Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Last weekend I found myself amidst the crowds of the annual Flame Tree Arts festival on the island of Saipan. This is a local gathering of artists from the islands, replete with local music and entertainment, food from the islands of the Northern Mariana, and crowds of tourists and locals “window shopping” and being seen. One can peruse beautiful local paintings, basket weavings, shell art, as well as eat to the hearts content on Chinese 5 choice, fresh fish, apigigi, arroz caldo, and desert on tropical fruits and concoctions. Mango and flame tree season have just come into their own, and the islands are awash with orange.
Fresh back from a trip to the mainland, I found myself enjoying the pace of the islands, no stress, FRESH food, real food, and beautiful sunsets, water and tropical breezes. The westward lagoon view in Saipan contains the most vivid variety of colors of anywhere I have ever been. So, wandering around the festival, it dawned on me that we are living in multiple dimensions all the time, and travel is a key to that world vision. Just as physicists and astronomers theorize that there are multiple dimensions of space-time out there, we can see those dimensions around us right here on Earth as we travel around we move between them. The fact that we are able to move between them, suggests that there are dimensions between which to move, but we usually don’t pay any attention to those shifts.
Jet lag is a good experiential example. When I fly from my quiet papaya garden in Saipan, to the chaos of Los Angeles, I cross the dateline, get there the same day and hour that I left, and transport myself between worlds – and yes, it does feel like different worlds. The pace, the people, and the concerns – the US runs on a different speed than the islands, a different vibration, and when you stop and actually feel the shift, you realize even a different universe or dimension. People in one place have absolutely no clue what it is like in the other unless they have been there very recently, and as soon as the air-lock of the plane door closes, or you sail off the shore, that dimension you are leaving begins to inevitably fade into the matrix. You can look up the news or weather, but it exists only in two dimensions, you cannot smell the air, feel the sane, or experience the sunset.
So as I was mentally traveling between my recent US experiences, and how different is than my Flame Tree Arts festival experience, I walked into the Voyagers camp. The Voyagers at the festival this year sailed 30foot sailing canoes from the outer islands of Yap, all the way to Saipan. These voyagers are renowned for their ability to navigate by the stars and currents, the clouds, and the sky. They can read weather and they know the sea. Some of the best are even blind, steering the boat by the way the current and waves sound against the wooden hulls. Now as I stood in their camp on the fringes of the carnival atmosphere of cotton candy and Budweiser, I was transported again to the outer islands, another downshift in pace and scope of life. It was quiet; people were sleeping on grass mats, cooking on open fires, speaking traditional languages, probably about food or sailing. The lagoon waters lapped against the wooden hulls of the boats, and I imagined them out there t night, listening for the currents to make a sound, feeling the sea air on their faces and I traveled to their outer islands, where there are no computers or iphones, no ATM’s or airplanes, some may not even know they exist, and for all intents they don’t when you are there. Their universe, their dimension was different than mine, it was different than the festival, yet I was right there on the edge of it. If I slowed down enough to travel with them, I would have joined that world for a little while. So now I had three dimensions in my experience, and that was profound, because then I knew very vividly that there were layers to this world that exist simultaneously, on top of one another, just like the physicists say the space-time dimensions exist all wrapped around and between each other. It just takes a subtle shift of perspective to go between them, if you are aware of them. How many more are out there, how many more had I been to in my travels, in my dreams. Reluctantly I stepped off the sand and back into the fray of the carnival, back to the dimension I was currently living and experiencing, but feeling both awed and unsettled at the same time that we are living among countless layers and dimensions all the time, and that we can CHOOSE, and we can BE, wherever we want to, with just a flick of perspective. Bon Voyage!
When I step off the plane in a country like Indonesia, I look around, and feel a sort of bucolic/tropical/peaceful daydream come over me. The heavy equatorial air is almost succulent, and as it washes over your brain you start to slow down and dream of ripe mangoes, so orange that you don’t need a PhD to know that there is vitamin A there. I think of my busy life in the US, and watch the locals amble down the rice paddies, heading to the temple, or a soccer game, or who knows where. I see a man sleeping on his rice field palapala, in his straw hat, and think: wow, this guy has it figured out - a peaceful life, working in the beautiful green rice fields, taking naps, eating healthy local food, no television, no electricity, just the man and the land. Even if he is not making much money, and it is hard, back breaking work (thoughts which I may or may not have let into my daydream), I still think, wow - I have to figure out how to move here - find a nice simple house, buy local food, and slow down the pace of my life.
Yet over time, I begin to wonder - or project 3 months into the future...picture myself sitting in my new house….I cant speak the local dialect, I have no work, I don’t know anyone, and I am not in my culture, I wasn’t raised here, I don’t know the traditions, I have to leave the country every 30 days just to get my visa renewed...and so on.
Then consider the other side.... This farmer looks at me and says wow - this guy has it
dialed right. He's here on vacation, his dollar is worth 10,000 times more than mine, and he is eating at restaurants where his average bill is my months salary, buying luxury foods not even from this country, and then still is enjoying Bintang's and clove cigarettes whenever he likes. I want to go to America and make that kind of money. I don’t care if I have to sit in a cubicle all day in air-con (hey free-aircon) and stare my life away into a computer, I will even get paid to sit down! I can live in a nice condo, with a refrigerator, microwave and electric coffee maker and stove, and drive on the freeway to work everyday.
As we daydream more, we can even go a step further and convince ourselves that the simple, hermetic life is more "enlightened" - and that is very green grass. Escape the day to day, and sit in a field and meditate while we pick rice. Yet when we get there, and it is hot, and there are flies, and snakes, and we earn 2000 rupiah/day, we may forget our mission of enlightenment, and focus on how hard the work is, and how hot the sun is, and how we wish we were back in the air-con, going to the pub with office mates for happy hour. Should I move back? Did I make a mistake? And the farmer finds himself locked into a job of misery doing data entry, having to work overtime to make the rent payments, eating 99cent hot dog deals because its all the food he can afford, and dreading the 75mph traffic on the freeway - dreaming of his rice paddy, fresh food, and wondering why he left to pursue the American dream and the almighty dollar, and how rich he is now that he has that lifestyle.
And on and on it goes, the hamster wheel of life, running and running and running away, looking for the holy grail, the mystery – but stop, slow down, recognize that it is all around us, all the time, no matter where we go, what we do, what we drive, what we eat. As we drop the concern for these details of life, and start realizing why we are living, we may enjoy every moment that we have. Share this with our fellow humans, help each other, become aware of what we are doing and being. Let the grass be greener, because after running around the wheel a few too many times, we will start to see that the grass over there is really the same grass over here, just seen from a different perspective, but, REALLY THE SAME.
Why do we always want what we do not have? The grass is always greener, even when we haven’t even the faintest idea about what the other side even feels like or looks like. We live in America, but want to live on a tropical island. We live in Philippines, and want to eat Pizza Hut, and commute to work on a “freeway”. It is one of the great human challenges- to be happy where we are, focus on our living - instead of our living arrangements. It is far to easy to spend away an entire life looking for that perfect spot, or job, or car, or house, or trying to figure out how to transplant your life into a foreign culture, a far away land, or an escape. These details just are not what we are to worry about. After all, what is perfect anyway, and does it really matter if you have wood floors or concrete, or a thatch roof versus steel? Focusing on these details removes us from the real work of life, and takes us out of the moment. We are forever lost in
a world of illusion, wondering how we can make it better, get what that person has. The grass is always greener speaks to the fact that we are trying to escape the difficult work of life. Not the manual labor, but the actually owning up to what we are here for, and how we can help ourselves and others live better and feel loved. If we wake up, and feel good about what we were born with, or even where we have ended up, then we can forget the detail, and focus on the work at hand - living. Smell the flowers, enjoy the view, smile at people, and be compassionate. Then we may see that the grass is always green here and now, and always good - and that feels very free, very light, and very alive.