Getting Lost in Oaxaca


The first thing I noticed about Oaxaca was its streets: imperfect cobble-stone pathways paved the way from order to chaos as one moved from the city center to the peripheral. The layout began in squares, but it ended in hopeless circling zigzags.

As the flatness of their beginnings gave way to the steep and curving hills, the roads could no longer hold their ground. Instead they erupted with the mountainside in a frenzy of dismay. In their hopes to conform nature to civility, a natural conformity took place.

These paths were meant to connect lives. They were strewn together long and far in the most awkwardly and amicable ways. They navigated obstacles, rerouted traffic and ultimately delivered people to their destinations.

One of Oaxaca's proudest exports: mezcal.

One of Oaxaca’s proudest exports: mezcal.

It was during a stroll on one of these streets that I realized the adaptivity of Oaxaca. The place itself is an enigma of clashed cultures. One of the only remaining Mexican cities that has successfully retained a large portion of its heritage, Oaxaca is orgullosamente Oaxacan. Food, language, music and dress are proud areas that point to the rejection of the hispanic conquest.

Oaxaca may seem resilient, but what keeps its culture alive isn’t its stubbornness. Instead, it is Oaxaca’s ability to bend. During the Spanish conquest, instead of seeking to fight, Oaxaca chose to negotiate. This standard of attitude kept Oaxaca on the post-hispanic map. This liveliness can be seen in the high tourist attraction rates, which rival some of the most popular Mexican beaches. This is all due to Oaxaca’s ability to adapt.

The wind does not break a tree that bends -- Sukuma proverb

The wind does not break a tree that bends — Sukuma proverb

When traveling the number one quality to have is adaptability . Backpacking through countries with unreliable bus systems, sketchy border crossings, and a money hungry police force can result in a few unforeseen changes. That’s why when I came to Oaxaca I instantly fell in love; change is an openly and widely welcomed part of life in the Land of the Seven Moles. Change is a part of life and when traveling it is important to adopt a flexible mindset.

My personal practice of letting go of the known is simply by getting lost. Taught to me by an exceptional traveler, who took a day job as a Spanish college professor, the act of intentionally losing myself in another country has been the most instructive practice I’ve ever been taught.

Getting lost is the best way to find yourself.

Getting lost is the best way to find yourself.

Disorientation and venturing into the unknown are two concepts that are usually avoided at all costs. Most people would think that engaging in these uncomfortable situations would be even more ludicrous while abroad. Yet, the practice of getting lost has brought me more insight than confusion.

What I usually do is pick a street. I walk as far as I can until I find a fork. It could be a 4-way intersection, a park entrance or a simple right or left turn. I take the turn. I usually walk uphill. I always walk away from my orientation. And I make sure to take the longest route possible; no shortcuts. I do this for about an hour— sometimes longer if I have time. The length of my walk isn’t important because it’s not a destination I am looking for. I am searching for a feeling.

There is no name for this feeling. It is a mix of childish giddiness and supreme satisfaction. It is a liveliness that only a place can give you. It is a feeling of knowing nothing and being ecstatic about it. I imagine it must be a tenth of what the first explorers felt when they discovered new lands.

This is how that feeling looks.

This is how that feeling looks.

The symptoms of this feeling are outbursts of random cheers, an embarrassingly uncontrollable smile, and a new set of eyes that place a glaze of spectacularity around everything in sight. This feeling is the metric I use to measure how well I am living my life.

When a space is carved out inside of you, it may feel empty. In most cases, this emptiness follows an uncomfortable change. It could be losing a job, getting a new one, meeting a new person, moving cities, or simply traveling alone and getting lost. What I have come to realize is that, yes, that emptiness is very uncomfortable and it is the unknown quality behind it that creates fear. Venturing somewhere new—both mentally and physically—is sometimes scary, but what follows the emptiness is worth every moment spent in fear.

When you carve a space out inside of you, you also create a space to be filled. A vacuum-esque effect takes place and what once was empty is now full. They saying “build it and they will come” doesn’t just apply to casinos and Roman empires. It also applies to the fulfillment of your Self. What once was unknown becomes known and feeling of comfort is expanded. Clearing space is the hardest part. Letting the powers that be find a way to fill it is effortless.

Clear the space and it will be filled.

Clear the space and it will be filled.

As for finding my way back home, I usually feel out a general direction. Also, being up high helps me find landmarks and other identifiable objects. Speaking to people is also very helpful. But most incredible is that the high I obtain always leads me in the right direction. I reach a certain harmony and that flow guides me out of my geographical confusion.

On a daily basis, getting lost and going with the flow are the most valuable things you can do for yourself. These things can be done any time and anywhere. It could be talking to strangers, taking an uncertain financial risk, signing up for an art class, or just walking a new path. Doing these things in other countries only multiplies the effect, increasing the risk but also the reward.

Life is a journey, not a destination -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life is a journey, not a destination — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oaxaca offered me a chance to experience her beauty and I took it. I had to sacrifice my comfort zone to understand the true offerings of the culture and the people. I had to get lost, losing track of myself in order to carve out a space larger enough for the splendor of the city. On my walk under the Oaxacan sunset, I sought out my spiritual terminus. And although I was completely lost, the promise of the windy Oaxaca streets delivered me to my destination.

Summer, I love you.

A season is by no means a significant amount of time. Three months, four if you’re lucky (and it’s summer). Give or take a hundred days, not even a third of a year. And at this point in my life, years are beginning to lose their luster for grandiose blocks of time, as they fly off the calendar as fast as months did in middle school. Yet, a season was plenty of time to change my entire life.

This summer was one for the books—and by this I mean quite literally one full of books. It was also a summer of airports, as I flew across country, across countries and into interstellar dimensions. This summer was also one for community, where I was welcomed into the arms of different tribes across the world. This summer was about leaving improvement behind and accepting perfection as it is. This summer was the beginning of my life.

And so was yesterday. And this morning. And probably tomorrow.

If the summer was one thing, it was a realization of lightness. This lightness was not something I carried pre-May.

Before heading into summer my life was one dictated by restriction, practice, guilt and imperfection. Routine and rhythm were things that held me together. I was bound to my practice as much as I was to the surface of the Earth.  I withheld pleasure for piety, in hopes of one day reaching an ultimate goal. I even caught myself feeling guilty shades of superiority over others adopting less “conscious” lives. The one measure of the perceived success of my pre-2012-summer lifestyle was that I felt like I was in control.

Boy was I wrong. This summer started out like the twisted ending of one of those psychological horror movies that somehow convince you (the viewer) that you’re the one killing all the people in the film. Everything I thought I had under control was flipped upside-down. It was shocking at first, but much less difficult than it had been in its previous incarnations (for these realizations have occurred before in lesser degrees of intensity). The main objective was to reset my spiritual ego.

What is a spiritual ego? Well if I had ended my blog post with “This summer was the beginning of my life,” you would have got an extreme does of Yogi Ego. Basically, for me, my egoistic self is searching for one thing: control. It wants to be in charge. Whenever I think I have figured out life, that is when I’ve let my ego take control. This summer was a gentle slap in the face that told me life was much less than I was making it out to be—this being an extremely positive, relieving, and loving thing.

Life is for experience! This summer’s oeuvre was a reassuring mantra that everything is equally as important as everything else. This means that I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing and so is everybody else. This liberating realization was the posture that broke this yogi’s head open. And I surrendered my thoughts, preoccupations and fears to the universe willingly.

We spend so much time trying to be something else that we forget to honor who it is we are. In the complicated maze of desire, we lose sight of achievement. We focus on a future that never comes, preparing, practicing and pondering what might be. We never get there because it is an illusion. There is no where to go.

And for some the illusion is perfect. This article is not to say that one way of life is any better than the other. It is only the recount my own realization. At this point in time my current state of consciousness is perfect as was my state in May, last October and when I was five. All stages, outlooks and understandings are perfect. It is not the shape, context, or content of the state that matters, but the progression through them. Change exacts experience, which adds to the richness of life.

As I find time in between my coursework, I will gladly share with you the specifics of my summer. But until then revel in the awesomely emancipating idea that you are already there. In fact, there is no where else you could possibly be.

Much love.

1 + 1 = 3

Sometimes the most exceptional lessons in life are heard between the most unexceptional moments.

Just the other day I was speaking with a wise friend of mine about some very ordinary things. We came about relationships and our respective states within them. We began to mumble about this and analyze that. After a few fleeting moments of rather darb commentary, a sagacious spark shot across the room. We immediately looked at each other. I repeated the phrase: one plus one equals three.

No more than five words. Simple and—quite literally—uneducated. Yet the words were extremely potent. The conversation was about relationships. This was not just about lovers. The small proverb-like sentence was referring to the essence of all authentic and prosperous relationships. It was the secret behind all bonds.

A real relationship is one that brings forth a sum greater than its parts. It is an illogical, unexplained phenomena bordering the line of a magician’s trick. The end result of a relationship is more than what could have possibly been created had one calculated the pieces separately. This marvel of relationships is why we are attracted to having them with others.

Looks like chem lab paid off.

An energy, a chemistry, a connection or a vibration. I have heard all of these terms used when describing a meaningful connection with another. It is something literally magical.

I first understood this concept in probably the most blue collar, laymen’s terms that existed. A couple teaching yoga taught a tantric class on relationships. The male was a former carpenter and electrician. He described relationships in the form of voltage.

Any one person is capable of emitting 110 Volts—the power expelled from a regular US electrical socket. 110 volts is a decent amount of power, but to really get things flowing, 220-volts might be needed. Now, if two 110-volts try to fuse together improperly, they will be unable to obtain 220 volts. Instead, they must use a transformer. This will reach the desired output.

Git r done!

The metaphor of the transformer is that two people can create a larger output if their relationship is properly established. Properly established is he key concept. In today’s world, many people carry out relationships without transcending past the surface levels of formalities and physicality. By venturing past these barriers to authentic relationships, deeper levels of trust, intuition, connectivity and love await.

The first and only step is trust. Faith in the art of giving is the foundation of all great relationships. A pertinent example is my relationship with the wise friend who inspired this post.

Trust, its what’s for dinner.

I will never know what our friendship will bring. There are no guarantees, no promised rewards and no IOU’s. All there is, is what I choose to give. When I give unconditionally, I know that my friend will receive that which he needs from our relationship. In this process, I learn to surrender to any sort of control or unknowingness while at the same time enjoying the gift of giving. Our relationship grows because we both believe in this concept. Because of this, our relationship can defy simple arithmetic.

When a relationship is about the sum and not the parts, it becomes a greater entity, capable of achieving unimaginable heights.