“And the answer that you’re seeking for the question that you found drives you further to confusion as you lose your sense of ground. So don’t forget to breathe. Don’t forget to breathe. Your whole life is here, no 11th hour reprieve. So don’t forget to breathe. Keep your head above water. But don’t forget to breathe.” ~Alexi Murdoch
This week, I reread an old journal entry from a year ago. It said: “I have trouble slowing down and appreciating the present moment. I find it hard to breathe and relax and enjoy the activity or person at hand.” I sighed a deep exhale of relief as I barely recognized this shell that was my former self, suffocated by stress and possessed by perfectionism.
By getting out of touch during my months in Buenos Aires with the pace of life I was accustomed to at home, I am feeling more in touch with, as Julie so beautifully put it in one of her posts from Italy,
“the miracles that are in front of us at all times, and the softer, more accepting, inclusive, connected arrangement that is waiting for us underneath the shell.”
If chewing has been one trick to get in touch, a strategy to get out of touch has been living without a cell phone. By “strategy” I mean I’ve been too lazy to procure one here, but it’s been liberating to wean myself off the device I used to check every five minutes and rely on for everything.
Clean and sober for three months now since my Blackberry and I parted ways at the Philadelphia Airport, I rarely know the time or date – to the point that I can’t believe an entire month has passed since I last posted and I’m only mildly convinced that today is Christmas. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the Fourth of July, but that could be because the forecast is 75 degrees and sunny and there are currently fireworks going off outside my balcony.
Without a phone, I also no longer have calls, texts, BBMs, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Gchat, etc. with me at all times to constantly suck me out of my physical surroundings and into a virtual world. I pass my days in drinks instead of digits – OJ (morning), mate (afternoon), wine (night) – and I’m more likely to interact with a stranger standing next to me than a friend miles away.
I’ve either finally mastered optimism, or losing track of time and constant contact has also forced me to sharpen my natural intuition. Because, despite our technological regression here, everything magically still seems to work out.
Even when we forget to write down the address of where we’re going and don’t have a colorful array of cell phone icons to rescue us, we (eventually) find the people and places we’re looking for. Even when I burn my brown rice because the oven doesn’t have a timer and the kitchen clock stopped working in October, the charred notes have unexpectedly revolutionized one of my staple meals, and now I can’t eat it any other way.
Aside from redefining fashionably late and having to dissuade my roommates from panicking that the kitchen is on fire on a near nightly basis, I feel as if I’m living the magic realism – a literary genre closely connected with Latin America in which magical elements blend with the real world – that piqued my interest in this region in the first place.
Our looser schedule and limited forms of contacting people – as well as a limited number of people to contact in general – has been astounding on personal and social levels. I’m tempted to say I’ve progressed since that robotic journal entry from a year ago, but, in reality, it’s regressing that has revitalized me.
Personally, the anxiety that I used to feel coursing through my jaw on a regular basis with everything I had to do has melted away. I make time to do things for myself, like listen to various versions of “Vissi d’arte” that my dad emailed to me while savoring a casual glass of vino – a combination that is equivalent to a soul massage.
But perhaps more valuable than making time for myself has been making time for others. It kills me to think back to that home office at my family’s kitchen table and how many times I must have snapped at my mom that I was working whenever she’d initiate conversation with me that she began to catch herself and put her hand over her mouth whenever she forgot this unspoken rule I’d unconsciously established. I hope she would be proud of me and accept as partial recompense that I now quiet the constant to-do list in the back of my mind when an opportunity to interact with another human being arises.
For example, when the spirited 8-year-old granddaughter of the woman who owned the first apartment we lived in – neither of whom I’d met before – bounded into our room and asked to play YouTube videos of a tween Disney pop star on my computer, I didn’t snap at her that I was working. Instead, I sang along, and she helped me practice rolling my R’s in Spanish after informing me that the way I say them makes me sound like a mosquito.
Or no matter what tasks I had ahead of me on my way in or out of this apartment, I always made time to stop and chat with Lorena, the spirited and kind-hearted building manager who rescued me on day one by informing me which number I lived in. We’d catch up, practice each other’s English and Spanish and get besitos (little kisses) from her adorable children when they were playing in the building’s open-air atrium. Although Jess and I recently moved to a new apartment, Lorena still looks out for us like a second mother and has become such a dear friend that I am taking Erin, who is currently visiting from Zambia to bring me some holiday cheer, to meet her over mate and medialunas (croissants) on Monday.
Back home I was notorious for stopping friends and family midstory to inform them that I wasn’t listening to anything they were saying (at least I’m honest!). But here I find myself taking the time to listen and truly investing myself in my conversations. I’ve known Jess for four years, yet our heart-to-hearts over jugo, mate y vino have deepened our connection (misma página, chica!) and privileged me to a new layer of her beautiful character.
In addition to listening, I’ve become more open to doing what other people want to do or how they would do things instead of always sticking to my preferences and habits. Efficiency and results have bowed to flexibility and spontaneity, with an adventurous Angie usually blazing the trail before she returned home for the holidays. Many times I am pleasantly surprised at the result of the new experience, and I am more prone to respond with laughter than frustration when a roadbock arises.
We laugh here more often and more genuinely. In those minutes I feel a physical happiness permeate the space in my chest where anxiety was once a far too frequent visitor. I continue to work on my optimism, and Jess encourages me by tossing me a verbal doggy treat or high five when I excel.
This city has quite a few trucos (tricks) up its sleeve – sometimes good and sometimes bad – but which both nudge me to explore this new optimistic and magic realistic dimension I’ve entered. But I can’t attribute my renaissance solely to Buenos Aires, because I remember feeling this way the last time I was abroad in San Sebastian. So is it being in a Spanish-speaking culture? Or abroad in general? Is it just being out of the United States or, more specifically, off the East Coast?
Or is it neither region- nor culture-specific, but rather just being out of one’s own culture and society, where the bulk of responsibilities, distractions, expectations and norms lie? After all, I’m most likely the only person in the city traipsing along without a cell phone, as the Blackberry is ubiquitous here.
I don’t have an answer yet, as, luckily, my Argentine adventure is not even half-over. But I found a few clues a few pages later in that journal I rediscovered this week – notes from “The Power of Now.” The epitome of how out of the now I was a year ago, I’d scribbled the notes five minutes before returning the book to my guru Peter because a year had passed since she’d lent it to me and I still hadn’t found the time to finish it, let alone internalize it.
Author Eckhart Tolle says it’s not the country or the culture that determines consciousness. Rather, both the lock and the key lie within. He defines peace as allowing the present moment to be and equates enlightenment with complete presence.
“You ‘get’ there by realizing that you are there already. … You cannot do this in the future. You do it now or not at all.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Beyond presents, Christmas seems to be the time of year when people allow themselves to be present. But as Tolle reminds us, we already and always have everything we need, so we must welcome this light inside us and others year-round. We should wake up every day like it’s Christmas morning.
Here, I’m still in some kind of dreamlike state. But I’m waking up.
“And it’s coming into sight, as the days keep turning into night. And even breathing feels all right. Yes, even breathing feels all right. Now even breathing feels all right.” ~Alexi Murdoch