Money Matters and Life Lessons

I wrote about the concept of money while I was in Africa. How it is simply a form of energy, neither a good thing or a bad thing, but how our attachment to or obsession with it is what causes problems.

And I was reminded of all this last night. We are preparing to sell our house. Downsizing, and selling off all the stuff we don’t need anymore. It all just seems too much now somehow, and I’m sure my 3rd world travels have had something to do with this re-framing.

Anyway, I arranged to sell one of our couches. A young man and his father came to pick it up. I watched him count out the cash, not really paying attention. I trusted that it was all there. I stuck it in my pocket and helped him get the couch into his truck. After he left, I counted it myself, and found it to be $40 short. I called Max and told him. He insisted that he gave me the full amount and that it was my responsibility to have counted it on the spot. And he was right, I should have. He was resolute and un-yielding, and I hated that.

I brooded about his for a few hours after that call. Why was I so trusting? How could I have been so stupid not to count it? It was not so much about the $40, but I just hated the idea that I had been ripped off. I hated the idea that I had a momentary lapse. I was so sure that I was right, and that he was wrong. I stopped just short of accusing him, which I would be very relieved about later.

The whole thing really bothered me, particularly because it spun me out for awhile, and I could not seem to reign it in.

This morning, in the light day, I found the missing $40. Somehow it had fallen out of the pile of cash, and under a piece of furniture. On another floor of the house no less! The universe does indeed respond in some very mysterious ways sometimes!

I immediately sent Max a note apologizing for doubting him. I never heard back from him. But that’s OK. It was the right thing to do.

So many big lessons and reminders here in this seemingly simple little transaction.

Into Africa–February 7, 2013

chico and jIt was a long weekend in Mozambique, as people celebrated Heroes’ Day. I spent part of it with my friends Mike and Liz and a few of their friends–for dinner, then live music. It’s the first time we’ve all been out together since I arrived. Probably one of the rare adult only nights for all of them. I think they all enjoyed the freedom, something I often take for granted.005

This long weekend also marked the official start of the Marrabenta festival, which means “to break guitar strings.” It also coincides with the ripening of a type of fruit, which is used to make an alcoholic drink called “canhu.” Marrabenta is a type of music, with sort of a Caribbean feel. Not something I can listen to for days on end, but I still enjoy. Anyway, Friday night I went to a show at the Franco-Mozambique cultural centre (I know…another strange combination…who’d have thought I’d end up there?), featuring many of the stars of this genre, who each did about three or four songs–the cream of the crop you might say. Many of the performers were older, with younger players supporting them. Very respectful of the older generation. Two in particular I enjoyed: Cheny, a young guy who played this xylophone looking thing with incredible flair and intensity and Neyma, a middle-aged female performer with a great voice and some incredible dance moves. The show went from 9 pm til almost 1 am. People were drinking, dancing, and having a good time. Again, no rules and anything goes….so very different from home.

My plan was to take the free train the next day to the actual festival, about 90 minutes north from here. But I had been trying to connect with Chico Antonio (the older musician dude I wrote about last week), and it happened he was free Saturday. It turned into one of those rare days that I will remember forever.

Chico and the band chico

I met Chico at noon outside Radio Mozambique, and we wandered across the street to a local outdoor terrace. I was not sure what to expect, but hoped we would find some common ground. We sat for the next four hours, had a few beers, and he told me about his life as a musician and life in Mozambique.

He is 55 and has won many awards. He sings, plays guitar, flute, percussion, and trumpet. He ran away from home at the age of six because he fell asleep tending the cows, and half of them escaped. He thought his father would kill him. So he left and has never seen them again. He lived on he street until he was nine, when he was helped by two white men who got him into school. From there he studied chemistry, and then music at the age of 19, and he has never looked back. He lived in France on a musical scholarship for several years. He has toured and played with the best. During our chat, people were coming up to him every few minutes to introduce themselves, say how much they loved his music, and shake his hand. We spoke a mixture of English, French, and Portuguese, but he speaks five or six languages.

There is a youthful intensity about him, yet you can see every one of 55 years etched in his face, and particularly in his eyes. They really tell a story.

I hadn’t made any plans for the day, so when he asked me if I would like to come with him to his home and meet his wife, of course I did. We walked about 30 minutes through the city and his neighbourhood, people waving and nodding to him along the way…clearly he is a well-respected fixture in the community.

anita and jWe walked up 12 flights of stairs to his very modest apartment. Decent by Mozambique standards I think, but certainly not by North American standards. Very run down, water leaking though the ceiling. But a spectacular view. He has lived there for 28 years. I met Anita, his wife of 15 years (his third…consecutive though, not at the same time!). She is 50 but looks 35. ”I chose well,” he says. Chico has only one child from his first marriage, and stepchildren from his last two. Anita showed me her photographs and made us dinner. Then we listened to a bunch of songs he is currently working on. He even lent me the only copy of the cd so I could listen to it on my own. He seemed so pleased to be able to share his music with me. Watching him listen to music was something special. It takes him somewhere else, to a different plane of existence, like he is flying. I am new to this part of the music business, but I get it.

He has done it all and seen it all. Now he plays once in a while, when it suits him. He looks for people and projects that will allow him to explore something different and new to him. He has a very interesting sound…I can hear so many levels and influences behind his music. Although generally not one to label, I coined the term “Africool” to describe his music, which I think he quite liked.

008Yesterday I met up again with Chico, this time with his band–Edmondo, a young, very talented Mozambican who plays mainly percussion, and Chude, and American Mozambican vocalist who has toured with Bruce Cockburn and Jackson Browne. They started with an interview with two dudes from Radio Mozambique, then got into their groove together. They play this free-flowing, rhythmic, experimental kind of music–fun and trippy. Kind of like musical improv. They start with a groove or rhythm, and then build on it. Chico calls the rehearsals a workshop…and I suppose that is quite an accurate description. They bring a whole bunch of different instruments–flutes, recorders, castanets,  bongos, all kinds of shaker instrument, guitars, etc–and play as the spirit moves them. Anyway he introduced me and told them I was keen to learn their style of music, and jam with them (and other stuff too I guess ‘cos they were laughing!). Then more magic: the three of them welcomed me into their band with open arms for the remainder of my stay! We played together for a few hours, and then went for a few beers. I was also their official photographer for the their promo photo! I must admit I am a little starstruck, but what the hell, I will give it everything I’ve got and see where it takes us. And I was so very touched by how warm and accepting and open they were with me. We have another “workshop” session Friday night!

Money makes the world go around?

Switching gears…I am particularly conscious of money here. Those who have, and those who don’t. Those that make it, those that spend it, those that are trying to get it. Much has been said about money and what it represents–good, bad, and ugly. I know that it can do so many positive things in the world, but it can also be the source of such pain and misery. I am beginning to see it as not necessarily any of those, but more as a source or transfer of energy. I heard it characterized recently in and of itself as neutral, but that it is our attachment to it that creates problems.

I can walk down the street here and have nothing left within about 10 minutes if I give it to everyone that approaches me. So why say yes to one and not another? How to decide if one needs it more or less than the other? It’s all how I look at it. How I judge it. If I feel hustled, I tend not to want to part with it. If I see someone who looks like they need it, I will give them some. Or buy a pineapple from them. Or give them my bread or whatever I might be carrying. I am starting to ramble a bit here I guess because I don’t really have any answers. But this experience, and in fact my life in the last year or two, is causing me to re-examine my thoughts about and relationship to money.

Case in point: I just received one of my daily junk emails, this one from Kijiji or Groupon trying to sell me:

  • LED candles (with remote!)
  • Automatic soap dispenser
  • Aviator glasses
  • Wishing lanterns
  • Gel pillows
  • Levitating bottle holder (now my life can finally be complete)

Really? Consider that 2.5 billion people (about a third of our planet) live on less than $2 a day, and this obscene consumerism could not seem any more ridiculous. This kind of frivolous waste has been bothering me since Nicaragua, and clearly it still is.

As I wrote in my last post, I seem to have a pretty good relationship with the staff at the apartment/hotel. In fact some of them are even trying to teach me their language of Changaan. Is this because I tip them from time to time, or because I make a sustained effort to connect with them? I think and hope the latter is true.

There are guys who sell crafts in the park across the street. One younger guy–Raymond–pushes me hard, and tries to get me to buy something no matter what. I explained to him on Monday how unpleasant it is to be hustled, and asked him he feels when someone tries to sell him hard. He heard me, but still wanted me to buy something. I gave in, and bought something small which clearly disappointed him. I think he ripped me off, but whatever.

But there’s another guy–Francesco– who sees me coming now and does not try to sell me at all anymore. He seems interested in just talking to me! Those are the kind of breakthroughs that make putting up with the Raymond types worth it. And there are many of these positive stories. Positive or negative, these people are very, very good at reading and reacting (and exploiting) non-verbal communication clues.

There are fair people here, as well as those who are trying to rip you off, nice and not so nice. I suppose that is no different from anywhere else.

I have talked about two very different types of experiences in this post. The question is how will I view them, how do I respond, what filters do I use, and how do I allow them to affect me?

One thing that strikes me…I am so busy absorbing and learning in this new environment, that I spend very little time judging. I am open, and that’s a good thing. A positive outcome of the unfamiliar.

Lots happening on the work front but I will save that for next week.

I will close with a few timely and relevant words by Neil Donald Walsch (that I know my wife will remind me of when I am home!).

“There is something ‘wrong’ with everything. No matter what you are looking at, you can find something wrong with it, something imperfect, something that is not okay with you. Don’t worry, if you look hard enough you’ll find it.

There is also something ‘right’ with everything. No matter what you are looking at, you can find something right with it, something perfect.”

I am doing well with this here, in the unfamiliar, but recognize that I must try to see more of what’s right always.

‘Til next week.


No More Stinking Thinking

It is not possible to grasp the infinite from a position that is finite. Seems like a good place to start.

“Dual” thinking, as I understand it, is the idea that something has to be “either/or.” That it’s either good or bad. Right or wrong. “Stinking thinking” as I have heard it described.

Here’s another way describing it: the concept of up and down may seem to make sense from an earthly or gravitational perspective, but if you are somewhere out in space, it suddenly make no sense at all. The list of these polar opposites goes on and on, but they all have one thing in common—they are laced with judgement.

And I find myself doing it all the time. Making judgements or assumptions about the people I come into contact with on a daily basis. I become self-righteous and seek to justify why I’m right and they’re wrong. Or to decide on my position, and then only look for those arguments that support it–which then effectively closes my mind off to any other possibility.

If I think in this “either/or” way, is it any wonder that I continue to feel separate and isolated, from myself and others? Why is it that “dual” thinking is so entrenched in how I process things?

This probably sound and feels familiar because our society is based on it. And it’s clearly not working.

How can dual thinking represent “truth” when something can be right for one person, but wrong for another? It is simply a matter of perspective, which no one person can be the judge and jury on. It is a very narrow, arrogant, and un-evolved way of thinking that I know does not serve me.

Richard Rohr, Neil Donald Walsch, and many others look at it a different way—in a “non-dual, unified, both/and” way. Some spiritual practices take this for granted. But it is a very difficult, but critical, concept to grasp and apply.

Is it possible for something to be “both/and?” Is it possible that two seemingly contradictory viewpoints can co-exist? Richard Rohr describes non-dual thinking as “our ability to read reality in a way that is not judgmental, in a way that is not exclusionary of the part that we don’t understand. When you don’t split everything up according to what you like and what you don’t like, you leave the moment open, you let it be what it is in itself, and you let it speak to you. Reality is not totally one, but it is not totally two, either!”

Stay with the dilemma, because truth and wisdom are often found in the paradox.

There is also a wonderful quote by Werner Erhard: “There is something I do not know, the knowing of which could change everything.” I love this quote because it completely shifts my self-imposed parameters and clears the way for something much bigger.

If I can acknowledge that in the grand (and not so grand) scheme of things, I only have limited information, that I know only a fraction of what there is to know, and that there is an infinite amount that I don’t know, it opens up a huge world of possibility…and perhaps, eventually, acceptance.

I know I do not have all the answers, and there are perspectives that I cannot even fathom. I also know that when I remember this in my interactions with people, life is better, more peaceful.

If we as a species can also begin to accept this, it seems to me that more unity and a higher, more evolved consciousness will emerge, and that many of our problems would simply disappear.

One thing I know for sure (or at least as sure as I can be) is that we are not doing ourselves any favours by stinking thinking in this way. I believe that it serves only to deepen our struggle, and further isolates us from each other.

I also suspect that our evolution, and perhaps our collective survival may depend on our ability to shift to a way of thinking that is more inclusive and unified.