Posted on September 18, 2022
With effort, I slip through the early morning fog, my mind elsewhere. One step, then another, my thoughts floating back to the Sierra Mountains ~ a youthful spirit riding and climbing versus this old soul shuffling out the door. A few hours later, I fold into a seat on a flight back to Czechia, the morning haze beginning to lift.
It feels more difficult to leave the States than in the past, but there is also a twinge of excitement. What awaits me on my return to Kamýk nad Vltavou?
The Czech writer, Franz Kafka, summarizes my mood: “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty will never grow old.” This quote relaxes me, for I know whatever lies ahead, I’ll find beauty… and with it, a rekindled, youthful spirit.
I’ve realized when things are a bit off, life a bit monotonous, I need to jump off my path and stretch my body and soul into something unknown. This summer, the jump ended up on the back of a beautiful paint horse, Hero, and I made my way through the John Muir Wilderness.
Thinking of those days in the saddle, I still feel the shock to the system, but the aches feel good… and sadly, being on horseback is far removed from my current reality of a cramped airplane.
While part of me appreciates the repetitiveness of life, for stability should never be underestimated or undervalued, such moments serve more as a time to recharge for the next moments of chaos: fuel for the fire of life.
Energized and exhausted defines not just my physical and mental state right now; it signifies the beauty of contradictions found throughout life ~ memories of each bittersweet moment, from the familiar to the foreign.
The minute I begin to feel the world closing in on me, I feel most alive… my heart begins to beat a bit faster in anticipation of the inevitable quark to catch my eye. A new opportunity. A moment to create a new reality. A chance at freedom. A chance to stretch the soul.
A misunderstood gift in life is when the comfortable path vanishes, and an untamed wilderness lies ahead ~ there is no choice but to struggle, push forward, and create. This discomfort is the brilliance of life. Reveling in the challenge to succeed and, in doing so, defining a new reality.
It is how I found myself in the Sierra Mountains, sauntering through the John Muir Wilderness, living out the stories dreamt of in my youth.
There was a bit of déjà vu riding through Mono Pass at 12,000 feet. Decades ago, this place was the playground of my Dad. The above brochure was from the Mineral King Pack Station in 1959, and the kid holding a golden trout caught in one of its majestic streams is my Dad.
An adventure he re-lived many times with stories when I was young, his excitement today as pure as it was sixty years ago. He also took pack mules in, hiked the same wilderness, and sought adventures long before I existed.
Peering back in time, perhaps not to the extent of the awe-inspiring photos of the James Webb Space Telescope and the universe billions of years ago, but rather a more humble review of the old & new photos of the Muir Wilderness; its essence is still unchanged. The same wilderness, scenes, and descriptions my Dad had experienced a half-century earlier.
Sharing our stories, we were both kids again for a brief moment. Time: past, present, future – irrelevant. Our two realities intersected and conveyed the enchantment of the Sierra Mountains.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~ John Muir
In a small opening of the forest with the universe overhead, awed by the immense beauty spread out in the tapestry above, I took in the significance of my insignificance.
It reminded me of a two-thousand-year-old quote by the Stoic Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them.”
If I can do this, I’ll forever be young, making my way through this universe.
Pulling lessons from poets and philosophers of the past?
Re-living adventures dreamt as a child?
For me, a perfect recipe for reflection. A chance to run with the stars, chase ghosts through the Sierra Wilderness, and find truth in the summer of ’22. Distractions of a modern world severed and instead the silence of the wild…
Move at the pace of the Sierra is a piece of advice I took from Muir’s writings. Move at the pace of the streams, the breeze, the trees. Feel the freedom of silence. Freedom from society. Freedom from work and freedom from the avalanche of social media ~ links tying us to the modern world.
It is impossible not to get sucked into the inane reality of modern life. The rush of society can be as addictive as the quiet of nature. Where technology wraps its coils around the mind, chains bound to false realities – nature’s silent flow allows thoughts to percolate.
The Sierra Mountains are a perfect respite.
John Muir wrote of the Sierra Wilderness: “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
Shifting in my seat, there is solace in reading these words. My thoughts are more precise and balanced. I’ll delve back into this modern, technological world with this added confidence.
“The mountains are fountains of men… The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains… ” – John Muir
The week in the Sierra Mountains reverted my soul to its youthful ideals. There is so much good in the world, allowing for a constant evolution of a mind, life, and reality to be proud of.
“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius
This is one of my favorite Stoic quotes, for Marcus Aurelius transformed his character, behavior, and entire way of life with this simple idea. He understood that the present moment is all we ever have, and it’s within ourselves to create our happiness.
Sometimes I sit both amazed and confused about how words written millenniums ago can hold such an objective and straightforward truth… a simple meaning, yet challenging to put into practice.
If we can see beauty, as Kafka said at the beginning of this post, we’ll never lose our youthful optimism. Our thoughts create a reality where we can touch our dreams.
I kick back and reflect on the beauty in my life. The reality I’ve created will no doubt evolve into something different tomorrow, but at least for today, I am happy. My past, present, and future are harmoniously aligned, with a youthful spirit set to search for beauty no matter what lies ahead.
With the images of the Sierra Mountains etched deeply in my mind, I close my eyes, sensing a new path and reality will soon come into focus.
* Side Note: A thank you to Peruvian philosopher Pamela Estevez for alerting me to this great opportunity!
Posted on May 30, 2022
Spring inspires. Her enthusiasm reflects the warmth of sunshine and I cannot take my eyes off her. A flash of her wry smile and I’m slowly lured in…
For me, the season of spring is the innocent version of Eris, the Greek goddess of strife. When the weather turns warm and life becomes comfortable, she arrives with one goal: to weave a web of discord. It’s my home for the season. Her laughter, the wind. Her tears, the rain. Her thunder, to be avoided at all cost.
An unperceptive shift in mood and the tranquillity of the day explodes… her warm breeze shifts into high gear and my well laid plans scatter throughout the Czech countryside. All is lost and the dance begins. The electricity of her breath fires every neuron and it’s no longer possible to quiet my desires.
This Czech spring demands my attention.
Her unpredictability is her essence.
Around the world, spring has always inspired reflection, growth, a bit of the human spirit spurring us back into life.
Personally, I enjoy the havoc of spring as long as it’s from a distance. This year, however, she has drawn me out. She has shaken me ~ a Czech country girl making my uncommitted soul rethink its allegiance.
Weighed down by the world, she breathes life back into me. She’s my lifelong crush and we’ve developed this springtime ritual: a ridiculous dream sequence destined to end in disappointment. Heartache with such gravity nothing can escape, and to be honest I don’t want to leave.
Sigh, she holds a seductive spark of the unknown. Something I’ve always been intimidated by yet at the same time drawn towards. A moth to a flame, so the story goes.
Cannot deny her spirit, after all the ability to bring the dormant back to life, to revive a soul wasting away under a blanket of snow. She does the impossible.
Watching her wash over the world, I always wish to be at my best and with this she inspires. I want to be good. I want to be better. I want to speak her language.
There is never a time where she doesn’t have me soaring in ecstasy or drowning in agony. There is no other season which holds so terribly an awesome power.
She leads me along the razor’s edge, between the bliss of renewal and the crackling energy of the unknown. Laughing as she pushes me one way and then the other. This mythical place she calls home, where life begins to tingle. The edge of hope, edge of fear, edge of something spectacular.
Bliss of a comfortable life or the thrill of an adventure. There is no choice, I feel her tickling my heart…
I run in the rain. Run up a mountain. Run the stairs at work. Why? Simple. She inspires. To be something more, every day a little more.
A memory of a Seattle spring long ago: a billy goat standing on top of the world. The youthful me bounding up alongside the mountain as well ~ sharing in something peaceful and perfect.
“Ignore the inevitable heartache and continue the climb, take the miracles as they come.” I can hear the younger me shouting at the current me collapsed somewhere below on the trail.
She is passion built upon an undercurrent of melancholy, a paradox of love and rejection dancing as one. Never knowing where one begins and the other ends. While it is foolish to take such risks, it would be more foolish not to revel in this spark of glory while it exists.
Sacrifice? Just continue to walk the razor’s edge between agony and ecstasy. Spring is the wildness we all need.
The melancholy of spring is not easy to become addicted to, but of course I find a way. While she brings in the new, I hold onto the past: the hope to revive the flicker of lost love. An ancient myth.
She offers to sweep away this paralysis, to lead me from the darkness of winter and into the blinding light of a new world. It’s long overdue to slip on my Ray-Ban’s and get moving.
Her brilliance is in the turbulence she creates. There is no better motivator than dealing with strife and moving forward. New joys, new pains, a new way of thinking.
Writing about this ridiculousness loosens the vice wrapped around my heart. I wonder if hidden in our DNA is a small desire for self-destruction?
Dipping a foot in this pool of chaos cannot help but sweep a soul along this torrent of reality. Bruising us with the emotions of a real, eventful life. A variety of life from those living the American Dream to those battling for the Ukrainian Dream… and of course all of us in-between. We take risks to build a life we believe in. With support and love, our greatest destiny is obtainable.
This spring is one I haven’t felt in a long time: a little hope, passion, and the anticipation of the crushing melancholy when it ends. It is life on Earth. It is quite magical.
A mistral wind blows, whispering the possibility of love. Spring smiles knowing the nothingness I hold inside will melt away ~ her words igniting the spirit, igniting the soul.
She sends my mind and heart racing. I feel as if I am 15 years old again, and I grimace remembering those dreaded teenage years…
She’ll break my heart, yet here I am as if floating on clouds, not sure if I’ve ever felt better. How can this be explained? She is a fantasy… and in this world, fantasies can come true.
Not following through with the hope spring provides would be tragic. Not just because such opportunities are rare, but because we owe it to ourselves to evolve, to grow. As we grow, those around us grow.
There is a time to be selfish, to want to make our world better and more to the point, make my world better. She’ll understand.
Spring avoids souls who fear death, and my guess, she wishes death for those who fear life.
She is like a cold breath in winter you try to capture in your hands… a reflection on the water or a cloud in the sky, she is simply unobtainable.
Who am I to explain the infinite complexities of Mother Nature, or (based on my track record) try to comprehend the mind of a woman. What am I doing? Her intelligence is beyond my capabilities.
Maybe I’m forever to roam the world, listening for the song of the Sirens so I can pick up my guitar and strum along… if only I had a guitar, and even more embarrassing, if only I knew how to play.
As to the inevitable aftermath of Spring? I’ll leave no more a mark on her soul than a stone thrown into a raging river. This is the sadness.
This morning, with a mug of French-pressed coffee in hand, I find myself looking around wondering where I am… I’d ask how I got here, but frightened by what the answer could be. But damn, I am happy. A “floating on clouds” happy.
The goddess of chaos. My plans ripped to shreds, scattered across the Czech countryside where the warm winds of summer will soon carry them away.
Possibilities of peace? Possibilities of love? Dreams of living with both, reality of living with none?
I’ve been doing that for a long, long time 🙂
May peace and love be with everyone during these final days of spring ~ and follow your spirit, follow your spring, to wherever the path leads.
Posted on December 21, 2020
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.
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
Posted on September 1, 2020
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
Posted on July 26, 2016
It was a strange day I remember, exploring Budapest for the first time with a sensation I had walked these streets before, every corner a story to be told. Each step filled with fascination, time of no concern as evening tumbled from dusk into the magical darkness of night. Pulled forward by destiny into my past.
She was there, a flash of a smile wrapped up in the Old World like a well-worn shawl.
An artistic light gathered around her, fusing the old with new, highlighting the intricacies of the human spirit. Not yet love, only a tickle of possibility. The depths of the night offered us the chance to roam new lands, to dance with the tide and imagine our next adventure.
The start of the day blends with the end of the night, leaving the unanswered question of where we belong. Amid all the laughter, a melancholy undercurrent swirled beneath, leading to the inevitable conclusion.
The exit. A measured trace of emotion is revealed but little else. With no sense of belonging, we vanish into each other’s arms like the whispering winds of the past.
Where will you go when morning arrives? Did we truly exist or were we just a dream, lost in this endless slumber of life?
The music of the world refuses to fade, a reminder of the hope tomorrow brings. The pull of destiny continues. With a smile, I close my eyes and dream of the New World.
Side Note: Along with travel to Budapest (and Europe), two pieces of music helped inspire this post: Karl Jenkins – Bards of Wales (based on János Arany ballad of the same name). Hungarian history is fascinating, a great feeling of the Old World. The other is my favorite piece by Antonín Dvořák, his New World Symphony.
Nothing is quite as mysterious as where we came from or where we are going ~ reconciling the Old and New World.
Posted on July 27, 2015
Sri Lanka. No doubt a beautiful country. The lowlands are surrounded by the blue waters of the Indian Ocean rhythmically rolling onto white sandy beaches of the island.
The central highlands, a jungle of green where a cool temperate climate offers a perfect environment for Sri Lanka’s billion-dollar-a-year tea industry. Lush tea plantations scattered throughout the picturesque scenery.
Nestled within the highlands is the city of Nuwara Eliya, one of the premium tea growing areas of the world. High above the clamor of the lowlands, the verdant landscape feels as if time has stood still.
In many ways it has, as for centuries the tea plantations have counted on the quiet exploitation of the Tamil minority group, members of the lowest caste system in Sri Lanka, to pick tea leaves. Isolated in the remote mountainous areas of Sri Lanka, it is the Tamil women who make up the work force that keep this industry flowing.
The life of a tea picker is hard, long days combined with squalor living conditions make it clear why Tamil Indian laborers were imported into the country so long ago to fill such jobs. Jobs locals refused to take.
Upon a wall of a dilapidated shack in a plantation housing project, eight simple words summarizes generations of thought for tea pickers here in Nuwara Eliya: “Life is a pain…endure is the answer.”
A place with little hope, yet the little hope of today is more than they imagined a decade ago.
She looks down at her calloused hands. Her day picking tea leaves having just ended, she winces at the pain as she lifts her bag of leaves and gives them to the field manager.
Ahead is a hard hour hike home over the hill where she will busy herself with chores, fetch water, cook dinner for her family and then spend what little time remains with her reason for living: her beautiful baby daughter.
Tears well up in her eyes as she honestly wonders if this is as good as it gets.
Every day is the same bad dream, the same hell. Day in. Day out. She wakes up prior to dawn and sets out to the tea fields, plucking tea until dusk and then takes the long hike home. Praying for no harassment, praying for a peaceful night. She understands this is the fate of a Tamil woman on a tea plantation: a woman with little power, a woman with little control of her life.
Sadness hits when she realizes if her young daughter is lucky enough, she may have at best a similar fate. “If she is lucky…” Quickly she erases any such negative thought from her mind.
As a member of the Tamil minority group working in a male dominated culture, there simply are few options available for her, her daughter or their future.
This thought breaks her heart.
She looks out her doorway at a group of Save the Children workers and dreams the impossible dream for her daughter.
Could the promise of a safe environment for children; a school for her daughter to attend and learn the wonders of the world become a reality?
She allows herself to smile inwardly at such hope, but understands Sri Lanka and the history and culture of her people all to well to put such faith into the future.
Standing in the doorway, she ponders the stories and rumors of Save the Children, the hope this organization has brought to neighboring tea plantations. It is a glint of a possibility, the chance of future happiness for her daughter.
She steps closer to listen to the voices of the workers as supplies are dropped off, and before she is noticed she quickly slips back into her tiny shack.
As she begins to prepare dinner she senses a tingling of awareness, the freedom the human soul needs to dream and pursue experiences.
Tonight she is happy. She reflects back on the stories of suffering and repression told by her grandmother and mother, as well as the horrible experiences she’s had herself, but instead of defeat she sees hope. The hope the vicious cycle of oppression will end.
Generations upon generation of young women are born into servitude in the tea industry, forever working the tea fields of Sri Lankan tea plantations.
The high country of Nuwara Eliya, far removed from the large cities and their economic successes, has remained stuck in the dark ages. Business corruption and ancient ideas thousands of years old keep the Tamil people of this area stuck in purgatory.
The Tamils give their life and blood to the tea industry, making up 2% of the country’s GDP, a commitment spanning centuries. It is a hard life, and while the industry is trying to find a way to give back, there are conflicts of interest.
Business is business, and tea plantation owners are currently undergoing a deteriorating market for Ceylon Tea. In addition to the fear of further decreases in sales and higher costs of providing benefits to the field workers, plantation owners are also terrified of losing a cheap workforce by allowing freedoms and opportunities to the Tamil women and children.
Save the Children as well as other relief organizations have been working to break this relentless and cruel cycle robbing the potential of these children. It is difficult to not shudder while looking into their eyes understanding the future ~ their fate determined at birth.
Change is not easy, especially given the tension between gender and class struggle seeped in cultural beliefs spanning millenniums. The Tamil women and children face daily battles in this quagmire of repression.
A Sri Lankan worker at Save the Children discussed the value the organization brings to the people of Nuwara Eliya, mentioning a quote from Swami Vivekananda, “Dare to be free, dare to go as far as your thought leads, and dare to carry that out in your life.”
This piece of Hindu philosophy, an important part of their culture, rings hollow to them. It is difficult for them to grasp the idea of freedom not to mention the courage to act on such thoughts.
The people of Sri Lanka are the ones stepping up to make a difference. Sri Lankans with the wisdom to understand the value women and children have to their country and their efforts within the Save the Children system brings real change via the following programs:
Such programs provide the base to empower the women of Nuwara Eliya and of Sri Lanka. When hope is instilled in a group, confidence soon follows giving strength to tackle issues. Real change begins to take place.
The Tea Association of Sri Lanka is working with Save the Children on an updated branding model for Fair Trade Tea, a platform of reform for all large tea estates to provide specific and permanent benefits for women and children within their plantation.
In the past, salaries of women from the tea estates were transferred directly to the “man of the house” with the result of wages often wasted on alcohol or gambling.
No longer is this the case. Women now receive salaries directly so the money can be used to buy food and necessary items for childcare. This is empowerment. Step-by-step, change is happening. The dreams of children are beginning to form.
She again stands in the doorway, this time watching her grown daughter go off to work. Her daughter, as with past generations of her family continues the tradition of working on the tea estates…but here is a twist to the tale. Instead of picking leaves in a field far away, she is wearing a white blouse and has entered a nurse-in-training program at the local clinic.
Her daughter looks back and gives a quick smile before disappearing into the plantation’s maternity clinic.
Her eyes well up with tears once again as they had every evening in the past when she worked in the fields. This time, however, the tears of sadness are absent instead flowing down her cheeks are tears of pure happiness…
Save the Children and other aid groups such as World Vision are working in Sri Lanka to break the cycle of repression. To provide hope for children and their mothers, an opportunity to achieve what once was unimaginable: an education and a dream of advancement.
If you are interested in learning more about Save the Children please click on a site listed below:
Posted on June 30, 2015
Walt Disney once said, “Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination.”
No truer words spoken. A perfect state-of-mind to enter life: full of curiosity and void of bias or preconceived notions of race, politics and status. Ahead, only the beauty of life waiting to be discovered.
Then the battle begins. The real world slowly creeps in and starts to chip away at the power of our imagination. Seeds of the uninspired are planted. Warped prejudices and materialistic thought take root, separating the mind from the simple beauty of life.
For some, this pure “original mind of imagination” is lost and in its place grows a closed stagnate mind, angry and frustrated with life. Therein lies the danger of getting older.
Conversely, there is not a better recipe for success of a child than building dreams, as inspiration and imagination keeps the mind evolving.
Last month I had a birthday, a day to celebrate my parents. They still inspire and not a day goes by where some lesson or dream created as a kid is re-visited, another reminder as to how lucky I am.
A day to celebrate their commitment in creating a world where imagination never disappears into despair, even in times of frustration or sadness. There is no specific moment where the lessons they taught crystalized, instead a lifetime full of memories and experiences.
The above photo is one of my favorites. It reminds me of family and the importance of keeping a positive and open mind, no matter what the circumstances.
The photo was taken when I was 10 years old in the Wallowa Mountains on vacation. Often, our vacations would include a little chaos whether something broke, someone got lost or something forgotten (I was pretty good at such things). There would be a sigh from my parents followed by a little laughter, and then they would make-do.
On this trip we took pack-horses up into the Eagle Cap Wilderness for a week of camping, and the normal fine summer weather of Eastern Oregon turned on us.
Steady rain the first night set the stage when at two a.m. a scream from my sister woke us all as water poured into our kid’s tent. Mom and Dad stepped out into the rain, saw the problem, and motioned us to pour into their tent where we slept for the remainder of the week.
The weather that night was just a precursor for the rain and chills that swamped us during the week.
Three days into the trip, US Forest Service rangers stopped by expecting to rescue us, instead my parents rescued them with hot coffee and a fire under our makeshift shelter. A shelter I still refer to as the best living room we’ve ever had.
My parents had a knack for creating something beautiful when the situation called for the opposite. We still talk about that cold and rainy week spent in the Wallowa Mountains, and unanimously consider it to be one of the greatest vacations we’ve ever had.
Mom and Dad, in the words of my 1980’s self, you both rock.
While it is a part of life to deal with bleak and sad moments, I know I can count on a seed of possibility to bloom in my mind when such times arrive. You’ve taught me difficult times often hold the rare opportunity to find and create something great.
As Walt Disney stated, every child is blessed with a vivid imagination but Disney also added that life can often zap such a gift before it can truly blossom.
The sadness and senseless violence we hear about in our daily news is derived from the fear of the unknown, the result of closed and unimaginative minds.
Fortunately, amid all the negativity we see around the world, it pales in comparison to the greatness and creativity of its children.
It is in the eyes of my nieces and nephews, the eyes of the children of my friends around the world; great minds full of dreams with ideas ready to lead.
I give thanks to my Mom and Dad who fed my imagination, and along with family and friends who helped strengthen it over time.
The emotion and meaning behind the words I’ve written here hold something no language can describe. Instead, look into the eyes of all those you’ve touched and you will understand what I mean.
Happy Birthday Mom and Dad to the lives you have created.
Posted on December 20, 2014
Violent winds swirl the dark, ominous thunderclouds overhead. The pounding waves crash onto the rocky shore and the roar of the Pacific Ocean makes its intention clear: thrash anything in its path.
With electricity in the air, I am oblivious to everything except the power coming my way as rain beats against my face, sucking me into the depths of the storm.
Ever since I was young, the powerful forces of storms, especially on the Oregon Coast, have held a rare type of electricity for me. Electricity that excites my soul and eliminates any trace of fear I may have.
Chasing the idea of becoming one with the storm. Not just to see the power unravel in front of me, but to physically feel this rare electricity.
The past three days I’ve experienced a different type of feeling.
Walking along the Tacloban city coastline watching the sunrise, I am beginning to understand the other side of this “rare electricity” I feel when Mother Nature unleashes her fury ~ the distress and chaos she creates.
Understanding why hearts quicken to a point of exhaustion when thunder clasps and wind and rain fill the sky.
Understanding why there is no glint of excitement in the eyes as a storm brews, instead only an endless sadness: a mix of memories and dread.
The eyes of the children of Tacloban carry terrifying memories and fear from last year; introduced to them on November 8, 2013.
This was the day when super-typhoon Yolanda unleashed her fury on the quiet city of Tacloban in the Philippines. On that dark day, more than 6,000 people died. 11 million lives were directly affected, 5.9 million of those children.
As I stand here this morning on a beach outside the city, surrounded by a special kind of darkness found only within the hour of dawn, my mind drifts back to that day one year ago.
Thoughts drift to a stunned family, who sat in their makeshift home as the seawater entered and refused to retreat.
My mind trying to imagine the panic in the eyes of every family member, as the power of the current made the threat of the rising sea even more terrifying.
And as the hours passed, the surge of water would rise to over six feet, easily destroying homes and buildings… and well before then, the family would have been swept away by the sea.
These are the eyes that are now teaching me. Allowing me to see a side of nature that can bring the strongest spirit down to its knees.
These eyes also inspire. Having seen what the people of Tacloban have done over the past year brings to life the words of William Barclay:
“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing,
but to turn it into glory”
The people here have endured…
On this December morning, I find myself in Tacloban with Save the Children on one of those rare, magical experiences that life offers.
The visit has shown the devastation typhoon Yolanda brought upon this area and the great effort that Save the Children has made in rebuilding lives.
Trying to wrap my mind around what has happened here is almost futile, but I am learning.
The goal of this trip was to witness not just the rebuilding of structures, but also understand the post-recovery training programs. Programs to ensure lifelong change for the children, their families and communities.
And most important: teaching skills that can turn the hopes and dreams of children into reality.
The genuine smiles have tugged at the heartstrings throughout the past three days and seeing the recovery program has been brilliant. There is something special here, apart from the shared tragedy there is a kindred spirit that mirrors the beauty of the land ~ the people here are creating a paradise.
What has been done is incredible and with continued support it will become a miracle. I walk away from Tacloban inspired. The memory of sitting down and talking to these beautiful, young minds full of dreams is unforgettable.
This beautiful city along with Save the Children has made me believe there are such things as guardian angels.
Looking out toward the sea, I feel a touch of sadness as the sun rises on my last day in Tacloban. Turning and walking along the shore, I watch a man sitting in the bow of his boat working on a repair.
He gives me a nod along with a faint smile as I bring my camera up for a shot. He pauses, looks out into the distance and his lighthearted expression seems to take on a sense of melancholy.
I’ve learned that along this small section of the coast, everyone lost someone in the typhoon last year. Hunkering down in flimsy shelters with the belief that the waters that gave life would never be cruel enough to turn on them; to reach out and take life as it did.
Walking through town, there are heart-wrenching and strong memories everywhere.
Throughout Tacloban are gutted buildings, piles of rubble and stark reminders for all to see.
What is most painful and can seize the heart, are the small things that at first seem insignificant ~ until its significance hits. Another reminder of the lives lost during that dark day.
I try not to let my imagination and emotions get the best of me, but fail. I’ve read accounts of the struggles of the Tacloban community; families with wounds that will never be fully healed. Local photographer Orlando Uy captures many emotions of his city in his photo-blog “A Walk With My Camera”.
These memories are everywhere: pain multiplied by thousands, as loved ones were swept away. My admiration and respect goes out to the people here who live with these daily reminders.
The trauma and helplessness created by Yolanda now takes a back seat to the rebuilding of communities. The creation of a future for themselves and for their children.
It is stirring to see the locals understand the opportunity they have. To embrace organizations like Save the Children, helping lay the framework for a lifelong investment into their future.
The future of Tacloban is similar to the future of cities scattered all over the globe: it lies with the children.
During my stay, I learned the motto of Save the Children in times of emergency: “children can’t wait” as children are the one part of the population that are most vulnerable in times of turmoil.
Seeing the ability of both the people of Tacloban and the workers at Save the Children, there is no doubt that this area will quickly bloom with laughter and happiness.
Witnessing the effective use of donations, my faith in human compassion and spirit has grown even further. I’ve long believed that the greatest gift an adult can give a child is happiness.
In return, the greatest gift a child can give us all is a smile.
A special thanks to Save the Children ~ Hong Kong:
And Save the Children of the Eastern Leyte office in the Philippines:
And to all the volunteers and field staff that took the time to accompany and review all of the work done in the Tacloban area over the past year.
If you are interested in learning more about Save the Children please click on one of the three sites listen below:
Posted on November 23, 2014
The concept of time is fascinating. From physics to philosophy, the notion of time is difficult to define.
From our normal existence in the world, we often define time as ‘fleeting’ in the sense there is never enough. Frustration builds as the majority of time is spent catching up on work…work that is always running further and further away.
The more worry about time, the less there is.
This has been the script for me this year. Just as I am ready to celebrate and enjoy autumn, this great season is fading fast.
Back in September, I noticed the leaves turning color. But instead of picking up my coat and heading out, I dropped my head for a quick analysis of work and business only to look up a couple of months later to find winter staring me in the face.
Pushing open the window, a gust of cold wind sends my work flying and a bunch of dry leaves swirling at my feet.
Where did time go?
With my work and leaves lying scattered at my feet, I realized I lost the best season of the year.
Autumn is usually the season when time slows down. Time to take in nature, people and the simple appreciation of life.
Hunting, fishing, football, photography, cycling or spending time on Hood Canal with family and friends; not existing in time, but actually “being time”.
The thought of “being time” is refreshing: to reflect on memories, create new memories and actively live and project our expectations of the future in ‘the now’ the moment when time stands still. This is what autumn has always provided.
To be with somebody, to be somewhere, to be doing something you love…these are the moments, a perfect understanding of our place in time, space and the universe.
Being Time, this is a feeling I envy right now. Sitting on the floor, sorting my papers…seeing nothing but incoherent words and riddles on these sheets of white reflecting past months of work, my eyes fall to a wooden carving I picked up in Kenya many years ago.
Autumn. Kenya. The trip when I first began defining time in a different manner.
Prior to leaving for the Kenyan city of Nairobi, I was out with friends and they all talked about the culture shock that I would experience, jumping from the modern city of Hong Kong to the much less developed world of the Maasai Mara.
There was some truth to that, jumping into the life of Nairobi was something different, but once into the countryside 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.
As it turned out, I did experience culture shock, but it happened upon returning from Kenya to the modern world.
Back in the USA, amid the muck of company politics, petty jealousies and listening to the linear definition of time: the loud tick-tock of the clock signaling life is growing shorter.
Fortunately, I kept the rhythm I had found in Kenya and fell into a groove back in Seattle and later Hong Kong. Good friends, good work and listening to how time flowed naturally, rather than how it was measured on the clock made the days mine.
This ‘Kenyan groove’ took me back to my college days where my roommate, who was a brilliant philosophy major, introduced me to the works of German philosopher, Martin Heidegger.
It took Kenya for me to fully ‘get’ what Heidegger was saying, but he was correct: “we do not exist inside time, we are time.”
The only time we have is now, this nano-second of the present to live, where all we were and will be is defined within this perfect moment to shine. As Heidegger called it: “the moment of vision”
This concept of time is one of many theories, and helps me define the idea of being lost in a moment and having time stand still. Time is not this one-way sequential path to the end: a tick-tock of doom.
Time, instead, allows us to relive memories, actively experience and create expectations and dreams with which we float between the past, present and future. As silly as it sounds, time becomes what we want to be.
When I am lost in a daydream…or when a beautiful girl shyly smiles and nods her head, a sensation is created that alters time. It brings into play another dimension I could not begin to define, other than a perfect, subjective component of time that I would not change for the world.
Everything stops and goes, and I want to embrace all that I can get my arms around. Time simply does not exist in linear terms at these moments. It is emotional; the mind can run free, open up memories and take me places I can only dream. In a sense, I am manipulating time. I can do no wrong.
Kenya provided an important piece in defining time and its place in nature for me. Time is what you make of it and it only blooms with loyalty and honesty to yourself, to family, to friends and to your work. In this sense, it is the simple philosophy of nature.
There may not be a better place to appreciate time, autumn or nature than in my hometown of Pendleton, Oregon.
Autumn in Pendleton means the end of the harvest season, the beauty of putting in a hard day’s work. You look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, and see the dirt and character: badges of honor, to be worn proudly.
Pendleton, too, reminds me of Kenya…a place where standing out on the plains as the morning breaks, time stands still. Silence along with the electricity of the day that makes me aware I am flowing as one with time.
Time waits for no one, so to understand its value and embrace it for the potential it holds is key: the “moment of vision”.