On the daunting and fragile task of making space

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November sunrise in Nagarkot, Nepal.
November sunrise in Nagarkot, Nepal. Where I had my first episode of a midlife crisis.

Millions of children are assuming that everything is amazing and will always be that way. —Typed phrase on a found flyer

For the last 10 days I’ve been in one place, a tiny village called Preetnagar in Punjab, just outside of Amritsar, in India. Our six-month visa is coming up to its end not many weeks from now, and with the sound of just birds, the loudspeakers of prayers throughout the morning, buffalo herders and clapping hooves on the pavement or dirt road, the occasional scooter, or even, lo!, a car!, things have definitely come to a place of intentionally-designed introspection.

I have not set foot off the site. I wandered to one edge, found a pond with Kingfishers hanging around, and came back. I sat on the roof terrace, and thought about things for a long time. Part of the reason I’m here is to do just exactly this. I’m glad for this space. It’s a real gift, and I’m grateful. It reminds me of what people who hire Design Kompany say we do for them: make space, and give permission, to get lost in thought and play.

The quiet space

Forced to be quiet for a while, you start to look inwards.

It’s kind of mind-boggling. I wonder what I’ve done these last ten years? What did it mean, how did it matter? Did anything change? What was it all about?

I have to admit, I had a bit of a breakdown just before we got here. In Nagarkot. That’s a town you take two buses to get to from Kathmandu. After the daunting task of looking in the mirror, I had to go, “So, wait! I’m getting older (I’m 38 now), and what the heck have I even done?!” It stunned me. I thought about it all the 76 hours overland from there to here, this village, where Design Kompany is doing a project to help the village community. Preetnagar was set up in the 30s as a place for writers and artists to share ideas and a kitchen, to reconfigure and update its legacy design.

Big stuff, but we’re made for that. The only hard part is when we have to turn the cameras on ourselves.

When did we get so busy?

As I watched the sun come up over the Himalaya in Nagarkot last month, the stunning vista that put to bed at last all doubts I’d been harboring about the “feasibility” of this trip—Michael Linton, of Open Money, puts it this way: Money is a vector, it just goes up and down—things calmed a bit, at last. I still wasn’t sure about the answer, but to allow the space to think about me, for the first time since my child came into this world, I mean just me, that was big.

Design Kompany’s whole purpose is to guide leaders towards this kind of space, this intangible, not-quite-sure-how-this-works, introspection place. A good place. Strange to be led to the same space, but from a new perspective.

The Village Report is at Kismuth.This is me, and my son, Kush. We started our trip just the two of us, back in April 2013, in Vietnam. When I went, I didn’t know just how much shedding there would be, starting with “the big burn” of old letters, lots of pictures, and writing that I’ve lugged around from apartment to apartment for years, not doing anything useful with it at all.

How did we get to the point where we aren’t able to notice the small details, because there simply isn’t time enough to do so? To stop, linger, look, and listen. Even when we try to discover a quiet moment, in order to reflect deeply, we are often caught on a timetable with meetings or appointments on both sides of that frame. Scheduled doses of space to “regroup,” that’s how we do it in the modern way. Modern often being seen as a positive thing, but after seven months in Vietnam, Laos, and now here in India, I’m seeing that it’s not really that awesome to have everyone in the world stuck to their phones. Kids in Vietnam the age of one on their iPads, babies getting slapped because people were in too big of a hurry to get back to their own. I saw that. It shattered some part of me, the one that came to Asia to discover “the village,” the one it supposedly takes to raise a child. (See The Village Report, at the more experimental place I write, Kismuth. A cojournaling project is underway for 2014, if you are curious, you can find the link here, and the password is “2014.”)

On the search and the inevitable slam that is the midlife crisis

I’m guilty of the overdependence on technology to “feed” some part of what I need, which it can’t do very well at all, of course, and possible (definite?) internet addiction, too. The first 76 days in Vietnam with just Kush, I didn’t have a laptop, phone, even a camera. I just recorded my thoughts and feelings in journals and mental snaps. Those are pretty rich, when I think of them now, and I’m glad I went about it that way.

See, I feel more in touch with more people than I ever have, but there’s also a sense that we’re far away, on islands of not being able to talk, not in a real way, because to do so is against form. Form says we have to know everything, straight up, when we’re declaring our major. Form says we’re supposed to be on a career track that means “lining things up,” and having them squared away, and knowing ahead of time with one thousand percent clarity that that’s what you want to do. To fail is to declare openly that you were wrong about it. That you didn’t know better. But life… is a series of turns and twists, isn’t it? How can we possibly know for certain what’s around the corner? It’s a giant maze. My question is, why are people in our modern culture of American society (and even Western, in general) so concerned about efficiency? About getting there faster. But they’re not really thinking too hard about where it is they’re going. The work to know, to find the gift within that we have to offer the world, to discover what it is that is our own legacy, you could say, that takes a lot more effort and you just don’t get a lot of space, if you are also concerned about what other people think, that is, to make it. To find the time. To put priorities in the order that fits your heart, not necessarily your practical mind. You have to know these things, in order to change something. But do we want to change? I’m 38 now. I am thinking hard about these things. And the things I’ve seen in peers and new friends, on the road and in correspondence through the net, is that we do.

Want to change.

Yes.

We want more time with our loved ones.

We want to be healthier.

We want to slow down, and not get stressed out with our jobs or people who eat our energy.

We want connection.

Meaning.

Even, sometimes, a route back to ourselves. Who are we, what does it mean, why does it matter?

The starting can happen anytime. The consciousness is always there. But the will, the will to change something,e ver so slightly so that the space can open to look within and see what’s written there, that’s the thing. That’s where we fill our time with television, magazines, books, movies, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity… in other words, detachment. We numb ourselves. It’s too hard to get somewhere else, because we’re so busy spinning our wheels to consult our hearts and check in: “So. Where are you going?”

4 comments

  1. Terry Gardiner

    For the last four years my lifelong friend, John Sund, and I have been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific mountains. The last two years we have hiked 500 miles in three weeks. Life is very simple – eat, drink, walk, sleep – take in 25 miles each day of changing vistas, flora and fauna, meet a few hikers and exchange thoughts. We pack everything we need to live and eat for 5 days in our packs. We have learned to reduce the load to less and less, as it turns out we don’t need much to be happy and awed by the world around us.

  2. Dipika

    Hi Terry,

    Great to hear from you, and thanks for the lovely comment. A tradition like that sounds wonderful to have, and I love, “We don’t need much to be happy and awed by the world around us.” Oddly, when Akira and I were gearing up for 2013, the word “enchantment” popped into my head. I wanted more than anything to find and discover, to share and relate, with that which you crisply articulated as “awed by the world” and which I think is, after all, what matters :) Hope you and your family are well and enjoying the winter holiday season.

    Warm regards,
    Dipika
    PS I’ve been writing a lot of other kinds of posts like this at Kismuth. See what you think? Cheers!

  3. Flora Ville

    An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I think that you should write more on this subject matter, it may not be a
    taboo matter but typically people don’t discuss such issues.
    To the next! All the best!!

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