World Around Me: The Insidious Innocence Abroad.
It’s amazing to think of it now — the jagged edges of reality that can be softened by the unconscious, like sea-worn glass licked smooth by tides.
The pricking perimeter so easily softened by the caress of our own depths, demanding a sleek finish to something abrasive.
I was in Burma in 2015 during the Rohingya refugee crisis, in my travels I passed people being herded, brusquely funneled after a boat ride.
My eyes were sun-pricked, my body tired, I had been treated with a curtness too; I didn’t realize there was a vital distinction in the way I was being handled.
I knew nearly nothing of the situation, I had spent most of my time researching Mount Popa, and the myths of the Nats that were said to reside there.
I was ignorant of the plight of the Rohingya.
Though they passed me, though the same slats of sun lashed our faces in the autumn heat, though the water shimmered in serpentine, undulating iridescence beside us both, we were separate.
I did not know at the time how different our fates would be.
My mind was lost in the diaphanous swirl of mist at the summit of a magic mountain.
Lost in the lofty heights of dream worlds, I didn’t feel the moment as it was, as it happened.
My mind was focused on the blossom-consuming ogress Me Wunna who became the mythical Queen-Mother of Popa after she died of a broken heart.
Even now, as I look back, the ridges of her petal-stained lips and onyx-colored eyes seem more vivid to me than the faces of the Rohingya refugees I passed.
The ease with which my indigo and gold passport was given and returned allowed me to exist in my fantasy world undisturbed.
There was a mad cruelty in my obliviousness, a tyrannical naivety — an impenetrable bubble, full of gossamer delusion that deflected all intrusion.
I seemed to float through what I now can apprehend as masses of stricken people, people without the shiny blue passport that allowed me to glide through the moment with my dreamworld hideously intact.
I’ve realized this in retrospect before, in Israel I’ve bathed blithely in the sun the day of rockets falling, fancying myself as golden as a favorite of Asherah.
I’ve flitted through groups of people, wielding nothing but my little blue laissez-passer with the right stamps and a foolish, ambling gate — arms swinging and eyes upturned, my mind on something ancient and obscure.
Some myth in the land I was walking on that I felt more connected to than the people around me, people feeling fear or pain.
Some of this I think is a protective mental mantle I imbued my awareness with early in life, an ability to exist in an alternate world — deeper and richer and more magical than the present one, infused with myths and fables.
Some of it must be an innate way of processing, seeing symbols more than substance, being somewhere but truly being somewhere else, gilded in ancient stories of gods and monsters.
But I know that part of it is intent. I may not have known as much as I should have about the evolving Rohingya crisis which was looming on the final stages of genocide in 2015, but during all the times I’ve lived in Israel I sensed that it was a burgeoning apartheid state. And still I pouted in mirrors and preened on beaches and flirted with soldiers, a wanton fool at best, a callous cousin of settler colonizers at worst.
Cultural relativism is important, we learn in America about our self-projection when perceiving other cultures. I am conscious of the clumsy transposition of American colonialism over all other world conflicts that seems to happen in the reductive, simplified discourse of our modern moment. This to me seems to be more an intellectual laziness than an apt deciphering of the complex world around us.
Still, there are imbalances of power that exist in paradigms of unchecked dominion, patterns of domination over stateless entities.
We can witness similarities to the ravaging imprints of European colonialism, even if the comparison is imperfect, even without the presence of European people.
To deny them is to turn away or deceive ourselves.
I am so sensitive in America; my own features paint the story of Eurasian confluence and conquest on every mirror I see — I can behold my own Native features intermingled with Mediterranean conquistadors and Middle Eastern nomads.
This is what makes my dreamy departure from reality more deranged.
The imprints of colony and capture are infused in the shape of my eyes and the set of my mouth. They were there for me to behold in every mirror that I raptly studied in my youth.
I have no excuse for my obtuseness, I was not a WASP darting through a world so acquiescent to my identity that it conspired with my ancestors to conceal my own sting from me.
Perhaps it’s only in fully recognizing the complex admixture of Middle Eastern, Native and European people in myself that I can begin to endeavor to have an articulate and worldly ability to adjust my lens in different situations.
I don’t wish to paint all conflict with the bold strokes of one concept (that of a conqueror and a victim).
It’s important for me to be able to see both similarity and juxtaposition. To see shades of gradation instead of a black-and-white cartoon.
I must accept that this is not the method I have approached the world with, for far too long. I saw the world as a challenge, a quest, a mythic journey where I was a hero beset by dangers.
The balance seems to be in participating in the story without usurping it, to be able to see the play of action you are a mere facet of. To find your own tone in the chorus of shades.
There is nuance in the shifting matrix of power in the Middle East.
I believe Israel has a right to exist, just as I believe its current Right Wing hegemony and their settler intrusions are unjust.
The current state of Israel and Palestine is not the dream of the return of the Jewish diaspora realized.
What youthful insouciance didn’t conceal from my view of Israel in the past, tribalism did.
It’s with this ability to adjust and examine, to see my own biases and defensiveness, that I wish to travel with now.
I want to cultivate a more engaged and dynamic lens as the world reopens after the pandemic that swept the globe.
I want to have a deep resonance with myth while also having a sense of the world around me in the moment.
I want to feel pulled by the past but anchored in the present.
The cold, popsicle-stained lips that formed their puerile moue for soldiers on Frishman beach after deeper territorial encroachments occurred in Israel, the wide-eyed yet unseeing gaze I cast around Burma — these are the convulsions of a youth kept too long, an innocence that veered into maniacal, myopic despotism.
I am ashamed of them.
As we enter a new stage of movement after our long reprieve, I want to invite the myths of different lands into my sight. Without them blotting out my connected human vision of those around me, sharing this moment on earth.
Maren Zweifler enjoys teaching Yoga with a focus on free movement and intrinsic shapes, emphasizing spinal fluidity and innate, primal posture. Deeply inspired by movement systems that embrace nature like Sridaiva and Continuum Movement. He completed a 500-hour certification in SF and has taught both there and in Austin where he honed his skills teaching private classes tailored to the individual needs of his clients. He created a wellness/yoga program at a non-profit. These experiences allowed him to explore both the unique individuation of the physical experience in one-on-one sessions, and the commonalities of the human form that can be witnessed in large groups. You could connect with Maren on Instagram.