A blog within a blog? I’ll allow it. (PS, I like parentheses. Get over it.)
Mora mora is a Malagasy expression, which translates to slowly slowly in English. Lovely sentiment, no? We would all do well to take more long, relaxed breaths, appreciate the now, care more for our task at hand, gaze into someone’s eyes a few seconds longer, let a loving touch linger, deliberate before rash reactions, allow our emotions settle and take their true form, ingest our surroundings and the beauty it can bring…I could go on. Granted, this cultural concept may account for a portion of the inefficiency in Madagascar, among plenty of other serious economic and environmental factors, of course (though the culture feeds those, too, and vice versa– everything plays together, not always nicely). Additionally, from what I gather from my friends, mentors and colleagues who have visited and researched in this stunning country, a sizable amount of administrative, interpersonal and logistical frustration. Some of that frustration is just the disparity of our high-strung Western conditioning to have things be quick, efficient and, well…cold. Overall, though, it is telling that Madagascar’s people at large are not conflict-oriented at heart and some of the kindest souls the above mentioned group of people have ever encountered. (I will note here, for those curious about my previous, failed plans to do my graduate dissertation research in Madagascar, that I still have the intention to go. Thanks to you-know-who-you-are for keeping me on your research assistant radar and giving me hope that it will happen someday soon.)
This is on my mind at the moment because I have recently realized that I do not take anything mora mora. I’m passionate. Sometimes flighty. Planning delights the hell out of me, but I change my mind so often that it’s often for nought, then on to plan the next maybe-thing. This tendency has led me to some very rad impromptu experiences indeed, like taking a weekend vacation from Oxford to France and couchsurfing with some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. Or taking a long walk with a new friend that resulted in an extraordinary, impassioned and still-ongoing adventure that I will treasure forever. Sometimes the consequences are less pleasant, like the combined decisions to spend my entire savings when I was sixteen on a beat-up car and to drive it while smoking a cigarette (I know, gross- it was my last from a very short-lived habit), which caused me to crash into a pole mere months after dropping my hard-earned dough on it. Life is a pendulum, always swinging between beauty and a bitch.
Especially poignant, as it highlights both effects of this tendency, is the solo hike I took last weekend in the Tillamook State Forest in Western Oregon. Spectacular part of the country, this. I woke in the morning with no plan for the day and a spirit in need of clarifying. Naturally, I felt the need to be alone in the woods where I can typically get real body and soul exercise going. This is an urge I feel fairly often, so whenever I have the ability to do it, I do. Thankfully, Portland is where I choose to reside these days, so it happens more often than it used to. I fueled my body and vehicle, filled my water, pocketed my charged iPod, and hit the road…after texting a someone to let it be known where I was going. Yes, I actually do that now. Begrudgingly, but I do.
<<(And now for the aside: Part of what I fancy about ‘losing myself’ in the forest is having nobody know where I am. There is intense intrigue in getting lost. I recently read a book by Rebecca Solnit called A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which is one of about 8 major happenings this past year that have impacted my life profoundly. While I won’t go deep into the whole book, I will share her descriptions of the two types of getting lost: one is when the whereabouts of something or someone becomes unknown or inaccessible to you, the other is allowing yourself to become immersed in something unknown, essentially becoming utterly present. Important to these two definitions is how they can interact with each other. For example, you can get physically lost and feel personally lost by allowing yourself to become entranced by novelty and beauty, by accessing your inner self and improvising instead of falling into panic. You can also be so lost on the inside that you find yourself physically lost, losing track of time, or losing items due to your state of immersion. Straying is a balance just like everything else, but not to welcome being lost as part of your life due to fear– of change, isolation or negotiating that balance– would be a truly sad fashion in which to live.
I flirt with that sadness regularly, despite having been fascinated with being both, but mostly the second kind of lost, for as long as I can remember. I don’t feel I do it as often as I should. It makes me anxious, excited, powerful, afraid, courageous…the whole gamut. Anything that makes me feel so much, so widely, so intensely, has the dedicated attention of my heart and mind. More than anything, though, being lost, by definition, promises new experience, and this is invaluable. Life is certainly patterned beyond belief, but of certain intentional, habitual comforts I am wary. We all fall into them with varying levels of knowledge and conviction. A lover, a couch, a soda, a method of acquiring money, a home base– these can all feel amazing. I hope your other halves and houses are nice, I do, and it’s not wrong to have them. But I can not, at my age, in my spiritual and intellectual state, reconcile settling on anything without first striving to keep getting lost. I’m not sure how long I need to be lost or if I ever want to stop. I don’t know where I’ll go, who I’ll meet, what I’ll do, how I’ll eat, how many more bones I’ll inevitably break, how many more times my heart will break, what will make me cry with sorrow or joy. I know nothing, but there’s anxiety in stagnancy for me. It’s why I travel, pursue an artistic life despite crippling shame, covet my solitude, meditate, and it’s also why I tend to hike alone.
So, besides recommending this amazing book, I’ll just encourage everyone to go get lost.>>)
I arrived at the trailhead at Elk Mountain, remembering that I’d been there before but only actually hiked about 1/8 of the trail due to laziness and time constraints. That fact, in addition to my stubborn inspired energy, meant that I was doubly determined to make it to the summit. And that I did do. Along the ascent I experienced breathtaking vistas (incidentally, I was also out of breath every from exhaustion each time I stopped to appreciate a view), sheer drop-offs that didn’t so much feed my Rambo/Cliffhanger fantasies as they did make my blood cold as ice and a hole form in the pit of my stomach, an incredible soundtrack (Ali Farka Touré, anyone?), and unexpectedly steep, slippery grades (why unexpected? It has been raining in NW Oregon for over a month and I was aware that I was climbing a goddamned mountain…inexcusable) that resulted in wobbly, burning legs.
So engaged were all my senses in these stimuli that I failed to plan for the descent. To make an already-long story short, I took a few spills. That’s right, people, a few. I won’t say how many. But one of them had my right arm feeling less than stellar and my left buttock downright unhappy. Slowly, slowly, I made it back to the bottom, all the while lecturing myself about being a more careful person in all my endeavors. Through all this self-shaming, the deeper value of the hike creeped in. I had been so present, so engaged throughout. That’s nothing to be ashamed of or regretful for. Maybe I wasn’t going literally mora mora, but my level of focus and commitment, albeit a little rushed, caused me to experience true flow. That was a trade-off I could accept, with the condition of promising to consider my health and safety more readily in the future.
Satisfied and sore, I spied the trusty Subaru around the bend where heat, a cushioned seat and additional water awaited me. Driving felt doable, so I headed straight to urgent care as soon as I got back into the city to make sure the arm was not fractured (thank you, free Oregon healthcare). It wasn’t. I ‘celebrated’ by stocking up on healthy foods for my imminent stretch of homestead solitude.
Back at home, where my only roommate was still absent due to her holiday travels, I took a too-hot bath, had an overdue solo cripple-dance party to The Cramps in my room, meditated and called it a day…after letting my friend know what was up, that I was safe but late getting back because I got myself hurt. I thought twice about adding the detail, that maybe I would be shamed for not being careful. I should have known better, I thought, they don’t need to know I’m injured. But I really should have known better than to assume such a reaction would come from a true friend. Trust, not assumption; acceptance, not expectation. I learn, but often don’t remember or choose to forget. The more responsibility I take for what happens to me, the more control I find I possess. The truer I act, the more valuable my experiences. Still, it seems sensible for me to start with just one mora for now.
Take it slow, dears, but don’t be slugs.
(Sorry slugs, you’re adorable and awesome.)