Posted on February 8, 2016
The long and winding road of this past year has finally reached its end. I feel broken. Exhausted. Started the year as a kid, climbing mountains ready to attack the world, and now I’m an old goat with barely the energy to take another step.
Standing here on the precipice of the Lunar New Year, staring across the dark chasm leading into the Year of the Monkey, my heart is filled part with relief – part with dread.
How can I cross it, I wonder? I’ve arrived with the waning crescent moon on the doorstep of the Lunar New Year. My skin etched in wrinkles deeper than in years past, looking the worse for wear.
Tonight I meet the Queen of the Night ~ another of Mother Nature’s incredible daughters, and I have nothing left to give.
She is one of the sacred mountains of Buddhism, resting in southeast Myanmar.
A serene and peaceful lady ~ she carries a pulse of life coursing through her veins like I’ve seldom witnessed.
“A pulse of life…seldom witnessed” a perfect way to bring in the year, and my thoughts drift back to my girl Ellinor in the Skokomish Wilderness; guilt pounds in my heart as this year I stand enchanted with her distant cousin here in Southeast Asia.
A glimmer captures my attention. Her eyes, those dark, deep pools of mystery, draw me closer while her name leaves my tongue in knots… Mt. Kyaiktiyo, it is an honor.
I pause at the entrance of her summit and wonder, “Where is the quiet solitude I expected?” and I collapse on the nearest boulder thinking “…just what have I gotten myself into?”
My last breath of the Year of the Goat is a sigh. I look around at the controlled chaos. Ms. Kyai is treating me to a scene I can barely comprehend.
Every bump and bruise I’ve experienced over this past year begin to throb, and I turn to watch others arrive. Farmers bent over and exhausted from the past year, they too struggle to the summit arriving in the waiting arms of Kyai, surrendering to the year.
I close my eyes and wish I could sleep, to forever rest these aching bones. A cool hand assures me I am not alone, and Kyai begins pressing on my weary body amplifying my pain, checking to see if I am still alive.
I look into her eyes and see a smirk. With kindness, she caresses my spirit, washes her hands over me as she mutters softly “those beautiful wrinkles of life…”.
She winks at me, “create some more…” understanding the aches and wrinkles of a year well lived is a badge of honor, and she rushes off to another.
My broken body experiences a sense of enlightenment watching her float away, her perfume leaves a scent of desire drifting through the night air.
My eyes land on a couple of poor workers I met a few days earlier in the hills of Northern Myanmar, but it is impossible…how could they have travelled here?!?
I watch them pass by, their soundless smiles interrupted by the unmistakable whisper of Kyai, who turns their silence into poetry, “Even when you have very little, you can still have so much…”
My romanticized ideal of Mt. Kyaiktiyo as an isolated, mystical Buddhist mountain wrapped in silence and fog has been twisted into a raucous Buddhist pilgrimage. Surrounding me, an aura of electricity powerful enough to ignite any soul.
This is why we set out on adventures…
Already, I see the deep wrinkles of my skin fade. My stooped body is straightening. My stagnate blood beginning to flow freely once again.
My eyes faded to the point of blindness are now refocusing on the wild dreams of young ones and the belief I can do it all.
This is the way it should be. Finishing a year in pain, broken down and dying…only to notice a young soul on the other side of the abyss coercing me from the darkness to deliver me into another yearlong journey.
I look at the spirit and youth in envy. It fills me with pride.
I hear conversations around me. I taste the excitement that fills the night.
Kyai softly whispers to me, “the Year of the Fire Monkey has arrived…make it yours,” her words adding to the ecstasy of the past year and her kiss, a balm for my weary mind.
Her deep eyes are now filled with flames, and I am engulfed. The transformation has begun.
The heat. The evening chill has vanished and I enter into the deeper parts of the night. Hope sheds away the skin and pain of the past year.
The flame flickers along with the ticklish words of Kyai, and together they cloak me up in the festive spirit of the final night. Within her eyes, I see what I came here for – a reflection of a young man, born again.
The glow of happiness is evident in the smiles of strangers, all who feel like family.
Seeing the New Year through young eyes, a sensation so rare it makes me question if it is even possible.
A curiosity feeds my soul to pursue life again, with new mistakes lying ahead ready to teach and guide me along the way.
A faint trail of words brush over my neck singing, “Smile, adapt and move forward with courage… three simple thoughts and the Year of the Monkey is yours.” Kyai coos, sending a ripple of new blood flowing throughout my body.
Smile, adapt and move forward with courage. I can do that.
Stretching my young body off the rock I am resting, I walk past a couple in silence, their unspoken words ring loud. Tonight is where possibilities transform into reality. Another chance at renewal and happiness in life; in the words of Benjamin Button:
“We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” – Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Throughout the year, Christmas, the Lunar New Year, Diwali, Ramadan and other celebrations give us all the opportunity to renew and free the spirit from the broken down old thoughts of the past ~ the contradictions, biases and jealousies of old, angry men.
We are allowed to return to our purer form, the mind of a child ~ refreshed with the freedoms to pursue happiness and “… the courage to start all over again.”
I think back to just a few short hours ago, the feeling of a wrinkled, broken down soul fully spent in the Year of the Goat, now renewed and back into a form I can recognize once again.
The renaissance of a soul and the words of Dr. Seuss prepare me for another twelve-month journey to explore, signalling the end of a brilliant year with the promise of a perfect day.
“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!”
– Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Wish you great health and luck in the Year of the Monkey ~ 预祝猴年大吉!
Posted on January 31, 2015
As with the morning sun, slowly I rise out of bed and slip on a new day without a sound.
The scents of algae, spices and humidity rise above the fading dreams of last night and I savor the moment. Looking out at the pre-dawn sky I prepare my coffee, anxious for the day to begin.
Wandering down a path, I climb into a thin, carved out teak boat and push-off from the dock. The silence of the morning respected by all. The soft whisper of the breeze is music as I work my way over to the west side of the lake, and under the morning light the fishermen come to life.
Rare are the mornings when it seems as if I’ve stepped back in time, so when such moments arrive I relish the feeling.
To be a part of a culture, even if only for a short moment along the periphery, I drink in the lore of the ancient art of fishing here in Myanmar.
Gone is the clamor of modern society, replaced with the soft millennial sounds of water lapping against the hull and the rhythmic stroke of oars. Breathing in the morning air, my lungs fill with the earthy aromas floating around the life of a fisherman.
Mesmerized by the beauty and rhythm fishermen around the globe seem to share, thoughts drift to my home town and the benefit of growing up in a rural area with the abundance of nature.
Mountain lakes, streams and rivers feed the imagination at all times, none perhaps more potent as when having a line cast into the magical world below the surface of the water.
Mysterious forces lay beneath the water capturing the imagination, matched by the tranquil calmness above.
Dipping a hand in the water as the teak boat glides into the morning fog, my mind wavers between questions of the depths of oceans and the cosmos, to the more enrapturing thought of her smile and what possible future could be in store for us.
There is something about being on the water. Trying to understand the aquatic world beneath while untangling the knots of life above.
The great leviathan lurking beneath, the one we chase every time we go out on the water. Does it even exist?
Perhaps it is a kindred spirit, there to help and straighten out the kinks in our lives so as to set our minds at ease as we enjoy and celebrate this thing called life.
The Fishermen’s Lore ~ there are many sayings and stories, most involve the idea of chasing one’s own “white whale” to the dismay of others. The unique decision to pursue, when hope is lost and those around shake their head perplexed as the angler once again heads off to be on the water.
The lore of the fishermen, off to chase the elusive is a common thread we all share in the everyday pursuit of our own unique dreams.
In a place such as Inle Lake, located in the Shan State of Myanmar, it is easy to connect with the philosophies of the east and their own interpretation of what lies beneath?
How the ancient sages used the art of angling to explain the art of life: “fishing without catching any fish” is how one should live. Learn, contemplate and develop patience.
Immediately this has me thinking of Santiago, the protagonist in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, who went months without a catch until the day he met his leviathan: the marlin he battles, respects and in the end calls a brother.
The fishermen’s life can be a salty, tough and a poor existence…but still a life I cannot help but romanticize.
The life of fishermen is anything but simple; wishes for a greater life for their children along with the increased burden society places on their craft can make for difficult days.
Yet the artistic solitude of the craft must be admired, especially for those who fish in an “effortless way” reflecting a life we all chase. An artist always alert, thus able to refine their art of angling: through practice, contemplation and patience.
A recipe to perfect any craft and pursue any dream.
As the morning passes, I see hardness in the work but a companionship as well. It is the echo of words from ancient sages who discuss the purity of understanding both yourself and what you do. A mix of understanding, when combined makes a life complete.
The beauty of such philosophy is to become a master of yourself and thus your craft.
When the art is slowly mastered, hope evolves into confidence and creativity ~ allowing the mind to flow.
Modern philosophers and educators believe the same; sprouting the idea that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary for anyone to become a master in one’s craft. An idea worth building a life around.
The late afternoon sun burns away many of the hopes and dreams of catching the elusive white whale we were chasing today, but all is not wasted.
We find enough to make the day a success and while there is no other choice for these fishermen but to head out tomorrow, there is another night to dream and to imagine what may become.
To fishermen around the world, who live according to their own code and accept the cycle of life: to struggle, to endure and then redeem their existence through the art of angling.
Watching them mine the value out of life, passing their knowledge from a lifetime of work. The angler is the everyman, the archetypal representation of who we are and who we wish to be.
Taking the narrow, rickety plank leading back to my room, I drag my gear and listen to the crackling call of the eastern great egret echoing through the trees and over the water. This small room sitting on stilts over the lake; another place of solitude allowing me to wash away a bit of the day ~ just enough to welcome in the evening.
Looking into a cracked mirror, exhausted I turn on the tap and splash cold water over my head and breathe a sigh of relief as dinner and a cold beer lie ahead. Hearing the laughter from the dining hall, I let out a small chuckle as well, I am at peace.
I smile knowing that soon a perfect shade of darkness will engulf the lake, ensuring that the night once again will loosen more knots as I drift off to dream.
Posted on June 13, 2014
What more needs to be said? This is a perfect quote.
For us men, we take to heart the point of “while appearing lazy, we actually accomplish a lot.” A thought I toasted many a beer to during travels in Myanmar with our guide Mr. Thu.
Conversely, my sister Sandi and our other guide in Myanmar, Ms. Kay-K, had the opposing view, and while they agreed with the first part of the assessment of “being lazy”, they vehemently disagreed with the last part where men actually accomplish anything.
In fact, if I remember correctly, Kay-K’s comment was simply “men accomplishing something?!?” before she broke out in laughter along with my sister.
It was at this point I realized this may be a long trip. The banter began the first day during our drive out into the countryside and witnessing an endless amount of roadwork taking place.
The roadwork included strenuous labor; baskets and baskets of rocks being carried to-and-fro, digging, leveling and preparation of the road by pick and hand as the crew worked on repairs.
It was a matter of time before my sister asked the logical question, “Thu, there are only women doing this road work… where are the men?”
With a start, Thu snapped out of his nap, looked outside the car window, and nonchalantly replied: “Oh, the men? The men are in management…” and closed his eyes to go back to sleep. I stifled my laughter.
I thought Thu’s response was perfect, even though over the past decades of tormenting my three sisters about the ‘wonders of being a man’ I should have known a storm was inevitably brewing.
Hiding my smile, I would have high-fived Mr. Thu if he wasn’t fading back to sleep and I didn’t have a beer in each hand…
“It sounds like the old boys network,” my sister said to Kay-K. “Men in power, pretending to be significant while the rest of us do the real work that keeps us moving forward.”
“Of course, it is the same everywhere isn’t it?” cooed Kay-K, casting a wary eye my way. “Dalo, were you part of the old men’s club with your work in the USA?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose I was… I was part of a male upper-management team.” I quickly inhaled the last of my beer, a little worried at what I was getting myself into. Mr. Thu just opened one eye looking back at me as if to say “feign sleep, it’s your only way out…”
Yet before I could put my head back and close my eyes, Kay-K was quick to ask, “And was working with this company good for you?”
“Uh, yeah, it was nice. I was able to buy a nice house, save some money and take such nice trips as this…” I added, wondering where this was going, although knowing it was not going to end well and too late to do anything about it…
“And how about the company now; the common employees?” she looked at me inquisitively.
“Uh, well, I left the company last year but I do know that the employees there are struggling a bit as there have been huge cuts within the company, but they did announce record profits last year.” I smiled, and decided now was the time to close my eyes and try Thu’s trick of feigning sleep.
“Making cuts? Record profits?” Kay-K questioned, and laughed with a sharp tone, “and let me guess, the old men in the executive positions are walking away with big bonuses…”
With eyes closed, I let out a couple snores, hoping to dissolve the conversation.
Not sure how much time passed in our conversation, but the ‘pop’ of a fresh beer opening gave me away as my hand shot-out instinctively and Kay-K replaced the one I was holding with a fresh one.
Slowly squinting, I opened my eyes, checking to see if all was well and turned to look outside. Could not have been worse timing, as immediately we passed a group of women working the fields, and I felt Kay-K’s stare burning the back of my head.
Cracking a meager smile, I turned and said, “If I have learned correctly, the men are in management, elsewhere, correct?!?” Thu lifted up his beer in a silent toast as sarcastic jeers came from Kay-K and sis.
Ahead of us was Old Bagan, with some of the most beautiful landscapes one will ever see and I anxiously prepped my gear for a nice evening of shooting. As we started walking to one of the temples, Kay-K flashed a smile and said, “so, you take photographs and drink beer…that is very nice. You’d be a very good Myanmar man…” And with a laugh she ran and caught up with my sister.
The evening shoot was magical, the spirit of the people incredible…peaceful and playful. Mixed within these incredible archeological sites, Thu and Kay-K talked a lot about the history and culture of the land as well as the men and women.
“There is a saying that my Dad taught me and I take it to heart.” Thu said, “For men who think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, just remember that’s where the knives are kept.”
“Myanmar not too long ago was a matriarchal society, and women held all the right to inherit wealth and were leaders of villages…” Kay-K smiled. “Most men hate to admit to it, but it was a very prosperous period for our country.”
“And when women were forced into the background, guess what happened to our country…” Kay-K added, “power struggles, egos of men creating chaos. We lost generations of fresh minds and new ideas…it is sad. Why are men so moronic when it comes to fighting?”
I rubbed the small scar on my chin, a result of a long ago fight that even during the brawl I don’t think anyone knew what we were fighting for. Hmmm, probably not the best time to tell that story.
“We’ve always had a feel for progress and for freedom, and the men know it…perhaps their knowing it makes them so lazy.” Kay-K sighed.
“Men know that we will cleanup their mess, so when things get tough ~ men turn to us, but hate to admit they need us.” With that she grabbed my sister’s hand and both of them tromped off to the market to find some exotic foods for dinner.
I look at Thu who shook his head and smiled. “She is a little troublesome…but it is true. Men can either fear and repress women, and watch the world fall apart. Or men can proudly promote women and enjoy their greatness and prosperity.”
As he popped open a couple of beers, Thu settled down underneath the shade of a tree with a newspaper in hand and added, “Me, I’d rather enjoy their greatness.”
From the front page of the paper Thu was reading, the word “Hope” stood out followed by a discussions of two future elections. Elections that may just see a change in the theory of ‘Men in Management.’Myanmar 2015 Presidential Election: Aung San Suu Kyi United States 2016 Presidential Election: Hillary Clinton
Posted on April 16, 2014
Devotion inspires one of the purest sets of emotions, capturing love, loyalty and deep feelings of excitement that I do not think can ever be understood beyond our own personal experiences. In the world around us, so much devotion towards deities, lovers, children and nature, all linked to our desire to better understand. Devotion in its pure form is absolutely awe inspiring to witness. I may not share or understand the experience of the devotee, but often cannot help but feel some attachment with their act of devotion. To many, devotion is a scary word. Devotion requires commitment, and the fear of commitment alone can send people running for the door. Contrarily, the only emotion equal to the feeling of devotion is the feeling of freedom. Freedom to live, to pursue and to reach the potential hidden within, for this is what life’s about. This is the strange paradox between devotion and freedom. The integrity of people devoted to philanthropy has been inspirational since the dawn of time. The world admires such people for the dignity and strength of their devotion. However, in today’s world with an overwhelming number of options with little time to spare, I wonder if such pure devotion is possible without restricting freedom? On the surface, devotion appears restrictive due to intense focus and drive, especially in what is now a sound-bite/tech based society where nanoseconds steal away cognate thought. Is it possible to have true devotion and not have every fiber of your being focused on this nirvana?“If this conviction had not been a strongly emotional one…they would hardly have been capable of that untiring devotion which alone enables man to attain his greatest achievements.” ~ Albert Einstein
Perhaps the greatest window into the art of devotion comes from religions around the world, stunning in their emotional beauty. We see people opening their hearts and soul, trusting in devotion. The beautiful fury of devotion. With the lesson that such beauty is tempered when priestly powers from above, and I mean those men who sit in rooms and pontificate, creating rules based on outdated policies with one goal: to control. It does not take an academic to recognize centuries of petty political ideologies sprung from ivory towers, exposing the self-righteous nature of man. To control and manipulate devotion for purposes other than its pure source and nature is to extinguish the flame that made it so.“Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart – a leaf, a flower, fruit or water – I accept with joy.” ~ Bhagavad Gita
There is a simple, beautiful thread that is the backbone of devotion and it is the mysterious concept of love. Once rules, regulations and intolerance are allowed into this mystic sanctuary, devotion becomes less than what its true destiny requires. It becomes a misguided passion that takes us away from the immense potential. Ceasing to ask questions and instead listen to rules created by others taints the purity of devotion. It is pure devotion that makes it easier to find this oft spoken iron rod to lead us forward in life. Faith does not mean to stop seeking answers or submit to blind faith, but rather to take responsibility. Questioning faith along the way is an integral part of human nature. It helps redefine who we are and what we can become. It allows for our devotion to evolve over time, granting flexibility and freedom in life to make the right decisions. Pure devotion is a journey to open up new ideas and see through destructive intolerances. Like all good things, the greatest potential can only be reach when given the freedom to pursue. Watching someone from the opposite side of the world practice the religion of their culture, I see how beautiful Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism are because they all share the same threads of belief. It creates a sense of devotion within. All things are born from devotion: the rhythm of science, spirit of musicians, harmonies of mathematics and the devotion of a mother to her child. The foundation of devotion is the seed for growth. Belief in a power we do not understand, yet surrender ourselves completely takes courage. Behind this courage is love, the common thread that unites everything and everyone in the world. You cannot love without the pureness of devotion leading the way. Take away all of the politics, the insensitive rhetoric of intolerance and there lies the beauty of real devotion.“When the sun of fierce devotion shines on the snow mountain… the stream of his blessing will pour down.” ~ Drikung Kyobpa
In a world where we are always chasing something, lost in the false devotions shoveled to us daily by “society”, it is easy to miss what is at the heart of devotion and love. Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a sacrifice, to grasp the simple significance of quality: quality of this short time on Earth and the quality of tomorrow. Forgiveness can bring the freedom to move on with a clear heart, and through it strengthen devotion. It seems strange to think of forgiving others as a sacrifice, but I’ve seen pride and perceived slights crush love and devotion, every passing second creating a scar that could have been prevented with an act of forgiveness. The coming Easter holiday is perhaps the epitome of sacrifice. Within this holiday are the select attributes that make devotion such a powerful state to experience. Forgiveness and sacrifice. Two concepts I never before considered to be at the core of true devotion towards the things that I love. To be devoted to life, heart open and tolerant of all that is different guarantees a journey through life like no other; it will take the spirit places never before imagined.“The need for devotion to something outside ourselves is even more profound than the need for companionship. If we are not to go to pieces or wither away, we must have some purpose in life; for no man can live for himself alone.” ~ Ross Parmenter
Posted on March 6, 2014
The wisdom of Jerry Garcia resonates with me as the wrathful fingers of winter turn into the chilly, wet hands of spring. I search for my path. A place to watch and dream from afar; to quietly witness the darkness of winter transform into the dawn of spring.
Standing against an ancient wall, spread across the plains of Bagan is my first Myanmar sunrise. With the break of dawn, my slate is washed clean and ready to be filled up again with dreams that come my way.
There is a saying, “Dreams die at dawn…” which I never cared for, as I believe dreams begin at dawn. Then I saw a quote by Oscar Wilde, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world”
Perfect. Dawn, a dialectical point in time where dreams may wither and die yet at the same time be realized; the dreamer is there to witness both the inspiration and sadness. For me, this is the definition of dawn.
As a kid, I never gave much thought about the beauty of early morning. I stayed in bed as long as possible…even though many of my dreams originated in books and folklore that romanticized this part of the day.
Mornings were written beautifully, where cowboys, explorers, Native American heroes and adventurers always touched upon the magic of dawn and daybreak.
Daybreak would be accompanied by the glow of an early morning fire, whether to bring warmth to the beginning of the day or to brew a cup of coffee.
While reading, I would dream of sitting alongside the men and women as they drank their coffee…quietly pondering the day of uncertainty that lay ahead. To this day, I believe this is one reason I savor my morning cup of coffee.
Watching the early morning sky, I think of dreams drifting aimlessly like a balloon, its path relying on the wind. The land below contradictorily familiar, yet exotic.
The pre-dawn moment where dreams either move forward to live another day, or silently drift into death…
I once wrote: She poetically said: “Dawn is the time where the air is freshest and the electricity of our dreams we had during the night are out there for us to see…and it is at dawn when our dreams sparkle in hope that today will be the day when the dreamer claims them…instead of once again being tossed aside.”
Dawn allows us a moment to see and grasp at these dreams before they disappear.
It is funny how vivid the mind can become in the quietness of dawn. We can sense ourselves doing something extraordinary, just as we did when we were kids. It seems when we were younger, dreams were more intense and crazy, and as an adult they become more serene, perhaps even mystical.
I suppose there is no comparison. On one hand we have the younger mind of a rabid idealist versus an older mind of cynic: a cynic who realizes how much unclaimed potential we all leave out there.
It is this strange contradictory nature of dawn and maturity that makes life interesting. In our youth, we revel in the late night/early morning hours. Intrigued by the peace of a post-midnight sky and the eerily quietness of the streets and the wilderness.
Breathtaking to feel so alive with energy in the dead of night, as if this moment was created for the young: the world waiting to be explored. All the action and chaos of the previous day and night comes to a crescendo and slowly unwinds in the peaceful stillness of darkness.
Come adulthood, for me this youthful fervor of post-midnight revelry has been replaced by an aching love for the early morning.
Being in a place like Myanmar, I feel the same wonderful spirit of daybreak that I have whether looking over wheat fields of Pendleton, pink rays breaking over Mt. Rainier in Seattle or the incredible Hong Kong harbor coming to life bathed in gold from the morning sun.
Dawn creates this state of bliss, a start of every beautiful day.
James Douglas wrote: “it is a good idea to be alone at dawn, so that all its shy presence may haunt you, possess you in a reverie of suspended thought.”
There is much truth to this saying, which is why I enjoy this time of peace and solitude alone. However, it can be special sharing such moments with others; to occasionally open up this time to share dreams and thoughts…
The two weeks I spent traveling in Myanmar had endless moments of amazement, and I was so happy to be able to share it all with my sister, Sandi. While we enjoyed our photography, the endless talks and creating adventures is what made the trip so eventful.
What good is the happiness of early morning dawn, the moment to wander among dreams, if you can never share it with others?
Best wishes to Ajaytao 2010, for bringing inspiration to many…