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  • “I was alone” “Myself &” “alone” “Yet emptied” “of much, it seemed” “I felt unburdened” “& even buoyant” *

    There is something magical about being a stranger in a strange land. Tonight I took the MTR alone, the baby was home with her Dad, both of them already sound asleep. In the midst of all this newness, that maternal instinct that fuses her to me as an extension of myself is on super drive. Basically, there have been very few times these past few weeks where I have been separated at all from her. But tonight, after a vigorous and cleansing yoga practice with a new and lovely teacher, Yogesh, I rode the train from Central to Jordan station, just a few stops, with my headphones in and lusciously surrendered to my wandering mind. One of the best things having a young child does for my own life is to keep me constantly present, engaged in the moment. That is how she lives everyday. No thought to the future or past. And, if I want to keep up with her, I do the same. It makes (almost) everything more fun. Someone once told me the best way for modern people to live a contemplative and mindful life is to have children. They always keep you present. And while it is not always easy, I’ve seen my life transform because of this simple shift. I think a lot of mothers feel that way. When we are so used to being wrapped up in the chatter of our heads, stressing about tomorrow or yesterday, it can be a difficult transition, but mostly I try to relish in this great gift she offers me every day.

    So, baby-free, riding the train as it barreled under Victoria Harbor towards Kowloon, I just let myself drift. At this moment, I was no one. Nothing. What magic, to dissolve like that in an instant. All my words and thoughts and opinions, my identity as I knew it, suspended for just a few minutes on that train. I thought of Alice Notley’s Descent of Alette, a masterful book-length poem about a girl’s perilous journey into the belly of humanity via an endless subway train far below an unnamed city. It’s a dark story, but it’s also a heart-crushing, beautiful epic of transformation and metamorphosis. Sparing the details (spoiler alert), after much hardship, Alette eventually faces and triumphs over The Tyrant (ie. The Man, or, as the case may be in a secondwavefeminism flourish, the entire Man-centric cosmology: language, syntax, prison-celled subway cars etc)…aaaand basically saves the world and all of humanity.

    So. There I was, sitting on the MTR, indulging in a daydream and most certainly NOT saving the world. I closed my eyes. I felt the power of the train in the tunnel. The train is not choosing it’s path, it’s just flowing through the tunnel. It carries me to where I am going. Where am I going today? Deeper? I said yes to this direction when I boarded this train and not the others, all the power within and around me is merely a surrender to this route. Flowing is not passive. It takes almost everything. I want to flow, not merely, but bravely.

    When I opened my eyes, I immediately locked them to a Buddhist monk’s across the crowded car. I didn’t see him get on. I’ve seen many monks and nuns around Hong Kong, mostly at the vegetarian restaurants we’ve sought out; many of them have long, tired faces. But he looked like a young, Chinese Dalai Lama (not sure how the Chinese would feel about that), with that unmistakable happiness in his eyes. He hadn’t been looking my way, I could tell, but suddenly, somehow, we were staring at each other. I must have been smiling, probably stupidly. But it was this entire magical moment in our exchange. We just smiled at each other for the longest time. It wasn’t a big dramatic thing, just one of those subtle exchanges that make your heart flutter open. I imagined he was reading my mind and was smiling at my swirling thoughts. Like, if he were to say something, he’d be saying, “open your eyes, there is nothing but light around you, you are always free.” The characters in Notley’s story are so dark and sad, nothing like the vibrant and beautiful people clamoring around this subway. And 2 seconds later the doors opened to Jordan station; I was up and out, rushing home to my baby. And I was inexplicably laughing out loud.

    So yeah, Hong Kong’s big deep underbelly of a subway system is clean, not all that dark and filled with angels, not demons tonight. I walked home thinking of Alette and the weapons the owl, her totem animal, gave her: a talon and a great beak. If I were stuck in a fathomless subway ride to hell, what would my weapons be? Is my Tyrant my own resistance to the natural flow of life? If that’s the case, what are the ultimate weapons of surrender? Isn’t that an oxy moron? Did I just hallucinate a Buddhist monk? I had no conclusions or epiphanies, I just appreciated the space in my day to see my thoughts unfold as life happens in front of me and lay the pieces out next to one another in a sort of weirdly collated tapestry of my consciousness.

    *from Alice Notley’s Descent of Alette
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