Moving Authentically

While growing up in Hawaii, this is the type of image that came to mind when I envisioned Europe.  I nearly passed out biking up the mountain leading to this town nestled in the hills above Innsbruck.
While growing up in Hawaii, this is the type of image that came to mind when I envisioned Europe. I nearly passed out biking up the mountain leading to this town nestled in the hills above Innsbruck.

I have slept exclusively on couches belonging to friends and strangers (via couchsurfing) since arriving in Europe. Living in another’s home, even temporarily, is an extremely personal exercise, one that requires heaping doses of transparency, generosity, and open-mindedness. I did not anticipate learning so much about myself and others from the simple act of crashing on someone’s couch, but the experience has been so overwhelmingly positive that I will continue seeking this type of accommodation throughout my travels.

As I place myself in situations where I must expose myself to others, I strive to overcome fears relating to vulnerability and judgment. Openness exists in a reality where everyone is truly unique, the practical effect being that I will appear different in some way in the eyes of every person I will ever cross. This makes transparency a daunting idea. But I am learning that when the authentic self shines through, others recognize this truth at an intuitive level, which more often than not leads to respect and acceptance. The biological or energetic reasons underlying this behavior response escape me, but I sense that the interconnectedness of humanity means we are all members of the social contract of the universe. Under the terms of this contract, we must each contribute our individualized gifts so that the whole may function. And so you appreciate someone just being himself, because that’s how it all works.

With this understanding, I seek to move authentically, comfortably, in harmony with my surroundings. Moving authentically requires not only that we reveal the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make us so lovably weird, but also the individual flaws that render all of us human. It also sometimes demands a showing of strength and courage that others expect from us because they can see what we are capable of, even if we can’t.

I hiked straight uphill for a few hours to get this shot of Innsbruck sandwiched between the Alps to the North and South.  Over a hundred resorts surround the city, and the existence of glaciers make skiing year-round possible.
I hiked straight uphill for a few hours to get this shot of Innsbruck sandwiched between the Alps to the North and South. Over a hundred resorts surround the city, and nearby glaciers make skiing year-round possible.

I spent the past two weeks traveling through Austria because it is a beautiful country, and because what kid from Hawaii ever goes to Austria? My first stop was Innsbruck, a city built by the gods for avid outdoorsmen. No one in this oversized town sandwiched between the Alps is there by accident, although accidents are inevitable. People live in Innsbruck to pursue their passions, which often involve such death-defying activities as downhill biking (the Alps are steep as fuck!), backcountry skiing (avalanches!!), or, in the case of one of my couchsurfing hosts, things like this: https://youtu.be/gtOeB7_2GuQ (!!!). This place is full of people doing exactly what brings them joy; high probabilities of physical harm and low probabilities of hitting pay dirt through these activities are just necessary risks of a fulfilling life. I appreciate that.

Young people, many of them college students, feed  the pulsating energy of Innsbruck.  Here are some of them chilling on the Inn River in the city center.
Young people, many of them college students, feed the pulsating energy of Innsbruck. Here are some of them chilling on the Inn River in the city center.
I hiked through here...
I hiked through here…
...and ended up here!
…and ended up here!

After a week spent rock climbing, hiking, and biking, I crossed the country by car (in under five hours) to Vienna, the polar opposite of Innsbruck with respect to both geography and culture. Viennese are said to be more formal than other Austrians, and even a little rude, perhaps the consequence of living in the only real city in a country filled mostly with villages and farmland (but beautiful farmland at that). Aside from the elderly woman in the subway who stepped on my foot as a way of getting my attention, and then demanded that I turn down the volume in my earbuds—I suspect she was just trying to connect with me, albeit in Viennese fashion—most people I encountered were actually pretty nice. Inclement weather restricted my movements, so I spent most of my time wandering the predominantly Turkish neighborhood of my generous host.

Typical Viennese street
Typical Viennese street
Schönbrunn Palace, a former imperial summer residence.
Schönbrunn Palace, a former imperial summer residence surrounded by a massive network of gardens.

The Kingdom of Bavaria

Two days before I set sail for Kathmandu, while on a stopover in Munich to see my friend Phil, a 7.8 earthquake converted the Nepalese city into an off-limits disaster zone. My trekking partners Nomi and JB–already in Asia–scheduled flights to Tokyo. I decided to remain in the heart of Europe and explore my surroundings.

Gärtnerplatz, a popular hangout spot.
Gärtnerplatz, a popular hangout spot.

Munich is best described as pleasant, the kind of place you never leave. Shit doesn’t get that crazy, but the city sits in the middle of the continent, so a debaucherous escape is always a short ride away. Nature is everywhere, and buildings never climb too high or fall into a state of disrepair. Residents are overwhelmingly considerate, good-looking, and white, and for the most part everyone minds his own business. It all seems very civilized, one of the rare examples of post-war reconstruction gone right. It is the capital city of Bavaria, a perpetually cloud-covered state whose people proudly differentiate themselves from rest of the country, but not in an annoying or secessionist kind of way–they exchange pleasantries in their local tongue, eat a lot of meat, and don traditional outfits at festivals without irony.

Streetwear
Streetwear
Local residents chill with beer and ducks along the Isar River, which cuts through the city.
Local residents chill with beer and ducks along the Isar River, which cuts through the city.
I met Phil 10 years ago while playing ball in Shanghai.  We play regularly when I am here, often at this court located in a beautiful park surrounded by museums and a prestigious university.
I met Phil 10 years ago while playing ball in Shanghai. We play regularly when I am here, often at this court located in a beautiful park surrounded by museums and a university.

And they even have surf! A man-made wave on the Isar River allows locals to shred in their landlocked country. The next closest option: Portugal.

I took a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle with Jade, a yoga teacher at my studio on Maui whom I randomly ran into at a studio in Munich. How yogic! The castle, which was the inspiration behind the iconic Disney logo, was built by a mad king who mysteriously died in the days following his removal from the throne.
I took a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle with Jade, a yoga teacher at my studio on Maui whom I randomly ran into at a studio in Munich. How yogic! The castle, which was the inspiration behind the iconic Disney logo, was built by a mad king who mysteriously died in the days following his removal from the throne.

As I wander through the city, I think about the fundamental desire for connection that all humans seek, and the way that desire manifests itself in our actions. We connect in different ways–an artist through his art, a wide-eyed child through an innocent stare, a gruff laborer through the slightest of nods. It can be as subtle as standing within another’s field of vision. Methods vary from person to person, but behind every action, the intent is universal. We often strenuously attempt to avoid this connection with others, however, for fear of what it may bring; because of some trauma suffered in years past; because we have been conditioned to distrust the world around us.

We ignore the signs, the attempts to share energy for even the briefest of moments. For years, I rejected the overtures of people who saw their spirit in mine. I avoided touch, eye contact, exchanges of words. I rejected the world for fear of what it would do to me if I laid myself bare before a universe of strangers. But the faint voice telling me that this wasn’t The Way right grew louder and louder until there was no option other than to relent and rejoice in our shared humanity.

As I continue my journey, I challenge myself to seek connection, to overcome my fears that inhibit the fulfillment of my potential. I walk down the street with my head raised, acknowledging and honoring everything that comes before me, gazing at the world with benevolence and non-judgment. Already, the quality of my interactions has improved. Strangers approach. People look at me differently. The connection exists before we even say hello. It is frightening at first, because we look into each other’s eyes and truly see each other in a way that I never knew strangers could know one another. But with every passing day, I become more confident in my ability to connect, and more comfortable sharing my deepest self with another.

And you finally understand, the message you communicate with another human being has nothing to do with what you say. It has nothing to do with the look on the musculature of your face. It’s much deeper than that. Much deeper! It’s the vibrations that emanate from you. -Ram Dass

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