Rollo Del Tomebamba V

One of the activities I engage in everyday when possible is a walk along the Tomebamba River near my home in Cuenca, Ecuador. During this walking meditation my mind wonders along with that of the river. I love the sound of water. When the river is high, it blocks out the sounds of the city and my mind transcends to other worlds while my feet remain firmly in contact with the cobblestoned path. This path for a little while becomes a Yellow Brick Road into my own thoughts and life.

d6ad4d51-30a4-4ae6-a93a-f2c61125a3f6Silence

The rushing waters of the Rio Tomebamba
in orchestration with the songs of unseen birds
overrides the bustling noises of the city.
I watch my body from above rambling down the
cobbled stone path oblivious to my absence.
I am a part of this beautiful web of silence.
The space where even thought does not enter.
Brought back into existence only by the
youthful screams of children playing on bicycles.
No silence on earth could mask such joy.

08932530-8E09-4EC5-87C7-70E56D0C2E36

7CF0481A-A89B-4FF7-BA1E-8495FF144BE1

Random thoughts while I walk to The Roll of the Tomebamba. 

 

 

A Soul Reader – Oliver Sacks

vcxa8286I had never heard of Marcelo Gleiser until a few weeks ago when a friend recommended his book The Island of Knowledge-The Limits of Science and Meaning. “It’s right up your alley,” she said, and she was correct.

As circumstance would have it, I came across his name again a few days later when I read his response and tribute on NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos & Culture to one of my most favorite people Oliver Sacks. (July 09, 1933 – August 30, 2015) The Man Who Turned Life Into Magic. I was stunned earlier when I read Oliver’s op-ed piece in the New York Times. He is dying from cancer of the liver. This is a man who gave life to so many people upon whom the world had turned its back. He was a man I learned of from a movie before ever reading his books. In his essay he talked about how he planned to live his remaining time on this earth. He wrote:

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming…This is not indifference but detachment. […]

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

I never met Oliver Sacks. I know him only through the stories he wrote in Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Altered States, and his essays on hallucinatory drugs. I am one of the readers with whom he shared that “special intercourse.” He not only touched my soul, he opened it. I learned about compassion for my fellow human beings regardless of their physical and/or mental differences from Oliver Sacks. I learned we are all different and to accept what is uniquely different in each of us.

It is from his stories I learned about him, a gifted, intelligent, caring, and heart centered individual. He is one of those rare individuals I would like to sit down and talk with over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. His friend Marcelo summed up his many attributes best when he referred to Oliver Sacks as “A Soul-Reader.”

Thank you Marcelo for your beautiful tribute to I man I know you love. Thank you Oliver Sacks for the life you gave to so many and for teaching me a out compassion. A soul reader is the best human being of us all.

Happiness

vcxa8286I have wanted to write about happiness for a few day now, but I didn’t know what to say. I know happiness exists. I know it to be a major source of joy in my life. I know it exists as a part of my being. It is my general nature. I am happy when I wake up in the morning. What about you? Is happiness a universal state of being?

I found the answer to that question in a rather unusual manner. I was searching the internet for a dentist when I came across an Ecuadorian expat site. People from various states and nations were posting questions about living in Ecuador. One expat posted a copy of the video embedded below filmed in the city of Loja. Because I have been living in Fiji for the last four years, I have not had much exposure to American music so although I had heard of Pharrell Williams, I had not listened to his music until today. The song was named “Happy,” and apparently it was or perhaps still is a popular song. I played the video, and almost immediately received the answer to my question. Is happiness a universal state of being? Yes, it is.

In his song Pharrell singed the line, “Clap you hands if you know what ‘happiness’ is for you.” It was in the moment that I realized that although happiness is a universal condition, we each have different keys to unlocking it from inside of us. To some the key might be dancing. To someone else the key might be found in helping others, and to others it might be finding their soulmate. These keys are the common threads to unlocking happiness. Of course there are many more, but these are a few examples.

I believe happiness is a state of being, not a state of mind. One cannot will themselves to be happy. There are no “ten keys to happiness” or “five things you can do everyday to be happy.” We have all been hooked by these quick fixes to find whatever we are searching for. The internet is full of them. They all promise to help you reach your goal, no matter what that goal is. It could be to lose weight, gain an abdominal six-pack, or find the perfect mate. What most of us fail to understand is that happiness is not out there to be found no matter how much we search or pray. It is not in the purchase of a new “something,” or in that two week vacation you’ve been saving for all year. These are just fleeting moments of happiness in your life. They have no permanence. Happiness, however, is not fleeting because it is a state of being. It is an integral part of who you are, of who I am.

Although one may not necessarily be happy 24/7 and generally happiness is pleasurable, I don’t believe happiness is “elusive” or “the mere repetition of pleasure and avoidance of pain.” Happiness shares a duality with sadness. Only their triggers are different. It is the Buddha Nature. We all have it inside of us. It is part of our entelechy. It is as embedded in our being as life itself. The key is to allow it to unfold freely from within. Happiness is not exteriorly dependent. Happiness is the smile that appears on your face for no particular reason. Happiness if the energy of being alive bursting inside of you. Happiness is the joy of your soul awakening.

I challenge you to watch this video, We Are Happy From Loja, and not feel happiness bubbling up inside you.

Enlightenment—What Is It Really?

vcxa8286Enlightenment is not something to be sought but rather something to be realized. It is a state of being which does not have to be experienced each moment of our existence. That would be overwhelming and could lead to schizophrenia and yet, it can be realized each moment of our life without harm. The key is not to attempt to hold on to that moment but to release it and to always live in the present now. “A glimpse is all we get,” most of the time and that one single glimpse can sustain us for the rest of our life. Unfortunately, when most of us experience clear vision or a sudden insight, we pass it off as an illusion or the effects of a migraine headache. It can be both that subtle and that overpowering.

We are each born enlightened. A baby sees everything as part of himself and not separate. He reaches out with his finger to touch the full moon shining outside his window and because of his awareness of everything as part of himself, he does. Everything is one until he learns to name things, to differentiate between his mother and father, a bird and a cat, and the parts of his own body. It is through the process of learning that he begins to separate things as being outside of himself and different from himself. The moon which he touched as a baby is now 200,000 miles away rather than on the tip of his pinky.I believe there are three key elements of enlightenment and I will refer to them as the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance and Appreciation.Awareness: What is awareness and what, you are probably asking, does it have to do with enlightenment? Everything, is my reply. Awareness is the foundation of enlightenment. The Buddha is recorded as saying, “I am awake” but he could have just as easily said, “I am aware” and the meaning would be the same. Awareness in English is the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.(1) It is specific to a thing. In Japanese, awareness is an appreciation of the ephemeral beauty of the world. The change of seasons, the falling of the cherry blossoms, and the planting of the crops. Awareness in Japanese is “That poignant sensation one has of time passing, of the inevitable cycle of life and death.” From the noun comes the idiom mono-no-aware. Roughly translated as “enjoying the sadness of life.” (2)Although spelled the same, the Japanese meaning and translation more closely resonates with my concept and understanding of awareness. When one is aware, one is cognizance of his surroundings, the changing patterns of day and night, the phases of the moon, the connectedness of all life and the inevitability if death. These things are accepted as the natural flow of nature. One is as aware of the importance of the honeybee in this flow of life as one is of his own place in the nature of things.Acceptance: This doctrine is a most difficult one because of our nature to pass judgement. To see things in the duality of good/evil, right/wrong, or love/hate, we pass judgement not only with concepts but also with people and religions. Black people are…Italians are…Mexicans are…Jews are…Christians are…Muslems are…. According to the Bible stories I grew up with, no duality existed before Eve bit into the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. She and Adam were unaware of their nakedness, unaware of opposites because no knowledge of duality existed in the garden. Everything was one.I am not blaming Eve for the problems of mankind. I simply use this story as a metaphor to illustrate the nature of duality and why it has created this mountainous barrier to acceptance. An enlightened individual sees beyond the duality to the singularity and unity of all things as they are. He practices the doctrine of acceptance which Jesus spoke of in his Sermon on the Mount as did the Buddha and many others. Today the Dali Lama accepts those who destroyed his country, murdered his priests, ravaged his temples, and annihilated his culture as brothers. (3)

Siddhartha in the book of the same name by Herman Hesse uses these words to describe acceptance of the nature of duality to his friend Govinda.

The world is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a long path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment: every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men, all sucklings have death within them, all dying people — eternal life. It is not possible for one person to see how far another is on the way: the Buddha exists in the robber and dice player; the robber exists in the Brahmin. Therefore, it seems to me that everything that exists is good, death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me.

In following the doctrine of acceptance one doesn’t manipulate or interfere with another’s way of life or another’s beliefs even if he believes his motivation is from his highest spirit. He refrains from giving advice unless asked but is not indifferent to providing aid when needed or requested. He eliminates the fanatic in himself. He kills the one in himself who must change others to his beliefs, his way of life. He accepts the differences in the world without judgement and without the need to convert anyone or anything for any reason. The sole purpose of the enlightened individual is to live life each day totally aware that life is a blessing.Appreciation: Appreciation is akin to Gratitude which I previously addressed in other essays but when I think of appreciation in connection with enlightenment, I believe it goes a bit further than the virtue of gratitude. Appreciation is the complete understanding and acceptance of a situation like malice aforethought while still being able to give thanks to the universe for all that exists. It is the giving of grace for everything and every situation which exists including individual acts which one might deem cruel. In this way appreciation goes hand in hand with the other two points of my triumvirate, awareness and acceptance. They might be called absolutes although in philosophical circles they are not considered such.Appreciation is the total surrender to the sublime in everything. The surrender to the excellence and beauty of all that exists, including death and destruction. It is the acknowledgement that in order there is chaos and in chaos there is order. It is the way things are. Appreciation of the way things are does not mean that one cannot fight for change but on the ultimate level of life it means one sees the whole picture and not the individual frames. It is the looking at life with a flood light instead of a spotlight. The monks who publicly set themselves ablaze in protest to the war in Viet Nam knew this. They appreciated life and wanted their deaths to stand for something more. I trust in the end their sacrifice had purpose.There is obviously more to be said concerning Enlightenment but at least the three A’s — Awareness, Acceptance and Appreciation will give us a good place to start.(1) New American Oxford Dictionary, Apple Digital Edition 2011.(2) Metcalf, Alan A. The World In So Many Words. Boston, MA: Hough Mifflin, 1999

(3) Within the last decade, the Pope has apologized to the cultures and religions of the world that were destroyed or eliminated because of the acts of Catholic church in the attempted conversion of these cultures to Christianity. The governments of Australia and Germany have apologized for their treatment of the Aborigines and the Jews respectively for their government’s genocide and attempts at cultural cleansing. The United States however has never issued an apology or any acknowledgement of wrongdoing to the Native Americans for the ravage destruction and rape of their lands or to the Negro slaves for their brutal mistreatment, repeated lies of equality, or utter failure to incorporate people of color into mainstream American society. I still have not received the twenty acres and a mule promised my forefathers after the so called emancipation of slavery. Unlike the Dali Lama, I am not yet at a place where I can forgive America for the daily acts of violence and lies upon its own people and to the world. This is the difficulty of acceptance.

CrossRoads

vcxa8286I am here and once again find myself at this cross of roads. They appear in my life, I think randomly, but I am not sure. I do not know how many times I have come to this place. This place, where the road I am traveling intersects another road and becomes a crossroads. This place is very real, although you will not locate it on any map. There are no signs, or nearby towns. There are no landmarks to aid you in the identification of where you are or where you are going. Still, I seem to come here often, to this same place. This is where I decide my life and you yours. This is the point in poker where you fold, hold or play.

A crossroads is an invitation. Life is providing you with the opportunity to do whatever it is you dream of doing or becoming. When coming to a crossroads you are confronted with five possible options. If where you are is a place you thrive, grow, live and love your life, you might choose to hang out there for a breather or forever, you do not know, but hopefully, the choice is yours. It is after all, your life. A crossroads may entice you to dream or to question the state of your own contentment. It begs you to get out of a rut, if you are in one, and to challenge yourself to live the adventure of being alive. You don’t have to accept this invitation. You first option is to remain where you are, but you must make that a conscious decision. Remember, crossroads appear for a reason.

“You either shit or get off the pot,” my mother used to say. You can’t stick around this junction for very long without making a decision or your indecision will decide your fate without any advance warning. Indecision will suck you down like quicksand and you will join the others whose indecision became their decision to remain stuck in the purgatory of the crossroads. You will learn to conform and to do as your are told. All choice will eventually be taken away. You will not have to make another decision because none will be offered. You will not see another crossroads for a long time, if ever. It is not a bad life, I suppose. It’s just not the life I have chosen for myself.

Each time I am presented with the same five options. I can go forward, left or right, stay where I am, or not make a conscious decision and remain in the cross road’s purgatory. Turning around and going back in the direction from which I came is an option too, but do not think things will be the same as when you left. You only get to travel each road once and only in one direction, although that direction is not the same for everyone. A simple coin toss cannot resolve the dilemma. Rock, paper, scissors gets too complicated with five possibilities. The roads are empty for as far as the eye can see. Each will only start creating itself with your first step, with your conscious decision to remain in place, or with your indecision. Indecision is what swallows up the masses. The majority freeze when they come to a crossroads.

The key to my personal freedom is the direct alignment of my heart with whatever is directly in front of me. I believe this is the meaning of a heart connection and the phrase “Follow your heart.” When that connection is there, I trust, and take that important first step. The choice of direction is not important because the creation of possibilities starts only with that first step. Until it is taken, only the place you are standing exists. If there is not a heartfelt connection with the taking of that next step, your conscious decision might be to remain in place for a while. Maybe another cross road will appear at some other time, and maybe it won’t. This knowledge must be factored into any decision you make. But make one! Shit! Or get off the pot.

Happy New Year From Ecuador

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24In Ecuador they celebrate the new year by burning effigies and dressing up with costumes and masks. The most popular costume is young men dressing as old women akin to Mardi Gras and Halloween in the US. The effigies are made from cardboard and paper mâché. They are then dressed in old clothes and placed in doorways and in front of businesses throughout the city.

The effigy dolls or “munecos” all wait patiently to be burned at midnight. Some are as tall as fifteen feet. The celebration is a smaller version of the Burning Man celebration in the United States. I would wager this is where the concept of the burning man came from. The muneocs are sometimes made of political figures or people you do not like but most buy dolls of cartoon characters to burn if they have no enemies. The dolls are filled with sawdust and fire crackers and are burned in the streets at midnight or before once the partying gets started. The term “años viejos” is used to represent the old year. The burning of the munecos is representative of burning the bad and misfortune of the previous year.

Another tradition, I learned rather embarrassingly at the market today. You are to wear yellow underwear if you want prosperity and money to come into your life and red if you want to bring sex and love into your life. So when the young lady at the market asked me “qué color vas vestida?” following a conversation she had with the lady in front of me at which I laughed. I responded in my best broken Spanish, “No uso ropa interior de color.” She started laughing out loud and told the other checkout people what I said. Then they and the customers within earshot all started laughing and pointing to that crazy gringo in the checkout lane. Well, at least I will be remembered now whenever I go to the SuperMaxi market.

It is early in the afternoon and the celebrations have already started.The fireworks are going off. The dogs are going crazy and the music can be heard all across town. I can’t wait for the burning of the munecos to start. I hope I can stay up till  midnight.

“Feliz Años Viejo”

 

 

Hope — A Parable

vcxa8286The pumpkin vine slowly crept upwards into the papaya tree. It was unsure if the papaya would accept her but she went anyway. Slowly climbing higher and higher above the safety of the familiar earth the vine put out a flower, a bright yellow one as an offering to the papaya. Then as its courage increased, the pumpkin flower gave birth to a small fruit.

At first the papaya laughed at the small pumpkin. She was green just like them but as she grew larger and rounder, they could tell she was different. She grew alone, not like the papaya who always grew together in bunches. They were neighborly to the pumpkin but she knew the papaya talked about her behind her back. She didn’t care. Her hope had been fulfilled. She had borne fruit and was free, hanging like a cloud high above the ground.

Hope is a state of consciousness. I think of hope as the perpetual energy inborn in every life form so that it might achieve its entelechy, its end result. Hope is about fulfillment. This is why hope is always in the future. It is not a present consciousness state.

In ancient Greek mythology, Hope remained at the bottom of Pandora’s box after evils flew out into the world. She was humankind’s final salvation from himself.

289b0-img_2536 Pumpkin In Papaya Tree, Fiji 2013

In most of the world’s religions, hope is an essential concept in the promise of an eternal life or afterlife. The exchange of good karma today for a better future tomorrow, but tomorrow is not a defined time frame. It could be this lifetime or another lifetime. Hope is always about a future desire.

On a purely biological stand our hope is simply the perpetuation of our species. The vine gives way to the flower, the flower grows the pumpkin, and the pumpkin produces the seeds to start the process all over again. Which came first? The pumpkin or the seed is a discussion for another day.

Personally, I don’t spend a lot of time in hope. Hope may enable a person to endure the longings of whatever it is they hope to change but it has no influence on the outcome. That would be faith which is different from hope. Hope details a desired outcome. A wish based upon a desire. It removes our focus from what is in front of us, from the present moment, into what might be a future possible outcome.

Returning to the parable of the pumpkin, our hope is fulfilled once the life cycle is completed. As I age, I have very little use for hope. I have faith and experience. At some point in time I will cease to exist but I have a great deal of hope for life and this planet and a much better 2019 for everyone.

Happy New Year!