Posted on January 31, 2015
As with the morning sun, slowly I rise out of bed and slip on a new day without a sound.
The scents of algae, spices and humidity rise above the fading dreams of last night and I savor the moment. Looking out at the pre-dawn sky I prepare my coffee, anxious for the day to begin.
Wandering down a path, I climb into a thin, carved out teak boat and push-off from the dock. The silence of the morning respected by all. The soft whisper of the breeze is music as I work my way over to the west side of the lake, and under the morning light the fishermen come to life.
Rare are the mornings when it seems as if I’ve stepped back in time, so when such moments arrive I relish the feeling.
To be a part of a culture, even if only for a short moment along the periphery, I drink in the lore of the ancient art of fishing here in Myanmar.
Gone is the clamor of modern society, replaced with the soft millennial sounds of water lapping against the hull and the rhythmic stroke of oars. Breathing in the morning air, my lungs fill with the earthy aromas floating around the life of a fisherman.
Mesmerized by the beauty and rhythm fishermen around the globe seem to share, thoughts drift to my home town and the benefit of growing up in a rural area with the abundance of nature.
Mountain lakes, streams and rivers feed the imagination at all times, none perhaps more potent as when having a line cast into the magical world below the surface of the water.
Mysterious forces lay beneath the water capturing the imagination, matched by the tranquil calmness above.
Dipping a hand in the water as the teak boat glides into the morning fog, my mind wavers between questions of the depths of oceans and the cosmos, to the more enrapturing thought of her smile and what possible future could be in store for us.
There is something about being on the water. Trying to understand the aquatic world beneath while untangling the knots of life above.
The great leviathan lurking beneath, the one we chase every time we go out on the water. Does it even exist?
Perhaps it is a kindred spirit, there to help and straighten out the kinks in our lives so as to set our minds at ease as we enjoy and celebrate this thing called life.
The Fishermen’s Lore ~ there are many sayings and stories, most involve the idea of chasing one’s own “white whale” to the dismay of others. The unique decision to pursue, when hope is lost and those around shake their head perplexed as the angler once again heads off to be on the water.
The lore of the fishermen, off to chase the elusive is a common thread we all share in the everyday pursuit of our own unique dreams.
In a place such as Inle Lake, located in the Shan State of Myanmar, it is easy to connect with the philosophies of the east and their own interpretation of what lies beneath?
How the ancient sages used the art of angling to explain the art of life: “fishing without catching any fish” is how one should live. Learn, contemplate and develop patience.
Immediately this has me thinking of Santiago, the protagonist in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, who went months without a catch until the day he met his leviathan: the marlin he battles, respects and in the end calls a brother.
The fishermen’s life can be a salty, tough and a poor existence…but still a life I cannot help but romanticize.
The life of fishermen is anything but simple; wishes for a greater life for their children along with the increased burden society places on their craft can make for difficult days.
Yet the artistic solitude of the craft must be admired, especially for those who fish in an “effortless way” reflecting a life we all chase. An artist always alert, thus able to refine their art of angling: through practice, contemplation and patience.
A recipe to perfect any craft and pursue any dream.
As the morning passes, I see hardness in the work but a companionship as well. It is the echo of words from ancient sages who discuss the purity of understanding both yourself and what you do. A mix of understanding, when combined makes a life complete.
The beauty of such philosophy is to become a master of yourself and thus your craft.
When the art is slowly mastered, hope evolves into confidence and creativity ~ allowing the mind to flow.
Modern philosophers and educators believe the same; sprouting the idea that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary for anyone to become a master in one’s craft. An idea worth building a life around.
The late afternoon sun burns away many of the hopes and dreams of catching the elusive white whale we were chasing today, but all is not wasted.
We find enough to make the day a success and while there is no other choice for these fishermen but to head out tomorrow, there is another night to dream and to imagine what may become.
To fishermen around the world, who live according to their own code and accept the cycle of life: to struggle, to endure and then redeem their existence through the art of angling.
Watching them mine the value out of life, passing their knowledge from a lifetime of work. The angler is the everyman, the archetypal representation of who we are and who we wish to be.
Taking the narrow, rickety plank leading back to my room, I drag my gear and listen to the crackling call of the eastern great egret echoing through the trees and over the water. This small room sitting on stilts over the lake; another place of solitude allowing me to wash away a bit of the day ~ just enough to welcome in the evening.
Looking into a cracked mirror, exhausted I turn on the tap and splash cold water over my head and breathe a sigh of relief as dinner and a cold beer lie ahead. Hearing the laughter from the dining hall, I let out a small chuckle as well, I am at peace.
I smile knowing that soon a perfect shade of darkness will engulf the lake, ensuring that the night once again will loosen more knots as I drift off to dream.
Posted on 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”.
Posted on August 28, 2014
Sitting along the shore of Elliott Bay, I often wonder what it would have been like centuries ago when Native Americans spent the summertime in Seattle. The Seattle summer with its perfect weather is special, so I imagine it would have been heaven on earth to see the sun setting on this land so long ago when the wilderness ruled.
Back in those days, getting outside and involved was not much of a question as physical interaction with nature was a part of everyday life. A hard life no doubt, but I would bet more satisfying too as everything you owned likely came from the things around you: animals, earth and community.
Animals and earth to feed and clothe, and a community to share, love, explore and work the land.
Not quite the same scene we have today, where two minutes “on-line” results in the delivery of food, clothing and most importantly the latest tech-toy delivered right to the front door without having to leave the house.
Products produced by factories scattered all over the globe. A crazy concept even today, something unthinkable a couple hundred years ago. Most everything I own I have no real clue as to its true origin.
Still, amid all this technology and social media shrill that drowns our senses from the calls of the real world, there are always reminders that take us out of this artificial shell and plop us down in the middle of life. Something to makes us reassess our obsession with material possessions.
The nudge of a wet nose from Man’s Best Friend, or driving through a mountain pass with the sun dipping below the horizon is just what is needed for us to get back to the basics. Back to the feeling of living.
The past few weeks have had me traveling around the Pacific Northwest with work, and instead of flying I made a point to drive; taking the more scenic routes and allowing myself a few more days to take in the sights.
My mind spinning a bit as I would try to reconcile life today with how it was more than 100 years ago. Getting lost in how different things are today made me wonder what the next 100 years will bring…and how foreign our time today will appear to our future selves.
The message the sticker represented fascinated me, as I loved to wonder…in fact, I was more often in dream than I was running around nature. The message reminded me that dreaming and wondering is just part of the formula, and moving forward by doing and experiencing is how we complete the circle and find a happy life.
I still have this sticker and message, and more than ever realize how important this simple slogan is: to wonder, to dream and to go out and do. To create a unique path in life. For the most part, I imagine that people in history also followed this same simple line of reasoning.
A reminder that it is a never-ending process.
Wonder. Dream. Do. Happiness.
I suppose that the message on this sticker was a simple warning that if we spend too much of our time wondering what could have been? With the mind spinning to answer the unanswerable, “what if?” It is easy to get lost in the irrelevant past while new opportunities slip by.
Why sit wondering what it would be like, when adventures and experiences lie right outside the door?
It will be impossible to fully understand what Native Americans or frontiersmen of the past thought when they saw the dawn rise every day over Seattle hundreds of years ago, but I imagine it must have recharged them.
A perfect start to the day, a time to admire the land and contemplate what was to be explored and admired. With no TV or Internet to tempt and waste hours of a day, I would think it must have been exciting to be immersed in nature as a part of daily life. True, such a life would be hard, but in a sense also simple.
As this great summer winds down, I am left thinking that we will continue to push ourselves further away from this great land of ours, with the result of losing touch with the physical nature of living.
As we load ourselves up with processed foods and mass-produced ’emotions’ emitting from our screens, at some point we will begin wondering what could have been ~ what if we had moved forward and taken the advice from a 30-year-old sticker: Don’t Die Wondering.
Posted on April 16, 2014
Devotion inspires one of the purest sets of emotions, capturing love, loyalty and deep feelings of excitement that I do not think can ever be understood beyond our own personal experiences. In the world around us, so much devotion towards deities, lovers, children and nature, all linked to our desire to better understand. Devotion in its pure form is absolutely awe inspiring to witness. I may not share or understand the experience of the devotee, but often cannot help but feel some attachment with their act of devotion. To many, devotion is a scary word. Devotion requires commitment, and the fear of commitment alone can send people running for the door. Contrarily, the only emotion equal to the feeling of devotion is the feeling of freedom. Freedom to live, to pursue and to reach the potential hidden within, for this is what life’s about. This is the strange paradox between devotion and freedom. The integrity of people devoted to philanthropy has been inspirational since the dawn of time. The world admires such people for the dignity and strength of their devotion. However, in today’s world with an overwhelming number of options with little time to spare, I wonder if such pure devotion is possible without restricting freedom? On the surface, devotion appears restrictive due to intense focus and drive, especially in what is now a sound-bite/tech based society where nanoseconds steal away cognate thought. Is it possible to have true devotion and not have every fiber of your being focused on this nirvana?“If this conviction had not been a strongly emotional one…they would hardly have been capable of that untiring devotion which alone enables man to attain his greatest achievements.” ~ Albert Einstein
Perhaps the greatest window into the art of devotion comes from religions around the world, stunning in their emotional beauty. We see people opening their hearts and soul, trusting in devotion. The beautiful fury of devotion. With the lesson that such beauty is tempered when priestly powers from above, and I mean those men who sit in rooms and pontificate, creating rules based on outdated policies with one goal: to control. It does not take an academic to recognize centuries of petty political ideologies sprung from ivory towers, exposing the self-righteous nature of man. To control and manipulate devotion for purposes other than its pure source and nature is to extinguish the flame that made it so.“Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart – a leaf, a flower, fruit or water – I accept with joy.” ~ Bhagavad Gita
There is a simple, beautiful thread that is the backbone of devotion and it is the mysterious concept of love. Once rules, regulations and intolerance are allowed into this mystic sanctuary, devotion becomes less than what its true destiny requires. It becomes a misguided passion that takes us away from the immense potential. Ceasing to ask questions and instead listen to rules created by others taints the purity of devotion. It is pure devotion that makes it easier to find this oft spoken iron rod to lead us forward in life. Faith does not mean to stop seeking answers or submit to blind faith, but rather to take responsibility. Questioning faith along the way is an integral part of human nature. It helps redefine who we are and what we can become. It allows for our devotion to evolve over time, granting flexibility and freedom in life to make the right decisions. Pure devotion is a journey to open up new ideas and see through destructive intolerances. Like all good things, the greatest potential can only be reach when given the freedom to pursue. Watching someone from the opposite side of the world practice the religion of their culture, I see how beautiful Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism are because they all share the same threads of belief. It creates a sense of devotion within. All things are born from devotion: the rhythm of science, spirit of musicians, harmonies of mathematics and the devotion of a mother to her child. The foundation of devotion is the seed for growth. Belief in a power we do not understand, yet surrender ourselves completely takes courage. Behind this courage is love, the common thread that unites everything and everyone in the world. You cannot love without the pureness of devotion leading the way. Take away all of the politics, the insensitive rhetoric of intolerance and there lies the beauty of real devotion.“When the sun of fierce devotion shines on the snow mountain… the stream of his blessing will pour down.” ~ Drikung Kyobpa
In a world where we are always chasing something, lost in the false devotions shoveled to us daily by “society”, it is easy to miss what is at the heart of devotion and love. Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a sacrifice, to grasp the simple significance of quality: quality of this short time on Earth and the quality of tomorrow. Forgiveness can bring the freedom to move on with a clear heart, and through it strengthen devotion. It seems strange to think of forgiving others as a sacrifice, but I’ve seen pride and perceived slights crush love and devotion, every passing second creating a scar that could have been prevented with an act of forgiveness. The coming Easter holiday is perhaps the epitome of sacrifice. Within this holiday are the select attributes that make devotion such a powerful state to experience. Forgiveness and sacrifice. Two concepts I never before considered to be at the core of true devotion towards the things that I love. To be devoted to life, heart open and tolerant of all that is different guarantees a journey through life like no other; it will take the spirit places never before imagined.“The need for devotion to something outside ourselves is even more profound than the need for companionship. If we are not to go to pieces or wither away, we must have some purpose in life; for no man can live for himself alone.” ~ Ross Parmenter
Posted on August 10, 2013
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
This ancient wisdom by Lao-zi is one of the most famous pieces of advice from the Dao de Jing. No matter where you are in life or what difficulties you face, the philosophy is simple: begin resolving the issue by taking that first step.
The smallest of efforts, if consistently taken over time, can have unimaginable results, just as a tiny seed of rice can one day become a great field of grain able to feed a village.
As someone who would rather stay at home and read a good book versus going out to a club or party, I could easily spend my days sitting back over a cup of coffee to contemplate and dream.
Taking that first ‘single step’ is easy in dreams. To actually make an effort is another story. It is easier to keep the dreams internalized, until one day they vanish and are replaced by regret. That is the danger.
Not fun. I’m guessing everyone has experienced such moments to some extent.
Prior to my first trip to China, I received a journal from my sister that had a quote from Joseph Campbell:
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path.
You are not on your own path.
If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.”
Words that are a perfect complement to Lao-zi’s advice at the beginning of this post.
Forging your way through a dense, dark forest has many similarities with forging your way through life: bugs and mosquitoes buzzing around all the time, the occasional leech taking more than they give, but the reward of the adventure is the discovery of beauties that unfold and make life shine.
Creating a path will bring fear and uncertainty, but without those spices of life, is life really worth living?
These quotes of Lao-zi and Campbell rang true during my continued travel in Guilin, where I met people who lived life through those very words.
The previous days along the Li River, reliving the past with the mystical ‘Chinese Fisherman of Folklore’ had me in a reflective mood of the past and the present. Entering the Li River valley and agricultural lands, I began to see people who looked as though they were simply making it day-by-day.
Part of the population left behind during China’s rapid ascension to modernity and wealth. Hearing their stories was the highlight of the trip.
The stories all involved some description of their hardships in one manner or another and all ended with some variation of “we all must keep moving forward – each day, life’s journey begins with the first step.”
While I enjoyed these discussions, as with most older Chinese, it was impossible not to see in their eyes something they were holding back: dark times of the Cultural Revolution. Times I have never heard discussed.
Today is where they are, and in their control.
One strength of people I admire, is the ability to react and thrive in a crisis. No false bravado or panic, but their ability to find the opportunity imbedded in the crisis and move forward.
When John F. Kennedy was asked about his heroism in World War II, he simply said: “It was involuntary, they sank my boat.” He had to find a way to save both himself and his crew; to understand the crisis and take the necessary action to achieve the best resolution possible.
Every crisis brings stress and danger and, while cliché, it also provides opportunity.
As my friends have told me, focus only on ‘wei’ (危), and you will miss the ‘ji’ (机), and the crisis can begin a downward spiral.
The people I met in the Guilin countryside seem to understand this concept of crisis quite well, and adhere to its philosophy. They can control “the now”, and therefore shut-off the worry of what has happened so they can take that fresh first step in their journey through life.
Often it is fear of this first step that is hardest to conquer. To forge ahead knowing you are facing the unknown. Much like finding a place in the forest, where it is most mysterious and dark, but the perfect spot to forge your own path.
There will be danger, yet take that first step and find the opportunities.
Posted on May 1, 2013
I hadn’t planned on writing another blog entry on Cambodia, but then it is a good excuse to show some of the more iconic shots of the power of nature at Ta Prohm and discuss the inevitable change around us. Of all the photos I have seen of Cambodia, these tend to be the most common: nature coming in to continue the cycle of change…to return everything back to its source.
Change is a challenge nature throws our way, and how we reconcile change within our lives makes us who we are. Today’s world has undergone a paradigm shift in terms of how technology has removed us further from the physical world. A change that has many people struggling to understand what lies ahead. Where in the past we had a better understanding and thus security, today we float through ethernet cables from quarks to parallel universes. Yet fear not.
This is the beauty of evolution. When we understand that change is the only constant there is in our lives, it makes it easier to recognize our own purpose and meaning. We either adapt or struggle (e.g. blaming politics & the world until our last breath). At times, I have been terrified of change and struggled until realizing that change brings experience to life and, in essence, brings out a hero quality we all have inside.
This is perhaps why I find Ta Prohm so fascinating. Mother Earth has taught us: change & evolution is inevitable and in the future more great monuments may become covered in brush & vine as society decides to moves on.
The Hall of the Dancers at Ta Prohm intrigued me the most, mainly because some locals were filling me in on its history and I walked away knowing that it is futile to fight change. Understand change, embrace its inevitability and continue to move forward and add value to our lives and to those around us.
The 16th verse of Laozi addresses this well:
Empty your mind and heart and be at peace, while around you is turmoil: endings become beginnings and beginnings will end. Everything flourishes and everything ends, it is what it is: the cycle of life. If you do not understand your source and nature, you will stumble and life will stagnate.
Understand your source and you can fulfill your destiny. Be tolerant among change and you can deal with all life brings your way until you are ready for the cycle to begin again.
My simple take on this verse: By allowing yourself to accept change, you to return to your source (your nature) where you are able to begin to understand how your world really works. With this understanding, you are ready for all life can offer…thus will accept the end.