Zach Vincent was mugged in Mexico City's central park. It was an assault that left him sputtering, "Look at that bru.. look at that perfect family having a picnic!"
Mexican towns are constructed in the world's imagination by films of hardship and dystopia. A creation which began with grainy westerns, the cowboy riding into a dusty plaza with the aura of violence soon to erupt. Later tales of cartels solidify the image: Mexico is a dangerous place.
As Zach and I walked though Chapultapec park it was clear that the city had other story lines to share. A place where neighborhoods still retain the intimacy lost to most of North America. Mom and pop shops thrive. Food spills out from restaurants to the side walk and then moves through the streets on carts. Colonial architecture mixes with modern design touches, creating fresh energy with roots in history.
Zach was the perfect cameraman for my new project. Talented, hungry, and well traveled; yet had never been to Mexico City. Through his lens I knew we'd get a professional shot tinged with the curiosity and enthusiasm of discovery. In his shots the viewer will see storylines that may never be fully articulated, but that's exactly the point. A good show, just like a good trip, shouldn't tie things up with a bow, but rather leave loose threads to work their way around the imagination.
I've now filming for three projects in CDMX, including two Road Less Traveled episodes. There are stories for a dozen more. Few cities in the world contain such an abundance of narratives, history, and magic. Your visit will surely unlock something unique and unexpected.
A haircut in Sarajevo left me ruminating on the dangers of tribalism and nationalism. Anyone who understands history will find this clear. What can we do individually to combat this trend? Besides political action we can work to change ourselves and have that change radiate out to our friend groups and community.
Some of the ways to break down the mental borders of tribalism are:
How we begin our days and end them has an enormous impact on quality of life. Doing it mindlessly leads to a trap: scrolling social media, light pumping into the eyes and comparison stirring up the brain. Sleep comes later and dreams are anxious. As an experiment sit in your dark room, let your eyes adjust, and then turn on your phone. Notice the amount of light that is now illuminating the space. Next scroll social media for 5 minutes, stop, and take note of your state. Are you full of contentment and peace?
For healthier rest try these elements to a healthy evening routine:
Venice Beach has had one hell of a roller coaster ride, but are the twists and turns about to give way to a dull cruise into blandness? The fate of Helmut's ice cream shop could be a watershed moment for the once proudly weird neighborhood.
In 1905 tabbacco tycoon Abbot Kinney created this beach resort in the style of its Italian namesake, complete with canals and gondolas. A few decades later it was covered with oil rigs. Next it transitioned from a beat generation hub, bodybuilding mecca, to a so called "slum by the sea" both edgy and dangerous. Recently a wave of tech has reimagined the neighborhood as "Silicon Beach", a sunny, gentrified office park.
It's in the hands of new tech residents, the remaining old guard locals, and the stream of tourists to decide what kind of Venice they want to experience: the same options or something different? Hinano or the Habit? Groundworks or Starbucks?
The market is now testing this neighborhood for its interest in homogeneity. Is the next phase of Venice to resemble any given strip mall in the America? Where we spend our dollars will answer this question. Charly Temmel's fate may predict the verdict.
So you had a little travel fling.. right on! Romantic connection is a beautiful, enlivening thing, It's a mind expanding experience (if you are actually taking interest in the contents of each other's brains).
Now you're back home and still flirting over a texting app. An invitation appears: "Come back and see me." You flip open your laptop and start browsing flights.
It's an admirable move. The mark of a romantic soul. However, let's adjust expectations and strategy before buying that ticket. Misadventure may await you. Are you ready for it?
These are ever present possibilities, but don't be dissuaded. Instead, change your perspective and approach:
Revisiting a travel fling is always a toss of the dice, but with the right preparation you can stack the odds in favor of a winning roll. By setting a realistic frame and controling expectations one can have a memorable trip no matter which numbers turn up. And remember the goal is that both people end up feeling empowered from this interaction. Let's all leave a trail of beautiful memories in our wake. Be honest. Be kind. Be your best self.
The "fearful creature" mentioned in the video has pointed out that I did not provide any solutions for what author Johann Hari has called the "ego addiction", an unhealthy attachment to self that is isolating us from each other. Here are my best ideas to scale that back:
* The term "drugs" is used to cover everything from caffeine to aspirin to crack to magic mushrooms. Clearly there is a difference between sipping a cup of coffee and injected heroin into a vein. We need new vocabulary that does not lump all mood altering substances under the same tainted banner.
** The "war on drugs" has been one of the most destructive and evil forces humanity has unleashed on itself, responsible for many more deaths than the drugs it purports to combat. It is fueled by hypocrisy, racism, and greed. To uncover the full perniciousness of these policies I'd recommend the documentaries 13th and America's War on Drugs as well as the book Chasing the Scream.
*** I've heard terrible stories of charlatans taking advantage of the vulnerable. Specifically if you plan to go to South America to experience an Ayahuasca ceremony vet your shaman very carefully.
This summer I'll return to Serbia to dig deeper into a vexing mystery and explore new destinations. Would you like to come along? I'm limiting the number of co-adventurers to 10, plus a cameraman who will document our journey. As a small, intimate group we will better bond with each other, our environment, and the locals we meet.
Registration time is now at 10 days.
The collective energy of our group is critical. Optimally we are all open minded, flexible, kind, playful, and adventurous. We all embrace an "amor fati" attitude to travel and life.
If this speaks to you I hope you'll join me to make a travel supergroup this summer in Serbia!
Last Spring I made a blogpost which featured my pixelated buttocks. The post appeared on a popular hiking Facebook page. While most comments were supportive, a couple men blasted me. They were profoundly offended to see a bottom even blurred. One dude told me I should register as a sex offender.
When did these men consciously decided they found the gluteus muscles (and the skin and fat which surround them) so offensive? Did they sit down one day to figure out which body parts were cool and which shameful? Of course not. They were impressed at a very young age through a variety of mediums.
Now I had my awareness completely on the subject. What was wrong with the backside of the human body? For that matter, what was embarrassing about the frontside? Did we not all have similar features from little innocent babies to sweet old grandparents? I couldn't seem too find fault with this design when putting full reason on it.
However, the disesteem for ourselves runs deep. So deep that I discovered a new pocket of it under the full moon in Goa, India. Once again the matter cleared up when put under the full gaze of awareness and query**.
Have you had a similar experience?
*Book reference in video is Lost Connections by Johann Hari. He speaks about some of these thoughts on this podcast.
**There are some thorns imbedded so deep, however, that noticing them is just the beginning of a long process of pulling them out. The most pernicious, given to us by the same advertisers who have contributed to body shame, is materialism. Extrinsic thinking that acquiring a possession will make us happy. Study after study contradicts this belief, but it's so dominant all but the most enlightened fall under it's bewitchment.
I'm the lonely protagonist obstructed from my objective. The folks slow to get off the plane keep me from my goal, inefficient drivers do great injustice by reducing my speed, a crowded sidewalk on the way to the taco truck is a colossal inconvenience.
I often slip into this perspective under the bewitchment of thought or emotion. It occurs during figurative or literal movement towards a goal. Fulfillment awaits me at a destination and any impediment threatens my heroic mission. Yet, upon arrival, my troubled journey ends with only brief satisfaction before a new quest begins. I got from A to B, but now C beckons.
There are two unhealthy viewpoints in play here.
The first is that life can be savored only upon arrival. But arrival to exactly where? The majority of life will unfold between landmarks, goals, and achievements. It happens in traffic, on the plane, and during day to day striving.
Ultimately we labor towards a moment in which we hope to rest in present contentment. But.. Could that contentment occur right now?
The second problematic perspective is duality: Jonathan against the world.
Am I not a creature of the world? Do I not fall somewhere in the spectrum between atoms and galaxies? And is everything in this span not a piece of one big thing?
The airline incident occurred between myself and a woman. Both of us believing ourselves to be inconvenienced protagonists. Both of us focused on getting to a future moment instead of resting in a present one. It's a classic road rage formula which transcends highways and airports to infect our whole lives if never brought under the light of awareness.
The above video does not truly convey the beauty of Rishikesh. It's located on a stunning stretch of the Ganges headwaters. It's full of soft-hearted pilgrims trudging not towards a religious obligation, but rather a personal search for enlightenment and transcendence. As the birthplace of yoga, the town is full of ashrams and studios where one can sleep, eat, and practice for as little as 15 USD a day. The surrounding hills are laced with steep trails and the riverbank provides opportunities to scamper, boulder, or find blissful seclusion.
The town is also a massive resource of wisdom (and a bit of chicanery) as dozens of "gurus" hold open meetings, called satsang, free of charge. Naturally there must be some commercial incentive for pasting glossy headshots of the charismatic leaders all over town. There is most likely a sliding scale of intention, from those hoping to accrue power and wealth via a spiritual avenue, those looking to share a message while keeping their operation afloat, and those who believe these two objectives can be ethically integrated.
I visited several of these satsang, dividing my attention between the guru and his/her audience. The teachers ranged from pure charlatan to well intentioned. The best had informative wisdom on the nature of consciousness. They attempt to drop the right insight or pose the right question which will enable the seeker to break free of the dominant paradigm of what the Hindu's would call "maya" and the modern world would understand as "the matrix". That is the illusion of a separate self schlepping through a foreign world, motivated by fear, lurching toward ephemeral pleasures and away from pain. Keep climbing until you reach the promised rung of contentment or die on the ladder.
The audience of these gurus tilts heavily towards the wide-eyed and credulous, the majority of skeptics perhaps having written off the whole scene. This is an understandable division. There is quite a stew of woo woo sloshing around the sphere of Rishikesh. One will hear many insightful observations about the experience of consciousness mixed in with improbable yet assured metaphysical claims about the nature of physical reality. Unfortunately this combination means that many savvy intellects who could benefit from the baby in the bathwater will stay away, and the overly impressionable will drink the whole concoction down. Con artists thrive among the latter group, the wise have a small audience among the former.
Although I too may be self-deluded, I believe I've plucked some diamonds from the experience of Rishikesh; including a more committed yoga practice and deeper meditation sessions. It's a place I recommend all "spiritual" seekers visit, with a healthy balance of openness and critical thinking.
Links related to video:
John de Ruiter according to Globe and Mail
and according to Vice
Two gurus I would visit again (this does not entail an endorsement nor do i concur with all their ideas. Rather I believe them to be well-intentioned, humble, and in possession of some unique insight)
I'm Jonathan Legg
The road has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and developing understanding of others. I hope the content on this blog will bring a sliver of that juju to you.