• Justin

pt 1 Moving to Whanganui

The morning sky is a hazy yellow and truck engines rumble. The air smells like low tide as I wait in line for the car ferry from Waiheke Island to Auckland. This place has been a haven of healing and rest since I first arrived in New Zealand from America nearly three years ago. These moments are likely the last time I will be here.


My belongings are in the car, I look back at the half-filled space and think, “Not much” feeling lightness. I have no home, no relationship, no kids, a little bit of savings from the job I recently quit and several months of spaciousness. The nomadic lifestyle is no stranger, and in many ways a friend. Over the past three years I have worked on the road, traveling four weeks, on Waiheke Island for one.


When first arriving on this island from America I felt like an I had just escaped a massive frozen insane asylum run by the inmates. Don’t get me wrong, I love and would die for many of the inmates in the sea of 330 million, but I still think they’re insane. Including myself, although I am working on it. Waiheke was like a halfway house of slow healing, fast learning and transformation. It was the place where I met some of the best friends a person could hope to have in their lives.


Over the next several months the plan is to zig zag between farms, friends, retreat centres and monasteries before settling in Whanganui to put down some long-term roots. Waiheke is beautiful but I have always felt like an outsider among the mansions, vineyards, and fancily dressed tourists.  


Whanganui has an unpretentious workers grittiness that reminds me of my hometown in Worcester Massachusetts. Most people in Worcester were raised by immigrants or children of immigrants in long cold winters. My parents were raised by immigrants from Lebanon and Ireland. We learned to smell the changing seasons in the air.


In Worcester if someone was being nice to you, it was because they liked you. If they did not know you, they weren’t nice to you, partly out of habit, partly out of self protection, and partly out of an unspoken but deeply felt tension in the culture. It took time but once you’re on the inner circle with someone you’re in.


In Whanganui I look forward to learning and contributing where I can to communities and projects, and put in the time. The strategy is to show up and work to slowly form new relationships with compassion, patience and self reflection. In some ways I see the Learning Environment as complex, but mostly as simple. Humans trying to contribute to form resilient systems of food, mental health, healing, restoration, learning and community.


I take a breath and notice the ocean is now passing by the ferry outside my car window. I am traveling to a Buddhist monastery for two weeks. No electronics, space and deep meditation equally nourishing and challenging. After I will go to work on an eco CSA farm for a month, then a weeklong kayaking trip to meet the Whanganui River, then very likely three months in the monastery before planting long term roots in Whanganui. That’s the best I can imagine in the turbulent times of covid.


The last time I was at the monastery there was a 45-year-old monk from Sri Lanka named Bhunte. He had tattoos all over and had been a monk for nearly two years. While planting trees I asked him if it was a difficult decision to become a monk he said with a grin, “No… everything in my life is just a happening, I do not control it. Today I am a monk but next week I may disrobe, I do not know.” We talked about the unfolding path of each person’s life, about everyone’s path being unpredictable and unique.


Later in the communal bathrooms washing up we were talking about our tattoos. He had his parents faces on one leg and flames on the other. On my back I have an equation, a mark left from a long night in New York City nearly ten years ago. In the equation is the number pi, which goes 3.14159… off into infinity. I told him about how this number was not invented by humans but emerged from natural balances and patterns in the universe. Each segment in the infinite chain is unique never repeating the same pattern twice. When I said that to Bhunte, his eyes lit up. He pointed at me and said with a grin, “That is the path.”


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