It’s May 1st in Mexico. A holiday where everyone’s off work to celebrate, ironically, El Dia de Los Trabajodores, the Day of the Workers. After three days of my own non-stop work teaching teachers, I had three hours to be a tourist before my airport pickup. So I set off with a printed Google map from the front desk to find the main square of Coyoacán, a self-guided walking tour on a beautiful sunny day.
How hard it is to be wholly present! And yet that’s the Holy Grail of travel, just to take off wandering down one street or another with no purpose in mind but to feel the spirit of a place. To let go of your sense of identity and just reclaim that childlike wonder before you had to be someone in particular. But the mind being what it is, I began locked into my own thoughts which serve as a kind of a wall between me and World. In this case, I was trying to figure out some thorny challenges in my upcoming Spring Concert. Are the kids truly prepared? Will there be enough rehearsals? Can I pull this off at the high standard I’m used to?
From there, I moved to my self-proclaimed role as chronicling a place like a reporter, commenting with my little camera. I collected evidence of the obvious—the intrusion of Walmart, Starbucks, Subway, McDonalds, etc. and then the less nefarious Yoga Studios and Sushi restaurants and Aikido classes peppered amongst the actual Mexican businesses. It did help connect me to the streets more than my Spring Concert musings, but still was viewing the scene according to my pre-programmed way of thought.
But then something marvelous happened. I heard a bird sing. And suddenly, everything else dropped away and it seemed possible to truly listen to the world, to see it and smell it and taste it without preconception and truly let it speak itself. Of course, we do this all the time, listen poorly while we talk to others because we’re preparing a rebuttal or waiting to tell our story. Whether people or the sights and sounds of Mexico City neighborhoods, it’s rare to just listen and enjoy and delight in it all. And that one bird call opened that door and I had another hour of wandering where I simply delighted in the bougainvillea, the cobblestone streets and colorful houses, the Plaza with the old-fashioned organ grinder turning his crank and street vendors selling tacos and lovers old and young kissing on benches. Whenever I’ve been graced with that sense of just being fully present, the message the World gives back is always the same:
“Life is an extraordinary gift and beauty is everywhere. You belong to it all and it will always welcome you when you’re ready to truly see it and feel it and hear it. The ranting of politicians is the real fake news that yes, can have the power to harm you, hurt you, limit you even kill you, but if you spend too much time imagining that life begins when your party wins the election, you have missed the authentic life that perpetually awaits you. Just let the world speak and if you feel moved to praise it with song, art, music, dance, poetry, whatever, why, that’s fine. No tree is waiting for you to do that, but when you do, some cosmic order is enhanced.”
And needless to say, it doesn’t need a trip to Mexico City to understand that. As the song says, it’s all right in your own back yard. But it doesn’t hurt to feel that extra color and spice of the mariachi band and the mole sauce and the lilt of Spanish and that lovely custom of the Plaza Stroll at night, a whole culture taking time to praise and celebrate and share this precious gift of life. Time to savor and enjoy collectively the pleasure of music in the park, eating outdoors with friends, kissing on the park bench. Much more sane in my mind than hours surfing the net or working ourselves to the bone to buy things we don't need.
Now back in San Francisco, with this most auspicious start to May. Viva Mexico!