Through Another’s Eyes

looking_backDear readers…it’s been awhile. A long while. It seems that I am inspired to write on the road…less so when I’m home.

 

But I received this from a reader recently, Cecile, who I have never met. She began following my journey several years back. My life looks a whole lot different than it did four years ago, and although I know deep down that I have made much progress in so many ways, day to day the evolution feels tiny, incremental. I found her note to be very powerful because it summarizes my journey quite succinctly. And although I try to remain present and forward looking, it reminds me of the critical importance of occasionally looking back and tracking my journey over longer periods, with a view to recognizing and celebrating the key milestones along the path that have led to growth. Sometimes it takes someone else with an objective perspective to help you see them. Thank you Cissy for this incredible gift that you have given me.

 

A few years back, I found out that our whole lives we’d been lied to and deceived, and that lots of unnecessary lives had been lost, and more were being sacrificed. There was so much confusion and sadness in my heart, and all the animals were suffering more and more, and it continues to this day.

 

But one day, I found this website called Tiny Buddha. All the writers there were great, but one stood out to me. His name was Jonathan, just like my own little brother Jon who is lost to me now. So I really began to pay attention to all that he was trying to teach, and little by little the crazy chaos in my head and in my heart started to click, and the brain cells started holding hands again.

 

And so one day the brave and good man did go to Africa, far from home he went, to help the children there. And I followed him closely. He didn’t know me, but I left comments and I continued to learn. Then when he came back home, things had changed, and he had to face some harsh truths that would have broken any good man.

 

But my friend Jonathan hit the slopes when the powder was right, and he shared his pics and his fun. That old dude sings a mean song too, has his own band, and he’s just as cute as they come. Pure goodness and love this one. Tonight he sneaks in the back door in his own endearing way with a modest FB post to get our attention again.

 

He hasn’t lost his MOJO, that’s for sure. Love you Mr. Lareau! P E A CE buddy!–Cissy

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Into South America: Week 2

Spectacular views from Isla de Plata

Spectacular views from Isla de Plata

 

Although my updates generally paint a rosy picture, and for the most part it is, there are challenging times on the road. I struggle with anxiety, loneliness, and fear. The unknown can be a very difficult place to be. And although I talk a lot about tolerance and acceptance, that doesn’t mean that I always am. Probably the most difficult for me is being around people who are inconsiderate to others. I fucking hate that. Like the four girls staying at Balsa who got up early and stayed up late. Nothing inherently wrong with that but they talk and yell and laugh loudly together all the time, like they are the only ones here, completely oblivious that there may be other people around who are sleeping, or just want peace and quiet. Or the dog owners who let their animals crap on the beach. I realize these are not big problems in the overall scheme of things, but I do feel strongly here, and everywhere, that being considerate of others would solve many problems. The bigger goal, I know, is learning to suspend judgement. But it’s hard. Having said that, I did make an effort to understand why they were this way, sitting in the dining area on several occasions…watching, listening. I think by nature most Latin Americans are loud and expressive. And there is a certain life and joy in that. By the end it still bugged me, but not as much I suppose. I didn’t really make much of an effort to connect with them, but I tried to understand a little more.

And perhaps that is something about travel that I appreciate most. Outside of my usual element, and surrounded by strange and new things and people, forces me to become more patient, tolerant, and accepting. Maybe not always by much, but incrementally more. And that is a good thing.

With Julie who runs Balsa Surf Camp with her husband Rasti.

With Julie who runs Balsa Surf Camp with her husband Rasti.

When I updated last week, I had just arrived at Balsa Surf Camp in Montanita, located a few minutes from the party town at the North end of the beach. I cannot recommend it enough…this is magical place…and I have rarely felt this. It’s worth a little background here. Balsa is owned by Julie, a teacher from France, and Rasti, an Ecuadorian. They are both probably early thirties. Julie came to teach French in Ecuador in 2004 and met Rasti. They got married and decided to open a hostel. They bought the land and spent the next year and half in 2008/2009 building it with about 15 locals. The hostel (although it is much more than that) is beautiful in every sense of the word. Care and attention to detail is evident everywhere. Beautiful, intricate wood and stone work. Quiet music. Hammocks to relax. Good food. Environmentally and socially conscious. Rasti makes his own balsa wood surf boards, and creates wonders with all types of wood. Together, they have created a peaceful, relaxed, client-focused sanctuary. For $25 a night I had my own little cabin. It is a very special place, and a I will never forget it. I had planned to stay a couple of nights and ended up staying a week.

imageI really did not do much of anything for most of the week: swimming, surfing, body surfing, boogie boarding, walking, thinking, and sleeping. It was a restorative week. Fighting a cold (at the equator, go figure), ongoing intestinal issues and adjustments (I mistakenly took a stool softener instead of Imodium…THAT was fun!), and nursing a few minor surf injuries. I used this quiet time to try to mend. But I found it really tough at times to allow myself to just be. One minute I think I am in a perfect beach groove, the next I think I should bugger off and be doing something. But I have no timetable, no agenda, no place I have to be. Quiet time forces you to be alone with your thoughts, and that can be unsettling. And also rewarding.

At night, I would often lie in a hammock and read or write…no TV, no distractions. I slept really well. But there were mosquitoes…not the malaria kind, but still hungry. And they are much more sophisticated here. You can’t hear them buzzing around you, and you can’t feel them biting you. Smart little bastards.

And not one minute of sun for the entire week, with the exception of a day trip I took on Monday. Gray and kind of rainy, heavy, and humid the whole time. The upside? I saved a fortune in sun screen! It was actually a very good time to be there because it is low season, and not too many people. That changes significantly come December where prices go up, it’s hard to get a room, or even a meal without waiting.

With Oscar, my surf instructor.

With Oscar, my surf instructor.

The atmosphere is tolerant and laid back, and Montanita is one of the top surfing destinations in the world. The first few days I did some surf “research” and found a cool dude, Oscar, from Costa Rica. He did not push me, suggesting I wait until conditions are optimal to surf. Which I really need. By Thursday things were looking good, so out I went with very little success. Surfing is the toughest sport I have ever tried, using all kinds of muscles I don’t normally use. Out again on Friday, and this time I got up. Not gracefully or for long, but up nonetheless. I had planned to do about an hour a day, but after hurting my back on the second day, that would be it for me for surfing. I was content to body surf and boogie board for my remaining days, and caught some really great waves.

Toward the end of each day I would wander down the beach to a really cool beachside patio called Dharma Beach Hotel, watching the waves and surfers. Man, the good ones are so graceful, and make it look so easy. I think Dharma is owned by a famous DJ. Everytime I walked in off the beach, they had this chill house music thumping softly in the background…nice funky, low key groove. The servers are friendly. They burn incense, serve nice food. And they make a great 2 for 1 Mojito!

With my Argentinian friends Santiago, Lucas, and Gonzalo.

With my Argentinian friends Santiago, Lucas, and Gonzalo.

It was here on Thursday I think that I met three very cool surfer dudes from Argentina…Lucas, Santiago, and Gonzalo. Very bright, funny, engaging, and real. I really connected right away with two in particular…Santiago and Lucas. We talked politics, education, the environment, sports hooligans, problems in our respective countries, love, and life. We would meet towards the end of each day on the hotel beach patio. They are 30 something guys who go on surf trip every year together. I have a strong feeling we will remain in touch.

Santiago said something interesting about the ocean: “I am not afraid of the waves, but I respect them.” That is absolutely how you have to approach surfing, and the ocean in general. And for me the message was even more relevant. After hurting my back on the second surf day, and my elbow boogie boarding, and sitting on top of a few very big waves and looking down, I am sure that was the ocean’s way of warning me to be careful. Although the waves in Montanita are great for all levels of surfers, it is still the ocean, and Mother Nature is always in charge. I hear you, ocean, and I am listening.

I also learned something about riptides as well. When waves crash and the water travels up the shore, that water eventually travels back to the sea. When there is a break in a sandbar for example, that water can get funnelled together, creating a strong, narrow current back to the sea. The beach patrol told me that rip current can be particularly strong when the tide is receding, which makes sense.

Monday was my final full day, so I decided to do some sightseeing. I took a tour to Isla de Plata (silver island), so named because of the colour of the bird poo when it rains looks silver. After a 45-minute drive North to Puerto Lopez, we took an hour or so boat to the island which is about 37 km. away. There was about 16 of us in the boat, mostly Dutch. Maybe it was me or them, or the situation, but I hardly connected with anyone until the end of the day. The boat stopped about midway, and a few humpback wales pulled up alongside the boat to say hi! Beautiful, majestic creatures, and we were so lucky to see them.

imageAs we anchored near the island, several massive sea turtles surrounded the boat…so curious they were! The island, a protected national park of about eight square km, is desolate. There is absolutely nothing there. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Oh…and finally the sun came out for awhile. After a week of gray, it felt so nice on my skin. But even with partial sun and lots of protection, I almost burned.

Some people call Isla de Plata a mini version of the Galapagos. It is home to many species of lizards, birds, sea lions, and other animals. But the island is probably best known for a very particular type of bird…wait for it…the booby! This next segment will reveal my sometimes infantile sense of humour, so I apologize in advance.

imageWithout question, the funniest and most memorable part of the day was the search for the boobys. I appeared to be the only one on the tour to find this funny. Maybe it was my sense of humour, or maybe because I was the only English speaking person there (yes of course it must have been that). Anyway, the guide, in all seriousness, kept saying (in English, with a very distinctive Spanish accent) things like: “now we will find some boobys.” OMG…it was freakin’ PRICELESS! We saw more boobys than I have ever seen before, certainly in one day. We saw big boobys, small boobys, single boobys, and even a really nice pair of boobys! No wonder so many men visit this island! I never really got over the hilarity of it all, but the birds themselves are pretty cool–inquisitive and unafraid. And they are real posers as well. Hope you enjoy some of these very up close and personal photos of boobys.

A pair of boobys.

A pair of boobys.

It has been a wonderful stay here, and it was very hard to leave magic of Balsa, but now I feel ready to move on. So Tuesday I was on an early morning bus to Guayaquil where I met up again with Mark the Irishman. Guayaquil is big, dirty, and not particularly safe from what I have heard, so the least amount of time I can spend here, the better. He and I walked around the central area for awhile, and then headed North-East, through the Andes mountains (avenue of the volcanoes) about four hours to Riobamba. It is at about 9,000 feet altitude and is, or at least I thought it was, home to the famous Devil’s Nose train which through an impressive engineering feat, is able to drop/climb 500 metres in a relatively short distance. Anyway, the train actually leaves about 100 km. south of Riobamba, back where we had just come from, so no train ride for me…this time. Nice town, but not a particularly memorable night at the hostel.

Running out of gas in the Andes mountain? Not when Mark has a spare tank!

Running out of gas in the Andes mountain? Not when Mark has a spare tank!

My final thoughts of the week concern the whole issue of connecting, which I suppose I am more aware of in these unfamiliar surroundings: sometimes you connect with a person, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes right away. Other times it may take awhile. But when I travel, I somehow feel that I must try to connect with everybody, which is particularly hard for an introvert like me. But I realize that I can’t always connect with everybody, and I need to learn to be OK with that, while not forgetting the importance of trying. All the people I have met and enjoyed so far happened because I pushed myself to make an effort, even though it was not always comfortable. Connecting and finding the flow in a new place or situation often takes time. And I must remember to be patient with myself.

The journey continues…til next week.

Jonathanimage

Learning from the Change, Challenges, and Pain of 2013

imageIt has been a year of unprecedented change, challenge, and pain for me. The toughest ever.

From January to March, I traveled to Mozambique, Africa to do volunteer work. I did not speak the language. I did not understand the culture. I was immersed in a completely strange world for two months.

In April, we put our house up for sale. The prospect of uprooting and moving is destabilizing, and one of life’s biggest stressors.

Then in May my marriage failed, and I separated from my wife. We had been together for almost nine years. I became well acquainted with pain beyond anything I had ever known.

In June I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of singing in a rock band—mid-life crisis or perhaps an awakening of sorts. Either way, it has been a whole lot of fun doing something I love to do.

In August my son left home for university. It was a very exciting and emotional time for all of us, the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Both sad and exciting, and I am incredibly proud of who he is and who he is becoming.

And in September my last remaining grandparent, my grandmother, died at the age of 97. She was an incredible woman who saw so much change, and packed a whole lot of life into her years.

In the past year, amidst all the turbulence, a few insights have gradually revealed themselves to me. Maybe they will resonate with you.

1. Nothing is permanent.

Yet we are programmed for the opposite. We want life to feel safe and secure. We want life to be predictable. Permanence gives us the illusion that it is.

But the reality is that nothing is permanent, and the only thing we know we can count on is change. The more we push for permanence in life, against the current, the more disappointed we become when we find it is not achievable to the extent we think it should be. But if we can accept the fluidity of life, our entire approach to it changes.

2. Give it time.

Why is it that life can look hopeful one day, and so very dark the next? Very little of my actual situation has changed from one day to the next. But my perception of it can change minute by minute based on how I am feeling in that moment—tired or rested, peaceful or angry, whole or damaged.

I am learning not to overreact in the moment, or make important decisions when I am feeling down. I am learning that painful and difficult things will pass. I am learning to allow time to heal.

3. Practice gratitude.

In the midst of difficult times, I have a strong tendency to dwell on the negative. And then everything looks dark, and it tends to snowball.

But there are always things to be grateful for in life—my friends, my health, my relationships, or even my next meal. I often think back to my time in Mozambique and remember the crippling poverty that most people live with every day. And yet they are, by and large, happy and grateful for what they do have.

We can make a huge difference in our state of mind by focusing more on what we do have, how lucky we are, and counting our blessings.

4. Be gentle with yourself.

I am my own worst critic, often focusing on my perceived failings and inadequacies. All this does is reinforce the bad. And by reinforcing it, that is the reality I create for myself. So I am slowly learning to cut myself some slack, and perhaps even start liking who I am. What a concept!

And I am starting to see is a direct correlation between how I treat myself, and how I am with others out in the world. By treating ourselves gently and with kindness, we treat others the same way. And maybe this is how we learn to love.

5. Be here, now.

I have a lifelong tendency to look back or forward—anything but being present. Guilt and shame looks back, worry and anxiety look ahead. In either case, it is wasted energy.

If I feel that I need to do something to set things right, I should simply do it, then let it go and not allow these feelings to linger. For me, engaging in activities that force me to stay present helps: skiing, surfing, and singing. It’s not easy, but I am trying to be present in all that I do, and recognize when I’m not.

6. Give up control.

The need for control is very deeply rooted, and comes from a place of fear and insecurity.

We can plan all we want, but there are much bigger forces at work out there. And the bigger plan for us may not coincide with what we think should happen or the planned timetable we have in our head.

I will have faith that the universe wants to help me. My job is to step out of the way and let it work its magic.

7. Be yourself.

I have been a people pleaser for most of my life. There all kinds of expectations out there about what I should do, how I should do it, who I should be, and how I should fit in. And it is impossible for me to keep up; to satisfy everyone else’s preferred version of me. I push my needs aside, and eventually that turns to anger, depression, and resentment. It’s far less stressful for me to just to be me, and to be comfortable with who that is.

We can give ourselves a powerful sense of peace by learning who we are and allowing ourselves to be that. And let the chips fall where they may.

8. Eat. Sleep. Exercise.

This may seem basic, but when my life is in turmoil, I find that basic self-care can be the first to go out the window. I skip meals, or eat badly. My sleep suffers, and when I am not rested, my whole perspective on life changes for the worse. That’s usually when I make bad decisions and think dark thoughts. I feel lethargic and tend to want to skip exercise.

But these three are all connected, and they are some of the few things we actually can control to some degree. And when we force ourselves to practice good self-care, we feel better, stronger, and life seems brighter.

9. Don’t fight the pain.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this one. And I have a history of doing or using anything I can to not feel the pain. I know this doesn’t work because when I mask the pain, it never leaves. It just gets stronger, and comes out in other ways.

Pain demands to be acknowledged. And by letting ourselves feel it, it loses its grip, and passes through us much more quickly.

I have certainly not mastered any of these insights, in fact I continue to struggle with all of them. But underpinning it all is a sense of heightened awareness about the feelings I have, and where these feelings come from.

This is the first step in learning, accepting, and rolling with the perpetual changes, challenges, and pain that life offers up. And perhaps this is how the healing begins.

I wish us all the very best for 2014.

Into Africa–March 21, 2013

242“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”–Maya Angelou

Friday, March 15 was my last official work day in Mozambique. And what a day it was–finishing my last few reports, copying files, debriefing the director. “We appreciate the way you do things,” Edmundo said simply at the end, which apparently is high praise. I’ll take it. He seemed engaged and interested as I summarized my findings, accomplishments, and recommendations. Who knows what will happen once I’m gone, but I am satisfied that I gave them everything I could, and that I have moved the communications bar up a few notches on several fronts. I have shown them how strategic communications practices in certain key areas can improve their program.

And then the goodbyes. Helder and Suzanne took me out for lunch…you choose your meat, and then they cook it for you! Some of my other work colleagues even took me out for a beer at the end of the day…very thoughtful. Even Laura, who has been stone cold with me since the beginning, finally cracked at the end!

Then onto what I knew would be perhaps the toughest goodbye…Chico. I met him at our usual cafe. We played our three songs together one last time. This time I recorded them, which will not only be a great memory, but it will also give me something to practice with as I try to recreate them at home. Saying goodbye to Chico was very hard…maybe this is what they mean by “bromance?” He has been so kind, open, and accepting of me over the last two months. I will be forever grateful.

Working with Chico and the band also reminded me of what Ron and Rob, my music teachers and mentors in Ottawa, have drilled into me for so many months–the importance of being flexible and versatile, bringing more than one talent to the musical table, and being familiar with what others are doing in the band so you can speak their language. I have done well on the first one, but definitely need to work on the last two.

I capped off Friday night with a boys night out with Mike. BBQ meat, beer, and pool. Arrrrr! Great to have some one on one time together, and a nice way to close things out. I am grateful to him for opening his life to me while I was here.

After a short, restless night of sleep, I was up packing and getting organized to go. A few more goodbyes. Francesco at the park insisted on giving me a gift, so I chose a small stone rhino. Very generous, and rare, as I have not noticed much gift giving here. And then to the hotel staff–Moyenne, Cristina, Matoush, Orlando, Editio, Domingues–who also seemed genuinely affected. I surprised them when I said “salanini,” which is Changaan for goodbye. Liz and the kids picked me up, and off we went to the airport. I will always be especially grateful to Liz for opening this African door for me in the first place, and being so generous and welcoming with me in so many ways. This could be the start of a whole new chapter for me.

Although I am so happy to be going home, the goodbyes were much, much harder than I could have imagined. That must be a good sign.

The voyage home began uneventfully Saturday afternoon from Maputo airport. A quick hop to Joburg where I had about three hours to kill before the 8 pm flight to London. I was feeling a little off, but chalked it up to the stress of leaving, and not having had much sleep the night before.

Right before boarding, sitting in a jam-packed waiting lounge I began to feel very strange indeed. Everything started to feel distant and distorted, becoming opaque. And then the nausea kicked in. I put me head between my legs to try and control it. Then I passed out, not sure for how long. When I came out of it I was drenched in sweat. There is no way I can board this plane like this, I thought (or spoke?) to myself. But it passed, and I mustered up enough energy to board what would be a brutal 11-hour, jam-packed flight to London.

I remember having some very interesting chats with an elderly South African man sitting next to me, as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I also remember the nausea and the pounding headaches. I just have to get though the next hour, I kept thinking, over and over again.

When I arrived in London, I did not have the strength to get my stuff off the plane. I was greeted by some very kind airport staff and paramedics who checked me out, and wheeled me to a quiet lounge where I could rest and re energize for five hours before the next flight. Those Brits were so good to me, which I know will make my mother very proud! This was in stark contrast to what happened in Joburg, where not one person asked me if I was OK. Although one incident does not define a nation, I do get the sense–as I have throughout my trip–that there is an overriding lack of human compassion or consideration for others. It’s every man for himself.

I have never felt as defeated, weary, and alone as I did on that final leg of the trip, sitting on an airplane toilet with diarrhea, the shakes, fever, headache, and sweats. Little did I know this would define the next few days. Just need to make it through this flight, I thought. Just need to make it off the plane. Just need make it through customs. Just need to get my bags. Then it will be OK.

It took everything I had (and some of what I didn’t know I had) to make it home. It was a very gruelling 30-hour trip, but It could have been worse. If I had become sick just one day earlier I never would have been able to make it. I am grateful for that.

Although it was not the homecoming I had envisioned, I was so very happy to see my wife. I hugged her for what felt like a long time, and remember not kissing her in case I was contagious. My great friend Tommy was also there, decked out in full St. Paddy’s regalia! He has been a rock, and I am very grateful.

I don’t remember much after that…my wife and son tell me my colour was grey, and that I was somewhat delirious for the rest of the day on Sunday.

As I write this, it is Wednesday, and I am in the hospital where I have been in quarantine since Monday morning, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. Typhoid, dengue, H1N1, and cholera are the front runners. They’ve ruled out malaria. My body has done and produced some things in the last few days that I would not have thought possible, or even human. I haven’t eaten since Sunday, but finally think I can start.

And now, Thursday, they think they have identified the bacteria responsible, but after doing some research, this explanation does not cover off most of my symptoms. So I am preparing my case for when I see the docs later today. I began to feel better on most fronts late yesterday, that’s the good news, but there were a few complications that will keep me here until the weekend. Oh well…might as well deal with it all while I’m here, eh?

But lots of good news so far today: they’ve taken out the IV, I am keeping solid food in me, all my symptoms are fading, my tongue is pink, and my blood level indicators are all normalizing.

The hospital experience itself is a whole other story–good, bad, and ugly. I won’t go into this part in detail, but I will say that if you do get sick, make it some sort of infectious and contagious disease. You get to bypass that usually horrific emergency waiting room scene, you get your own private room, and you get our own dedicated air supply. Luxury!

On a serious note, I cannot stress enough the need for someone to advocate on your behalf while you are in hospital, and that you yourself keep track of what is happening as best you can. Write things down when you have lucid moments…questions, comments, what’s happening to you, symptoms, etc. Hospital systems are usually big and clunky, and not designed for the personal, intricate issues surrounding you and your health. There is so much going on–decisions being made, medications being prescribed, changes in staff, dissemination of your information, politics, and priorities other than you.

As the patient, and depending on your condition, you are hardly in a position to keep track of all this. There have been several key decision points during my hospital stay where if my wife had not stepped in, things could have easily gone off the rails for me. Remember that how well you are feeling is not the only determinant to what happens to you in hospital (although it should be). Bed availability, other patient’s conditions and requirements, and cost of care all factor into the decisions made by hospital staff and administrators. So it is absolutely critical that you have someone who can follow what’s happening, and push for the right decisions to be made that are in your best health interests, at least until you are well enough to take over. Thank you, my love, for being that someone for me.

Having said all that, I sure was happy to be back in Canada for all this medical madness. Getting treated in Mozambique would have been an adventure. If I were in the US, I’d have to take out a second mortgage to cover the costs.

I keep asking myself what the lesson is for me in all of this. I’m not sure yet, but it will come. It always does. I just don’t always see it clearly right away.

Oh…and one other work-related thing I am quite proud of: my commitment to describing the journey in this blog. I wasn’t sure that I would have that much to say, or even that I would know how to say it. And I am so grateful to those of you out there who have taken the time to read about it.

This was not the wrap-up I had envisioned, so I will be back in the coming weeks with more “uplifting” thoughts and images from Africa. I will close with a quote I really like from an excellent blog called What is Real True Love.

“At every moment we’re either becoming more aware and more sensitive, or we’re becoming more self-preoccupied and numb; we’re either moving in the direction of becoming more alive inside, or internally dead; more ego driven or more soulful and guided by perennial universal and noble principles.”

‘Til next week,

Jonathan
(MoJo just doesn’t seem to fit today)

Into Africa–March 14, 2013

035“Goodness in your life does not come to you from someone else. When you see this, you will be free. Have courage, for what you seek is not outside of you. It is not a gift from another person. It is yours to give, not to acquire. Let no one, therefore, hold you hostage. Not your partner, not your boss, not your family…and certainly not your God.”

–Neil Donald Walsch

There is something about Sundays for me in Africa. Windy and stormy on the outside, unsettled and anxious on the inside. I think I felt it even stronger this week because it was also my 4th wedding anniversary. I’m sorry to be missing the day, my love, but I will be home very soon now. Home is close now, and it can’t come fast enough.

Aside from that, it has been a wonderful couple of days outside of the city.

My friends Mike and Liz and their kids Charlotte and Seamus joined me for my last weekend in Africa. We travelled to Bilene, a beach town about 180 km. north of Maputo in Gaza province, not far from the recent devastating floods in Chokwe. Bilene surrounds a natural salt water lagoon, fed by the Indian Ocean just on the far side, over the huge dunes. The beaches are relatively clean, the water shallow and warm. Nice, but it’s not quite the ocean. We all took Friday off and made it a long weekend. We arrived around noon on Friday in scorching hot weather, high 30s and no wind.

We finally found accommodation, a great big three-bedroom beach house with a massive deck, just steps from the water. It felt over the top given where I am. But it was nice and comfortable. There are no real deals to be had here, unfortunately, even in low season. Surprising as most of these places are South African run, and I would have thought they might have more business sense.

008By the time we got settled, we were all a little grumpy, so into the lagoon we went to cool off. We met a really nice guy named Jose walking along the beach. He is a local artist who works with wood and stone. I made plans to try and see him the next day on the beach or at the beach hotel nearby where he works.

Saturday was even hotter. Liz and Mike headed off for a long early morning run while I watched the kids. Although challenging at times, as all kids can be, I really enjoyed my time with them playing whatever games they wanted. They are so pure, unfiltered, and in the moment at that age, something I have lost, as most of us inevitably do. But it’s nice to know that I can go back to that place sometimes.Good for the soul.

Then I went wandering to figure out boat rides and alternate accommodation, as my plan was to stay on an extra night on Sunday, make my way to Macia on Monday, be picked up by my colleagues (Suzanne and Helder), and continue north past the capital of Xai Xai to Chidenguele for a conference.

022Although I had a small bottle of water, a sunscreen and a hat, the heat was crazy and I began to feel disoriented. I knew there was a hotel not far off the beach but I just couldn’t find it, walking almost from one end to the other. I finally found Praia del Sol, this cool and comfortable place, rustic grass huts scattered around the property, for only about $40 a night. “This feels more like it,” I said to myself. Yes I do this, quite often it would seem. I also found my artist friend Jose here, in his workshop at the hotel, and bought a few little things from him.026

After a cold beer and some agua, I headed back to find my friends who were happily splashing around in the water. Then the wind started to pick up, which is very dangerous in this kind of heat because it makes you think it’s cooler than it is. I should have taken this time to take the boat to the ocean, but figured I could do this myself the next day after they had gone.

But Sunday turned out to be too windy with no boats making the trip, so I was out of luck. My friends dropped me off at Praia on the way out and here I was, alone again, anxious, unsure, and unsettled. I walked the lagoon beach for a few hours…the beach always settles me down. Then back to Praia where I found Jose and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with him, learning about his life, learning Changaan, and thinking of ways to help him earn a living. He has been saving for years to buy blocks, steel, and cement to strengthen his house. He calculates he will have enough in 3-5 more years. He carves and teaches other kids to do the same. He teaches them the value of work and to be proud of a craft, a positive alternative to begging and stealing. A really good and kind man.

028I was also greeted by David and Dino who manage the hotel. Two really nice guys as well. Dino earns 3,500 mets per month, the equivalent of about $120. On that he cares for his mother, two sisters, and two brothers. Can you imagine all of these people surviving on $4 a day? His father died about 10 years ago. I could see the stress in his face as he talked about it. But he is grateful to have a job. He is not bitter, and smiles a lot. A good guy with a good heart.

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View from entrance to the bathroom to sink and outdoor, screened in shower. It gives a whole new meaning to room with a view!

020As night fell, I have to say I was a little nervous. The hut was comfortable, but certainly not “hermetically” sealed, with only a flimsy screen separating the back half from the outside. And all kinds of little creatures in my neighbourhood. And then the lights went out. Stay calm. Don’t focus on things you don’t want to have happen. And then it passed. I began to appreciate the sounds of the night, and the the wind whistling through the treetops to the screened windows of my stilted hut. And I finally drifted off to sleep.

I was up very early Monday morning to figure out a way to get to Macia, about 30 km. away, where I was to be picked up. My options were to hire a car which would not be cheap, or ride he local “chapa” which is Mozambique version of mass transit. Jam packed, open trucks where people pile into the back. Cheap, but not the safest or fastest way to travel. But as it so often has happened here, the universe responds. I met Christo, a South African staying at the hotel who just happened to be going in that direction and he agreed to give me a lift. Perfect! It turned out to be a wet and rainy start to the day, so I was happy not to be riding in an open-air chapa.

032I had heard negative things about South Africans in general, and felt that pre-judgement starting to sway me. So I stopped it. Christo is a mechanic who works for a group called JAM (Joint Aid Management) who provide a number of relief and sustainable development programs to seven African countries, including Mozambique. What I love best about their model is that they help people help themselves, so it’s much more than a handout….it’s a hand up. One of the food programs for example (which Christo is involved with), feeds 700,000 children, but only if they go to school. Right now their team and the entire area of Chokwe has been decimated by the floods I wrote about a few weeks back. So the remaining $200 I have left from funds I raised before I left Canada will go to to the feeding program there.

Anyway, a very nice man doing some wonderful work. We had a really good chat on our way to Macia. He dropped me off, and minutes later my colleagues Helder and Suzanne picked me up. Divine timing. We continued north about 90 minutes to the school management conference at a lake resort in Chidenguele.

The speakers were hard to follow (make that painful!) because everything was in Portuguese, but still interesting to see how they do things here, and to watch the non-verbal stuff going on. For a little while. We were introduced as the two Canadians visiting. One person, a professor, introduced himself to me. Non inclusiveness was to become the theme of the day.

At coffee break, I was amazed that the snacks were completely cleaned out within seconds, with people walking away with piles of food, and many others, like me, getting nothing. It pissed me off at first–how rude, how inconsiderate–but then I realized that although the people attending this conference have relatively well paying jobs, perhaps they weren’t always comfortable. Maybe they have been hungry before. And maybe the feeling of going hungry never leaves you, that feeling that there will never be enough. And it’s not the first time I have experienced this hoarding effect in Mozambique. But I take for granted that I will eat, and somehow know the food will be there. Probably not so for them.

I shared a two-bedroom apartment at the conference with Helder. I though it was perfectly natural to expect that each of us would have a key to the apartment, so that we could come and go independently. But not at all for Helder. It did not cross his mind to ask for another key, and he saw no issue with sharing one. When I asked the front desk, it was like the thought had never occurred to them, or they had never been asked the question. I have noticed lots of little things like this–an unwillingness or inability to think differently about things. To me it seems like a lapse in logic, or common sense. Like they have been taught one way, and that is the only way. Don’t colour outside the lines.

I spent the afternoon working on my own. Then a quick late early evening jaunt to the beach. I could hear it, and feel it, and smell it, but it was too dark. I would have to come back. I headed back for dinner. The language barrier was very noticeable tonight. And so were the cliques. And the politics. And I &%#* hate these. Over dinner, Suzanne and I were sitting with a few of the top people, most of whom I have worked with over the last few weeks. We were completely shut out of the conversation and the celebrations, barely acknowledged. Maybe my veneer was wearing thin, or I was feeling fragile or sorry for myself…but maybe not…regardless, it really felt isolating, and it really bothered me. I felt…resentment. And I haven’t felt that in quite awhile. It turned me off everything. My friend Jules warned me there would be low moments, and this was definitely one of them. But why do I feel the need for their approval? But as upsetting as it was, I knew that I couldn’t allow this incident to taint my entire experience here, so I wrote about it and went to bed. It will be better tomorrow.

I woke up Tuesday and decided not to put myself through that again. My wife gave me some good advice (which I cannot repeat here!). I skipped breakfast and the morning conference, and headed to the beach with Helder. I have been longing for the beach since I arrived and this was my last chance. It was only about 5 km. from the resort, but through narrow, bumpy roads.

There were many people of all ages walking along the road, on their way to school or work. Many were making a hand gesture to us…kind of like praying, but their hands were cupped. “It means thank you, deep gratitude, with all my heart,” Helder explained. Their way of asking and expressing gratitude for a lift.049 It’s a beautiful thought and gesture. We stopped and picked up a bunch of young girls on their way to school–nine km., each way, every day (see top photo)! Then we picked up some older folks on their way to work. “Welcome to Helder’s chapa,” I joked. The smiles from them all, and looks of curiosity they gave me were priceless. What a way to start the day!040

Minutes later we pulled up to an oceanside hotel, up high on a dune, overlooking the magnificent Indian Ocean. Breathtaking. I could hear the waves breaking in the background. It was a spectacular moment. 047We hurried down to the beach, and quickly I was in the water, minding the rocks, rip tides, and marine life. I even managed to body surf a couple of really good waves. And not a soul in sight, except for Helder. Magic.053

Most of the yuck of the previous day had passed. And I was so grateful for that morning at the beach. Feeling better, I decided to go to the conference lunch. And guess who I just happened to sit with? The universe works in mysterious and interesting ways. I approached them with fresh eyes and no resentment, and it was OK.

Tuesday afternoon, we headed back to Maputo, about four hours or 250 km. On the way Helder talked about the problems most Mozambicans have in business. Although many are involved in selling goods of all kinds, when it comes to quantity discounts, standards, caring for the client, thinking differently, and solving problems from a business standpoint, they can’t or don’t do it. This is a big problem. This simplistic or naive approach to business may begin to explain (and I’m extrapolating here) why so many Africans have been ripped off and taken advantage of. And with the eyes of the world on Africa’s plentiful natural resources, the consequences of not being business savvy, and allowing others to pillage will be dire.

We made a few stops along the way, connecting with some of the road side folk. Again I noted how much my behaviour and attitude affects outcome. When I approached these people with uncertainty, that’s exactly what I got back. As soon as I caught myself doing that, and turned on the “MoJo,” the whole interpersonal dynamic changed….smiles, jokes, handshakes…connection.

Wednesday and Thursday…back at the office, finalizing reports, and saying my goodbyes. And the weather has been mercifully cool and comfortable. First time in my two months here.

I had one final (let’s hope) brush with corruption walking back to the office from lunch on Wednesday. A policeman pulled me aside and asked to see my documents. I always carry a copy of my passport with me. He looked at my paper and said: “no, no…this is a big problem.” We went back and forth for a few minutes, arguing, clarifying, BS. He was clearly looking to be greased. I looked him straight in the eye (I had to look down) and said: “diplomatica de Canada…do you want me to call them right now?” “You can go,” he said, looking defeated. Jonathan 1. Corruption 0.

I closed out the week with two very heartwarming conversations. Wednesday night, in the hotel lobby, I was chatting with Domingues, the receptionist. “Your first time in Mozambique?” he asked? Yes…first time. “You have really learned about us, and our country, Mr. Jonatan.” And then with Ida, at work Thursday morning. “We have really enjoyed you,” she said. ”You are different. You have tried to become one of us. You care about us, you have brought empathy.”

One for the road
Here’s a really nice piece from Tiela Garnett’s blog. Something that is starting to click with me, especially after two months on the road:

“Our suffering as human beings comes from investing our focus in the external illusion rather than the internal reality. When careers, activities, and possessions become more important than humanity, compassion, and kindness, we know we’re in trouble. Our daily activity needs to be an expression of our true nature, rather than a way of defining it. We need to be who we are first and then allow our activities to flow naturally from that source.”

I have met many people and observed many different things over the last eight weeks. People who I have really liked, some not so much. People whose character I admire, others not so much. Customs, traditions, practices, and behaviours that are wonderful, others that have driven me right round the bend. They say that what you see in other people is simply a reflection of those same characteristics in you. This has given me lots to ponder. But overall, it has all been consistently positive energy, at least that’s how I have chosen to experience it, which tells me something.

Life on the road, immersed in the unfamiliar and unstable, seems to bring out the best in me. And yet I know the dark side is still there, as it lurks to varying degrees in all of us. Mine has a tendency to come out more often closer to home. I need to change that. I need to think about why it is that I become complacent with the familiar. Maybe I need to find ways in everyday life to keep myself off balance.

Whatever happens, I know that I have definitely tested and pushed the boundaries on this trip, in unfamiliar territory, in so many different ways, on so many levels, and that I have used all my skills to do it. Even some I had no idea I had. This has been a very expansive way to live my life: aware, conscious, and open to what is happening now, and recognizing how this will affect who I am moving forward. And there is no question that I have felt more alive than I ever have before. As Chico said to me a few weeks back, “don’t think, just do it.” And I have.

I’ve never really given much thought to the chakra energy centres of the body, but maybe this is what it feels like when they are open and energy is flowing. Four in particular I am aware of because of my journey to Africa:
–heart chakra…I nourish the universe and the universe nourishes me.
–throat chakra…detachment…expression of authentic self…my actions are blissfully free from the outcome.
–intuition chakra…connection to purpose…my life is in harmony with cosmic law.
–crown chakra…pure potentiality….I am a field of all possibilities.

I have observed people doing their thing. Living their lives. Animals doing their thing, going about their business and simply being who they are: crabs being crabs, birds being birds, elephants being elephants. The lesson for me is that I need to do the same…simply be who I am, and not allow anything or anyone–including and especially me–to muddy that.

I begin my voyage home in two days, and will be reunited with my wife, son, friends, and family. I know she is proud of me, but I am also proud of and grateful to her for giving me the room and encouragement to take this journey, thousands of miles away from home, into the heart of Africa. But perhaps more importantly, I have also made the journey within, into the heart of who I am.

Two months is a long time. In some ways it has gone quickly, but in other ways it has felt like a year. In a good way. I have tried as best I can to become part of something here, and succeeded for the most part. But I am ready to go home now.

Although this will be my last post from “inside” Africa, I still have lots of information to process. I will be back a few times over the next several weeks with some closing images and thoughts as I re-adjust to the life I knew, incorporating some of what I have learned.

Thank you for sharing the journey with me.

MoJo

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Into Africa–March 7, 2013

265Before I get into the week, here are a few random thoughts and observations. In many African countries, women still have no rights and are considered the property of men. Once she has been bought, a man is free to use and abuse her as he pleases. This used to be the norm across the continent; now less so, but still far too frequently which is very troubling. I firmly believe that if women ran countries there would be far less violence within and between countries. But I digress.

This does not seem to be the case in Maputo though, and I would guess most urban areas of Mozambique. Women are very aggressive and outspoken here. I have been asked by many local men why I don’t have a girlfriend. That is the culture. Friday nights are “girlfriend” nights. I tried to explain to one colleague why I cannot take part in that. “But you don’t have to tell your wife, she’s not here,” he said. I told him that that was not the issue…that I would know. It might be different if I where raised here to think that way, but I was not, and cannot. But I suppose the practice is not all that different from anywhere else, it’s just more socially accepted here.

Life expectancy in Mozambique is only about 50 years. Although there is hardly any obesity here and most people look healthy, the overall diet is terrible. Rice and potatoes (especially french fries) are staples with most meals, and not a lot of crunchy fruit and veggies. Lots of mushy food.

Part of it is poverty, but part of it I think is that they just don’t know about nutrition. All they know is what has been passed down to them from parents and family. They have not been taught otherwise.

Mozambique is the 4th fastest growing economy in the world. Really hard to believe in some ways, especially with the huge gap between rich and poor. Let’s pray that with a booming economy, increasing focus on education, and tremendous external interest in Mozambique’s natural resources, that gap will narrow in the coming years.

The week that was…

Minutes after last week’s post, I was very relieved to attend the closing reception of the international conference we hosted. It was cocktail party outside the conference centre featuring the same African musicians and dancers I wrote about last week, the same group that opened the conference…and my observation was that the whole thing felt quite unnatural.

IMG_1388Well, the universe works in some very interesting and mysterious ways sometimes. I was standing there, minding my own business, when one of the Zulu dudes grabbed me and led me to the front of the crowd. He put something on my head, and handed me a spear and leather shield and before I knew it, I was chanting and performing a Zulu war dance with them and three others from the conference! I was the only white guy up there, in a seersucker pants and a jacket. What a site it must have been. My body is just not capable of moving the way the Zulu do, but I gave it my best shot. As I have done with every aspect of this incredible journey.

I worked half a day on Friday, then off with my friend Liz, her two kids, and brother Sean235 for a whirlwind tour through Kruger national game park in South Africa and Swaziland. Sean and I went for an amazing three-hour open-vehicle sunset safari Friday night (or as Charlotte says, “safaaawee”…so cute) . Our Excellent guide (yes that’s his name) was a knowledgeable guy with a quirky sense of humour. He was comfortable and relaxed, but his eyes were fascinating–they never stopped moving, as he constantly scanned the terrain, on permanent alert. Like a predator.253

Kruger park is one of the largest in Africa, about 65 km west to east and 360 km north to south. It is home 547 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, and 114 species of reptiles.

I had no real expectations on what the experience would be like and what we might see. But in three short hours, it felt like the park animals gave us a real show, with impalas, hippos, elephants, wildebeest, buffalo, kudus, bush babies, porcupines, water bucks, and zebras all around us. We even spotted, albeit at a distance, a couple of lions and the rare black rhino. Apparently you can drive through the park for days and weeks and never see these. 247Rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalo, and leopards are what hunters refer to as “the big five” because these animals are so hard to kill, a reference that I dislike incidentally. We saw four out of the five, but the highlight for me was an elephant who just appeared on our right side, just feet away from the vehicle. I had spotted elephants at a242 distance a little earlier, but this was a completely different experience. It was MASSIVE, at least 15 feet tall…and so wise and peaceful looking. I stopped snapping shots and tried to just take it in. Magic.

One funny sidebar…about a year ago I bought this great safari-type shirt. Breathable, versatile, well designed and very comfortable. This will be perfect if I go on a safari one day, I thought. Ironic then that I did not have this with me for the safari (in the dirty laundry pile back in Maputo), and instead was wearing bright blue golf shirt! Very wilderness looking!251

Then up very early the next morning for another drive through the park, this time with the kids and Liz. More buffalo, elephants, zebras, as well as giraffes, vultures, turtles and more. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how well I’d fare inside a vehicle with two young kids for hours at a time, but I approached that as I have everything else on this trip, with openness to the flow. That attitude of acceptance changes everything.

The journey continued through South Africa to Swaziland, as we wound our way 110through the mountains of this small country (about 150×100 km), the last remaining monarchy in Africa. Interesting how this landlocked country, one of two in South Africa (the other being Lesotho) has managed to non-violently remain independent from British and South Africa rule. A country rich in tradition. Every year, for example, there is a national celebration where the king takes a new bride (he is about to about 13 now!). It is a showcase event for all the eligible women in the country. Is it a surprise then that about a third of the country is infected by HIV/AIDS.

The countryside is absolutely stunning, and there is certainly a different feel from South 283Africa and Mozambique. More orderly than Mozambique somehow, but not as modern as South Africa. We stopped at a little craft place with beautiful views, and minutes later, a massive water dam. We continued through the mountains, with pavement turning to dirt road. I started to feel that familiar tingle of worry and unease, not sure where we were headed and feeling like we had made a wrong turn. Being in the back with the kids, I had not really been paying attention. And we were beginning to lose daylight. No signage, and everyone we stopped to ask seemed to have no idea where we were. The what ifs started swirling around my head. Anyway, it passed and as it turned out, we were not off track at all. It just felt like we were.

We finally made it to the Mozambique border around 7:30 pm, where we discovered a problem with my entry visa. After about an hour of negotiation and waiting (thank you Liz), we sorted it out and were on our way. Just another part of the adventure. I probably should have paid more attention to the process, and been better prepared. As Sean pointed out, in the big picture it was a good thing because it showed that the immigration system can work the way it is supposed to. But I am so glad that we discovered this then, and not at the airport in a week from now, as this might have prevented me from leaving the country!

It was a wonderful tour, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this with friends.

Sunday was a grey, windy, and unsettled feeling day. It matched the tumultuous feeling I had inside of me. I wandered across the street to the park where an afternoon music and food festival was unfolding. I just wasn’t in the celebratory mood. I was off. It happens. But much less often than it used to. And I know that it passes, and not to let it discolour everything else in the meantime. Learning.

I ran into Vally, a musician I met about a month ago in a club who, at the time, seemed very eager for me to play with him and his band. When I followed up by phone and text a few days later, he never responded. I saw him again about two weeks ago and he apologized and said his phone was broken. Then he asked me for money to get drugs for his sick child. I didn’t buy it because I don’t trust him. Then I ran into him again at this festival on Sunday. He apologized for his phone again and for asking me for money the last time we met. Then he asked me for money again. It really bothered me.

The relationships I have formed here, by and large have not been based on money. And this dude is shifty, insincere, and disingenuous. There is something about this sort of person that really stirs something up deep inside of me. I gave him a few bucks anyway, and off he went. I have since learned that Vally is a drug addict which explains why I felt the way I felt.

Later that day Domingues, one of the hotel receptionists, asked if he could borrow a cable to re-charge his phone. And then he said in his broken English: “I love you Mr. Jonatan. You are the best.” And everything re-balanced.

Monday was a better day. Less than two weeks to go and I feel my time running out. I met with someone from the Ministry of Education about website issues. Before we got to his questions, I pointed out that the average can’t even find or get to the website. Seems obvious, but I need to keep reminding myself of where I am. I keep hammering home the universal message that you must think and act like the audience you want to reach, regardless of where you are in the world.

I returned to the office and had a chat with Alberto, one of my colleagues. He was asking me about my visit, with some very insightful comments abou how difficult it can be in a strange place, far from home, different culture, language barriers, the feeling of being alone. “That describes it perfectly,” I said, “but I managed, with help, to adjust very quickly, and I am very proud of that.”

“Ahhh,” he said wisely. “But your approach from the very beginnning has been very open, and very friendly.” He’s right. I have been. Flexibility, awareness, thoughtfulness, a willingness to help and serve, and finding my rhythm quickly have made all the difference, and made this an experience I will never forget.

Tuesday I was flying, starting to wrap up meetings and reports. I met with Chico at the end of the day, and we practiced together, just the two of us, for about two solid hours at his home. He was sober, rested, and focused. I really loved this particular practice because it was more than just me learning his songs…I was actually collaborating with him, suggesting a few changes in wording and structure to his songs. He was open, appreciative, and into it. We’re working on three songs, which I may perform with him and the rest if the InTransito band next week. After we’d run through each of them about four times, he kept saying: “one more time, for the road.” Then his wife Anita made us tea. One tea bag, three cups.

This practice marked a turning point in that up until now, I have been driving the process. Tuesday night Chico asked me if I wanted to practice at his place the next night as well. He also gave me one of his percussion instruments. I will treasure this always, and hopefully put it to very good use in the coming months.

Wednesday we had another rehearsal together. Again, a very interesting practice…I made suggestions and am becoming more confident, and Chico was doing harmonies this time. The songs are evolving. No ego, no expectations, no agenda…just open. “Very good,” he said. “You are ready.”

This morning (Thursday) I was able to arrange a interview with the Canadian lead of this educational reform program at Radio Mozambique. It was a great 10-minute interview. The host was prepared, had good questions, and Suzanne delivered important key messaging like a pro.

Off to the beach this weekend for the first time since I arrived, followed by a visit to one of the training centers early next week.

I will close with a quote that I really like from Ram Dass which ties it all together quite neatly this week. Something to continue to strive for:

“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter because we are so deeply interconnected. Working on our own consciousness is the most important thing that we are doing at any moment, and being love is the supreme creative act.”

‘Til next week…

MoJo269

The Four Agreements

I read this beautiful little book by Don Miguel Ruiz a couple of years ago, but was reminded of it recently. Because I am struggling. That’s usually when something bigger intervenes, and sends me these reminders.

In the book, Ruiz describes a code of conduct for life based on four agreements:

1. Be impeccable with your word (watch what you say, how you say it, and that you live what you say)
2. Don’t take anything personally (this one is about not letting ego interfere, one of the toughest ones for me)
3. Don’t make assumptions (assumption and judgement…we do it all the time and it inevitably predisposes our mind in a negative direction…another tough one for me)
4. Always do your best (in all things, drop the walls and filters, and let your true self and essence shine)

Four simple little rules that are so powerful when I really think about them. In fact, when things are not going so well–when I am feeling anxious, unsettled, edgy, or just plain off–I can usually trace it back to being out of sync with one or more of these agreements.

I think what these agreements are really getting at has to do with living our lives in alignment, from a place of peace and tranquility. Easier said than done perhaps. Especially in the moment when life feels like it might be going off the rails. Having the awareness to recognize that things are off and the discipline to try to bring them back into sync.

What is perhaps most profound is that fundamentally, at our core, I think we all have these built into us from birth. But somehow many of us become distant and estranged from them as life unfolds.

So it’s not about learning a new way of being, it’s really about discovering, or rather uncovering, what’s already there.

Calming the Monkey Mind

“Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.” ~Zen Proverb

I wrote this note last week for two very special people in my life, and thought that maybe it would be helpful to others. Sort of an intro to meditation and how it can help in life. I am still very much a beginner, and am not yet as disciplined as I would like to be, but I am so grateful to have discovered it. At first I thought it was too freaky for me, but gradually it has opened new pathways for me. I wish I’d learned this 20 years ago, but better late than never. This will sound dramatic, but I am coming to believe that calming the monkey mind and finding the peace that is already within you is the key to everything. Only good things flow from this.

Meditation is a way to calm and slow down the incessant chattering and busy-ness of the monkey mind. Think of it as your quiet time. Only for you. Like a mental spa. A way to clear and reset your mind. A time to focus. A time to heighten your awareness. It will help you tune in to something bigger and more powerful. And this will spill over into the rest of your day.

The key is to be open, and that you be willing and disciplined enough to try to be still, if only for a few minutes every day. Especially when your mind is in overdrive. Try not to judge the process itself…your initial reaction might be that it’s kind of “out there,” but try to see beyond that. Try to accept the possibility that there may be other ways of being which may not yet have been revealed to you. Meditation is simply a relaxation and rejuvenation technique. The first, second, or third time might feel a little weird, but stick with it and you will start to feel its effects. You will feel different–better, clearer, more focussed, more balanced, and calmer.

The idea is to simply focus on your breathing, be still, and in doing so you forget about the past and the future, and focus on being here, in the now. God knows we need it, because the mind generates 60,000-80,000 thoughts a day. That’s about 60 every minute, or a thought every second! No wonder we’re freakin’ exhausted most of the time!

Meditating will help your mind slowly empty. When you empty your mind, it is then available to you for new thoughts, ideas, ways of being. When your mind is empty, you can find solutions to problems that you can’t access when your mind is crammed with shite.

There are many ways of doing it. With practice, some people can just sit and take themselves through it, wherever they happen to be, regardless of what’s happening around them. I am certainly not there yet, so I prefer to have someone guide me through it. I try to focus on my breathing and what the guide is saying, then let myself float to the sounds or music.

Without a doubt your mind will want to do what it is used to doing…churning away, solving problems, creating scenarios, reviewing, and on and on. This is what it likes to do….it likes to be in control. But remember that you are much more than your mind. You are much more than your body. The essence of you is so much more. And there are many parts of the mind which you can access in addition to the crazy, spinning part that will help you settle down.

So when you become aware of your mind trying to take over while you are meditating, slowly and gently bring it back and “place” it on your breathing.

Breathe in. Feel yourself lifting higher, connecting to something bigger.

Breathe out. Feel the negative energy exiting your body. Feel yourself becoming more and more grounded.

Above all, do not allow yourself to become frustrated when your mind starts thinking because this is normal. Remember that there is no wrong way. Resist the temptation to think you can’t do it or it’s not working. This is your mind trying to take over again. Simply and gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Even if you are able to focus on your breathing for seconds at a time during your meditation, this is progress. Over time the churning mind will become less and less, the chatter will die down. It’s just practice.

Once or twice a day, maybe morning and night. 15 minutes or so. Whenever you need it. When you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. When your mind is cloudy.

Over time you will emerge from your meditation with clearer head. You will feel calmer, better able to make decisions. Better able to be present. More balanced and in tune. More peaceful for longer stretches at a time. You will find yourself not being controlled as much by your negative emotional states.

So…are you ready? Sit comfortably (nothing crossed), press play, close your eyes, bring your attention to your breathing, let your spirit float, and enjoy the ride.

“Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” – Franz Kafka

Attention, Ubuntu, and Being In the Moment

Last week I went to a local fitness center. As I walked in, a group of young kids tried to get my attention. I was feeling a little off—perhaps a little tired, and I had a few things on my mind. I felt like I was being harassed, and that they wanted something from me (although I hadn’t taken the time to find out), so I quickly said “thanks but not today,” and walked away.

I just caught myself in that moment, and felt their disappointment, like the wind had been taken out of their sails. From the registration desk, I looked back at their table, and wondered why I had been so curt, closed, and dismissive. I probably assumed that they wanted money, and it seems that everywhere I turn that’s all people want.

So I walked back and asked them about their project. Their little faces instantly lit up as they began chattering away excitedly, describing how if they had the most votes, their group would win $125,000 towards the improvement of their local park and soccer field. They were not looking for my money. They just wanted my attention. And I gave it to them. But I almost missed that opportunity.

I have been thinking about that little exchange ever since, and a few things that have been percolating have bubbled to the surface.

My friend Jules recently introduced the concept of Ubuntu to me, an African philosophy about people, generosity and interactions with each other. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it this way. “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole, and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

One of my favourite bloggers, Thomas Ross, has an entire blog dedicated to being present. In a recent post he described it as “a single-minded effort in each moment. It sounds so small, but within this conception a world of great wonder and possibility resides. Each moment becomes a fresh start.”

Two very powerful ideas that, if applied consistently, I think can change the world.

I would like to be mindful of these always, but I also recognize that it may not always be possible 100% of the time. Things happen sometimes to prevent it. But I am encouraged, because I am becoming aware enough to recognize that disconnected feeling when it happens. More and more, I am able to catch myself in the moment of being closed.

And that awareness means I can do something about it.