Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lao Tzu: "A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving"

 Sean & Mufidah: New Year 2011: Honoring 2010 & Looking Ahead
(photo and image border by Luka)

PERHAPS SINCE THE BEGINNING of my blogging days in 2005, I've listed (slow) traveling as one of my interests. And after all this time I'm finally making good on this.

As most of you know, Mufidah and I announced a month previously that we'd be embarking upon our travels around Continental Europe beginning 14 May. Due to delays stemming from dealing with incessant insurance matters, as well as my awaiting my renewed U.S. passport, and various other such tasks, we ended up taking a couple extra days to move out of our flat Behind the Blue Door (16 May), and then returned to Lewes the following day to wrap up a few final tasks before packing up our '98 Fiat Punto, newly installed roof box included, and heading off on our travels.

 Our '98 Fiat Punto, packed and ready-to-go

But in the meantime, a couple nights before we left Lewes we landed upon the idea to complete a 10-day Vipassana meditation course at Dhamma Dipa in Hereford in western England. This will be my third such 10-day course, my first two having been completed, in 2001 and 2004, at Dhamma Dhara in western Massachusetts. And it will be Mufidah's first Vipassana course.

We submitted our applications the morning following our just-after-midnight brainstorm, knowing we'd be placed on the wait list, hoping that we'd eventually be offered places. But, regardless, we made the decision to delay our Continental travels to make our way west as a means to retreat and reground ourselves after a month of what could scarcely have been more chockablock with things to be accomplished along with the stress which goes along with any such major life change, particularly when under quite stark time pressures.

We had one month between making our decision to give up our flat — which, as noted previously, was at once our home, our home office, and where we ran courses and workshops, and worked with our respective one-to-one clients — to either sell, give away or otherwise get rid of many of our personal belongings, and to prepare all that needed preparing in order for us to travel for an unspecified time period, estimated at the outset to be between six months and one year, but which, in fact, we're holding wholly open.

And, yet, three days later we've traveled just under a dozen miles west of Lewes to stay with another dear writing student-friend, Kuljinder, who lives in a lovely flat in Hove, just west of the Brighton-Hove border.

I wrote the above last night, while lying in bed.

Now it's 11.40 Sunday morning, and Kuljinder, Mufidah and I have just cleaned up from having made fresh fenugreek and dal parathas for breakfast, with dal, yoghurt and spicy mango pickle on the side, with cups of homemade chai boiled on the stovetop.

Why would one not slow travel when one had the opportunity to enjoy sharing this sort of nurturing experience with a friend, whether a longtime one like Kuljinder or one we've just met?

Yesterday, Mufidah and I spent the day wandering about Hove and Brighton almost as if for the first time, or so it seemed. We went to many of the same places as always. And, yet, it all seemed so fresh. A lovely, deeply relaxing and nourishing Saturday spent walking around various neighborhoods nestled nearby the main roads yet so peaceful and quiet you'd never guess you were less than a hundred yards, say, from Western Road.

We strolled through St. Ann's Well Gardens, just behind where Kuljinder lives, sat on a seat carved out of a large tree, passed by a makeshift roller disco which was part of the Spring Festival, watched a hard rocking band finish their set, visited the Waterloo Street Arch, shared toast and flat whites on the patio of Koba, met Louis, pictured below, stopped by a music shop for a second viewing of a lovely little travel guitar which I'd love to have with us during our adventures, played it for ages, along with a few others, talked with and videoed three wandering minstrels — two playing acoustic guitars, the third a mandolin — treated ourselves to a single-scoop gelato on a cone, and that sort of thing. In short, a day of blissful slowing down before the 10-day course of slowing down yet further, falling into golden silence, and taking stock.

Louis on the pavement of Western Road, Hove

For now, however, Kuljinder suggested yesterday morning that we stay on here until it's time for us to drive to Hereford. The Vipassana course begins on Wednesday, 23 May and runs 'til Sunday, 3 June. So during this time Mindful Living Guide might very well fall into golden silence as well ... unless I somehow manage to write up a few postdated Mindful Living Monday and Writing Prompt Thursday blog posts.

We'll see ...

In the meantime, we wholeheartedly accepted Kuljinder's offer to stay with her in Hove until we depart on Wednesday morning (to arrive in Hereford in the afternoon). As she told us one day in passing, in the Sikh tradition, guests are to be treated as gods. And that's how it feels here. We're sleeping in Kuljinder's bed, cooking fresh dals and curries with her each day, waking up to porridge and fruit which has been soaked overnight for us, being treated to massages, pre-Vipassana pep talks (she's likewise a Vipassana meditator, and has been to a couple 10-day courses here in England), and afternoon and sometimes morning cups of steaming hot chai.

Right now, as I write, soothing touches of incense reach me from Kuljinder's bedroom, where she's hard at work, to where Mufidah and I are likewise working, Mufidah on the sofa, I at the table overlooking the third-floor balcony and the wholesome admixture of lush green trees, pale-colored houses and modern office buildings. A small tree which one of Kuljiinder's neighbors was going to throw out as diseased sits just outside the window, having been lovingly washed with sudsy water and nursed back to health such that one would never have guessed that there was ever anything wrong with it, its tender branches and yellow-green leaves shuddering in the springtime breeze.

This is what I take Lao Tzu to say when he says (as translated by Stephen Mitchell), "A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving."

This is Mufidah's and my shared motto for our travels ahead, as well as for each moment within the eternal now. So while at times we might make haste for a particular spot — as we'll be doing this coming Wednesday as we head out for Hereford — when at all possible, we intend to take plenty of time to enjoy those precious moments which, as with our time with Kuljinder, were never planned for and yet are somehow all the richer for having found their way into our best laid plans.


  1. Lovely to read about your inner/outer journey. I think I have met Louis in Western Road :)