I don’t have a lot of time, friends, so this’ll have to be brief, and a bit outdated. But I wanted to share a little about the beginning of my travels.
The following is just a copy of an email I sent out to friends and family about two weeks ago, right before I started the 10-day Vipassana meditation course that finished up on Saturday. I won’t go into detail about the course yet, but in short, it was wonderful. And today, after a brief rest in Barcelona with the same couchsurfing couple I stayed with when I arrived, (they are marvelous, and we’ve since become good friends — a total, total blessing) I’ll head back to the same meditation center to volunteer as a server for the next 10-day course, cooking meals and cleaning for the students.
So, without further ado, here are some words and images. From now on, I’ll always try to post copies of these mass emails, since the blog is easier to follow for some folks.
11 february 2009
dear friends and family,
buenas noches de barcelona!
as most of you know, i´ve embarked for the next year or so on a journey in spain, and tomorrow marks the end of my first week in the country. i came here without a program, without an institution officially backing me, and without a fully-formed idea of how the next year will look. (though i can tell you right now, if i stick around barcelona, the year will probably look like Winston cigarrettes, sprung-from-nature buildings, 3-minutes-apart metro trains, and well-groomed pregnant people enjoying government-sponsored maternity leave.)
since mass emails are not my stong point, i´ll keep it short. mainly, i just want to say thank you for your presence in my life. each of you has given me something vital, something that has made possible this incredible opportunity for growth. some of you teach me not to be ashamed of my desires. some of you inspire me with your genuine, compassionate motivations for travel. (more than tourism; less than ´saving the world.´) some of you show me how to embrace spirituality. others remind me not to take myself so seriously. (key.) and still others have birthed and raised me. (double-key. hi, family! :->) in any case, meditators often dedicate the merit of their practice to other beings, and i want to start out by dedicating to all of you any merit that my travels might generate.
okay, now a little of the nitty gritty. my first week here in barcelona was spent couchsurfing with a sweet young expat couple boasting gorgeous georgia drawls. i signed up to couchsurf with them expecting to sleep under a roof and endure some awkward small talk. one poker night and a three-hour, nine-person, bib-festooned catalunyan feast later, not only do they want me to come back and stay again, but i´m also borrowing camping equipment from friends i met through them. and another small community is born.
falling into the arms of nurturers has been a major blessing during what feels like an unstable time. so far (for the last six days, at least), the lack of structured plans has both helped and haunted me. my attitude toward concrete itineraries has vacillated between: (a) itineraries are desperately needed — they fundamentally determine the success of the trip, and (b) itineraries are essentially unimportant — they possibly obfuscate of the main point of the journey. just when disaster looms (like yesterday, when the meditation center i´d applied to, my main logistical reason for coming to spain, told me i couldn´t get in for another two months), another path opens and balanced perspective is restored. to me, this is a beautiful gift of travel. the future is so clearly out of my control that choices become much simpler. when everything is going to shit, my options are: try again, or try something else. matters will unfold as they unfold. and when i´m not fixated on a particular outcome, i can appreciate each step for its own sake.
por ejemplo. one of my best moments so far was taking the train to the meditation center, unannounced, in the middle of one of their 10-day courses, just to appear in person and see the place with my own eyes. hoping they´d say there was room for me, but mostly just enjoying the process of going there, out of the city to el campo. the desolate train station in palautordera; the apologetic smiles punctuating my lousy spanish; the countryside: the sun, the clouds, the hills, the dogs barking; the getting lost, the truck driver who grinned and pointed uphill; the ascent; the soft, awed folding of my hands as i stood outside the center´s iron yard gate, waiting for someone to notice me; the wry, bulbous cheekbones of the woman who finally did — a woman who appeared to age as she approached; the friendly, non-committal answer; the three-mile walk back to the station on a road of mud; the waiting for the train while peeling a small, precious grapefruit with fingernails the color of blackberry jam. it was a mini pilgrimage — not in a religious way, but in the sense that you can make a pilgrimage anytime, to the grocery store, for example, or to the home of a loved one who has fallen ill. do you know that feeling? it´s one thing i´m hoping the meditation practice will help me to consciously cultivate: that vivid awareness that transforms errands into adventures.
okay, friends, i lied: this is not short — it is, in fact, way way way WAY too long! i am sorry. and i totally understand if you didn´t make it all the way through. for those who did, thanks! (mom, dad, hehe.) tomorrow i begin the 10-day course at the meditation center, called Dhamma Neru Centro de Meditación Vipassana. (three hours after they´d told me no, they called me back and told me yes!) after the course is over, i´m hoping to stay on for two or three more months as a volunteer, more or less, living in the facilities and serving the other students who attend the courses. but until then, the dormitories are full, so it´s the great outdoors for me. hence the newly borrowed camping equipment. :->)
and hoping this note finds you happy,
ps: a few pictures, yeah? ;->) a few from the city, one from s.m.palautordera, where the meditation center is (the building pictured ain´t it, though), and a couple from that banquet, which centered around calçots — a special kind of onion in season right now. they char them over an open flame, and then you pull the slippery, sweet insides out from the outer husk, kind of like you would a crab leg. the whole scene, in fact, definitely had an upscale-crab-shack air to it: bibs, dipping sauces, plates of hollow residuals…delicious.