Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A funny thing happened on my way to depression...

For the one or two people who still occasionally "follow" my misadventures in living, aka this blog, I'm sorry to report that this means of communication is going to end. Sadly, you'll have to get updates from me the old fashioned way - by sending me an e-mail or meeting with me in person. I simply have not the energy to continue writing about my daily undertakings, epiphanies, discouragements, etc. Although sometimes it may be therapeutic, I find that writing about and talking about "my issues" only solidifies the storyline more concretely. I don't want to give my currently unpleasant situation any more power than it already has.

So throughout the last few crushingly difficult weeks, I've experienced a wide range of emotional states; almost all of which were negative. I could actually sense the momentum of sadness, hopelessness, despair, and negativity spiraling to levels never before experienced. At the same time, my awareness of this phenomenon has allowed me to trace them to at least one source; the gap between where I am and where I THINK I should be. As the sadness and frustration mount, the gap then grows much larger, and as a result, the pain increases to that extent. So there is a lesson here, obvious to anyone who is familiar with Buddhist philosophy, about surrender and acceptance. This is not to be confused with "giving up", but rather, totally focusing on the present moment and accepting all that it contains - the good, the bad, and everything in between. A simple concept, but not an easy one, especially when we are marinating in a culture/society that is obsessed with "getting somewhere".

Interestingly, there is actually this sense of gratitude for being in such a unique situation where I have no choice but to face the ugliness of it all. As I wrote about earlier, having no back-up plan and no idea how to navigate the future created (and still creates) tremendous suffering. But now since I realize this is becoming a rather familiar state for me, I am tempted to befriend it rather than fight it. So being whittled down to the nub is not a pleasant state, but certainly a necessary one as far as seeing situations more clearly, honestly, bravely. I end this blog with heartfelt "thank you" to all who have checked it out, all who have supported me, and of course, to the unique set of circumstances that have brought me to such a crossroads. And for now, I'm OK with standing in the middle of the intersection...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sense of doubt

The title of this entry really cheapens the weight, or felt reality, of the confusion and doubt that I am experiencing these days. Sometimes it is just too much, too obscure, too massive to get a handle on. I don't know how I am getting through each day, but more of a concern for me is that I don't know why I am getting through each day. It all seems rather pointless. (If that's not a sign of depression/cry for help, I don't know what is!)

But as I was telling my team of therapists today, up until recently, I've always had something on my plate to look forward to. When I quit my job last summer, I focused on getting my ESL teaching certificate. After that, my focus was getting the hell out of Madison, Wisconsin. Then once I accepted the job in South Korea, my focus was preparing for a year abroad, getting rid of my apartment, selling possessions, etc. It was a very busy time for me, yet I clearly remember that I was not "happy", merely looking forward to a possible respite from a life(style) that I had grown bored with. Then after Korea fell apart, I quickly focused on Mexico, and geared up for that adventure, all the while hinging salvation on some obscure alternate reality where I might find happiness only because I am "elsewhere".

Well clearly, my attempts to pursue meaning and purpose through travel have not done the job, and now I cannot delude myself any longer. So this is where the doubt comes in. Even on a superficial level, if I rebuilt my life to where it was -- with job, apartment, friendships, dull routine all in place -- the doubt and emptiness will still be there. I could totally reshape my image, wear new clothes, grow some hair, etc., but there is no escaping that feeling. Because now there is nothing on the horizon to set my sights on, and I am left with the barren emptiness of the present moment. Some would say that it is here, and only here, that one can find answers (peace, contentment, acceptance, whatever) to life's challenges. I wish I could disagree, because it was much easier to delude myself and think I'd be happier somewhere else, doing something else, being someone else. It just doesn't work that way, sad to say.

So it seems very much like the traditional path has come to an end. Not that I've ever really been on it, but I took some sort of sick comfort in knowing that it existed, and that everyone else seemed to be gleefully following it. Now I know that I have to hack and stumble through my own version of a path, but perhaps the hacking and stumbling IS the path. In which case, I am right where I need to be, which is ironically where I've always been.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Living the American Nightmare

Immediately upon returning from my short stint in Mexico, I was struck by how barren and desolate it seemed here by comparison. Although I really can't tell that I am living in a Madison suburb with a population of 25,000. Based on the number of people I see out and about, on the streets, in the parks, etc...for all I know this city could have a population of about 20! There are countless factors responsible for this "ghost town" effect, and I think plenty of books have already been written on this topic, especially the irresponsible growth patterns of American cities, urban sprawl, etc. However, I can only write about my own observations, biased as they may be.

Street Level Views:
The picture on the left was taken in a residential section of Guanajuato, Mexico. The picture on the right was taken in a residential section of Sun Prairie. The photos are illustrative of how building patterns impact social and environmental well-being.

The story of Guanajuato Mexico.

Even though this city is unique for Mexican standards, it still serves as an example of how sustainable building and living can be achieved. The city's buildings are terraced along the slopes of the surrounding mountains, giving a "stacked" look to the cityscape. Although people are literally living on top of one another, creative architecture and angles give every home plenty of windows which overlook the city and the neighboring homes. Bricks and stone provide solid housing and privacy even though walls are shared between living spaces. Due to the city's compactness and design, and the socioeconomic status of its residents, very few people own cars. Therefore, there are no garages, driveways, or for that matter, streets. A few roads pass through and underneath the city, but for the most part, the city has mostly pedestrian-designed alleyways and pathways. The result is a populace dependent on walking or public transportation, which is not a problem since the city is well-connected to other nearby communities with a cheap and efficient bus network. Because almost everyone is on foot, local merchants enjoy a steady stream of customers throughout the day. And the stores are jammed together in the same manner as the houses, which means you can pass by 25 different stores within 3 blocks. So the local economy does quite well, merely because driving to a nearby mall or Wal-Mart Supercenter is not an option.
As a result of all the above factors, the streets are teeming with people both day and night. It gives a sense of a much larger city than it actually is, and certainly creates a vibrancy that maybe is only experienced here in Madison during festivals and special events. And with everyone outside, being connected and networked with others is natural and easy, keeping people free of the lonely confines of their computers and cell phones. So even though there were many times I felt lonely in Guanajuato, I never felt alone.

All alone at home...
So the majority of this comparison centers around "new urbanism", a fancy term used by developers so that they can get their plans approved by ignorant city councils. Ideally, higher density residential homes and nearby stores and businesses are supposed to create a mini-community, where residents can hopefully ditch their cars on occasion and walk to the grocery story, bank, etc. However, as shown in this "New Town" development in Sun Prairie, the immense sizes of these homes and the refusal for Americans to give up their love affairs with their cars make this would-be dream into a far-fetched fantasy.

What bothers me is how they pitch these developments to would-be buyers, touting homes that have no street-facing garage, old-style porches, and plenty of parks nearby. From an environmental standpoint, it seems even worse than traditional suburban neighborhoods. Because all the garages are in the back of the homes, mini alleyways need to wrap around the backside of the houses. This creates more paved surfaces than a regular neighborhood would have, and therefore, gives LESS greenspace. The picture below illustrates the enormity of the homes being built in a more "dense" neighborhood, as well as the concrete required to get the Escalade parked safely in the 2-car garage.

As I biked through this eerily empty neighborhood, I realized that if irresponsible housing patterns are ever to change, we as Americans must change our individual lifestyles. Setting up a fortress-like house in a former cornfield and quickly filling it up with every comfort one can imagine does not lend itself to spending much time out amongst your neighbors. Indeed, we are making it so that we never have to leave our homes, and curiously pride ourselves on accomplishing this tragedy.

I guess the point I am trying to make about all of this is that better options do exist, and are certainly possible, as far as how we live is concerned. I think the sense of community and connection that so many people crave is severely impaired by the infrastructure we already have in place, and is further exacerbated by our sense of entitlement and not wanting to share our space. As if the crushing loneliness we experience in life isn't bad enough,
it is so tragic that we live in a society that almost encourages us to be alone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Walled in.

It has been a while since my last entry, and for that, I apologize.

Right now, I feel a bit overwhelmed by situations as they are, and am unable to formulate words to accurately describe the daily battles that I wage internally. But within a few days, I will post something more substantial, albeit non self-reflective.

Thanks for sticking with me, though.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hasta luego, Mexico....

Yes, it's official, I am done with Mexico, at least for now. Staying there was not in the cards, but it was a great experience for the 4 weeks I was there. So with gratitude, I close this chapter and embark on a new journey.

So for those of you committed enough to keep visiting my blog, you are in for a real treat. Instead of this being an exciting travel blog, exposing you to unique sights and wonderful stories from another country, it will transform into something quite the opposite. I plan on giving updates and insights from the "other side", the less-than-glamorous position I find myself in currently. It's not a bad place to be, just quite different.

So starting at ground zero is an interesting concept, one that seems to be quite divorced from what our culture/society drills into our gullible minds. Upward mobility, an ever-increasing circle of friends, more security, more possessions, increasing wealth/income, and a clear-cut "path" seem to be benchmarks of a life moving properly forward. However, for some, like myself, the path of normalcy has been hard to come by. Rather than traversing a well-worn path, I am more often finding myself hacking through dense jungle vegetation, trying to create my own. Just when I think I've spotted some sort of "path", I quickly lose it, and then the machete comes out again. It's hard, sweaty work, and the constant mosquito bites and cuts on my shins sometimes tempt me to give up. But I'm here in the jungle, and giving up isn't an option, because the sun teasing the forest floor is filtering in from somewhere, isn't it?

So maybe the sun is setting on one phase of my life, and I am merely waiting till sunrise to embark on the next leg of my journey. It's definitely an odd place to be, and one that I know most everyone has experienced at one point in their lives. But when things fall away, and "plans" fall apart, the safety net that is somehow carrying me through all of this sure seems quite fragile. But it is there nonetheless, and for that, I am grateful.

Thanks for following along...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A new lease on death...

Last weekend, I visited the famed mummy museum here in Guanajuato with a friend. Apparently, the soil conditions here are not conducive to decomposing bodies, and thus, many well-preserved remains have been extracted, and for some reason, put on display for all to see. It was an absolutely sickening experience, eerie beyond words, yet one of the most profoundly important experiences of my life.

Once I encountered the first body, I was not scared, not disgusted, but oddly uncomfortable because I felt I was viewing something so far-removed from a human being. This is primarily due to the fact that a dead body at a funeral is made to look alive, napping peacefully as we pay our respects. However, seeing this state of decay was quite divorced from anything resembling a living human being. I was left to ponder the question: What is the main difference between the decayed mess of bones and flesh underneath the glass and the person taking pictures of it from the outside?

So for the first time, I became aware of what I consider to be the "animating spirit" which exists within all living creatures. I realized that I am carrying around the same crumpled mass of bones and flesh, yet have a real living presence within me that is allowing this mechanism to function in this world. The existence of this energy is the only thing separating me from the horrendous mess under the glass.

Yet these were all real live functioning people at one time. One was of a French doctor - his beard, fancy coat, pants, and book still intact. The spirit that inhabited his body had come and gone. All of his joys, sorrows, accomplishments, awards, failures, and sufferings were now represented by a ghostly shell. It made me really question the amount of anguish and pressure I put on myself, knowing that in the end, I will also be under that glass.

So I think the experience of the mummy museum has given me a new appreciation for life. I always intellectually knew that life is so temporary, but to see a visual reminder of it made me really feel my own impermanence. Yet at the same time, I truly experienced the precious energy or life force that so uniquely inhabits this soon-to-be crumpled pile of bones.

Show and Tell

The city is sooooo picturesque!

Another view of the city....

What could everyone be waiting for???

Race cars of course!!! Gto. was the starting point for a famous rally in the nearby mountains. Beats me...

The fascination of loud, obnoxious engines is beyond my comprehension...

Beautiful vistas at "Cristo Rey".

Me at the massive "Cristo Rey" monument.

Some close friends of mine from the school...

The weather here always keeps me on my toes.

Me overlooking the city.