June 22, 2015

Where we Stay: A Lesson in Living a Genuine, Impermanent Life.

Lesli Woodruff article photo

I travelled to India several months ago.

While the jet lag is long gone, a lasting impression has lingered. I left a small piece of myself in Rajasthan, and some larger piece of its magic came home with me, alongside the trinkets and experiences that remind me of my travels.

“Where do you stay?”

I heard that question repeatedly. And at first I thought they were asking where my hotel was. It wasn’t until I had conversations with many different people that I realised what I was being asked: “Where are you from?” “Where do you live?”

And it occurred to me that over there, there’s a different sense of what’s important, of what really matters. Here in the west, we build McMansions for our egos, we spend half our paychecks keeping up with the Jones’ and we fill the holes in our lives with more and more stuff, constantly replacing the things that don’t satisfy our perpetual cravings.

We buy more things to substantiate our finite existence. Things that serve to outlive us and create a legacy that epitomize our (ego-based, self-aggrandized) value to society. How is it that we’ve been programmed to live like we don’t expect to ever leave this earth?

“Where do you stay?” is a great metaphor for the yoga that is intertwined with daily life in India.

To me, it represents a deference to this spectacular human imperfection: impermanence. A sense of acceptance that things change. That we won’t be on this planet forever. An acknowledgement that what really matters is where we are today and what we bring to the table here and now. That it’s not about how many toys you have when you die. And maybe, just maybe, it’s really about being happy with what you have at present. Because it’s exhausting always looking for satisfaction outside of who we are, isn’t it?

I think about this a lot, back here, “where I stay.” And where I am has taken a slightly different hue since I’ve been home. Much more important are the words shared with friends; the deeds done because of desire rather than expectation. The relationships that become less transactional and more about giving and receiving what’s needed when it’s needed. The letting go of the need for a newer, better, more complicated everything in favor of feeling gratitude for how much we already have. And a sometimes almost overwhelming feeling that maybe we really do have too much and take even the little things for granted.

I think we need to give ourselves permission to visit the present more frequently, to pay attention to this need to create so much permanence and build so many walls, to ask “why” more often, and think about what the things are truly going to satisfy.

We live in a world in which we grasp firmly to the past in order to recreate (or perpetuate) it in the future. Then we’re sorely disappointed when it doesn’t play out as expected.

Perhaps I can write this from my ivory tower of comfort with a warm bed and a full fridge, but I challenge others to think about where they stay, and what that means.

I know that when I stop trying so hard to impress or conform or please, it enables me to live more genuinely. And I am content with what I am creating now. If I leave a legacy, I’d rather it be about what I’ve taught, or a smile I’ve provoked, or even ways I’ve helped others look at things a little differently.

“Where do you stay?”

I think where I stay is here, in this slightly imperfect body that doesn’t always do what I want it to; the creaks and lines reminding me that I’m a work-in-progress, perhaps a little more worn than yesterday, perhaps not as worn as I’m going to be tomorrow.

Where I stay is a quirky flat in a little city north of Boston, with its crumbling old bricks, a temperamental hot water heater and more street noise than I’d like on some nights.

Where I stay is this attempt at a middle ground, somewhere between wanderlust and recluse. It’s a practice. It’s yoga. So where I stay is less of a place than a state: grateful for today, aware of the importance of the present and in acknowledgement that everything I create (whether it’s trash, laughter, bad haiku or even a project for work) has a ripple effect on tomorrow, whether I’m here to reap the benefits or not.

Where do you stay?




Impermanence: Friend & Foe.


Author: Lesli Woodruff

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Author’s Own

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