on stillness

One month ago, I left the warm, known comforts of the Bay Area. In the 30 days since, I’ve aimlessly wandered the streets of Prague, picked up right where I left off with a friendship that’s spanned continents and decades, gallivanted in Helsinki and Tallinn with a childhood friend who encourages me to say “why not?” every day, experienced the loneliness of illness and lost luggage (and the unique comfort that comes from its counterpoint, resilience), and found solace in a village of hundreds at a brothel-turned-retreat center tucked above a lake untouched by the passage of time.

I’ll be here on Lake Orta, working at the Centro d’Ompio, for the next month. It’s the longest I’ll be in one place on this adventure (at least, so I’ve planned), a welcome respite after a month of trains, cities, repacking, navigating.

But in all my transience, I haven’t been compelled to write as much as I thought I would. And given my habit of forgetting almost everything but things I read in an archive somewhere, I’ve realized the importance of chronicling the moments that matter. Not the monuments, the physical beauty; my camera stores those just fine. This forum is better for the in-between, the moments that take some marinating to fully rise to the surface. The moments that prolonged introversion — my favorite part of travel — can truly cultivate. Really, this chronicle is for future-me, my mom (hi mama Pam!), and anyone else who fancies a look behind the limiting scope of photo-posts and social media musings.

Recently, I’ve found the piece that’s hardest to capture in photos and the part that’s become my most cherished element of travel is the quality of stillness. One of my rare resolutions this year was to do less idle browsing — less scrolling social media while waiting in line, busying myself on public transportation, or generally filling my days with consumption. My dad often spoke of the virtues of boredom, of just sitting in a moment and being aware of life as we live it, “every, every minute” (from his favorite play, Our Town). Here, it’s easy to fall into those rhythms of quiet. When meals have given times and work shifts are posted on a sheet in the kitchen, the space in-between develops a fullness and a texture all its own. There’s little need for distraction, for escapism, when the purpose of vagabond travel is precisely to escape into a given moment.

I certainly didn’t need to sell my worldly possessions, leave my wonderful job, or travel abroad to cultivate stillness, boredom, or presence. But habits need attention, and when you strip away the non-essentials, the stuff left behind gets to take up more space. Here, without the weight of that second pair of jeans, a crockpot, or a TV, there’s space for reading a few more pages, sitting in silence with new friends, or listening to termites slowly eat your room from the inside out (ah, living in the countryside).

This space will be for those moments. Thanks for reading, friends.

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[sunset stillness in helsinki]