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Archive for May, 2012

Among the many unusual and complicated questions in the world that are seemingly absent of comprehensible answers, there is one question that lies within everyone I know, and most likely everyone you know. It starts with me; and you, and connects us with a great multitude of beings that are silently and gradually entertaining this question, whenever the conditions afford them to think of it.

That question is: “Who am I?

I mean, really. Who am I? Who are you? As far as my knowledge of myself goes, I did not have any say in the matter of being born as a human being. Growing up with the amazing gift of infinite imagination, the questions I must have asked of my mind during those years, where the colors were brighter and the shapes were more abstract and less defined, would have qualified me, or any other child for that matter, as an astute philosopher of the highest esteem. Unfortunately, the adults would later stop me asking those questions; something I now realize was because they didn’t have the answers themselves. And before you know it, here we are, tiny cogs in an impersonal scheme we call a global economy, robbed of our primal courage to keep asking those questions; looking for an answer to that sweet old perpetual riddle; Who am I?

One thing I figured out fast was that I wasn’t a bird. I wasn’t a butterfly, neither was I an elephant. I wasn’t my mother or my father, and I turned out not to be my siblings either. I was just ‘I’ and all I could relate myself to being was a human. Not a bird, not a bug, not a bull; a human. And growing up, the world of humans was a world of magic, wonder, and excitement. I rejoiced in being human. Here, in this human world, I grew up to learn that there were musicians, storytellers, artists, scientists, philosophers, adventurers, naturalists, and cooks. I am also, now, bitterly aware that there are also profiteers, politicians, pyromaniacs, psychopaths, pop-stars, and philanderers among the other entertainingly demeaning things that begin with the letter ‘P’ (Police, anyone?). What was more disturbing was that it was this group of people who I wasn’t very fond of that seemed to be in control of everything, asking me to become something I, frankly, didn’t like very much. As a result, I don’t really rejoice anymore. I am only very aware of what I don’t want to be, and that is to be sub-human. Being given a birthright to intelligence, thought, compassion, and imagination, why would anyone want to compromise it to make square shaped, colorful, numbered paper currency unless they were conned into it by some ingenious plot?  Unfortunately for those who still entertain that childlike curiosity, the tables have turned and the rules have been set.

“Don’t think. Don’t imagine. Don’t feel. Go to work. Get paid. Watch TV. Vote. Failure to do so will make you liable to spend your time in a cage until you agree to our rules. Sincerely, the People’s Government.”

Something isn’t right here.

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Here we are; human beings that have been dealt a solid hand in a game that could make better sense if we knew the rules. The collective intelligence of our being has brought us to the world of the internet, art, philosophy, and quantum physics, but somehow these things that seem to illuminate us have been stifled and hijacked by our own kind. Instead of learning more about ourselves, our place on the earth, in the universe, and the great mysterious scheme of existence, we have been convinced to watch 500 channels of TV and vote for crooks. Today, we have the opportunity to put ourselves in the shoes of our forgotten ancestors of Bellan Bandi Palessa, the vast plains of Africa, and the jungles of South America to imagine the helplessness we evolved from. Today, we have the time and space to imagine what it might have been like 2,600 years ago in a world vastly different from our own, in the times of great beings such as the Buddha, Plato, Jesus, and Mohammed. Today we have the opportunity to see ourselves in others, complete with our musical tastes and affinity for curiosities like saving dolphins in Japan, from all corners of the world, regardless of their color or creed. Today, we have more answers than we ever had, so why aren’t we asking questions better?

We have to admit to ourselves that we want to ask those questions without being judged or harassed. We need to ignore these farcical laws and rules and agree to disagree. No more kicking people in the face or going to jail. No more silly arguments about what to wear, what to believe, or what to say. We need to understand and discover our deep seated capacity for boundless tolerance, compassion, and intelligence. And this need is only as strong and as provocative as You and I want it to be. No answers will come, no peace will prevail, no unity will come if we stop and wait for it to happen. The change starts with ‘I.’ Be the change you want to see in the world, said Gandhi (another guy who was killed for speaking sense). What we need to change is our fear of feeling genuinely human. The fear only persists when we are afraid of ourselves. The sincere, truthful, imaginative, and independent exploration of this ‘I,’ ‘Me,’ or ‘Us’ is what gives the world meaning and will continue to bring us more music, laughter, knowledge, and happiness.

And if you excuse me now, I’m going to play my guitar.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” – Buddha

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We humans have all lived through the moment where we are coerced to decide what kind of “work” we are going to do when we “grow up.” Personally, I wanted to be many things. I wanted to be a traveler, a reader, a conversationalist, a person who knew first-aid (I just couldn’t feel a doctor inside me), or a mahout (those interesting people who train and domesticate elephants), among countless other things. Society eventually confines all of us into walls filled with miscellaneous gadgetries, artificial lighting, and comfortable, luxurious, crisp, cold air on a sweltering summer day. Society convinced me to stop following all the things I wanted to become, but I held onto those some of those childish dreams because I still remember how much juvenile fun it was to be naughty and rebellious. While most people seem to forget the unrestricted pleasures of the outdoors because of their paychecks and evolution into the walls, I have got by chance a delightful opportunity, working at the Saint John’s Pottery studio, to be outside, do some simple and sometimes heavy work, and remember the things I’ve forgotten from my childhood.

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When I found out that the job I got hired for in January almost entirely involved splitting and stacking wood to be used at the annual firing of the Johanna Kiln, the famous brick maiden known for its unique appearance and striking size, I was rather curious to see how I’d adjust from being used to office work to working hours sitting outside negotiating the different personalities of spruce, oak, pine, and maple with my trusty friend, the wood splitter. The work is rather simple and straightforward. It also requires a certain kind of tolerance; splitting wood for long hours CAN be slow, monotonous torture for fast paced folk. People might ask what a student of sociology, philosophy, and political science would be doing splitting wood. Shouldn’t I rather be doing something challenging for work, something that will get me a nod from those hardly impressed grad school admissions types? Shouldn’t I be doing something that would give me experience for my job, my work for the future? Wouldn’t going for meetings, sending emails, and negotiating with people be more useful for a successful professional career? Wouldn’t you rather be doing something else?

No.

I don’t think so.

I like my job. In fact, I like it a lot! I even stopped listening to my ipod while I split wood. That’s how good this work is for me. I don’t even need the music. I remember having a pretty exciting and adventurous childhood but I don’t remember having an ipod in my ears when I was out crawling and rejoicing childishly in the mud years ago. Why listen to the music you listen to all the time when you can entertain yourself listening to the peculiar melodies and curious vibrations of wood? Not many people would think trees had voices, noises, or sounds. Being so overexposed to wood so much, now I know that they are like those silent ascetics we never hear about or hear from. Wood has voice! It has soul! It’s rather twisted that the noise of wood becomes more apparent when you split them; but I’m glad it’s not cows or chickens that I’m hearing when I’m working. Big cross sections of oak have a crack that makes me picture a wise old man who wakes up early in the morning and stretches after a good night’s rest. Smaller cross sections of spruce are stringy, twisted, and irregular, and remind me of a lady who lowers her obnoxious guffaws to a whimper after suddenly noticing how loud she was at the cocktail party. Spruce also smells like fresh, minty joy. The different sounds and smells of split wood fascinate me. It shows me that even wood too has a voice, a soul. Just because someone decided not to talk doesn’t make that person speech impaired. It only means he decides not to talk. Trees are like that. How could man possibly hear them when we are too lost in our own self indulgent chatter, humanly conceived sounds, and assorted entertainments? But once the talk becomes too tiring, the music becomes too monotonous, and the thoughts become stale and stagnant, 3 hours of splitting and stacking wood sucks out the humdrum like a sponge of the finest quality that cleans a filthy plate with nonchalance. When the splitting is done, the woods around Stumpf Lake, a hop away, calls my name.

I sit every day after work listening to the conversation between the wind and the trees, participating in their discussions with my silence. The thoughts their conversation inspire you to think are only limited to the beautiful and the deep. The carefree zips of small red winged black birds from tree to tree, the piercing melody of a grackle’s cry, and the curious livelihood of the occasional woodpecker are amusements that have always kept me endlessly fascinated after work. A little dock that extends to Stumpf Lake is the doorstep leading to the graces of the great elder woman of the community in these parts. Not everyone is lucky enough to be in her inner circle. Some, like the loons, ducks, muskrats, crappies, and sunfish, are luckier than most. Everyone has surrounded her for her wise ways and quirky personality, and I don’t see why she should treat me any differently. So I sit on the dock and listen to her counsel which leaves me refreshed and energized every time I stand up to leave. Every day I see Stumpf Lake, she is always accommodating, just like she assumes the personality of whoever visits to see her. When the windier wind visits, she too becomes the windier wind. When it’s the breeze that stops over, it’s the breeze she becomes. When there’s no one around though, old Stumpf Lake becomes me when I look into it. She doesn’t care how old you are or how old she is, she’ll listen to you and you will listen to her. Explorations after work have introduced me to new friends. They are very old, usually ignored, and inept at entertaining the tech-savvy modern man, but they are young at heart, willing to listen, and eager to illuminate the minds of their new, young friends.

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Vision is the realm of infinity

I understand that people have different priorities and those lead them to different outlooks and pastimes. I don’t think I am the only person who has discovered the endless adventures nature has in store for your mind and body. If humans want to be happy, I imagine they’d like to do it in the simplest way possible. Long hours of being paled by fluorescent lights, cooled by A/C’s, and entertained by canned music seems interesting, if you’re that kind of person I suppose. Now that I’ve been exposed to doing rather straightforward and simple functions outdoors, I’m starting to question the effectiveness of “challenging work” in an office in giving someone happiness and insight. I don’t make that much money, I sure as hell don’t make any professional connections, and I don’t look very sharp and clean when I’m working. But I’ve got to say that I’d be damned if I said my work didn’t make me happy. After working multiple jobs inside walls and under bulbs, I have to say that the outdoors has a much more vibrant and interesting personality for a workspace. Nothing is monotonous. Nothing is lifeless. Everything has voices, soul, beauty and infinity. Nature’s been spinning the same old tricks in infinitely different ways, using her wily wit and welcoming warmth (or cold) to perpetually entertain slow paced, childish folk like me.

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