Do you ever feel like you’re living in a dream? Like, what actually makes our dreams less real than our “real life”?
When I was a teenager, I would get a kick out of going wide-eyed and saying to my best friend, “What if our dreams are real life and right now we’re just dreaming??”
Sometimes I was sure I would finally “wake up”, and my true love—Leonardo DiCaprio of course—would be sitting by my bedside holding my hand, crying tears of joy as my eyes flutter open.
Pema Chodron says, “Every situation is a passing memory.” Think about it. Everything we do, every moment, every thought is always swiftly becoming a memory. Every second that passes becomes a memory.
And you are a part of my memories, a part of what I identify to be my self. Walker Bob, Tom Weis, Maria, Alice, John Gray, Bhakta Priya, Govardhana, Chiara. The list goes on.
Bob read a poem I wrote the other day, and we cried together, hundreds of miles apart.
Tom Weis, in a dream, has his bicycles and a small trailer attached to the back of our future school-bus home.
I talked to Maria on the phone while we were on tour last week, and she was organizing multi-colored fabrics and decomposing bison masks and boxes of feathers and bones and skulls while we talked. “Do you know what is relieving and depressing all at the same time?” I said to her. “According to the Buddha the only thing we get to take with us when we die is our mind-stream. In other words, the things that I think all of the time that I find so annoying, don’t necessarily just go away after I die. Actually, the real way to let go of my negative patterns is by meditating and doing the work.” “That’s kind of terrifying to think,” she sighed.
Just before we left on tour, Bhakta Priya called me (the childhood best friend who I would contemplate concepts like dreaming vs. real life with). “I think I know why you’re calling,” I said. We hadn’t spoken in months. “Yeah,” she sighed. Govardhana had died suddenly that morning. We recalled sledding on snowy Vermont hills with him, and how he would say things to us in Italian and we couldn’t understand him.
Govardhana was diagnosed with stage four melanoma just a few months ago. I created many memories of him in these last few months, even though I haven’t seen him in 15 years. I tried to get a hold of him, called his mother and left a message, considered driving to his house with soup or flowers or… I didn’t know what I would do. I just wanted to help somehow.
I created a memory of sitting with him, sick in bed. I held his hand and he smiled, even though he felt so ill. His eyelashes were still incredibly long. I told him everything was going to be okay, no matter what.
We drove all over Colorado and played music for hundreds of different people last week, and all the while I knew that Govardhana was being grieved by his parents, his children, his friends. And it was like this heavy secret I was carrying. Anyone who I confided in had to watch me melt down into an onslaught of tears.
With only 2 days of the tour left, we found out a friend in Vermont had committed suicide.
I held that, along with everything else. A crushing weight, like the whole world was sitting on my chest.
My friend Alice shared her day with me that night. Her dad’s death anniversary had just passed and she had spent it journaling, crying, just being with him.
We got home from tour the other day. I opened an email from my old friend, Chiara, and she told me the story of being 15 years old, her dad coming home from work and going to bed, and how it felt to discover the next day that he was never going to wake up again.
“I feel crushed,” I told Addison. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”
But here I have the quiet spaces, the time in between, to contemplate, to unpack, to consider all that has come to pass in these last two weeks.
Death is a dream, as is life. How could we be expected to continue functioning after the death of a loved one if it were really truly real?
Thich Nhat Hanh says that when we die, it’s not as if we leave a blank space behind. We can’t “subtract” ourselves from the universe. Everything that makes up our essence, our continuation, is all there. It just changes form.
The Bhagavad Gita says, “Never has there been a time when you or I did not exist.”
The Buddha says there is no “you” or “I”. But there is also NOT no “you” or “I”. We are not separate, but we are not the same.
When I think about my daughter Chickadee, and her tiny body buried in Texas, I wonder. Is there any of her essence still left there? The chickadees here in Colorado flock outside of my window, chirping and eating bugs and bringing me the memory of my child. There are chickadees all over the world who bring my daughter’s memory to anyone who has heard of her.
Wherever she is now, she is also my memory. And she is your memory. And you are my memory, as I am your memory.
May you and I continue to make more memories together for a good long while.
“God is the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
I sit at a table on a restaurant patio overlooking the ocean this morning.
I have been dreaming about eggs for days now, imagining them gliding around deliciously in a handmade tortilla, dripping with salsa.
And now, here they are with me, huevos rancheros, gazing solemnly up from my plate in their warm bath of red salsa and fresh, crumbled cheese.
The tortillas that my waiter presents me in a basket wrapped in cloth are, indeed, handmade and very hot.
Before diving into my breakfast, I sip my cafe ollo (coffee brewed with cinnamon) and look out at the three cormorants (badass birds that can swim underwater) who have set themselves up on the three available wooden posts that stick out above the ocean tide.
These three birds are facing the sun, which rose about an hour earlier, and are sitting silent and still, in worshipful reverence of the source of warmth and light for the entire Earth.
I stare at them, appreciation swelling in my heart.
Without water, I would die, I think, looking out at the vast body of lapping waves in front of me, and so would these three birds.
Without the sun, I would die, I continue in my head, looking at their peaceful, beaked faces pointed at the sun, and so would these three birds.
I feel my connection to the water, the sun, the birds and… without food, I would die. I gaze down at my breakfast.
I imagine the man or woman inside the kitchen who has carefully prepared my tortillas and huevos rancheros for me.
I feel gratitude filling my chest for this stranger who is making sure I have a delicious meal to give me energy for my day.
And I think about the chicken who has laid the eggs I am about to eat, and wonder where she is right now. Most likely she is scratching around in the dirt next door, chasing bugs with that vacant look in her eye that all chickens seem to have.
I take a sip of the freshly squeezed orange juice waiting in a tall glass in front of me, and imagine the orange tree reaching towards the sun, drinking in his rays and fattening up her crop of bright, sweet orbs of fruit.
After these contemplations, I promptly begin eating.
The waiter approaches a little while later, smiling at me good naturedly with his haggard teeth, and I thank him as he takes away my used napkins.
“Donde vienes?” he asks me (meaning, ‘where do you come from?’).
“Austin,” I reply.
“Austin Texas,” I clarify, silencing the ‘x’ in Texas so he can be sure where it is I’m talking about. “Voy a Brazil con mi bici,” I explain with a smile.
His eyes widen. “Con su bici?”
He wanders away, clearly needing some time to digest this information before his next question.
I have been traveling from Austin, TX by bicycle, bus and car for 2 months now, and in the last week it has now been solely by bicycle.
When I left Austin, headed for Mexico, I didn’t really have a way to prepare myself for the endless highways running through the endless desert, broken up only by cities that are barely navigable by bicycle.
I soon found that my comfort level allowed me only some short stints by bicycle, and then many more by bus and car.
The waiter returned, this time with a new question:
“No tienes miedo a viajar sola?” (‘aren’t you afraid to travel alone?’)
It took me a minute to decipher this question, because I wasn’t familiar with the word ‘miedo’ (‘fear’). But after repeating the unknown word aloud a few times, I understood.
I shrugged. “Un poco. Pero, esta bien.” (‘a little, but it’s okay’)
He laughed and walked away again.
I have come to know Fear over these past 2 months, more intimately than I had ever hoped.
Rarely have I actually been in any ‘real danger’. The fear I have been experiencing is mostly hand-made. 😉
After arriving in Mexico City in the car of a friend, I met Mestre Acordeon for the first time, practiced capoeira with Profesor Nao Veio, spent 5 days with Addison who came to visit me, got a new tattoo, and then finally got on a bus to a town in Tabasco called Villahermosa.
In Villahermosa I spent my first night sleeping in a hammock, something I’ve never done before. It was very hot and muggy, but after being bitten by mosquitoes I eventually pulled out my sleeping bag and somehow managed to wrap it around myself while not falling sideways out of the hammock.
I was at a Warmshowers host’s house. His name is Juan, and he was expecting two more cyclists the next day.
My first morning in Villahermosa I was awoken at 7:30 am by the sound of someone bashing a wall in across the street with a sledgehammer. I shifted around in my hammock, and then eventually sat up to greet my host and his friend.
They both left to work for the day, and I greeted my fear, who was waiting for my undivided attention. I meditated, journaled, cried, called friends, and cried some more.
During my walking meditation, I saw a little statue of Jesus Christ in Juan’s hallway. And I began to say to myself, over and over, “The Kingdom of Heaven is inside of me.”
Finally, I heard a knock during mid-afternoon and opened the door for the two cyclists Juan had been expecting.
Their names are Charles and Denise, and they are retired french canadians who have been cycling in South and Central America now for a year. They started in Peru, cycled down to the tip of South America (Chile), than back up into Peru where they spent four months, after which they continued north and eventually ended up at Juan’s house with me, in Villahermosa.
I was glad for their company, and Denise and I walked together to a nearby supermarket to buy food. I had a strange sense of feeling like a child again, wanting her to be my mommy, not wanting to lose her in the huge supermarket.
This kind of fear I experience is the strongest when I am transitioning into a new, unknown situation. This time it was the transition from Mexico City to now actually cycle touring again, and not knowing what it would be like to spend days on my own, sleeping at hotels in towns I knew nothing about.
But at the moment, I was safe, and I had a wonderful couple to spend the evening with. They made a pasta dinner for all of us, and drew me a route through the Yucatan on my map of Mexico, since they had just come from the area I was headed. This brought me some relief, as the unknown began to feel less ‘un’ and more ‘known’.
That night we pulled the hammock out of the way, and the three of us lined up on the tile floor and slept side by side with our sleeping bags and earplugs.
Sleeping with strangers has never felt so comforting.
The next morning we all packed up and made our procession out to the sidewalk. Juan was chatting with us amiably and helping us out the door.
Charles, Denise and I navigated through the city, and then, after a few blocks of riding together, they turned left and I went straight.
I took a deep breath. Here I go… I thought, watching the highway take shape out in front of me. I would be on Highway 180 for the next week or so.
After sitting and gazing out over the ocean some more, the waiter arrived to take my plate away. I was left with my coffee and orange juice (probably not the best combo for my digestion, but who cares), which I took as long as I wanted to sip and savor.
In Mexico they NEVER rush you in a restaurant. You can sit at your table for hours, maybe even days, and they’ll just smile and offer you more coffee.
But eventually I did raise my hand for the waiter. “La cuenta por favor.”
He bustled away to count up my order.
I’m doing it, I thought, watching a large, blue-black grackle making a ruckus in the tree next to me. I’m enjoying being alone.
It’s so hard for me to go to a nice restaurant, or hang out in a beautiful place and not be filled with the desire to share it with someone.
It’s not that I don’t feel like I deserve it, but I love sharing the world with other people. And maybe I’m afraid it’s as if none of this actually happened, if there wasn’t someone to witness it.
‘If Jahnavi hangs out in a fancy hotel and meditates by the gurgling pool in the garden out back and no one else witnesses it, did it really happen?’ 😛
I say good bye to the waiter, who wishes me luck and ‘cuidado’ (‘be careful’), and make my way back to my hotel room.
I’m taking a day off at this hotel, because since I left Villahermosa that morning with the french cyclists, I have been pulling 7-8 hour days, fighting a headwind as I travel alongside the Gulf of Mexico. My body wants a bicycle, wind and sun free day.
My first day back on the bicycle, from Villahermosa to Frontera, was 82 km and so easy, I was confused. It only took me 4 ½ hours, and there I was, in Frontera, booking a room at a cheap hotel at 2 pm.
I figured the next day, 99 km, shouldn’t be so bad.
But that’s when I hit the waterfront, and was reminded about the joys of a nice, healthy, headwind. At first I was more focused on the fact that I was being rained on pretty thoroughly for a couple of hours, but once that cleared, I began to feel concerned.
I was traveling so SLOWLY.
After 5 hours, I had only gotten halfway to Cidudad del Carmen, the town I was intent on reaching, where a Couchsurfer named Victor Hugo was awaiting my arrival.
It was like moving in slow motion for 9 hours straight.
When I finally reached the city–after crossing a mile long bridge and weeping copiously as my speed slowed to a crawl due to the even greater wind exposure–I had to cross through the entire city to the other end, where Hugo lives.
At one point I pulled over to look at my cellphone map, and a very excited, older Mexican man approached me, eager to practice his english and find out what in the hell I was up to.
I was so tired I could barely conjure up my good manners, though I appreciated his interest in my trip. Most people just regard me as an alien here in Mexico, so when someone actually treats me like a human being and asks me about my life I feel glad.
After chatting with him and explaining that I was riding my bicycle to Brazil and yes, I am crazy, I continued on to Hugo’s apartment.
Hugo was amazed to see me and my bicycle pull up to his place, and helped me inside.
The beer I drank before we ate dinner was like an elixir of life, and we talked about travel, my sister and her husband’s 6 month excursion across half the world, my mom and my brother living in India, and his part in his family’s business.
I had been planning on continuing on to the next place in the morning, but I had already arrived at Hugo’s much later than expected and was feeling rather knackered.
I awoke early the next morning, looked at some maps, and finally decided I would take the day off.
After a morning meditation session with Addison over the phone, I wrote this down from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book called ‘Fear’:
“If you are capable of living deeply one moment of your life, you can learn to live the same way all the other moments of your life.” -Thay
Sometimes I do need to live life moment to moment–any more than that can feel overwhelming when I am in a certain state of mind. And now I can just consider it a meditation practice, this one moment where I choose to live deeply.
“If you can dwell in one moment, you will discover eternity.” -Rene Char
Hugo took me to Walmart so I could buy supplies for my trip (and where, coincidentally, they were blasting capoeira music), and then we ate lunch under an oceanside tent restaurant.
We discussed jealousy (something Hugo struggles with, as do I and most people) and he asked me how I deal with it.
“Meditation!” I said. “It’s the only way!” I laughed.
He was intrigued, so we talked more about meditation and discussed the best way for him to get started on his own, since he’d never done it before.
That evening, my right hip and leg began to hurt so badly, that I was having trouble walking. I tried to brush it away, assuming I would feel fine in the morning and be able to ride.
I stretched, massaged the area, slathered myself with biofreeze (thanks again Diane!), drank a glass of water with arnica drops in it, drank magnesium, and then finally lay myself out to sleep. It took a while to fall asleep, because the only comfortable position for my leg was straight, so that didn’t give me many options for how I could lay down (and boy do I like to shift positions every 5 minutes).
I awoke at 6:30 am, eager to find out if my leg had magically healed overnight.
But when I stood up to walk to the bathroom, I was filled with dismay. It hurt just as badly… maybe worse.
I called Radha and Erik (who are in Thailand) and discussed the situation with them.
Finally, I decided I would have to take the day off. Even if I could manage to get on my bicycle and ride 80 km that day, getting off to walk around was agony, and probably not the safest situation to put myself in considering I’d be traveling out in the middle of nowhere, alone.
So I stayed, and spend some quality time with Fear.
I’ve been meditating so much on this trip that I told Addison, “I’m beginning to feel like a monk, like I’m in a monastery… but I’m on an epic journey at the same time… so it’s like I’m a warrior monk.”
The day off didn’t kill me, and I even got some practical things done, including making music with my mandolin.
“Art is the essence of life, and the substance of art is mindfulness.” -Thay
The following two days would be a blur of oceanside cycling, granola bars, sunburn, Harry Potter audiobook, hotels, limping around, whistling Mexican men, semi trucks, gray foxes, coatis, iguanas the size of cats, swamps, mangroves, beaches, albatrosses, eagles, hawks, fish, exhaustion, alone-ness, and more meditation.
Having spent so much time gazing at the ocean, I gleaned this thought from my reflections: “The ocean is not afraid of change. She never stops moving, never stops shifting, and changing the sands at her edges and the ocean floor beneath her.”
At another point, as I was riding past miles of mangroves and swamps and listening to Danny Malone’s album, ‘Balloons’, this question he asks stuck with me:
“They say the way to know yourself, is by yourself
But what if you’re someone you don’t really wanna know…?”
When I pulled into Champoton yesterday and saw the Hotel Posada la Regia on my right side, I didn’t care if it was cheap, expensive, new, old, had internet, or hot water… I just wanted to stop, and sleep.
But after being shown to my room and realizing it’s actually a nice place and a reasonably nice town, and taking consideration of my very unhappy right leg, I decided I was staying an extra night and that was that.
“The past is not me. I am not limited by the past.
The present is not me. I am not limited by the present.
The future is not me. I am not limited by the future.”
My goal right now is to rest, write, read, and (yes, you guessed it) meditate. Than it’s another three days to Merida, where a warmshowers host is awaiting my arrival on Saturday.
I’m learning to relish this alone-ness, to let it sink into my skin.
Because once I get to Playa del Carmen, I may be traveling with a whole lotta people, and potentially looking back on this sweet, quiet time wistfully–and then turning back to my large group of humans and reveling in their company all the same.
“The greatest suffering can be overcome through the simplest of actions…” -Me
In the past couple of weeks I have cried more and slept less for the longest stretch of time I can remember.
And whenever I would have a moment’s rest from the onslaught of pain, I would wonder… “How can I stay here? I don’t want to go back down. I need to stay above water!”
My sister brilliantly reminded me that I could listen to Thich Nhat Hanh on YouTube or podcasts whenever I wanted.
My own mind was struggling with creating and maintaining a positive thought stream, and I found it almost impossible to stay in the present moment.
So I turned to Thich Nhat Hanh to fill my head with the good stuff. 😉
It took a couple of days of listening to him, but finally, one of my bigger questions was answered and I had a tool I could use to make changes in the recesses of my consciousness.
Thay said, “If you are listening to a CD and you don’t like the music that is playing, why keep listening to it? Just change the CD.”
Simple, yet brilliant.
“If your thoughts are causing you to suffer, why continue to listen to them? You can make a change, right now. You can choose to stop your suffering, right now.
There are seeds in your unconscious. Seeds of love, of anger, of joy, of hate. If you water the seeds of hate, anger or despair, they will take root and grow strong. You need to sing them a lullaby, and put them to sleep. You need to water the seeds of joy, of hope, of love, and they will grow strong in your mind.”
So thank you for being part of my practice of watering the seeds of gratitude and love in my consciousness. I am going to share with you everything I have been grateful for and appreciated over the last couple of weeks here in Mexico.
This is my lullaby, sending the seeds of despair and fear to sleep. 🙂
The first thing that I think of when I feel this swell of appreciation in my heart are the people I have met in the past few weeks:
And there’s more and more…
I’m thankful for the sunsets here…
I’m thankful for the beautiful city of Queretaro…
I’m thankful for cute dogs… 😀
I’m thankful for the beautiful art of basketry…
I’m thankful for the mandolin and the ability to play music and heal…
I’m thankful for my noble steed, my amazing bicycle who carries all of my stuff and goes with me everywhere…
I’m thankful for capoeira, my saving grace, and Professor Marcego for saying, “If I check on you in a couple of months and I see that you’ve quit and gone back to the U.S., than you’re not my friend anymore.” 😀
I’m thankful for delicious Mexican food…
I’m thankful for walking meditation…
I’m thankful for handstands…
I’m thankful for finding random, inspiring quotes on the walls of a restaurant:
I’m thankful for Mexico City for welcoming me into it’s awe inspiring massiveness…
I’m thankful that Addison Rice, the love of my life is coming to see me here in Mexico City in just three days…
And I am thankful to you, dear friend, for reading this whole post and giving me the gift of your attention today. 🙂
A few months ago, Addison (my fiancee) bought me a book called “Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm” by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Throughout my slow-growing meditation practice, I’ve been aware of ‘levels’, perhaps not unlike a video game, that I have to ‘overcome’ in order to get to the next level.
Many times this involves gaining certain tools, making certain mistakes or have certain experiences before I can ‘pass’ that level.
A few months ago (and even now) I’m in level ‘Fear’.
I’ve recognized how incapacitating Fear is, and how incredibly free I am or will be when I am no longer afraid.
I imagine living without the negative voices in my head that are constantly instructing me and giving me their opinions from a fear-based place, and simply making choices based on intuition.
I imagine being one of those people who laugh and smile all the time, and are totally unafraid of rejection.
In fact, these people seem to no longer require approval in any way.
I’m going to grow up to be like that. 🙂
In the meantime, I am reading and re-reading the last sections of Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, ‘Fear’, and doing the meditation practices he has laid out.
I wanted to share this exercise and part of this chapter with you, because not only is it a wonderful practice, but the writing is eloquent and hits home with me every time I read it:
“Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.
This exercise helps us look deeply at giving up craving, hatred and fear. This concentration helps us touch the true nature of reality and brings the wisdom that can liberate us from fear, anger and despair. We let go of our wrong perceptions of realitys so as to be free.
‘Nirvana’ literally means ‘cooling’, ‘the putting out of flames’; in Buddhism, it refers to extinction of the afflictions brought about by our wrong perceptions.
Nirvana isn’t a place to go or something belonging to the future. Nirvana is the true nature of reality, things as they are.
Nirvana is available in the here and now.
You are already in nirvana; you are nirvana, just as the wave is already the water.“
Every morning (or almost every morning), Addison and I sit down and read a couple of pages from one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books before we meditate.
Right now we are reading “Fear: Essential wisdom for getting through the storm”.
I really enjoyed the reading we had today, and wanted to share it with you:
“Imagine two astronauts go to the moon, and while they’re there, there’s an accident and their ship can’t take them back to Earth. They have only enough oxygen for two days. There is no hope of someone coming from Earth in time to rescue them. They have only two days live.
If you were to ask them at that moment, ‘What is your deepest wish?’ they would answer, ‘To be back home walking on our beautiful planet Earth.’ That would be enough for them; they wouldn’t want anything else. They wouldn’t think of being the head of a large corporation, a famous celebrity, or the president of the United States. They wouldn’t want anything but to be back here—walking on Earth, enjoying every step, listening to the sounds of nature, or holding the hand of their beloved while contemplating the moon at night.
We should live every day like people who have just been rescued from dying on the moon. We are on Earth now, and we need to enjoy walking on this precious, beautiful planet. Zen Master Linji said, ‘The miracle is not to walk on water or fire. The miracle is to walk on the earth.’ I cherish that teaching. I enjoy just walking, even in busy places like airports and railway stations. Walking like that, with each step caressing our Mother Earth, we can inspire other people to do the same. We can enjoy every minute of our lives.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
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