Merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream

Little voices projected over monotone chants that moved through the palm trees as delicately as the humid air. Three wide-eyed tiny humans, likely under the age of three, were running towards me, waving and shouting hello with such vibrating enthusiasm, you would have thought they’ve been waiting for me since birth. Their skin was darker than the dirt that coated their bare feet. The whites in their eyes popped like hollow circles of luminescent snow with deep, black holes directly in the center.

Their big eyes tilted up, in unison with their mouths. Their whole faces were smiling as they ran in my direction. They were only half clothed, and up close, I could see their bodies were mostly covered in dust. I wanted to pull the three of them into a group hug and kiss all six of their cheeks, but I refrained myself from too much affection. I wasn’t only a stranger to these little beings, I was an alien with skin as white as their snowy eyeballs.

I touched their hands that kept waving hello, holding each of their palms for only a moment. This made them laugh, as touching an alien may very well be amusing. I laughed too, responding to their joy that spilled over my fingers. They continued to wave as our hands separated, somehow understanding the movement also means goodbye.

The four of us loved each other in those passing moments. Their hands left traces of dirt in mine; I cupped my palms together, letting my sweat absorb the dusty pieces of earth, hoping somehow it’s a manifestation of their happiness and it’s sinking beneath the surface of my skin.

It felt as if I’d been wandering through this storybook village for hours before I eventually reached its outskirts. I unintentionally led myself to a moat that circles one of the lesser known ancient temples outside of Siem Reap. I settled onto steps that kissed the moat, positioning my body directly in front of the prodigious structure. There were abandoned wooden boats scattered along the bank of the moat, sitting still like lost spirits. My head unconsciously started humming . . .

Row row row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily merrily
Life is but a dream

I wanted to pirate one of the boats and fill it with my momentarily merry soul. Right now, life feels like a lucid dream. Is this the same sun that hides my pupils when staring into the sky like it has healing powers—the sun that’s followed me from America to Europe to Asia? Today I feel more physically and culturally displaced than I have since my first entry into this planet. Yet in this moment, I feel more present than I have in years. Displacement isn’t typically, if ever, synonymous with presence.

I’ve been skipping through continents for 238 days now. For months it’s felt as though I’ve been watching my life in the third-person, devoid of any recognition of things that should heal my soul more than the sky ever could. I’m existing in a space parallel to the one I’m actually in — an idle field of nothingness. I’m casually evolving into stone, indifferent to the wonders I’m witnessing from my third-person perspective, unconcerned with my soon-to-be metamorphic bones. My state of being has felt fictional. It’s a novel I’m supposed to love, but I’m so caught up with narrating each passing experience, my voice has progressed from tired to mute.

Right now, I’m telling my story with a new voice and new words. I’m sitting in it, feeling a familiar sun. I’m wondering if today marks a turning point — the day marrow wins the war with stones.

This mental transition might’ve began last night, when I burned apathy, handwritten on a small, square sheet of paper in a ceremonial fire held in the yoga hall at Hariharalaya.

Coincidentally, this was the second time this month I burned apathy in a fire ceremony. The first time, I was on ecstasy at a full moon party in Thailand. I didn’t put much thought into this act of burning something, it was a fun hippy-house-party thing to do. I scribbled down apathy because that was the only word that came to me. When you care about nothing, what do you sacrifice?

I was on another level of happy that night, and naturally, an emotional wreck the next day. I finally felt things and it seemed as if the full moon fire lit up some subconscious significance. Or, wild hypothesis, my emotional trapeze might’ve had everything to do with the pill I swallowed in celebration of a moon I usually pay no attention to.

Last night’s fire ceremony was entirely different, as it would be, given I’m on a proper yoga and meditation retreat. But it wasn’t only different for the obvious reasons, there was a noticeable change circulating through my blood, a feathering effect in my heavy bones. As I sat directly in front of the tall, dancing flames, cross-legged with posture pointing me at the stars, I soberly set my intentions.

I’m not expecting my carelessness to dissolve into a pool of colors that then combust into rainbow showers of euphoria, I’m expecting myself to work on happiness and vulnerability like it’s a skill you can build with practice. I’m going to make an effort to connect with emotion—whether it be joy, love, sorrow, anger, fear. I’m going to pull myself out of the quicksand insouciance that’s nearly swallowed me whole.

As I offered my handwritten apathy to the fire, tears drenched my face. Letting go of the sense of nothing felt a lot heavier than tossing a piece of paper into flames. The heat surrounded me like an unchained ghost. My tears were boiling, each stream carving paths of skin off my face. Eventually I was raw, faceless, susceptible to a world overflowing with feelings.

It’s been less than 24 hours since I shed my face. It’s difficult to know if this newfound vulnerability will be yet another fleeting experience, or if this time, my commitment to caring will stick. Will I continue to row the vessel of me, merrily, through this dreamy stream I arbitrarily chose, past this 6-day retreat?

On my walk back through the same village street, I passed the same group of Cambodian children. This time, they didn’t notice me. Maybe my alien demeanor was disguised by a likeminded enthusiasm for life in this present moment. Or maybe with this fresh appreciation for the earth, I blended into the ground. I can only hope, and strive with purpose, to keep a consistent recognition of the absurd beauty that encapsulates my field of vision. Not only will I recognize, I’ll feel, and above all, I’ll be.