Oh, the places you'll go

Oh, the places you'll go


Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Critical Change

As most friends know, I am currently in India and backpacking parts of Asia. I have recently saved enough money to afford this opportunity and I am very glad to say I did. For lack of better words, this opportunity has been more than incredible. As incredible it has been, it has also been very eye-opening. I wish everyone could come and see for themselves the equally amazing and unfortunate scenarios taking place within this country- but, if you can't, that is okay, I am here to shed some light on my experience and help you get some insight into another world and a necessary change that needs to happen within the international mindset.

Let's begin.

On my train from Vrindavan, the city of 5000 temples, to Agra, I made a group of Indian friends. These young men stopped in their tracks when they saw me reading a book on the floor of a passenger train. Their eyes fixed on me as I looked up from my book and waved. They immediately surrounded me and squatted next to me. Only 2 could speak decent English and all of them kept asking them to ask me questions. "Where are you from?", "What is your name?", "How old are you?" "Are you married?", "Do you know Robert Downey Jr.?" The last one made me laugh out loud. For 30 minutes I was being interviewed like a celebrity by this group of 18 year old school kids who had probably never seen or talked to a white person before. I was happy to make their day. In turn, they were unknowingly making mine as well. They asked many questions about myself and America. Then one asked, "Do you ever feel lonely traveling alone as a foreigner?"

I had not thought about it up until that moment. Of course I miss home at times, but I won't be away forever, so the feeling of the momentous experience is more powerful than loneliness.

Volunteering in Vrindavan opened my eyes to many things. For one, my life is very good, and I do not mean this to brag, but more as a means to reflect how self-centered I can be. How much we can all be. Especially living in western societies, closed off from this world entirely, forgetting it exists. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the moment of discomfort when we feel it that complaints start to come, and they do not stop as easy as they come. Being conscious of complaints is the first step to ceasing them and heading to India will prove how minuscule your "relative" problems are. The streets are lined with trash. The rivers are incredibly polluted. The water is loaded with parasites. Animals are dying everywhere. The malnourished "untouchables" starve to death because no one will touch them or feed them for fear of having to be purified by their religion. The traffic appears to be one of the most dangerous activities to partake in, but it is also kind of entertaining and fun as well. All of this is happening while the government builds billion dollar religious monuments that give the people a false sense of hope and security, "Pray to me and your soul will be wealthy, just don't ask me for food, clean water, or a place to sleep." Although I hate the idea of comparing myself to others, if it is going to happen, comparing down, to more unfortunate situations, is one way to instantly feel a sense of gratitude. While this sense of gratitude may fade eventually, the memory is sure to keep one humbled in the future.
The school we were helping volunteer at. The school is made of trash covered in mud/clay.
I've always believed in sustainability within our planet, but being here and spending time in Vrindavan, and India in general, has blown the door open on why it not only makes sense, but is absolutely critical. For any type of world or system we live in, we need to ensure our consumption habits are in line with the advent of tomorrow's world. Do we want our children to grow up with less than us or just about the same (there is no way they can have more, we already have enough)? If we want our children to have less, we should continue along our current path. If not then we should question the source of products we hold dear to us. Where does it come from? Who made it? What material was it made from? What was the cost of labor and who is the labor? Does it regrow? How long does it take to replenish? When I have used it up, do I throw it away and buy more/another? What does it cost in terms of worldly consumption? I know older generations will tell us not to worry about the importance of this, and that everything is okay and our lifestyles are normal and "civilized", but they are not the ones who have to deal with the repercussions. We are. They are wrong and I do not mind telling any who disagree with that statement the same thing: you are wrong.

I am not turning into an Eco-warrior, but I see the fight and why it is necessary for all of humanity. Mankind has always been comfortable in using as much as possible until the resource is depleted and then moving onto the next, sort of like a virus. We are the only being on the planet to place a higher value price on maximizing profits on resources instead of the sustainability of discovering ways to use those resources indefinitely. Many will say, "Because we are conscious beings who need money to survive in our societies." To which I would reply, "Are we? Do we?" We have a dependency on plastic and using, on materialism, and our comfortable ways of life, especially in the west. The majority of the entire world uses in an unsustainable manner as if we are all afraid everyone else is going to use it up if we don't first. But what happens when we all use it all? When all of the trees are chopped down, all of the rivers depleted, all of the gas guzzled, all of the planet is barren, where do we go? Back to dust and nothingness.

This brings me to spirituality. While the outlook above is somewhat gloomy, and we will simply ignore it because it hits too close to home and our fragile minds can't grasp such a real scenario in which we have nothing of which we have always had. I do not feel anxious about it. The materialistic lifestyle causes us to care about this physical world to point of worrying about death and nothingness. Relax, the body is not what you should be worried about. Death comes to us all but how is your soul doing? Being in Vrindavan allowed me to see firsthand how people with "nothing" are seemingly happier than us in the western world. They do not worship the demigods of technology, fame, social media, clothes, cars, sex, etc., but instead they are sold on "Hare Krishna", which basically means glory to God. They repeat mantras, chanting to Krishna, and live completely for their deity. While I am not completely sold on the religious aspect of it, I respect the movement of using less and putting yourself aside for the sake of compassion towards a cleaner planet and taking care of fellow man. One might be wondering, but isn't India trashed? Yes it is, but many people are not following a guideline of how to live here. Also, their infrastructure is maddeningly nonexistent.

Participating in a Hindi Yamuna River ceremony that represented love and devotion to the planet.

So I began to wonder, is ignorance bliss or do they actually have a powerful and uplifting spiritual movement? I came to realize the ladder is true. I say this because many of the people I saw practicing were former westerners. I talked to many of these intelligent people who have strong convictions on philosophy and life. They were people who lived the material rat race life and decided to choose a life lived with less stuff and more compassion. Entirely less consumption. They focus on sustainability and putting others before themselves. They went from "me me me", to "if I give, I get", to "giving is the getting". Honestly, it's intriguing to me and I would consider such a life but I am still hooked on western culture and the religious aspect can be overbearing and in your face.

I know I am no better than anyone else and not everyone is a self-centered asshole, but in many ways, we kind of are. I am not asking anyone to quit consuming (lol), but just begin questioning and being aware of habits and ask yourself more about the products you consume. You'd be surprised.

Monday starts a 10-day Vipassana retreat meaning no technology or talking. Wish me luck, I'll see you on the other side. Off to Thailand after the retreat :)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Why We Travel

For those of us bit by the travel bug that becomes ever more infectious as life goes on, we will not completely understand how to answer the question of, "Why do you like to travel so much?"

The pretentious side of me wants to simply respond, "If you have to ask, then you would probably never understand." But the compassionate side of me sees that as too easy and could be applied with any concept. Travel addiction is no exception. Maybe we can shed some light on this simple concept that is a conundrum to the home-bodies and comfortable alike. For the record, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not traveling in my opinion, if that is where you get your inspiration and growth, that is your choice and I completely respect it, but this post is about why people do travel :)

So for those of us who can't get enough and love to travel, why do we do it? Ask yourself. What is it?

I have come to find, this question is not so easily answered when considered deeply, but is actually incredibly easy on the surface. On the surface, we simply love to travel for a change of pace and change of scenery. We want to see somewhere new and beautiful. We want to relax. We love to get away from our usual lives. We need a break from the repetition that is our life. We weren't allowed to choose the body we were born into, but we are allowed to choose what we do with it. More specifically, where we go.

On a less superficial level, travel provides a plethora of challenges and benefits that are hard to describe with words. Many of us just want to feel completely alive, and we wish to duplicate that feeling of ecstasy that comes when dopamine is released during great moods. We wish to get that hit of adrenaline that a new unknown adventure provides us. We want the thrill and excitement that comes with abandoning our mundane work life in order to explore something new and potentially life-changing. The paradigm shift happens when one realizes the incredibly apparent benefits of traveling somewhere unknown. For American's, I don't mean heading a few hours to the lake, but really putting yourself in a situation that makes you incredibly uncomfortable and feel empathetic to your surroundings. The feeling of "Wow, my life is fucking amazing compared to the way these people live." The feeling that where you are is exactly where you should be at that certain time. The feeling that the infinite moment that is now will never end and bliss will be unlimited. The feeling of "Man, I really miss my bed, drinkable tap water, and toilet paper. Toilet paper is nice." The gratefulness that comes along with getting out of your routine to challenge your perspective on life in a way that will provide you with lifelong memories that will constantly remind you how amazing your life is.

So why do you travel? It's different for everyone.

All the foods! All the feels. The new smells. The new sights. The new challenges. The culture shock. The chance to learn some of a new language. The stories we gather along the journey. The discomfort that brings along appreciation of comfort. The people we meet. THE PEOPLE WE MEET! The deep hostel conversations lasting for hours with people you may, unfortunately, never see again. The times our eyebrows raise in fascination to a new experience. The times you realize you're being ripped off; The times you realize you'll never get ripped off like that again. The history upon the ground you are walking. The memories of this moment. The opportunity to branch out and connect with a vast world many of us will only ever experience a fraction of. The escape of the societal concept of "reality". The attempt to experience a more nomadic lifestyle. The search for meaning. The need to understand. The will to learn. Growth. The ability to look back and say "I wanted to do that, and I'm glad I did."

This is why we travel. Happy traveling my fellow addicts, keep it up!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

When It Hits You

We live. We grow older. The only constant is change. We are all in this ride of life until our number is up. Some numbers come sooner than others. It hurts. It didn't happen to me, but I feel it all the same. The people we have learned to love and grow with will eventually part this physical existence into dust and dirt until all that is left is a glimpse of who they used to be. We move along.

A memory of good times and love had will live on in your mind, but sometimes the pain of that memory is difficult to bear. Especially at first. It feels unreal to lose the very people we once depended on. The people we can count on when there is no one else to turn to. When all others abandon us. They were there through thick and thin. Until they weren't anymore. It's unimaginable. It's too soon. It pulls a heavy load of sorrow behind every lasting memory. We move along.

When the impermanence of life hits you, it is terrifying. It is painful. No one can expect the slap reality gives when death reaps at our doorsteps. The reality is that death is always there, in a coordinated two-step with life. Always overshadowing the fascinations of what life provides. Always reminding us that the shadow will eventually become the reality. Always to be remembered as something we should not forget about. Never forget death. Keep it in mind. Not in a nihilistic sense, but rather, an urgent sense. By keeping death in mind, we can live our lives to the fullest. We can live to the fullest for our lives. For our futures. For our loved ones. We can live to the fullest for all of the loved souls death has claimed through time. We keep death in mind, so we can move along.

We can feel helpless at times, but in truth, it is our minds that allow us to feel helpful or helpless. There are no good or bad situations, all situations just are. How we react to those situations is what defines us. We may weep when emotions tell us something is bad. We may smile when emotions tell us something is good. But either way, we must pick up and carry on. Let the emotions come when they may, but keep your head up and fight on.

RIP Smitty