I wrote this in early December during a visit to marvelous Mexico City.
Yesterday we did a tour about the making of Mexico and visited the center of the city where they’ve unearthed the ruined foundations of the main Aztec temple where it all began. The Museo del Templo Mayor is an astounding site. Around the active archeological dig are solid blocks of Colonial buildings built on top of the former pyramids and plazas of the people who turned this lake bed into a metropolis. The still-standing colonial city was built by the Spanish using stones from the Aztec structures they dismantled.
For hundreds of years, people doing work on properties or public utilities kept bumping into these ancient stones, but the prevailing assumption (based on other sites of Spanish conquest) was that the main Aztec pyramid was buried beneath the colonials’ Cathedral. Not so in this case. The cathedral was raised adjacent to the temple.
Today, the colonial structures that topped the pyramid have been razed and the site is exposed, with a great museum created next door to tell its story. Meanwhile, all the blocks around the old pyramid are sinking rapidly into the ancient lake bed while the pyramid base in the center is getting pushed upward. There must be a metaphor there, but I’m not clever enough to find it.
Nor am I clever enough to pull myself out of an old pattern that clicks in whenever I’m on a vacation, and especially if it involves travel to an exotic destination. Cities, mountains, oceans. It’s not so much the place that causes my existential panic and feelings of being lost. It’s the space that opens up like a void. I don’t have the structure of my usual headlong rush to organize, perform and finish the many projects that I’m passionate about (everything from cooking dinner to getting jeans that fit to earning a living to striving to be an awakened being).
Instead of relaxing, I drift. In this case I was adrift in the heart of a city of 20 million souls that – over the last 700 years or so – has displaced the water that once filled this massive basin.
Our tour guide showed us a series of aerial representations of how the basin has morphed since the Aztecs first arrived back in the 14th century. Nine images on 3 sheets of papers held a story of change that spun out over hundreds and hundreds of years. I could wad those pages into a ball and toss it right into the trash receptacle in the corner. A huge story on a human scale that fits easily in a garbage can.
And what of my life? Or yours? My life isn’t even the size of an ant. I’m lucky if I’m half a grain of dust swept to the curb for the street cleaners.
Not resisting thoughts like these seems to be key to staying sane on vacation. What I mean to say is that Mexico City doesn’t care what I do or don’t do and I should just get over it already. The people I love the most, who love me the most, barely care what I do or don’t do. Why should I care? Why DO I care?
Instead of affirming that I matter, can I sit here on Av. Aculpulco in Condensa on an ordinary December day and look out at the busy jigsaw lines of tree branches and electrical wires and balcony railings and resist the urge to make sense of that view? What is this wish to define everything? Or form an opinion about it? As in: “I like the view. I don’t like the view. The view is different from back home. I couldn’t live here longterm. It’s fine shortterm. If only that one balcony plant wasn’t dead. It’d be nicer if the wires were down. What are the names of those trees. What should I do now.” Etc.
Can I stop resisting the discomfort I feel when all these feelings and ideas clamor for attention?
Can I drift instead? Let all the feelings and ideas wash over and under me without response. Let my body and mind grow slack. Hear but not listen to the sounds of the broom sweeping, the agua man calling, the upstairs dog’s toenails skittering, the helicopter flying over, the truck rumbling by, the fragment of “Everybody Must Get Stoned” leaking from the window of a passing car. A scrap of Britney Spears, then Black Sabbath. A motorcycle revving. School children squealing. Pipes in the wall shuddering. A big dog. A little dog. Hammering. Footsteps. Airplane.
They say idle hands are the devil’s playthings. I like to think I’m free of my Judeo-Christian work ethic. Or that I have cultivated a Buddhist perspective that allows me to detach. But neither thing is true. I’m entirely attached to Doing it Right, including Doing Vacation Right. So who am I kidding?
At least I am recognizing it. But I’m nowhere near being comfortable with not being comfortable. I’m squirming my way along.
Photo Credit: Lisa Therese
I lead writing and mindfulness workshops throughout the Bay Area. My approach is adaptable in many settings — from helping groups honor an important life event to assisting a business team in articulating a shared vision. Contact me to learn more. For information on my San Francisco real estate practice, visit my real estate blog, RealEstateTherapy.org or my business website, KindredSFhomes.com.