Friday, April 1, 2011


I was there and yet somehow I wasn't. A quick early morning inventory of all my various bits and pieces provided me with sufficient proof however that the sum total of my being was theoretically still intact. A look in the mirror while shaving verified that the grizzled apparition looking out was definitely still me. Yet I couldn't shrug off the nagging suspicion that something was definitely amiss deep inside the inner workings of my little world, Utpaldom.

It was easy to come to grips with the striking realization that I had woken up in a distant land, far far from home. Gentle palms swayed in a sultry tropical breeze outside my hotel window. It had taken me 26 hours and I had traversed many thousands of miles to get here. I was now, in point in fact, clear across on the far side of our lovely planet.

The view from my window at home has always been just a notch above subterranean. While there, I had become a prisoner to winter, with crusty snow piling up. Nearly obliterating my miniscule view of the outside, which I cannot see much of even at the best of times. But that particular reality, of home, of New York, of ice and snow was quickly fading, like a cloud skittering away from the face of the bright sun.

My regular past, which I had recently fled from, just a day ago, was being swept away by all the sunbright optimism which is Bali. My existence now was poised in a place which fit snugly into my personal conception of heaven on earth. I could clearly recall how I got here, to this place of incredible natural splendor. Yet somehow, in a strange contradiction, I could not quite get over the notion that everything within me had not settled somehow back into a natural order. Truth to tell, I wasn't exactly sure how to put the scrambled elements of my being back together again in harmony.

It happens to all of us I suppose. Perhaps each and every time one takes a long and arduous International trip. There comes a Humpty Dumpty moment when it feels as though you have fallen off the wall, and a malingering foolish doubt lingers, that just maybe you can't get all the pieces to fit quite all back together again.

I am not sure what does it exactly. You get in an airplane and and head at high speed either east or west. Just when you think you can't stand, another bag of pretzels, or a bump against your seat, and you are crying to stand on firm grand and suck a breath of real oxygen into your lungs you land at an obscure airport. Despite spending many relentless hours imprisoned in the belly of a metal beast you want to flee from it instantly and dash away as soon as you can remove your tethers and tear yourself out of the seat.

Then, when just as the feeling of normality of begins to percolate up through your feet and past your knees, you have to once again enter another identical metal snake and zoom skywards into a stratospheric hell. For me this interminable international journey has only but briefly paused.  A momentary respite, barely past half way in Korea, and then on and on again. The torture resumes with more plastic trays, unnecessary trips to toilets.  For many there gradually comes an ever growing gnaw, swelling in your guts, that some might call a desperate prayer, for it all just to end.

This is familiar to all who have traveled to far off places. Multiple time zones tumble under your wings until you loose track of where you really are. Certainly you have no idea of what time it really is despite access to a seat back tv that can show you a clear cartoon image of your plane drifting across an infinite expanse of blue.

Somewhere out over the dark pacific you cross an invisible line. On maps it seems jagged and yet very real. It zips and squiggles across and down from the north pole. It traverses the spooky regions of the Pacific until it can go no further. The international dateline seems like a practical and useful invention if we are to believe and accept the idiosyncrasies of time itself. But when you are hurtling through the skies it is an invisible bandit that snatches away in a blink an entire day of your life. If you are lucky enough to return the same way it seems a fair and generous offer to somehow have all this time miraculously returned to you, like some great department store layaway plan. Borrowed as it were, for the length of your stay in some foreign destination. Yet this theft of time is not so simply snatched from us, nor can it be returned without some bumbling and jumbling of the innards of our own inner temperamental time pieces.

For me, the first morning in heaven would be a daze. To observe beauty and remain just a little distant and separate from it. A participant, and yet not be sufficiently immersed to feel oneness with this tropical world I adore so much. The solution for me, and it is a simple one, was simply to go out for a walk and explore. Trek the streets of Sanur and hope to catch my bearings. There was no goal other than to simply walk. Feel the heat of an equatorial sun on my back and breathe in the sweet air spilling off from the clear ocean waters nearby.

What became clear and self evident, as it usually does in my life, is that walking or running for that mater, is the cure of most of the ills in my life. The simple act of taking steps and moving forward has been a prescription that has struck down most of the mental mountains and maladies in my makeup. The cure is not instantaneous, and it is not measurable. One simply has to be patient and allow a rhythm and pace well out from within. There is no magic distance, no clear goal, other than to keep moving until you have gone far enough.

After a couple of miles of heading straight down the main artery of Sanur I swung back towards my hotel. I took to a smaller path that clung to the edge of the beach. Each step now began to feel like one more small medicinal drop of my self cure. There was nothing to analyze, my meandering movement forward simply felt right. After a while I could feel a gentle shift in the breeze. The wind was changing and when I glanced back over my shoulder I could see a great dark ominous thunder cloud rolling up behind me.

I felt no sense of urgency though I was most certainly aware of what was soon about to happen. The air carried a sharp scent of electric energy, there was a growing heaviness to the atmosphere. It was certainly going to rain and to rain hard. Almost in an instant there was a crack of lighting and a canon roar of thunder. A cascade of rain spilled out of the sky and I was immediately immersed in a deluge. For a moment I made a faint hearted leap for safety under a palm. A quick evaluation of my odds for retaining dry comfort came up without equivocation.  My odds at staying dry, zero. My only solution was to simply keep walking back to the hotel.

Unless you have experienced a tropical downpour you cannot really describe it. It is like swimming, while striding erect, in water so thick it is sometimes difficult to find a gasp of oxygen between the relentless torrent of raindrops. My shirt became a saturated sponge and pressed down against my chest with such damp authority I had to hold it away from myself in order to catch my breath. My sandals which had seemed so cool and comfortable, now envigorated by the rain, began to chafe and gauge at every fraction of skin the straps could rub up against. In a last ditch attempt to keep the skin on my feet intact I resorted to taking them off and walking barefoot. The path was littered with small stones which provided their own private torture to the souls of my feet, and yet there seemed to be no alternative. The rain seemed in no hurry to stop, and I was so utterly and thoroughly wet there seemed to be no other option than to keep trudging onwards.

Yet it was in this final last soaking mile of my miserable march back to the hotel that I at last found myself coming fully and comprehensively together. The tectonic plates of my being had at last come to rest. My mind felt a bulb of awareness switch on to full brightness.  I was at peace within myself. I had once more become a complete intact entity. I had at last arrived.

The answer for me was simply not to question, but to do. To walk, to move, to act with faith that I would reach my goal. Give no time or moment for hesitation and doubt. Let the world unfold as it does best. My only task was to willingly participate in one of its infinite mysteries, and not wait for miracles to come uninvited, but to step forward as best I can and let them find me as they always do.

My Lord,
Do give me the capacity
To come to You step by step.
I am asking You to bless me
With tiny steps,
Not giant steps,
For tiny steps are safe.

Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 33, Agni Press, 2003.

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