FOREWORD: (Caraça National Park, Brazil – June 2010) There was a time not long ago when daily meditation seemed fully attainable. Now I realize meditation is not my thing. That’s ok. I have lots of other ‘things.’ Besides, I meditate in other ways, this blog for example. When biking the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais several months back I still entertained the idea of cross-legged, eyes-closed, easy relaxation. The following is a glimpse into how I went about it. Like most things I write, I didn’t plan to post this but today I changed my mind. Because I can.
BUDDAH LISTENING TO TREES FALL IN THE FOREST
Cows and chainsaws are not as an unlikely combination as you would think when biking dirt roads through Brazilian mountains. They’re quite natural, as natural as their song’s source lost in echoing bamboo, as natural as me with my pants down watering the weeds. The sounds were so strangely soothing that to imagine the two mooing and buzzing in harmony downtown, in the shaded valleys of mirrored buildings, where few trees grow and milk is drank from waxed cardboard, where little pieces of meat and paper are fused into To-Go boxes, seemed ridiculous beyond imagination.
ZEN MASTER WALKING IN GARDEN WITH ARMS FOLDED BEHIND BACK
Having failed at backstage access to Nirvana in the forest, I tried a more conventional approach: mediation in motion, a two kilometer hike to a natural pool called, “A Cachoeirinha”—little waterfall in Portuguese. From the first step I focused on nothing and let nature sounds decide my wave length. The path was well worn, the sun shining, the mountains bald and treeless where rock met sky. For a few steps I achieved no-thought, but soon realized as my flip flops slapped skin that I was concentrating on keeping their plastic barrier between my feet and the rolling, muddy path. Fail. Thought spikes like cancerous cells. The same adjectives and nouns you’re reading now rolled around my skull and were beginning to form sentences, far from the nearest keyboard and farther still from the present I set off to experience. My now was being written on Microsoft Office, edition 2018; my inner peace was pirated software and a hard drive from Taiwan.
Near a trail head I stopped and sat in the sand. Breathing. Just breathing. I must have passed twenty minutes traffic-jamming that Zen highway.
Later I continued down the path, noticing more and more details at my feet, ants following ants and a butterfly that struggled against the wind. The shoe prints were fossilized personalities, decisions taken and forgotten. A gap in the trees revealed a hidden riverbed ahead.
My one kilometer mediation: the openness of the dirt and dust and rock was a welcome contrast to the concrete that surrounded me for the past three weeks, a simple reminder that the world is not a city. As this thought fell from somewhere to somewhere—I accepted that old ideas must disappear for new ones to take their place—it became obvious that all the city bustle I had witnessed up to that moment, all the scheduled movement wrapped in zoning, all the urbanness that not just surrounded me but became me, was a practiced ritual, an invented set of rules perfected by men, an illusion of social contractions in which perceived power becomes real power, a web of hierarchies accepted unconditionally, like a government’s monopoly on violence. This is society, I thought, wondering how it all sprouted from the virgin forests and untilled fields of the world.
Kilometer two, the waterfall: existence is multi-layered, not a one-size fits all spandex jogging short. Sometimes we are aware that we are everything but rarely the other way around. Our senses won’t allow it. What I see upon viewing an object is not what you see. What you think, and ultimately imagine, upon reading these words will not be the thought or image I intended to provoke. One world with limitless cultural interpretations—this is my love for travel in a catch phrase. Within these cultural interpretations are infinite perspectives, us, the regenerating periscope, each with a head that walks around covered in hair product, pushes food through a face hole and asshole, and smiles occasionally.
What does a waterfall have to do with this? Sitting on a rock beside the pool I wondered whether fish lived in the murky waters. I observed. As if observing itself created them, tiny black tadpoles revealed themselves, swimming like sperm in the sun-heated shallows, snails clung to boulders below the waterline, a fish flashed its scales below a log in a faraway corner.
When I arrived to the falls my reality was fishless. Through further examination I found the opposite. It was teeming (an exaggeration) not only with fish but a whole ecosystem of slimy, conscious beings invisible to the visitors who photograph only the more impressive, sweeping landscape. Details are important, I said aloud, as if mindmapping for a secretary to write it down and remind me later. I guessed how many people had come before me, first to this very rock, then this waterfall, then this sanctuary, then to Brazil—Portuguese slave ships and jetplanes circling an unfathomable explosion of past and present placenta that gave way to the world population we know today. How many of these people paid and pay attention to the details that could illuminate their day?