On Intimations of Mortality

(THIRD-CLASS Carriage) Oil on canvas painting by Honoré Daumier.

(THIRD-CLASS Carriage) Oil on canvas painting by Honoré Daumier.

The long days are taking their toll.

Only two things can sever me from the world. The first is the life-long melancholy that occasionally manifests as outright winters of the soul. The second is the more recent exhaustion that typically culminates as wholesale abductions of my body-mind.

Right now, I’m here and not here. Right here, I’m now and not now. Fatigue keeps me from finishing my thoughts. So I gestate the same stillborn ideas again and again, with a tedious and frustrating sense of déjà vu.

In moments like these, I think: this is what  being old must feel like, and I shudder. To endure the disintegration of one’s body is one thing; to witness the dissolution of one’s mind is another.

(Yes, the exhaustion is the insidious gap through which the melancholy often slips.)

The long days are definitely taking their toll.

Still: better to have long days than none.


On the Utility of Compulsions

My weapon of choice.

My weapon of choice.

I used to travel a lotand not with the throw-caution-to-the-wind or let-the-winds-blow-me-where-they-will approach that’s wildly romanticized these days as the only, genuinely authentic way to see the world and be in the world.

No, when I traveled, I had agendas, and lists, and plans, and timetables (and yes, insurance).

(Which doesn’t mean that I traveled luxuriously. Far from it. I’d travel for weeks at a time with a JanSport backpackthe kind that college students use—and saved money by enduring day-long layovers in obscure and dingy airports and living off granola bars and coffee sachets. The heaviest and most valuable things I carried were a digital SLR with three different lenses and an ultra-portable laptop for writing and archiving all my photos. And I walked. A LOT.)

Anyway, my point is: I hyper-plan when I travel, and this has translated into Excel files of various sorts, my favorite of which is a checklist of things to pack. The checklist has two major categories: one for travels to temperate countries and the other one for trips to tropical climes. Each category is further divided into two lists: things to put in checked in baggage and things to pack in carry-on luggage.

Each category also has a wardrobe table that plots out what to wear for an entire week in order to optimize color combinations with a limited set of clothes. The last table is a daily meal plan that includes calorie counters for the most common food groups.

As pathologically obsessive as the above sounds, it’s made life on the road enormously simple and provides a welcome anchor in the turbulent and often disorienting waters of extended travel. Freed of the humdrum logistical questions of what to wear and what to eat, I’m then able to focus all my energies on the things that lure me away from home time and again, which are:

Seeing the world. Losing myself in it. Finding myself in it.

And making it my home.

On the Joys of Itineraries

Next up: packing!

Next up: packing!

Today, I started preparing the itinerary for a long-planned family trip abroad.

Most people I know (my family members included) do not relish the task of preparing itineraries. At the very most, they’ll have rough and sketchy outlines: hurried splotches marking cities and sites; broad strokes tracing paths between haphazard dots.

On the other hand, I positively relish making itineraries. It indulges a deeply felt needed for creating structure out of geographic chaos; for conjuring agendas out of pure possibility; for arbitrating choices made by contending preferences; and for making the most out of the limits of time and money.

When I make an itinerary, it factors everything in: arrivals and departures; travel times and meals; costs and options; allowances and fall-backs. I also try to find a balance between sightseeing and shopping; city surfing and nature hopping; people watching and culture vulturing. In the process, I read descriptions and reviews; consult maps and timetables; and devour histories and catalogs.

In short, I treat creating itineraries as a science and an art, and I regard every completed itinerary as a victory over entropy.

In a strangely contradictory and obsessive-compulsive way, itinerary planning is a Zen thing for me.

Executing the itinerary, however, is another matter entirely.


On the Dislocations of Spacetime

(TIME Travel)

I saw two different sets of friends today: the first over brunch; the second over coffee. Both meet-ups exceeded their appointed hours in that charming (if somewhat discombobulating) way that good friendships have of demolishing one’s sense of time.

I’m still disoriented, to be honest. Like most post-moderns of my generation, almost all of my relationships are linked to particular settings and particular eras. So when I see old friends, the meetings conjure memories of specific behaviors, specific geographies and specific periods of my life, and the end result, more often than not, is a sensation of massive disorientationof being in two places and two times simultaneously, or, even more bewilderingly, of being two people at the same time.

And when I see different groups of friends in sequence: then, yes, the existential vertigo intensifies exponentially. In the past, I thought meditation would help ease the psychic dizziness, but if anything, the heightened self-awareness has just made the sense if disequilibrium more acute.

So now, I’m writing, because writing has always been my way of anchoring (and yes, also my way of retreating, because perspective requires distance in the same degree that it restores equanimity). Slowly, ever so slowly, I’m returning to the confines of my present reality (these claustrophobic yet oh-so-comforting confines).

It’s funny how I have to exert so much effort just to be here right now.

On the Obstinacy of Samskaras

If only our mental patterns were as pretty.

If only our mental patterns were as pretty.

Today, I had a chance to learn some yoga philosophy from a visiting teacher. The opportunity entailed leaving the studio prematurely and enduring the long drive to Makati (and enduring the equally arduous drive back). I had no real expectations, but the lecture was a welcome one, providing some new insight while validating some previously gained knowledge.

What was more instructive though were my reactions to the other aspects of the lecture: the sense of estrangement that accompanied being away from my particular yoga “tribe,” the subsequent realization that I considered myself as part of a specific tribe, and the concomitant reflection on the fact that my own pursuit of wisdom and wholeness was still shot through with a deeply felt need to exclude, partition and divide.

Ah, the stubbornness of samskaras. This is what the multiple lifetimes implied by reincarnation is for.

May the endless repetition bear fruit.

On the Elusiveness of Sleep

(CAN'T Sleep)

So, it’s 9:05 pm and I’m still up and about.

This poses a bit of a problem because I know that if I’m going to get through the long day that is tomorrow (and the long week that is this week, and the long month that is this month), I need to get enough sleep.

Which means that I should be going to bed right about…15 minutes ago.

Few situations highlight the tension between how things are and how things should be more than being unable to meet a self-imposed curfew by dint of being wide awake.

Because as anyone who’s ever experienced insomnia will know: you can’t force yourself to fall asleep. Sleep comes when it comes, and it comes in a way that make analyzing its advent well nigh impossible. It doesn’t happen suddenly, but its gradual onset is clouded in so much fuzziness that memory stops well before the actual event.

My point being: falling asleep is a mystery. I can’t think of anything I do as faithfully every day that still manages to evade the clutches of will, intention and mastery. It’s an exercise in surrender that doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome even with the practice of wholehearted surrender (again, as every insomniac will know).

All of which, I think, makes sleeping a really good metaphor for living.