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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

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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An excerpt from Prayer 1 of Eli Wiesel’s The Town Beyond the Wall, where Micheal finally meets the old man, Varady, a mysterious old person of the stories in the streets.

“Who are you?” asked the old man, impassive.

Micheal spoke his name and added, “I’m your neighbor.”

“What do you want here?”

Embarrassed, the boy stammered.

“I didn’t understand,” the old man said. “Repeat. Repeat what you just said.”

Micheal, who was already regretting his disobedience, made a great effort: “I wanted to see you.”

“Why?”

The boy was silent.

“Why did you want to see me? Come, come, answer!”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“You force entry to my garden, you stare at me, you observe me, perhaps you judge me — and you don’t know why?”

“No sir, I don’t know why.”

The old man thought it over briefly and then leaned forward: “Tell me, little boy; what do they say about me outside? What are the people saying about me?”

“They say you don’t exist.”

The old man laughed. The muscles of his face rippled, and Micheal thought he had heard a crackle. “So that’s what they say,” the old man murmured, as if to himself.

“Yes,” Micheal repeated. “They say you don’t exist.”

“And what else?”

“That’s all. They say there’s nothing to say about a man who doesn’t exist.” Micheal felt his voice fall back to normal. Of all the emotions Varady had roused in him, only curiosity remained.

“Do your parents know you’re here?”

“No.”

“You’ll tell them you’ve seen me? And that I exist?”

“Maybe.”

The old man’s voice dropped: “Don’t do it. They’ll punish you.”

He paused and then repeated, “Don’t do it. Keep the secret for yourself. What would life be worth without our little secrets?”

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The following is a cursory reflection of nature as I saw it during my break from college, where I devoted a significant, and memorable, amount of time learning meditation and delving into Buddhist philosophy. Originally a paper written for my Environmental Perspectives class, I decided to put it up on this rarely used blog because I felt the urge to share some glimpses into my experience that I couldn’t possibly write about and explain in words, if not for the requirement to write this paper. 

Nature. What is nature? What is this puzzling, but amazing thing we are a part of? My understanding is that nature is the stage in which all life is played out on. If not for that stage, there would be no platform for a story to be enacted. We come from nature and return to it. It is an energy that creates all and consumes all with somber indifference. As for all our mundane, worldly lifestyles, they are all tiny, insignificant microcosms of activity taking place within this great impersonal and mighty scheme. What is our place in this giant universe in which we are but insignificant specks of transient dust? What implications does this vast reality hold for us, the isolated intelligence that has lived, in very conspicuous subservience, fear, and wonder, of this almighty system for millennia? What does being human have to do with comprehending nature and understanding our meaning in it? This is the question I attempted to engage by traveling to the lush wilderness of tropical homeland, Sri Lanka, to meditate and learn under the subtle and incisive wisdom of Buddhist forest monks during my semester off from college in the fall and winter of 2011.

Since I was a kid, I thought much about things like what the meaning of everything was and noticed my place in the whole scheme of humans, animals, and all the other things out there; a reality that makes you feel much smaller than you would like to believe. But it was only when I was 22 that I felt the confidence of physical and mental strength to gauge this timeless philosophical inquiry of what is nature? Having had a keen interest in learning of the world and learning from the world at a very young age, the pursuit of knowledge was something I took to like a child’s fascination with the colors of the world. After delving into many avenues of knowledge and inquiry, my intellectual pursuits encountered the mysteriously alluring manners of Buddhist philosophy. Learning from it over the last 3-4 years and finding answers that I could verify through experience and science, I began, with great curiosity, to attempt an engagement with the very core of being and the mysteries and origins of nature through the introspection of Buddhist meditation. Sensing that the time was ripe and the opportunity to put all my knowledge through a very unfamiliar and alien challenge was at hand, I decided to take a break from college to go back to my homeland and explore and experience life in a few of Sri Lanka’s multitudinous Buddhist forest monasteries.

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Kaludiya Pokuna Tapovanaya, Mihinthale

Surprisingly, the popularity of my path of exploration was a very uncommon phenomenon, even in a country that is traditionally Buddhist. I still wonder why people would put themselves through the unceasing activity of modern life when the tranquility of the cool green shade, the drama of rain drenched forest paths, the cold, still, wisdom of ancient ponds, and the wondrous excitement of the earth waking up at sunrise, and all and more of these vivid experiences lie virtually at their doorstep. It is a peculiar question that led environmentalists, minimalists, philosophers, and thinkers in general, to the ironies of the unsolvable riddle of human nature. At least I am happy that I decided to embark on a personal journey, possibly, implicitly, a gesture of defiance to the senseless indulgences of modern life inspired by people like Thoreau, Krishnamurty, and the Buddha himself. To explore the very depths of being under the shady calm of the wise old ironwood trees and the melodious cacophony of the smaller, more musically inclined, citizens of the tropical wilderness was an experience that gave me much more perspective that I expected I would gain. Knowing one’s place in nature follows the personal exploration of one’s limits, understanding his or her innate capabilities, and losing the fear to question the norm and oneself. Nature is a treasure, hidden out in the open for all to see, that is really discovered when the individual decides to inquire about his part in the great scheme of parts that create the greatest scheme of all.

Being in nature is unfortunately an unfamiliar thing for most people. It is probably explained best by the sounds of the silent forest. The fact that the musical vibrations of the flowing brooks, rustling leaves, and the distant, melodious dissonance of cicadas flow through the passive silence of the trees, through my ears and into my heart to give me enjoyment and understanding, makes me wonder why people have resorted to living in the midst of bellowing horns, ceaseless chatter, surrounded by the constant mechanical hum of human contrivances. The randomness of nature, the lack of uniform structure, is best understood when one sees the same qualities reflected in oneself. Once removed from the conventions of society and culture, a person sees that the uniformity that we conform to is a quality we have learned to live with, just as a smoker lives with pleasure in indulging in a poison he sees no harm in. When removed from the busy, sweaty rush of urban haste, one discovers the slow, pondering demeanor of the earth and the universe, and begins to question why there needs to be such toxic complexities to our lives when a gentle meandering of space in time is what has always been and will continue to be. Humans seem to be competing and living in their own rationally justified concepts of money, culture, tradition, politics, war, entertainment, ad infinitum, while only conveniently returning to nature’s soothing care and unconditional generosity to rejuvenate oneself to work and dream and compete and live harder all over again.

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A cave kuti deep in the Na Uyana Aranya Senasanaya, Pansiyagama, Melsiripura

Why have we forgotten to see ourselves as the representation of nature we really are? What are these eyes? Skin? What are these blood, muscle, thought, and emotion, but a different representation of a flowing spring of crystal clear water running under a canopy of banyans, ironwood, and ebony? The beauty of this moment in time and space is only possible because the earth, the sky, the water, and the trees had long ago agreed to just “be” and let be. So have our bodies, with its fleshly components, repulsive though they may seem to most, create in their harmonious unity, a precious human vehicle. Why cannot we humans see the same harmony in nature and in ourselves, among all of us regardless of race, religion, or opinion? Has our “intelligence” judged this timeless unity to be incompatible with our perspective? Why does our insatiable desire for money, power, and pleasure, our inability to let go of our addiction to our selves, cloud the clear and enlightening reality of us being the small particles we are in an ancient scheme of mass, space, time, and thought?

Nature reflects herself within the human being with her intimidating array of personalities. The terrifying claps of thunder and shocking streaks of lightning express themselves in the various turbulent afflictions we encounter in our experiences in time, both physically and mentally. Likewise, for someone engaged in reflection, it would not be a burden to notice the fires, the floods, and the earthquakes, whose mercies we are bound to, manifest themselves in their characteristic fearsomeness within all of us, even the smartest and strongest.  The comforting warmth of a tropical sun, the soothing sensation of diving in a crisp, cool, water filled rock pool, and the blissful cool of a forest breeze; gems of moments that seem to pass by too quickly, express themselves from the moving episodes of joy, love, and insight that well up from the depths of our hearts. But how does one absorb and know the feeling of the refreshing reality of nature’s gifts when the reality is quite different to that? How does one know this when she is too busy making annual plans for 4 years in the future, slouched under a light and surrounded by walls and blinds? How does one know the unpredictable moods of the wind, its sweetness, its empathy, its rage, when one is stuck inside a refrigerated (work) cell? Do people experience real joy, love, and insight when they are bound to the numbing inconsistencies of conventional reality? Do they experience the pure contentment of insight, the delight of unconditional joy or see the devastation and turbulence that we are all subject to, when they are submerged in their fluorescent lights, computer screens, and TV shows?

My observation is that people, when they fail to experience and acknowledge this incredible and amazing scheme we are fortunate to experience, they simply become empty nodes created by human “intelligence,” spokes in the components of the machine called society, instead of using this amazing human being to experience, witness, and make meaning out of this thing we call life. But aren’t we too busy taken up with such important and very intelligent activities like killing zombies on TV screens and forever imagining the best possible scenarios to fill our lives up with more shiny, curvy things and sophisticated, expensive habits of culture?

The path leading deeper into the Na Uyana Aranya Senasanaya, Pansiyagama, Melsiripura

Although we are a part of nature, (fortunately) nature is not entirely human. Therefore she doesn’t share our tendencies for hatred, vengefulness, achievement, or prosperity. She passively waits, for her infinite wisdom has known all too well the benefits of her unhurried approach since the birth of time. For those humbled by the terrifying storms and beams of mercurial light skimming the treetops, nature has much to teach. And it is only to those who are sensitive and humble enough that nature begins revealing her secrets to. For the last twenty six hundred years, the Buddhist tradition has understood this. Although most “Buddhists” nowadays seem to understand more of TV, politics, and drama, the tradition has never ceased to continue being with nature. There is a robust presence of committed, humble, gifted, and intelligent human beings, from the youngest I’ve seen in my semester off at around 15, and the oldest well over 90, living, not only in the jungles of Sri Lanka, but in forests all over the world. They are inspired by the timeless qualities of nature as they strive for enlightenment; nirvana; the terminal knowledge of existence, the eradication of all suffering, and uniting with the timeless essence of this random reality we call nature. I was inspired by their knowledge, courage, and contentment. I still follow that inspiration in the hopes that I too, could one day, come to understand this scheme and dwell in the contentment of knowledge and peace.

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The Jingy Bingy Man

I usually am an annoyance when I’m truly inspired. I go from person to person proclaiming whatever it was I experienced should be experienced by everyone. I’m a bit loony like that. People probably make jokes behind my back for that, but what the hell, I try to make this world a better place. Or at least introduce them to something TASTEFUL. 😛 Thanks to the blogosphere I can now share my enthusiasm (and sarcasm) with the World and cut down on the unwanted labor involved in going from person to person. Textbook internet benefit.

Recently, I was raving on about ‘Machan’; an absolutely brilliant film based on a true story of a group of Sri Lankans that illegally migrated to Europe under the ingenious guise of a handball team. Today, four months later, I have something else to rave about.

It was just after the conclusion of the opening night of Hamlet at Elsie’s Bar. The brilliant performance by the cast made me break my vow of not smoking up for the day. Damn it! I wish I was on stage too! The air raid on Colombo that took place a few hours before we made it to the studio seemed to matter very little because we were going to celebrate the success of opening night and talk about stuff that would make us sound quite outlandish.

The herb was really good. 😀

Buddhima was going crazy with the papers and was rolling some big ones that could be easily mistaken for shotgun mikes. We would soon find out that rolling torpedoes was one of his less significant talents. And after some unbounded fits of laughter and mundane stories, we went into the studio to chill out to the suave tune of Ranil’s Takamine guitar but were pleasantly surprised to see Buddhima join in on the jam as well. And inside the studio illuminated by that eerie neon light, we went on a musical journey that transcended the very essence of original Sri Lankan music.

Buddhi and Ranil started off with a hauntingly brilliant rendition of House of the rising sun. The crisp tone of the new strings coupled with the layered harmonies of the 12 string Yamaha guitar complimented Budhima’s robust voice. I opened my eyes after that song and smiled. I just smiled. It’s the smile that appears on your face when your mind gives two thumbs up for satisfaction. The audience of 5 burst out into applause, giving the impression of an actual unplugged concert. In my intoxicated state I was visualizing myself on the set of something similar to that of the MTV Nirvana unplugged gig. It was brilliant. I was in a happy place.

And just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, Buddhima took the liberty of knocking our socks off with three of his original compositions. The name of his first song escapes my memory, but what a song it was. This was the first time I was hearing this and I was blown away. It wasn’t the technical intricacy of the song; there wasn’t anything intricate about it. It was simple music laced with honest words that were rooted deep in the heart of a brilliant man; Buddhi. It pored over the tribulations of a forthright man who enjoyed life the way it was; unfair yet beautiful. And after listening to the rest of his English-Sinhala compositions, I felt proud. Proud to know a guy like him. Those words stirred me to the point that I hugged him right after he finished playing his band’s song; Jingy Bingy Blues. I couldn’t keep my excitement to myself. I don’t think anyone in the studio could. That lead us to the question; What the hell was Buddhi doing all this time? His words are monumental. A throwback to the era of folk music where injustice was spat on and the beauty of everyday life was appreciated. I felt myself in the presence of the next Bob Marley, Rage Against the Machine, or Bob Dylan. Such was the vividness of those words. It made me proud as a Sri Lankan to hear those songs. I was proud that we; Sri Lanka; a country polluted with prejudices and corruption still have people like Buddhi; people who could see the unfairness of life, take it as it is and enjoy our breif stay in this world as well as we could in the face of all those adversities.

It was a great day for me. I was stirred by the simple yet beautiful music. I felt the power of words that I never thought I’d hear in a Sri Lankan song. It was beautiful. I’m still taking all of that in. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that a cynic like myself would be stirred by words that were simple yet momentous.

The sad thing is that no authority in the right mind would let this material go out to the public unless they want a state of free thinking and ouspoken constituents. The thought itself would turn the gleaming smiles of our crooked politicos into grisly grimaces. But I envision Buddhi being one of the cult icons of our generations. That is the effect that his words had on me. I never thought I’d find inspiration so close to me. Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Richard Branson, and Maynard James Keenan have been the only people who have fostered a change in me.

I’m proud to add Buddhima de Mel of Wagon Park to that list.

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