on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

Kyoto’s zen

The older I get, the more fearful of travel I become. My sanity is established on the routines I’ve set for myself: my morning runs, diet, circadian rhythms. There is a sense of psychological safety at home. I can understand why people dislike change.

But comfort is a sweet, slow-acting poison. We stop expanding the moment we stop having new experiences. Home establishes fitness for my body, and travel expands my consciousness. I need this oscillation in my life, at least until I can figure out how to find some harmony between the two.

There is a reason why I tend to plan longer trips these days. There is a fear of missing out, that there is not enough time to see everything. Some people spend two weeks in Japan travelling across the entire country, I opted to spend most of these two weeks in just Kyoto. The first couple of days we walked until we became numb to the beautiful zen gardens as we zoomed in and out of the temples like there was no tomorrow. I had to keep reminding myself that there was still plenty of time, we could afford to see a little less and be a little more. So we spent the next couple of rainy days spending long periods of time sitting in cafes: she painting and I, writing, sometimes reading. It seems fitting that we are able to find our own inner zen-ness in the city of zen instead of trying to rush through it all.

Being able to travel is a privilege, so is being able to spend long periods of time to do so — I am painfully aware of that. I feel existentially guilty as a traveller for so many reasons. But there is a small part of me that reminds myself that I consciously chose time over busying myself, it is still a choice I have made to let go of it all.

Maybe that is why I was attracted to Kyoto in the first place. It was during times of personal turbulence I turned to zen texts and stories, to try to understand what it means to be present and let go. I have found great comfort in them, even if more than half the time I had spent scratching my head trying to understand the essence of what they were trying to convey. There is both comfort and discomfort in mystery, in things that cannot be explained by language but must be experienced and felt. I am a person who likes to ask why, and even to live I needed a reason as to why. But the last few years have taught me a profound lesson: sometimes there is just no why, and are we able to live with that? Being able to let go consists mainly of being able to let go of pursuing the whys, to develop the capacity to take in what is in front of us and experience the moment without spinning any narrative around it.

I think in another life, I would be okay being a monastic.

I love travelling because it makes me open my mind to ways of life I have never thought possible before. The diversity in human beings. I read in a magazine that people in Kyoto are okay being slow, in contrast to their compatriots in Tokyo. Sometimes living in a somewhat homogenous country like Singapore makes me forget that slowness is a popular choice elsewhere. It seems incredible to me that in some places in the world, sitting in a room quietly for hours at a go is not considered a waste of time.

Why do we ever let ourselves be convinced there is only one right way to live? Why do some people insist on making everyone else live like them? Travel has taught me that diversity is a beautiful, precious thing, it is one of the few rare things that makes me consider that life is worth living. I am grateful that there are human beings who have forged out different ways of living for themselves, because it makes me contemplate the array of possibilities I can have for myself.

That is why I find inequality profoundly depressing and tragic, to carry the weight of the knowledge that some people will never be able to have the choices I can make. Travelling only serves to make that more pronounced. How does one live with that?

Life to me, is all about being able to carry different weights and yet at the same time be capable of momentarily let them go in order to be able to cherish the present; at the same time trying to philosophically resolve the delicate balance between growing ourselves away from the noise and the social responsibilities we have as interdependent beings.

We think of personal growth as levelling up and achievements, but perhaps a rarer form of growth is to not be driven by fear, impulses and primal motivations, in order to reach a centered clarity with regards to how does one act and live. I think that is a huge premise of Buddhism and by extension, Zen Buddhism but people focus more on the ascetic ways of life than the fundamental philosophy at the root.

I have nowhere to go with this post, no point to make, and I think that is representative of where I am in life now. I think of this as considerable progress because I have worked so hard my entire life so I can be seen, only to find out that I don’t even know who I am and how I want to live. I still don’t know, and maybe like Buddhism there is no concrete ‘I’, that it is a fixed idea of who I am that has caused me so much suffering.

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