Over the past two weeks, I’ve been in Portland, Oregon and took a break from the project for a little while. I didn’t intend to, but I was working remotely at weird hours and didn’t have anything logistically set up for my Hinduism month (my shrine, time to study, etc.). Instead of doing a half ass job of my Hinduism month, I decided to just complete the last three weeks when I returned home.
As a result, this 30-day experiment is not consecutive. Hopefully it doesn’t have too much impact but we’ll see. I may extend it another week if seems like I didn’t get enough out of it
My return to Portland
I lived in Portland for about six months after I returned from Egypt. I didn’t have a job lined up and had nothing better to do, so I figured would move to Portland to be with my girlfriend, who is from there.
I remember this period of my life fondly. I didn’t have a job (but had some savings), I was working on my side project, and I hung out with interesting people. I had plenty of time to read, and, despite my dwindling funds, I felt good about my prospects (most of the time).
This was the first time I had been back since I left.
In my mind, I believed that I would achieve that same feeling of general contentedness as soon as I stepped out on the airport carpet.
It felt good, but not as good as I remembered.
I then thought that feeling would return once I got into the groove a little more. You know, working out of coffee shops, meeting up with friends at funky bars, or even watching a strange and very Portland Adult Soap Box Derby Race.
But it didn’t. I had a good time, but not the “Oh man I should move back to Portland and then life would be great” feeling.
I think there were a couple things that made PDX a bit different than before.
First, I was actually working while I was there. I only took a few days off, and worked remotely the other days.
Portland becomes a lot less fun when you have a job.
Second, none of my personal anxieties or problems were resolved simply by being in Portland.
I wrote about this topic before during my Stoicism month. The Stoics understood that your problems will follow you wherever you travel.
Despite the fact that I already knew travel wouldn’t fix anything, I was still hoping for some confirmation that I should move there.
There’s a joke in the hilarious TV show Portlandia that says Portland “is where young people go to retire.”
In a way that’s true. You definitely get the sense that most Portlanders aren’t overly ambitious (in the worldly sense) and are content to drink microbrews and good coffee all day. If you walk downtown or hit up the coffee shops in the middle of the day, you’ll find a good amount of young people hanging out and wonder, what the heck these guys do for jobs?
And this lifestyle is very appealing, at least to me.
In the Gita, however, the god Krishna warns against this type of renunciation.
“To renounce one’s responsibilities is not fitting. The wise call such deluded renunciation tamasic. To avoid action from fear of difficulty or physical discomfort is rajasic. There is no reward in such renunciation. But to fulfill your responsibilities knowing that they are obligatory, while at the same time desiring nothing for yourself – this is sattvic renunciation. Those endowed with sattva clearly understand the meaning of renunciation and do not waver. They are not intimidated by unpleasant work, nor do they seek a job because it is pleasant.”
Here, Krishna says that if you are renouncing the world because you are trying to shirk responsibility or avoid the pain of doing difficult work, we are imbalanced. We might simply be suffering from dullness or lethargy (tamasic) or renouncing the world in a bout of excess passion or frustration (rajasic). To become balanced and at peace (sattvic), we must renounce action in an appropriate way, a renunciation that emphasizes self-sacrifice, discipline, and giving.
If I were to move back to Portland and work at a coffee shop because my job is too stressful, then I would be tamasic.
If I were to all of a sudden develop a hate of capitalism and moved to Portland to barter kale and earn a subsistence living in Portland, I would be, rajasic.
If I made a decision to move to Portland for another job that would help me better serve others, that would be (more) sattvic.
Being tamasic or rajasic is not bad per se. Someone who is always on the move without consideration for his or her spiritual development might benefit from slowing down, or becoming more tamasic. Someone who just sits on his butt all the day watching Netflix could use a dose of sattvic passion.
But it’s important to understand which of these attributes (gunas) are driving your thought process and decision making.
As far as I can tell, my desire to move to Portland (or another laid back location) is being driven by Tamas. I want to retreat from the day job and do only things that interest me.
However, it doesn’t seem completely true that I simply want to be lazy and sit on my ass. For example, my current fantasy is to move to Bali for a few months and just read and write. On the one hand, it would feel great to not suffer through the day job, which would mean I’m still suffering from excess attachment to my work. On the other hand, I could combine relaxation with intellectual progress, which seems like a legitimate way to cultivate the self (or understanding of what the self truly is).
In other words, my motivations seem complex and not immediately obvious.
Even though I haven’t figured out if I have good reasons for wanting to move, the “Gunas” framework for analyzing your thought process and decision making seems to be valuable for unearthing useful insights about yourself.
My trip to Portland made me realize (once again) that I need to be more thoughtful about understanding my motivations to move. I had been idealizing Portland since I left, and when I returned, the reality fell short.
The real question then is, why did I idealize it so much?
Hopefully, my next few weeks of Hinduism can give me some answers.