On the Simplicity of Bliss

It’s my last day in Boracay, and I am in the perfectly enviable position of having the island’s Bulabog Beach almost entirely to myself while lounging on a hammock at the Levantin with a bottle of California Red Muscat and the company of some of the loveliest people in the world. I am pleasantly tipsy—though surprisingly only mildly so given my body’s state of detoxification and the volume of alcohol I’ve already imbibed.

In any case, I’m at that level of inebriation where lucidity begins to outstrip coordination—a state of affairs that leads to the exaggerated care with which slightly drunk people move their limbs or pronounce their words. There’s a breeze on my face and sand beneath my toes—sensations delightful enough even without the enhancements of wine. The profoundest things going through my mind are: I can’t believe I haven’t gone to Bulabog Beach before, I can’t believe I haven’t hung out at the Levantin before, I can’t believe I haven’t drunk a California Red Muscat before, and I can’t believe I haven’t done all three things at the same time before. That I’d passed up on several such opportunities for bliss throughout the entire month should have reduced me to tears—except for the fact that it’s utterly impossible to feel anything apart from giddy happiness.

And it keeps getting better, because this is Boracay—an island metaphysically as large as five phone booths strung together—which simply means that one will run into the same people again and again. So the company keeps getting larger, and it’s perfectly alright, because the people attaching themselves to the table are genuinely funny—even without the enhancements of wine.

And in a few moments, we’ll drain the last of our alcohol and then head off to a local restaurant that allegedly serves the best crab in Boracay.

All in all, it hasn’t been—and definitely won’t be—a bad way to round off an unforgettable month.


On the Nostalgia of Pain

So, I had my weekly massage yesterday and was disoriented—if not downright disappointed—that my masseuse could not locate the by-now familiar pain in the lumbar region of my spine. Repeated jabs in the relevant area failed to provoke the usual constellations in my visual cortex, which led me to actually begin asking the question: had the pain actually gone?

Now, all my beliefs in the beneficent effects of yoga notwithstanding, I was not actually prepared to be the recipient of a minor miracle of sorts. Having a chronic back pain fixed, and fairly quickly at that, was something that happened to other people (like dying or winning the lottery). But there it was—or there it wasn’t, rather.

I’m still skeptical about the whole thing, to be honest. Since yesterday, I’ve been dismissing the unexpected relief as a temporary by-product of newer aches and pains taking centerstage. I keep expecting the familiar twinge, the customary soreness, the usual throb. And it still hasn’t shown up, and it’s actually making me feel as if there’s something wrong.

All of which goes to show that human beings can be surprisingly, idiotically attached to their pain (physical or otherwise). We don’t like our physical, mental or emotional furniture being moved. Even if it’s old, tacky, useless or expensive, we like having it there because it’s part of the ambiance, part of the landscape, part of a legacy, part of our navigational system, and someday, by Jove, there will be a use for it and we’ll rue the day we gave it away.

All of which helps explain why part of me is celebrating the defeat of my back pain while part of me is disconcerted by it. After all, now that the pain is gone, what am I supposed to feel?

On the Drawbacks of the Unpolished

One of the skills I’ve had to rediscover in these last few weeks of living in Boracay has been the art of writing things by hand. Moronic baggage limitations plus visions of my laptop sinking serenely beneath aquamarine waters had persuaded me to leave my Vaio at home. Practically speaking, this meant having to borrow other people’s laptops to check my email or work on my blog—a necessity I attempted to minimize by writing by hand whenever possible.

Now, writing by hand is something I’ve managed to avoid doing for the last decade or so. In university, I rarely took notes, and when I did it, was with a Palm Pilot. Some of this aversion has had to do with possessing a frankly uninspiring penmanship—but most of it has to do with the fact that writing by hand is a messy business. What do I mean?

As opposed to Word-processed documents (and the word “processed” here is telling), handwritten manuscripts retain all the traces of their evolution. The dead-ends, the detours, the loops, the spirals, the non sequiturs and the lame jokes—all of these are fossilized for the writer (and for any interested posterity) to see.

Word-processed documents, on the other hand, leave the vastly more remarkable impression of emerging, like Athena, fully formed and flawless from their creators’ minds. There’s no evidence of the struggle—none of the metaphorical blood and the literal sweat—that accompanies so much of the creative effort.

And for that reason, I prefer writing by word-processor to writing by hand. It’s an infinitely more effective mechanism for preserving a certain, necessary amount of writerly conceit. The good news is that while my word-processing capabilities are currently in short supply, my reserves of conceit certainly are not.

Let’s just hope they last long enough.

On the Opacity of Knowledge

So today marked the formal completion of my month-long yoga teacher training, and I have the faint suspicion that the significance of the event will only sink in maybe two weeks from now at a most inauspicious time—like when I’m driving in the middle of EDSA traffic.

Now, I knew when all this began that it would happen ridiculously fast (something I already mentioned in a previous blog post On the Virtues of Simplicity)—but I still failed to anticipate the actual velocity of events. So much happened in so little time—and so much of it occurred below the level of my conscious awareness. My mind feels like a lake that had an entire city thrown in and sunk to its depths, and every so often, a random item will float to the surface and spark a glint of recognition. It shocks me, sometimes, to find myself saying the Sanskrit names of yoga poses so easily, or humming Vedic hymns on detachment so unconsciously, or identifying the movements of a joint so offhandedly. Just four weeks ago, all of these were utterly foreign to me. And now they occur without the intervention of thought.

And for someone who relies excessively on their ability to think, that kind of spontaneous cognition (for lack of a better word) can be, frankly speaking, rather disconcerting.

And—it’s also kind of cool.

On the Suspension of Routines

The last three days have constituted a state of suspension for me in two quite significant ways:

First was being “suspended” from fully engaging in my asana practice because it happened to be my time of the month—and most (if not all) yoga systems discourage strenuous and inverted poses during this period.

Second was being “suspended” from uploading posts on my blog because a bad storm had fried the local Internet connection and I couldn’t even get a text message across to my sister who normally posts things for me during emergencies like these.

Now, cessations of or disruptions in my daily routine normally upset my sense of equilibrium—more so when the routines in question are of particular significance. Given that yoga and writing have virtually been my only routines these past four weeks, an interruption of this magnitude should have resulted in a minor nervous breakdown.

Surprisingly—very surprisingly, in fact—nothing of the sort actually occurred. There was a faint cloud of dismay that eventually dissipated after a day or two, but it was generally overshadowed by my cautious and skeptical bewilderment at the absence of a stronger response.

After all, I’ve NEVER missed a blog post since the creation of Peripateia—and then I went off and missed making three posts in a row. Similarly, I NEVER used to allow my menstruation to intervene in my asana practice, and now that I’m actually paying for a full month of yoga training, I’ve gone off and allowed myself to go easy for three whole days.

And I’m not freaking out—which is precisely what’s freaking me out.


On the Melancholy of Departure

It’s the beginning of the last week of my teacher training, and I find my heart heavy at the prospect of leaving.

There are things, of course, that I’m looking forward to: seeing my beautiful home again, seeing my family again, seeing my friends again. But I don’t relish the prospect of returning to the city, with its dismal smog, its unrelenting traffic, its sensory rush. I don’t look forward to re-shouldering all the concerns that seemed so terribly important just a month ago but seem so hopelessly trivial now.

And I’m going to miss the new friends I’ve made here: a cast of characters Benetton-like in their diversity, but unified by a shared passion for a rigorous discipline. We’ve meditated together, chanted together, sung together and stood on our heads together. If that kind of synchronization isn’t the very stuff of bonding, I don’t know what is.

And I’m going to miss the staff here: the administrators, the teachers, the training assistants. They led our meditations, led our chants, led our songs and propped some of our feet up when we couldn’t stand on our heads on our own. If supporting sweaty, smelly feet isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

And I’m going to miss the food and the kitchen crew here. They fed us overwhelmingly, extravagantly and like there was no tomorrow. And it was only because of the consistency and dedication of their efforts that I didn’t lose the already limited reserves of fat in my chest region altogether.

And of course, finally, I’m going to miss Boracay. I’m going to miss the powdery sand, the breathtaking sunsets, the tranquil waters and the rustic charm. All its well-documented shortcomings notwithstanding, the island’s been my home for the last three weeks—and it’s been a generous and gracious host for the most part.

So this is me going headlong into my last week. And the best is yet to come.

On the Inarticulacy of Bliss (Part 2)

Today was one of those days that go so exceedingly well that you’re left with the faint suspicion that the universe simply hasn’t gotten around to giving you the bill, and when it does, the interest charged will take at least two dozen lifetimes to settle.

In any case, it was a perfect day with most of the time taken up by a paraw-sailing picnic with my fellow yoga teacher trainees.

Not much happened, frankly speaking, but when you’ve got the breeze on your face and your toes in the water, and just enough clouds to take away the sting of the sun, and just enough food to permanently end all the hunger in the world, then conditions are right for a spontaneous experience of that quality of mind yogis call santosha or contentment.

Surprisingly—or unsurprisingly—it’s not an experience that lends itself easily to words (something I’ve talked about before in a previous post of the same name). And it’s for the exact same reason that I’ve struggled a bit with my writing these last few weeks. Most of the time I talk about the peripherals, the marginalia, the trivialities and the nonsense, because they lend themselves exceptionally well to the transparencies of language. I can talk about the constant laundering, the unrelenting heat and the perennial soreness—and talk about them in stifling detail—but they hardly constitute the bulk of my life as I’ve experienced it on this island the last four weeks. Most of the time what’s really there is an inchoate, ineffable, incredulous sense of what people have called by the name of happiness—and it’s tenuous and fragile and I distrust it immensely for precisely those reasons.

But it’s there—much as it embarrasses my black little postmodern heart to admit it.

And—I’m grateful all the same.