The Next Step "O logras ser feliz con poco..."

corey mark la paz

“Mi madre hablaba como la aurora y como los dirigibles que van a caer.” – Vicente Huidobro

I’m exploring options for the next few week/months/years/decades/millennia of my life after flying to Lima next Tuesday. At first I thought I’d stay in Lima a week and then make my way into the mountains.

But now I realize I have…

Options?

Option 1: Play it safe

Stay in Lima a week or two, go to small town outside Lima, go to Huancayo, a city six hours east of Lima located at 3,400 meters above sea level in the mountains, stay a couple weeks in Huancayo since weather wouldn’t be hot and it has cheap Airbnb’s.

Make way into the jungle…

The jungle.

Option 2: José Mujica

Stay a week in Lima, make way to Cusco, make way to Puerto Maldonado, cross into Brazil, go to Rio Branco, see a bit of both Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, make way into Paraguay, then Uruguay, drink mate with José Mujica, then make way down to Buenos Aires, down to Chiloé, then Ushuaia.

Fly to Svalbard.

Option 3: Paraguay

Make way to Bolivia, spend a couple weeks in Bolivia, make way to Paraguay.

Paraguay looks…nice.

Option 4: English, mate, Svalbard

Fly to Santiago, fly to Valdivia, make way to Chiloé, stay with Marcela and Pablo on their farm for a couple months, teaching English, writing, and drinking mate. Then make way to Ushuaia. Fly to Svalbard.

Option 5: The southernmost “community” in the world

Choose one of the above, and in addition to going to Ushuaia also go to Puerto Williams, Chile, southernmost town in the world, and from there take boat to Puerto Toro, southernmost community in the world. Learn how to catch king crab.

Option 6: Babies

Make way to Córdoba, Argentina through Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay. Meet girl. Start pronouncing double “l’s”  like “sh.” Starting pronouncing single “l’s” like “sh.” Have 3-30 children. Stay forever.

Option 7: None of the above

Miss flight to Lima. Stay in Guadalajara.

 

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What Did Lao Tzu Think of Travel?

Tao Te Ching (pronounced, more or less, Dow Deh Jing) can be translated as The Book of the Immanence of the Way or The Book of the Way and How It Manifests Itself in the World or, simply, The Book of the Way.”Stephen Mitchell

Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher (though it’s not clear if the term philosopher existed at the time he lived) born sometime in 6th or 5th century BC. He is known for his book the Tao Te Ching, a book I’ve recently gotten really into. Actually, I’ve been into this this book for a few years now, mostly because of the beauty of Stephen Mitchell’s translation. Stephen Mitchell does not speak Chinese. You’d think this would make the translation suffer, and maybe it has in terms of accuracy, but it certainly hasn’t in terms of beauty. He based his translation on many other translations, and also 14 years of studying Zen Bhuddism. My question is: How do you study Zen Buddhism for 14 years, have at least a vague interest in Chinese philosophers, and not learn Chinese? Was he studying in Iowa? Did he make a point of not learning the language? We’ll never know.

It is fairly clear what some of the ancient Roman philosophers thought about travel, or at least too much travel. As Lucius Annaeus Seneca said in his Letters from a Stoic, “All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief, for you’re traveling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way.”

Or, perhaps even more to the point, ““If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.”

Or even MORE to the point:

“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

OK, we get it Lucius, you weren’t too stoked on travel. You didn’t like to just grab your rucksack, stick out your thumb, and see where the wind took you. I don’t blame you! You lived in ancient Rome! Things were probably super rad! Why explores the vast reaches of ancient Europe when you could sit around talking, drinking wine, wearing plain robes, eating plain food, and striving to be content with things as they are?

Because this is common thing, both with the Stoics and with Lao Tzu: If you want to be content, strive to be content with the way things are. Don’t covet something you don’t have, love the thing you already have. He is richest who wants least. All I want to do, ever, is play chess, etc. etc. (This last one is a Bobby Fischer quote and it’s not really relevant, I just like it).

But today I want to talk about what Lao Tzu thought, a man who existed centuries before Seneca and half a world away. What did Lao Tzu think about traveling, and more importantly, living a nomadic life?

It’s important to start with one of the main tenets of Lao Tzu wisdom. One of his main teachings was the so-called art of “non-being,” or “not doing.” Letting things unfold however they want. Being fluid. The soft conquers the hard. The light conquers the dark, etc. etc. “When you are content to be yourself, and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” – Tao Te Ching Chapter 8.

The first good clue as to what Lao Tzu thought about nomadism (I use it in the modern sense of basically being on the move all the time) comes in Chapter 15: “Do you have the patience to wait, till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving, till the right action arises by itself?”

This seems to be in keeping with that Seneca said about travel, that if you want to escape things that harass you the place isn’t the problem, you’re the problem. (Though I don’t think Lao Tzu, in his infinite wisdom, knew what “problems” were.)  Lao Tzu’s advice would be to just sit still, and not run, and wait until the correct solution presents itself. Let the mud settle. Wait until the water is clear.

But THEN, in chapter 20, my favorite chapter of the book, he seems to say something a bit different:

Other people have what they need;

I alone possess nothing.

I alone drift about,

like someone without a home.

I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people have a purpose;

I alone don’t know.

I drift like a wave on the ocean,

I blow as aimless as the wind.

This seems to contradict what he said earlier about staying still and quiet until your mud settles. This seems to promote going wherever the wind takes you (in fact it says exactly that). so whenever I need to justify my aimless wanderings, I turn to this quote. This quote gives me comfort, though not really because I know deep down Lao Tzu it’s not really what Lao Tzu meant. In other words, I don’t think these passages refer to travel so much. They refer to something else, something of the mind…

In Chapter 26, his thoughts on excessive travel become clear:

Why should the lord of the country

flit about like a fool?

If you let yourself be blown to and fro,

you lose touch with your root.

If you let restlessness move you,

you lose touch with who you are.

And it doesn’t really matter that the next line is, “A good travel has no fixed plans, and is not intent upon arriving,” because Lao Tzu believed that there was a time for everything, and that we should be like nature. “When it blows, there is only wind. When it rains, there is only rain” (Chapter 23). Which means that yes, there is a time for travel. And when you do it, do it with all your heart, embrace it fully, and don’t doubt yourself. But when the time for travel is over, let yourself be content to stay still. Don’t flit about “like a fool,” because you’ll lose touch with your root, and ultimately, with who you are.

That said, I’ve been in Guadalajara almost a month now.

Time to leave?

 

Top 5 Norwegian Books Containing the Word “Struggle”

lofoten

5. My Struggle: Book 3 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This is the worst book of the My Struggle series, which means it’s still better than 99.4% of all books ever written. It’s the worst because it’s about Karl Ove’s childhood, which essentially means it’s less about girls, one of KOK’s best subjects. Also, since it’s about his youth, it seems more obviously novelized, which might detract from the reading experience. That said, it’s one of the few My Struggle books I’ve only read once, so maybe it’ll be more impactful the second time around.

4. My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard

For awhile this was my favorite KOK book, but as I slip deeper into my love for the My Struggle series, this book has floated to the surface. For its shallowness? No. The thing is, Book 1 remains strong because of Karl Ove’s descriptions of his father. And Book 4 seems great because I just read it. And Book 5 is obviously the best. So that leaves nowhere else for Book 4 but here.

3. My Struggle: Book 4 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Like I said, I just finished (re) reading Book 4, in which Karl Ove spends a year teaching in northern Norway, just north of the Lofoten Islands (pictured above). In 2012, after finishing a Masters Program at the University of Washington, I went to the Lofoten Islands (and nothern Norway). I spent $1,000 dollars in four days. I ate whale tacos with a girl named Madeleine. And on my last night I had some kind of bizarre fever where I spent the whole night shivering and waiting for the ferry to the mainland.

But Book 4. It’s good.

2. My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I still remember my first brushes with Book 1 and thus my first brushes with Karl Ove Knausgaard. I was in Elliott Bay Books in Seattle and had read about a series by a Norwegian author that was apparently incredible. So I picked it up, started reading, and then after 15 minutes put it down again. I didn’t touch the book for awhile, and forgot about it. Then one day I picked it up again, and this time made it to about page 30. The rest is history.

1. My Struggle: Book 5: Some Rain Must Fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I’ve read this book three times. The reason I’ve read if three times is because it has a beautiful narrative arc and in the end hits you in the sternum like a bag of unmixed cement. Your soul feels like it’s simultaneously crying and on fire. And you think, “My God, give me Book 6, and give it to me now!” But Book 6 doesn’t come out till Fall of 2018. Unless you want to read it in German.