for reasons unbeknownst to me, on the first of may, 2018, after spending a whole day in a way that differed enough from my usual trawl to grant scribbling the minuscule embryo of a reportage about it without giving the gesture itself much thought, i decided to post a sequence of pictures and related captions to my instagram account. i don’t really know what possessed me to do so, since even back then that particular silo had to have been one of the most hostile environments to the simple act of sharing a thought on the whole web: optimized for pushing bright squares right into the black of the user eyes as it was, it left little space for text, hiding it under a cascade of further clicks and taps, furthermore stripping it bare of the possibility of any typographic emphasis or hyperlinking capacity, which was probably a not so subtle hint for the users to shut the fuck up and keep throwing a few more pictures into its abysmal well for the algorithm to crunch.
in the following years, as my usage of that silo and its big blue brother ground to a halt, i had to become aware of a discomfort of sort harboring in my abysmal well, that of the soul, which sprung from the notion of having abandoned who knows how many snippets — that had to have been at least marginally meaningful to me at a point in time — within the confines of those same walled gardens that were relentlessly trying to optimize the rest, and not just of the web, for the obvious reason of profit and a handful of paranoically suspected AI plots to take over the world.
no further agenda having been set, i’ll now move forward with a gesture of salvage: taking my thoughts of years past and instill, distill them anew via a very succinct edit of what has been shot and captioned in the outskirts of rome, central italy, on the first day of may in the year 2018, in the course of the nth edition of festival dell’oriente — the yearly occurrence, for lack of better words, of a traveling mall zone dedicated to the Far East or what is commonly perceived as such in the almighty West — a brutal reduction of it, devoid of most of the chatter and with a tiny coda on top, so that as i’ve currently chosen to present it, it’s just:
as we ate lukewarm beef and vegetable momo with a side of steamed rice, he kept scratching colored sands onto mandala lines. i thought i knew him, him and the other monk who was just sitting on a chair in the corner, looking attentive to who knows what and smiling gently, as the vajra guru mantra kept blasting in a loop, its rhythm lost in a cacophony of too many sounds, melodies, voices, and i found myself helplessly uttering along.
i thought i knew them and i obviously did not. scenes overlap. the mind is a construct concealing the data of our own private unavoidable oblivion, the little cuddly wrap of what we think defines us but don't, what the egyptians named khaibit, a residual shadow that will maybe keep dancing long after the stage will have been deserted.
post-trungpa, lodro rinzler defined a mandala as an organizational diagram. it is an extremely workable definition, but in the end, we build these things so that at one point we can ponder blowing them away. it's just dust. whatever meaning we are superimposing on their concentric allure is just polite coffee table chatter. we'd better fill our eyes with colors, and fill our nostrils with whatever scent the wind is gonna bring.
the picture i really wanted to post had been shot at the festival dell’oriente in rome, a few days earlier, and portrayed three kids in their teens sitting crosslegged on a carpet, attempting to meditate. due to spatial limitations - and notwithstanding an apparent underlying and ongoing dispute i have with authority, teachings, masters, pupils and the lot - my framing edit of the scene quite abruptly cut out the guy in front of them, who sported a blouse and sat crosslegged as well as he whispered reassuring murmurs into a microphone, directed to the kids and soon lost in the bassline of the pavilion's cacophony and who wasn't even the problem.
as i sat in front of the computer editing pictures a few hours later, i couldn't help comparing the scene i captured to a thousand millions scenes of meditating people my brain had in store somewhere, striking intent, highlighting differences and underlining resolves, some harsh turn of thoughts that quickly streamed downhill to:
a) a few weeks earlier, on the basis that we shared a surname, i started following a, i guess, relatively popular yoga teacher on instagram, which i soon, as it often happens, unfollowed. the immediate butterfly effect of this act manifested in several yoga teachers and trainers following me, or bait-following me, with the corollary that a few hundred yoga pictures suddenly jumped to my attention in the following days, leaving me none the wiser in regards to what exactly was the elusive force that set it all in motion: the selling of lessons, the selling of lifestyles, the selling of apparel, or the remote possibility that there might be no selling involved, even if a transaction was somehow clearly happening;
b) in the last few years i underwent, and obviously never completed, a formal training to the teaching of mindfulness, which i quit due to a conjuncture of life circumstances, and the onset of a inner rejection of the mindfulness approach. right at that point in life i had been meditating, to various level of involvement and dedication, for about thirty years; so i knew that:
if you start doing it, and you keep doing it, you're in for something helpful;
too much meditation might end up establishing a tendency towards contemplation, which in turn might lead to a cascade of behavioral shortcomings. your mileage might vary, but it's relevant, and seldom discussed, data.
c) now just picture in your mind the pinterest motivational background of a salesman's dream, featuring some healthy individual of a gender of your choosing and insert a sunset, waterfall or mountaintop if you're so inclined, then quote some master, or, even better, just declare something random and then attribute it to a master, the less obscure the better, because nobody will really check. once you're done, you'll have both debord rolling in his grave and an acceptable meditation (and surely not meditational) image, ready to print, be hung on a office wall and, most importantly, motivate you and others not to worry whatever the scoop.
well, my picture was nothing of the sort. much like my weird months of training, it featured no waterfall, no revelations, just three awkward kids, clearly overwhelmed, if not bewildered, by the deafening context, prodding their fathoms with their eyes shut, feeling uneasy. it was probably a fitting portrayal of meditation in the west, where we ape gestures we haven't really understood in the hope of a benefit we couldn't really endure.
out of respect for those kids and for the obviously antipodean movie going on in their heads, i went for the picture of a dog, instead, a relatable creature who stared wide-eyed at any person leaving the food stall with a dish in their hands, thinking, of all things, that they were gonna serve her somehow.
but the truth is that this is just old history, and that flaming revelations, subdued insights and endless reconsiderations apart, 2018 feels like a century ago, not just for what happened in reality at large but for the texture of days and the floating through them as moorings unmoored and the minuscule hints that keep popping up wherever and whenever and make you think that it’s all a game, which after a while makes it feel obvious that you missed something when you read the rules, sparkles suspicions that you maybe did not, and the effort to infer the steps from the dark is ever consuming and yet, it is all that there is, and there’s no reportage, no essay to write anymore. everything instantaneous is instantly forgotten and since we can apparently hear them all, the voices grew so loud it’s hard to hear your thoughts and so you just have to let them go. just like in meditation, except that now it’s not your choice anymore.
in the early eleventh century a girl was born in Kannataka which went by the name of Akka. her heart was full of Shiva and her mouth was full of songs, and she was promised as a bride to a king, but as these things go, she left the palace and went to live in the wild. there’s just a handful of her paragraphs left, whose attribution stands on the unique way she named her unseen lover, a section of one of which has been translated as:
People, male and female, blush when a cloth covering their shame comes loose. When the lord of lives lives drowned without a face in the world, how can you be modest? When all the world is the eye of the lord, onlooking everywhere, what can you cover and conceal?
as tradition recalls, she left the world in a flash of light. when our drowning in the world will be complete, which way we’ll go?
that day we brought home a bronze Nataraja. massive enough for our small place in town, we put it on top of a bookshelf in the living room, aside smaller reverberating versions of itself, furry horses and shiny lingams, to acquaint itself, make friends with dim candle flickers and occasional sunlight and floating speckles of dust. days and weeks and months and years went by, and last i looked, he was still dancing amidst the flames.