Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe. ~ Anatole France
In 1964 Baudelaire described the flâneur (or for my purposes, the flâneuse) as “lover of universal life” who “enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy.” He describes flânerie as the mirroring of crowd and environs, in which the flâneur is a “kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding … and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.”
As the édu flâneuse, then, I am mindful of channelling this notion of the reflective mirror or refractive kaleidoscope, of being an absorber of words, worlds and wonders. While I try to find awe and gratitude in the everyday, travel is the perfect opportunity for practising the flânerial mindset of intense attentiveness and expansive wide-openness.
My recent trip to Bali, in which I gave myself permission to take a break from work and PhD study (and also blogging and even engaging professionally on Twitter), was the perfect opportunity to embrace flânerie and presence (one of my 3 words of 2015). As well as unplugging from constant mental and physical engagement in work and study, I was focused on the travelling mindset, defined by Alain de Botton as being about heightened receptivity. As Adriano di Prato writes on his blog ‘Permission is Triumph’ we must each say ‘yes’ to living our lives in the way we choose.
While I left home in a flurry of jumbled thoughts, to-do lists, marking piles and thesis pages, I have returned almost delirious with relaxation, centeredness and acute awareness of the present moment. The act of travel, and its immersion in people and places, has allowed me to re-ground myself, reflect and practise receptivity, allowing me to (hopefully) return to daily life, work and research with renewed clarity, purpose and joy.
My experiences away included those with my husband, children and friends. But they also included solo flânerial entanglements in environment. Early morning walks often provide these moments for me. In the past I have watched the sun rise above iconic landmarks including Venice’s St Mark’s Basilica and Prague’s Charles Bridge. There is something magical about being alone in the first quiet golden light of day, watching a city wake up, before it is caught in the throes and machinations of its daily grind. This trip was no exception.
One morning, as I wandered through the streets of Seminyak at dawn, I happened upon a Tumpek Wayang ceremony in which three individuals were led by a holy man in ritual. I was first drawn to this small ceremony by the sounds – the pealing of bells and the twittering of a small caged bird. I drew closer and sat nearby to watch as the ceremony continued, with prayers, offerings and sacred rites conducted with grace and in luxuriant colour. I have since discovered that Tumpek Wayang occurs every 210 days and that its purpose is to honour the god of art and artists, Sanghyang Iswara. After it had finished I was able to talk to the people about the ceremony, its significance and what it meant to them, such as the use of holy rice (bija) for blessings and to bring their god to themselves by placing the rice on their forehead and also by eating it.
Another morning, wandering through Canggu rice paddies at sunrise, I encountered a Balinese man, or he encountered me, and we began to talk. He asked me if I was a spiritual person, and we spent the rest of the walk discussing spirituality, blessings, meditation, music and love. ‘Love,’ he said, ‘is when the heart smiles.’ We talked about the meaning of Engelbert Humperdinck’s lyrics ‘there goes my everything’ and the role of music in life and self. I don’t speak Indonesian and this man’s English was limited, but we connected at a moment in time and managed to communicate across cultural and language barriers.
These experiences, as well as other small moments like watching the sunset colours change or talking to a woman as she made the morning’s offerings from baskets of soft petals, allowed me to connect presence, self and world, experiencing it in open, receptive and reflective ways.
I have returned from my trip hopeful that I can hold on to this feeling of openness-to-noticing and use my flânerial Spidey senses as a tool to keep me centred on my axis. I am considering how I might bring the idea of paramaterising my commitments to work and PhD into my weekly existence. How might I make attentive noticing and openness to unexpected conversation a daily practice? How might I take more regular self-care breaks in order to restore clarity, increase productivity and protect wellness?
When you take your attention into the present moment, a certain alertness arises. You become more conscious of what’s around you, but also, strangely, a sense of presence that is both within and without. ~ Eckhart Tolle