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Hope For the Guest

If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive, do you think ghosts will do it after?

Nepali Toothpaste

Months ago I walked through the chaotic streets of Kathmandu on Nepali New Year to find it, I paid 100 rupees for it and now its almost out. This is significant, I don’t know exactly why but its some kind of figurehead for a deeper meaning. It wasn’t a special tube of toothpaste, at least not when I bought it. I bought it because it was a good size and looked like it might help clean my teeth. Somehow its become important and I’m not sure why. I think the best place to start is with the story of how the first landmark hygiene product came into my life.

Years ago I came back from my first trip abroad and after a summer working at a YMCA summer camp I didn’t know what to do so naturally I chose to face my biggest fear. I moved to Spokane where I started working a dead-end job and tried to start some sort of life involving friends, work and hobbies. I had this visceral fear of being stuck, of not being able to get out of the system of working to pay for living and living to work. I was 20 but still my fear of the ordinary was very strong. I felt as though it could happen in a second, one second and I’d watch my life run by me on its way to some nursing home. I had two jobs, a few friends and some hobbies but it wasn’t working for me. I moved to Spokane to prove to myself that I could get into the trap and escape it. It was more of a mythic journey for me.
Every morning I’d wake up feeling like my body was mead of mud, like if I stayed in bed soon enough I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between me and the bed. It was my morning routine to wake up and force myself into the shower to listen to a couple songs that might redirect my mood. Each depressed morning shower I told myself that when my shampoo ran out I’d leave. It was my promise to myself, all I had to do was make it to the end of the shampoo bottle and than I would have proved to myself that I could persevere in one of my darkest fears.

I don’t know if that has anything to do with my toothpaste, at any rate it seems this isn’t the first time the significance of running out of hygiene products has come into my life. This time it wakes me up to the quickness of time, the way I can almost blink and be months further along than I had expected.

Here I am one toothpaste tube away from traveling. It’s not totally comfortable how that makes me feel, maybe I should buy another tube, or maybe I shouldn’t put so much important in paste. Although I’m starting to suspect that the importance of paste  in my life is going to linger.

Sometimes time is better measured by the use of hygiene products.
How many shampoo bottles has it been since I was clean shaven?
How many rolls of dental floss has it been since I ran a race?
How many sticks of deodorant has it been since I practiced a new hobby?

The strange thing about this particular toothpaste tube is how it makes me feel as if a lot of time has passed. Its woken me up to the fact that I have let little things sleep a little longer than I would like. I haven’t written enough, I haven’t rode a bike in far too long, I haven’t taken enough pictures, I haven’t gotten rid of enough of my stuff, and I haven’t been alone in the woods in longer than I’d like. Today’s date doesn’t make me feel that, reading my journal didn’t do that, watching my shoes fall apart didn’t do that. Its the last few squeezes of toothpaste that reminds me of how limited my life is. Not limited in a sad way, more like the way small packets of candy are called fun sized. Special for the limited nature of it.

Thanks  Nepali toothpaste.

Acclimating

If I’m being honest, I must say I’m confused.
It seems like sometimes I can be too close to see.
I don’t think I would have noticed this before I removed myself from the everyday American this-and-that. But I did remove myself from that. I was out of the American flow of social consciousness for a while. I didn’t used to believe in groups as big as countries having a collective mind but now I do. I’ve been to some countries that have a oddly similar way of thinking, at first I thought it was town specific. Somehow the smaller the group the easier it was for me to believe it. Then I’d cross a border and see a different perspective emerge. Some countries are similar to other countries but the borders matter, the groups we separate ourselves into seem to actually matter. Even when the groups have 318 million people in them. I thought it was strange that some countries populations seemed happier than others despite both experiencing terrible things in the last 30 or 40 years. I was surprised at how different the airport in New York felt compared to the airport in Seattle.
At a certain point I started to get the feeling that some of the things I’ve been seeing since I arrived home could not happen in a different country consciousness. It started with a faint feeling of confusion with all the little things that I had gotten so used to that no longer made sense. I went from the more similar rules of the Southeast Asian countries to the drastically different rules of Denmark before getting back to the United States. I found that even some of the most routine and simple actions had to be relearned. I had to teach myself to look both ways before crossing the road again. In the individually organized, seemingly chaotic countries I had been to there was more individual responsibility and less trust in broad rules. In traffic each person takes care of themselves and because each piece self organizes most of the time everyone is fine. Each driver just looks straight ahead and doesn’t look to the sides or behind them. Rear-view mirrors are not used. Since each person doesn’t drive straight into someone most of the time people are not hitting each other. Another piece is that people walking just watch out for themselves, if there is enough time to cross they cross and they know that the drivers won’t want to damage their vehicles or them so they trust that the drivers will slow or swerve to avoid them if possible. I got used to only checking one side of the road or just listening instead of taking a close look. I could hear if a car or motorbike was in unstoppable hitting distance and that was all that mattered. It didn’t matter if the car was far away, the only car I had to know about was the one that would not be able to swerve around me when I stepped into the street. I could wait in the middle of the street if I had to so I would only check one direction before stepping into the road.

Now imagine that most systems operate in this individual, organic-responsibility way. The rules in these systems were based on ability and in some ways more basic needs. A good example is trying to get into a bus: people don’t really stand in lines very often, its more of a clump where each person is trying to push through the bus door. Some people might actually push you gently to get past you, no one was really aggressive or violent. Assertive is the word, each person is asserting their own needs by trying to get what they want. If a person wants to get into the bus they show this by pushing towards the door of the bus even if their are other people also trying to get in. It seems really rude at first but no one seems to get upset and no one gets hurt. No one seems to expect anything different so I doubt anyone thinks of this system as impolite.
Sometimes these systems are inefficient but before you get carried  away self congratulating yourself for the more “organized” system you’re used to try to remember a time at a stop light where you waited for zero cars to drive by before you were allowed to go on your merry way. Our American systems are not better, they are different and probably equally flawed. I had many moments of annoyance because I did not understand the systems I was surrounded by. I thought to myself how stupid it was and how rude everyone was on my bad days and on my good days I bared through the confusion.

I was getting so used to this world. BHAM!! back in the US and it was all ruled and organized and I was so stressed that I would break a rule. I took comfort in the fact that in Asia it usually took a pretty obvious action to attract dissent. I would have had to obviously negatively effect someones life to break a rule but in the US I could walk across an empty street and receive a ticket for J-walking. That kind of rule is so confusing after traveling.
If I didn’t walk out into traffic in most of the places I had been I wouldn’t have ever gotten across the street. Now I can accidentally break rules left and right. I could drive too fast, too slow, not stop at the right times, walk into the wrong field, and so many more things that might seem completely harmless to me at the time but if someone were to decide it might hurt someone, in some way, in some situation, in the future I could have to pay money or deal with the legal system. It’s frightening that I might accidentally do something that could hurt someone in an imaginary, separate reality. I mean what if I drove five miles an hour over the speed limit and a person walked out in front of my car? I mean they didn’t and hopefully wouldn’t but what if they did? It’s stressful.

In at least some of Asia it seems to be the person who is walking out in front of the car that would be worried about the collision, if they did something that got themselves hurt it would probably be their fault. I’m not trying to say either way is right or wrong but I’d like to express that it is confusing going from one system to the other.

There is a peculiar anxiety in this system for me. This system seems to ask me to think about so many possibilities, imagine so many possible futures. I try to guess what might happen and avoid the things that could hurt other people or myself, I really try to predict the futures and see other peoples perspectives. Its exhausting to try to guess someone else’s perspective, I like it when people tell me their perspective. Like when that elderly man just pushes past me to get into the bus, I know the push is like saying “I want to be in the bus”. I don’t have to guess what he would like me to do, he doesn’t actually seem very concerned with what I’m doing. He notices me but doesn’t ask much at all from me.

This American landscape is my home though and as hard as I tried to learn to exist in the countries I was in I was never as accustomed to their ways as I am to the ways I have grown up in. I still felt annoyed when someone pushed past most of the time and I still tried in vain to be polite by letting someone go first in line.
I’m actually surprised that I’m having this much stress by coming back home.
But I guess acclimatization is always more noticeable when the environment changes.

Ah, Hmm, I’m Home

Was I ever drinking rice wine in Laos?
Did I ever brave the flood of traffic in Saigon?
Have I really been bitten by jungle leeches in Malaysia?

I ask myself these questions each time I’m faced with the seemingly ordinary.
When I go shopping for groceries in a Safeway or when I watch the numbers tick along showing the number of dollars I’m spending on gasoline.
When I first crossed the threshold from travel to home in Western Washington I thought it might seem incredibly the same. I thought I might ease back into a familiar routine. I thought that I might just step back into a world that I know intimately and a world that I know the rules to.
At first I was not surprised,  I rode back from the airport in a familiar car while watching familiar buildings drift by. It all looked pretty much the same. “Ah, good old Seattle, everything is right where I left it.” I thought.

But then something curious happened: I was wrong.
Nothing was the same. Some things appeared the same at first but a closer look revealed countless changes. So many differences appeared that I had to scramble to take it all in.
This is the point where the second strange thing happened: I found that the thing that had changed was me.

I started to notice myself reacting in different ways and from different places than I had before I left home 8 months earlier. The people and places had also changed but the thing that really surprised me was the way I had changed in such fundamental ways that I could not predict how I would react. My reflexes were coming from a different viewpoint. I could feel the familiar pulls of old habits but the more natural ways I had cultivated were my natural state now. This new person began to walk through his old life like a person wearing someone else’s unnoticeable mask. It felt like being the twin of someone I had never met and suddenly finding myself in their life. No one else could tell the difference at first glance and I could play the part but despite this I knew I wasn’t that person.

The final test in most of my journeys is to return home. It is the constant that I always test my changes against. This time I could not believe the old tale about how nothing ever changes as much as I expect it to. I have come home from many journeys and found that life is pretty much the same and that most of my new found person-hood is more of a slight shift in language, not exactly the planetary shift of rebirth that I expect.

This isn’t that massive shift either, this is not enlightenment, this is now a new me. I tend to think that all the talk of people not being themselves is kind of like the talk of how unnatural plastic or chemicals are. In reality nothing is unnatural but the use of the word still has some use. If you want to think of me as being more myself, sure, go for it but as far as I’m concerned I’ve always been myself throughout all my changes. The fact that something changes does not make each point less true in my opinion. The big difference in me now is that I appreciate who I am and enjoy who I am to a greater extent than I have in other points in my life. I have found ways to accept myself and relax in the journey.

But back to the point: this different viewpoint is such an interesting experience because I was able to get there without testing it against home for 8 months. Now it is being held up to the light and measured. Sometimes changes happen so slowly that its very hard to notice. This time I can notice it. Every person has changed, grown and moved in the last 9 months but I have the luxury of the homecoming. I hope each person that reads this can appreciate in themselves the immense journey they have come through to get here all the way from last year. More steps than can be easily recalled and these steps are just as important if not just as shocking. I have had the contrast of different countries, people and lifestyle to help me see my journey but I’d be surprised if I’ve been the only person I know to have forever stepped forward.

Letter for the King

“I have a job for you.” He handed me a letter.
“Bring this to the king of Fein” I took the letter while trying not to show the confusion on my face. I hadn’t ever been given a job like this and it was quite out of the ordinary for me to be asked to leave the castle, let alone the kingdom. It’s always been my job to obey, so I obeyed.
The truth is that I had no trouble obeying, the job would take me far away and for months a restlessness has been haunting me. My dreams lately have been full of ghosts-lives and ends I don’t want to begin. The frustration only leaves me when I’m too busy to notice it. Even the king had been commenting on my increased productivity. Slowly even this way of coping has been fading in effectiveness so when the letter was handed to me I saw my chance to escape into this new mission. Wandering the fields and forests, avoiding the hazards and path-finding would fill my anxious heart.

I only realized that I did not know where this king lived after gathering up a few bits of food and an extra layer for the colder nights. I tried to ask around but no one knew. I had to go see the king one more time before leaving the castle. “Head west, the river is halfway.” The king said. I tried to ask further but he waved me away saying that the details will be easy to pick up along the way.

I set out and by dusk I was out of the clutches of my old itchy feet. I was on an adventure and my mind was running through everything I knew that might come in handy. I had a direction but I knew the king sent me because he needed someone he trusted. I did not know the most about the surrounding kingdoms and I was not much of a woodsman. I thought about what reasons the king might have had but it all kept coming back to trust. This lead me to wondering what could be in this envelope, what kind of secret message.

A week later I was starting to get into a routine. The initial rushing in my ears had faded, now the nights were too quiet for me. My anxiousness would return when things got quiet. I would walk all day and stop as little as possible to keep the uncertain thoughts away. I was fine as long as I was moving.  I would run as long as I could and then walk until I was rested enough to run some more.

In one of my longer runs I pushed myself too far and in my radish-cheeked rush I bent my ankle. I cursed the luck of it but there was nothing else to do but take shelter until I could properly walk again. I was in a particularly empty part of the countryside and it took walking well into the night before I made out a flicker of light on the edge of a dense forest. I found my way to the little house. The door swung open a few moments after knocking and an elderly man grinned up at me with a skeletons friendliness. I was invited in and told that I was lucky not to have woken anyone up. He told me he didn’t sleep anymore, he was too busy with a project for his son. He gave me a blanket by the woodpile. “Keep the fire lit but don’t use the pine” he said before leaving me to sleep.

In the morning I explained over porridge how I needed a place to rest for a day or two. He said that I could stay as long as I didn’t tell him about any of my dreams.
After breakfast be pulled out a book he seemed to be writing in and I limped down to the creek to rest my ankle in the cool water. When I came to the house I saw that he was still working on the book, but this time I looked closer. He wasn’t writing anything, he was using some pine sap to take the ink off the pages. “Excuse me” I asked “Why are you erasing the book?” He glanced up at me “It’s for my son, I thought he’d like a place to tell his story.” I looked around and saw that this book was the only paper in the house. “How old is your son?” I asked. “He’s 15 or 0 depending on who you ask.” This confused me. “How can someone be 15 and 0?” He seemed to smile to himself before answering “Death makes many contradictions possible.” He told me I’d better find some other old man to bother until dinner. This was fine with me, the conversation had unnerved me.

In a couple days I felt well enough to continue walking.
A week or so passed before I came to a massive river, it was wider and fast-flowing in the center. I didn’t think I could cross it but I knew that I had to try. I spent the rest of the day walking upstream in search of some means of crossing. By nightfall I had found a large log that I could use as a raft to cross on. After eating I lay on a bed of thick grass looking up into the great deep night. I traced the few patterns I knew as I thought more about the old man emptying the book for his dead son. I wondered why it was so important to him for his son to have a place for his story. He was erasing some other history so that a fictional future could still hold some possibility. I hoped that the old skeleton-tooth would find some consolation in the empty book.

I put out the fire and waded into the water before the sky was fully bright. It was that cold clear sort of morning, too still for my restless heart. I tucked the letter into my jacket pocket and pulled myself onto the log. I began to paddle with both arms but the water was moving too fast and I was rapidly losing control. The log started to roll, I had to shift my weight constantly to stay on top. A rock clipped the log and I fell in. water was in my eyes and the cold shoved all my breathe out of my body. I kicked off the log back the way I had come. I was swept downstream faster then I could run on land. I kicked my legs and scooped the water like some kind of madman. My feet touched ground and I dragged myself back on land. I was shaking as much from fear as the cold. I found a rock to lay on before realizing with a cold dripping sensation in my spine that the letter was in my soaking wet pocket. I ripped it out and opened the envelope to lay it on the rock but something caught my attention. The ink wasn’t running, there wasn’t any ink at all. It was totally blank. There was not a single word inside or outside the envelope.

“How can this be?” I asked aloud. I wondered if I had taken the wrong envelope but I had taken it straight from the king and he did not mistakes. I had the same envelope he had given me. If it was the same one that he had meant it to be empty. I wondered if maybe it was some kind of test. None of it made sense. There was nothing left to do but go home.

Arriving back at the castle I went straight to the king. “Sir, I’m confused. Could you tell me how come there was nothing written in the letter?” The king answered “Do you know what Fein means in the old language?” I answered that I did not know. “It is a word for ‘yourself’, I sent you to find the king of yourself”

Where the Hell are you Michael?

Sometimes I just have to ask: Where the hell are you Michael?
I have found myself in so many situations that are almost unbelievable even for me.
Not because I don’t believe these situations don’t exist but because I never saw myself as the character in the situation. I never imagined I’d go so far or so strange.

This is where my mind wanders lately. As the return home rushes forward silently I remind myself of some of the strangest situations I’ve experienced along my 8 months abroad. I know now that 8 months of travel is not so unique among Europeans or many of the other western nations of the world. There are many places where most people travel and the stranger thing is to stay home.

For me though 8 months is a lifetime of experiences and each one is significant in its own right.

The other day I was drinking beer in an elegantly grungy hazy bar. The bartender dressed like a cowboy and if he had a horse outside he would have been too drunk to ride home. His hat matched his suspenders and the mustache really lit the picture perfect scene. This is when I began to think about how many odd scenes I have been a part of. It became apparent after some thought that a Danish cowboy serving me a beer was not the oddest thing I’ve seen.

I look back at these scenes as examples of how my ability surpasses my belief. This is true not because I am great but because when I look at the steps I don’t see the door. I have found that the way life moves is far more mysterious than I can see in front of me. At times some of the blurry story can be seen looking back but the ahead-of-time is a Rubix cube of complexity. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to solve a Rubix cube without touching it, it might be difficult.

I keep wondering what the simple story of this journey is. I think that I don’t really understand something until I can tell it in a simple way, and in multiple ways. So far the words aren’t there for me but I remind myself that the journey isn’t over. It may take seeing the end in order to see the pieces fit.
The only problem is that there is no end to my journey.
Coming home is no end, just as leaving home is no beginning.
These ideas are ideas I made up. Sometimes I need to think of things as separate so I can give myself a more special place. This trip was separate into a single adventure because of my need for this trip to be a special opportunity to grow and learn. I didn’t believe I could get what I wanted at home so I had to leave and something made it necessary for me to look at the first day of my trip as a new day. I had to leave some things behind in order to go forward. I think its hard for me to always feel like I’m on a journey.
Because of this I think of home as a non-moving sort of place, a comfortable place where I can relax in who I am.
But the journey is released from this place of calm, it is separate into a space of misty seeking and sparkling discoveries.
This is probably made up and since it is made up I may not find any end at the so called “End” of my trip.
I might not know how I got here but I am happy here.
The journey doesn’t end, there are no mistakes and all directions of motion are forward.

Chaos to Order

The little human effigy goes green and I look left and right twice just in case. I start to remember how the tangled, roaring streets of Saigon or Kathmandu didn’t cause me this tension. I felt some initial stress but that quickly subsided as I grew to understand the system-less system. This is different for me. The cars are quiet, the symbols are uniform and the humans interacting with the systems behave in a routine way. This somehow disturbs me.

I feel as if I’m standing in a railway yard with a hundred tracks. No train will stop, each train will move in a predetermined routine that is not interrupted by anything smaller than a large scale collision. If I step onto the wrong track out of time with the system in place I will be run-down. It takes planning and knowledge of how the system is set up. Its set up so that you can learn a set of rules and if you follow the rules you can avoid harm. However if you don’t know the rules it is easy to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is how Denmark feels to me after 7 months in Asia. Its an extreme example but sometimes its simpler to understand through extremes. The Asian countries I was in mostly ran on a kind of individual interaction system. Each person knows its their job to take care of themselves and all other people know that too. When driving a motorbike the driver does not look left or right or behind them, they only focus on what is in front of them. Each driver avoids running into something, they don’t concern themselves with who might be running into them from behind or the side. They simply know that those drivers don’t want to run into them. In Denmark it seems like there is a system put into place everywhere and these systems are planned, it means the people in the system can avoid certain uncomfortable aspects of a system that only relies on natural tendencies. It means there can be roads just for bikes so the bike riders really don’t have to worry about running into a walking person. In Asia people would probably walk on these roads just because it’s easier, in Copenhagen no one walks on these bike roads because it would ruin the system.

If you can imagine it, its like those lines at airports or movie theaters where there are little dividers so you have to walk back and forth in order to reach the end of the line. I have walked the whole way many times even when there is no one else in line, I see there is no reason to walk in that longer path but I do because it is the system. I suspect that this behavior would be rare in the more rugged areas of the world. Each person seems to feel the constant self-responsibility, they are used to making the easiest choice for themselves and because there are not as many of the abstract systems they will act to their own self-interest. It looks like everyone expects this. I have only seen a few drivers in Asia get upset, even in the most annoying traffic most of the drivers seem quite calm. I don’t know about all of Asia but in most of the places I’ve been it seems this way.

I got so used to only being concerned with my own well-being while in Southeast Asia. I would walk out into the street without looking or with a short glance one direction. I only had to know if I was stepping straight out into someones way, I knew if they had a couple seconds to avoid me they would. I didn’t feel like I would be yelled at or shamed in some other way for breaking rules. Each person just does what they have to do. Now I’m seeing that my stress level is higher in a place with systems, even though these systems are the best I’ve ever been in. So far one of the biggest differences between the US and Denmark is that the systems here are better followed and way more comprehensive then in the US.
Taxes are high and things are expensive but its also easy to see what Danes are trading such a high proportion of their incomes for.

It has been the most strange culture shock for me to go from Nepal to Denmark. From one of the poorest and least organized to one of most organized and richest places in the world. Its more shocking then beginning my trip in Malaysia and its more shocking then going from Thailand to Myanmar. Somehow I expected that it would feel more like Seattle or the US but Copenhagen does not feel like that. I still feel foreign, I still don’t speak the native language, I’m still paying with currency other than US dollars and I still don’t look like I fit in here. I’m a little short, a little dark haired, dressed a little differently, talk differently and even after all that there is some ethereal non-Danish-ness to me.

Denmark is a magical land.
If magic is made out of butter, bread, unspeakable vowels, gorgeous people and common sense. Personally I’m feeling pretty good about my breakfast fresh from the bakery down the street. Some culture shocks are more pleasant than others.

Love to Hate

I don’t know how to love. I love many things and a handful of people but I’ve found an inconsistency that so far I cannot reconcile. At first I thought it was other people, not something I do but something that only the other sides do. It barely mattered which side I was on, it always seemed more correct then whichever was the opposing side. Sometimes the choice was arbitrary like the time I worked as a security guard and found that my job was to keep a bunch of hippie-types away from a Shell oil drill. I’d come home from work and tell people about how silly it seemed to me for them to do what they did, it seemed so misguided. Weeks earlier I might have had a conversation about how bad the Shell corporation is for the environment, I would have felt totally justified in saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to do what they do. Still despite caring whether or not the earths ecosystems are destroyed I protected an oil drill and felt totally fine about it.

Something changed recently, my priority for love. I had been letting love sit on the back burners for years, it just seemed as ethereal as smoke. It hadn’t been a great friend to me and so I left it in the category of “I’ll deal with you later”, the same place I’ve put all the pieces of life that were too big for me. Now I feel capable of picking it back up and giving it a closer look. Spreading love in the world has become  my highest priority.

One of the first things I learned is this crazy way many people including myself have of being okay hating just as long as its the bad guys they hate. I think most of us believe hate by itself is harmful but sometimes we are too close to notice where we’re standing.

And here’s the part where I talk about Donald Trump’s campaign. I’ve been noticing lately that I don’t know how to respond out of a place of love when it comes to the prime example of Republicans vs Democrats. How do I react when I am faced with someone I disagree with? How do I respond when someone says unfounded, hateful things about people I care about? It is a kind of violence to attack someone with words, its a bloodless assault that can easily leave deeper scars than the physical fight could have. It is real.
I’ve seen many loving people be offended or outraged by Donald Trump’s words and then I’ve seen many of those same loving people belittle and attempt to shame Donald Trump. I have done this, I have empathy for this. I can understand why I’m not the only person who has been upset but the problem for me comes in when I try to decide how to act oppositely of Donald Trump. I can’t stand by my actions if whenever I hear hateful, offenses I return the attack. I don’t believe in that anymore but I haven’t yet found my answer to this circumstance.

Not to say that I don’t believe in fighting or in avoiding violence at all cost. I think nearly all possible actions have uses, sometimes the use is just to enable the opposite to exist but still that is important. I wouldn’t call myself a pacifist. I wouldn’t say that returning a verbal attack is wrong even, its just not what I’m choosing for myself. I don’t want my only option in response to hatred or violence to be a violent reflex. That’s what it often is, feeling some anger and then saying something or doing something intended to harm someone else or justify my own anger. It has made me angry many times the way Donald Trump talks and then it even makes me angry the way some people seem to listen. I feel outraged that this is possible and ashamed that Trump’s voice can be any part of the voice of America. I know what other countries think of the US, its not always high praise I hear. So I’m angry and that could lead to more hate or more love.

When I say hate I mean it in very general terms. I mean being willing to harm someone in some form of attack. I mean being willing to disagree with someone simply because of who they are. I mean seeing someone as evil, inferior, or separate. I mean to hurt someone without knowing them or their intentions. Usually the word hate sounds like an intense dislike of something or someone, this sounds very general, but the connotation we associate to hate is more then this. I don’t strive to like everything, I strive to allow myself to enjoy more aspects of life, to be grateful for and appreciate more. This definition of hate is pretty general but still this is where I’ll leave it for now.

I’ve heard Donald Trump say something hateful and then I’ve told someone he’s an idiot. This bothers me. It seems awfully hypocritical for me to be angry with someone for making a hateful comment and then for me to respond by saying some belittling comment of my own. My verbal attacks aren’t founded, they aren’t anything more than reactive, anger based opinions. This isn’t how I want to behave.

So far all I can figure is trying to find ways to be thankful for Donald Trump. I stopped trying to make up opinions about how screwed up he is and started focusing on the possible positive benefits of his campaign. The way he’s led me to care more about this election, how his campaign has shined an interesting light on the American people and how he has given an incredible example for so many people to use in efforts to increase understanding.

I don’t know how to react better than this at the moment. This one example in the US election process is not the only example, there are so many places I see this cycle of hate and violence multiplying. It feels very real to me and I have no answer but at least now I’m thankful for the rich opportunities to choose love over hate that are presenting themselves all around me.

Not a Picture in Sight

I haven’t taken a single picture this week, Nepal just feels like a secret better kept, a secret better seen for yourself. I don’t want to show a reflection or shadow of what I’ve experienced here. I don’t want to give a false impression or afford anyone the comfort of believing they have seen Nepal without being here. It isn’t fair to the dirt swirling in the streets or the dingy restaurant I had lunch in. Yes my words or pictures might inspire some kind of desire to see for yourself but how do I reconcile the possibility that you might think you know what its like. That would be a shame.

Imagine, dream and gaze into the distance but don’t expect your imagination to give you a visceral experience. Sometimes you have to choke on the dust with your own lungs. Sometimes the pretty picture is hiding the sweat given for its sake.

On my first trip abroad I had no camera other than on my phone and because of that I have a handful of pictures. I believed in the power of experience and for me at the time trying to capture the experience was a great way to avoid a deep experience. Trying to hold onto something seemed like a way to escape going deeper. I didn’t want anything between my eyes and the world. But everything is an experience, it only matters what I’m choosing to experience. Do I want to experience taking a picture or simply seeing the scene. One might be more effortlessly remembered and one might fade as it loses importance to me. Right now I’m choosing to be without pictures because it affords me a different motivation in my last few days in Asia before heading to Denmark. It gives me a sense of impermanence and shows simply that each experience is for its own sake. I’m eating each meal knowing that its my attempt at the best meal for me at the time, its not to be remembered or to add a check mark to some bucket list. Its just what sounds good at the time.

Its important to try this tactic because of how hard it has become for me to notice my feelings. I know in my mind that this is an odd time in a trip, not heading home but heading into such a different part of the world. I feel numb, not in a terrible way. Its just hard to feel fully excited, nervous or content. I think I am able to feel so many different ways about this portion of my trip that it has become hard to choose. So I don’t want to focus on capturing what I’m feeling, I want to focus on feeling it. I want to be aware of my internal workings in this crucial time. Just a little more writing, a little fewer pictures and a slower walking pace.

Gazing Through the Smoke

I saw a dead person today, I haven’t seen one before. I’ve been wondering when I’d seen my first for years now. Months ago someone told me about how they saw a mother and child who had been in a car accident, the child was dead. When I listened to this story I tried to imagine how I would feel. I knew that no matter how much I thought about it I couldn’t reach into the future and feel how it would really feel for me. I’ve heard that humans have the unique ability to pre-experience things, this is why we don’t have to make every mistake possible in order for us to know that it will probably be a mistake. We don’t need to add a pound of salt to our breakfast, or fall off a two story building in order to know these things would be unpleasant.

There’s just one problem with this for me: I don’t think it works. I can’t pre-experience things accurately. I don’t know how I will react ahead of time, I can guess for some things but with things that are really different I’m blind. When I saw this dead stranger burning in the Hindu ceremony It was sneakily odd but not intense. I had thought that maybe seeing a real life dead person would effect me more than I could guess. It didn’t, not with this stranger in this funeral I was no part of.

I think many people tend to have more faith than they should in their ability to predict the future. Many of us have had the experience of dreaming about some goal and then finding that reaching the goal was hollow. I thought that I could escape my depression by traveling, I thought adventure and new experiences would help me to be happy. The interesting thing is that I am happier now, but not because of the external things. Traveling was the right choice for me but not because traveling is any kind of cure. Actually one of the most helpful things traveling did for me was to give me an enormous amount of time alone, far away from anyone that knew me. I have had days where I didn’t leave my hotel room because I was too depressed to see a point in it. I was right about traveling despite being wrong.

I’ve been learning the simplest plan I’ve heard of, it doesn’t involve hardly any prediction. I will now do things that I want to do based on what makes me happy, when it stops making me happy then I do something else that makes me happy. When I say that I will do what I want I do not mean a childish version of this. I mean that I will take out the trash because I enjoy living in a clean house more than a dirty house even at some expense of energy. I think that the things that make me happy could be simple things like good food or wider things like supporting a friend or my community. What I want and what makes me happy will guide me to the best path in a spiraling upwards kind of way since I believe that what makes me happy will include more and more things that help others.

The idea is that a wrong path is not possible, a wrong path is hard, a wrong path is self evident. I think a wrong path is as senseless as burning my hand on the stove repeatedly. A right path is effortless, not to mean there is no work involved but this means that all the motivation needed is inherent in the path. To follow the path provides so much happiness and excitement that to not follow the path is the harder option. I don’t want to try to predict far into the future, I still have to guess but now it is far more okay for me to change direction. I think that as I go further forward I will know myself better and better. I will know my needs and desires so well that paths that align will be easily sorted.

As I looked down at the burning body I wondered if the bones would be left or if they too would be turned to white ash. I left before finding out. Somehow breathing in the thick smoke from the body of a stranger felt a little too intimate for me, who would have guessed?

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