Summer in the Sierra Mountains

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!

Ukrainian Philosophy of the Heart

Every day, rolling out of bed, I start with the recognition of a simple tenet of my life: “love what you do and do what you love.” A philosophy I’ve intertwined into every fabric of my being, but this morning I stare at these words I’ve just typed, and I’m lost. 

A photo taken in Kyiv at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), stares back at me from my computer screen. The freedom of that cold December night, the walk along the Square among friends old and new carries no resemblance of today. 

My eyes drift to another photo, a voice answers the question churning in my mind. “The man on the horse, his name is Bohdan Khmelnytsky,” I nod, her voice soothes. “He led the first successful uprising for Ukrainian independence.”

I stare at the photo, unable to remember my thoughts when I first saw this statue but given the photo is blurry, I know Ukrainian vodka is partly to blame… I also understand that anyone who leads a country to independence is a person to be held in high esteem.   

“Not much is actually known about Khmelnitsky,” she wanders over to my computer screen to view the photo closer. “But one thing is for sure, he is shrouded in an aura afforded only to legends ~ a hero in all kinds of tales, poetry, and song.”  

Her voice holds a sense of pride, of defiance. In her sigh I can make out “… and this spirit is alive and well in Ukraine today.”

Ukraine. How much I do not know about this land. And how much I admire the people, friends and strangers, who are holding strong. I think of my last visit, seeing Yevgeniy and Alex with David and Anna.

“Your fleeting understanding of Ukraine is understandable, your desire to learn commendable. Question: have you ever heard of the philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda?

My lost expression brings a sigh and slight shake of the head.

“His wisdom is at the heart of Ukrainian philosophy… and he was a bit of vagabond too, so I think the spirit of you two align well with each other.” She teases.

“According to Skovoroda, the harmony of will is a soul, and the heart is its center… it contains the potential of the whole universe. His work is at the core of the Ukrainian “Philosophy of the Heart.” Looking into my eyes, my soul, she hands me his essay, “see what you think…”

I like the ring of this, his ideas flow in a manner similar with other great minds. His thought distinctive, but I can see why he is referred to as the “Ukrainian Socrates.”  There is wisdom in his actions as well as his words.

“The 18th century was not kind to Ukraine, enslaved by Russia there was a need for a spiritual rebellion in the nation and Skovoroda’s writing filled the void perfectly.” The admiration in her voice draws me in closer, “He reminded his humbled countrymen about the great virtues of Ukrainians: the love of freedom, power of the will, sincer­ity, and the desire to learn.”  

“His desire to learn drove him from a life of comfort and out into the world to seek wisdom.” She points to a sentence, his mantra: “To be happy is to know oneself, to find oneself…” her laugh resonates with her mocking tone: “as you often say… love what you do and do what you love.”

She puts her warm hand on my shoulder, her eyes look beyond anything I can imagine. The steeliness in her gaze holds a strength seldom seen: the strength of a nation. As she turns to leave, my heart fills with admiration and hope for her and Ukraine.

A fog of uncertainty remains as she drifts away.  I look at my phone, messages from my friends in Sumy spells worry, but also hope. I think back to the discussion last night with a colleague from Kharkiv; stretched and stranded between work here in Czech and his homeland under siege. 

I unfold a piece of paper with a Ukrainian poem given to me called “Testament” (Zapovit) by Taras Shevchenko, written on December 25th, 1845.  And while poetry does not come easy to me, this one hits the mark:

When I am dead, bury me

In my beloved Ukraine,

My tomb upon a grave mound high

Amid the spreading plain,

So that the fields, the boundless steppes,

The Dnieper’s plunging shore

My eyes could see, my ears could hear

The mighty river roar

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears

Into the deep blue sea

The blood of foes… then will I leave

These hills and fertile fields – I’ll leave them all and fly away

To the abode of God,

And then I’ll pray…. But until that day

I know nothing of God.

~

Oh bury me, then rise ye up

And break your heavy chains

And water with the tyrants’ blood

The freedom you have gained.

And in the great new family,

The family of the free,

With softly spoken, kindly word

Remember also me.

Translated by John Weir, Toronto, 1961

Shevchenko moves the soul.  And in the true spirit of today, during the year of 1847 he was arrested for writing a poem (Dream) in the Ukrainian language (illegal, for only use of the Russian language was permitted). He doubled-down on his fate with Dream by promoting the independence of Ukraine while also ridiculing the members of the Russian Imperial House.

Seriously, this is a man after our hearts. 

Within these turbulent times of today, I reflect on what I’ve learned recently; a subtle, sincere foray into Ukrainian thought. From the philosopher Skovoroda of the mid-1700s to the poet Taras Shevchenko of the mid-1800s.

The discovery of Skovoroda’s philosophy and his Socratic way to seek out life, inspires ~ and props to the epitaph he requested on his gravestone:

Світ ловив мене, та не впіймав

The World tried to catch me but failed

The other great surprise is from the poet, Shevchenko. To learn how he was revered around the world, especially in the USA as both President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson honored him:

“He was more than a Ukrainian — he was a statesman and citizen of the world.

He was more than a poet — he was a valiant crusader for the rights and freedom of men.

He used verse to carry on a determined fight for freedom.”

Lyndon B. Johnson, Oct. 26th, 1964

Restless here in 2022, I wonder about the next great Ukrainian mind to shine? Undoubtedly a courageous free spirit with fire in their soul, daring anyone to take away what has been rightly earned. 

From what we’ve all seen recently, Ukraine is a nation full of such heroes. One hopeful who is already reshaping his country and the world is current President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. May his star continue to shine even brighter. 

I’m not alone in this hope and the outpouring of support given to the Ukrainian people will help them find truth and peace. 

The road will be a difficult one ~ suffering borne by others ~ but they can take heart in knowing the world is behind the beautiful potential of Ukraine.

Unfinished Business in the Year of the Tiger

A Peruvian sky painted with strokes of magic only a thunderstorm can create plays out in front of me. My exhaustion complete, I sink deeper into the grass and dirt and drift away from life, away from the world, away from reality.  

Silence envelops the valley around me and the storm’s energy is waking my soul. I stare into the eyes of the Year of the Tiger, is it time to surrender or attack? 

A broken spirit is the debt to be paid for a year well-lived.  The reward? To stand at the precipice of a new year and do it all over again.

Life is brilliant in this way. 

Reflecting on the turmoil of the past year, my exhale is more than a sigh. Battle scars feel fresh as yesterday and make this annual walk across the razor’s edge, the balance between decadence and restoration, even more difficult. 

Respect the responsibility of the past year and accept the penance of another expedition.  Ignore the aches and move on. 

Around me are whispers, words I do not understand. The beauty around me invites me to stay, but I’m unable to grasp a hold of this place – unable to settle down. The simple wish for solace does not reconcile with my actions… so I continue to leave unfinished business behind.

Blurred faces in the crowd, their crisp eyes speak freely. Lives I wish to experience, minds bearing the weight of the world. Things unsaid pushing us forward. 

Finish it. Take the beating. Absorb the blows and with greater devotion continue the pursuit. Is there a better feeling than to shake off the pain and find the strength to stand again?

To be unafraid. The heart of youth backed by a soul of aged wisdom. I can barely remember such a time. 

The brashness, insolence of an unharnessed spirit, one found in the true men and women of history: a blend of courage and kindness.  I wonder, is one much different than the other? 

Naked in the shadows I sit in defiance on the brink of the new year. The morning leaves me empty. I’m not looking to change the world, but to just get by. A cup of coffee. Eight hours of drudgery. A cold beer, a queen of the night, and decompression in front of a television. And it goes on, ad nauseam. 

Is this not finding solace within the chaos of life? 

The spell of a sunrise over an enchanted land has me lost, a fleeting sense of wonderment of where it’ll take me before it is broken by the comfort of my barstool ~ a place to sit uninterrupted and rail against life iniquities secretly wishing for something, anything, to fall into my lap. Chasing dreams is too exhausting. So I wait.

Waiting… the ode of a has-been.

When the next great thing fails to appear I’ll lower expectations.  Another beer, perhaps? Another smoke, why not? A handout, a little hard stuff to make life a bit easier to deal with? Yes, yes, and yes. Eventually, the wait for the end will arrive.   

Ah, my laughter feels good, the remnants of a defiant mind.

A glance at the scene outside, it’s all unfamiliar. The refusal to be swallowed up by the mindless cycle of blandness by veering into the unknown is my escape pod. A chance to bend the rules again and my schism is complete ~ off my barstool ready to push the envelope once again. 

This rollercoaster of competing desires: the life of a has-been versus the life of a pioneer… 

Follow the rules to enjoy the privilege of living in an orderly world, and bend the rules to stretch the spirit and evolve. There are no absolutes, there are no easy answers.    

I spin off in another direction, leaving my cold coffee behind along with my feeling of hesitation… did chasing false hope allow the spirit of the pioneer to drift away? 

The twinge of electricity says ‘nah.’ Behind the façade of the loafer is an eagerness to learn, it’s the spice of recklessness ~ the unfinished business we all share. Action is inevitable. 

Words of the stoic philosopher Seneca reverberate throughout the valley of the Andes: you want to live, not just exist. Resist the squandering of life and instead earn it.    

Everything of value should be earned. Effort and devotion is how one earns value. Earns respect. Earns trust. Earns the right to dream with the valuable lesson that what one works for should never be frittered away. 

Break from expectations, bend a rule or two, attack the Year of the Tiger and roll with the punches as they come. 

The unanticipated. The unexpected.

It causes the heart to beat a bit quicker, hair to stand on end, and eyes to focus upon an upcoming epiphany.

We are creatures of habit. Of the many things we do, we do because it’s a foregone conclusion. Within us, however, is a surprise.  An innate and beautiful desire to pick a moment where we do the one thing no one expected at all. 

Unfinished business.  Finish it. 

A life of the expected, rich in comfort easily hides its restrictive chains. Conversely, a micro-second of the unexpected, rich in wisdom flaunts the desire of freedom. 

Two sides of the same coin. Struggle is necessary for comfort to exist, without strength we’d never know weakness, and without the blandness of life an unexpected shift could not move the soul.

And with this thought, the has-been in me smiles, pops open a beer and pays a compliment to the pioneer. 

I move across the abyss into a new realm ~ the words of St. Vincent leading the way, “Living in fear in the Year of the Tiger”   🎶

Heartbeat of Time

Is there anything more pure than the mind of a child?

Where the reality of a day goes on forever ~ entranced by all the love and peace around.  Never a day lost, never a day wasted. Time does not exist in the manner we experience as adults. Time is in abundance.

The preciousness of every heartbeat, a soothing melody moving the world forward as it should.

Yesterday I read the average human has somewhere around three billion heartbeats within a lifetime. Not a small number, but disappointing nonetheless. It gave me pause to consider the value of each heartbeat. To reassess the importance of time. 

My goal is not to squander any more heartbeats, and of course the humor was not lost on me as I ‘wasted’ several thousand mulling this over…

Roughly 2,000 years ago, the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote an essay, On the Shortness of Life, about how our existence rushes by and only when we begin to understand the importance of time, it is too late. It’s over. 

Seneca believed for many, the tragedy was not because life itself is short, but the amount of time wasted makes it short. 

“We do not appreciate the value of time… life is long if you know how to use it.” – Seneca

Caught up in social media and daily news cycles, it becomes easy to go through the motion of living. We lose our consciousness and with it beautiful scenes become a faded blur of a sound-bite world.

The silver lining of the past couple of years has been the space to step back from the chaos of life; catch a glimpse of what a world looks like when time is available and not the end goal.

Listen to the heartbeat and life opens up.

Seneca too appreciated the heartbeat of life. He railed against the preoccupied souls wrapped up in the material world, chasing anything but an authentic life – supplying us with the quote:

“So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long.” – Seneca

This quote hammered into me the need to unlatch myself from the zeal of business; work hard but relish those moments of peace. Not an easy thing to do.

The beat of time varies like the weather, similar to music and mood. There are days when running around with hair on fire is the only option, and long hours spent on projects a blast ~ but always with an eye on what brings bliss: exploring and learning something new.

Often such exploration comes via a book, a place to capture a different taste of philosophy; ideas of a culture sharing its wisdom. A time to relax, to let the serene pieces of life soak in.

The beat of the heart in harmony with the ticking of time leads the way. For those who know me, family and friends define who I am. It took me years to understand they also help define who I can become.

“How much happier is the man who owes nothing to anybody except the one he can most easily refuse, himself!” – Seneca

Seneca’s words have always had the power to snap me away from the mirage of success ~ “I lose the day in waiting for the night, and lose the night in fearing the dawn.” Shines a light on the false belief: if I could only have this, I would be happy

It is an enlightening moment to understand how simple happiness can be. May not be a professional athlete or atop a business empire as once dreamt, but somehow I’m much better off.

I’ve over achieved. I’m happy.

A happiness evolved from a trust in fate; a natural rhythm dictating the evolution of connections.

There are times in life when things come together. Synchronicity ~ a natural paring.

Explanations are not necessary; when such moments come together, celebrate. Take time away from the chaos and melt into the surroundings.

Melt into the colors, melt with the scene, and then melt perfectly into the love of others.

These timeless moments create a few extra heartbeats, and time stands still. Damn. I love life 😊.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, listen to the beat of your heart and jump into the unknown ~ it is the logical thing to do.

It is what we were made for.

Waking Up in Kenya with Nietzsche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside. Outside. Black. White.

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

And outside a wilderness is calling. 

I reach over and pick up the book again. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Dr. Seuss

Edge of the Wilderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our present does not equal our future. We evolve.  

Vote.

Escape from Tomorrow ~ Machu Picchu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hard Work and the Good Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing. Building. Never resting, never stagnating.

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

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

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

The Ukrainian Muse and the Paradox of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absinthe ~ Sojourn with the Green Goddess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She, unknown, has taken a hold of me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inhale. Exhale.

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

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

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

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

Her invitation had long ago been accepted.

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

Yes.   Life is what we make of it.

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

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