U! S! A!

Given the nature of this blog I don’t want to say exactly where I live, but I can say it’s a pretty diverse place. There are people from literally all over the world here, yet on the outside my hometown looks like your average homogenous suburb. I’ve mentioned a bit about traveling here on my daily blog so far, it’s one of my greatest passions and I hope to do so much more of it before I die. There’s no greater simple pleasure in my life than the feeling of being in motion. Trains, buses, foreign mini-buses (especially the ones I encountered in Lima, Peru) that seemingly don’t abide by any road laws, motor-taxis, planes—even running, but especially walking these days. I love driving too. I could drive in circles for hours with the radio on and not get bored (surprisingly). Oh and I forgot ferries, and just all kinds of water vehicles for that matter . . . 

The reason why I’m saying all this is because though I’m not some sort of incredibly well travelled young person that has already been all over the world before my mid-twenties (these people exist, I’ve met them), I’ve spent something like 8 months of my life in total living somewhere other than the U.S. and I can say I never truly appreciated the diversity of my hometown and the U.S. in general before I left the U.S. for a while and then came back. THERE ARE PEOPLE FROM LITERALLY EVERYWHERE HERE. And yes obviously with globalization that’s the trend everywhere, but still so many parts of the world are overwhelmingly dominated by one ethnic background. There’s a wonderful amount of comfort I find in diversity that I thoroughly missed while away. It’s something that I think really goes unnoticed by the average American. 

My deeper point here is that the hardest thing to ever come to know in life is the thing that’s been right in front of you this whole time (or in this case my whole life). You only ever get to experience something for the first time once. For this reason fresh eyes and new perspective are some of the hardest things to come by, but also some of the most valuable. 

I’ll never forget attending a U.S. versus Peru soccer friendly in D.C. not long after first having been exposed to other parts of the world. I’ll never forget the awe I felt at seeing a stadium half full of Peruvian fans all wearing their home country’s colors. I remember thinking wow how many different countries could fill a stadium in the U.S. with Country-X American fans? What an amazing place to live! 

Where are all the bridges?

If the sixties are back then can Alan Watts come back too? Am I blinded by a kind of romanticizing of the past in thinking there could never be another archetypal Watts character today? Would the iPhone allow for it? I recently read that Watts did unpaid radio for several years, several times a week. With the internet being such a powerful cultural force today, can we strip it of its obsession with fake praise and ad revenue? Enough to open up more space for artists? For questions? For bridges?

Swingers of Birches (Robert Frost)

Birches by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me 
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away 
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love: 
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better. 
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

The bold text inserted into this poem was my doing. I discovered this poem about a month ago and knew at some point I would have to write about it. I love this poem so much that I feel a little guilty getting my finger prints on it in bold ink. I have to agree with another famous writer however who said books (and poems presumably too) belong to their readers. I think I might know what Frost is talking about here in his poem, but don’t all readers think they glean the author’s “true” feelings in any given work?

What I really love in good writing is actually something I first heard as an idea from Tolkein about his stories being less “allegorical” (in his mind) and more “applicable” than anything else. Really good writing in my opinion can be picked apart from several different points of view, it always meets you where you are–no matter who you are! and it’s applicable to the story of your personally unique life, rather than allegorical to the life of someone else. It can grow with you–it has the potential to morph just as much as you do.

When I read this poem and give special consideration to the last portion I like to think about the journey of the mind. One that moves from illusion to disillusion and back to illusion again.

“May no fate willfully misunderstand me/ And half grant what I wish and snatch me away/ Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:/ I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

This is the disillusion back to illusion part of the journey. It applies to anything you want it to.


We read to change
not who we are
but who we think we are
so that we can fall back in love
with where we are all over again.

Purpose

Can true purpose exist without an acknowledgement of the transcendent? If this life is all there is then does purpose come to an individual only by accident? Why does a sense of being “here for a reason” pervade among individuals, yet at the level of culture disappear?

Is a true sense of purpose threatening to the status quo?  

Opened Eye Versus Closed Eye Mindfulness Meditation

Sometimes going “deeper” in life is actually just noticing more of what’s already on the surface. In this case I’m referring to mindfulness meditation, but I believe this general principle applies well to many other areas of life. I’m not some sort of expert on meditation by any means, but I have been practicing it for a few years now. One thing I’ve discovered in my own practice is that more often than not when I have a small insight or breakthrough on the cushion, it’s not because I managed to journey so deep within that I discovered some sort of amazing secret or mental trap door hidden behind my eye lids. Rather, it’s often the case that I found the courage to pay attention to what it feels like to just be me from each moment to the next without worrying too much about anything else (at least for a little while). 

It’s for this reason that I now meditate regularly with my eyes opened instead of closed. My breath has become more calm and my focus more clear, yet my actual effort has been relaxed. Again, I am just a novice meditataor and my intuitions may be way off here, but I’m sensing a greater stability and even power (to influence the rest of my life) in my practice ever since my efforts shifted from “going deep” to just being. Paradoxically things have actually gotten deeper this way . . . 

To anyone that has actually taken the time to read anything I’ve put out there over the last week or so, thank you for giving my blog a tiny piece of your attention! Feel free to leave comments and criticisms on any of my posts. Also, I would love to hear from anyone with a common interest in any of this stuff that I like to talk about. Send me a message if you like! Thanks again.

The Death of Transcendence in Society and the Loss of the Noble Middle

I originally titled this post “The Death of God in Society and the Loss of the Noble Middle”, but God is such a loaded word these days that I chose Transcendence instead . . .

Trust me when I say that as far as meditating ayahuasca drinkers go I am a very skeptical person. I was raised Roman Catholic but I went through a pretty hardcore atheistic phase for about a year or two. I’m not a vegan, nor would I consider myself a new-ager. I think “positive thinking” has its limits and though I believe strongly in the power of intention (believing it to have a mystical or near mystical quality) I am still agnostic on traditionally spiritual things like prayer. If you want to tell me about your crystals I might smile politely at you, show interest in your quirky and charismatic thinking, maybe even nod a few times, but I am not on board, and I might have a harmless chuckle or smile on your behalf the moment you can’t see my face anymore. This all being said I think there is something everyone needs to agree on. And I really mean everyone—all faiths, all backgrounds. Even (especially) you you Karl Marx and Richard Dawkins loving deifier of the human intellect guy (or girl). And that is this: that life is an undeniable miracle. That life, the whole thing that is, is literally a miracle, a huge fucking mystery. And that to use words or scientific symbols to explain it in your brain is to miss the miracle entirely. 

That is all. 

“What is the That to which the thou can discover itself to be akin” -Aldous Huxely

In this lifetime or in several? 

Memories of memories of memories (memories all the way down)–that’s all that’s left. For humans, that is. I want to remember but like a freshly caught fish the tighter I try to hold onto its body the more slippery it becomes. Best to let go and let it swim down river, marginally increasing the odds my brother or sister will catch it later. Later will come, that I remember for sure. This cannot be forgotten–its impossible. 

 

Today’s post breaks from business as usual on this daily blog (mostly on practical aspects of mindfulness, meditation, and topics in spirituality and healing–or so I think) to dive the deepest its gone yet into the realm of the more intellectual and thoughtful side of this mystical stuff. I recently picked up The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxely and skimmed through the pages before my conscious or subconscious eye caught an excerpt worth reading. This one in particular happened to be a quote from St. John of the Cross, a famous sixteenth century Catholic poet and mystic, famous for his coining of the term “dark night of the soul”. The excerpt is this:

“One of the greatest favours bestowed on the soul transiently in this life is to enable it to see so distinctly and to feel so profoundly that it cannot comprehend God at all.  These souls are herein somewhat like the saints in heaven, where they who know Him most perfectly perceive most clearly that he is infinitely incomprehensible; for those who have the less clear vision do not perceive so clearly as do these others how greatly He transcends their vision.

Woah! This passage really tickled me in some kind of way when I first read it. I love the pairing “infinitely incomprehensible” and his talk of ‘vision”. What kind of “vision” is he discussing here? Unfortunately I have no greater context for this quote other than its placement in the early portion of The Perennial Philosophy and frankly I don’t want to know more! The mystery of its source is the only answer I need.

The Ayahuasca Experience

Ever since I first traveled to Peru in May of 2015 and participated in an Ayahuasca retreat in the jungle outside of Iquitos I’ve been keenly following the growth of awareness surrounding the plant medicine on the internet and in the news. What is the public’s opinion of this increasingly popular amazonian ritual? How is this opinion being shaped? How ought it be shaped and what kind of information should be out there regarding this powerful ancient technology?

These are questions I often find myself wondering about as I listen to and follow popular sub-culture podcasters, writers, speakers, and thought leaders who often broach the subject of psychedelics and their place (along with other esoteric healing modalities) in Western culture. There’s Joe RoganDuncan trussell, Aubrey Marcus, and  Dr. Christopher Ryan and between them a litany of guests on their podcasts who speak on this topic (just to name a few). There’s the Mckenna anthology as well as several of his interviews and lectures on youtube where you can find guidance and information regarding the safe use of psychedelics and plant medicines for things like self-discovery, insight, and healing. There is Sam Harris (the famous “atheist” ironically) who, in his book and lecture “Waking Up”, advocates for and discusses the benefits (and risks) of experimentation with psychedelics of various kinds. He also has this famous blog post called “Drugs and the Meaning of Life” . And Here Sam discusses how a single use of a psychedelic can really shift the life of an individual (in this case his own) for good or possibly even for ill (at least temporarily) depending on the set and setting (and I would add intention) at the time of the ingestion of the chemical as well as several other mostly unknown factors that can come into play in complex human mind-body-drug interactions.

There are literally countless resources on the internet for people interested in this stuff and I recommend a cornucopia of informational resources for someone interested in the subject for balance’s sake. There’s maps.org and even reddit testimonials and other sites where you can read about other peoples’ experiences–I think these are actually more beneficial after the fact when integrating and understanding your experience can become both a challenging and critical undertaking, if you decide to partake that is (ayahuasca really isn’t for everyone–many drinkers report a kind of strange calling to the medicine). There are sites like Ayaadvisor.org that help people connect with locations, reviews, and testimonials of various ayahuasca centers and retreats in South America and the rest of the world. And there are countless articles and blog posts that include scientific evidence and anecdotal reporting about Ayahuasca and other similar healing experiences that can provide help and guidance to any and all who are interested–all you need to do is run a google search!

Just a few days ago I did just that while looking for the latest content on the subject of Ayahuasca and psychedelics, seeing if any new scientific research had been released or any pieces printed in any major English news publications from around the world (I like to keep my finger on the pulse for curiosity’s sake). I noticed the release of a new mini “documentary” by an Australian news organization linked here: http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/experiencing-ayahuasca/8663568 titled “Peru: It Doesn’t Happen To People Like Me”. The piece, to put it lightly, touches on the dark side of ayahuasca and the booming Peruvian tourist industry surrounding the healing modality. Its a very sad story in which a young Aussie by the name of Matthew Dawson-Clarke traveled to Peru in September 2015 (just a few months after my visit to the jungle) and died from an adverse reaction to not the ayahuasca itself but to a nicotine cleansing technique administered by a retreat shaman to aid in the preparation for the eventual ingestion of the Ayahuasca medicine. This story is a cautionary tale to anyone travelling to Peru for this reason. You should really do your homework and be diligent about preparing yourself for the ingestion of a plant medicine (and all that might come along with it) and 1) make sure you inform your shaman of any medicines or drugs you have been on (likely you’ll have to be off any and all substances several days if not weeks before ingesting anything at all), 2) there’s a special ayahuasca diet highly recommended to all participants (again we are talking days or weeks in advance here), and 3) understand that though many others have gone before you and continue to go before you on this path of introspection and adventure there are risks.

This fact is undeniable and as the popularity grows the risks can increase. Contrary to conventional wisdom risk might actually be increasing as more people flock to the Aya-Mecca that is Iquitos, Peru. Yeah a place like the United States for example might have the infrastructure and government oversight and regulations in place already to rapidly integrate mass, exponential tourism in a tiny sector of its country or culture, but the country of Peru certainly does not. And there’s no guarantee that it ever will have this kind of stability and regulation. With this sudden influx of power and wealth there will be and already are plenty of corrupt locals, power games, and schemes in place. There are fake shamans, bum batches of Ayahuasca, and possibly truly evil people involved in the scamming of tourists for their powerful foreign currency. And of course incredibly well intentioned people too, but only time will tell how this new cultural phenomenon plays out. Maybe places like Ryhtmia are the future of this stuff with medical licenses and trained professionals at the helm, but who knows, in 2017 its far too soon to tell.

 

 

 

Simplicity, Contentment, Unconditional Acceptance and Presence

I was doing some “research” earlier (caffeinated googling) on Kundalini Yoga and I stumbled upon an interesting website that talked about spiritual awakenings and what can happen when you deepen meditation and yogic practices. I had one of those instances where I found deep wisdom in an unlikely place. My research was spawned by my reading of Meditation For Dummies which I’ve had ever since I first started experimenting with meditation about three years ago. The book was required reading for a class I took on Hinduism and Buddhism during college. This book has remained an unlikely reference tool throughout my slow contemplative journey. At just $6.24 on Amazon its a steal and I would highly recommend it to anyone just starting out on a meditation path. I’ve never actually read it all the way through, but that’s whats so great about it. You can use it just as a field guide as you progress along the path of self knowledge. It’s helpful with troubleshooting, questions or doubts such as “is this normal”, as well as a guide on simply how to get started.

I happened to pick it up today (and before that maybe a few weeks ago) because I was noticing negative feelings arising and passing after my daily meditation practice and, though I knew this was normal, I wanted to read a little bit more about it. From there I ran some google searches about meditation and healing and then I landed on the random spiritual awakening website mentioned above where I found a quote that went something along the lines of “the hallmark of a spiritually awakened life is simplicity, contentment, unconditional acceptance, and presence”. I loved this quote so much that I wanted to make it the center of my post for today. I’ve never found the thing that I’ve been aiming for with my meditation practice–especially for the last two years–so perfectly stated in words until now. I thought to myself that’s exactly it. These four things: simplicity, contentment, unconditional acceptance, and presence are the goal.

Thinking in terms of a foundation as a young person going out into the world to hopefully live a full and happy life I can’t think of four better aims. Especially for someone who aspires to do a lot of good for the world. Its easy to think you need to be something really special or amazing to make a big difference in the world but I really don’t believe that’s the case. A simple life reduces your carbon footprint, being content with what you have frees up mental space leaving room for other peoples’ problems rather than your own self-inflicted ones, radically accepting the bad that comes with the good in life gives you the opportunity to be a powerful source of healing for people who will inevitably (and accidentally) hurt you, and lastly the act of giving someone your undivided attention (a scarce commodity in our technology crazed society) has the power to transform real peoples’ experiences of the world at the most fundamental level.

Simplicity, contentment, unconditional acceptance, presence—give them a try, they might be all this world needs.

 

“I’m The One” -Justin Bieber

No you’re not . . .

When I first came up with the idea of doing this daily blog thing I can’t say I was anticipating mentioning Justin Bieber twice by my fourth post but here we are. Let me start by saying that I don’t believe in tearing down celebrities (or anyone for that matter). This is a common practice, it seems, among us humans and it’s a result of a nasty truth called jealousy. This post has almost nothing at all to do with Justin Bieber and everything to do with the American psyche and the idea that you can be “The One”.

One of the Summer’s biggest radio hits as far as I can tell “I’m the One” seems to be about some sort of relationship in which a guy (Bieber, presumably) believes he is so perfect for someone that he is their “one”. Cute, I guess. I happened to find the beat pretty enjoyable right up until I saw the hideous music video that accompanied it. I’m not going to link it here nor comment further as to why I find it so hideous. I believe in a non-normative sense of taste that should really go without saying here and if you watch the video and don’t agree with me then frankly I don’t want to know you—ever. Anyway, this is all beside the point. This song really just got me reflecting on this idea that you (in an anyone sense) can be the one of anything. That only you can fulfill some special need or role. That only you can fix it. That only you can do it. Whatever the hell it is.

I think this idea is damaging most of all to the person holding it. I think it is precisely this notion of being the “one”—or, in some cases, of even presuming yourself to be a natural born outlier—that actually steers people into less happiness and less fulfillment.

DISCLAIMER: for the sake of brevity (and the hence forth regular continuation of this blog) forgive me for attempting a cultural critique using a popular song and completely ignoring the lyric, “yeah, you’re looking at the truth, the money never lie”. There is only so much time in a day.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is this: maybe if everyone who, at the moment, thinks they are “the one” at something paused for a moment and thought about what the implications of the truth of such a claim might be then maybe we would live in a much less egocentric country (*cough* Trump). Maybe if we relaxed our idolized notions of ourselves and became more consciously aware of all the other human beings around us we wouldn’t feel so isolated all the time. Maybe then we would choose jobs that give us joy rather than more suffering. Maybe then we would level with reality and accept things the way they are. Maybe then we could actually change things. Maybe then we’d actually be special.