I am sitting here along the Preaek Tuak Chuu with my book and tea, having a moment to myself, but not feeling so alone because my mind is on you.
I know you would believe me when I tell you that I already wrote a different version of this letter, weeks ago, as we were rocking our way over the northern tip of the Tonle Sap. I wrote about the importance of asking: WHY? And the greater importance of asking: WHY NOT? But since I scrawled those words there has been so much exchanged and experienced between us all, and within yourselves. While examining Why and Why Not is still relevant, maybe it now has a different meaning, a different need in the way you consider it.
Our course is over, but for so many of you the real adventure has just commenced. As I have been traveling on my own these past few days, I have been thinking back to our transference and the fun and beauty and anxiety that our days were laced with. If each section of a Dragons program is intended to get you to examine yourself and the world through near- and far-sighted lenses, then transference was the time when you go to the eye doctor and you are told that overtime your eyes, and the glasses you wear, have adjusted to give you exactly what you need Bear with me.
“Transference” entered the English vernacular in the 1680’s, after some folks realized they could manipulate the verb “transfer” to make another word, which would come to mean “the act of transferring.” If one is unfamiliar with what transferring does for you, then this examination of the word is unhelpful. The verb “transfer” is a late 14th century word that was taken from the Latin “transferee,” which means “to bear across, carry over, bring through; transfer, copy, translate.”
In the past many days we have stolen that idea to give time to creating carry over from the spaces before, now, in between, after. We have mapped our histories, our global connections, our futures. We have given gratitude in ways that have been calculated, spontaneous, and raw. And as our moments together dwindled, we drew closer to one another, wanting to hold on a little tighter. We, as instructors, had words of affirmation and confirmation and wisdom in the form of lifehacks ready to share with you, but during our final four-on-one check out’s, in our Beginning Anew Ceremony, and while we shared our last Talking Staff, it became apparent that you already had that knowledge within you. In fact, you offered insights into the process of bearing across the void that we could not have voiced as vulnerably as you. You shared that you were scared. You recognized that people are going to ask you about your last 81 days and, regardless of how you craft your answers, they will never fully be brought into awareness of what it was like to swim, fully clothed, in the salty, brackish water of the Gulf of Thailand playing piggly wiggly; or just how good congealed chicken blood in soup or fried grasshoppers in bags tasted; or how bucket showers after a long, hot day were more refreshing and cleansing than any western shower; or how long days of transportation, eight plus hours in the bus, passed without complaint or concern; or the feeling you get when sitting and bringing your attention to the bell, three times, and feeling your breath slow. You pondered what it would be like to return to traditions that you had previously accepted as the norm, but now feel less connected to.
Throughout your life you will always be confronted with others who share differences of opinions. This you know. You will be challenged in discussions and conversations of all kinds. Perhaps this is something you already anticipate as a part of your continued education, and surely you can expect it in your professional lives. But, as you bring through your experiences from life along the Mekong River to your home lives, you may find that it is in the interactions with the people who you have known through so many phases of your lives–your friends, your cousins, your parents–where you are confronted with a new kind of difference in understanding. Over these three months you have met new parts of yourselves that have been able to live and act in certain ways. These may run in juxtaposition to the ‘yourselves’ that your loved ones know. They may eat in new ways, consume in new ways, listen in new ways. But they, too, are you.
Originally I wrote you a note about a conversation I had with Mikey. How I expressed a want to sleep on the top of the boat for our first night of X-Phase and his response was: Why? My answer: Why not? To ask ‘why’ often implies that there is a need for justification, a rationale behind each of our decisions. Rationale is close to rational: something based in accordance with logic, reason. Oscar Wilde on being rational: “Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.” As you have all witnessed and experienced first hand, often when we move through the world with a set of reasons behind each of our actions, we don’t leave space for that which we do not know; for the parts of living that we are not familiar with; for the parts of ourselves we have not met. So, ask why, but make sure you are also remembering to counter it with why not.
Why not do the things that you can anticipate will bring you joy, or at least bring you a story that you know you are going to want to tell? Why not continue getting to know the parts of yourselves that you discovered as you tracked down iced coffee in a foreign tongue, used squat toilets without running water, stuck your hands deep into the mud and silt of the sea to plant seedlings? Why not introduce those “you’s” to your loved ones? Why not study art or music or engineering? Why not take a full gap year? Why not tell your mother you love her? Why not sit and read for a day, alone?
Why is there a risk to living without reason, at least some of the time?
So, all these discombobulated metaphors to say that: you have tried on so many different sets of glasses this fall and you are crossing over to next adventures with the exact pairs you need. They will allow you to translate experiences into ways you can best explain to others. They will allow you to keep seeing the nuances of the world. I hope you wear them well, and when a lens cracks, or no longer sharpens your vision, or you lose them altogether, you know that the adjustments that need to be made and the new sets you need to find are already tucked away inside yourselves. Why not just dig in there and try to find them?
With gratitude, appreciation, and love,