Spiritual Explorer: The World In A Day
Imagine if you could see the entire world in a single day. If you could, in a day, soar to the dazzling heights of its tallest towers, and dive the bottom-most crags in the depths of the oceans, and know them as you do the lines and wrinkles of your own face. Think of what you might feel, and what kind of impression it would leave on you to see an execution in Nigeria, a birth in Norway, the crowded streets of Tokyo, and the vast emptiness of the Antarctic. What of this would astound you? What would horrify you, and upon your return from whence you came, how impossible would it be for you to carry on with your life as if none of this had ever happened?
I suppose it is easy to scoff at the impossibility of such a thing. If such was your response, I do not fault you, and, in fact, give credit to your prowess as a realist. I am not particularly talented in adhering to that school of thought, and so rather than discrediting the possibility for something as such to be accomplished my mind only wanders to how to do it – tomorrow if I had my druthers.
This is why I explore the world: to see, know, and feel the essence of humanity in an attempt to know why I am here among all the incredible and terrible things that exist. The world, in fact the universe itself, strikes me as a ceaseless cycle of phenomena and minutia. That which sparks and evolves these elements of our existence is hiding within the folds of our everyday lives. It is all there, but how much of it we chose to pay attention to, and even want to know is up to us to determine.
Recently, having left Kandy for Colombo once again for the purpose of renewing my visa, I was again struck by this city as epitomizing all that frustrates me about our modern existence. This is a typical notion for me when forced into the streamlined chaos in which urbanity presents itself to me. The underlying reasons for the actions of people who live as such are obvious, and I wrote in my last article about some of the motivations I’ve come to believe we all share.
What I feel that is missed in a place such as Colombo is the “why.” The city is an endless sea of cars, houses, and shops all mashed together in a somewhat haphazard, loose formation of interests, wants, needs, desires, and souls, all sharing the same space but clashing almost violently together as they merge.
That isn’t to say there aren’t pockets of intrigue and life in this sprawling metropolis. Little bookshops tucked jauntily in the side of some office building holding golden nuggets of Tolstoy’s, or a biography of Che Guerrera unexpectedly in English. Some of the country’s best universities are here, and thus some of its brightest, most progressive youth. They can be found in couples in the city park, or inside some small coffee shop, bent over stacks of homework. The human being is incredibly capable of adaptation to its surroundings, and given time and material, it will either flourish within or destroy all around it.
If I saw the whole of the world in a day, though, it would strike me that people were not meant to live like this. It’s an inescapable fact amidst the heaving smog, the starless nights, the honking, sweating, uniformed guards holding AK-45s as schoolchildren pass by, that doubtlessly people do live under the pressures of such a life. The conditions of this city, and others like it that have come require the human spirit to suffer as such, are myriad. Economic need, or greed, war, corruption, politics, overpopulation… all of these come to play in a city such as Colombo, but as I mention in a previous article, in a country whose median annual earnings rest around $6,500 USD, you see so much more blatantly the harsh realities born by its residents.
It is the economic capital though, and not everyone lives in the squalor of poverty. As much as it is disheartening to see in my own country, the income gap here is evident and difficult to wrap my mind around. The fact that it isn’t fiscally necessary at this point for income disparity to wreak such havoc on the physical needs of the poor and the spiritual lives of the rich compounds the hurt of its thriving existence on my spirit. No, people were not meant to live like this, and we will be in the wrong to allow the destruction of so many lives on either end of the economic spectrum if capitalism continues its path of destruction around the developing world.
No one should have to starve, live in sweltering huts clustered around busy thoroughfares with little to feed their children, and nothing to feed themselves. The last time I was in Colombo nearly a month ago, a man approached me on the beach asking me to give him money to feed his baby. I told him I would buy whatever food the baby needed at a shop. We walked maybe a kilometer to a small store with barred windows and a very small selection of goods near the railway. We bought a $7.00 box of baby formula he said would feed his daughter for the next week, and he was grateful that I purchased it for him.
He asked also for a bag of rice, and I admit I could have easily purchased it for him, but didn’t. Instead I told him that as a man it was his responsibility to feed himself. If his baby were fed, and he went a day without, he should still be happy. He thanked me, and told me to not mention to anyone else on the beach what I had done for him. I admit I was not sure if I were doing the right or wrong thing. Had I been in his position, what would I have done myself with only a few small stalks of aloe vera to sell, and hungry baby and wife?
Still, I know very well the capability for dishonesty that people have. He could have just as easily sold that baby formula for pure profit as fed his baby. It is not that I look for the lies in people, but perhaps I am not as distant from the ability to be realistic as I might have thought. Enough travel as a foreigner in the developing world tempers your ability to sob at every story while you are indeed barraged with enough to weaken your faith in humanity. It requires you to ask, if you did see the whole of the world, in a day, a year, a lifetime, how would you feel? Would it change you? Would you take all that you had seen and learned and utilize it to improve the lives around you, or would you become cold, indifferent, and detached as is a tumbleweed passing through a dry dying town.