An interesting phenomenon occurs while abroad when two travelers meet. When I am at home and meet someone new, there is a set list of questions that occur. It’s the equivalent of two dogs meeting, sniffing one another’s asses and trying to figure out who’s the alpha. Almost immediately after learning someone’s name, the very next question that’s asked is about employment, because that is how people are valued in our culture. Rarely does the conversation turn to asking what you enjoy, and if it does, there’s a sheepishness about it, as if pursuing what you enjoy is frivolous and a waste of one’s time.
Outside the country, however, you learn where people are from, how long they are traveling, and most interesting to me, where they’ve been. You swap notes and compare experiences, share little things you’ve learned along the way that might lubricate the other person’s trip. Where a sort of competitiveness arises in the US, when I was abroad I found nothing but a sense of co-operation and willingness to help.
I’m trying to imagine having this sort of exchange with someone new here in the US. Even if we didn’t literally talk about travel, what if when we met, we could share what we’ve learned from where we’ve been and learn from others about what they’ve learned from where they’ve been? How might that shape our identity on both the individual level as well as community and even national level?
I have found one exception to this: the community of writers with which I am becoming engaged. We share what we’ve learned with one another, encourage each other and urge one another on. It’s my desire to have this in every aspect of my life.
The last month or so I’ve been working with the idea that I know how to protect myself. This came up just last weekend, when a man I’d never met attempted to engage me in conversation in a public setting by telling me that he followed me. Immediately a red flag went up. There were people around me and I wasn’t worried for my safety. When he asked if he could sit with me, I just said, “No, I’m busy.” And he left.
In my yoga classes, we’ve been focused on handstand. I probably write about handstand more than any other pose because it induces such intense reactions for me. I suppose some people would say it’s juicy. On Monday, once I was upside-down, I went to the panic place. This is where I feel like I don’t know what the fuck is going on, which way is what and so on. And then I heard this little voice say, “You know how to protect yourself.” And then I thought: I know where I am. So when I came down, it was not out of a panic, but out of certainty. I’ve been exploring this pose for 13 years and this may be the first time I’ve ever experienced it that way.
In my class today I had another opportunity to try this out. The entire time I was going up I thought, “I know where I am.” And I did, it was true. And while the pose was intense and required my full concentration, I wasn’t panicking. I hope I can keep remembering this the next time I start to panic about something.
For those of you who know me, you know I am an avid podcast listener. Most of the podcasts I listen to are story oriented, but a few lean toward education. I just learned about the podcast Stuff You Should Know, and they did an episode on How the Panama Canal Works.
Among other things, I learned that a river was dammed up to create a lake to get boats over the continental divide. There was fantastic discussion about the impact of disease (i.e. Yellow Fever) and how knowledge changed over time so workers were getting killed by industrial disaster instead of disease. Don’t ask me why I’m saying this in such a chipper manner, because of course I think killing people in the name of building something like this is horrifying.
My favorite thing about the episode, however, was toward the end, when they mentioned how vessels are charged by weight to go through the locks. I was wondering if they knew about a certain human who swam the locks, and lo and behold, they did! They mentioned Richard Halliburton’s traverse.
I don’t expect many of you to recognize Halliburton’s name, but growing up his name was said with a sort of awe. He was the first adventure travel writer and we read about his exploits in his Book of Marvels and discussed them with my father many times. As a matter of fact, his writing impelled my father to drag our sorry asses many places around the globe. Two years ago, I finally got to return the favor when my father met me in Cambodia to explore the ruins of Angkor Wat.
I have intense, vivid dreams. They could almost be movies, they are so involved. I know, there is a rule somewhere that no one on the internet is interested in hearing about your dreams, so don’t share them. So, you’ve been warned. I’m going to tell you about a dream I had.
I was running down a stairwell, down down down. Running away from people who were chasing me. And in my hand I held an elaborate skeleton key. This wasn’t any old key. Oh no. It was The Key to Destruction. MY destruction. And in order to be saved, all I had to do was release the key. I merely had to open my hand and the people pursuing me would stop. But here’s the kicker. Do you want to know what this key unlocked? A small cupboard with a picture of Salvador Dali on his high school football team.
I often think of this dream, of how hard it is for me to release the clutching, the grasping, even when it might be destroying me. I was reminded of the quote: Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. I might amend that to: Pain is inevitable, struggling is optional. I am getting help in identifying these thought patterns that no longer serve me. I am holding the vision that I will open my hand and when I see my fingers curling back in, I can gently uncurl them again.