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Though all paths are replete with their own difficulties, both the Alaskan hermit and the Island nudist were afforded a degree of solitude, marked by unbridled wilderness. Even Yoga Man’s environs—even though he resides in a city—are fueled by the rhythm of the salty tide and the tourists that ebb and flow with the seasons.
For the backdrop of Yoga Man’s practice is the wilderness of an often noisy and indifferent seaside city—crowded yet emotionally distant. His presence on the beach is a curious juxtaposition, a rift between the expanse of the ocean and the dense high rise buildings; visually, a stark contrast betwixt an old soul’s spiritual repose and the scores of Dionysian beach dwellers. Enamored by this and drawn to what I presumed to be a fascinating story, I finally set out to interview my Mr. Mystique:
[I approached Yoga Man in broken Hebrew, with a discernible accent]
Me: “Greetings. Good day! May I sit and speak with you?”
Yoga Man: “I suppose.”
Me: “I am interested. How long have you been practicing yoga?”
YM: “For many years.”
Me: “How did you learn?”
YM: “From the life.”
Me: “Have you been to India?”
Me: “Can you describe why you do it, or what benefits you gain from it?”
YM: “It’s personal. I have nothing else I want to say about it.”
Me: “I understand. It just makes me happy to see you doing what you do.”
YM: “I enjoy it.”
We shared brief goodbyes. Within moments after the terse exchange he was again nestled in another pose.
Immediately, I felt intrusive. Following the awkward chat, I began re-evaluating my approach and conjuring excuses for why he wasn’t friendlier. Then the obvious dawned on me: I was just another face in the urban jungle. I was just another pixel at his everyday luncheon of More Unknown Faces. He had nothing to say to me, and didn’t pause to entertain my egotistical “but-I-alone-understand-you!” façade. The affair was anti-climatic, but the tough lesson was learned. Yoga Man thus became my own unintentional guru, brief in presence but lasting in effect.
Sitting there on the beach beside him all these months, I felt his story. I knew his reasons. Rain or shine, I shared his beautiful escape. At the end (this interview concluded my stint in Israel) I learned that who I saw was mostly my own reflection, presumptuous as it were. In this way, the looming cities can serve as an invaluable mirror. Perhaps the Greek lesson of Narcissus leaning over his reflection on the pool isn’t one so much about conceitedness and self-adoration, as it is about perceptual recursion.
Similarly, when these intrepid individuals head out into the great expanse—or squeeze into our narrow market alleyways, new mirrors are born for everyone. They blaze their own paths, and in watching their lifestyles we near a better understanding of our own.
As some other veteran shoe-stringers may humbly but hesitatingly reveal, the traveler’s itch can itself be a form of uneasiness. Despite the undeniable beauty of, say, an inviting hammock strung up on one of the South Pacific Islands, we are all subject to the process of static acclimation. At any location, we’re guaranteed to gradually embody the “grass is greener” mentality. This ultimately means encountering unique difficulties on whatever path we blaze. From the Alaskan wilderness to crowded post office lines, when push comes to shove we’re still compelled, at last, to grapple with the Self.
Brandon Chase is a freelance writer and professional vagabond. After receiving his Master’s degree from the University of Washington in 2011, he divides his time between music, world travel, and psychology research.