Into My Wild

Into the Wild: A Personal Symbolism of My Pursuit of the Joy of Life

 

On the day that my travel companion of the past three months left Bangkok to return                                                                                                                                                                                 home to the U.S., an action that officially marks the end of this chapter of my life, I was left behind feeling ethereal and somewhat alone. For almost half a year, I have spent the majority of my waking hours in the company of one of my best friends.  We’ve been living as roommates, working at the same job and lastly, three months of traveling through Southeast Asia. It has been, with no doubt in mind, an adventure that belongs on the highest shelf of the bookcase of my life. The imminent change had been a shadow of bittersweet shades covering me with contradicting emotions. I was eager for this journey to end knowing that it instantaneously kick-starts a new one, both for him and myself. Though there was a hollow sadness in my heart at the thought that he would no longer be there to share new moments with. After arriving back at my friend’s home, where the two of us had stayed the past 3 weeks, I was driven by a quiet curiosity to take a peek in his room. I saw the empty room in my mind before I even opened the door. But for a moment, I allowed myself to imagine that he’d be inside, lying on the bed with a book in his hand.

But there was no one there, only a few random objects strewn about. There was a souvenir shirt one size too small, a packet of multi-vitamins, empty bottles of water, and scraps of paper.  It was a familiar feeling that overcame me as I stood in the room observing the stillness and vacancy of it all, a feeling of completion. The kind of emotion that is felt at the glance of an empty room at the end of moving day, when all the boxes are taped up and the last painting taken down.

It was over. The journey has ended, and I am on my own.

I saw it on the dresser amidst several other insignificant objects. It’s surprising presence slightly unsettling as I wondered how he could have left it behind. I had just returned it to him this morning, keeping it in my possession days after I had finished reading it, if not to flip through my favourite passages then to simply have it close at hand almost willing it to inspire me. His copy of Into the Wild sat eagerly underneath a torn page of his notebook that screamed “Joya!” Inside of which, told me that “There’s always more to read… so read on! ! & Take Care. “

I almost laughed out loud because there was nothing more perfect that he could have left behind for me, and I almost laughed because I had not expected it when I should have.

It would be factitious for me to claim that the book had changed me somehow, because it had not. To say that the adventures of Chris McCandless and his reckless but undeniably admirable will of being stirred awake the adventurous spirit that lied within me, would be untrue. At this point, my adventurous and insatiable soul has been roaring loudly for years. What Into the Wild has done for me, is simply remind me that I am not alone in how I feel. I discovered, though I should have already known, that there are many others who seek out and sometimes find the illumination of a life lived on the fringe. In my case, it is easy to forget that I am not as crazy as others have helpfully informed me. I know of only one other person who sometimes feels the way I do, and even he does not reflect the zeal that I possess.  I often live a life that teeters between that of a life within a society and one that lies outside of it, a life that gives me the feeling of an outsider in either scenario. However, the comfort of belonging to a society is that there are many others that do as well, so that when I am a citizen I hardly ever need convincing that everything is right with the world. On the other hand, vagabonds are fundamentally loners that in seeking a kind of Vagabond Anonymous for a sense of community lay a paradox, therefore I have no one to tell me that what I feel is not as extraordinary as it seems. But because I am still in between both worlds, and have not yet dared to choose one side, I usually feel wrong for wanting what’s out there. Try as they might, friends and family always fail at understanding my desire. I expect that they believe I am simply going through a phase and it would not be too long before I file for my 401-k and put a down payment on a quaint little house with white shutters and white fences on Pearl Street.

Irrespective of what the future holds, of which path I will have end up taking, I am not mistaken that what I want and what I wish my future to be is to wander for as long as I can help it. The fate of Chris McCandless has created an immense ideal that of an eternal wanderer. Had he not passed away in the middle of his exodus, he might have just returned from it with volumes of story to tell but only to go on to re-join the world he left behind. He would then not be so different from the very author that wrote his story and immortalized him forever as a supertramp. Jon Krakauer, a writer whose own life is full of achievements and unimaginable feats but would never be the legend that Chris had become because he is absolutely and will always be part of the world. The very essence of Chris McCandless is in his success of never being able to become anything other than the wanderer he had wanted to be.

Nothing more would make me feel satisfied than looking back at the end of it all and seeing a life lived moving through the world, living through the world. It would be a delight if I succeed in spending my years scattered about between Buenos Aires, Caracas, San Sebastian, Nice, Paris, Munich, Marrakesh, Tuscany, Borneo, Bangkok, Sydney, Dakar, perhaps even Tokyo. Most of those closest to me believe that I will soon tire, that I couldn’t possibly want to do this for so long. That they insist I give them an answer to the question of where in the world would I settle. When I am ready, when money is not a factor, when I desire a partner, and children, when my adventurous spirit is ready to rest, where in the world do I stop. Always in my mind, I wonder, why do I have to stop? But I answer, out loud, an arbitrary city that I love and could see myself possibly considering to make my home, but even thinking of it feels forced. Thinking of settling down and stopping feels more of an obligation to appease others and something I don’t think I have the tiniest aspiration for. Sure, I could live and settle in New York maybe, or Medellin. I can get a job, continue on my career, and get promotions and yearly bonuses. I’m enough of a positive person that anywhere I go; either path I choose would keep me happy. I can live a nice life, with a nice man, in a nice city, raise pleasant children, and go on fun vacations and I would do it all with a genuine smile in my heart because life is always about The Road Not Taken. Though that is not the life I would chase after with all that I have. I see that life simply as an acceptable possibility, but only after I have already tired of running down the road less travelled.

Chris McCandless lived his dream, and he never left it. He remains to me an ultimate success. Though I do not want an early end, nor am I grateful that he perished, I am grateful that he lived his dream. He proved to himself and to the world that “the joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” He taught us that we ought to live or die trying. He, like many of my heroes, allows me to believe that I am not foolish for pursuing my dreams, however different they may be. At the final leg of this journey, I end it with Chris McCandless in my company. The book is aged, and the signs of being well-read are obvious. It was bought for 75 cents, the price pencilled in on the top right corner of its first page, right above a photograph of Chris McCandless leaning against the infamous Fairbanks City Bus 142. Someone who now resides in Denmark had bought it a long time ago, and it was handed down to my friend and travel companion who brought the book with him as we travelled through Southeast Asia. It was a book that I borrowed and read up with thunderous desire on a bus from Bangkok en route to Chiang Mai. It is a book, with stories, and characters that will now accompany me in my own journey in the absence of my friend, who is finally on his way home. Through a thoughtful gift, I am not alone after all.

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Peace and Quiet: Meeting Ayahuasca

We arrived at a small commune. A happy boxer roamed around, approaching the new gathered visitors but never getting too close. Various paths seemed to lead to small, simple homes. There was no lack of shrubbery nor flowers. And the trees stood tall, over us, the faint blue of the darkening sky just right above. A small, narrow stairway wove its way down a hill and we came upon our shelter for the night: a large, spacious yoga studio in the shape of a pentagon. Large windows and glass sliding doors enclosed the room and outside I could see the green of the thick valley, with scattered homes here and there. On one wall were mirrors, an image of Ganesh on a woven fabric hung on one corner, and Vishnu sat on the other.

I sat on my yoga mat, changed into comfortable clothes, observing the others I had come with. Many seem prepared, the ones who had mentioned of having done this before. They came with mattresses, thick cushions, pillows, blankets. I look at my yoga mat, throw pillow and a thin blanket and realized how ill-prepared I was for my first Ayahuasca retreat.

The invitation to come took place a month before, a friend told me “we’re going to the mountains, take this drug and trip.” I took that at face value. He recommended that I watch a video on Youtube, but I was always game for anything so it hadn’t mattered. I watched the video about an Ayahuasca experience but I must admit true to my nature, I only watched a few minutes of it, simply to get an idea. I like to dive into things with only a glance before I leap.

In retrospect, that might not have been the best route to go considering that this experience turned out to be above and beyond trippin’ balls in the mountains. Earlier in the day when we met with our guide, the shaman, in the parking lot he asked us what our intentions were for participating in this ceremony. I was unluckily enough to have been chosen to go first and I mumbled something to the like of “wanting to receive some guidance.” So, did most of the newbies. The ones with more experience were more specific; wanting to “come to terms with my mother’s death,” as an example.

As we were about to begin, the shaman gave a bit of an explanation of what we were to expect. He tells us that we will take 4 shots throughout the night, he says “There might be a time when you feel you want to purge but it’s possible nothing comes out. But just in case, the are 5 plastic buckets for that purpose on the floor in front.” And certain rules, “Do not engage with your neighbors, you don’t know what they are going through.” He talks about the Ayahuasca, how it is more than just medicine, that it is a divine being that if allowed to can help us; with our lives, our purpose, our meaning. He reminds us that this is not just your normal “trip” and we’re not here to kick it and have a good time. “We’re here to work,” he says.

What? We’re not having a good time?! Work? Another queasy moment passes as I regret not being more prepared.

I take everything with a grain of salt. I try my best to be respectful and listen with an open mind. Though I couldn’t help but think about how I might be very much in the wrong place. As a skeptic, an atheist and someone far from what I’d consider “spiritual.” I don’t pray, I don’t meditate, I despise organized religion, and I have no patience for the hypocrisy of those who claim to be religious.

Even still, the environment alone, the vibe and energy felt undeniably serene and positive. Our shaman tells us some stories of others, how many of them have used it to help themselves; whether it is dealing with grief, depression, an addiction, an illness, or bad habits. We’re asked to repeat our intentions and share them with the group and as I listened to the rest and waited for my turn I thought to myself that this might be a good time to find some resolution to some hate, anger, and guilt I carry around. There were several who asked “for the journey to be mild,” and to be “brought back at a reasonable time.”

“Brought back?” What does that mean? Where are we going? “Reasonable time?” Is there a possibility we won’t be coming back on time? Is it possible to not come back at all? I wondered, amused and curious at the same time. Only afterwards would I know the full meaning of this request.

When my turn came, I said to the group, “Well, now that I have a better understanding of what this experience might be like, I think this is a good opportunity for me to try and work on forgiving my mother, my father, myself and others.” I thought that would be a good start. Considering I didn’t know how exactly this would all work.

So, we begin. All the lights are turned off, and we only have the shine of the moon and the stars and a single lit candle in front of the shaman. My eyes adjusted soon enough. I watch him prepare the medicine, they come in large clear mason jars and he pours some in a shot glass and takes a drink. Then one by one, we came up to take the shot. We sit in silence, though sometimes there was coughing, sneezing, and heavy breathing could be heard, otherwise, we sat in silence.

I sat wondering and observing. Mostly I began to wonder whether this was a waste of money. Though we were told to try to sit up as that would allow the medicine to work better, I grew tired and uncomfortable and so I laid down. I might have been falling asleep as memories of my past came circling around. Though they were not memories I would have thought would come. Memories from the time that I lived in Spain floated in and out of my mind, memories of my time with my ex and our dog, memories from college. I vaguely had control of my thoughts so I pushed those away and my mind drifts. I find myself in different scenarios, different places. I seem to have gone to the mountainside, Boston, and finally a beach at night. The sky was dark, the stars were twinkling, the coconut trees were somehow clear in the darkness. Figures floated in front of the image of the coconut trees, the trees themselves seemed to become illuminated. The water looked strange, the water was of different colors, it looked as though someone had spilled different colored inks and there were colors everywhere. I could hear the ocean. I could hear music, and I began to feel as though I was floating. The air was cold, and I felt as thought I was everywhere and then I realized that the drug was working.

I opened my eyes and I was right. I was tripping.

The ceiling was moving and opening to the sky and I could see the sky from inside the room, the other people were shadows, there was music playing, beautiful music playing, most everyone were still just sitting or laying down. I could hear someone laughing. No one was moving around too much. I look out the window the stars were gorgeous. Everything was fuckin’ weird. It felt short and it felt like forever. It stayed that way for some time, I sat mesmerized and time froze. I watched figures, random images float around and nothing was making sense and yet I understood everything.

We take the second shot, and this was what I think was the strongest. And when I felt the worst. Everything was so dark and scary, and then I felt sick, I felt like throwing up, and I was purging, laying down and throwing up but I wasn’t throwing up anything. It was all just air but it felt like so many things were coming out of me. I felt better when it felt as though my stomach had emptied. Then it became freaky, I kept feeling bad, feeling lost, feeling like I wanted someone to stop it and I wanted to get out of there. I kept muttering “Save Me” I don’t know if anyone heard me, or even if I was saying it out loud, but I kept saying that over and over. I even wrote it in my journal, in the dark so seeing the words in the morning looked like it was written by someone who was possessed. And I just felt alone and bad. The music goes from loud to soft and the Shaman plays music that’s calmer to bring us out of our “trip” and we sober up after each round.

We took the third shot and that’s when I really tripped balls. I went outside to go to the bathroom. They put out little tea lights to guide the way to the bathroom because it’s dark. I didn’t have a flashlight and that walk to the bathroom which was probably just 50 feet felt like a mile. The walk, this very short walk during the day and when without being inebriated takes less than a minute, but that night it was an adventure. Every step was taken cautiously and occasionally I’d stare out into the dark woods, only a small tea light as my illumination. I was about to go back inside the room and get comfortable again when I decided to watch the stars. I went to the balcony, it overlooks the woods and I stare at the stars for so long. It was amazing and beautiful and just wow. I think, even if we weren’t tripping it would have been just as gorgeous. I stared at it for so long, and that’s when I felt a bit of peace and I really loved the stars. I had a strong urge to be with the stars, a feeling that hoped someone would take me up there. I even climbed up the seats of the balcony and leaned out so I could see more. This was dumb and dangerous and this is why you don’t do drugs. I kept doing that until I finally talked myself out of it. Then I laid down on the balcony because I felt like I wanted to be with the stars. Until I got cold and went back inside. I laid down, and it was very cold. I only had a thin blanket, and so I laid down anyway, and tried to get warm. Then I felt something magical happen because the small thin sheet I had felt very big all of a sudden, felt like a large thick, tent and I kept playing with it with my hands thinking… wow, I wish it to be warm and here’s a magical blanket out of nowhere and now I’m able to stay warm, wow. I’m amazed and I laugh. And I fell asleep.

The music stops, we take the fourth shot. People are becoming more interactive now, someone went around each person and waved feathers around us, there was sage burning, a single candle stood in the middle of the room, people played instruments, really beautiful music. There was singing. I sang without knowing the words. Then I fall asleep and my mind is just rushing everywhere, I feel so much. Then I get waken up. It’s daylight, people were awake, I still kept falling asleep, they kept waking me up. I finally was able to sit up and join the group and be back in ‘reality” and then that’s when I realized no wonder others had asked for “grandmother” to bring them back at a reasonable time.

To this day, weeks after, I still don’t really know what happened. We sat in our circle the morning after and shared our experiences. What we felt, what we learned, how we feel now. Many mentioned feeling loved, something that I did not feel that night which I found to be odd. I shared as well, and I told them “I always considered myself a very unemotional person, I don’t quite allow myself to feel whether it be love, or anger. I often shut my feelings out, and do things to distract myself from how I feel. And I’m quite good at it. But after taking the medicine, in a way it left me unguarded. I couldn’t control my emotions, I felt so much. I didn’t realize I could feel so much.” Surprisingly, I began to cry. I was very confused and exhausted and amazed and so many things that I couldn’t even begin to find the words to describe.

The shaman looked at me for a long time, he was watching me as I spoke and finally he says, “I can see a vast well of sadness behind those eyes.” Tears flowed and I couldn’t stop it. He suggests to me to work on allowing myself to feel, to take some time to cry, to let the tears flow, and then maybe if I decide to come back we could work on family matters.

Soon, the ceremony officially ended, we said our goodbyes, and gave our hugs. Before I climbed up the hill to go back to the car, I went out on the balcony, curious to see the difference between what I had seen and felt the night before to how the world looks now, in the daylight. I looked at the sky; blue, the clouds white. I looked at the valley, green and lush and beautiful. I wondered about the vast contrasting worlds of day and night. Everything was amazing. Everything that was, was peace and quiet.

Well, wasn’t that fuckin’ eye-opening!?

There is Nothing on this Island

“Do you know how long before we run out of food on this island if a disaster struck?” my taxi driver asked me as we drove down H1.

“I don’t know, two weeks?” I guess.

“That’s correct. Two weeks and then we have nothing,” he replies, the word ‘nothing’ weighs heavy.

There’s something to think about. It’s fascinating to truly think about the fact that I, along with almost a million people on Oahu and another close to half a million on the other islands, are in complete isolation.

That idea, I think, contributes to the attitude and culture of the people who live and who thrive here. There is a sense of satisfaction. There is no hint of expanded desire. No need for more. There is an all-around contentment. All we have is this and this is all we have.

But then again, what need is there for more when everyday is paradise.

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I arrived here only several weeks ago, so don’t suppose that my thoughts and ideas about Honolulu and its people are in anyway precise. I am still a stranger, still fresh. I am still savoring the process of being new. I am far from the edge of the waning excitement that comes over time. I am still absolutely full of excitement.

Every day ends on a beautiful sunset, and I am elated that after a day’s work all I need to do is step out the back door to watch another day over.

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The island is dazzling. Only a few weeks and I am hypnotized by the ocean, and the mountains. The trees and the flowers, the sun and the sky reminds me of home, the Philippines where every flower bloomed bright and every tree stood majestic. I am in my element once more.

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There is gorgeous scenery at every corner. And the backdrop to the volleyball games every Monday is a crater thousands of years old.

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The mundane, the everyday, the humdrum, the daily grind happens in a place that has a constant desire to take your breath away. IMG_3669

Often, I am asked, what brought me here. A common question as there are many who are not ‘from here.’ I quite honestly don’t have an answer. The idea was brought to me last summer, it simmered in my mind until the time came to leave Boston in late spring and here I am.

If the world crumbled tomorrow and all I have is nothing but this. I’ll gladly have nothing everyday.

 

 

 

The Proverbial Reset Button

Every year, on January first, whether it bears any truth or not, there is a general consensus that everyone is allowed to dream big once more, allowed to imagine the best of themselves, allowed to “restart.”

Last year, around this time, I was on week four of my travels in South East Asia. This time around, I am on my 5th month of a one-year lease on an apartment. I can’t pretend that I’m not itching to step-out the door and just go. So, now that a full year has passed since I was last wandering, it is sometimes hard to find that full-of-life-feeling that envelops me when I am out there. The excitement of being back in Boston has gone, the madness of drinking the summer away is well over, and I have more than fallen in to the routine of monotony. Everything is still. With snow banks on very corner, bare trees standing stiff, and frigid air filling my lungs, everything is frozen. Even my wanderlust.

It’s been about half a year since I put a pause on my travel, and I have about half a year before I go off again. I cannot help but feel unmotivated. I feel too far away from the high I felt after returning from a journey and too far away from the anticipation of the next trip. But if there is one thing that travel has taught me it is to embrace every minute and devour each day with fervent thirst. And so, while the first of the year doesn’t necessarily start anything new in my life, I’m going to take its figurative meaning literally. I’m deleting the feeling of stagnancy. I’m raising my excitement bar. I’m refreshing.

While I might not be crossing borders there is still so much to do. I’m dreaming of a winter filled with ski-trips, ice-skating, hot cocoas, and warm liquors. I’m picking up my pencil and work on those projects that I have put aside. I’m going to concentrate on those resolutions I made up. I’m going to pretend I’m trying to go to the gym. I will join friends and have good times. I will live my life as if I was on traveling, because life is only as good as you make it.