Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Farewell to an old teacher

November, 2005
In my early twenties, my intuition kept telling me that the standard east coast doctor/banker/lawyer path was not for me. I was initially reluctant to listen. When I began my search for a truth beyond society's predominant paradigm, I searched for teachers to guide my way. When I was twenty I was introduced to a guide who was famed for helping people break out of their molds.

The teacher had earned a certain degree of fame over time. The message was simple: shut the reason down and access worlds of experience unbeknownst to the analytical mind. It had guided the indigenous peoples of the Americas for
millenia, opening minds to the hidden wisdom of the jungle and desert. Its knowledge remained confined to indigenous peoples until the mid-twentieth century. Beginning in the 1950's it worked with burgeoning counter-culture revolution in their rejection of perpetual war and search for love.

The teacher's tactics were harsh at times. The method was to intoxicate the system in order to shut down the mind's consistent survivalist instincts. When these faculties shut down, whole worlds within the mind and earth came pouring forth into the individual's senses. While the rewards can be great, the nervous system is put under tremendous strain in induce this state. People suffered terrible delusions and waking nightmares in such a condition. On the other hand, the revelations were beautiful. One takes a risk to access an immense beauty.

Initially I dabbled in this guru's teachings. Once or twice a year I engaged in its tough love. Sometimes the light of infinity shown forth, and sometimes the dragons of my subconscious manifested in their full potency. During these times I came to the foot of the teacher in social situations. It was more entertainment than exploration.

During the last half of my twenty-forth year, I became more devoted to my guru. I went on a pilgrammage to his feet in Costa Rica as he traveled with a gypsy band of Brazilian disciples. Beforehand I had purified my body through cleansing, my mind through meditation.

In the midst of a delicate ritual, it radiated the pure beauty of existence. The demons that lurk in my subconscious were helpless in the face of such a force. The guru did not only tell me, it made me experience the truth. I saw my body as a vessel in which an immense energy current flowed. I experienced the cycle of death and life as merely operating systems through which we experience the truth. This cycle could not harm those who do not subscribe to its supremacy. Judgment, dialectics, and thinking in polarities disappeared.

I just was.

As the ceremony wound to a close around dawn, I was willing to dedicate myself to the teacher and the message. I was shown the truth without any interference from lurking survival instincts. How could I not follow this new master?

I moved from Central America to the desert mountains of Southern California, and continued following this mysterious teacher. I sought him out whenever I got the oppurtunity. Each time the universe unfolded itself. The visual patterns that had ruled my experience of the universe unraveled, and all seemed to move in a flow of energy. Plants and animals began to communicate with me, and all became peace. I saw myself as a prophet of the earth, searching for a way to demonstrate the truth to those enamored with these lies.

While I was not studying at the foot of the teacher, my life was hectic. I consumed a decent quantity of alcohol most nights, several cups of coffee during the day. My lack of plans for the future ate away at me. My experiences with the teacher kept them at bay while I was at its feet, but soon as he departed I filled myself with fear. My nervous system was already strained, and I could not feel the level at which the teacher's syrum was harming me.

Right before I turned twenty-five, my life came crashing down on me. Many people in my life had not believed in the infinite truth, and thus cloaked themselves in mental instability and sorrow. My girlfriend seemed at the time to be the one exception. As time went on, our presence in each other's life restrained our inner selves. We were too caught up in our relationship to realize it. Her knowledge of this fact manifested, and ended the relationship in a crushing way. My life and all certainties came crashing down in the course of one afternoon.

I quickly saw that I need the power and discipline of another teacher or else I would sink deeper into a confusion resulting from a dirty-bombed nervous system. I packed my bags and drove to New Mexico in search of a new master. took off for I New Mexico to study under the new teacher.

Rather than poisoning the mind out of its survival orientation, the new guru taught a discipline of physical motion and quieting the mind to coax the demons to sleep. The body was built up in the process, the nervous system and liver
rebuilt. Discipline, a word that in the past conjured up a life devoid of God given pleasures, became a key to liberation. Thomas Merton referred to it as the four walls of newfound freedom. Joy was attained through a stable clarity rather than intoxication.

The other day I paid a visit to the old teacher. I climbed a mountain and bowed my head at its feet. I lay down and began to sing Amazonian songs of the divine ecstacy. As the intoxication came on, my system, unused to toxins, reacted with
sluggishness. The experience manifested the visceral sense of beauty, but something remained not right. I was accustomed to lightness, and now I was feeling weighted to the world. As I descended the mountain and drove back to Los Angeles, my body struggled to regain its previous clarity in the face ofthe poisoning.

People and things appear at different points in one's life for a reason. What once worked at one point does not necessarily work later. The ability to discern when something is no longer right is a skill that I have struggled to attain. I have grasped on to experiences long after the vibrancy had past. Change has been melancholy rather than exciting prospect for me. I work on the ability to discern what is helpful from what keeps me mired.

The old teacher has completed its role for now. Under its guidance, I devoted myself to shedding the ghosts that haunted myself. During a time where I was unable to still myself to let the light through, it struck at the nervous system's survival techniques. It led me to the foot of my current guru, a higher being. When I returned, the old teacher's message to me was that it had played its part its part for now.

May my old teacher continue to pull victims out of the jaws of despair, and show them, however briefly, of the bliss of this existence. It opened the world for me, and may it continue doing for others. It was useful to me in breaking through the structures of the old world, but could not provide me with the tools to construct a new one.

Friday, January 19, 2007

LA: Our Dear Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland

Helicopters have circled me in the past few hours. The first one was monitoring some police activity on a corner as I walked out of work in West Hollywood. 10 miles away and two hours later another police helicopter was beaming its searchlight in search of some troublemaker

The everpresent police and news helicopters contribute to LA's Terminator-esque, post-nuclear armegeddon feel. Helicopters zoom by as the humans fight a losing battle against the Machine army. The vertical order of Manhattan's skyscape has spilled into an 11,000 square mile basin of urban/suburban seizue. The suburbs are impregnated within the city, and no one can accurately tell you where Los Angeles ends. I would venture to say that it spreads east 10 miles before Palm Springs. If Camp Pendleton were not there, the LA and San Diego metropolitan areas would have merged into one.

Concrete arteries are spill over with steel during rush hours. Rush hour seems to take up most of the day, as 2 pm marks the beginning of the afternoon gridlock. The city seizes into virtual paralyzation, with commutes that take significant chunks of one's life.

Having come from the east coast, I am used to building codes that ensure development maintains a colonial, columned brick house aesthetic. Anything goes in LA. Strip malls and shopping centers are the kings, with urban high rise randomly clustered across the skyline. Due to the conspicuous absence of homey pedestrian streets, some wise developer built a widely successful shopping center in this model, with a trolley car and all.

Those with money display it in a gaudy glory. $300,000 Ferraris and Bentleys are daily sights in West LA. In a town where a two bedroom on a fifth of an acre will cost you $750,000, 20 bedroom marble mansions dot the hills in the hills.

A twenty minute from what is perhaps the world's densest concentration of wealth will take you to the territory of raging gang wars and drive by shootings. LA mayor Villaragosa recently asked for federal intervention in stopping the uncontrollable gang violence. In several areas Latino gangs are shooting all blacks, including children, on sight.

So here we have it. The world's richest, most creative, gang banging, gridlocked post apolocalyptic wonderworld. Welcome home.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Quotes of the Day

In an interview with CBS the other day, President Bush said "Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude."

He also said Saddam "was a significant source of instability." I would go out on a limb and say the civil war groups is far more divisive than Saddam's brutal strongman period.

He also spoke of himself as the "educator in chief."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More Troops?

The swagger is gone. In his Wednesday night speech, President Bush showed little of his characteristic bravado. He must have partially awoken to the fact that the war effort is going disastrously. He looked like a scared child who has done something silly against all practical advice, and is looking for a parent to step in and make everything all right.

Will this troop increase work? 20,000 is nothing. Many suggested that at least 200,000 troops were needed to secure the country in the spring of 2003. The actual troop numbers were far less, allowing the insurgents to take hold.

And then there was the de-Baathification and the disbanding of Saddam's Iraqi army. In order to hold a government position in Saddam's Iraq, they needed to join his Baath party. Since every qualified teacher was part of his Baath party, the country was made devoid of qualified teachers. The army is disbanded, releasing many angry males who onto the street with no profession and numerous guns.

Almost four years into the war, the insurgency is fimly entrenched. Throwing an additional 20,000 troops on top of the 130,000 already there is a drop in the bucket.

If the "surge" fails, the US will look even weaker...

This conflict may have no military or diplomatic solution anymore...

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Thoughts on Bolivia



The above picture is Nevado Illimani, a 21,000 plus foot peak that stands watch over Bolivia's capital, La Paz.

One often hears Bolivia described as the Tibet of the Americas. While similar to Tibet in its wind blown, high plateau landscape, the attitudes of the respective peoples towards their conquest have been polar opposites. The Dalai Llama’s acceptance of his country’s fate is in stark contrast to the seething anger of Bolivia’s indigenous.

The majority of the population dwell on the 10,000-13,000 foot altiplano. The Andes are at their widest on this jaundiced, oxygen starved plateau. It is flanked to the West by a double phalanx of volcanic ranges and the Atacama desert. The latter has the notorious distinction of being the driest place on earth. It is fifty times drier than Death Valley. Some spots have not received a drop of rain in forty years. A 2003 study suggested that the land was as lifeless as Mars.

To the east of the altiplano are a series of ranges rising and falling into humid lowlands. To the north, Lake Titicaca and the Cordillera Real combine to prevent any intermingling between the altiplano and the Amazon basin. The Mediterranean blue Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable waterway at 12,500 feet above sea level. Indigenous tribes dwell on islands constructed out of reeds and fish for giant lake trout from Viking-esque reed boats. Incan legend holds that the Island of the Sun is where Con Tiqui created the earth.

The granite, glacial massifs of the Cordillera Real erupt from the earth to the north and east of Lake Titicaca. Many of these behemoths tower over twenty-one thousand feet. The range drops precipitously into the Amazon rain forest, hurtling into that abyss of green.

62% of the country identifies itself as indigenous. The percentage is much higher in the altiplano, where the Aymara and Quechua speaking peoples have preserved enormous swaths of their culture against the conquest.

The Aymara speakers are descended from warlike tribes centered near Lake Titicaca. Eighty years before the conquest an Incan spread the empire north to the current Colombian/Ecuadorian border and south into northern Argentina and Chile. A series of emperors were known as the Incans, and the speakers of the Quechua language became known under the name of their ruler. Quechua speakers came to live in Bolivia when Incans colonized their new possessions.

With the arrival of the Spaniards, the indigenous were forced into a semi-feudal system. Conquistadors were given labor rights, and labor drafts sent them into the bowels of mines for weeks at a time.

Uprisings against the Europeans began during the conquest and continue to this day. In 1780 an indigenous army under Tupac Katari captured the area between Lake Titicaca and La Paz. An eight-month siege ensued. Approximately half the population starved or died fighting. The rebellion occurred shortly after a similar siege of Cuzco by Tupac Amaru. Deceased rapper Tupac Shakur renamed himself in honor of the anti-European forces.

This anger, this sense of having been cheated for the last five hundred years, is an overwhelming trait in the Bolivian people. As opposed to tropical neighbors who live in a paradise of mangos and fish, the majority of Bolivians were born on a barren, thin air plateau where only potatoes and quinoa willingly grow. The past five hundred years saw their rich and intricate culture assaulted by a force seeking to create a European style feudalism in America.

Evo Morales, a forty-seven year old full blooded Aymara and leader of the coca growers union, was elected President in December of 2005. Known simply as “Evo,”he was the son of a poor llama herder on the altiplano. Four of his seven siblings died as children. In one popular story he and his father were traveling across the altiplano. Buses would go by and the occupants would throw orange or banana peels out the window. The young Evo would eat the bits of flesh remaining on the peels. He himself that one day he would be ride on such a bus and eat exotic fruit.

Coca production became lucrative in the 1970’s with the rise in popularity of cocaine. Evo’s father heard of a gold rush in the Chapare region, and relocated his family there. The chewing of coca has been an integral part of Andean culture for centuries.

The Spaniards accepted it when they saw that it substantially increased the productivity of their workers. When the leaves are placed in the mouth and mixed with a base, a mild stimulant effect occurs. It alleviates hunger and the crushing effects of living at glacier level.

While hiking the Andes and the Amazon, my guides insisted I offered a few leaves to Pachamama, the goddess of the earth, before stuffing a handful in my mouth.

I found the coca leaf to be a much more gentle stimulant than coffee, Argentine yerba mate, or even green tea. The coca leaf does not produce the roller coaster ride of elation and despondency I experience with coffee. Rather, it is a sustained energy that relieves the draining effects of altitude.

The drug also happens to be the raw ingredient for cocaine. The leaf is chopped up and the active chemical concentrated using an assortment of wonderfully healthy substances such as gasoline and acetone. One would think that diced up organic spinach treated with the same chemicals would also produce a noxious substance.

As international demand for cocaine grew in the 1980’s, Bolivia became a major supplier of the raw leaf and some refined cocaine. A global crash in the world mineral market devastated the state owned mines. The government brought balance by privatizing mines and laying off 20,000 employees. Many of the newly unemployed headed to the Chapare, a non-traditional coca region, to join in the coca leaf bonanza.

With the arrival of crack, cocaine was no longer a hip yuppie drug. The US government expanded its anti-drug campaign past its own borders, aiming to destroy cocaine at its biological source. The DEA supplied training and equipment in the burning of fields. Such eradication campaigns were met with rage. Though the most of the coca produced in the Chapare was destined for refinement, the farmers did not seem to care where their harvest went. They insisted that if cocaine was a US problem, it should be dealt with inside the US.

I think the solution is to eradicate the demand for cocaine in the US. This will not be accomplished through strict penalties. We need to let people know that they can be happy without pumping themselves full of drugs. There is obviously a void that needs to be filled. Let people know that they are unique creatures of God here to give something that no one else can give. Only then will this hellacious stalemate resulting in death and poverty throughout the Americas stop.

Evo began his leadership career by organizing union soccer games, and catapulted through the ranks from there. He emerged as a relatively unknown presidential candidate in 2002. US ambassador Manuel Rocha warned the Bolivian people that electing a cocalero leader would risk continued US funding. Evo’s popularity immediately soared, evidencing the anger against the perceived colonial monster.

He lost the 2002 election, but remained a leading figure in "Black October" of 2003 when President Sanchez de Lozada when the army killed dozens of proestors in El Alto, a slum of La Paz. He was elected in a landslide in January, 2006

One of his inaugural ceremonies took place at the ancient city of Tiwanaku. He appeared before the largely indigenous crowd dressed in a red poncho with a staff in hand. Adorned in necklaces of coca leaves and flowers, and donning a checkered emperor hat, he was inaugurated by indigenous priests. He declared that five hundred years of conquest were over.

Upon assuming office, he cut the presidential pay by 57%. He shuns the traditional suit and tie look for sweaters decorated with Andean animals. Evo has attempted to create a government of regular people as opposed to professional politicians. The consul in Barcelona is a former soccer player; the ambassador to France a popular singer. The head of the Senate is a school teacher in the countryside.

His first target was the vast oil and gas fields of Bolivia. For years transnational companies made hefty profits while the people saw little improvement in their quality of life. Leftist leader Oscar Olivera summed up the people’s rage: “As a result of corporate globalization, we Bolivians…have been stripped of our material inheritance and natural resources….The transnationals have stolen our….hydrocarbons…and our land.”

In May of 2006, Evo announced that the companies would have six months to sell at least fifty-one percent of their ownership to the Bolivian government at a set price or they would leave. In the months leading up to the October deadline things did not look promising for the Bolivian government. The companies were putting on their best poker faces over their threats to leave. If they indeed leave, Bolivia would be abandoned as a lower tier third world country with no real ability to extract or export its resources. And without extraction, the country would be destined for dire poverty.

At the last minute the companies renegotiated the deals. As oil and gas are in high demand in this world economy, other companies would have stepped in. It was a twenty-first century nationalization, using market oriented competition threats rather than Castro-esque land seizures.

A second target was the US driven campaign against the coca leaf. Acting on the premise that coca is not cocaine, Evo has moved to stop cocaine traffic while maintaining a space for coca production. He appointed a small time coca farmer and mayor in the Chapare as the vice-minister of coca. Evo ordered the halt to forced eradication programs several months into his presidency, instead promoting voluntary eradication and allowing campesinos to cultivate one third of an acre.

A third goal is land reform. Evo promised redistribution of large, unused tracks of land for the poorest. The measure passed in November. There is talk of landowners hiring private militias to keep out potential squatting campesinos. This ominously resembles the beginnings of Colombia’s interminable civil war, as Colombia’s paramilitaries formed to protect landowners from left-wing guerillas.

This final issue may bring about a civil war between the wealthier lowland provinces and the poor Andean ones. The talk of secession is commonplace. The lowlands, which contain the vast majority of oil and gas, do not feel responsible for the altiplano poverty.

Evo promised rapid change, and the people have little patience for traditional snail’s pace moves. In my two months in the country, it seemed that fewer people supported him. The threat of civil war loomed, and it was unclear how the nationalization would pan out. People on the fence began to question his ability to accomplish his goals without tearing the country in two.

Sunday, January 7, 2007



Camped out in the Bolivian Andes

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Submission

The idea of submission is rotten in the minds of many Westerners. We are free, and anything that can be construed as a rule or limitation is anathema. The 1960’s free love/drug culture promoted William Blake’s idea that “The Road of Excess Leads to the Path of Wisdom.”

This move towards “unmitigated freedom” was understandable. Organized religion had spent thousands of years focusing on rules for rules sake rather than rules as guidelines for the betterment of humanity. Moreover, the ability to interpret and make new rules created a class of people who used rules as a pretext to power.

The 1960’s generation threw the baby out with the dirty bathwater. Sexual and drug excesses created a wounded generation. The worst cases seem to inhabit the streets of Venice Beach, my place of residence.

This subject has come up as I am rereading parts of Milton’s epic “Paradise Lost.” Satan arrives in hell in the beginning of book four, and mourns his downfall. He realizes he can return to his former place. But that would involve, “submission, and that word disdain forbids me.” Rather than submit, he dives into an existential void. “Farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear, Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost; Evil be thou my good.”

Submission is a four letter word in our culture. If it the word is examined closer, its real meaning can shine forth. The Sikh scripture is full of exclamations of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru, being a slave and a servant to God. This is a recognition that man’s analytical mind is not capable of creating paradise. The mind is necessary, but its perfection is not the ultimate end.

Nanak is forever a slave to the supreme energy. He did not negotiate with it, did not construct it in ways that made him feel superior to it. He acknowledged its supreme power, and became a pure channel of it.

To a large degree yoga is about submitting. Holding an uncomfortable posture for a long time requires letting go. Holding your arm up at a 60 degree angle for 62 minutes is tough to accomplish if you imagine that you are the doer. At one point you must submit to a higher power, and from that point the task will be much easier.

Bio

I am a 26 year old political and adventure oriented yogi. I was raised in Washington, DC, son of two Ivy League intellectuals with a penchant for leftist Catholic activism. I grew up in the Capital Hill culture. I went from accompanying my father to his office as a toddler to interning during high school and collegiate summers.

I attended the University of Virginia, graduating in 2004. I was a regular, law school destined fraternity brother. After my third year of college, I took a semester and a summer to complete the 2,170 mile Appalachian Trail, spanning from Georgia to Maine. The trip detoured me from the standard post-grad professional path. Upon graduating from college I moved to a Caribbean Island off the coast of Nicaragua. In the course of the next ten months I studied Spanish in the highlands of Guatemala, trekked up 14,000 foot volcanoes, hiked through thick coastal rain forests, attended Sandinista election rallies, and cooked at a yoga retreat center in Costa Rica.

I returned to the United States, and moved to Southern California. Some drastic personal developments happened in my life, and I was forced to realize that the operating systems I had been using were obsolete for where myself and the world were heading.

Kundalini Yoga found me soon after my return. It is a science aimed at strengthening the nervous and glandular systems for the purpose of remaining strong.

The world is going through a major period of change. Anyone whose eyes are even partially open can witness that something is happening. Ancient scriptures of many cultures (Mayans, Christians, Yogis) anticipate a time of great change at the turn of the millenium. The world population has increased six fold in the past hundred years, and previous barriers between people and cultures have fallen. The way that we have negotiated reality no longer works. We are moving away from a time/space where violence is the predominant force.

Metaphorically speaking, we are moving from DOS to Mac OS/X. Humanity needs an upgrade to stay relevant in this chaotic time.

God, universal energy force, etc…. has created each individual with a purpose and will take care of us. A businessman is not sent on a trip without the company picking up the tab. At some point each one of us became convinced that we were not special, and that we had been abandoned. We have created egos that have spun out of control, focusing on protecting ourselves financially in 40 years rather than trusting in the moment.

We do nothing, God is the doer. The key is to work on clearing neuroses and the habits that form them. The clearer we are, the better God can work through us.

I have recently returned from three months in South America, meditating at 16,000 glacial lakes, trekking up and over the Andes into the Amazon, and writing all day in Buenos Aires cafes.

I reside in Venice Beach, California, working on my writing.