aspects of everyday life
Aside Posted on Updated on
Learning to let go and just Be sounds easy. As a westerner I gravitate to the idea of sitting quietly to contemplate great Truths. I see myself practising Dharma, back against an ancient tree, toes buried in the soft soil, my mind freeing itself from ignorance, attachment and anger.
But I share the Western scourge, a nagging culturally-programmed little voice that has the propensity to demand action rather than rest. To Do rather than Be.
It was on a busy tour of Thailand that I was profoundly impacted with the beneficial implications of mastering the latter.
Wat Pho, or Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is home to a 46 metre long, gold-leaf plated Buddha that oozes beauty, peace and serenity… even though the Buddha is surrounded by hoards of tourists and locals, chattering non-stop and infringing on her space. This may be a sculpture, but the artists have captured an essence that permeates the atmosphere as if the Buddha was truely alive.
In her presence I was reminded that inner serenity is possible, even in the midst of chaos. That the cliche “beauty emanates from within” is based on truth. That how I walk and position my body, particularly when others are around, says much about what’s happening on the inside.
I felt her lesson is to master the art of reclining with ease, amid whatever circumstance I may find myself. To hold love in my heart, and by a natural sequence, emanate love to those around me. To practice purity of thought, to rest and project my mind outwards in search of deep Truths. And ultimately to recline, into a state of blissful Being.
Recently a friend died.
In his prime.
Sudden death shocks us. It takes us by surprise.
In its wake we contemplate mortality, mostly our own.
We speculate on what comes after.
We tell ourselves stories, we reiterate our beliefs.
We comfort ourselves.
But we cannot Know what lies across the threshold.
No one can, until they go themselves.
All the way, without coming back.
And they can’t tell.
An unexpected and quick death can be a lucky card.
The winner in an often bad deck, filled with bad, sad and ugly. Just for starters.
Death has one constant. All things succumb.
Death, as they say, is the great equalizer.
My friend was lucky.
He died quickly, in his prime.
In a house he loved. Surrounded by his acres of trees, native animals and birdsongs.
In an octagonal space, with wide expanses of glass.
A mud brick oven and open fire at its heart.
Built with recycled materials.
With his own hands, sometimes in the jovial company of friends.
A huge slab of polished wood made the kitchen table.
He hewed that wood with a good friend, using the old logging rig in the yard.
A still wet oil painting sat on the easel.
He’d named it ‘Sailing Away’.
A little sailboat with big red, wind-filled sails, heading towards the horizon.
A boat in its prime.
Heading into the unknown.
A small alcove made a good music room.
An old stereo, big record collection, guitars, a borrowed keyboard and his treasured violin.
A man enraptured by melody and sound.
A friend had just written him a song.
About him sailing away (no knowledge of the painting), leaving the rest of us clods behind.
He talked of a trip to his boyhood home.
Down the south coast.
Wanted to take his woman. His companion. His soul-mate.
Kept saying he had, ‘a yearning to return’.
He went farther than anyone thought.
Depending on where we sit, death precedes a great adventure, spiritual fulfillment, or a dissolving into nirvana, into a state of perfect nothingness.
We can only speculate
But now Paulie knows
He went all the way, he’s not coming back.
So he can’t tell.
I’m a travel addict, not that I get to do it as often as I’d like, which would be constantly … but when I’m not travelling, I’m plotting, dreaming and checking out the latest deals with the intensity of one about to book a trip. What do I like about it? For starters I love airports, the buzz of all those different people converging into a single space and then flying out in all directions. I am sure this is an oft over-looked aspect of what attracts people to travel. The sense we are part of a web of connections enveloping our planet can generate a nice cosmopolitan buzz.
I’m not the type of tourist that ‘does’ places, in fact I prefer the solo meander or low key budget group that has some likelihood of engaging with locals and their ordinary lives, at least those who live away from the man tourist sites. Of course, I realise that this notion of myself as the, ‘flaneur who travel[s], gaze[s] and roam[s] freely’ (Maoz 2005:234) is really an illusion, and I am just as much a disruption and object of the local gaze as the most brassy tourist. Maoz says that this mutual gaze, ‘makes both sides seem like puppets on a string’ (2005:225) as it makes us all control our behaviour. This idea somewhat counters the claim that the power in the relation between tourist/local falls on the tourist; and shifts it to one where dominator and dominated is both mutual and simultaneous (Maoz 2005:225).
In a world where economic exchange rules our relationships in general, it should be no surprise that the local delivers what the tourist wants (Maoz 2005:225), be it in enacting cultural traditions, or providing the tourist a trophy in the form of the souvenir that, ‘represents [for the tourist] distance appropriated’ (Stewart in Frow 1991:143). As a ‘light’ traveller I don’t look to purchase ‘things for the sake of it’, and in keeping with my penchant to retain a ‘small global footprint’ my purchases while travelling have been limited to physically small objects. These include tiny wooden elephant statues from Thailand and a small stone picked up while hiking in Yosemite. Nevertheless, my desire to bring home a foreign object is conducive to Stewarts, ‘insatiable demand [for] nostalgia’ (Frow 1991:143), that establishes a relation with the moment of origin. All in all, this reduces my travel/souvenir relationship to one of commodification, where travel and the travelling experience is something I buy for my dollar … and do I mind? … not one wit (Howell & Garbutt 2008:61).
Frow, J 1991, ‘Tourism and the Semiotics of Nostalgia’, October (57), pp. 121-151
Howell, C & Garbutt, R 2008, Study Guide: Space, Place and Travel, Southern Cross University, Lismore
Maoz, D 2005, ‘The mutual gaze’, in Annals of Tourism Research, 33 (1) pp. 221-239