Atalwin Pilon is currently on a trip around the world. This is his latest dispatch. To read more about Atalwin’s travels, check out his archive.
Goodmorning! It is 7 in the Sunday morning in Beirut and for the first time the city is at peace. Normally, there is construction going on everywhere (I can see no less than10 construction sites from my window), which causes noise and dust. Beirut is filled with exhaust fumes, the sounds of continuous drilling and horn honking and the dust and rubble of construction. Ah.. I just heard my first honking of today; guess the traffic is waking up too.
Yesterday the weather was really nice and we went to Beitroun for lunch and I was dropped off at Byblos, one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. This I am merely mentioning because the pictures were taken there. When I sat down for coffee the girls next to me asked if I wanted to take I picture with them. First I understood that they wanted me to take a picture of them but this was not the case. So now I had to have a picture with the girls who wanted to have a picture of me. I guess that in their view I am the exotic one, which I find both flattering and hard to believe. After the girls left the coffee shop owner asked if I was a famous actor and told me that I looked like Jean Claude van Damme. I must admit, the resemblance is striking.
Since we were stuck in traffic anyway I read some of the things I wrote to my friend who was driving. I felt that my piece about giving the Lebanese perspective on the 2006 invasion touched her. Looking back this might not sound so strange but together with the events that followed it opened something up in me. Later, during lunch, she asked me if I ever got hurt for being so open and vulnerable in life and writing. And on my way back to Beirut, I met a group of guys from Tripoli on their way to work who were curious and started asking me all kinds of questions. Their English was very poor so it wasn’t much of a conversation but one of the guys made clear he was from Syria and he showed me some horrible footage of dying fellow Syrians on his telephone. Supposedly what he showed me happened yesterday. He wanted to be my friend on Facebook.
Every insight, spiritual, intellectual of even physical, feels like an opening up. Suddenly there is more space, there is a breeze of newness and freshness and new terrain is uncovered. One experiences relief and gratitude. So we can safely say that opening up is good, exciting and a source of change, growth and development. We might even be able to see that opening up is an unleashing of our love, life energy or human potential. Now most of us love progress, growth and development as long as it provides safety. But we don’t like so much to open our precious hearts. In the case of the heart we prefer the status quo: it is fine the way I am now. Nobody needs to know about my fears, insecurities, crushes, guilt, shame, desires, disappointments, hopes and wounds. Hell, I don’t even want to know what is going on there. Let’s just function and pretend to be happy, ok?
I had a pretty big transformative experience in March 2004, where the walls around my heart came down and crumbled. It made me realize that the walls around my heart were the cause of my suffering. Painful episodes made me create the walls but what was supposed to serve as a protection mechanism became a source of misunderstanding and miscommunication and therefore loneliness. From that moment I know we all have these walls, we call it an ego, identity or defense mechanism. Our whole system is organized around prevention of getting hurt. When I literally woke up from the illusion that this system works and saw it was absolutely contra-productive I became devoted to challenging my fears and to open up what is beyond: my heart. It is not a choice really.
A little over a year ago my writing experiment was born after I asked myself the question: “do I have the courage to write from the heart unconditionally and publish without editing?” For me it was and is a practice of courage, discipline and honesty. I never know what will come out as I sit down and I never think about the consequences. For me it feels like just a leap of faith. I take a deep breath and hit the publish button.
What I am finding over and over again is that honesty heals. I didn’t realize that my post on the war of 2006 would be a relief for my Lebanese friends, not when I was writing it. I also didn’t count on readers to respond in such beautiful way. I am just busy figuring out what I am doing on this trip. I sometimes feel incompetent and frustrated that I can’t do more than bear witness. And I criticize myself for not being more outgoing and independent and too shy and money-conscious to go snowboarding all by myself.
When the young Syrian showed me the horrible footage, I realized he is trying to tell me a story he has no words for. Then I remembered an incident in a bus in the Philippines where I spent holidays with my first girlfriend, long before my spiritual journey had begun. The man next to me, who worked as a night watch told me about the corruption in his country. He was unable to send his son to University. He was clearly intelligent and overqualified but lived in an unfair system. I never forgot him or his story.
What I am learning is that it is truly important that we share our stories. There is a bigger picture, even behind the smallest exchanges. And if we have the chance we should develop our capacity to hear, listen and speak. It helps us to connect and to forgive. We cannot heal what we hide for ourselves and for the other and we cannot help others heal what we haven’t healed in ourselves.
It is universally needed and it is especially needed here, in Beirut. A lot is left unsaid and there is a lot of escaping into ‘celebrating the moment’. Probably one of the reasons that when push comes to shove initiative is lost sometimes. So will take destiny in my own hand and find a location for next Sunday and show up no matter what. I will offer a full day of sharing and connecting for free. Anybody from Beirut who is interested is welcome.
Originally appeared at Basic Goodness.