Friday, March 21, 2014

search for home

Life on the road...

In the summer of 2011, I sorted through my belongings in Boracay Island where I had nested comfortably for nearly 5 years, selling half of my things and packing up the rest to place into storage in my father’s house in Manila. For me, it was a bold decision; I had plans to visit my sister and mom in the US for the summer and then India in the fall, but beyond that I had no idea, I just had this overwhelming sense that it was time to go, that moving forward also meant leaving the place that I had, for some time, called “home.”

It had occurred to me that in my adulthood I went where I was called, never with any clear intention to put down roots. Living in the Philippines seemed an accident. After university, I originally planned for a year of work and travel in the region, then I lingered, never thinking it was permanent. It took me a couple of years to cancel my health insurance in the US, for example, and nearly seven years to work on my residency in the country where I was born. I accept now that I had chosen to live in the Philippines, but I must admit I wasn’t totally conscious of it.

Where was I to live after studying yoga in India? I didn’t know. Though I love the Philippines, I wasn’t sure if that was where I really belonged. Traveling came with the idea that I was also in search of a home, a home of my deliberate choosing, a place where I could continue to grow and live the way I liked, that suited my needs, which had changed since first moving to the Philippines in my early twenties.

So, I have traveled. Not always to the places where one might expect. A couple of destinations, I have chosen for this purpose, with a real desire to try things out. Though mostly, I have played the “accidental tourist,” ending up in places through forces outside myself, herded here and there through some person or desire to study yoga or work opportunity.

Needless to say, the so-called “search” is still on--I write this while flying between Rome and Cairo.  I have just been in Barcelona for two months, Egypt previous to that, Japan before Egypt, largely driven by work, without forgetting this homeward intention.

At some point, I thought, I would find myself in a place that would click, a community I deeply resonated with, that I would instantly know by the measure of happiness I felt in the place.

The great irony is, of course, I have been happy just about everywhere, many places appealing to one aspect of my personality or the other.

In Japan, for example, I loved the sweetness and the diligence of the students. I liked how everything worked like clockwork, the trains were always on time, there was a certain ease in living. I enjoyed Kyoto particularly, the energy of the river running through the city, musician students practicing along it, hundreds of years-old shrines and temples raising the city’s vibration.

Like a madwoman, I liked Cairo for pretty much the opposite reasons. I struggled with the chaos, lack of infrastructure, and socio-political instability, but recognized that along with that came this incredible spontaneity, like anything can happen—contentiously, not always a good thing—but when it’s good, it’s indescribable. I admired the students for their vibrancy and outspokenness, their ability to revel in the crazy, their resilience amidst insanity. Cairo’s frenetic energy is intense, but I loved how it brought the practice to the everyday.   

And then there was Barcelona, its cool Mediterranean energy in the streets, in the culture, in the students’ practice, the natural warmth of its inhabitants, easy going and friendly, familiar and demonstrative. I loved the people, the opportunities for spiritual exploration and alternative living, the sense of community—it’s at once a big city and a small village. I loved its city landscape, its architecture sandwiched between beach and mountains. 

It seems sometimes that seeing more of the world hasn’t narrowed down my choices, but has alarmingly increased them.

What I’ve started to realize, however, is it’s not so much about searching for a home, but more about choosing one.

The last year of travel, staying at least two months in one place, has shown me that I can be happy pretty much anywhere, that truly "home is where the heart is" and that I can grow pretty much anywhere so long as I stop and relax long enough to lay down roots. That our humanity makes us a different kind of plant, we can grow regardless of the condition of the soil, so like as we like it.

And what of the search? This projection of some future home continues to echo in the recesses of my mind, but living not searching has become more and more important.

For now, I am happy wherever I land. When I arrived in London a week ago, I got a "welcome home" message from my friend of 20 years. When I returned to Barcelona, I was welcomed home by friends who picked me up at the train station. This evening, I landed in Cairo, where I entered my friend's flat, the one I lived in for two months last year, and felt at home. 

When people ask me, "Where do you live?" My answer is not always straightforward. Most of my things are in Manila. I'm from the Philippines. I also grew up in the US. Most of my heart is where I am standing at this very moment, but bits of my heart are also in other places that I've put energy into recently, where I loved, where I have been loved. 

At some point, I reckon, I will choose one place to plant myself, but for now: Where do I live? I guess my best answer, the most honest if not a little supercilious, is I live in the world--and yes, very happily.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

the barcelona weigh station

Barcelona: where so many elements meet for me.
View from above St. Joseph's--en route to Parque Guell.

Barcelona, the penultimate day.

Spain is a special place, figuring quite prominently at the start of this recent phase of life journey. My love for it grows with each meeting.

I came to Madrid nearly three years ago to perform poetry with my friend Catalan-Filipino creative and poet Clara Balaguer (who I am incidentally meeting tonight and for the first time in Barcelona), an event that was so surprisingly random, unbelievable and spectacular but that is nowadays also strangely, beautifully commonplace.

Over the last year and a half, it’s been about Barcelona, though. Passing through seven times over the last nine months, it seems to be a recurring layer in a great multi-layered-life experience-cake. The first was just a day. But since then, each time I’ve come through, I spend more and more time here. Each time, the experience becomes more and more expansive.

This city has drawn me in. I have my favorite cafes, favorite plazas where I like to sit, people watch, take in the scenery. I can navigate the streets on foot now. I have friends here-- dear, good friends. And I have memories, quite a few landmark ones, some really beautiful and comforting, some sad and pensive, and a growing number of the mind-blowing/heart-opening kind.

It is many things for me, I recognize. And if to go into it all, there would be no end to it.  What is clear is that it is an important weigh station, where I am able to come and stop and assess between comings and goings.

Each time, I can’t help but note how different I am from the last time I was here, how different I feel, how the weight of experience has worked on me, and, thus, how differently I am interacting with the city and with those around me. How much more trust I have, how much more confidence and openness.

I can feel how with each succeeding visit I have become lighter but also more grounded. I have dropped unnecessary weight: sadness, self-doubt, grief, expectations—though I am sure there is a lot more to let go off.

I have put on some good weight, too: nourishing food and friendships, experience teaching and learning a city.

The time here, this prolonged stop of 2 months and a bit, has had an incredible balancing effect. Barcelona is not just a scale; it is beyond measurement. I feel its magic, the gentle support of its easy and yet powerful Mediterranean energy, its eclectic local and adopted inhabitants, its music, its sunniness despite the winter, its positive healing touch.  It’s given me time and space to simply be: to be with friends, to be with my practice and with the teaching, to be with myself.

Now, I feel neither light, nor heavy.  I feel full, not just in weight, but also in spirit.

So…gratitude abounds! I look forward the next visit to the Barcelona weigh station. 

9 Months

Last look at London. Sunset from Gatwick airport yesterday.

Nine months. The length of time it takes to create a life, to animate and birth a whole new being into the world.

It’s been nine months since I began this particular and peculiarly long journey, since I packed up my bags in Manila, and boarded a plane to London, England. I had a return ticket to Asia in December, but even then I had a feeling that this trip would go different directions, that it would have its own sense of time and timing, that it would grow beyond my imaginings.

For me, it has been nine months of traveling and teaching, of self-practice, of healing and self-process. Nine months of living spread out in different parts of the world, two to three months at a time. Nine months of yoga practice like no other. Nine months of getting to know a new place, a new culture, falling in love with a new group of friends, falling in love all over again with old friends too, and through these new experiences getting to know myself a good deal better.

All this, largely unplanned. I did have one. But when do thing ever go according to plan?

What was supposed to be a great coming together turned out to be quite a massive falling apart; a great adventure of two turned into a journey of one --and what a great journey it has been for me, in truth, the greatest of my life.

I was also supposed to study with my teacher in India. India didn’t happen this season, but instead I have been attending a living classroom spread across two continents and one island nation, my teacher’s teachings coming to life in the varied environments and landscapes, different cultures and numerous yoga communities and spaces where I have taught or visited.

It has not been entirely easy. Closing a relationship whilst teaching in an isolated village with my ex-partner in close proximity was a little like emotional carnage. Tearing myself away from my own co-dependencies was worse. And letting go of my expectations as I moved further and further away was like pulling teeth.

But mostly it’s been beautiful and easy, with some incredible opportunities: the call to work in Osaka, Cairo and Barcelona; the friends who appeared quite like magic, just at the right moment, to share my struggles, to facilitate healing, and to celebrate the victories; the lessons from teaching; the blessings of students.

This week, I returned to England, where this trip began nine expansive months ago, not as a different person but more myself than perhaps that I’ve ever been. More aware of my fears but also a great deal braver about confronting them; still trying to figure out how to take care of myself (on the road and in life) but also more attuned to the needs of my body, my mind and heart; more self-confident while being more informed of the issues that continue to need attention and work.

It’s interesting to observe the ninth month now, at the starting point, a good place to end things and finalize resolutions, and a good place to launch into a new adventure. The cycle of endings and new beginnings continues; the journey goes on and on…

But for now I feel the feeling of the new. I look at my life now like a mother looking at her newborn child. I am in awe of it, totally in love and totally freaked out. Kind of amazed that this crazy, wee but very alive thing has come from me, from my experience, work, dreams, and efforts. I want to protect it, to safeguard it from danger, from negativity, but I also know that that would be counter-productive. Because, really, I want to continue to grow, and that means a certain amount of vulnerability and a willingness to bravely meet the ever-changing, ever-surprising crazy world.