Living Datsusara: Part 1

The picture above is my family member: He’s a Tibetan yak named Pabu, which means “cloud” in Nepalese. To me, Pabu embodies travel: journeying from Tibet to Taos, New Mexico, and finally to my family’s ranch in northern New Mexico. Photo by Danielle Shattuck.

Datsusara means to “leave the salaried worker’s life” 

Originally written in 2012… edited in 2017.

I had a discussion in 2012 with a fellow senior at The University of New Mexico as part of an exercise intended to uncover our true desires and goals for the next year. Basically, what did we want out of our lives? My interviewer’s focus was on graduating the Cinematic Arts program and then finding the right city to settle down in. As I was telling him my plans he looked at me like I was slightly crazy, even though I could tell he was trying to be supportive.

What I said went like this: “I just want to find a way to travel permanently: not paying rent or many bills; having a less negative impact on the world and more freedom. I have no interest in living anywhere permanently and accumulating a bunch of stuff. It’s not that I’m running away, but rather the world is magical and I absolutely have to try and see it all. I just need to live my politics.” However, I had little idea where to start.

He responded unenthusiastically: “To each his own, I guess.”

I felt a little defeated by his statement, but I realized that he was right: We were different breeds with different needs.

He continued: “And what do you mean by, live your politics?”

I explained that my politics ask that I try to grow and learn every day so that I will be a more positive influence on the planet and myself. Education and travel have been the two most important incarnations of this philosophy for me and are intrinsically tied to one another.

The writer Pablo Iyer illuminates this idea here: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed” (Iyer).

I learned quickly that other cultures can teach us the same lessons, but from a new or at least canted angle as Iyer advocates.

I devoted much of my young-adult life to gallivanting around: living in England, Hawaii, and Seattle; hitchhiking in the UK and France; wandering around Western Europe, Canada, the United States, and southern Mexico. I spent four of these years furthering my education: attending school at the University of Exeter in England and the University of New Mexico in the US.  My focus in university was driven by my desire to explore culture through visual/filmic anthropology. For me, film and music, in particular, have always made human diversity accessible and provided a creative avenue for expression. When school came to an end, it was hard to see the next step, but I knew it was a little different from my friend in class.

The most important question became: How am I going to create a practical way of furthering my ‘ideals?’

Edgar Cayce, an early 20th century philosopher (alleged psychic) and healer believed essentially that “An ideal is not a goal. It is a motivational standard by which to evaluate our goals and our reasons for pursuing those goals. The goal is what; the ideal is why! A spiritual ideal is not so much a goal toward which we move as it is the spirit in which we grow. It is a living and dynamic standard by which we quicken and measure our daily motivation.” (Puryear, 112).

The problem I ran into and what Cayce believes many people struggle with is that people set their ideals as goals and therefore something attainable. When people attain their goals, they end up destroying their inner drive and motivation. I realized that I got so caught up in trying to finish school that my own ideal was corrupted. I had not only failed to set new goals, but I was completely focused on a fixed point in time and space: my graduation. I was not meditating, I was depressed, and I was detached from the ‘moment’ in a Dan Millman-esque sense (Millman 16-17).

Basically, I forgot how to function and appreciate the day-to-day or “basic goodness” of just ‘being’ (Trungpa 12-13,215).  However, one sneaky meditation helped change that for me.

As part of my curriculum for the Celluloid Buddhas class in 2012, I decided that I was going to start meditating every day and keep a journal of all of my experiences. Honestly, I had not been able to keep my mind clear for more than a couple of minutes since I returned from a very relaxed existence ‘looking for Buddha’ on the southern shores of Oahu, Hawaii in 2007. I spent a year meditating in Hawaii: spending at least a couple of hours a day (this is not a stretch) while studying Huna, a Hawaiian spiritual system (and trying to watch the entire Criterion Collection).

One night I was having a hard time meditating for my class project so I decided to abandon my meditation and crawl into bed and attempt what I call ‘napitation,’ which basically involves meditating until you fall asleep (bad way to meditate but a great way to lucid dream). I would like to think that I invented the ‘napitation,’ but I’m sure some human developed it thousands of years ago; hopefully, I coined it though.

There I was, in the middle of a napitation and then all of the sudden I was struck by a question: How was I going to make travel viable so that I could concentrate on learning and being me (whatever that is)? I immediately grabbed my laptop from my nightstand and began researching and writing. My inner-voice commanded that I learn how to travel and live as cheaply as possible and to write and share all the information when I was done. I knew this meant that instead of just writing about my meditation practice, this piece of writing would become its own meditation and a daunting self-diagnostic (still ongoing years later).

Although I was a little hesitant, I knew that this revelation was the answer to my conversation with my classmate, so I decided to undertake the project. Essentially, this blog entry is a manifestation of not only my meditation practices but an exercise to help create the pathways needed for continuing my journey toward my ideal.

A sustainable Pilgrimage

This is an older picture I took of Pabu in 2012. Like me, he’s a late bloomer. 🙂

There are countless bloggers and travel enthusiasts on the internet who share their own experiences of how they came to live on the road. Many authors are only trying to sell you their experiences instead of helping you accomplish that feat. There were a couple of authors who were very helpful and inspirational: Rick Griffith is one such person. On Griffith’s blog LivingBueno (even the name sold me), I immediately saw parallels between our life philosophies.

The first important one: “My vision is not one of hammocks and suntan lotion. It is of throwing myself head first into the unknown and pursuing knowledge.” Griffith continues to explain that his own philosophy is in opposition to the American mantra of purposeless competition and acquisition. After a couple of hours on his site, I decided to research some of his suggestions for living rent free (almost anyway). One such resource is Workaway and is very popular among Australians in particular.

First off, I know what you are thinking: With a name like Workaway, how can work not be involved? Well, it is involved but it works a little different. Workaway is a site where local businesses from all over the world generally trade food and board for help. Most of the listings on the site are for hostels, farms, coffee shops, teaching Co-ops, and other educational outreach programs. Most programs ask for you to work around five hours a day, but it does depend on the job. Unlike the many of the travel programs and ‘non-profit groups’ on the internet that you pay one-thousand plus dollars for, such as ISV, Interexchange, GoAbroad, and a plethora of others.

Workaway is instead about fifteen dollars a year for membership (I have since contacted a shaman in northeastern Peru, whom needs helps putting up ceremonial buildings and planting crops on his farm). These opportunities allow for more freedom in travel and the only drawback, if you can call it that, is many of them want you to stay at least a month. This is one of the best opportunities I have found to experience a culture and not just be an annoying tourist.

The next resource that I already have some experience with is WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Like its name, WWOOF provides work opportunities on organic and non-organic farms internationally. For instance, my family’s ranch has hosted ‘WWOOFers’ from Germany, New Zealand, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and many others. Though compensation varies from host to host, many people like my parents provide food and board for their guest workers and some even a stipend. This service, like Workaway, allows globetrotters to make their money last longer, fully immerse in culture, and even pick up new skills (like chasing goats with my family). It is important to add that like Workaway, most WWOOF hosts only ask for a few hours a day and membership is only twenty-five dollars a year. The WWOOF program and Workaway are the most useful ways to live abroad and still have many hours a week to explore your surroundings.

Finding places to stay for close to free was only the first step in my journey. How else am I supposed to support myself so that I can travel as well? Two ideas sprang to mind: become a successful writer or filmmaker. Sadly, both of these seem to require practice and a lot of time (though I love it). I began researching travel journalism and mapping out resources like Matadornetwork and other sites who charged for insight into how to succeed at writing and or filmmaking on the road.

After a lot of digging, I finally found Travel Writer’s Exchange, which is a site with a bunch of freelance job postings around the world. Their site has a fantastic amount of links if one takes the time to dig. I quickly became aware that most of the postings paid about $25.00 for 400-500 words. Doing a little math in my head, I realized that writing is probably only a good way to subsidize bills until you get better gigs. I knew that if I wanted to ever make any money at a writing gig, I would have to get my name out there somehow. This is where this project initially started to get out of hand.

I was a concert promoter and musician for several years and had an old website. I decided that I would replace my ancient site with something new and exciting: a place to write my way to the top. I must have forgotten how long it actually takes to build and manage such a thing (many days lost for a good cause). So began Hip and Trippy: A website dedicated to reviews, short films, critical writing, and local film culture. I wanted the site to be more interesting than just a blog, so I decided I needed varying content and writers, which both ironically came as a byproduct of my travels.

Starting in October 2012, I appropriated two people that I studied film with in England and one New Mexican. The site was re-launched and we continued to add content to it with passion and patience. I am happy to say that it is was a fun time. I was able to reconnect with one of my old friends through discussions inspired by the content on the site. I was also able to put my name there as a writer, landing myself local freelance writing gigs and some abroad.

It gave me a place to give back to the local community by offering press to local filmmakers and musicians. I also had a lot of fun. It is fair to say that this learning experience was a success.

The meditation spawned this crazy essay, which then spawned some research into cost-effective travel, which then created a website from where I created better writing opportunities for myself and others. All of the ideas fit well into supporting my ideal and continued to be symbiotic for some time.

However, in 2017, I can say that I am still not living datsusara.

Follow-up coming soon.


Iyer, Pablo. Why We Travel. Web:
Millman, Dan. Way of the peaceful warrior: a book that changes lives. Tiburon, California: H.J. Kramer, Inc, 1980.
Trungpa, Chögyam, and Carolyn Rose Gimian. Shambhala: the sacred path of the warrior. Boulder: Shambhala, 1984. Print., 1984.

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