Thursday 26 February 2015

The Soul of the Journey

Writing about travelling is easy. You go to places, describe how they look, sound, smell, feel, taste. You interlace those descriptions with the opinions you form and compare them with other places you’ve been to or nest them with the things you’ve read, heard or seen. Choosing what to write about is easy too, because the days, places and experiences break into pieces like biscuits. 

But every now and then, when you’ve talked about all the bits of biscuit you’ve broken off and eaten, you look down and there’s just a plate full of crumbs. And the crumbs are much harder to write about than the biscuits.

What is happening when you’re not surfing, climbing a mountain, going to the zoo or shitting yourself to death? Because really the bits in between are the essence of what it means to be on the road. As some genius once said:
Travelling is not so much about the dots as the joining of them...the big things; the memories, the places, the photographs; they're important. But the subtle things, harder to write about or recall, are the soul of the journey. 
I’m writing this on the Chennai Mail train, heading up to Kochi from Varkala, and I should have taken it sooner. Life has been pretty good these last few (nine) days and I’ve overindulged in the ease of my surroundings and company. I can’t be exactly sure why I am here, but have a fairly strong sense that it’s as much about what’s going on inside me as outside. So I’ve been doing fuck all of any real note except surfing in the morning, yoga at night and loafing around chewing the fat with the people who come and go every few days and the ones that stick around. I’ve been working on the soul.

I’ve suffered with back pain at various times in my life, and have seen countless osteopaths, chiropractors and physios over the years. Everyone single one of them told me to do yoga, but I didn’t. Because, I said, I wasn’t flexible enough to do yoga. Which, as one Indian guy remarked the other day, is a bit like saying you’re too dirty to have a bath.

I only started yoga last summer so can’t bring myself to talk about my yoga practice just yet - for now I still just do yoga. And I’ve been doing a lot of it over the last week, guided by an extremely good (and patient) teacher, Hayley, who bent my misdirected limbs back in the right direction and made the necessary modifications, piling up mats and bolsters so that poses could accommodate my fucked, inflexible body. 

A few days ago we had a yin session, where you hold the poses for five minutes, remaining completely still. It's far more effective than waterboarding if you’re ever pushed for time extracting sensitive information from me, but actually taking the stretches beyond the barrier, the release is incredible. Sitting there, hips splayed as wide as they’ll go, spine straight, eyes closed, I could hear my inner voice repeating its silent mantra over and over:
Pain is just weakness leaving the body
OK so Chuck Norris is no yogi, but he was bang on the money with that one. And is if to prove a point, I went and had an Esalen massage later that afternoon. Having winced, groaned, dribbled and laughed nervously through my fair share of massages over the years - Sports, Swedish, Thai, Seitai, Ghee - they all pale into a puddle of drool on the floor compared to this one.

Franco, the brilliantly titled Head of Massage at Soul & Surf (he’s the only guy giving massages), is a genius. The testimonies were glowing, many of them alluding to the strong emotional impact of the technique and being pretty open-minded about such things these days, I went in ready to be amazed.

When I walked out of there an hour or so later, I was in a trance. Every nerve in my body was on fire, pulsing with the electric currents that keep us feeling everything, but which we never feel. At various moments of extreme pain as he worked knots or manipulated my joints, I felt long held negative memories, thoughts and resentments bursting like squeezed spots and carrying themselves out of me with the breath and the pain. The cumulative effect is not just the intense work on the muscles, but on the source of all that tension and the latent resistance that we don’t even realise we’re mounting.

Lying there at the end, completely corpse like, I wanted to cry, but found myself laughing instead, more out of sheer disbelief than anything else. It was hard to walk when I finally got up, floating outside, looking completely bewildered and experiencing such basic sensations, seemingly for the first time that I didn’t really know what to do. In the uncertainty I did the only thing I could, which was to hug the guy, and say thank you. Later, someone told me he had remarked, “That, was a massage.” 

And he was right.


India, I’m on my way.

No comments:

Post a Comment