Yesterday was a rougher day. I did let myself sleep in while in Anuradapura but then took the bus to Kandy at a higher elevation, which turned into a 4 hour ride with traffic. The man at the tourism office in Colombo assured me that the “Inner-City” buses were comfortable with a lot of leg room and that I could recline my seat. Hardly. Indian Deluxe buses (which belie their name) are like La-Z-Boy recliners as compares to the old wooden kitchen chair of the Sri Lankan Inner City buses. I sat jammed in behind the driver next to my suitcase (and they made me pay for two seats because of my bag) with my feet parallel to the floor, one foot not fully outstretched to the gear shifter (which the driver didn’t appreciate much my kicking occasionally) and the other leg pretzled beneath me until I would antsypants myself into other positions including knee to chin, sideways with my shin against the padded (although in this case shredded with sharp metal exposed) armrest, or my personal favorite, the rehab institute half-lotus. I would lap through this 4 position circuit about every 20 minutes, cold air conditioner blowing 14 inches from my head and a woman’s elevated bandaged bloody big toe picking at my right ear from the seat behind. (No lie, but I did feel sorry for her as she had a cast on her arm too and had much trouble walking with her good foot).
I don’t know quite what has happened but I seem to be in opposition to this place, not Kandy per se, not even Sri Lanka, although that too, but in truth I seem to be hating wherever I am. It’s far from all the time, as there were many periods of time yesterday when I was completely in love with everything, like when I met up with 4 young men at a construction site near my guest house and we talked for several minutes – one of them was an American body-slam-off-the-top-rope style wrestling fan and especially a fan of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. They were so full of smiles and happy to have a connection with me, and I was similarly joyful. Yet I seem to vacillate very easily in my emotional states lately between feeling loving and joyful and feeling obstinate or downright hateful. I had a chat with a friend last night on Skype and I told her about this and she encouraged me to just feel it and that was great advice, because I think when I feel down or not at ease while traveling I actually can get down on myself, thinking I should be happy being so blessed to travel. Feeling it was an allowance which was very much needed.
The truth is, and this is where the fun paragraph really begins, is that it’s fucking hard being a traveler sometimes. The weather takes adjusting to, you don’t know where anything is or how anything works, you have no sense of bearings, you are constantly having to make decisions about what to do or where to go or where to stay or how much to pay, all without information easily at hand (especially hard for me here in Sri Lanka since I don’t have a guidebook for this place since it originally wasn’t a place I had planned on visiting). I know these are luxurious problems, difficulties of abundance, but they are difficult none-the-less. Once I settle in to a place, I am, to quote my high school math teacher Mr. Hubert Dodge, “as happy as koots,” but when I am constantly on the go, trying to squeeze in too much in a limited amount of time, always unfamiliar with my settings, it becomes stressful, I get worn out, and I just want (the fun part) to tell everybody to “Fuck Off!”
Oh, and don’t even get me started on Buddhism here. Sometimes I like to tell others that I’m a Buddhist. It’s in fact not true, but I do follow many practices and appreciate the precepts, etc. But here in Sri Lanka, they have turned Buddha into a God. Lord Buddha they call him and they have developed a mythology around him. As an example, when he was born he walked 7 steps on lotus blossoms to announce to the world his divinity. I’ve also read that some believe that he walked in one step from one mountain to the next and they revere what they believe to be one of his giant footsteps, etc. It’s Fucked up. (yes I’m still angry). Buddha was a man. With a name – Siddhartha Gautama. Simply a man. He had a father and mother. By some accounts, he married and had a child. He had spiritual teachers. He ate food like everyone else, he took shits, and he died of food poisoning. He preached that he was just a man, and that he had found a path to enlightenment, one which he tried to teach to his followers. Even said to not believe him and to only experience it for yourself. The culture here in Sri Lanka has its roots in idol worship so last night I watched as hundreds of Sri Lankan Buddhists brought offerings of money and flowers to lay before one of Buddha’s left molars in a giant temple built to house it. There were drums pulsing and that obnoxious valveless clarinet-kazoo sounding horn (think snake charmer, except this one is for sonar to keep the rats away). To my eyes, it was an absurd scene, one just like you’d find in Hindu temples honoring Shiva or Hanuman. It’s amazing how far afield different strains of Buddhism can wander from each other, from the more shamanistic Tibetan Buddhists, to the more austere and form-oriented Japanese Zen Buddhists, to these god/idol worshipping Sri Lankan Buddhists. Strange. I hadn’t realized until now how deeply our religions are steeped within our cultures. I knew it, but never so clearly. I hated the service and was angry about it, for they were taking something dear to me and turning it into something completely different, something that is in no way connected to my beliefs.. Shame on them. Shame on me too, although I’m not sure exactly why, but shame I’m sure none the less.
I think when we deny our anger, our orneriness (now there’s a good word for how I’ve been feeling), our surliness, our contempt, we end up protracting its presence. It’s just like all emotions that are repressed – they don’t go away, they just get stuffed down and as a result they keep trying to re-express themselves. So fuck it. I hate it. I hate that beautiful fucking swaying palm tree in the distance, yet I love the three birds flitting about the telephone wires here like they are playing a con-man’s shell game, I hate that I’m a little cold right now when I was lagging the other day in the sweltering heat, and I hate that I hate that I’m a little cold, yet I love the children’s school practicing their marching-John-Phillip-Sri-Lanka-Sousa band music at 8 in the morning as I write this. It’s all true. I love it, I hate it, I hate it, I love it, and the more I allow them both to exist (the piccolo part right now bringing a big joyful smile to my face all the while hating the onomonopoetic tuktuk as it spews pollution below this balcony) the more real I feel, the more I feel open in my body and the less the hate actually takes hold. Yes and I hate this Buddhism. Hate.
I think relationships would be a lot healthier if we could say, “Don’t talk to me, I’d much rather keep hating you right now” rather than trying to be nice and pretend that everything is fine. It’s not fine, and I hate you. That’s the truth. In this moment, you are abhorrent to me. I think living it and expressing it keeps it moving, allows us to move through it rather than repressing it which just lets it build up. I’m not suggesting that we act out the hatred by heaving pots and pans and shrieking out our hate names, but instead simply expressing the truth. Oh, and do I LOVE that bite of papaya I just had (bought my own plate, pocket knife, spoon and papaya yesterday for just this moment and OH was it worth it).
Food makes it easier to love too. After bananas yesterday morning, I hadn’t eaten until 4pm last evening, and there was nothing anyone in a restaurant could tell me to convince me that they had something that would make me happy. I call that being “Hangry” Hungry + Angry = Hangry. I told the host in a restaurant that I was a vegetarian and he asked “vegetarian plus fish? And I said, “no vegetarian.” He again queried “Fish?” And I said, “no vegetarian.” He then said “chicken with rice and vegetables?” And I said, ‘No, vegetarian.” When he finally understood, he smiled broadly and said “no sir.” Another joyful moment, even while Hangry. They come and they go. Oooh, and here’s one I’m on the fence with right now: for the first time since returning to this part of the world, I just heard someone doing their toothbrushing-the-back-of-their-tongue-inducing-a-retch-in-the-morning thing, sometimes more dependable as an alarm clock than a rooster, and while it turned my stomach it also made me smile. That’s a love-and-hate-both-in-the-same-moment thing.
Here’s a big part of the whole equation for me. I like feeling settled. I struggle with uncertainty, I struggle with making decisions, I struggle when I don’t feel like I am a part of something, thus traveling alone with an open agenda can be difficult for me. I think, however, that it’s important to push ourselves up against the boundaries of our comfort zone, for I think that is where much of our growth and transformation occurs in life, yet it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It’s never easy for me to set off on one of these trips, for it’s always more comfortable to just stay put, to stick with what I know and where I am most comfortable, yet I know that once I end up somewhere, I will be very glad that I have gone, as I am now. I’ve learned enough now to see through the blur of the comfort lure to trust that moving into the discomfort will have its rewards (like the joy inducing drum and fife reprise now sounding).
I do love the truth, speaking it, letting it out, letting it just be. I feel a little sheepish at the moment having expressed it, but I don’t seem to hate anything right now. In fact, I am overbrimming with a body-centered joy welling up from my belly and chest and upward turning the corners of my mouth. Oh if only I could be the Drum Major of that band with a big tall silly hat. I’d wield the proudest baton you ever saw. And watch out, you might hate me for it!