Waking Up in Kenya with Nietzsche

The fog in my head feels eerily like a hangover but I know that’s impossible because quarantine took away such mornings long ago. The daylight can no longer be ignored so with a bit of indignation I roll out of bed.

It would take too much effort to walk over to the window, so instead I stare at the walls.

Life has become a strange, repeated existence. I had no idea how dull the world could be. Walking to the kitchen, I retrace my steps: choose the coffee, grind the beans, and press a button to signal the start of a new day.

Is it a new day? These repetitive steps all merge together, the same scene played over and over. No longer frustrating, instead replaced by a complacent feeling of comfort. Dull comfort.

Quarantine has caged the animal within.  I stifle a yawn; life is no longer lived enthusiastically, but endured. Millimeter-by-millimeter these four walls close in on me.

I slump to the floor and unconsciously reach for a book nestled under a family of dust bunnies. I turn it over and close my eyes, wishing to fall back into an empty sleep.

A wave of color floods to my face. Not sure if it’s my embarrassment of the mess around my flat or the apathy engulfing my spirit. Based on my pattern of eating, sleeping, and general slothfulness, both would be correct.

Before slinging the book back underneath the shelf, I take a quick glance at the title: Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra stares back asking, “what happened to this person who lived on the edge, recklessly, always reaching higher?” Perfect.

Nietzsche.  One of the few German philosopher I enjoy reading – his ideas mesh with my lust for life. A timely find, and perhaps through Nietzsche’s words I have the chance to escape this quarantine prison. “Become who you are…” I laugh a bit at the thought. 

My mind drifts back to when I was in rhythm with life, in tune with the basic impulses that once sparked human existence. I’m back on the Maasai Mara. Waking up with the sunrise, and the mysteries of the world coming to life. I’m a newborn kid in awe of the unlimited potential at dawn.

Kenya evokes the curiosity of a child at play, savoring the simple beauty of nature. Pieces of the world adults no longer see or experience. A spirit freed from the structure of modern life. 

Nietzsche also saw the wild child as a key piece of his philosophy, the spirit of his Übermensch, the superman, who raged against the colorless and sterile trends of modern society.

“In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play…” Nietzsche wrote, the child’s ability to forget quickly and continue moving forward in time. It is the free spirit of the Übermensch, his philosophy tapping into the childlike fearlessness to discover the magic of potential.

The haze outside my window flickers and comes alive; its piercing eyes reflect the wild side of life. Inviting me to attack.

Outside my room, the Maasai Mara glows, reminding me we are born to play, to race, and fiercely compete with ourselves. Creating friction in life to stir up the soul, and here in Kenya there is a cauldron of emotions I’ve long forgotten. 

Inside my room, however, there is decadence: TV reruns, day-old pizza, an unmade bed with empty cartons of Ben & Jerry’s scattered around ~ all slices of self-destruction further sucking me into contentment, a place my free spirit fled months ago.

Inside. Outside. Black. White.

It is a little humorous. Here I am, wrapped up on the couch, comfortable in this cocoon of safety with all this technology insulating my life. Everything is a tap away on my iPhone. 

And outside a wilderness is calling. 

I reach over and pick up the book again. 

The human spirit is a complex one, a dichotomy of two desires.

  • The first desire is of order and structure, necessary to build a world where humans and technology merge, advancing society.
  • The second is a competing desire, the undeniable urge for chaos, a place where genius and creativity is born.

When one is absent, there is an imbalance and the soul is thrown into turmoil.

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star…” an ode to the necessity of exploring the forbidden in order to find brilliance.

In the Nietzschean world, it is the struggle between the Apollonian spirit of order and Dionysian spirit of chaos, and this year the Apollonian (confined spirit) is crushing the Dionysian (free spirit) ~ and it isn’t even close. 

Like an unhindered animal in nature, the spirit must be allowed to run free. 

The winds of Kenya break my thought, carrying spices of new experiences announcing the arrival of chaos, a migration to search and discover. 

The pieces of electricity we create define who we are, whether it’s living in foreign worlds or raising children and experiencing the world again from their perspective. 

Moments of bliss that move us up a higher level and remind us never stop seeking.     

Out on the Mara plains, I see the curious eyes of chaos staring back. Taunting me with the playful knowledge that this bizarre year is no reason to give in to indifference.

The beauty of Kenya taught my soul long ago to “become who you are…” and made me realize I am not at war with the world but instead searching for peace.

While my coffee grows cold, I get up and search for something clean to wear. I’ve been stuck in the mud too long. My Dionysian free spirit has returned with new dreams and I’m ready to tread on the edge of the void. 

Nietzsche and Kenya blend well together, and I’m wide awake. I slip on my shoes and prepare to step back into this brave new world. 

I place the book back on the shelf and hear the laughter of Nietzsche, his famous words pushing me out the door: “What does not kill you, makes you stronger…” 

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And
you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who’ll
decide where to go.

– Dr. Seuss

Edge of the Wilderness

“Standing on the precipice of a wilderness unknown. Alone. Resistance, both past and present, pushes from all sides.” I stare at the words written and wonder what it would feel like to walk along a razor’s edge, day-after-day, your existence always in the balance.

My room fills with the warm yellow hues of the evening sun inviting me for a walk, but I am paralyzed. Mystified by this invisible force of power used to manipulate people. Used without empathy. Used without acceptance of responsibility.

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From the American Indians pushed around in the 19th century, to the American People pushed around outside the White House just a few months ago in the 21st century ~ use of force, power without responsibility.

I’ve come to realize while this is a beautiful world, rich in love and life, it is a beauty balanced by hardship for those not in power.

There’s a sentence written by a Tuscarora tribe leader on my desk, describing leadership: man has responsibility, not power

“You’re drifting once again in thought…” her voice breaks my trance. “Always reflecting, dreaming of the past.” Her voice is one I’ve not heard in a while and silently she takes form ~ she looks peaceful with a touch of sadness. 

I try to hid my elation in her return. “Dreaming of the American West, the 19th century. I wish I could travel back in time and experience the freedom to explore. To gain perspective on life back then…” I whisper this thought to myself.  

“Freedom for one often means the opposite for another.” She slowly slides up to my desk. “Do not dream of returning to old ways. Yesterday has long drifted down the river and it’s not coming back…”  

Her laughter is not harsh, but warming, “Seriously, you living in the 19th Century? You’re definitely a helpless romantic!” She picks up my coffee mug and takes a sip, enjoying the bitter blackness. “The first morning without your gourmet coffee, iPhone and comforts of home…” Her twinkling eyes reflect my simple mind.

Can’t help but smile at the truth of her words, the rage this year has me living in the past. I feel as if I’m trapped, running in quicksand trying to reconcile the heartbreaks of yesterday with those of today. The harder I run, the further away I am to answers. Only cruel politics headline the day and I remain stuck in reverse. 

“There is an old Lumbee Indian saying,” she taps gently on the side of her horse, and I watch it gracefully work its way through my living room. “Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, wisdom is of the future.”  

“Doesn’t seem to be much wisdom these days,” I begin, before she cuts me off.

“Tell me the wisdom of a 19th century, western educated white man? Believing he has all the answers, superior to all other life and therefore open to exploit the resources available.” Her eyes, while gentle, show implication. “American Indians believed the opposite, nature and animals offering wisdom necessary for a better life.

Her eyes hold mine, filled with a genuine and deep curiosity. “Such extreme and opposite views of life. Is either correct?”

Immediately my mind swims in the melodic lyrics of Stephen Stills, and I sing, “…and nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong…”

The correct path and most difficult path is to listen, learn from others, and adapt. Of course, humans do what comes easiest ~ blame others and hide their cowardice through force.

How different would a 19th century version of myself be? A troubling question, for we are all products of our environment, the differences being the culture we were raised and shade of our skin.

A white man raised in the 1800s, without any understanding of American Indians and the west, would be at the mercy of a few biased news sources…

“Humans have the ability to take from one crystalized moment of awe, say a prairie full of buffalo, and walk away with two very different and contradictory actions. Where one sees synergy and respect, the other sees dominance and manipulation…” Her honesty speaks of today.

Walking to my window overlooking Elliott Bay, I listen to her conclusion, “…the real horror of this, both sides have absolute belief in their view and will stop at nothing to force their beliefs on others.”

I turn from the window and she turns her back on me and I watch her fade away. I flick on the TV. Words of hate coming from the mouth of an American leader. 

How far have we regressed since I was a kid… or have I simply moved from the naïveté of my youth to an older, jaded perspective? 

Wisdom will lead us from the chaos we are in. Courage to search for answers from all sides, with honesty the mode of communication. This is where we find true leadership. Where we find peace.

“Never forget, cowards cannot help but lie…” a piece of wisdom from the past we’ve forgotten. Leadership today is in turmoil, described succinctly in the words of the Omaha tribe, “A coward speaks with his eyes shut and from a distance. Unlike a brave man, who dies but once, a coward dies many times.” 

Six bankruptcies, pages of dishonesty, and still he flails along… and further we go down this river of deceit.

On this cool October night, I am happy my muse has returned. There is comfort in her questions and her wisdom.

“Look around,” she asks, “those voices of change you hear… where are they coming from?” I look and see her as a young child, being forced to leave a place she calls home. Walking with elders, confused. 

“These are the voices of the young and old. Voices rising above the din of lies seeking a better future…” Her smile grows as she promises, “these are the courageous ones, and no brave person will ever die alone.”

She turns, her face etched with hope. “The time for leadership is now, and it starts with you. A Crow shaman once said: you already possess everything necessary to become great.”

She runs her hand through my hair and rides away, her last piece of wisdom spoken in cadence with the canter. “The mark we leave on life is one to last forever; a testament to what we value in life and how we will be known and understood by future generations…”

Have the courage to admit faults. To understand someone with a different culture and point of view, it builds character, builds an alliance. It builds a nation.

Our present does not equal our future. We evolve.  

Vote.

Escape from Tomorrow ~ Machu Picchu

Falling back into the past is easier these days. I close my eyes, search a memory and watch possibilities swim around in my mind. There is a sense of freedom with this escape, many paths branch out and I need only choose.

Today, my mind wanders from above and I find myself looking down on the hallowed grounds of Machu Picchu. Back in a dream, to a place I admire with people I long to see. Memories to embrace.

These days, time has slowed to a point where a calm independence allows my mind to chase down desires and enjoy the peace of yesterday.

Exploration. No better feeling than to look into a window of opportunity and find another piece of life, of truth, to discover. The possibilities of people and cultures mingle together to light up the day. I fall deeper, but reality refuses to let me go.

Outside a siren blares, drowning out dissenting voices. I sit up from my dream; sift through the half-truths and rhetoric surrounding this modern life. The chaos poised to poison the peaceful promise of freedom. Memories are my hope.

Swallowed by the stillness, I dream of the future; a stranger’s hand outstretched to help, united in the wisdom of trust to ascend ever higher.

Even amid ruins of a memory, there are stories of greatness with the poignant reminders of the inevitable struggles of life.

Walking along these terraces, it is hard to tell when struggles begin to turn the tide in this story of greatness. Cracks on the wall and in the voices of people get lost among words of pettiness, ignoring the warnings passed through centuries.

The current stories of today leave me wondering where these memories of mine will take me?

The faint smell of coffee, growing colder as it rests next to me, brings me back to today but my mind is still rolling. To aspire to greatness is a tenant of the human spirit, aspirations fueling new ideas, triggering the evolution of a better world.

A life for the bold is needed. Bold dreamers to lead with courage, and bold leaders to sacrifice and create the possibilities of tomorrow, to inspire society and a great nation.

I take a sip, close my eyes and relax again. True leaders. True explorers. Without, tomorrow fades into a wisp of fog quickly dissipating into an opaque and cold future.

Breathing in the freshness, I wonder if the great societies of the past, seeped with history, can provide guidance? I look at myself on this ledge and understand the fall of innocence is a destiny we all experience in life, a piece of the self-discovery puzzle.

The ringing of the phone snaps me back, and I am surprised to find I am eager to answer the call. A touch, a connection with another, perhaps a catalyst to form a new blueprint of today ~ igniting another idea and another evolutionary leap for tomorrow.

Wrong number, but still enjoyed the politeness of the voice.

Laying back in my mind, on the grasses of Machu Picchu, I take in both the mysteries and destructions of the place. I marvel at the brilliance centuries ago to shape this land into an oasis, bold ideas welded into reality.

Magnificence designed to forever hold promises of the future. A reminder showing even magical places, once deemed invincible, can fade away.

Sounds of politics break the silence outside my window, voices crying out asking who can step up above the pettiness that sink us into destruction. And once again it begins.

How I value being alone. Escaping into new worlds, even with the melancholy twinge it brings this summer day. An apt feeling shared by those around the world I imagine.

The fog lifts exposing an ancient peak, like a curtain pulled back exposing the truth, only to find solace amid the whispers of nature. I like where this memory is taking me ~ down a lonely path. These are the paths where the first step of strength finds those coming together in hope.

The abandoned dwellings, hidden for centuries, now once again break out. This is what I find magical here in Machu Picchu. In the peace of these ruins, abandoned is the weakness that destroyed them. Today there is no fear, no divisiveness, only the acceptance of change and lessons from the past.

The disruption outside grows louder. The fear of today chokes creativity, dulls inspiration needed to thrive. What a damned strange year this has been. I roll out of my chair; pick up my mug with plans to attack the dishes growing in my sink.

Below me, Machu Picchu leaves me wondering, when did this great society stop evolving?

The wisdom of the gritty, soiled and sweat stained hands of those who built this place could hold answers. Greatness is often mirrored by the darkness of greed. Cowards with their soft, smooth hands twisting words with fear to manipulate those who look for truth.

Failure of leadership is a failure in courage, and such rot can only lead to loss of hope. Did Machu Picchu suffer a similar fate?

The clouds part over Seattle, and what I never considered possible today has happened ~ golden rays of sunshine break through and all goes quiet.

This empty Incan Empire, once vibrant with dreams, has now become a bold place of hope, a memory to ignite my soul once again. Putting the dishes away, I am alone for now but it is inevitable we will all come together again.

“Once upon a time, in a land above and beyond the clouds, across cliff-like sloping mountains, fast flowing rivers and mysterious jungles… a land the Spanish Conquistadors could not find, thus being able to keep its undamaged beauty and sanctity.”    ~ Pamela Estevez

Hard Work and the Good Life

Cool, quiet days in a small village in the middle of Bohemia come to life in a way I imagine they did centuries ago. The smell of wood stoves, sun rays making their way through the mist, and people preparing for a good day of hard work.

The work is exhausting but full of vitality. Energy created by the confidence of giving each day the best, a hallmark of a successful life. Faces of workers mapped with lines, each etched with a tale stretching back in time. One day falling into another, each story taking us to where we are now.

Days constructed with skill, hands crafting together a life of quality to stand the test of time. In the end, if everything goes right, life will be made a bit easier for those who carry on after we are gone.

Small miracles surround us daily, people who embrace the noble philosophy to strive for perfection. Whether a builder of factories, baker of bread, or a mother giving her life for her children ~ all understand while pure perfection is a myth, the pursuit of this mystery welds together a foundation of life.

It is the humble appreciation of hard work which makes it all possible: the key ingredient to ignite the body in the morning so to retire at night with gratitude.

Opposite are those where the thought of going to work tastes like poison.  Every morning a heavy sigh, bleak thoughts sinking the mind into depression. A day ruined before it begins, a week sentencing the soul to five days of drudgery.

There is only the false glow of the weekend to offer a brief respite; yet with habits entrenched the weekend turns bitter as well. The mind swims in melancholy, a ruthless cycle. Rinse. Repeat.

For those who wake with wonder, with no certainty on how the day will evolve, there are possibilities… Find an idea, a goal, and take it to completion.

Build. Create. It is in these people to find not only admiration but inspiration.

Even when the inevitable day arrives where everything turns sour, there is truth in the old cliché: in every failure there are lessons to be learned.

This morning a thousand miles away from home, the surrounding scene holds a myriad of options, a feeling I’ve become accustom to. While I am never quite sure how the day will shine, there is one constant: good people blending with good people no matter the culture.

Open the mind to this simple piece of humanity and a better day lies ahead. Another piece of the riddle solved.

The feel of the earth, of steel, of the flame, all pieces of the puzzle when fused together form the backbone of who we are. Seeking an honest day’s work and the building of callouses, whether on the hands or character. Valuable protection justly earned when the inevitable turbulence of life makes its appearance.

On days like today, it seems easy. Hard work and dedication creates a good life. An effortless understanding where wealth is not the primary driver but instead a by-product, holding less value than imagined. Success is not defined by “greatness and wealth” instead it is about integrity. Dedication.

The experience of blood, sweat and tears reveals its importance when the world is thrown out of sync and stress converges from all angles. The world feels colorless.

However, the years of inexhaustible toil strengthens character, builds patience and when such dark and grey days come there is no panic. The mind is focused on living, on a new day to create.

The fire to define a day is what hard work ensures. Take away the unimaginativeness of mediocrity and the dullness transforms into a mysterious shimmer. Dark shadows of frustration are replaced by the spark of a purpose.

Growing. Building. Never resting, never stagnating.

There is no better feeling than walking home after a day’s work, warm sunlight refreshing the spirit and the colors shining on a day well executed. The fading daylight brings the laughter and smiles of the world to the forefront, enlightening the soul as it winds down into the solitude of night.

Within the darkness of sleep, a strong heartbeat keeps the blood flowing providing fuel for the dreams of the night and hopes of tomorrow. A step ahead are those who ceaselessly give it their all, for them tomorrow has already arrived.

Side note:  At a young age, my parents instilled in me the idea of doing the best work possible, no matter the job.  Every day my mom’s words echo in my mind ~ step back, take a look at your work and see if there is anything to be improved… and there is always something. I love this thought as it keeps me pursuing this myth of perfection.

Peru: Rhythm of the Amazon

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Every morning the Amazon wakes me with a new symphony. One day the tempo of the rain, next day the pulsating sounds of howler monkeys, and today it’s the electric strain of sunrise matching the beat of my heart.

Even with little sleep, the rhythm of the day has me fired up with what lies ahead. Granted, a cup of coffee would help the process but the Amazon found a solution to this as well by placing a large spider and her web inside my bed netting to jolt me awake.

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Hiking along the riverbank, I can’t get over how natural this place feels. The jungle and river give off energy – a rhythm – in tune with every movement of my body. I feel transformed, in sync with my surroundings.

All this beauty is not just seen through my eyes, but felt with all my senses. I’ve found my way back to nature.

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Years ago, I wrote about my time in the Masai Mara. A place very foreign compared to where I was born and raised, but during my stay I felt at ease as if I was home “… jumping into the life of Kenya, time slowed down and I synchronized with the culture around me. It was as if I had returned to a forgotten home. Being where I should be. Feeling alive.”

The Amazon has created similar feelings; the rhythm of this foreign land matches my own.

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“There is a curandero (shaman) in my village who has a very special relationship with this land.” Joaquin, our guide, tells us while showing a plant used in local medicine. “This shaman understands the energy of the plants, of the jungle, of life – and when we are not right, he helps us recover by harmonizing our energy with that of the Amazon.”

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Logical. This philosophy follows the same thread of truth as the ancient Hindus who saw all matter in the universe as energy. The same logic physicists understand today, as Einstein, Tesla, and others state: all matter is energy. We are simply vibrations and frequencies at the atomic level.

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The nervous laugh of our guide wakes me from my quantum daydream. “We have a small problem…” ahead lies what appears to be a lake but should be our trail. “We can circle around this, but it will add a few more hours… or if you are adventurous?” he asks with a nervous glint in his eyes.

My senses ignite. The idea of wading through Amazonian waters, uncertain where our next step will take us ~ now this is what I signed up for. To make the day more perfect, the skies open up and the downpour begins.

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Nature should be surrendered to. Battling things beyond our control allows negativity to destroy the day. Amid chaos, find an interesting alternative and run with it. Resist the urge to try to conquer everything. There is an underlying rhythm and if noticed it will bring peace and a smile.

Everything at the atomic level generates a unique vibration, a rhythm, and getting “in tune” to your surroundings creates harmony and makes it easier to find balance. These are moments when life seems easier and “luck” takes over.

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Rhythm ~ laughter from the group at my expense when I venture and forge my own route where, of course, there can only be one conclusion: water pouring over the top of my boot.

Rhythm ~ artistic patterns of life; from the extremes of the Amazon canopy stretching out to infinity, to the incredible micro-scenes that dot the floor of the jungle, I could stare at both the whole day.

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“Everything is made up of energy, each giving off their vibrations,” Joaquin muses over a local beer our final night in the jungle. “If you wish to better understand the energy of the Amazon, I can make an appointment with a curandero for you next time if you wish.”

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“There is a drink called ayahuasca, made from a mixture of an Amazonian vine known as Banisteriopsis caapi, a hallucinogenic drink which medicine men use to see the energy of those they heal.”    

“With the help of the curandero, it is possible to connect more closely to the natural world.” Joaquin takes a final sip and adds, “This is where you can really understand the pulse of the Amazon.”

While I consider this option, this place alone is all I need to understand the sounds and feel of nature. The Amazon speaks directly to my instincts, the core of who I am.

“Vibrations and frequencies at the atomic level is how we communicate with the universe.” Never have I felt more comfortable with this theory.

Watching the river and jungle from above, I breathe in the fresh, humid air. I’ve no idea what fermented air smells or tastes like, but this is the most apt description I can give. The air both feeds and accentuates my hunger for the jungle.

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On the boat heading home I wonder if I will be able to call on this connection to nature when needed. To find those moments when I flow with my surroundings, find the potential of the day and let go.

I’ve learned a lot here: the rhythm of life, the rhythm of the Amazon, the rhythm of Perú.

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The Amazon is an amazing part of Perú, a great place to explore. A quote from my sister, Sandi: “Travel with you is not so much a vacation as it is an adventure.” I think it is a compliment…

Throughout our trip, one thing held true with all the great people we met along the way: one smile can spread into many smiles ~ and life becomes infinitely beautiful.

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Solitude of a Night in Prague

I’ve never welcomed the darkness as much as tonight. The isolation clears my head; this solitude of nothingness, paraphrasing the philosophy of the Dao de Jing, …holds everything.

Such silence is rare here on the streets of one of Europe’s oldest cities, where in the daytime each passing second arrives quicker than the last. At this hour, however, time essentially stands still.

The shadow of night creeps through my body, its blackness cloaking my soul to reveal a calmness lacking the past few months.  The lights, blinding during the day, become relief at this hour.  An hour of perception.  An hour of contrast, of paradox.

All encasing a world I seldom visit; deep into the night where elegance and vulgarity sit side-by-side on a curb, fused together through their unique naïveté by the darkness that surrounds.

The grace and coarseness of their melody illuminates who I was, who I am, and who I could become.  Joined with the ghosts of the night, wisdom blooms within the lyrics and by dawn, a new world is created.

These ghosts are to be experienced, neither seen nor touched.  Only deep in the night can their harmonies be heard.

Midnight in Prague, sparkling after a rain, contains calm and chaos, energy and weariness, warmth and chill ~ a place where pixies of the light romance with trolls of the dark.

Simple contrasts scattered around life, demonstrate without one there is no other.  Only through darkness can we understand the light.

Darkness fascinates with its intriguing dance with light.  Either they embrace and find balance or scurry away deep into the recesses of life, waiting for another chance to become one.

There is joy in the depths of night.  A thrill found in the blurred line between light and dark.  Photography can enlighten the dark corners where most people avoid, revealing exceptional dimensions of everyday life.  Understanding contrast allows the mind to accurately interpret the world around us.

Dark and light, good and evil, pain and pleasure, man and woman. Embracing these polarizations ensures a rich life.  Be wary of those who pit one against another, their intent is to distort reality.  There is great value in grasping the thread of similarities between extremes, all which bind humanity together.

Nothing is either good or bad.  Churning within us all is something bright and noble dancing with something dark and dangerous.  And as with the purity of light, the human soul can only be cleansed by the deep darkness of life.

Grainy memories of wandering the streets are encounters I treasure.  I’ve enough experience to know within the darkness, flashes of illusions and imagination roam freely.  It is often within the dankest quarters of life where the heart begins to beat with the energy to ignite dreams undiscovered.

Mastering this balance makes the transformation possible. Where to begin to discover this magical place?

The need, the want and the fear, along with virtuosity can plunge a soul deep into exploring the murky and hidden pieces of life.  Unknown darkness, once recognized, reveals a glistening new view of life, a mystery uncovered.

History has long shown people in power pitting light against dark; exploiting the unfounded dangers within the contrasts of life. Exclaiming misconstrued extremes should be pushed into the depths of darkness, to be forgotten.  This is the gravest error, for understanding differences expands the mind and creates value where before there was only fear.

Throughout the day, tweets of the irrelevant flood the brain.  A thousand pieces of delicate chaos cuts away at reason.  It is in the rare solitude of night when the mind is able to breathe. Those simple words: inhale, exhale. The moment when chaos and solitude overlap, lightness and darkness come together with the realization of their interdependence.

When life is in balance, inspiration flows.  The conscious and unconscious weaves the thread of dependence between extremes and the blur of life slows.  Words form, new ideas take root and soon the faint whispers of the old streets come to life and a new journey begins.

Easy to fall in love here.  To fall for life.  To fall for the darkness.

A soft rain adds to the ambiance and I take a long look across the river to the thousand-year-old Bohemian fortress and imagine the incredible stories it could tell ~ knowing too, within, I hold tales and secrets to match.

Solitude of a night in Prague is to be embraced, to be absorbed.

 

The Boy From Po Toi

Echoes of a ghost?  Of the future?  Of the past?

There is a feeling of perplexity.  I’m no longer standing in the conference room on the top floor of a skyscraper.  There are no floor-to-ceiling windows with Hong Kong harbor far below.  And my Armani suit?  Transformed into what appears to be rags.     

There is panic, but also familiarity.  I look down at my hands holding huge buckets of supplies, filled to the brim; shocked to learn I can hold so much.  My first instinct is to drop the buckets, must be too heavy but the weight is electric. My arms and shoulders are full of life.

I let out a lighthearted sigh. I’m not sure what I am doing but it feels right.

Beside me, the sea glimmers with life while the sun prepares for another colorful dive to end the day. I’d like nothing better than to sit peacefully and watch her.  How is it I am here?

I recognize this world.  This body.  My blood, powered by a slow heartbeat flowing briskly with purpose.  I lift a bucket up towards my face without effort, ignoring the pungent fish odor.  The power of my arms makes me smile.  Damn, I feel good.   Am I dreaming?

The smell of the sea vanishes, replaced by the scent of the exotic. My heart races.  Ms. Laura walks my way, pausing as she looks at my hands ~ ha, perhaps it’s my powerful arms?  She blushes, smiles, and quickly looks away.

Her dress, beautiful and modest, does not belong here. We are a fishing village; well-worn clothes are all we own.  It finally dawns on me.  This is no dream.  I am a man of the sea, she is not.  I speak the Hakka dialect, a little Cantonese, and zero English.

“Did you enjoy class today?”  Ms. Laura asks very slowly, enunciating every syllable, her British accent snaps me to attention.

My mind spins with answers.  I understand her English words but my voice cannot be found. With a red face, I spew out a reply in my unintelligible Hakka dialect.

She laughs. “You need to study harder, or could it be you need a different teacher?!?”  I look at her in fear, a little slow getting her joke before she reassures me and puts her hand on my shoulder, resting it longer than one would consider normal.  I relax. Her touch transports me to another world.

A world where we are together, she’s my wife in total happiness. Quickly the dream fades with the chuckle from my fishing partner, Xiao Gao.  He grabs a bucket and loads it onto our skiff and without skipping a beat says, in a rough Hakka tone, “Rui-de, you’ve attended her class all year, yet you cannot speak one word of English,”  his infectious laughter inspires others to join in.

“She is so perfect…” my face still burning, I let my words trail.

Sometimes I’d like to just fly away, I think to myself. Escape into my dreams and chase the world. But then all I have to do is look around.  Everything I want is here.

My mind begins doing battle with my memory.  Somewhere, I know her.  I’ve talked with her.  I’ve been with her.  But I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection on the water and I laugh a bit at the thought.

Me.  A simple Po Toi Island boy.

The blast of the horn signals the departure of the Po Toi ferry back to Hong Kong Island and the wealthy Stanley village. We are cut off again from the outside world until its return.

Three times a week this picturesque lady arrives in Po Toi to teach English to our dwindling population. Most of my friends have already left to seek a better life.  For me, though, Po Toi is my home.

Well, the sea is my home, Po Toi the place where I have the greatest access.

Another great ending to the day.  Ms. Laura takes her position alone at the stern of the ferry and our eyes lock, my favorite part of her visits.

With the sun gently reflecting off her golden hair, framing the picture of perfection, she looks over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching and then turns back and brings her fingers to her lips and waves me goodbye.

It is a goodbye with hope.  Recognition of yuan-fen (缘分).  The moment in time where our destinies align and we become what we are meant to be.

The changing reality of what “can be” sends my heart pounding to the beat of the surf.  The world once again has meaning.  I step onto the skiff and head out to the deeper waters to chase my living.  Chase my dream.

The sea knows my soul. The sea is my soul. Nevertheless, it is possible there is something else out there for me as well. My mind and memory once again run wild to find her, to find our future.

The Ukrainian Muse and the Paradox of Life

Alone I walk.  The bite of the winter chill does not let up, colors of the world fade into different shades of bleakness.  The ache for youth pulsates strong although I’m acutely aware each passing second takes me further away from this dream.

A nondescript voice echoes in my head, “the closer to death you are, the closer to life you become…”

My turned-up collar does little to stifle the cold wind caressing my neck, motivation for the continued search of a spark to ignite another year of passion.

The winter’s silence is broken by a warm whisper, “so you’ve finally come to see me again…” I look to find a smile I’ve grown accustomed to when in a philosophical mood.  She’s always walking beside me, but it’s been too long since I last heard her voice.

“This morning, I noticed you were preoccupied with a quote at the coffee shop.  What did it say?” She asks.

“Is not wisdom found among the aged?   Does not long life bring understanding?” – Job 12:12

Reading this quote during breakfast was the trigger for my current philosophical fog.

“Experience and wisdom have shifted my life more than I could’ve imagined. Hard to believe life becomes richer as we grow older – the electricity of my 20’s pales in comparison to the beautiful aches of aging,” I pause to rub the crick in my neck. “Never gave it much thought until this morning.”

I open the door to a small roadside café ~ lured by the aroma of exotic foods.

I look around the café, the serene setting and lack of urgency capture the bliss of the moment.

A newly found paradox within my mind, within my life.

In my 20’s every day had an unlimited future.  Every corner had something new to offer. The more active I was, the greater I felt. My goal was to secure enough adrenaline for the day and bold ideas for tomorrow.

A concept of my youth I held fast. A concept time erodes as years drift past.

“When we were young, life was a series of wild rapids, ridden without fear. We were unstoppable.” I pause to look at the roast duck in front of me and quickly finish my thought. “Then at some point, we began to have doubt in our invulnerability and our lives changed forever.”

“This gauze of doubt you have mentioned before, correct?” her laughter holds a touch of self-deprecation as she pours us a shot of the local spirit.

“Feeling untouchable, the definitions of youth and immortality are interchangeable.”  She grabs a duck leg and continues, “then fear creeps in.  The gauze of doubt begins to blur vision and time becomes finite. The recognition of death.”

“Ah yes, I think I’ve bored you with this before.” I smile and she points to a speck of spinach on my front tooth, I clean and go on. “We take risks when we’re young, devour the late hours of the night and soak up the knowledge around – ahead an unlimited amount of time.” I pause to think of the happiness I had growing up. Thanks I owe my parents and friends I could never begin to repay, knowing they would say the same in return.

“Then came the bittersweet moment in life, confronted by mortality I began to appreciate time.  I evolved.” I lift my glass, our eyes lock and we chase our words.

“With age comes experience. With experience comes wisdom. A young mind is too busy absorbing life to contemplate deep meaning. The growth of wisdom is a gift, a gradual gift.”  The stillness becomes magnified.

Which of us said those words? I am not sure, but their truth allows me to exhale and reflect.  On the surface, responsibilities with my career and life seem to have increased, but my relaxed attitude is a sign of wisdom with the recognition being in the now holding undeniable freedom and a purer happiness.

This small town nestled in the northeastern part of Ukraine huddled against the cold shoulder of Russia is where today exists. Questions drift around and I enjoy the chase to find the answers.

There is a certain confidence in the freedom to pursue. Pursue happiness. Pursue dreams. Pursue wisdom and relish in age.

“The older I get, the freer I become. Accepting mortality sets me free.” Again, our eyes lock and we knock back another shot. She refills the glasses, gazes around the room without worry.

“It is called the Paradox of Life.” she smiles, looking younger than ever. “As people age, the body loses the vitality of youth but the mind…” her eyes light up as she moves forward as if to whisper the greatest secret of life, “the mind revels in emotions, in the happiness of the moment.  People with wisdom forget the worries of tomorrow and focus on the positive pieces of reality in front of them.  Studies show we find our greatest happiness as we grow older, thus the paradox.” 

The walk back to the hotel is refreshing. The evening has faded into the night and while still below zero, the conversation warms the winter breeze.

“There’s a certain poignancy to life I never realized.” I look around at the scene deciding I could definitely be happy here. I look at her reflection in the snow and moonlight.

She pauses as we reach the intersection, shifts her weight and expands on my thought. “The world is dynamic, multidimensional, and there is always happiness to be found.  It’s the gift of wisdom, the gift of youth.” 

“Savor and appreciate the emotions of life.” She looks down the street at my hotel.

“When people believe time is unlimited, the focus is on knowledge, on possibilities, on the future.  A perfect time for daydreamers.”  She grabs my hand, putting emphasis on her words, “when you understand time is limited, the focus needs to be re-directed to the present…where serendipity happens.”

She looks at me inquisitively. “Not quite sure what this means for a daydreamer like yourself…” her flurry of words float in the air between us, separating me from her smile.  I watch it all drift away with the gentle breeze, and before I can answer she is gone.

Featured Photographer: Randall Collis

One of my favorite photographers, Indah Susanti, interviewed me earlier this month and her talent with a camera is matched by her talent as an interviewer. Her questions required me to think about both my history of photography and why I write. Very much enjoyed myself, and wish to thank Indah for the opportunity to learn a bit more about each other. The full interview can be found on her site “INDAHS: Dive, Travel & Photography”

indahs: dive, travel & photography

Featured PhotographerWelcome to the 12th edition of the Featured Photographer monthly post. Please meet Randall Collis, also known with artist name as Dalo Collis. I have been following his blog for years and admiring his photography and writing. I am sure some of readers have been familiar with Randall’s photography at Global Sojurn Photography. But, do you know what has inspired his works? Let’s find out through my interview with him on the following post.

Returning from a morning shoot of the sunrise in Myanmar, a found this peaceful and quiet scene. ~ Randall Collis

If there were one thing you would want the readers to know about you, what would it be?

The one thing would be the best advice I could ever give in addition to working hard: contemplate everything around you and dream.

I daydream all the time, not random daydreams, but dreams with a purpose.  About…

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Absinthe ~ Sojourn with the Green Goddess

My glass of absinthe arrives accompanied by an Oscar Wilde quote: “A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?”

The hues reflecting into the window, while a sunrise instead of a sunset, agree with this claim: beauty, wrapped within inspiration. I make a silent toast and close my eyes.  Exhaustion slowly working its way through my body.

The fog of last night makes it difficult to remember how we met, but from the first touch, the first sip, I saw the world through a different lens. Light became particles dancing in front of me ~ waves of color never seen before, flowing and carrying me to my next destination.

I snap my eyes open part in fear of becoming sucked back into the night and disappointed to find she has not returned to sweep me away.  La fée verte.

Yesterday, late afternoon, I felt as if I was in the late 19th century, at the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans watching the world zoom past.  Picking out colors from the blur.

A beautiful blend of cultures, each offering a gift of inspiration and ingenuity to make this New World a better place.  Within a life full of pressure, the peaceful dance between us all relaxes me and I’m without a care.

It is here she reveals herself to me, a penetrating gaze.  Eyes with a story to tell, I look away.

She haunts me all day, her aura evolving with my mood: a day full of dreary work highlighted by a blinding beacon of light.  The sultry air accentuating her smile before slowly dissipating.

She, unknown, has taken a hold of me.

The falling rain mirrors both the loneliness and need for a new reality. I look down at my glass, artistically placed. The enlightenment begins, for to reach the glass I inevitability must brush ever so lightly against her.  Electricity.

A single drop of her potion, is it truth I seek?

Each sip, the world takes on a different meaning.  Her eyes reflect the cloud of green in my glass, twisting around me with a promise, “an experience, forever remembered…”  And she pours herself into my mouth and soul.

Absinthe.  This psychedelic myth, a catalyst for adventures from which many never return, and I suppose, never regret.

Rubbing my eyes, I am tired but in no way sleepy, and begin to play with excuses for my faulty memory and actions of last night.

“A curious soul has no choice but to wander this path…while a courageous soul owns this path.”  This is the rationale I replay continuously in my head. Experiences I’ve long desired, making the question of any regret irrelevant.

Inhale. Exhale.

Her eyes are the invitation. Her warm breath is the distant echo of summer and with a slight tilt of her shoulder, the light dress of summer falls to the floor.

A crisp chill of an autumn breeze hypnotizes me.  A season of change sweeps in and the Green Goddess begins the introduction into my soul; a quick read while hers, conversely, descends back millennia.  Impossible to comprehend.

I have no control and enjoy this feeling of helplessness. Hand in mine she leads me to new places, to realities never imagined and in doing so removes decades of stress from my psyche.

The golden hour of sunset has long since given way into the depths of the blue hour, slowly taking on a yellowish hue as the wicked green hour swallows me whole.

Her invitation had long ago been accepted.

Absinthe, on the rocks with a 3:1 water ratio and a mind open to change and acceptance.  My adventure begins around my third glass… along with another Oscar Wilde quote:

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were.  After the second, you see things as they are not.  Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

“Seeing things as they really are…” Politics of fear shuts borders while diversity fuels bold ideas.  Cowards hoard power while the courageous share.  And evil only exists as a contrast to good.

“Why are there such extremes not only around the globe,” I ask, “but within myself as well?”

The Green Goddess watches as I try to make sense of the world, letting her poison soothe me before adding, “there are people with so much, yet they are completely miserable. And there are people with so little, yet they are incredibly happy.”

Why?

Lightly she pushes me down on the sofa, beads of rain glistening off her skin. “It’s because those in power fear change.  Fear to lose their power to those who dream.  Who fantasize.  Who achieve.  Frozen in the past, unchallenged, they create a barren reality where escape is impossible.”

There’s an empty sadness in her voice.  “Be part of the answer.”  She rises and before walking away, leaves a quote hanging in the air. “In the words of John Milton from Paradise Lost,” she exhales, tears running down her cheeks, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Disappearing from the doorway, I hear her faint response blend with the slamming of the door, “Choose heaven…”

Yes.   Life is what we make of it.

Experience it.  Let go of fear.  Embrace differences.  Pursue.  And understand a little absinthe can go a long way…

“… artistic discovery is a never-ending journey where we see both the best and worst of ourselves.”  For appreciation of an artist, a recent post by the Holistic Wayfarer,  Writing: A Hermit’s Journey
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