eastwind memoirs 13 – the art of drifting

The Art of Drifting
eastwind memoirs 13
by Bernie V. Lopez


I am a Filipino, a drifter in my youth. At the age of 26, I left New York City to embark on an adventure of a lifetime that I dubbed eastwind, hitchhiking 25,000 kilometers for 3 long years, drifting through 18 countries in Europe and North Africa. It was a mind-boggling heart-rending storm-chasing experience that changed me dramatically, every fiber of my soul.


I consequently wrote from sheer memory the book Wings and Wanderlust (The Art of Discovering Your Inner Self) 20 long years after. I took me two weeks of frenzied ‘stream of consciousness’ to finish the book, sleeping an average of 2 hours every night. I feared that if I stopped, I would lose the momentum. It took me one year to refine and edit it. The book is a mix of anecdotes and verses. This is the 13th excerpt from that book, others memoirs available at eastwind-memoirs-collection.  To order the book, email eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com.


when you enter the dark forest
good and bad things lurk
to make and break your soul
take the chance, you will not regret it
darkness and light will encompass you
make the Lord your beacon
gather strength in His grace
and everything will fall into place


The art of drifting and self-discovery is based on things which are many times against everything we learned in school or in work. Perhaps the best way to explain it is through the so-called ‘brain matrix’ shown below. The right brain is the poet in you. The left brain is the engineer in you. Let us look at the matrix.


The Brain Matrix
right brain
left brain
play piano by ear
pictures, vision, ideas
final goal
no rules
schooled piano
read notes
words, grammar, vocabulary
break up
one at a time
the pendulum swung from structured to unstructured
order to chaos, completeness to vacuum
sequential to random, steps to non-steps
programs to non-programs, quantification to qualification
right brain to left brain
in all the absurdity there is meaning
in all the meaning there is absurdity
Every­one has a left and right brain. The art of wings and self-discovery belongs to the right brain. It is therefore important to make the right brain dominate your actions and decisions while on the road. Other­wise, you will not attract magical experiences by chance, you will find yourself more elusive, and you may remain in a whirlpool or vicious circle of caution and disci­pline.


But there must be balance. You cannot survive the whirl­wind if you are totally right-brained. Complete abandon to the whirlwind is not practical. There are limits to ‘un-planning’. Balance is the key. You have to have cau­tion, measurement of risk, over and above your sixth sense, accounting of prices, of money left. Although the right brain dominates drifting and adventure, there is a time for the left brain to take over, especially in dangerous situations.


The right brain mysteriously senses danger but when it is there, the left brain must plan a course of action to avoid that danger. Left and right brains compliment each other like yin and yang, light and darkness. We know the meaning of dark­ness only because we know the meaning of light and dark­ness is the absence of light. Light and darkness are bound together and is manifested in the lights and shadows on a face. We do not see anything if it is white on white or black on black. We see everything if it is white on black or black on white.


Drifting is addictive. I have met people who have been on the road for twenty years. I did only 36 months and it was so filling and intense, I needed to stop. For me, drifting was only a ‘pro­cess’, a spiritual phase, a preparation for a vocation or a career or a mission, a key to self-discovery. It was not a way of life like for the few rare people I met on the road. For most drifters I knew, it was a phase in life. But there were a few rare ‘extremists’, the ‘hard core’, the ‘professional drifters’ who made it a way of life. It doesn’t mean they were in para­dise all the time. There are always lapses, some wide, some narrow.


There was so much gain in drifting, but I thought that in the long term, drifting would kill my soul. It was enough, 36 magic months. Then, I was ready to go back home, stronger, wiser and so nicely less realistic, more defiant of the fren­zied world, more rebellious, more questioning, more irrever­ent, more poor. It would be easier for you to go through any kind of crisis or pain after drift­ing. Pressure in work will not be pressure per se if you understand there is more to work.


to be idle is not evil
you must be empty so you can be filled
nothingness complements fullness
they are cosmic partners like yin and yang
like light and darkness yielding shadows and figures
when no thoughts enter your mind
that is the time you discern your being
you become aware of your fullness
be the undisturbed water in a pool
as smooth as a mirror
that you may see yourself clearly
joy is meaningful after sadness, feast after hunger
meditation and prayer, like night into day
begins with emptiness and ends with fullness


Finally, wings and self-discovery are a form of education beyond one’s wildest dream. I compare it to a doctorate but only much more. A doctorate degree can be an arm chair affair, vicari­ous, book-bound. Its wisdom is theoretical and of the mind. Drifting is sensual. Its wisdom is experiential and of the heart. I can still smell the fried fish in Tetouan, Morocco. I can hear the distant peal of sheep bells in the Portuguese countryside near Fatima. I can still feel the sting of fine grain of Sahara sand on my face.


But lessons learned are what I call ‘meta-sen­sual’. Beyond the sensual is the spiritual. When you feel the warmth of people, the children at the Mondego river in Portu­gal or the sensuous French Canadian who was running away from life, then there are spiritual lessons learned. I can still feel the faint brush of Maria’s hair on my soul in Las Palmas. I can still feel today the sorrow of seeing people in extreme spiritual pain in spite of their affluence. The wisdom of the mind is nothing. It is the wisdom of the heart which is true wisdom that makes you see yourself in others.


Scattered excerpts
Fellow drifters from Mauritius at Pisa, Italy. Note the author’s eastwind sweater.
all is darkness, all is silence
suddenly, a nova blinds the eyes
thunder rapes the ears
all is darkness, all is silence once again


My general plan was to head south for winter where it was warmer. I was on a general direction towards southern Spain, that was all. Nothing speci­fic. My right brain was functioning. That was good. But my left brain kept bobbing up. It was a product of my programmer’s time frame, quick, short and with no orienta­tion to linger, overly conscious of efficiency. I was still a green­horn as an adventurer. Order was pullng me down. I needed chaos. As soon as I saw a place, I moved. Drifting does not hurry. It lingers so one can absorb people and places more deeply. Drifting is precisely defying the regularity of nine to five schedule and programmed city life. Tourists who have no time have to hurry and cover a lot of ground in a short time. Time frame is a product of lifestyle. But you can change your time frame by changing your lifestyle.


I was starting to avoid the big cities because they posed more effort to get in, seek complex tourist informa­tion, then get out. It was more complex, more maps and streets to study, more for the left brain. The people in the cities were also more busy and colder. The thing was to simplify. The countryside and villages of Europe were more edible to me. The people were also more warm and had more time to talk. Quiet, no hustle and bustle, the Old World in its rural splen­dour was nice, more for the right brain.
Swiss friend. Stein-am-Rhein, Switzerland, near the German border.


The best medicine for loneliness or boredom on the road was the road itself, I was starting to learn. Pain and loneli­ness vanished instantly when the excitement of the road emerged, when I looked towards the horizon. This would happen many times, Madrid, Canary Islands, Zurich. Whenever I felt lonely, I ran away from it by achieving the speed of light. Motion was the best friend of the drifter. That was the advan­tage of wings. You can run anytime and to anywhere. You can run away from pain, at least for now, not forever.


My map intrigued me. There was this tiny nation called Andorra in the heart of the Pyrenees between Spain and France. My gut feel, rather, my right brain, said it was a nice moun­tain place. I had to see it. Passing through Beziers, Nar­bonne, Perpignan, Prades, I veered east towards the rugged Pyrenees instead of south towards Barcelona. I would not regret my decision. I worked as a construction worker and met the beautiful Catalan labourers who inspired me because, like me, they were the essential rebels who defied rules, the essential drifters who loved recklessness.


hitchhiking requires both left and right brains
left brain for the physical
right brain for the spiritual
miss one and you miss the other
it’s all or nothing


By the time I reached Barcelona from Andorra, I was completely trans­formed from my New York self. I was ready for the world, ready for Spain which colonized my country for three hundred years. Now, I was bold and daring. I was begin­ning to realize the importance of not planning and of walking aimlessly as the best form of drift. My nascent right brain was swell­ing and constricting my programmer’s left brain.


Getting lost in crowded cities became a habit… Athens, Rotterdam, Copenhagen. Once you got the hang of it, it was great, a powerful tool to absorb new places and new people. I drifted aimlessly, not knowing where to go but having the gut feel where to go. Discovering new places this way was better than a planned cerebral organized map-based or book-based tour. You have no expectations. You are not looking for a place a book mentions. Your left brain is recedes. Your right brain swells. You are thus surprised at seeing things. Later on, after another six months, I would expand unplanned city travel to unplanned country travel. I would hitch without knowing where to go. The essence of drift is the right brain.


I could hit the Canary Islands through a boat from Playa del Aaiun in the Spanish Sahara. The map said so in crude pencil marks. From there, it would be almost spring and I can head north through Cadiz in Spain up through Portugal back into Switzer­land, where I could rest with uncle Robert Lips. That was the general plan. My left brain was taking over.


for the new adventurer danger is its own end
for danger is a deeply moving experience
but danger is a double-edged sword
one blade is the razor’s edge of excitement
the other blade is the razor’s edge of disaster
one has to make a choice
whether to take the tight-rope walk
whether to take the one giant leap
into the abyss leading to nowhere and everywhere


From Faro,  I headed  for Vila  Franca de Xira  to see  the bulls.  They gave me a good tip. This time, I had to make it on a specific date. It was a time to be prompt. I couldn’t miss it. My left brain took over. I made sure I made it on time even though I was hitch­ing. I arrived at Xira after noon, just in time for the bulls. In the evening, the right brain was in charge. All the houses offered grilled sardinas frescas and agua pe (cheap red wine) to passers-by. I was drunk with joy. Alone, I slept in the woods, thanking the Lord for the gift of serendipity.


If drifting and self-discovery depends on your right brain most of the time, the one time the left brain plays a crucial role is in econ­omics. You can throw all cares to the wind in terms of time, places to go, and people to see, but not in terms of money. Many amateur drifters have lost the ability to drift by simply ignoring this one important factor.


If you are so high and drunk with joy, make sure you have to have the right brain, the instinct, the nose, the sixth sense to sense danger, and the left brain to react quickly.


The economics of drifting is your left brain function­ing. It is a good complement to your right brain which takes care of beautiful sunsets, exhilarating roller coaster rides and the magic of the road.


drifting is not just discovering places
it is discovering people
people are more exciting than places
people are complete universes in themselves
they have shooting stars and novas and galaxies and black holes
and time tunnels and solar winds inside their souls
you can see yourself only in others
and in sunsets that pass by momentarily
you are a mere reflection of someone you look at
if you look at someone with reverence or disdain
then you look at yourself
you are opaque to yourself
the other is totally transparent but only if you discern
what you see in others is really yourself
if you see beauty or ugliness
it is your beauty or your ugliness
the more you look inward
the more you see a bottomless pit
it is only in looking outward that you can see inward
if you are able to see the beauty of a single soul
in all its stark nakedness
you would be struck down in awe
and realize your soul is the same


To order the book, email eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com.
Read excerpts from a new book of the author
Book cover, Wings and Wanderlust (click photo to blow-up)
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