I’m back in Portland and the crisp bite of the November wind announces firmly that fall is all but gone and winter is imminent. I left Portland in late September when the days were still draped in the fading warmth of summer. Now, the brilliant red and orange leaves are mostly on the rain-soaked ground and flannel has replaced the cotton sheets on my bed.
One of the things about leaving a place for 7 weeks is that you might completely miss a season. I absolutely love fall in Portland, but I was willing to sacrifice it this year for a glimpse into a city and country and continent I had never seen before. This trip was my first to Peru and my first to South America. I think most other travelers found it odd that I chose to spend all of my time in or near Cusco, but I have shared with you (many times) that I am into SLOW travel. I love to experience a place long enough to have a favorite coffee shop and to establish a lasting friendship. The concept of racing through multiple countries holds little appeal to me as do long and tedious bus rides in seats designed for someone with a frame that is significantly shorter than my own. In my travels around Europe I made my peace with the fact that I will never see ALL the things, so I allow myself to choose the things that I think I will enjoy the most.
My experience in Cusco was wonderful, but also challenging. I allowed myself to just be and live without many parameters, and this resulted in days with a relaxed rhythm. This was the first time in my recent travels that I didn’t really have a project or a focus of some type, and my performance oriented brain found this state of being, ironically, quite arduous. I wasn’t doing any art expositions or residencies or creating drawings to fill a book as I had done during the vast majority of my European travels. I did draw throughout my stay, but I was mostly just… living. Eating. Being.
I know. To all of you with jobs and families and busy, busy lives, this sounds intoxicating and surreal. For me, it was a vivid reminder as to how much I depend on ‘producing’ to feel like a valuable and worthwhile person on this planet. Oh, identity and ego. Once you start digging into this minefield, you’ll never see things in the same way again. This is not a cautionary tale, but just a shout-out to those who think that doing inner-work has a time limit. My divorce was the event that thrust the shovel in my hands and I can be assured I will be ‘excavating’ for the rest of my life.
As this process reveals more and more to my conscious self, I choose to place myself in situations where I can’t perform, just to feel the vicious keening of my ego. Uncomfortable though it might be, I feel like it is the antidote to the poison that can leak from my Enneagram #3 Achiever self. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the parts of me that actually motivate me to finish books, build houses and hopefully pay my bills. These characteristics, however, on their worst day, are deeply suspicious that I have worth without performance. And even though I find it quite easy to agree with them, I know that I do. I know the Capital T- Truth. That I am loved without achieving a damn thing; that I am beloved being, in fact… nothing. I love this excerpt from Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr:
But being nothing has a glorious tradition. When we are nothing, we are in a fine position to receive everything from God. If we look at all the great religious traditions, we see they use those words. The Franciscan word would be “poverty.” The Carmelite word would be nada, nihil — “nothingness.” The Buddhists speak of emptiness. Jesus preferred to talk in images so he spoke of the desert. The desert is where we are voluntarily under-stimulated. No feedback. No new data. That’s why he says to go into the closet. That’s where we stop living out of other people’s response to us. We can then say, I am not who you think I am. Nor am I whom you need me to be. I’m not even who I need myself to be. I must be “nothing” in order to be open to all of reality and new reality.” The Zen master calls this state “the face we had before we were born.” Paul would call it who you are: “in Christ, hidden in God” (Col. 3:3). I just say it is who you are before having done anything right or anything wrong, who you are before having thought about who you are. Our thinking doesn’t make it so. Thinking creates the ego self, the self of reputation, the insecure self. Contemplation, on the other hand, recognizes the Godself, the Christself of abundance and security.
So, I could tell you stories of the beauty of Cusco. Of the ancient Inca walls, and the mystical ruins and the rosy cheeks of the portrait perfect faces of the Peruvian children. I could tell you of the grand cathedrals and flowering plazas and colorful open air markets. I could tell you of the charming cobalt blue doors and windows that compliment the terra cotta roof tops and white walls of the old city. I could tell you of the endless stone stairways and romantic overlooks and how the heavy silver grey clouds would move over the mountains in an boundless procession, dousing the city with short and angry rainstorms before the sun would, once again, take the upper hand. I could do this and so much more, but for me, the beauty of Cusco was grace. Cusco was my continued journey into what it means to just be, and to sit in the tension between knowing Truth and living Truth. I hope you feel this Truth today- wherever you are in this big beautiful world.