I am in a cafe a five-minute walk from Harvard Square, sitting at one of the two tables by the window. In places like cafes and airplanes, window seats are prized commodities, so I am, in a sense, lucky today.
This cafe - Darwin's Ltd - serves only sandwiches I think. I order a make-your-own-breakfast set thinking it would come in a plate, but it comes as... well, a sandwich. Thankfully my disappointment leaves me as soon as I take a quick bite of my sandwich - the crispy buttery croissant, accompanied by a medium egg, the egg yolk like golden liquid, and generous amounts of Black Forest ham topped with green peppers and the cafe's homemade salsa... everything comes together exceedingly well. It's a quiet symphony of salty spicy and general eggy-ness. And what delicious colors: yellow, red, green. Yum.
The waitress who takes my order wears round glasses and looks like she might be a graduate student at Harvard, or otherwise a senior at Hogwarts.
A woman customer walks in - tight jeans, dark sweater, boots, hair shaggy and short like Shane from The L Word. She sits opposite me and takes elegant bites of her sandwich. I think briefly about what makes her feel so familiar to me and I realize that maybe it has something to do with her sexuality. That sort of thing cuts across race and skin color.
I think about what it would be like to kiss her.
“We come out of the universe to play a role in the unfolding of the universe. This perspective riveted me. This is the opposite of meaningless. I come forth at this precise moment to contribute my unique gifts to the great unfolding.”
Day 20/26 of our Europe trip.
Current location... Prague.
Never thought I'd make it to Prague, but here I am, in the city of Kafka's ghost, and THE city of romance...
I never understood why I always thought this way about Prague. Because I don't know anything about it. Now that I have been here for two days, I have learned that it's a city filled with castles. And that Franz Kafka was one of its most prominent residents. And that Mozart used to play his music in one of the old theatres here... And it has one of Europe's oldest universities.
So I still don't know very much about it. I look forward to exploring a little bit more of the city and taking some more photographs of it before I meet up with my friends again.
Three or four days in a European country is way too short.
As usual, I finally have a holiday where I can do all that I want to do and I am beside myself with anxiety. I don't know what to do with myself! Is that what they mean when they say that retirement is bad for old people? When you are stripped of all your work and responsibilities, who do you become? Who are you? What do you do?
Not that I have unlimited money and time - in fact I am only on a 2-month holiday - but it sure feels LIKE I have unlimited possibilities. To do anything. Everything.
In a way this experience is a good thing for me because it makes me realise that I am actually not quite good at enjoying myself or at living in the now. When I am busy, my brain is simply trying to catch up, so it's at work, it's focused on something, and I can't fret about not being able to enjoy myself because I have no time. But now I have no more excuses. I am here now. I have time. And yet I don't know how to have fun. I don't know how to read a book without fretting about all the other books I want to read. I don't know how to do something without wanting to accomplish a million other things. I'm so so so bad at living in the moment. I constantly want results - to have better habits, to have read more books, to have written more... but when I'm in the moment, I am not enjoying the moment. I am out of it, just out of it.
And it's a horrible feeling.
When I'm busy I keep thinking what a wonderful time I'd have if I were free. But now that I'm free, I'm totally confused and lost.
So in a way, May and June are months for me to learn how to be here. I always thought I knew, but the truth is I have been lying to myself. My busy-ness has camouflaged my lack of ability to be present, to be joyful.
These 2 months I shall practise how to be here, to be joyful in the now, to enjoy.
You'd think that it's easy. But it's not.
After all these months and years of working my ass off for TIME to be free and to enjoy, here I am, not knowing how to do that at all.
But it's alright, I will learn...
Small things build up into big things.
And doing a little of something every day eventually leads to a brand new positive habit!
The key is to FOCUS ON ONLY ONE THING AT A TIME.
So for now, the habit I currently want to build, is to study French every day.
And I need to do it for only 5 minutes a day!
Things I learned today:
la, fille, le, garçon, je, suis, un, femme, une
la - the (feminine) fille - girl le - the (masculine) garçon - boy je - i un - a (masculine) femme - woman une - a (feminine)
My memory is really bad, good thing I'm a photographer.
If you have lived an awesome and beautiful life, then dying is not a scary thing at all.
Camping is fun but now when it's too cold and when you're still recovering from a major surgery and the cold almost makes you become hypothermic.
Just when I was thinking about what makes a meaningful life, I started reading Thomas Merton's journals and Donald Miller's book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years", which is about living a good life story.
What is my story?
Most mornings I wake up feeling okay about everything - my position in the world, the things I do... but on some mornings I wake up with the desire to create, to make nice things for the world. On such days I cannot sit still long enough to drink a cup of tea. On such days I feel like I am about to explode.
Do you feel that way sometimes?
D gave me a bunch of songs. he said, i have something for you. he passed me his thumbdrive and in one of the folders there are all these wonderful songs. today i spent the whole day listening to them, writing, my phone close to me. i cannot stop listening to the songs by gontiti. the whole day i have been surrounded by this calm-as-hell guitar music, and my emotions rose...
Too many photographs untaken.
I have learned that I am not the sort who goes everywhere with a camera. Most of the days the only camera I can tolerate having on me is my iPhone, and even then I am reluctant to take it out. Most images flash before me and all I want to do is remember them with my own eyes. Certainly not with the eyes of a camera, which is eventually artificial and man-made.
Why am I acting like I have something against cameras? Of course I don't. God knows how much I love cameras. Yet nothing beats being there right in the thick of the action, her skin against yours, the noise in your ears, the heat swallowing you up.
I met a Buddhist master recently and I remember, again with the vividness of my own eyes and my own skin, the heat of his office as we sat on the floor, steam rising to smear my glasses.
I had many questions about religion and life and death - I still do - but listening to his answers eased some of my anxiety. It's impossible to tell you what he said that day but it's enough that I remember his words.
After our meeting I became interested in Bodhi Meditation. Or should I say that I have always been drawn to the idea of "meditating", but it was only after our chat that I was propelled to find out more.
What drove me was, in a sense, quiet desperation. Like so many people I know I am silently anxious. Optimistic, yes, but undeniably anxious. And somewhat afraid. I am still trying to find out more about what meditation can do, but I hope it will be a fruitful journey.
How did I get from cameras to meditation? That's the problem: the thoughts come and go. That's why I need to meditate, to let my thoughts stay still in one place, so that I am not trying to go everywhere all at the same time all the time.
Stillness and peace.
Ran 5km today. What was supposed to be a free run (by that I mean I was meant to stop anytime I felt like I couldn't run anymore) turned into a full 5km run! I'm quite proud of myself actually. But my right knee started hurting about three quarters through the run, so I had to slow down considerably.
One interesting thing is how psychological running is. Often it isn't about whether I am physically tired, but about whether I am mentally tired. The mind always wins. If the mind is energetic, the body is energetic. If the mind is spent, the body is equally spent. And it doesn't work the other way round. So this is another proof for how the mind is more powerful than the body.
Running is like life. If you want to keep going, you should just focus on each current step, and then the next. Don't think about the finishing line, because that will only tire you out, and you're just going to end up missing all the great scenery. The secret to life is similarly the secret to running, at least for me - focus on the current step. That's enough. That's all you need to do.
To be truly interested in things, not just the idea of things.
Life is so interesting and fascinating because we can think and do things and create and cause change. We can do ANYTHING - learn languages, write, cycle, meditate, watch films, etc etc.
We are masters of our lives.
In the Air
Life and its strange ways. On a plane now heading towards Tokyo, then Osaka. Then I'll take a train and finally arrive at Okayama, where I'll be doing a shoot for Lexus/Winkreative. The whole thing will be over in 48 hours. Before I know it I'll be on another plane headed back towards Singapore.
I love Japan, I really do, and I'd love to write or rant about its beauty and how wonderful it is to be there yet again, but I can't help but think that all these are just earthly things. Temporary states. I am both fascinated and terrified by our transience, by the fleetingness of everything. And so what I want to talk about - to write about - a lot of the time is this sense of trepidation and big curiosity in my heart. I want to know. I have questions that demand to be answered. And most of all, what I really want to find out is this - who are we? And why are we here?
I have been sick for the last few days. Being sick in a foreign city - and in one as cold as this - feels wretched, and has always been a fear of mine, but when it finally happened, I'd had no choice but to deal with it, rise up to the occasion.
Admittedly, it's true that things haven't been that hard for me at all - the people at the hostel are really nice and welcoming.
But even so, with barely any friends here in cold and dry Sapporo, I realize that I relish the solitude.
“Yes, Nina, life is hard, unfair, painful. But life is also guaranteed - one hundred percent, no doubt, no question - to offer unexpected and sudden moments of beauty, joy, love, acceptance, euphoria.”
Quote from "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair" by Nina Sankovitch