"Youth is the time to go flashing from one end of the world to the other both in mind and body; to try all manners of different nations; to hear the chimes at midnight; to see sunrise in town and country; to be converted at a revival; to circumnavigate the metaphysics, write halting verses, run a mile to see a fire, and wait all day long in the theatre to applaud 'Hernani.'" - Robert Louis Stevenson, "Crabbed Age and Youth"
My return was full of unexpected discomfort and confusion, but one thing encouraged me through it all: I had loved, lost, and gained more than I could have ever predicted. I had been pushed to the very limits of my soul with the epic environmental changes and terribly evident challenges of the human race. In the end, I was left most fortunate and thankful for witnessing the extremes of our time in a short six months. I shed an older part of me and watched it dissipate into the chaos of the developing world. I was left with an energy of acceptance, passion, and perseverance, that which encouraged and guided me through America.
Santa Cruz: the best decision I made for my emergence into the unfamiliar American way. For the first time in half a year, I met with wonderful university friends; so eccentric, so driven to pursue their professions with uninterrupted ambition... at a comfortable pace. And all of them gave so much time to catch up, to delve deep into conversation about my thoughts and feelings about being in America, about my life in India, about my own future ambitions. Acceptance, interest, curiosity, compassion, joy; these words and more describe what resonated within these wonderful people, within this wonderful town.
Air quality had always been something I valued, but after living in one of the most polluted cities in the world it was a touch with nirvana when gifted the slightly salted, densely earthy, freshly moisturized aroma of the redwood hills. It was these isolated wanders that reminded me of the importance of my connection with the woodland. All through my University career, I had escaped classwork stress or simply regenerated myself through alternate routes around campus, maximizing my time in the forest. It lead me to continue my work in Environmental Sciences, to intern on farmland across the Santa Cruz Mountains, to pursue field research in the hills of Nagaland. Post-India, this forest walk put all in perspective.
|"Power Tree," near the UCSC trailer park|
The next day, I sat with hundreds of other students adorned in their graduation attire. For my family, this moment was the official transition. As I walked, I knew; University couldn't have gone any better. The world was at the tips of my fingers and a home was in the depths of my soul. And graduating naked under the gown was totally worth it.
Talking with a foreigner along my journey provided not only an interest in the exchange of ideas and stories, but also the concentration upon that particular moment. It was so rare for this exchange to waver. Often my talks with other travelers progressed and evolved continuously, sometimes for hours on end. When I returned, I started to encounter people that initially seemed to value conversation, yet their concentration on the moment quickly dissipated. After having this occur dozens of times, I decided that their disinterest was not the issue.
The modern world of technology is a wonderful progression for our lives. A vast universe of information and material is now instantly available at our fingertips. This gift, for how wonderful it may seem, has allowed anyone to preoccupy themselves more than ever before. Captivation leaks continuously into a universe of instantaneous information: entertaining applications, cyber promotions, rapid-fire text messaging, chimed updates, and urgent notifications, all of which must be kept organized and packaged into a device that fits in a pocket. With so many avenues to divide the mind’s time, the ability to concentrate on a single avenue has deteriorated.
As my time in Los Angeles progressed, I sat through many a conversation paused and resumed as if interruptions were now an accepted part of the mundane. Sometimes, I wondered if they were simply at a loss of words to continue a conversation about something so drastically different from their regular American life. Yet when the conversation couldn't progress past a single aspect, I became discouraged. Even the continual curiosity I showed towards their American life was a worthless attempt. It was more important for them to check the text message and respond than anything else, or check out the bar scene bumbling and mumbling around us, or glance at the television nearby. These conveniences continually veiled my face and voice. Sometimes I would just continue with a story in some effort to politely accept their distraction, yet their following response of silence was an obvious representation of how much this moment even mattered.
Then came the stories with shock value.
Then came the stories with shock value.
My encounters with mangled animals, observations of disfigured people, terrible car accidents, or a dead body of a man shot in the head were enough to jolt anyone out of their little cyber worlds. By all means, these were significant moments, yet what was the point of sharing this type of story when interest ended at the story's end? Was this another streaming video clip, quickly replaced by the next scene? Was this the breaking news of the day, single-served and passed off to make way for the next report?
In the end, I stopped trying with the majority of my interactions. I gave shorter and shorter responses to such long-winded questions: “How was the poverty?” “What was it like living there?” “Did you get sick?” I gave single-serving answers, which brought single-serving responses. I simply hoped more interest would follow, so I knew their concentration and curiosity was existent. It often did not.
I knew I was no exception to some of the inattentive behaviors I mentioned before. Instead, I was just as vulnerable. Soon enough I was a part of that mundane, distracted world again. My prehistoric blackberry frequently filled my subconscious with the need to check its status. But this time around it wasn't a mindless act. I felt it become a burden, a shocking distraction. “Phantom rings” tricked me to only discover an empty pocket. Sometimes I’d check my phone over a dozen times an hour, as if I was supposed to do something more that I wasn’t doing already. I caught myself all the time falling deeper into a subconscious obsession. I hated it.
Absent of attentive people to share my experiences and attempting to spend minimal amounts of money left me alone and thinking about my life quite a lot. I would meander through the quiet streets of San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Manhattan Beach, and Westchester, my friends and family busily occupied by their lives that had not changed so much in six months. My life was absent of a next step, but I knew in my heart I was merely in limbo, in a great transition full of unexpected changes.
I refused to continue in frustration, limited by the technological, material, shock-craving generation. I knew my own path much better.
While living in Delhi, I commonly became exhausted by the extremes that lay waiting just outside the door. Often, I or no one I lived with wanted to deal with it, so we just spent the day at home. Most of us slept, wrote, read, called America, played/composed music, or chatted. For me, 907 Mukherjee Nagar was a training ground. I had been determined as ever to return from India a changed person; a legitimate fire dancer.
Hours of practice in the unbearable, smog infested heat of Spring was brutal. All the while, grueling pace of improvement pressed upon me as rough as the weather itself. Countless times I smashed my poi into every inch of my body (especially the most painful, private parts). I drilled movements, blindfolded myself, waited hours for instructional videos on terrible internet speeds. Often, I was left completely defeated, sulking in a cascade of sweat across every inch of open skin. Mosquitos took this moment of rest to ingest their daily servings or attempt an exploration of my ear drums.
The endless afternoons often brought little result in the first few months. But then things started to connect. Links between hand paths, orientation, rhythm, body, and spirit began to slide into place, and all of the sudden the flow of poi had entrapped my entire existence. Days would begin and seem to skip a beat as the flow left me lost in the motions and mutations of movements. I continued to drill particulars, and painful mistakes would inevitably follow. But the pain became less of an issue as the flow became the sole purpose of my practice. As movements became more comfortable, the flow became more complex; nourishing yet mentally and physically challenging at a simple consistency. Near the end of my time in Delhi, almost 4 hours would pass without notice, left to the spiraling, spinning infinity.
It was this, the flow, that brought me away from anything. The swarms of mosquitoes, the blistering temperatures, the endless commotion of horns, the onslaught of observation along the city streets dwindled in significance to the constant growth of my inner peace. And though the motions were not the kind of meditation commonly understood, this was where my mind, body, and soul reached their common ground.
I believe now that finding your flow is the single most important thing that anyone can do for themselves. For many, it has nothing to do with fire dancing, juggling, or any other comparative performing art that connects literally with this endeavor. The flow is everywhere, kind of like "the force" (we actually call people in the flow community "Jedi," commonly when they have reached intense levels of understanding within their performance arts). Some people are easily distracted by the life of security, one that brings single-serving answers of limited complexity, or technological comforts that accelerate cerebral ingestion worldwide. Often, I see a streamlined culture of artificial progress that, when perfectly integrated, requires no efforts in the genuine personal struggle for progress. For me, finding my flow involved sacrifice, acceptance, and evolution; all of which began with India, but continued through the fire dancing community of Long Beach.
|Pietro and Andrea. Photographer - Omar Nazif|
Los Angeles brought social stagnation, sparse cultural presence, and technological control to the platter, a whole new set of challenges accustomed to this modern metropolis. Old friends presented blended memories from high school freshman year to my final year at UCSC. Yet each encounter brought a strange pain, a strong disconnection. I knew in my heart that I still appreciated each and every one of these people, that our experiences together were enough bring fond memories and potential for more. But I felt as if that 6 months had been 6 years of events that would never be understood, never be appreciated or considered. Sometimes it was my fault. I couldn't put my thoughts into words in the face of a shocking awareness: I had been a world apart, and everyone mostly cared to just have me back in their company rather than inquire upon my recent past. The change constantly led me astray from the center. I had left my centered self in the chaos of Delhi. Los Angeles conjured nostalgic times of simplicity as a high school or university student, a place I had once called home.
Though I longed for the peace on this matter, I soon realized there was one truth to remember: India had past. It was a memory that could be personally valued and shared when interest was genuinely shown, but more important to myself than anyone else. There was but one certain solution: go with the flow.
|Pablo Lloreda: rope dart. Photographer - Omar Nazif|
I had not been back to Los Angeles in 5 years, therefore my social network was as slim and few as it had been before leaving high school. But I knew there had to be someone out there with intentions in a similar direction as mine. It was my good friend Pietro that restarted this long-stagnant social network and reconnected my stateside living with the way it had been in Delhi. Faster than I could have imagined, I was out in Long Beach every Thursday night, quickly befriending a wide range of international, eccentric folk all into the performing arts. They were my entry into the surprisingly massive network of the fire dancing community.
Then, I met Jilly.