Posted on April 10, 2023
With the turmoil of the world surrounding me, my thoughts are too scattered to collect. Ever-increasing confusion cloud the horizon – twists of facts blurred by the speed of falsehood add to my detachment. I feel compelled to examine reality.
Intense weather, intense news, extreme political rhetoric. Should I wade outside or find a dark corner in my room to hide from this madness?
Distractions. All distractions.
Existential dread is a springtime affliction I experience with increased frequency. This year it’s more pronounced as I sit here staring at my swollen knee… a torn meniscus prevents me from long-awaited spring hikes into the hills of Czechia or heading out on a run to stretch the body and soul after a long winter.
Instead, I sit reminiscing, scrutinizing what lies ahead (and what doesn’t). Contemplating life.
Reality has taken the form of the parable Sisyphus, the mythical Greek man destined to push a boulder up a mountain only to watch it roll back down. And he gets to do it over again, ad infinitum. A bleak reality. A monotonous life… parallel to mine and those I know.
Viewed from the outside, we are but slaves to routines with the macabre void of death waiting for collection at the end. And if you are wondering, yes, these days, I am the life of the party… 🙃
The above photos remind me of my countless trips up and down Mt. Ellinor. And as with Sisyphus, each ascent had the same monotonous steps, albeit with minor variances but roughly similar. As did the days that filled the time between climbs. Hmmm, what is keeping me sane?
Nothing changes. We eat. Sleep. Exercise. Work. Die. It is the abbreviated history of humankind. Spiritually, what keeps us alive? What keeps us striving?
Reviewing past photos of Ellinor, the answer comes in pieces, reflections on what has brought me to this point in life and, surprisingly, to the philosophy of Camus and Nietzsche.
The short answer: Art.
The human mind has an endless appetite for creativity. It observes reality, churns it around the head & heart, and creates its own existence – a world in which to belong.
The question becomes, do we succumb to the chaos we experience daily from the mass of information and give in to the absurd reality fed to us? Put our mind on autopilot and drearily live through the day?
Such questions have become a spring tradition with me, to the point where I classify as an existentialist… with pieces of stoicism, Daoism, and cultures from around the world holding me together.
Add to this dread my swollen knee and wondering if my future Ellinor will resemble the ones of my past, and I wish I had a beer in front of me right now. My Czech friends would laugh at this, as any authentic Czech has at least one in the fridge for such occasions.
Spring, as a concept, is hope itself. And being fooled again by spring is easy, for the silence of winter allows complacency to creep in, and with the Siren’s song of spring echoing loudly, it creates discomfort.
Discomfort is something to cherish and revel in. Wrap yourself up in the existential questions, for to live is to invite stress and difficulties to spur us forward. We need to churn thoughts repetitiously, to the point of madness… and from this existential quest, we find the lucidity of courage.
It’s a love-hate relationship for me with spring, originating from an inherent romanticism since youth… The thought is in spring, I’ll be inspired, in summer in love, by autumn reflective, and by winter, ready to take solace in a year/life well spent.
In reality: it is ‘roll the stone up the hill, watch it roll down’ repeated ad nauseam.
Somehow I fool myself into believing in the comfort of spring’s Siren call – she makes me feel like I could be enough and contribute to her world. I’d say it is a lot like bad TV, rewatching those shows I’ve seen a thousand times… yet, even with the ridiculousness of it all, I rejoice in it. Star Trek, anyone?
Existentialists look to the absurdness of life as a catalyst. Getting sucked into the repetitive void that makes life meaningless is easy. But we have one tool which gives us freedom: the creative mind. In essence, our ability to appreciate and create Art. It allows us to escape this
fucking Sisyphean reality.
One of the critical points of existentialism is taking complete responsibility for one’s life. No excuses. Even in Nietzsche and, to a lesser extent, in Heidegger, improving oneself is the minimum of what we owe ourselves (and thus life).
“What makes existentialism so appealing to me?” I ask myself, slowly getting up from my chair to pace around the room – my obsession with hitting my daily step goal remains strong even while hobbled.
Everyone, at some point, struggles to understand the meaning of life, and for me, existentialism cuts to the core of who I am. It allows me to revolt against what society/politics push my way and sink deeper into exploring my own reality and happiness. It kickstarts my creative mind; from this, I can find a slice of Heaven in this crazy world.
And what is this Heaven I mention? I seek one of the more pretentiously beautiful lines of the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton to answer this question.
When in such a mood as I am now, I think of my best friend from childhood, Pat Breland, who has been gallantly making great Art even after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis in March. This quote fits well:
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”– Paradise Lost, Book One, lines 242 – 270 by John Milton
Throughout my life, I leaned on the ideas Pat taught me growing up on what it is to be great ~ he lives life artfully, in all respects. His music, family, and optimistic outlook create a world where he thrives. Having one of the highest IQs of anyone I’ve ever known also helps.
Take the beauty found in the world, assess it with an inspired mind, and craft it into a life desired.
Unexpected shifts in life happen; losing one you love fuels hope in memories. A loss of hope; I cannot imagine life without it.
Throughout his life, Pat demonstrated that the ability to make his own reality and build meaning is where the power of Art lies.
The flexibility of the mind is the most incredible power an individual has. An agile mind can warp itself in any shape to reconcile reality with what it is focused upon. It could be happiness, misery, or a depressed void.
We can be mired in misery yet find a way to make it feel like Heaven.
Art allows pathways to find this Heaven and find happiness. No matter how badly I may feel, I can inevitably find a way to make myself the hero of my own story, recreate myself and find a Heaven within, regardless of what Hell reality throws my way.
The mind is powerful enough to adjust to any situation. Within us, we have a paradise more incredible than the Garden of Eden.
Reflecting back on these beautiful hikes, like Camus’ Sisyphus, I am not crushed by the hopelessness in my situation; I’m liberated by it. There is true freedom and happiness in the face of this illogical world.
Every hour, every second of the day, arrives the same Sisyphean choices we all face. And excitement comes from the revolution of Art and imagination inside to take us somewhere special.
I will escape with an admonition of Soren Kierkegaard: Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.
The words of great philosophers of the past are elegant in thought. There is a certain desperate beauty in feeling lost during our existential quests. Being lost allows us to put life into perspective – it is how we find ourselves.
The artful mind can take us to places the most beautiful scenes in nature cannot. It can reveal pieces of the human soul that are not easily understood, giving us a glimpse into infinite possibilities.
Art is not an imitation of reality but a way of expanding upon it to grasp new meanings of who we are.
Art is the brilliance of the human mind, to go beyond the beauty of nature and uncover an alternate reality. This is how humans continue to evolve and find answers to the universe and each other.
It is love. It is kindness and care for those with passion. It is meaning.
Posted on February 6, 2023
There is heaven above, and Su-Hang below… and it is here in Hangzhou, China, where I returned after a three-year absence.
Truth be told, this was the heaven I needed after the past three years. Eight days of quarantine bliss, where the only voices I had to deal with were my own. A perfect recipe to re-enter a country where I had spent much of my adult life.
Speaking of perfect recipes, the first meal in my room: DongPo Rou 东坡肉, a famous Hangzhou dish named after the great Song dynasty poet Su Shi. And for someone who doesn’t get poetry, I sure spend a lot of time trying…
Su Shi’s poem: Drinks at West Lake through Sunshine and Rain (饮湖上初睛居雨) has significance, as it was written about Xi Shi, one of the four beauties of ancient China, and West Lake is said to be the reincarnation of her.
“The shimmer of light on the water is the play of sunny skies,
The blur of color across the hills is richer still in rain.
If you wish to compare the lake to the Lady of the West,
Lightly powdered or thickly smeared, she is the best.”
~ by Su Shi 苏轼 (1037-1101), aka Su DongPo
Returning to Hangzhou set the stage for one of those magical moments that pop up in life, where once again, the only thing is to relax, step into something new and see where it goes.
Decades ago, as a young man, I was told when the moon was just right late at night, the swaying willow trees of West Lake would transform into a beautiful goddess. I imagined her to be the ancient beauty Xi Shi.
Poets and lost souls would become enraptured by the sight of her alongside the lake and willows, and with imagination, it was almost possible to touch heaven.
There were many drunken nights where I stumbled around the lake, only to wake up humbled by the morning sun and a mouthful of willow leaves…
With this memory, my first stop out of quarantine was easy, visit West Lake to chase the ancient Chinese beauty Xi Shi once again. This myth I’ve been pursuing for the past two decades.
For most Chinese, visiting West Lake is something one must do, just like in ancient times: to experience West Lake is to experience the epitome of Chinese culture.
Poets, artists, and lovers flock here to live through the stories from Song dynasty greats comparing Xi Shi’s beauty to the lake. One famous Daoist philosopher, Zhuangzi, wrote about her entrancing beauty, including her in a renowned idiom: 沉鱼落雁 ~ Upon seeing Xi Shi’s reflection in the water, fish would forget how to swim… Fortunately, I am a pretty strong swimmer.
During the month I spent in Hangzhou, it was impossible to walk around the streets without imagining I was in the Song dynasty, around me a blend of achievement while not forgetting the Daoist nature of compassion and being one with nature.
Over its 2,100-year history as “the Heaven on Earth” for its culture, beauty, and romantic feel, Hangzhou and West Lake have fueled many dreams.
In times we have now, where the world is spinning wildly with epidemics, war, politics, and challenging business, it is good to have a place to escape to, to wrap ourselves up in the culture of romance.
West Lake holds the subtle Daoist culture of romance and oneness between man and nature. As cold and calculating as the world can be, Daoist thought reminds us of the flip side: art, culture, and nature to balance our lives.
West Lake is where Lao Zi’s philosophy of Daoism impacted my life, specifically part of verse 67:
慈故能勇；俭故能广；不敢为天下先，故能成器长。Lao Zi, Dao de Jing, verse 67
I have three treasures of the Dao to hold and protect.
The first is compassion.
The second is self-discipline.
The third is humility.
From compassion comes courage. From self-discipline comes generosity.
From the humility of putting others ahead comes leadership.
The advice is rooted in simplicity, which contradicts today’s modern world. We often wish to have a simple, enjoyable life, but in an age of hi-tech, where everything comes at increasingly fast speeds, we are forced to react just as quickly and move at such a pace.
We work with technology all the time, and it is easy to forget that in between all technology is human interaction. Human interaction requires compassion; it is where love is derived, and we build relationships that guide us into becoming better people.
Compassion creates a deep-seated love, giving us the courage to defend all that is good in the world. It is the creed of a great society and great people, and I do not know anyone who would not do anything to defend what they love.
At the end of the day, if there is no compassion, there is nothing.
My West Lake journey was a perfect reminder of how compassion allows people to connect with others and their culture, and from this, happiness takes seed.
Compassion towards ourselves allows us to reconcile with all beings in the world. How can we live in peace if we aren’t at peace with ourselves? At peace with ourselves, we have the self-discipline to be generous, to avoid petty arguments, prejudices, and irrelevant gossip that can veer the spirit from growth.
With a generous spirit and self-will, we broaden our thoughts. Ridiculous biases of the past are tossed aside, and we embrace the simplicity of the world. We develop the patience to be compassionate and seek a greater understanding, a genius.
Genius is not only for the few; it can strike anyone, anytime. All we need is the patience and awareness to let it happen.
Awareness… this is a bit of a problem even with me. Staring at our mobile phones, snapping photos at each moment we see, we speed through life without taking the time to enjoy the calm.
In this world of clicks, likes, and social media influencers, being bold and gregarious are traits we are taught to exemplify. There is not much self-discipline or generosity in this art – where success lacks compassion.
We understand this. See it in existence, and we can all agree that something is missing here. Yet here we are…
The irony of the above selfies and my participation is not lost. I understand the triviality of sharing the world’s beauty at the expense of not fully experiencing it as I should 🙃.
The younger me would shake his head – it’s a delicate balance to manage.
Self-discipline is needed to keep things simple. Simplicity is harder than complexity; it takes effort to think clearly.
Hiking around West Lake, I thought of all the great Chinese and Western artists and philosophers. The one thing they had in common was spending time in nature. It was part of their thought process: hiking up mountains, through fields, or around lakes. Humbled by their surroundings, they developed the discipline to unravel an idea.
Truth cannot be forced. Humility requires self-discipline and patience. From humility comes the inevitable arrival of an answer, a form of leadership. This is a strange contradiction when aligned with the high-pressure, running-with-your-hair-on-fire attitude of the modern world.
Always in a rush, we never get the answer or the spark of genius because we never let the mind relax and “be” which allows us to enjoy hidden smiles to brighten up an evening.
In this world where everything happens instantaneously, it is easy to forget we are on a humble journey. Our current evolution of having an attention span of a gnat creates superficial happiness at the expense of depth – the expense of developing emotional roots in our own lives.
I’ve mentioned this before in my writing, and again I am amazed at how important the words my sister, Sandi, wrote in a journal she gave me over twenty years ago: “Take it slow, keep it simple.” In essence, be humble.
I often forego this simple tenet, but I understand the importance of reflecting on these words… take a deep breath, roll back time, and start again.
Taking a deep breath helps when I lose sight of the simple joys life can bring and how easy it is to accomplish by sitting down and enjoying the harmony of life.
Modern life appears not to appreciate humility or simplicity. But nature does not care what kind of car you drive, what phone you use, or the diamonds and pearls you wear… Instead, sit next to a lake, stretch out on the soft grass with friends, and watch the magic of a setting sun. Nature by your side.
Without the basics of compassion, self-discipline, and humility, it is impossible to achieve the potential of who we are as humans. To over-achieve and find happiness in the simplest of things.
West Lake still holds magic for me. Its history and beauty, and the romance of culture it creates. It is where I fell for my favorite verse of the Dao de Jing. It is at the heart of who I want to be. To become.
I suppose this person is someone Xi Shi could be impressed with, and just maybe, if I can become such a man when I ascend to heaven, I can sit with her and have a cup of tea… or perhaps 一杯白酒.
When one is humble, one can be brave.
* Special thanks to my niece Miu Miu Qiu who helped with the photos, and Happy Year of the Rabbit to all on this Lantern Day Festival.
Category: China, Dao De Jing, Lao Zi, Nature, Philosophy, Photography, Travel in Asia Tagged: China, compassion, Dao de Jing, Hangzhou, Humility, Inspiration, Laozi, Nature, Philosophy, photography, Self-Discipline, Su Shi, West Lake, Xi Shi, Zhuangzi
Posted on December 1, 2022
“A pathway into autumn… I like this. It’s how I envision the fall.” She turns and flashes me this image. It is one in a series of autumn shots around Kamyk nad Vltavou in Czechia, taken on my last hike in October.
She leans back into the pillow, continues to flip through the photos, and stops when she comes to a poem I had written in the spring but tossed away. She reads it out loud:
The sorrow of her tears – rains of nourishment
The tease of her smile – flowers in bloom
The softness of her breath – causes me to catch mine
Unrequited love, it’s the rejection of Spring
Hurts like hell but shouts to my soul: I’m alive
I cringe. Not only do I suck at poetry, but I don’t get it for the most part. Still, I can’t help trying. Sometimes I hear a set of lyrics or a poem and dream of writing something as beautiful just once.
Her laughter breaks my thought. “In the spring, these words could have brought tears to my eyes. Now, they make me laugh uncontrollably.”
I join in her laughter. There’s no hiding her honesty.
As with my fool’s errand of writing poetry, 2022 has been a year where I’ve felt the edge more than ever. From the beautiful chaos of Czechia, returning to nature in the States, and now in Hong Kong, preparing for my journey behind the Great Firewall of China and its shroud of quarantine.
This edge is a dichotomous path. Either I fall into a deep abyss with no retreat or, with a touch of hope, fall into another realm of a brilliant universe.
“You are looking forward to China, aren’t you?” She asks, knowing the answer. She understands the stress and the friction of contrasting thoughts.
Is the world moving too quickly, or am I moving too slowly? I feel the friction grow.
“Friction is what life is all about, and I can help you understand this. It’s within the power of a muse.” She winks, “We can bend time and alter perception – it makes life more interesting. All I ask is for you to take me to the edge… to see the realm of possibilities.”
“Cheers to your genius. Teach me to bend time and perception, and I’m yours. By the way, why have you shown up now? I’ve so much to do?” Surprised by the tension in my voice.
Peering at me, she says, “You fascinate me. I’ve bounced around, mused for women as well, but working with men is so much easier… and this is my true feminist nature speaking.”
“I agree, men are superior,” trying to finish my packing, I look up with humor,“…and this is my feminist side speaking.”
“I miss the springtime you.” She wryly adds, “you were nicer back then.”
“Ah, yes. The spring me. The spring is an idealistic, crazy, and happy time,” I retort. “Autumn suits my cynical older age.”
A flush of images sweeps past, each taking me away to a different time and feeling. The photos reflect an autumn to remember in Kamyk nad Vltavou. Magic all around, everywhere in this beautiful land.
The season has been kind to me. A time when I usually exhale and begin to wind down for winter. This year, it’s the freshness that surprises me. I envision a fascinating new world in front of me, cloaked in fog – an invitation to a new adventure.
Her words break my spell. “I’m fascinated because we walk the same trails and view the same countryside… but you photograph a world I don’t see.” Her eyes want to say more but stop at a simple question. “Why is that?”
I ponder this, twirling her words around the universe I hold inside my head, blown away at how infinitely more complex and intriguing the universe she hides in hers.
Everywhere… we walk, bumping into strangers who hold insights within their universe but we are too caught up in ours to notice. We all seek our edge, curious about its potential but fearful of going one step too far.
The scene of Hong Kong glistens from my window. This is where life diverged for me – I jumped in head first, leaving one life behind. Maybe this is why I see the world differently.
Rhetorically she asks, “Since you are not answering, I’ll ask a different question. Do you know what makes you special?”
I can feel myself tighten up and ask, “What’s that?” Expecting another quip.
“You make my heart beat sideways…” She swings her legs down, zips up the last bag I have packed, and walks to the door.
In a typical state of confusion with her, I ask, “Sideways?!?”
That delicious laugh of hers. “Well, the first time it happened, I thought it was indigestion, but then I realized you bring out something special. A spice that makes the world a bit better even with the tragedy you call poetry.”
She runs her hands straight through me. “This mythical edge, it’s where the heart beats sideways… the sense of being alive.” Time stops, my perceptions change, and she teases, “This is what fascinates me.”
This edge I wrote about earlier in the Czechia spring, this edge of hope, of fear… the edge of something spectacular.
“How to describe?” I look and her, trying to verbalize being seduced by the edge, this ultimate point of friction. Action is required: retreat and survive or pursue and risk it all – rare moments to wake up the soul.
I try to recite the appropriate Hunter S. Thompson quote from the past but fail. “It’s the greatest mystery out there.” I muse, “Those who understand the edge have gone over it, never to return, so no one knows. It’ll always be a mystery.”
“You may think I’ve seen the edge, but no. When I feel it, I can’t run away fast enough.” The disappointment in her eyes makes me chuckle.
This is the beauty of friction. It protects us from going over the edge; it connects us – it slows us down. Creates heat. Creates life. Our bonds become stronger over time, and the increased friction slows us so we can make better decisions.
My worry? The physics of friction will inevitably grind me to a halt.
She recovers from her disappointment to ask, “Who is happier? A soul who dives into the chaos of life and lives through a series of adventures, or takes the same seat every day, watches the world pass, and simply exists?” She lightly taunts me.
My immediate thought is to choose the adventurer, but a stoic also realizes it takes all types of courage to face the unknown regardless of risk. Whether it’s a stereotypical life of an accountant, which society paints as safe and secure, or an adrenaline junkie’s fix to risk body and soul. Both hold the courage of life to be proud.
“It depends if I’ve had my coffee or not…” I linger. “We have courage in different measures based on our circumstances. The beauty of all those different universes floating in the minds of those we bump into daily hold pieces of the answer.”
“The edge, the edge, the edge…” She pouts. “Take me there!” laughter again erupting.
“This mythical edge, I have no idea if I’ll ever see it, and I like the idea of it being just out of reach.” I sing along with Nick Cave as I grab my bag and head for the door, the lyrics from my
demon muse churning in my mind.
One foot out the door, and these are the goodbyes that make leaving Hong Kong difficult. I feel myself blush as she closes the door. In doing so, as intended, she has opened another.
I am off, my soul plowing through quicksand as the world moves further ahead.
What’s this? My heart… it’s beating sideways. I smile at the idea that this may be indigestion.
Category: Bohemia, China, Creative Writing, muse, Nature, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: Autumn, China, Czech Republic, Czechia, Friction, Hong Kong, Hunter S. Thompson, Nature, Philosophy, photography, The Edge
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!
Category: Nature, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: Hiking, Horseback, Inspiration, John Muir, John Muir Wilderness, Marcus Aurelius, Nature, Philosophy, photography, Sierra Mountains, Stoicism, The Sierra Club, Wilderness
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
Category: Nature, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: Inspiration, Kenya, Maasai Mara, Nature, Nietzsche, Philosophy, photography, Quarantine, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Posted on March 21, 2019
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
Category: Nature, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: Amazon Jungle, Amazon River, Nature, Peru, Quantum Physics, Rhythm
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”.
And as I continue to stare out my window, smiling with my thoughts of Kenya, Pendleton and Heidegger, I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite philosophers, Dr. Seuss:“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
Category: Nature, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: Inspiration, Kenya, Maasai Mara, Martin Heidegger, Nature, Pendleton Oregon, Philosophy, photography, Time, Wildlife
Posted on September 21, 2013
Years ago, my Dad and I were sitting in a duck blind in Eastern Oregon prior to dawn and I mentioned how much I wanted to live near the Oregon Coast. The gist of my reasoning was that the Oregon Coast is beautiful, and having water around was comforting.
There is nothing quite like the sight and sound of water; roar of an ocean or babble of brook. The response from my Dad surprised me; he preferred the high desert and mountains…
It was not the first time I have been surprised by such a response, as my ex- felt the same way, where I always envisioned a place on the water, she felt the opposite.
My dad laughed at my incredulous look, and said he loves being at the pond (one of his favorite places on earth), and it is made better because it is located in Eastern Oregon (which is why he chose Pendleton). He also laughed at the situation with my ex-, saying that my Mom’s thought on the subject is also the opposite of his and, like me, she would rather live next to the ocean.
Why I bring this up, is that there is a special connection to water that inspires me, calms me. I will not think twice to pay more for a sea view room, while others cringe at the thought as they do not see the same value: some people can’t believe someone else would pay so much more for a house (or flat) with a water view, while others cannot comprehend why not.
The beauty of differences in human nature.
Among us all, however, is a tremendous respect for water, and it is an inherent respect as we flowed like water from conception onwards. Beyond the most obvious reason that the majority of our body is made up of the stuff, it is the nature of water that intrigues.
Water is pure: two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. It has no desire other than to be itself.
Natural properties that we should emulate.
Water is resilient. Soft yet incredibly strong. An analogy which is often repeated, is how over time water can turn stone into sand with its relentless flow, creating such marvels as the Grand Canyon. Water never ceases in its pursuit of life…it just keeps on flowing, bending when necessary, and without question follows its nature.
My favorite verse from the Dao de Jing is number eight which parallels water with human nature. If I had to summarize the words of this verse it is: be true to who you are, keep it simple and kind, and flow with your work and in life, without expectations, and you will not be disappointed.
Simple thoughts. Whenever life throws something at me, a trip to the coast (or a creek) is all I need to gain perspective.
As with all words of Lao-zi, they are words of poetry…which makes translation by any non-native speaker close to impossible. Below is the Chinese, and an old translation I made 15 years ago with a lot of help.
The greatest good is like water. Nourishing all in our world without effort, flowing to depths we ignore. Water is therefore like the Dao.
In living, be close to the land
In thinking, be simple from the heart
In dealing with others, be kind with sincere words
In politics and business, do not manipulate
In life, be effective and completely present
When you are content being yourself, your flow gains the respect of those around you.
I do remember when I was studying Chinese and the Dao de Jing, I asked many questions about this verse and finally the person I was studying with said the meaning of the verse “is just like a brook in the mountains: travels from high to low, nourishing, sincere, humble and true to itself…and most of all it sounds beautiful if you shut-up and take time to listen.”
Take the time to listen to what the water (and the world) is saying.
Category: China, Dao De Jing, Lao Zi, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: Chinese, Dao de Jing, Laozi, Nature, Tao Te Ching
Posted on August 19, 2013
Never do I feel more alive, than when I am with you. You take me from the mundane and offer me a simple taste of glory. Our affair spans more than a decade, but each time with you feels like we have just met.
Knowing that I am one of many does not change my feeling, for what we have is special.
Every time I come back to the Olympic National Forest, my mind goes back to the first time we met: I stood breathless, in awe of your beauty. When I tackled your slopes, you offered me views that I could never imagine.
While you belong to Mother Earth, I will always consider you mine.
It is with my hat in hand, that I come again to share time with you…to find peace in the solace of nature.
It is with this same hat I give a tip to the men and women who make you accessible. Building up the trails, making what would be an extremely difficult climb into something less strenuous, giving me more time to rest in your brilliance.
The workers of the US National Forest Service (and Mt. Rose Volunteer Trail Crew), give their working life to you, so you can give yourself to me.
You give yourself to all, but forever you will remain free.
A dash of folklore has it that Chief Seattle wrote a letter to the President of the USA, in reply to the government’s offer to purchase the remaining Salish lands. Within the letter are some of the wisest words ever written:
“The President in Washington sends word that
He wishes to buy our land.
But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land?
The idea is strange to us.
If we do not own the freshness of the air and the
Sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?…”
Respect the wilderness and Mother Nature will in turn respect us.
Ellinor, looking back on our time together, whether under the heat of the sun or huddled in the icy & snowy depths of winter, every time we part I leave a better man.
When the chaos of this international zoo begins to spin out of control, no matter how long we’ve been apart, inevitably I come crawling back and you always take me in.
I am grateful for your unconditional support of this restless wanderer. Your gift of courage to take that extra step into the unknown. To achieve greater heights.
Above: Mt. Rainier in the distance. Below: Descending in the Dark
My knees ache more today than they did when we first met decades ago, and there will inevitably come a day when all I can do is stare up at your grand magnificence.
Jealousy may arouse in my heart while I watch younger generations march proudly up your slopes, but it will be in the guise of pride. While impossible, I will always consider you mine.
I will shed a tear when this day comes, not in sadness or envy of those you welcome to your peaks, but a tear of grace for the time we spent together. I love you and your brothers and sisters who surround you.
The Skokomish Wilderness and Puget Sound that form your front door, will always be there to welcome.
I simply love the life we have shared together.
You share. You support. You inspire. But you do not love.
Unrequited love. Such love holds no significance to me, for if I love you, I am happy. With this I am secure.
It is true that you are difficult, cold, and as moody as the unpredictable weather, but when you shine you are the essence of life. Mt. Ellinor, there are so many incredible places in the world but only in your house do I feel I am home.
On the topic of ‘unrequited love’ the philosopher Nietzsche had this to say: “indispensable…to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference.”
Category: Nature, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: Chief Seattle, Nature, Olympic National Forest, photography, Puget Sound