but there’s a catch, it’s supposed to be a ticket for a resident of Central America, which is why it’s cheaper. He said he thought it would be ok, his friend once used one of these tickets for a person from Switzerland without a problem. I am currently living in Costa Rica, although I’m not technically a resident, so I felt somewhat justified in using the ticket. Again, lots of thoughts were swirling in my head, and I almost bailed on the whole thing, but I had made a deal with the universe, and I decided to just trust that it will all work out.

Another hitch: it’s an outdoor festival where most people camp, and I don’t have a tent here in Costa Rica. I spent the next three days trying to find a tent to borrow, with no luck. I even schlepped over to the neighboring town to look into buying one, but they were out. Once more, I decided to trust that it will all work out, that the universe will provide. Worst-case scenario: I wind up sleeping outside on my yoga mat. The climate is mild here, that wouldn’t be too bad…

I’d like to point out that this is very unusual behavior for me. I’m a highly introverted person, I need my own space to retreat to for peace and solitude. Additionally, I’m a very light sleeper, I usually need a quiet, comfortable spot if I want to be able to sleep. The idea of going to this festival and just winging it was totally out of character for me, but deep down inside it felt like the right thing to do, so I placed my faith in that feeling.

My trust was justified. The next four days were an effortless flow. I had no idea what to expect, so I could make no plans. I didn’t need to make plans. In an environment like that, it’s easy to live in the moment, to simply deal with needs and desires as they arise. Finding food, sleeping, hearing music, talking to people, using the bathroom, I just listened to my body and followed my instincts from one moment to the next. All routines were obliterated, meal times and sleeping times were completely unscheduled.  If I was hungry, I would wander into the Village and find food that fit my cravings. If I was tired, I would seek out a comfy place to lay down and rest. Sometimes a beat would grab my attention through the mayhem, and I would follow it to the dance floor. Other times, for no particular reason at all, I’d just feel like wandering around, seeing what other adventures were out there.

It was incredibly liberating, having no agenda, no plans, just following my whims, doing whatever I felt like doing in the moment. Going with the flow led to moments of incredible bliss and breath-taking beauty (which I will describe in more detail later). It also led to moments of mundane normalcy, but I was still in the flow.

This sense of going with the flow has stuck with me since the festival. Luckily I don’t have a full time job to enforce a structure on me. But even with the part time job I have, I was creating structure where it wasn’t required. I was restricting the flow according to schemes created by my mind, and it was trapping me in my head, causing me to get all wound up trying to follow the plan instead of listening to my instincts. Hopefully I can keep this flow state going for a while, it’s a much more relaxing and enjoyable way to live life, living in harmony with my needs and my environment.

Next up, the magic!

For more about Envision, read here: Sunset in the Vortex

For Part 10 in My Experiment, click here: Walking the Tightrope

 

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