Monday, September 3, 2012

Finding Myself

September 3, 2012 – Finding Myself

“So you are searching for something?” the chief officer asks me. “Trying to find yourself?” I’m hanging out with him on the bridge during one of his 4:00 to 8:00 watches. By this time I’ve been on the ship twenty days. Time has stretched into something perfect and immeasurable. The days are paradoxically different and all the same to me. I’m content. Igor and I haven’t had as many chances for one on one conversation. His watches fall at times which have been less convenient for me to drop in on. This day I’d worked it in because I’ve been wanting to ask him about how it was growing up in a Soviet country and what it was like after the Soviet Union fell. He and I are the same age and I want to hear his perspective. I’m interested in seeing how the world was, how the world is through his eyes. And now, he’s got the chance to question me and he’s wondering why I’m traveling this way. What I’m doing with my life.

“No,” I say, without defensiveness, “I’ve found myself.”
From the outside it would be easy to assume I’m on some kind of life quest; quitting my job, selling my things, living a year in South America, attending a ten day Vipassana retreat, traveling by sea, wandering about. But what I’m really doing is just living life. As fully as possible.

But now I’ve done it again.

Ängsbacka, the retreat center where the Raw Life Festival is being held, is just the kind of place where people come to find themselves. They come to have a spiritual experience, to get in touch with their intuition, to really connect with others on the soul level, and to explore their consciousness, humanity, sexuality, or physicality. 

The place itself is beautiful. Gardens full of edibles stretch out over the hectares of land. Flower beds color the green, tents dot the hillside, cozy farmhouses suggest things like bed and hearth, and chickens roam around freely, looking for tasty snacks in the grass. Up above, the Swedish sky seems bigger than any sky I’ve seen. I thought I’d seen some fantastic skies, but this one takes the prize. It doesn’t close me in or hold me down. I could fly into this expanse and always be free. Under this sky I feel possibility. I feel like I can really breathe. Past the greenhouse, past the plotted gardens, the forest invites sanctuary, suggests peace.

Ängsbacka is the kind of place where information signs always start with “Beloved”, people exchange long, long hugs and walk barefooted, many of the volunteers have dreadlocks, beautiful souls with tattoos, piercings, and bright hair colors are the norm, flowing skirts and layered looks are the mode, and all the women know how to wear scarves in their hair (and some of the men).

Volunteers pay a discounted rate to serve through the summer. They’re given the chance to attend the different events (such as a Yoga Festival, a Tantric Festival, The Raw Life Festival, or a Nordic Permaculture Festival) while working part of the day to keep the place running. There are a handful of “permanent” residents who take care of the farm or who live close enough to come every day by bike to work. And, when the festivals are on, there are the participants.

It’s a hippy commune. A sustainable living locality. A village. A community. An escape from the mundane. An asylum for the world-weary. A place where society’s misfits are fits.

I’m somewhere in the middle of fit and misfit; a chameleon, changing colors as my backgrounds change. I know how to blend in. I know the languages of these different worlds. It’s like changing from a jacket in the fall to a coat for winter, and I already know what’s in my pockets. 

After breakfast I trail along after Pontus to the volunteer meeting. I’m going to be a participant at the festival (I’d looked into being a volunteer but since I didn’t want to spend my whole summer at Ängsbacka I decided to be a participant instead), but for the next day or so I am volunteer for whatever odd jobs they can find for me.

In the Big Barn, we sit in a circle on floor mats. New volunteers are introduced, leaders give speeches in flowery language, I feel like a kid on her first day at school.
I sit close to my only friend.

I don’t know the rituals, but I catch on quick. During the announcements when a person is finished speaking or if they say something worth applauding, the people here don’t clap. They stretch their hands out towards the speaker and wave their fingers in a love shower. There are sound effects too, a ssssshhhoooo sound like water falling over rocks. Sometimes I join in, sometimes it feels just a little too much even for me.   

When the business is done and the love showers have been dowsed about, Tom tells us to find a partner. Uh oh, I think, this is the scary part. What is he going to have us do?

He says something like, “We’re all here to find connections with others. Sometimes the most powerful ways to connect with another person is to gaze into their eyes without breaking the gaze. To communicate your love, your being to theirs.”

It’s like the staring game.

Pontus and I partner up. We sit up knee to knee. And we gaze into each other’s eyes. It’s been said that “The eyes are the window to the soul,” and I look into Pontus’s trying to see if that’s true. All I can see is the blue of his eyes, the different flecks of color, the steady, unbroken gaze he maintains. Damn, he’s good. I try to not blink. I try to look as if this is easy, like I gape like this every day. Lord have mercy. This is hard. I’m not much of a long eyed gazing person. But I don’t want to be the one to break first. I shift my scrutiny from one eye to each of his to both my eyes on one of his eyes. And then to the other. I wonder how my eyes shift. What does he see? Is my soul visible through my pupils? Are my eyes blue or green today? How long is this going to go on?

It’s embarrassing. It’s bonding. It’s silly. It’s a test of my ability to sit still. I try to communicate
friendship, love, goodwill through the power of my eyes. I get distracted by thoughts of superpowers. I don’t forget to keep on looking.

Eventually, finally, Tom gently ends the staring session. “Be sure to thank your partner,” he says. So I do.

Then he releases us out into the wild to do our work, or to find a place in the sun, or a place out of the rain, or to seek out solitude, or clump around in togetherness with others. I go along with Pontus and Tom and help them with the Time and Place boards that will be our Today and Tomorrow Schedules to follow once the festival has begun.

I keep pace with Pontus and head over to the office building. I skip along, smiling to myself about what Igor would think to look at me now. I glance out across Ängsbacka, to where the sky domes out bigger than ever just past the edge of the forest. Some clouds, thick white and edged with rain, skitter across the sky. Heck, I think to myself, I should lose myself here, just so I can have the fun of finding myself again.

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