Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Train Station

This weekend I spent some time camping in Poland. The four of us stayed at an abandoned train station on the Czech border which had been squatted and reclaimed by a travelling theater about thirty years ago. The station was converted into a rather large house with two floors. On the ground level was a spacious wooden kitchen and attached double shower, a huge living room equipped with a piano and other various instruments as well as a small bar/cafe, a second bathroom, and a cavernous garage full of odd artistic knickknacks and props where a beautiful punching bag hung in dusty glowing light. Above the ground floor were a bunch of private quarters which I did not see.

The land around the station had been repurposed for events and festival work. There was a stage, a small meditation temple, trampolines, swings, a large geodesic dome made of small trees and cut branches, an aerialist's arch, and an assortment of other structures that could accommodate various types of events or parties. A collective of like-minded people lived and worked there as a unit, and a small set of wandering volunteers performed small tasks, offering help in exchange for food and a place to sleep. The station was run by a couple with a few small children. Markus, a tall, broad shouldered, viking looking man with a long ponytail and strong Norwegian beard was responsible for the place. His wife, Vicka, was daughter to a woman who had been a member of the original theater group. We met her as well. The couple running the show were always busy.

Amongst the volunteers were some Poles, a chubby, frizzy-haired hippy girl from Denmark, another one from Czech with red dreadlocks and light blue eyes, and an English guy from Kent. Most of them were pleasant company. Asia, Kasia, Filip and I camped in the woods a short distance from the house and its adjacent structures. Myself and the two ladies set up our tents beside an abandoned caravan sitting near to three hammocks and a fire pit. Perfect placement if I'd ever seen any. Before setting up camp we made ourselves busy with some gardening and painting. Once we'd had our fill of work, beers were had in celebration. The vibe was relaxed and cozy. Conversation floated by on the warm evening air, circulating around the long wooden dinner table in lazy fruit fly formations. We ate hippy food. A meal of foraged mushrooms and things I couldn't easily identify. Later there were pancakes with flowers pressed into them, paired with fresh strawberries.

The next day we were lucky enough to drive through the beautiful Lower Silesian countryside, which bore a shocking resemblance to the hills and valleys of Northern California, to a local market which happens only a few times per year. People sold homemade jams and honeys, Polish pastries, cheeses and meats, coffee and kombucha, vegan textiles and other wares. There were performances for the children, and pizza. In the sun the temperature was scorching, so we made sure to take refuge in the shade when we could. Most of the others from the collective had been there too.

After we left we took a ride to a gorgeous park with a lake nestled in between the mountains. All of the leaves and foliage were vibrant green and a group of children played at the dock where two wooden canoes were tied. Asia's friend worked for the place, so we were able to take the boat out on the water for an hour. I'd never rowed a boat before so I got us lost in the weeds a few times before finally getting the hang of it. The hour rushed by and before we knew it we had to bring the boat back before the service desk closed. It was good fun and all of us were glad to have made the memory.

The next day, on Monday, the trip would end with some time spent swimming in a lake close to the station where, after a swim, we'd sit in the grass and eat avocados and olives while drying off in the sun. Because I'm barely able to swim, most of my time was spent trying to learn how to move my body like a frog in the water. It isn't coordinating the arms that's the hard part, it's the legs. I wonder if my hamstrings and hips are just too tight for the movement to feel natural. Asia gave me warm encouragement. Filip tried to help, too. This moment by the lake is especially memorable to me, perhaps for its novelty. Maybe because I don't often swim - for the reason I mentioned above. Or maybe the combination of the heat, the bit of exercise, the time of day, the feeling of sunlight lifting water from my skin and wet clothes, and lying with Asia glistening in the grass all came together to create a slow rolling euphoria. A dreamy tranquility.

In the days since the trip I've found it difficult to remain motivated at work. I've been reminded of how much simpler life can be. How much more enjoyable, natural. A foolishness pervades the hours spent standing at my desk. The mindlessness necessary to stay committed to the continual performance of meaningless tasks is demented, a deranged drudgery. A different kind of life is calling to me. It has been for some time. Maybe only now I'm beginning to understand instead of just hearing it. Perhaps my move from giant American corporation to less giant American corporation to unknown European startup has been a gradual form of awakening, an acknowledgement that it is not money which determines happiness. Nor, it now seems, is a change of location alone capable of sustaining happiness. It is the cultivation of a healthy outlook, maintaining a balanced perspective, community, meaning; being near to good people, giving and receiving love in the face of fear; integration and interconnectedness. These generate joy. An enduring contentedness can not easily be found in things. This is because joy is not an end to be achieved. You don't just attain it and then get to keep it forever. Instead we should perceive joy as something more akin to balancing on one foot. To get good at it we must constantly train, focus our attention, our intentions.

Once you realize you have all the skills necessary to secure your happiness, you have to ask yourself: well, what else are you waiting for?