Nobody wins any real prizes for being the most extreme, especially at the moment when s/he hits the pillow for the very last time. If you are less burdened by vanity, then new experiences of places and people, extreme or not, invariably enrich you. Whilst we are changing every second, whether we are aware of this process or not, these enrichments accelerate spiritual change. Some call this change rejuvenating, others dying. I call this change, boringly, “the abandonment of baggage”.
Some of my more extreme experiences were not with places, but with people. Navigating a stranger’s mind, being direct but not hurting their feelings (not too early in the relationship at least), is one of the most extreme experiences I have found. I have had the opportunity to mentor and befriend twenty-odd people over the years, some much older than me, most younger. Some I met face to face for only a couple of hours, some over more than ten years. Being flawed in character, I have never had much to teach them, or show them. But life has a way of bringing us together, and somehow, there has been much mutual learning in our relationships. The ones that have really learnt something have all become lighter both in possession and in spirit. Letting their identities dissolved into the rediscovered elixir called living, they crave fame, wealth or status a bit less, and try to devote their wholesomeness to the simple life without getting trapped in ideologies. As their spirit blossoms, they continue to discard various forms of baggage. But in this lightness still lurks a monster, somewhere in those dark tunnels and corners of the mind: they are still expecting something in return. The monter is a subtle form of greed, which the ego desperately clings on to convince itself that it exists. But I know that one day, as they realise that their lives are already perfect as they have always been, and that acquiring utilities when one needs them then readily abandoning the baggage without attachment is a very natural way to live, they will find themselves at the starting line again, the day before they started this learning journey – this time without all that ridiculous heaviness, that weight of living. This miraculous event, which the Buddhists call “the turning of the head”, is the result of losing all desires to seek returns from their efforts. Albeit this quantum leap of change in consciousness, the motivation that drives the passion in life will still live on strongly. By that time, this motivation will be known by another name: the Life Force. When one is neither hopeful or hopeless, the life force flows the strongest. Another paradox!
I have my own definition of Beauty: “Beauty is a Paradox”.
And I found beauty in Punta Arenas!
It does not take much to love a city. Perhaps a little café by the seaside, drawing one’s eyes far over the horizon where the sails disappear, with stacks of libros de visitas filled with amateur artwork, cocooned in tasteful melodies and the sound of waves and seagulls. Or maybe a little red flower shivering against a brown and blue stone wall that seems to have stood there forever.
It does not take much to love someone. Perhaps just the sight of a flick of the hair at the right time. Or maybe a smile that awakens memories that seem to have crossed permanently into the realm of unconsciousness.
But it takes a special moment and space to see one’s beauty. Once true beauty is found, love becomes eternal.
Sitting in that little café, drawing random things in the libro de visitas, I found myself missing Punta Arenas already – the same way I’d miss my children when I am still walking them to school, or the way I’d miss my pretty woman when I am still pretending to help her, in all my boyish awkwardness, in our small kitchen.
Punta Arenas has become one of my launching pads, and I never forget launching pads. My intuition tells me that destinations are illusory, and that only the road is real. When we miss something and we want more of it, it might lead to anxiety, even disappointment. Even any gratifying and satisfying event will soon prove to be fleeting, as Desire is a bottomless well. Perhaps that is why the French excel at making depressing films, the ones that show two men talking incessantly and often melodramatically for two hours in a dimly lit room filled with cigarette smoke and decaying objects. Or why Woody Allen is Woody Allen. But when we miss something or someone and just let that feeling be, it will linger in your heart and nourish your soul. It will have its own way of keeping the head away from messing the whole thing up, and allow the yearning to become purified. Almost pristine.
Like Antarctic ice.
I find Hemingway’s voice inconsistent. But hey, we are all supposed to be inconsistent whether we like it or not, despite this seemingly solid sense of identity, simply because we are changing every second. Hemingway was fully aware of the vanity in all pursuits, but unfortunately could not quite make the quantum leap into that peaceful state of consciousness. Like Dostoevsky and many other great souls of our time, he was tormented. Nevertheless, thanks to this awareness, his inconsistency was not a sign of apprenticeship but the hallmark of mastery. Good artists often contradict themselves at different stages of their career, because good artists grow. Alas, human society awards consistency, failing to acknowledge that inconsistency is the natural state, and consistency forced.
In that café, I found myself in tune with his voice in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. I thought I had found his rhythm on top of that mountain, but that was an illusion. Perhaps the realisation this time is, too, but I now see much more clearly the noises in my head at the time. It has taken the Antarctic ice for me to see the true beauty of Kilimanjaro, the same way it has taken many winding roads for me to love where I came from. In the same way, it has taken fellow adventurers, all living in the same city, to travel to deep corners of the globe just to meet one another and realise that they each possess a gift of relieving one another’s pain.
The road is a gift. It enriches you but does not burden you with more. It is not that naive young girl full of ideas and assumptions, who, after experiencing the overwhelming exhilaration of the first kiss, would expect that she marry the boy and spend the rest of her life with him in happiness. Instead, the road takes away the noise in you, bit by bit, at the right time, in the right space… but only if you would stay still enough for it to do its magic. Isn’t it another paradox? And, by my definition, beautiful!
What I find fascinating about places or people is not so much in what they do, what they have or what they offer. I am drawn to the rhythm of life in each of them. The rhythms are all unique, and you need to be still to connect with them. Once connected, the relationship turns into a dance. It is rare when two people both see the dance, let alone share the dance together. On the rare occasions when it happens, we have beautiful friendships and long rewarding marriages. But between a place and a person, it happens more regularly, at times much to the unconsciousness of the person. But unlike people, a place always forgives. Perhaps that is why most of us have a special place in our heart for our home town.
Adiós Punta Arenas! I am heading north to that legendary town of Viña del Mar. Hopefully I can connect with her rhythm through music, the Maraton Internacional Costa Pacifico, and other things that I did not (and should not) expect.