Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Between Vacation and Pilgrimage

I'm stuck between vacation and pilgrimage.

Initially I blamed this - which I only realized this evening, but of course have been feeling for days - on Jacob. He is certainly part of it. He wants to do vacation-y things, like go swimming in chlorinated pools, ziplining, who knows what else. That's OK. He is still learning so much about the world; I trust in that. It actually seems good for him to do fun and familiar things on this trip, to balance out the culture shock.

In a way though I have set myself up for success. I have the perfect excuse for not sinking into my journey faster, a tether to the culture of the United States, entitlement to be a traveler without a purpose other than self-enjoyment, hedonism. I don't have a problem with hedonism, usually. I think it's great - "harm none, do what ye well" and "all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals."

But in someone else's land and culture (which raises some serious questions about my place in the land of the Maidu, the Wintu, Turtle Island as Gary Snyder called it), I don't feel so entitled. I feel guilty. And recently, I did an exercise to discover what I really want. One answer was, "I want to stop feeling guilty and start having fun." However, this was more about a specific relationship dynamic than it was about my trip.

I should feel guilty. In a good way. A way that promotes growth. Brene Brown says that guilt is the positive alternative to shame. Rather than thinking we are "bad people," we see that our actions were bad - or in NVC speak, did not live up to our values or ideals. Then we make reparations and strive to do something different in the future.

The problem is that the things I feel guilty about have to do with white and First World privilege. And it is stress compounded, because of all the crap us white people take for "indulging in guilt" within the activist network. I get it that it can be bothersome when a white person's guilt distracts from the work of social justice. But feelings are important. That's why we need to make the activist network a community of people who can support one another.

Oh my god, but I digress. Or do I? I said I was coming on this trip to get different perspectives on climate change. How to think about the problem. What the solutions are. Yet an oh-so-obvious realization emerged the other night. I was in Cahuita, Costa Rica, staying at Cabinas Algebra. The owner, a German expat (also known as an immigrant) mentioned climate change one evening. I told her that this subject is one of my main reasons for this trip. She invited me to interview her.

The interview was a little difficult for me. I didn't have questions prepared. I imagine myself coming off as simultaneously too formal and also unprofessional for what I was trying to do. She told me a story that wasn't very surprising: the rains are less than they used to be, wells are going dry. Less frogs - she hadn't seen the formerly common poison dart frog in months (although I think J. and I did later see one, I think while waiting for a bus by the side of a minor highway). How does this affect tourism? Turns out, it's great! Tourists love the sun. They complain when it rains, she said. "Why does it always rain in the Caribbean?" I don't understand this myself. The rain was a welcome relief from being constantly drenched in sweat, blazing humid heat. We had to leave more quickly than we planned because we couldn't sleep at night. I suppose with folks who have money enough for air conditioning it doesn't matter.

During the interview, I didn't know what else to ask. I had already covered, what are people here doing about climate change? She said that folks are becoming more concerned, but also valuing First World resources and lifestyles. Cars are becoming more common among locals. So I asked her what social issues folks are more concerned about. She said it is like anywhere else, naming social problems such as domestic violence, drug addiction. Also access to education. Her son, 17, said that in the nearby bigger town there is a lot of "copying" on classwork (he didn't use the word cheating - is this because he is of German descent in a Spanish-speaking country and it isn't common? Maybe, but it reminded me that the idea of pooling knowledge as bad is not universal). They said that the public school in Cahuita has issues - there is only one teacher, and when she has an errand to run or other obligation, class is cancelled that day.

This all led me to realize that, of course, climate change cannot be seen as in a vacuum. We can't have a meaningful conversation about this without talking about everything else happening in the world. I mean this in a spiritual sense more than an empirical sense, though I believe both are true. It's like a friend of mine once said: Of course my body goes through seasons. I'm part of Earth, and Earth goes through seasons.

Similarly, when we go through environmental trauma, such as cambio clim├ítico, we are all going through it together. How does climate change affect domestic violence? Drug addiction? Some would say not at all, that I'm grasping at connections that aren't there. I'd fling some mud at those folks in the form of my favorite slur: reductionistI! When we look at it in the opposite direction, it is easy to see that metaphors abound for how our treatment of the planet is analogous to intimate partner violence; this may have first been introduced to me by a book I saw on the Peace Center library shelf called Rape of the Earth. Then there is the concept of our "addiction to oil." 

Sometimes we are told that we "don't have time" to focus on a certain social problem because some other problem is more urgent or important. Sure. At this moment, I want to bring in some Pema Chodron wisdom and say, none of them are problems at all. They are situations. Dilemmas, maybe. Opportunities to respond with compassion and the intention to reduce suffering, acknowledging that we may not ever be able to eliminate it - because there is a dynamic tension between the pain of the universe and the compassionate response to that pain (got this from The Universe Story by David Swimme). This is not to excuse intentionally or negligently harmful behavior. It isn't spiritual bypassing. It is, I hope, spiritual integration. We need some way to be at peace while also engaging in social change efforts.


That is our mission. Our life's work, according to some person quoted in the book I have The Art of Pilgrimage, is a mission we must dedicate our lives to - and it must be something that is impossible to complete.


I can tell this post is coming to a conclusion because I'm getting anxious about how to conclude. I want to perform pilgrimage for y'all. Or perform adventure? I don't know. Here's some radical honesty: I'm nervous that those who contributed to my trip financially will judge me for "not doing it right" somehow. What do you want from me? I trust that those who really love me and are clear in themselves want me to follow whatever I want. I asked for elder- mentoring on Facebook and got this question: What do you hope for?

My answer: I hope to travel in the spirit. This was a phrase that came out my clearness committee on January at Western Young Friends New Year's gathering. I am telling myself, after Jacob leaves, then I can drop all the planning and listen to Spirit more. But I know that if I'm using him as an excuse now, then I will find another one then. So I am doing my best to listen now. I got the message today: go to the market. There is a farmer's market in Boquete once a week. Extranjeros sell goodies there as well as locals. I tried to support those who looked local or seemed to only speak Spanish, to disrupt the colonization process happening there with retirees moving en masse. I bought organic sprouts, happy eggs, some traditional treats (like corn shaped into a mini-pita and filled with queso, frijoles, y salsa, and an empanada), parsley for 50 cents, yogurt con melacot├│n, blackberries, and a veggie meatball made of lentils and quinoa and walnuts. (It was amazing.)

I also got the message, go surfing. This was already an option, but there were a number of options, and I wasn't sure which to follow. So we are headed to Punta Burica now. We came down out of the mountains where Boquete is to David. The transition was rough. I got super stressed at the crowded bus station. I didn't have an address. We ended up taking a taxi to the hostel. No one wanted us on the bus with our big backpacks. (Although we had taken a calm bus ride from Palmira to David. Which was interesting because of the scenic route, as well as the lovely walkways that go over the highways, one of which was even wheelchair accessible. I was impressed by the infrastructure.)

We met three German travelers here at the hostel. They are going to Punta Burica tomorrow too. Meeting German travelers seems to be a theme on this trip. I try to bond with them over the German spelling of my last name. The first one was impressed, but these ones less so.

I'm drawing Tarot cards about every 2.7 days. At first I got The Fool. Then the 8 of Wands. Now I'm on the 2 of Wands. The message: "You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore." I'm ready to do that. It feels like it goes with surfing very well too, although I certainly plan to keep the shore in sight.

I'll draw a new card tomorrow, and see where I'm at in my journey then.

[Journey - from the French word "jour," - "day" - the distance traveled in a day.]

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