I arose that next morning with every intention to leave San Jose. The hustle and bustle, the smog and the theft, had left me with bitter resentment toward the city. It should be much better in the countryside, I thought.
I packed up my stuff and quickly left. I set out for Mastatal, a small village up in the jungly mountains on the Western side. My good friend — I call him my soul bro — is interning there for the year, and from everything I had see thus far, it seemed like a magical place to be.
I taxied to the bus stop and prepped for a long day of travel. The local transit system, especially in third world countries, is far from smooth sailing. All things considered, Costa Rica’s buses weren’t too bad. And at least the city was paved.
I went straight for the back of the bus. The back offers the most relaxing travel, mostly because you aren’t subject to the absolute chaos of the roads. Not to mention cliffs.
As I sat waiting for the bus to take off, I thought about my tribulations thus far. I had little cash on me, no means to withdraw from an ATM, and very little clothes too. Naively I had thought I could purchase clothes on the cheap right away, like I had in SE Asia. Of course, I was wrong, once again.
I was beating myself up. Few things get to me more than lapsing on the same damn mistakes twice. I tried to be grateful — I was wholly intact, and as a traveler that’s about all that matters. Well that, and having a solid head on your shoulders.
Once the bus got rolling, I took in the developing city and came to appreciate it a little more. I felt empathetic to those before me, to those that had to live in such conditions and endure this kind of environment. I don’t envy them and admire their will to live. I also enjoyed seeing some of the graffiti art that had emerged because of it. A fair amount of intricate designs were around, and I could tell that some good life had emerged from here.
After exiting the city, we hit a long stretch of road, and I turned my attention to the book I had in hand. (For the record: you should always have a book when traveling.)
For me, I returned to my philosophical roots, and brought along an anthology of Friedrich Nietzsche’s work. It remarkably helped to contextualize my life. It felt as if it were expressly written to me, commenting on my recent trifles and affairs. The Gay Science was the specific book I was reading at the time, and it made for some timely, lesson-filled reading — the best sort.
But as the bus began whipping around the mountainsides, I was had to put my reading eyes to rest. I peered out at the jungly landscape that surrounded me and tapped into a more internal mode of being. The beauty was sweeping, but I could feel still residual anger in me that was only bogging me down. I wished to transform it into a state of positivity.
So, meditate, I told myself. Meditate on anger; on its utility, on its presence.
“Anger makes us blind” says the Dalai Lama. And blindness causes us to lose our way.
So, as such, I engaged in a wide-eyed meditation. It’s an off shoot from the more common closed eye approach, but just as effective.
A few minutes past, and then I felt something hit my shorts. It was a McDonald’s french fry, blotched with ketchup. The lady sitting next me, and her husband, had boarded the bus with a large bag full of McDonalds, and weren’t exactly being tidy about it.
She apologized, and I could tell she felt bad. I smiled and told her it was ok. The Gods must have been smiting me I figured.
I then tried again. I took a deep breath and dropped into a trance-like, meditative state. The minutes began to pass by and then, with a sense of elevation, I could feel the cool washing away of my negative emotions while it transposed itself into a serene state of tranquility.
While not entirely uncommon while meditating, it was rare that I felt quite so high from the practice. My eyes, being fully open, added another layer to the exotic feeling.
The goal of meditation, insofar as I can tell, is to quiet the mind. For me, I find that it helps me regulate my emotive states as well as grants me firmer control of my temperament. It demands my time and attention, and as such, is not easy. In fact, it requires much practice and patience, much presence and poise. But in time it lends way to dispassionate power and mind over matter.
I would encourage everyone to give it a try. Or, that is, to try not to try. There’s a great book by that title, — Trying Not To Try — on meditation, that helped me get into the practice and understand the paradoxical nature of it. It’s by Edward Slingerland, and I’d recommend it to those that are interested.
Metaphorically, I think of us as possessing internal hydraulic systems, whereby we have fire hydrants within us that are there to put out the fire when it arrives. Part of our evolution has been the mastery of fire. It bears upon us to ensure we don’t lose sight it. We need to control our fire — the fire. When we do so, voila — we can play with fire a bit; put on a show and whatnot.
But when we’re not careful — well, then we may be fired. And we’re seeing what happens when that happens.
So then, proper maintenance of our hydrants is key, for with a bit of care, we can work to ensure our inhabitants don’t go down in ablaze of fire. Wild fires of fear and loathing are sparked daily, and it’s our job not be implicated by them, and to help those fires cool down where we can. So power up those hydraulics and sit with the meditative practice.
As to how that relates here, all can say is that by my meditating I felt wholesale newer. Regenerated. I had achieved and retained a higher spiritual order of self and did so for the continued duration of the lengthy bus ride. I would observe my thoughts with exaltation, totally detached from them, from afar, and watch as they would rise and fall, and exit and enter.
To some extent, this experience is why I travel. To observe and understand. To interact and explore. To feel exquisite and alone, while yet feeling at one with the greater whole. It’s all there.
Abstracting from particulars. Swirling amongst and amidst the throes of chaos, while maintaining order from within. Finding love and compassion that endures through all.
Perhaps most notably too — traveling allows me to establish a deep trust in humanity, as I am forced to rely on others when in need, just as they are with me. It’s part of that comfort with the unknown that I oft talk about.
And, it’s a marvel really what crops up while traveling. It’s never what I expect, yet wholly better than what I thought it would be. My good friend puts it best, “Why set expectations, when they continually are exceeded anyway?” To which all I can say is touché.
With such a diverse and wonderful array of thoughts, why would I want to travel any other way? It offers me the spirit of life, and many an art to transpose.
Again though, the ups really do come with the downs. And here, as the bus came to an abrupt halt, I disembarked and discovered I hadn’t a clue where I was. The instructions that had been given to me didn’t seem to match up, and the locals hadn’t a clue what I was talking about with my nonexistent point of reference I had on hand. My lack of Spanish wasn’t helping either, as I felt like I was half the man I wasn’t.
I was, once again, utterly lost.
So I did the only thing I could do: I strapped on my backpack and took to the town square, on a mission in the unknown.