The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real... & it has a Name

Musafir is more than a ship. She’s an ideal—a vision and symbol of another way of life. Those who built...

Don’t Ask me where I’m From, Ask me where Home Is

One balmy evening in Domincal, Costa Rica, two friends and I found ourselves stuck in conversation with a friendly...

No One is Talking about God (Poetry)

Quite a few months ago, I traveled down to the south of Costa Rica to visit friends living in...

"How Many Countries Have You Been To?" & Other Questions I Avoid

Originally published on elephant journal. Nowhere on my website will you find a tally of countries I’ve visited. Not on...

I'm not responsible for anyone's Transformation

Saturday, 23 June, 2018 — Finca Agroecologica La Flor, Cartago, Costa Rica — Yoga & Mindfulness Immersion I sit straddling...
Adventure, Africa, Nomadism
The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real... & it has a Name
Central America, Nomadism
Don’t Ask me where I’m From, Ask me where Home Is
Poetry & Fiction, Transformation
No One is Talking about God (Poetry)
Nomadism, Travel Advice
"How Many Countries Have You Been To?" & Other Questions I Avoid
Central America, Culture, Transformation
I'm not responsible for anyone's Transformation

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About Me

Hi, my name is Toby Israel.

I like to call myself an incorrigible vagabond. (It hasn’t caught on…yet.) I search for dragons, searches, and cross-cultural understanding—and then I share those discoveries with you.

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musafir, pirates, ship, kenya, africa, travel, distant relatives
Adventure, Africa, Nomadism

The Floating Pirate Community you always wanted to Join is Real… & it has a Name

Musafir is more than a ship. She’s an ideal—a vision and symbol of another way of life.

Those who built her and those who meet her find themselves swept up by the singularity of her story.

Musafir—or Msafr in Ki-Swahili—is Arabic for traveler. And indeed, the soul of the 70-foot (21-meter) dhow is travel. When I met her in early 2015, she lay at anchor in Kilifi Creek, on the North Coast of Kenya. Just 3.6 degrees south of the equator, Kilifi rests in equal proximity to the chaos of Mombasa to the south and the ancient port town of Lamu to the north, yet remains utterly tranquil.

During my two months in Kilifi, I visited the nearly-finished vessel often.

sailboat, dhow, musafir, distant relatives, toby israel

The approach to Musafir required a two-minute swim, or a one-minute kayak ride, through calm saltwater. At the boat’s hull, the water glowed a brilliant green as though illuminated by the vessel itself.

Louis, a 30-year-old Frenchman from Burgundy who arrived in Kenya in September 2011, rested on board, a feather in his dreadlocks and a worn pair of shorts around his narrow hips. He had been building the Musafir for three and a half years.

Work on the deck had begun only a week prior to my arrival, and a jumble of boards—some secure, others less so—sprawled before him. From several beams a collection of items hung: one hammock; woven baskets; a blue glass evil eye; a shard of mirror; solar lights; and a Kenyan flag.

The mirror reflected the bright afternoon sun as Louis spoke:

“It was the idea of freedom that called to me. The idea of doing something else. That’s why I started traveling, because I saw that this life that was suggested to me was not exciting. I think with this vehicle [Musafir] we can send a message somehow to the world. Not screaming it loud, you know, but by touching people pole pole [slowly in Ki-Swahili], showing that another way is possible. And if you follow your dream, even if you think “no, it’s impossible,” it’s possible.”

Louis, along with an Italian man named Paolo, is one of the project’s “initiators.”

kenya, sailing, dhow, kilifi, musafir, numundo, transformational travel

In theory, however, “the boat belongs to whoever is on board.”

He laughs and adds, “Me I’m just the Chai Wallah. My job on board will be to make chai and coffee. Just now, you know there are so many other jobs to do and no one else is around to do them.”

The project relies on donations, crowdfunding, and—above all—the resources of those who have devoted their lives to actualizing it. Louis, Paolo and many volunteers repeatedly poured their savings into building costs.

Historians differ on the exact origins of the dhow (a broad category encompassing many particular models). Some declare it Arab in origin, while others trace its roots as far as ancient China. A lateen sail and long, narrow hull differentiated the dhow from its Mediterranean kin. Many were constructed in Kerala, South India, known for the quality of its timber. Until Vasco da Gama’s arrival to Africa in the 15th century, wooden pegs and coconut rope—not nails—held the vessels together.

Kipini has long been a notorious hub of expert Swahili construction, and thus a natural, far-off-the-beaten-path starting point. Musafir made its maiden voyage from Kipini to Kilifi (more accessible and less isolated) in November of 2014. In four days, she traveled 75 nautical miles, carrying fifteen passengers, a goat who would not see the end of the journey, and several chickens who would.

Musafir, which, more precisely, is a jahazi (a Lamu-style dhow), is held together by copper nails rather than coconut rope. A few power tools for sanding and drilling assisted her construction, and she will eventually have an engine, too. However, Badi (the fundi, or master ship-builder), largely employed traditional techniques.

Cotton canvas sail; old wood from Kipini; axes and sweat.

musafir, boat, dhow, sailing, kenya, africa, adventure travel

Building a boat of this size by hand is an endeavor few would undertake, but those involved agree that their labor adds inimitable depth.

Louis elaborates, “Does it have soul? Does it have a special energy added to it? I think it does… Day after day of work, you start to know every piece, every nail. It makes it totally unique. You can be sure there won’t be two dhows like this in the world.”

Dhows once traversed the Indian Ocean, sailing along the Arabian and East African coasts, and following the monsoon winds all the way to India and back. They carried dates from Basra, curved daggers from Muscat, gold and ivory, carved chests, spices and mangrove poles—and ideas. The dhow enabled the exchange of languages, people and ideas as well as goods.

Likewise, Musafir will transport stories, goodwill, and possibly trade items. When the traveler and its travelers make port, “the vision is to have this exchange of culture—learning from communities and doing what we can to fill any specific needs.”

Louis, Paolo and others made an exceptional effort to integrate into their temporary homes. They learned Ki-Swahili and befriended the Kilifi men who spend vast swathes of time cleaning the nearby beach. They drank mnazi (coconut palm wine) and worked closely with local experts.

Cross-cultural understanding, they have understood, is an integral component of modern-day travel. Along the Swahili Coast—a vibrant blending of deep Islamic roots and centuries of Bantu, Arab and Indian influence—such insight requires time and complex awareness.

musafir, distant relatives, pirates, community, travel, africa, toby israel

What could inspire a group of unconnected people from around the globe to live and work together towards a common goal? It’s not the physical ship, though many involved love to be at sea. More than anything, it is the promise of freedom.
Dario, a volunteer from Sicily, explained,

“I think it appeals to people who are curious, adventurous… and who have a little craziness around, because it’s not a safe environment. I fell in love with the idea. To travel, to have access to any country. There are no roads, you know; you are just thinking where to go and you go.”

Travel represents both a means and an end. For these Musafiri, there is no “after” in sight—only oceans and journeys to discover.

Dario peeled a mango with a recycled blade and spoke over the snapping of the green tarp overhead as the wind churned and the light became hazy with the setting sun.

“Musafir is about traveling,” he says. “It’s about life. It’s about getting to know new cultures, new people. It’s about growing, because while you travel across the globe you’re able to learn many, many things that can be illuminating. It’s about helping out as well. It’s an idea that can amuse people, because if you think about building a 70-foot sailing boat in order to travel around the world, wow, it’s a bit of a crazy idea. But eventually… You’re sitting on it. The boat floats. We’re here talking about it. So it’s a project that shows that if you really want something, you can do it.”

To leave the ship, I could either climb down the rope ladder on her port side or jump into the warm waters of Kilifi Creek. The inimitable Distant Relatives Ecolodge was only a five-minute walk away. Their eclectic blend of earthy vibes and tropical hospitality served as a base for the Musafir team, as well as myself, for some time.

musafir, kenya, kilifi, distant relatives, transformational travel

 

When Louis and Paolo first arrived in Kipini, many of the villagers regarded them with suspicion.

Why did they live in poverty while spending large sums on Musafir’s construction? Why wouldn’t they use the finished ship to turn a profit? With their long hair and beards, the villagers concluded, the men must be undercover Mossad or CIA agents come to spy on them.

The answer to these questions, however, was and is simple:

Musafir is not a business. She is a message.

Dario concluded, “It’s important as well to come down here and understand what it means to take part in such a big project. It’s very challenging, and it’s wonderful in itself. It teaches you a lot—shows you great beauty.”

For those who dreamt her into being, Musafir is a message of freedom and unity. She is a lesson in perseverance and an example of a way of life not yet lost to the world.

When she sets sail, a traveler’s soul will go with her.


Anyone inspired by this project has several options. One can, if the fit is right, sign on as a volunteer for several months. Alternately, one may support the project financially by donating here.


Originally published on NuMundo’s Transformational Times. 

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toby israel, home, travel, costa rica, nationalism
Central America, Nomadism

Don’t Ask me where I’m From, Ask me where Home Is

One balmy evening in Domincal, Costa Rica, two friends and I found ourselves stuck in conversation with a friendly tourist from the United States. Despite the best of intentions, he was boring us all.

We didn’t feel like chatting, and the dance floor was calling. So, when he inevitably asked, “Where are you all from?” we answered in the least gracious way possible:

“I forgot,” said one friend.
“I’m undecided,” said the other.
“I don’t know,” I finished. 

After close to a year living in Costa Rica, we thought our responses were a clever alternative to the repetitive small talk we had come to dread—with tourists and locals alike. Our unfortunate conversation partner doubtless thought we were very rude.

However, our reluctance to answer a seemingly simple question touches on a deeper issue for me, and perhaps for many vagabonds.

I have small talk fatigue. I’m tired of regurgitating the same facts. What’s more, I haven’t lived in the place I grew up (is that where I’m “from”?) for 10 years. I haven’t lived in the pace I receive mail (is that where I’m from?) for five years. It just doesn’t seem like relevant information anymore.

I definitely have small talk fatigue. But that’s only part of the problem.

As someone with vaguely European features, I never had to deal with the “No, where are you really from?” bullsh*t growing up. (That’s another ballgame entirely). But having spent most of my adult life outside the U.S., having a distinct accent in every other language I speak, and being obviously foreign more often than not, I face two questions with higher frequency than could possibly be healthy:

Where are you from? And, why are you here?

I just don’t want to answer these questions anymore. My place of origin is probably the least interesting thing about me. It leads inevitably to more uninteresting questions. Yet it is always, always the first thing we ask. (I am also guilty of this, though more and more I try to catch myself before it slips out). And, if I do answer the question, “ah,” they say, as if now they know everything there is to know about me.

I reject the very premise of the question: that the world is made up of nations, and that we “belong” to the arbitrary borders within which we were born.

I refuse to identify with a nation simply because we have collectively consented to buy into this fiction. I refuse to flaunt my country of origin (utterly accidental, and in no way representative of any personal merit), as if it were something to be proud of.

Do the advantages and disadvantages of our birthplace, the cultural conventions of our upbringing, and the social constructs of our particular place in the world play a large role in shaping our selfhood? Of course. They play a massive role. I will be the first to make this point. But do these factors define us in our entirety? I strive every day to ensure that they do not.

Is it an exceptional privilege to reject a national identity and seek a global one? In a way, yes. Few have the luxury to choose to dissociate from the title on their birth certificate or passport.

Yet, I believe we are all capable of taking a critical look at the structures we have been handed as incontrovertible—at the stories we have been taught as truth. We all have the choice to accept the world given to us…or to deconstruct it, fiction by fiction, and build a new one.

I was born in the United States. I have a U.S. passport.

On the one hand, this tells you everything: my position of privilege, my opportunities for work and education, my background, and cultural references.

But on the other, this tells you nothing about my values, my vision, my spirit, or my heart.

I was born in the U.S., but don’t ask me about that.

toby israel, home, travel, costa rica, nationalism

Ask me, “Where is home?” I will tell you:

Home is Costa Rica, for now.
Home is with my family, wherever they happen to be.
Home is my community—global.
Home was South Africa, Zanzibar, London, and Italy… for a while.
Home is in my body.
Home is a hot shower and a good meal.
Home is wherever I am welcomed—and wherever people are kind, good, and full of love (everywhere).
Home is many, many places, and sometimes it is nowhere at all.

And maybe tomorrow I will tell you something different. Isn’t that so much more interesting?

Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m at home. Then, maybe, we can talk about something real.


Originally published on elephant journal.

Image used with permission from Marc Maksim Photography.

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god, wanderlust, woman, travel, ocean
Poetry & Fiction, Transformation

No One is Talking about God (Poetry)

Quite a few months ago, I traveled down to the south of Costa Rica to visit friends living in a remote community on a very special stretch of coastline.

I had a lot of time to reflect. A lot of time to sit in the dark too. Real dark, untouched by any trace of electric light.

That kind of darkness opens us up to a kind of spirituality, or creativity, often blinded by the modern world. At least, it seemed that way to me.

That kind of darkness brought me a lot of words. These are a few of them:

god, wanderlust, woman, travel, ocean

Talking about God

I went to the ocean on a cloudy night, just to stare at darkness.

I felt my heart beat faster as the waves rolled against the beach,
and my body rolled too, in sympathy.
This was solitude.
Utter blankness upon the canvas of my cornea.
This was emptiness.
Division between water and sky barely visible on the horizon.

My voice, when I sang out to that ocean beat,
was unique in all the darkness,
for it was the only thing that told itself to itself.
The sea spoke to the moon,
the raindrops spoke to the trees,
the rocky beach spoke to the colonies of crickets —
and then, there was me.

I want so much to be a part of it.
To lose track of my voice in harmony with the waves.
To see my footprints disappear,
my skin melt into the everything
of that shifting, sucking darkness.

I love my life, my body, my breath.
Just, I want to be a part of it.
The whole.

You see, no one I know seems to be talking about god —
it’s out of vogue to seek the divine,
the mysterious, the ethereal and the invisible;
children learn to count money but hear nothing of souls;
we don’t care why we’re here as long as there’s football —

And no one I know seems to be talking about god;
we’re all too educated for that,
leave it to the zealots and the black hats,
write your gratitude journal and bow down to the fat cats —

No, no one I know seems to be talking about god,
but I want to find her,

so I go down to the water and look into my own heart,
because a wise teacher or two once said
I would find a spark —
there, where all the secret things we pretend not to believe in sing;
where the ancient longing we don’t understand goes to hide;
where the invisible and magical and wild abide.

I heard, once, that god was at the heart of everything,
including me.
I read, once, that gods played and ate and shifted faces
at the bottom of the sea.
I knew, once —
I knew, I knew, I knew, I knew, I knew —
about the mysteries dancing at the horizon,
where water meets sky,
about the spirits who live between worlds
and send stories with serpents and dolphins and dragonflies,
about the beauty that gave birth to every single thing.

But I forgot,
we forgot,
and I want so much to remember:
I am part of it.

No one I know seems to be talking about god,
but, call me crazy,
I want to find her.
So every day, for a few minutes,
I try to stare at darkness.
I dive into that shifting, sucking water,
and I look into my own heart.


Originally published on Rebelle Society, July 2018.

Written in November, 2017 at Finca Morpho.

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Nomadism, Travel Advice

“How Many Countries Have You Been To?” & Other Questions I Avoid

Originally published on elephant journal.

Nowhere on my website will you find a tally of countries I’ve visited. Not on my Instagram either.

Several times, I’ve debated changing my policy about this. It appears to be de rigueur for writers and bloggers in my niche of adventure travel and digital nomadism. And, I am proud of the ground I’ve managed to cover in relatively few years.

However, I’m much prouder of how I’ve covered it.

Hitchhiking thousands of kilometers through Europe, learning (basic) Swahili in Zanzibar, building community in Costa Rica—these are the stories I want to tell about my years on the road, which numbers can never do justice.

Numbers may tell you how many kilometers I walked, how many years I lived out of a backpack, or—yes—how many stamps I have in my passport. But numbers won’t tell you what the Phnom Penh pavement felt like under my bare feet, how my shoulders ached after carrying my life with me across Spain, or the many amusing (stressful) ways I crossed all those borders.

I think you get my point. The number of countries I have visited is, like any other tally, just a number. It is not, in my opinion, very interesting information.

Furthermore, it is already an exceptional privilege to travel as I have done. I am deeply grateful to sustainably maintain the nomadic lifestyle I find so exhilarating. It seems unnecessary to proceed to flaunt that privilege in such a one-dimensional way.

I also dislike the rhetoric, only too common in the travel blogosphere, that “more countries = more happy.” There is no happiness equation. A fuller passport does not equate to a higher happiness index—though travel can certainly lead us down many paths to fulfillment. I am wary of contributing to this superficial conversation in any way.

countries, travel, vagabonding, nomadic

All that said, I would hate to raise objections without offering solutions. I wouldn’t waste your time with criticisms of displaying the “travel number” if I didn’t have some alternatives in mind.

When I tell new friends about my vagabondish lifestyle, more often than not their first question is, “So, how many countries have you been to?” I’ve come up with a lot of ways to avoid (or transform) that one. Here are my favorites:

1. “Let me tell you about my most recent trip to X.” Stays on topic, but narrows the conversation down to a specific, less superficial angle that I actually want to explore.

2. “A lot… I’ve been living nomadically for quite a few years.” Vague, but hopefully avoids anything that might come off as boasting.

3. “Honestly, I’d rather answer a different question.” The most direct answer, and usually goes over well when delivered with a genuine smile.

4. “I actually don’t think it’s that interesting. Let me tell you a story instead.” Also direct, and opens space for the exchange to move toward a subject of mutual interest.

5. Just tell them the number…once in a while, it’s easier to go with the flow and answer the damn question.

I like these answers because most of them are rather versatile. The same tactics can help us to gracefully evade personal questions we don’t want to answer, small talk we don’t want to engage in, and norms of conversation we don’t want to support.

I hope travelers with similar misgivings to my own may take away a helpful solution or two.

May your backpack be light and your feet happy—no matter how many borders they’ve crossed!


I also don’t really like “Where do you come from?” Stay tuned for some thoughts on that.

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wanderlusters, toby israel, travel
Adventure, Nomadism, Travel Advice

Wanderlusters: Running Away Doesn’t Work. (But Run Anyway!)

Originally published at elephant journal—7 September, 2016.

This is fun.

I’m going through some old writings in anticipation of a possible project or two, and as always, it is a fascinating adventure to chat with my former self.

And while I’m not currently in the wildest of wanderlusting phases (actually, I’m solidly planted in Costa Rica for at least another 6 months while I cultivate events and retreats here), I still think this is some pretty good advice.

For you, wanderlusters:

wanderlusters, toby israel, travel light

Hello, my name is Toby Israel, and I am an adventure addict and wanderlust junkie.

And no, I’m not sorry.

I won’t lie to you. What everyone tells you is true: you can’t run away from your issues. Nope, doesn’t work.

Every sadness, heartache, loss, fear and insecurity has trailed me down the road of my nomadic life, following my sandy footprints like unwanted travel companions. If my heart were a backpack, you could not lift it onto your shoulders, so full it is of loves and lives. These things do not simply vanish into an Instagram-ready snapshot captioned, “Let that sh*t go.” Oh, no. Did you really think it would?

Vagabonding, as I like to call it, has never solved a single problem. Not a crumbling relationship. Not a fear of heights. Not a longing for security.

Indeed, “running away” is an empty promise. Walking off into the sunset, guitar slung across your back, Sufjan Stevens illogically emanating from the empty fields—I mean, come on, I can hardly write it, it’s so cliché.

Here’s the thing: running “away” may be impossible—but beautiful, wise wanderlusters, you should run anyway.

Run as far and as hard as you can.

Run with purpose. Run with laughter. Run with mad, passionate glee.

You’ll know when it’s time to stop—or you won’t, in which case you’ll keep running.

Wandering isn’t a cure, but it is (I believe) a path.

If that path calls to you, sowing iridescent oceans and unfamiliar cobble-stoned streets in your dreams, then honor the call. (If it really calls to you though, you don’t need me or anyone to tell you that.) Wandering won’t fix you, but it could uncover your self to your self.

wanderlusters, toby israel, travel

Would I have ever jumped off a 152-meter bridge had I not chased the magical yeti of adventure, facing a fear of heights in the process? Would I have hitchhiked 6,000 kilometers across Europe had I not answered my call and started to run? Would I have healed my heart had I ignored the balm of open skies and fresh wings—instead staying earthbound and numb in the familiar places I once called home?

Maybe. Probably not. And I’d have far fewer stories to show for it.

Sorry, but I am not sorry. I am every damn cliché you could write about the wandering millennial seeker roaming the world for years on end—and I am exquisitely filled with joy about it.

Sometimes, we have to come back, go home, stay still to “find ourselves”—but maybe, just maybe, sometimes we’re waiting to be found at the end of a bungee cord, the top of a mountain, the last hour of an 800-kilometer trail. Wouldn’t it be a shame not to go and see?

Remind me then, what is this thing I’m supposedly running away from? I cannot see it, for I am too busy testing my wings.


Hey, feeling wanderlusty? Check out my upcoming retreats in Costa Rica and come hang out in paradise for a while! 😉

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finca la flor, transformation, costa rica, yoga retreat
Central America, Culture, Transformation

I’m not responsible for anyone’s Transformation

Saturday, 23 June, 2018 — Finca Agroecologica La Flor, Cartago, Costa Rica — Yoga & Mindfulness Immersion

I sit straddling the drum, rocking forward with each beat—the only way I know to comfortably play this instrument.

My knee has slipped off the mat and onto the hard studio floor, but the pain dulls in the background, my focus absorbed in rhythm. Driving rhythm. Holding rhythm.

As I relax into the drumbeat pattern, I am able to expand my awareness to the people in the circle with me: One has moved to the back of the room to dance; others lie down, motionless; and others sing, sway or clap in conversation with the music. A web of sound makes our many points of connection nearly-tangible.

finca la flor, yoga retreat, transformation, costa rica, travel

I should be exhausted after co-facilitating our first “Yoga & the Art of Listening” retreat at Finca la Flor, Costa Rica, but I have wings.

Maybe it’s the cacao we drank, still sharp and bitter in my throat. Yet, this sense of inspired-ness—of in-purpose-ness—has been building since day one of our five-day experience.

Eyes closed to hold onto our rhythm, I see the room in my mind’s eye instead: low light, candles at the center of a rainbow of yoga mats, faces glowing—transformed.

“I did this!” my ego wants to shout, claiming for itself all the credit for this transformation, but no… there’s something truer beneath this voice:

At my core, another, wiser self is in awe. I am in awe.

A post shared by Toby Israel (@tobyintheworld) on

In retreat, as in ceremony, we have each held space for one another to delve inward and to expand outward. I am in awe of the sheer beauty and courage and power of each individual who answered the call and co-created a unique container for accelerated growth. I am in awe of the journey that brought us to the selves sitting together in our closing ceremony, expressing and blessing with joy and freedom and grace.

My ego, of course, is wrong. I didn’t do this.

I didn’t make this transformation happen in the space of five short days. That would be madness. An impossible task.

Each participant was responsible for their own growth and (dare I say it?) transformation.

A post shared by Toby Israel (@tobyintheworld) on

I—as a co-facilitator, co-creator, and co-learner—may have shared movement and mindfulness practices. I may have designed a schedule. But I am not responsible for the scene tonight, which makes me (rarely sentimental) feel like tearing up.

This is why I prefer the term “facilitator.” A facilitator facilitates individual and collective self-inquiry and development through invitation, sharing, and loving support. A facilitator does not presume to have any monopoly on knowledge—or potential outcomes.

After this experience (the first of hopefully many to follow), I feel grateful, blessed, honored and inspired by what I helped to create. But I do not feel the pride of ownership, because I don’t own this outcome, laid out tonight in my mind’s eye, dancing over drums and twining with the taste of cacao. I recognize that our collective effort, love, and generosity made the experience what it was.

I didn’t do this; we did.

And I am in awe of that.

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choose, travel
Adventure, Poetry & Fiction

Choose Power: A Dream-Inspired Thought Experiment

It’s been a wildly busy month, and though sharing something here has been on my to-do list every week, it just keeps getting pushed to the bottom. So as not to fall into the habit of not posting, I thought I would share this short thought experiment.

About a month ago, I dreamt about a bus that wouldn’t stop. The more I yelled at the driver, the more he seemed to ignore me. I watched with growing panic as my destination disappeared behind me on the highway, until it became just a speck.

But finally, the bus did stop. I thought I was angry… the driver was outraged! “Who are you?” He shouted. “Who are you to tell me to stop?”

Hmmm.

And so here is my thought experiment about choices and power and surrender and control:

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The bus is moving, and none of us gets to decide when we get off.

Angry? Too bad, the wheels are still turning.

Sad? You’re not the only one, but there are no breaks (…and no brakes) on this ride.

Confused? Join the club—no one’s been down this road before.

The bus is moving, and you don’t get to choose when it stops. The driver is deaf to your shouts of “slow down!” and “hurry up!”

But don’t think that means you don’t have any power.

You have all the power.

You choose whether to yell or laugh. You get to decide to make a scene when the familiar vanishes in the distance—or to sit down and soak in the wild frontiers.

You, and only you, determine how you react to the bumps, flat tires, detours and accidents.

So someone stomped through with dirty boots. That’s alright too. Or maybe, for a few minutes, it’s not alright at all. Be angry. Be sad. Be confused. But then remember that you don’t have to be. Their dirty boots don’t have to be your problem.

You still have power over you.

Even though the driver doesn’t listen, your heart will. So tell it sweet things, always.

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walk, choose your path, toby israel, adventure
Adventure, Central America, Nomadism

Remember: This Journey is Just a Walk in the Woods

Uncertainty. How many times must I meet you before I remember your stubborn face?

In work, in travel, in body, in love—nothing is truly stable, not at the core. That is the only certainty.

I have learned this lesson so many times, it rolls off my tongue like a prophecy when I speak to friends and vagabonds-to-be about my lifestyle. Yet, I find I must repeatedly teach myself my own lessons, too.

We’re all just human.

We seek, endlessly, for a secure future, a safe home, a lasting relationship, a full stomach, a rich coffer. To do otherwise would render us saints or bodhisattvas. To do otherwise would mean to no longer be human.

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The best we can do, then—maybe—is to remind ourselves often that our search for certainty is futile… and then to go on searching anyway.

The best we can do, maybe, is to see the humor in it all.

To observe our fallible human hearts and laugh at them—and love them.

Lately, I’ve been obsessing somewhat over where I’ll live when I return to Costa Rica in September. I know it’s too early to make this decision. I know. Each time I jump on the same cycle of thought, I remind myself of this. I stop. And then the next day I start all over again.

It just is. Asi es.

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It’s okay. I’m human.

I note without blame or frustration the patterns in my own life—the relationships where I’ve grasped at tomorrow, cities where I’ve hastily sought a room to call home, homes where I’ve ignored the “here” to plan my escape to “there.” I observe all this with a glint of happy laughter.

What a blessing, to have arms strong enough to grasp and a heart strong enough to learn, over and over again, to relinquish control.

“I know you’re tired but come, this is the way.” — Rumi

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This journey is really an aimless walk in the woods, but we forget that. In my imagination, the remembering goes something like this:

Angel: Look how many beautiful trails there are! So many possibilities!

Devil: But, which is the best route to get where we’re going?

A: We’re not going anywhere, come on! Remember, we’re just walking for the joy of it.

D: Right… right. Any path will do, just—

A: Just what?! Any path will do. That’s all.

D: Just, better be careful to choose the right one.

A: What do you mean? There is no right way to get there if we’re not going to any “there” in particular. That’s the whole point.

D: But, what if there are waterfalls on that trail? We wouldn’t want to miss out on any natural wonders, would we?

A: And maybe there are unicorns on this trail. We just don’t know until we try, do we? We’ll see what we see and miss what we miss, and our walk will be exactly perfect.

D: Might as well just stay here. Wouldn’t want to risk heading off in the wrong direction.

A: Not an option. We’re walking. Anywhere. Somewhere. Nowhere. Does. Not. Matter. But we can’t stay here. Life is moving, and we have to move too. So get up, count to three, and choose.

D: But, but… what about unicorns? And waterfalls? What about monsters? There could be monsters! No way, not worth the risk.

A: One.

D: Nope. Not going anywhere.

A: Two. Remember: There’s no right way, only the way you choose to walk.

D: Not sold. Monsters, remember.

A: Wherever you walk, that is where you’re going. Three.

D: …

A: I’ll choose, then. That way.

toby israel, vagabondess, nomadic, uncertainty, journey, choose, walk

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cacao ceremony, pura bliss microfestival
Central America, Culture, Peace

How do you Organize a Local Event when you’re Not a Local?

Inhale. Exhale.

Fifty bodies lift and settle in unison. The light changes from day to dusk. I look around the circle at faces from here (Costa Rica), the U.S., Venezuela, Canada, Germany; I see peace and unity and potential.

A lot of potential.

This is the conscious community I want to cultivate in my life, and my world. This is the tribe I serve in my work with NuMundo. This is the culture of peace I strive toward in my studies at the University for Peace.

I speak in English as I lead our pre-cacao ceremony meditation. I’m still not confident enough in my Spanish to use it for facilitation. I am not local here in Costa Rica. Hardly. I have only lived here for seven months. I have never met most of the people attending. Really, I’m not quite sure how I ended up in this position.

Yet, here I am. Co-founder of Pura Bliss Microfestival, Costa Rica’s “first locally-sourced, co-created transformative festival.” We have big dreams for the future of the event—and the community we hope to foster through it. As we develop our mission statement, we describe ourselves as being, “by locals, for everyone.”

toby isreal, pura bliss microfestival, conscious community, costa rica

From our last event, March 2018. Next festival slated for early 2019.

Taking this project forward, my co-founders and co-creators are Costa Rican. When they speak of building something rooted in this place, it makes sense. But coming from me, it’s a bit more complicated.

So, I’m grappling with these questions: How can I organize a self-professed local event, when I am not a local? Is it even ethical? How can I be a co-founder of it? How can I root my initiative in this place when I do not know it, can never know it, with the intimacy of those who have always lived here.

But, you may argue, we’re all one global tribe anyways. Why does this even matter?

In my view, it matters a lot. Wherever I choose to live or travel, the very fact of my choice represents considerable privilege. Whatever actions I take in those places—be they small, like buying a coffee, or large, like organizing a festival—they have real impact.

That impact isn’t a simple negative or positive.

Da Corpo, Ciudad Colon, costa rica, pura bliss microfestival

Water Flow Workshop with Lau Ra Gonzalez, owner of Da Corpo Studio in Ciudad Colon.

On the one hand, whenever we attempt to take an action outside of our “home context,”—as a development worker, community organizer, or even cafe customer—we are always acting within structures of power and colonial legacies of violence that color even the best of intentions gray. In my case, whether I agree to it or not, I will always be a representative of the hegemonic group into which I was born. We can’t escape these dynamics just because we disagree with them.

On the other hand, I refuse to accept the premise that because of these limitations, the only acceptable place for a white woman with a U.S. passport is “at home.” I am part of the Jewish diaspora, and while my official papers read, “United States,” I feel neither belonging to nor ownership of this identity group. Where can I ethically be and work and contribute? This question can be paralyzing.

On the other, other hand, what does it even mean to be local? Costa Rica, like any nation, is a simple name belying a complex society. If I collaborate with young, well-traveled artists from San Jose, is this representing the real Costa Rica? Can we somehow incorporate Costa Rica’s indigenous community into our efforts? Its immigrant community? Even if we try to represent every “local” group, someone is always left out. In a festival of just a few hundred people, basically everyone is left out.

pura bliss microfestival, local, yoga festival, costa rica

Pre-sunset yoga class at Pura Bliss.

Perhaps the goal, then, is to create an event as collaboratively and inclusively as possible, knowing that it will never be perfect.

I’m still exploring the nuance of being a foreign organizer of a local event, but as we progress toward our vision, a few considerations help me to understand my role in it:

1. My Co-Founders are local, rooted in Costa Rica’s creative community, and deeply supportive of this initiative. While Pura Bliss may have originally been my baby, it is now a collective and co-creative project. It is not mine. It is ours. And most of the “I’s” in that “We” are in fact local.

random collective, pura bliss microfestival, costa rica, transformational festival

2. Our Values support local, collaborative involvement at every turn. We are currently designing our financial structure, which rewards each collaborator equally with a fair share of the profits. The event itself is entirely non-profit. Local vendors, artists, teachers, and performers are our first priority.

pura bliss microfestival, local vendors, ciudad colon, costa rica, mercado

3. Local is Global. Global is local. In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, it is too simple to draw hard lines between insiders and outsiders. I literally feel like I am an outsider everywhere. Maybe it’s time for me to stop worrying about it and contribute where and how I am best able.

pura bliss microfestival, dance, co-creative festival, conscious community, costa rica

4. We’re All Here to Learn. And we’re all here to teach. Everyone has something to offer, regardless of nationality, location, age, gender, race, or any other label. And if another human being, or another community, welcomes that something sincerely, then it is our privilege and our responsibility to give it.

herbal medicine, workshop, pura bliss microfestival, costa rica, transformational festival

5. I’m Doing this for Free. If all else fails, I rest secure in the knowledge that I will not personally profit in any way from this initiative. I distance myself as far as possible from the historical trends of extraction and exploitation.

pura bliss microfest, conscious community, costa rica, transformational festival, self-expression

6. Listening with Humility. I take my cues from those with and for whom I work. I know that that there is a lot I don’t know. Hopefully I’ll learn some of it in this process. It’s not perfect, but we can’t wait for perfection. I will keep striving to fulfill my role with respect and integrity, and in service to this community. I welcome feedback, thoughts and suggestions on how to do better and do good.


To learn more about Pura Bliss and to stay up-to-date with our journey, follow us here!

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Adventure, Central America, Nomadism

How to Return when there is No Turning Back

The plane lands. The boat docks. The train whistles as it arrives at the station.

You step off. Pause. Look around.

Friends and loved ones wait with brilliant smiles and open arms to welcome your return. They look just like the pictures you carried in your mind, and yet… The station looks just like your memory of your departure, and yet…

Is this home? The place you left? It feels different, but you know it has not changed. No, you have changed. Or rather, you have become more yourself, and you do not yet know how to share this new, deeper you-ness with these specters of an earlier time.

You have crossed oceans, scaled mountains, fought dragons, and befriended shadows. You have faced challenges you could not imagine, and you have learned your strength.

But this. This seems insurmountable. How can you possibly carry your lessons back? How do you return?

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Reintegration. Maybe this is the hardest part of the journey. The return.

I know this. We all do. It’s archetypal stuff. Gather so much beauty, so much wisdom, so much knowing—but then, how to bring it home, into the body, into the mind, into the world?

The heart opening, horizon shattering, mind growing is the first step, not the end of the road. For every obstacle we overcome, there is a higher one around the bend. For every road we walk, there is a longer one still to travel. For every difficult journey we complete, there are yet more turbulent waters to navigate up ahead:

The return.

Everything that follows.

We come back from our journeys changed. More sombre, or more joyful. Heavy with nostalgia, or lighter with all the baggage we have dropped along the way. Wiser, or more innocent—or both.

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We live more lifetimes than we could hope. We die small deaths, traverse dark nights, emerge at dawn with new perspective. None of it matters, and yet—I go on, we go on, because the sun still shines. Because the leaves still whisper. The birds still call. The guitar strings still vibrate.

Just as they have always done.

And so we still follow rules of time, of dress, of conduct. We still shine, speak, sing, dance, play—just as we have always done. But we feel like crying and laughing both, because we won’t be the same. We will never be the same.

the return, cape town, toby israel, beach

We have traveled far. We have met dragons. We have shed the layers of ourselves, and now we put them back on. Now we return, full of questions.

We have said hello to the unknown and moved beyond it. We have touched secrets and tasted their blessings on our tongues, our skin, our hearts.

One thing is certain. There is no turning back.

 

Beach Photos Used with Permission from A Different Story Studio

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