Today I went to a seminar on happiness at the Kadampa Buddhist meditation center in Chelsea. I don’t know that I am a Buddhist, or that I am any religion. But out of the global sampler platter of spiritual practices I have encountered in my 27 years on Earth, I find that Buddhist philosophies make the most sense and offer the most practical advice. I’ve met a lot of monks in a lot of weird places, and they have shown me things through the most subtle gestures, sometimes without even speaking. My curiosities about Buddhism have never pressured me to adopt a delusional belief structure, attempted to rob me, or demanded I adopt the mandates of a patriarchal authority figure, or else. Every time I approach Buddhist practices with questions, its teachers simply encourage me to look inside myself to find the ways by which I can alter my perspective to maintain inner balance.
In this sensation-seeking body in general but especially in this roller coaster of a concrete jungle, I’ll take all the balance I can get.
In 2012 I sat in the main lecture hall at the Being Human conference in San Francisco. When a presenter walked on stage to commence a group meditation, I looked around incredulously and, unwilling to participate in this ritualistic exercise, took out my phone to tweet. Clear my mind? Was that even possible? Consuming mass amounts of information via the internet was my meditation then. Now, possibly out of frustration with the state of information on the internet and the increasingly invasive modes by which it is transmitted, I have found a new appreciation for mental stillness.
Back to the present day in this meditation class, a woman came in late, sat down next to me, proceeded to check her email on her phone and scrawl into a notebook with the loudest pen ever. As I struggled to maintain my concentration atop my annoyance, I felt a karmic poke in the ribs.
So the lecturer, Kadam Morten, proceeded to talk about finding happiness. Where is it? American society would like to have us believe that it is somewhere out there. You can touch it, taste it, feel it, buy it, fuck it, smother yourself in it—oh but not yet. You’re not quite there yet. But, if you keep working and spending and wanting, then maybe you’ll find it. No. According to Morten, happiness is inside of each of us, we only have to learn how to access it so we can find our way back there any time. This involves dumping all the worries and cluttered thoughts and to-do lists from our minds and just being with ourselves internally.
During a guided meditation, he instructed us to think of something that made us happy. At first I panicked because I realized that my happy places and people and moments also made me sad because I am now so far away from them. But then I managed to get back to a place in Michigan, sitting on the end of a pier looking out at a perfectly still lake next to my best friend, our heads resting on each other’s as we sat in silence. And I remember thinking in that moment that I wanted to save it like a file on my computer, to access at will always and forever.
And then he beckoned us to prepare to meditate on death, in the most light and jovial manner I have ever heard anyone approach the topic.
“The impulse to check in with external stimuli has never been stronger,” he said, referencing the entirety of what capitalism immerses us in. “Now is the time to check in with death, and be present in our lives.”
While it is oft considered morbid to think about death and especially to talk about it, Morten made a pretty compelling case for why we should think about it excessively: the fact that we will die is really the only certainty we have in life. ‘Death and taxes…’ whatever—we could all die before it’s time to do taxes. To live life in denial of our mortality is to live disconnected from reality, whereas to embrace death is to live in the moment, he said.
So imagine that tomorrow you will die. What would you do with your day? Would you spend it arguing with someone you loved? Would you spend it watching TV? Reading celebrity gossip? Being a drone?
Nah. You’d do something radical. You’d make a step toward creating the legacy you’re capable of leaving behind. You’d connect with people you love. That’s what I intend to do tomorrow.
Thanks to Talia Eisenberg for inviting me to explore this peaceful pocket of NYC.
I’ve been back in the US for a little over five months now, but it feels like only yesterday that I was crossing the Pacific, all choked up because I had just accomplished the most difficult thing I have ever set out to do. I’ve never felt more healthy, more alive, than I did during my year of circumnavigating the globe. And I go back to those places every day in my mind.
It may happen when I open the fridge, or lace up my shoes. Suddenly, I’m opening the fridge in the apartment I rented from a techno DJ in Berlin, or lacing up my shoes to leave my bungalow in the south of Thailand and hop on my motorbike to go exploring. And for a split second, I get lost there, and I smile to myself before being jolted back to the task at hand. I will always have the memories of that year, and they will forever change the way I see where I am at any given moment in my usual life.
The other day a friend asked me if I was writing the whole time I was traveling. I was. I was writing every day. I filled notebook after notebook with descriptions of places and experiences and bizarre encounters with characters of all walks of life. Then he asked me how I balanced experiencing life with documenting it—the greatest challenge of any travel writer. And the truth is, I didn’t and I don’t. I have too much energy right now, in this stage in my life, to possibly stop living and experiencing everything long enough to document it all properly.
But I know that some day I won’t. Someday I will be anchored to places I haven’t yet been by circumstances I can’t anticipate. I will be slower, and my joints will ache. I’ll probably still want to stay up as late as I do, because anyone who knows me knows my night-owlness is pathological. But my late-night forays probably won’t involve romping through the desert or scaling rooftops to watch the sun come up in the distant future. Someday I will have more time on my hands than I will know what to with, and more responsibilities than I ever wanted. I will finally be bored. Or, maybe, ideally, someone will offer me enough money to compel me to stop experiencing and sit my ass in a chair long enough to write something of worth. It is then that I will travel back around the world in my mind, and properly document all the events of my crazy life that I’ve been meticulously archiving via a system of notes and letters to my future self.
I don’t balance experiencing with documenting; I stockpile experiences and prepare for the balance to come via the entropic forces of nature.
In the mean while, I’m writing a book proposal. I’ll keep blogging. I’m building a platform that allows do-ers like me to write more, better, faster, and be heard farther. That way if I do become a cyborg and I never have to stop experiencing, or if I get hit by a bus before I’m 30 or whatever, I’ll have said enough of what I wanted to say by then. And there’s always this wagon wheel of a blog.
Last week I was walking around in Manhattan looking for a place to grab a bite to eat between meetings, when I happened across a new location of Barcade, one of my favorite beer bars in Brooklyn. This one served food, so I went in and planted myself at one of the empty bar stools and ordered a sandwich and a beer. I chatted with a friendly bartender who told me this branch opened in June, or May—he couldn’t remember.
While I waited, I sipped my beer and journaled into the notebook I always carry, lost in thought as the bar started to fill up around me. I was only vaguely aware of three bartenders huddled together on the other side of the bar chatting until one thing I overheard jolted me out of my writing trance and caused me to look up in alarm.
“Wow, someone’s looking to get raped tonight.”
I stared at them in shock as the three of them all laughed. They dismantled to go about their work again, and one of them started stacking condiments in front of me.
“Did someone really just say that?” I asked.
“What?” he asked innocently, obliviously.
“That one of your customers is looking to get raped tonight.”
“Oh,” he said with a chuckle. “Yeah, well you know, it’s these little girls who come in here and order a wheat beer and a shot of vodka, and then chase it with a shot of Jameson. It’s not very smart decision-making.”
I glared at this 40-something hipster and the smirk beneath his unkempt black beard in disbelief.
“Yeah, well, that’s not very smart commentary,” I said.
He slunk away and refused to make eye contact with me thereafter, sipping a glass of straight vodka at 5:30pm. I tossed a coaster on top of my half-empty beer and walked outside to smoke a cigarette. The comment had activated a kill switch deep within my psyche, and my head spun from the transition of being jerked out of my happy writing place into the menacing world of skeezy rape enthusiasts. The amount of people who can successfully execute rape jokes are few and far between, and, as Lindy West pointed out in an essay following the Tosh.0 debacle, the punch line should never come at the expense of the victim. What planet did these guys inhabit where it was acceptable to suggest, or even logical to think, that any human being would want to be raped? Rape involves the utter absence of consent. It is an unwanted violation of one’s body, by definition. No amount of beverages consumed ever changes the level of acceptability of rape, which is zero.
I walked back inside and sat down, but the thought of finishing my drink made me sick. I wanted to throw the rest of it in that guy’s face and smash the glass on the floor, or walk out without paying. But that would make me the greater offender form the perspective of the law. What could I do to establish some kind of justice for the disruption of my peace of mind, and for whoever was exposed to these dirtbags on a daily basis. I wanted to do something so they would never laugh about rape again.
I hailed my original bartender over.
“Hey, I need to pay for this drink,” I said. “And you’d better believe that if I wasn’t expensing this because I’m here on a review assignment, I would have walked out without paying after what I just heard.”
His face blanched. “What… what do you mean?” he stammered.
“Saying one of your customers is looking to get raped? Look, if you’re going to make jokes about rape in your place of work, you’d better be damn sure you know who’s listening, and this is definitely going to affect your review.”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry you had to hear that,” he said. “I didn’t say it I swear.”
“But you laughed.”
He continued apologizing and acknowledged the comment was unacceptable. I thrust a $10 bill toward him and asked for my change, then walked out without leaving a tip.
It is hard to believe that these kind of sentiments are circulated here in a city that is often said to be the most cultured in the United States. Then to think of how many other places in America and beyond that this kind of shit happens without anyone raising an eyebrow makes the world seem downright depressing. We have a long way to go, but I’d like to think we’re progressing, one indignant feminist calling out stupid hipster bartenders at a time.