Un-Frequently Asked Questions and some un-common answers .. They are a stroll at the fringe of the politically incorrect and the existentially essential
UFAQ#1 - WHAT DO I DO WHEN I ATTEND A MASS IN CHURCH, GO TO A MOSQUE OR TO A SYNAGOGUE ?
If when in a religious place, the feeling of being stuck in a class beyond your grasp or outside your interest zone creeps up, there are several things you can do. Back in the time, I used to imagine the mass is a show where the priest performed. I imagined a musical and tried to figure out the choreography behind it. I'd then picture the church turned into a night club. Where would the bar be ? Where would I stand to dance ? Where would the girls gravitate ? I'd imagine a church-themed club where the priest is pouring wine to everyone.
Since then, I've stopped going to church but still find myself in places I don't want to be from time to time. So here's a guide to the things one can do in such places:
- It is highly likely that pulling out your phone will be perceived as insulting and lacking tact. Do not use your phone.
- "What do I do then ?" Notice how other people are embarked in practices such as prayers and chants. You do not need to engage in that kind of behaviour.
- "I need to spend an hour here ! What am I supposed to do ?". Calm down. This is a great opportunity to stretch your consciousness. Let's start by the single most important step: Observe.
- Notice the beige suit of the man on your left. Notice the breath of the kid on your right. Look at his jumper. See the broken pattern around the arms ? Look at the priest or spiritual guide of sorts. Notice the wrinkles on his face ? Notice his coloured hair ? See his lips ? Did you notice the difference between his lips' color and the lips of the old woman at the front row ?
- Beautiful. Now unto the most interesting way to spend your time. We're going to move from paying attention to what's outside to what's inside. You've been looking at people's features. Now look at their enthusiasm. No need to picture a scale but notice how the ladies in the front are the spearhead of this religious army. Notice how they surpass everyone else by quite a few decibels.
- Notice the enthusiasm of your neighbours. Notice the distraction. The looks they throw around. Look at what they're looking at. Notice ? Most are not paying attention to what's going on. Try to figure out how routinely this is for them. How much automatism has taken over deliberate practice.
- Great. Now look at the fringes. Look at the edges of the back benches, the rows people avoid because they don't offer the best view. The people you'll see there are either newbies who didn't know they'll miss the show by sitting there or the most interesting people in this place.
- See ? Did you see her ? The old woman who's been bowing her head since this whole thing started ? Amazing no ? Look into her soul. What do you think is happening there ? Try to listen and notice. Notice how not a single sound is coming out of her mind and soul. It's amazing. Pure silence.
- The ocean of difference between this woman and the feverish singers of the first rows where my grandma seems to be representing and defending the family's piousness. This woman has figured something out. Her body's traversed by an incomprehensible electricity. She makes the whole trip to this place worth it.
- Look at her. And learn. Learn how to shut your mind off. And the trick isn't to kick ideas out but rather to let everything else in. Listen carefully to every single sound around you. Let it conquer you. To hear the outside, you have to make silence inside.
Here you go. Your soul slowly fades away and you are pure attention. Nothing but an observant of the world around you. Beautiful nothingness, beautiful fullness. Completely alive, completely dead. Utter beauty.
UFAQ#2 - HOW DO I REACT WHEN INTERACTING WITH DUMB CHILDREN ?
A kid wants to show you his latest drawing. He takes you by his hand and leads you to his room to show you a red truck. He takes the truck and "drives it" up a ramp and into the a wooden lego structure. What do you do ? Do you smile in pity at the pitiful performance ? Do you try and explain the uselessness of this behaviour ? Do you hand him / her a book ?
Ok. So the dumb kid can't speak, read or talk properly. He takes the red truck again and drives it up the exact same ramp and into the wooden structure. That's where you should start asking yourself questions. Is this kid completely stupid ? Is he mentally challenged ? Why doesn't he do something else ? Why doesn't he try and sit down still instead of running around and looking at you as if you don't get it ! As if you're the dumb one ! Stupid kid.
The kid tries to say something but he says so slowly. I get it idiot "RED" "TRUCK". You can't just point at it. "TUTU". What does Desmond Tutu have to do with any of this ? Absurd. RED. TRUCK. TUTU. Are you doing this on purpose ? You know I can't leave you alone so you're wrecking my nerves. You're having fun aren't you, you tyrant.
RED. TRUCK. And that's where you realize. There's a siren that's been sounding in the distance for the last 10 minutes: "TUTU". You open the curtains and smoke's in the air three blocks away. RED. TRUCK. Fire-fighters. Kid ! You're a genius. I should've listened more carefully.
UFAQ#3 - HOW DO I DEAL WITH A HOBO THAT SMELLS BAD AND IS LOOKING AT ME ?
You're in the subway or sitting in a parc. 10 feet away, a hobo is sitting down. You know it's a hobo because he is wearing hobo clothes. Torn shoes. White bandage around the ankles, patched sweater and blue pants with dye diluted so much one can't think where it would go from here. His coat is of a perfectly new tincture. Never seen before. But bold enough to end up on a catwalk sometime soon. Fashion starts at the edges of life. The fringes of the world are ever-redefining what is new and worth exploring. They're pushing the limits and asking the hard questions.
The hobo stands up for absolutely no reason. Then sits down. It's strange one never sees these guys in the big trains. Not that they're harder to access in Paris. It's the same illegal leap into the station. Thing is, the big trains lead to the outskirts of the city. The suburbs. And the suburbs are scary. Even for hobos. There's no one in the streets and nothing to do. The suburbs are boring. Even for a hobo.
The hobo stands again. He takes a deep breath. He's about to say something. Everybody's looking. He opens his eyes widely. Closes them in fatigue. Breathes out. And sits down. People go back to their newspaper and phones. The only one still looking is you. And he noticed. He lifts his head like an old sorcerer waking up from a long battle and looks at you. He stands up and his human condition, obviously, obliges him to disguise his walk towards you in a lame limping towards the vertical metal bar. His eye is fixing yours. His smell is clinching you. What do you do ?
Look at him. No need to stand up but that would be good as well. Breathe in. Fully. Take it all in. This smell is his smell. His human smell. It's a mix of shit and pee, it's the city's smoke and the restaurants' fried vegetable oil. It's the street's petrol stains and pigeons' poo. It's modern life today in its most brutal form. Breathe in. All in. And look him in the eye. This is a man my friend. Your heart is beating beyond 125. There's fear because that man is unpredictable. That's probably why he ended up in the street. But logic here: How far can you go to escape ? You're in a train. You're in a parc and the man can run. You could outrun him but to go where ? Your escape is a physical one. Your mind is a prisoner of his gaze and that you need to deal with now.
Breathe in. Look up. Look in. Stay there. And notice. He looks at you. You can't feel time but it looks as if a full 30 seconds have passed. His wandering mind might be searching for a reference. An anchor to understand who you could be and why you would do what you're doing. There is none. He breathes slower and slower and the fear he thought he was inducing is not. Look at his eyes. And now for the grand finale: Smile.
Smile my friend to the most interesting beauty there is. The one that's impossible to see for most of us. Look at the realness of this man and smile. Smile at his eyes. And see him wander and wonder. Breathe in. Look up. Look in.