July 14th, 2007
In January of 2006, I went to a friend’s 40th birthday party in San Francisco. While I was there, I questioned him about it. What was it like for him, turning 40? I felt it to be a kind of milestone, did he? Did he have any particular reflections about it, any wisdom gained? Was I ever barking up the wrong tree. All my friend wanted to do, he told me in a huff, was “get through it”. This caused a lot of reflection my part. I knew then that at my impending 40th (some 18 months later) I would want to be entirely OK with it. Better than OK with 40, I would want to feel completely OK with life, getting older, my place in the cosmos, whatever. And I started to question myself. What did I feel about all of these things? How much consideration had I been giving to the larger meaning of life questions (those outside of “What is the deadline for this project?” or “What will I have for dinner?”)?
And when I really started looking at it, I realized: not much. I had become so wrapped up in my career life that it was fairly all-consuming. Sure, I would take a weekend trip or vacations to Europe every so often, but mostly it was all about work. And I was not unhappy with the work itself. I was challenged and enjoyed the interactions with my team, company, and the work that we produced. I could be very proud of what we had accomplished. But how did I feel about the meaning of life? I suppose I assumed that this was pretty much it, that my life’s meaning came from the work challenge and the interactions with friends and family from time to time. It struck me that on a quotidian level all was fine, but that the existential questions about my place in the scheme of things and how I felt about not being anymore (death, if you will) were pretty much unresolved and only somewhat examined.
So I began my midlife crisis as so many almost 40 year olds had before me. And I took a similar path: I would go to India. If this all sounds a bit cliche, I suppose it could be seen that way from the outside. But I came to it rather naturally and by accident. Soon after the bit with my San Francisco friend in denial about 40, I started talking to some very good friends of mine from college about it. Then the subject shifted to our friend Lyla, and how she had been in India for the past two years. Then they told me about their few months traveling there, and my interest was piqued. It really wasn’t necessarily so much about India itself as it was about really shaking things up by heading to a place that was so different culturally from what I knew.
It took several months to put everything in order. I paid off all of my debts and saved whatever I could. I sold or got rid of everything I owned (and I mean just about everything: furniture, appliances, computers, clothes, car, bike, dishes…everything. When I was done, I had nothing left but the small bag of clothes I carry with me to this day.) I gave notice at work and dealt with the fallout. The entire process took about 8 months to organize, but finally I was ready. I went to visit my parents in the Midwest, then flew to Europe for a couple of weeks to visit friends on my way east, then on to Thailand for a month (to “prepare” me for India, as friends had counseled) and finally to India.
India has been (and continues to be) an amazing eye opener. This is a country that is overflowing with belief. All kinds and in all ways, sacred and profane mixed together in a dizzying spectacle. I have been fortunate in my travels over the past 9 months to experience a great variety there, from Vipassana meditation to Yoga and Ashram stays, from the natural beauty of Kerela to the beautiful insanity of Mumbai and Delhi, from the architectural wonders of the Taj Majal to the Ellora Caves and beyond. And I have only scratched the surface. At each point, India forced me to reckon with the present moment and connect with things I had only barely imagined. And although India has definitely been the cornerstone of this trip, I have gained valuable revelations about life from traveling throughout Asia. I have been fortunate in recent months to visit Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, China, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. These places have given me a great deal more insight into the immense and wonderful diversity that is Asia.
I never really intended to start a blog, although I have always enjoyed writing and have been keeping journals and writing short stories for years. The point of starting my blog was completely practical. It would allow me to communicate with friends and family about my journey without having to write the same email over and over again. It has turned into a labor of love. It has allowed me to reflect with more immediacy and depth on what I am experiencing than I ever could have without it or at some later date, trying to reconstruct my life from memory. It has also served to force me to come to terms with the day to day chaos and beauty with a depth I hadn’t considered.
I have been surprised over the months how interest in the blog has grown. It started with my friends and family checking in from time to time. But as I have written about more subjects and met people along the way, the readership has grown far more than I thought it would. Although not massive by any standard, I now have people from all over the world reading. They might be friends of friends or family who have passed on the web address to people they know. They might be people I met along the way who have maintained an interest in the journey, or they might be people performing a google search who are looking up some remote place or experience I have had and find a link to that entry. In a way, the blog is my only true art (as my journals were before them). I say this because they are done entirely for me and have become a labor of love. They are not (generally) for sale, they are not a profession, they are about communicating with myself and the world in a way that is not programmed or commissioned for a specific purpose.
This journey is not over yet. I am not entirely sure when it will be, or how I will know that it is completed. For now, I am enjoying the travel and the constant exposure to new thinking, new tastes, and new people. Each day is a new adventure, each moment a world unto itself, and one I am learning to appreciate in the present.