Yesterday’s Challenge: Soul Vagabonding

Yesterday, the lovely Neena Paul challenged me to spend a day following my heart’s whims and doing what I really, truly wanted to do. It made me realize how little I do that’s actually in synch with what I really, truly want to do and how exciting (and a bit overwhelming) it can be to have a blank slate, in the blankest sense of the word. No sites to check off, no photos to capture, no schedules to meet. Sounds like a Lazy Sunday (sans cupcakes), but even then, a relaxed New York day is still dotted with a spin class, coffee date or errand.

I sauntered down breakfast (at 10.30, mind you) and imagined my itinerary of intentions: eat the most delicious food I could find; meditate somewhere beautiful; wander somewhere fun; write; and talk to someone inspiring. While a day at the market, a local Burmese restaurant and tea house, visits to pagodas and dinner out sound like typical tourist thoroughfare, I got to explore these places from my heart and not from my check-list.

At the market, I bought a local longi and wore it, because, hey, I felt like it… and I really like bright pink. Lunch was discovered on a side street full of hawkers, amid the betel nut rollers and alcoves of car parts, slippers and vegetables. Following the longi-clad crowds, kids, and clanging ceramic sounds (my new restaurant criteria!), I walked into a buzzing local place, where I lazed over rich fish soup, spicy curries and bowls full of rice. Slowly strolling through the soupy streets toward the promise of a shower and a nap, a local fast food joint caught my eye. I normally would have passed it in favor of fitting in my afternoon slumber, but I stopped for a lassi, some time to write… and a piece of chocolate cake.

As I sat and scribbled, listening and watching, the power went out. One or two glanced up. Just the sigh of a generator slowed, conversations tempered into a hum, and spoons continued to scoop against glass in the dark. Just the pure pitch of people being people. Waiting and enjoying without a need to move. It was so clear and melodic that the power’s return was almost disappointing; the sounds of machines blurred the room’s momentary crispness and we all startled up into our next to-do.

My gut became my watch. It makes noise (not just when it’s hungry), and the longer I sat with myself, the more strongly I could feel its gentle urging to linger a little longer, or its impatient nudge to move onto the next. I lost my connection with the hours and minutes; I walked where my feet took me, I napped until my eyes opened and I ate when my gut gave that other grumble.

But by 5 pm, I had yet to meditate and meet someone inspiring. I headed to the reclining Buddha, a golden structure so big that sparrows get lost in his eyelashes and scrambling kittens nestle in his nailbeds. Sitting on the carpet, below his gaze, next to statuesque monks, hunched older women and squirming children, I waited into the moment each time I felt I should move onto the next, and simply listened to the gongs, clicking of prayer beads and soft bustling of cloth until they were just breath. I walked around to his giant feet, the small shrines, and retuned to the rug to sit again. The more I sat, the louder my gut got, until I could feel that it was time to move on, and not to dinner, but back to Shwe Dagon Pagoda, the dazzling golden structure I had visited the day before. It would have been easy to glance in, having already been there, but I kept walking. I sat and meditated again, gazing at pure gold against night and feeling a deep connection to the space and people around me.

And then, I began to be approached by people: little girls and touristy moms, groundskeepers and monks. We talked about meditation and monasteries, Facebook and skincare, prayer beads and pilgrimages. Feeling a deeper momentum, I began to approach people (including a very attractive group of French ex-pats… Thanks for the “approach-any-hot-male-specimen” challenge, Basia!). Maybe my energy was different, not being in a hurry, or maybe I was just simply available.

I can now see that I am very often not available. I disconnect myself, however subtlely, by needing to be somewhere else. I miss the feeling by photographing. I lose the enjoyment by achieving. I dull the curiosity by planning. So I’m going to let my soul be a bit of a vagabond and encourage it to wander and dawdle, tug at my rules and plans, and be no one and everyone.


5 responses to “Yesterday’s Challenge: Soul Vagabonding

  1. Interesting contrast. Being in retirement, my issues are entirely the opposite to yours. Every day, apart from normal routine events, I have free choice as to what to do and few obligations. In the past, the intense patterns of career and family life provided a firm, but not rigid, framework and predictable path forward which we all tread with energy and ambition in pursuit of accomplishment, success and happiness. It’s a full-time, and mostly fun, job if you are blessed with an inspiring family and fulfilling career. I had both, lucky chap.

    Now, on the day of my 79th BDay, I reflect fondly on the past, but, more importantly derive enormous pleasure from your travels, sans travails, fortunately, and watch you make enormous strides in your growth and understanding of that fascinating world out there. Not everyone has the urge, let alone guts, to venture forth from their comfort zone. You will be glad you did it because it will give you a perspective and grasp you could never have achieved cocooned in NYC. Life will never be the same ; it will become so much better than you ever imagined.

    Explore and enjoy.

    Safe Travels,

    Love, PXXX

    • That is an interesting contrast… Can’t wait for retirement!
      You two are fundamental in inspiring my curiosities and always supporting my adventures, at home and around the world.

      Happiest of happy birthdays to an amazing father!

  2. Love this Cara! I found one of the most challenging things to do on my sabbatical is to day after day answer the simple question, what do I want to do today? Somehow, through the years with ever growing responsibilities, this child like muscle had atrophied. It’s one of things I am continuing to try and honestly respond to now that I am back. So far so good! Love, Neena

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