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Living a magical life

As I get older and more set into my routines I find that life loses a little bit of luster.  New experiences become less frequent and the activities I’m used to become a little less enjoyable.  

Then I look at my son and see how he is excited about pretty much everything.  Everything is new to him and his curiosity is limitless.  Couple that with Lapham’s Quarterly which current theme is Youth, I find this realization of mine is not unique and has occurred through time and cultures.  

In fact, I’ve touched on this topic before in a post two years ago “Importance of an Open Mind” I realized that it is possible to see the world with “new eyes” and the magic and excitement will come rushing back.  But, without practice it is easy to let the magic slip away and revert back into that mainstream current in which most adults find themselves: bored, going through the motions, sleepwalking.  

This morning, I’m reminded that I do need to work on my own thought processes and bring back that magic.  So, I took a walk in the garden and looked at some of the most beautiful flowers that have just started to bloom.  It had been a while since I took time to really look at them and appreciate the beauty they bring to the garden.  I also took time to see the flowers that rarely get much appreciation such as those yellow flowers that spring from my pumpkin plants and only last one day.  

To really think about it a flower is a most extraordinary thing!  It starts as a seed in the earth and under the right conditions begins to grow.  This tiny plant pushes its way through the tough earth and over time becomes a beautiful, soft object, exploding with color and meticulous in design.  The pumpkin flower graces us with a one day only show, it is best we pay attention!  Then my thoughts to the nature of reality and I wonder about the intelligence/being that designed such a beautiful object.  I’m like the child that never stops asking why.  When one can deeply contemplate the nature of reality life the realization that life and our own consciousness in the most incredible, wondrous thing one has ever experienced!  No longer would one need some particular stimuli to get high, once the miracle of being alive is realized and understood then simply existing should astound one with wonder and amazement.  

I find that religion has robbed a vast amount of humanity of this wonder.  Religion attempts to provide answers for existence and people puff up their chest and parrot these answers simply because it is what they have been told and what those around them also believe.  Often the religious can and do become ecstatic when they deeply contemplate reality and the entirety of existence but they remain within the safety net of their respective beliefs.  

It is much more incredible to contemplate this existence when one realizes that religion is simply a man made attempt to explain the explainable and that we do not know the answer.  It only follows that any theory or belief could be just as probable as any other.  To put more ‘faith’ in one answer over any other is nothing more than arrogance.  

 

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New Year 2014

I usually like to write about an event while it is actually happening.  This year I just didn’t have the enthusiasm to write for Christmas and am a little bit delayed for the New Year.  So today, I’m forcing myself to get my thoughts down.  

This New Year’s Eve we did not go to any special parties, dinners or anything like that.  So I thought it would be a good idea to get a picture of the last sunset of 2013 and the first sunrise of 2014.  For the sunset, I got on my bike and rode up the mountain which takes about an hour.  Up there on that mountain I reflected on why we make such a fuss over the change of years.  After all it is just a way for us to keep track of one more revolution around the sun.

I took a look at the Facebook posts and is was very clear that everyone was excited and in great spirits.  Then I made a connection.  

As I stood up there on the mountain overlooking the ocean I realized that the New Year and those that gaze out over the sea have much in common.  The New Year represents possibilities, the unknown, a change for the better!  So too does the ocean.  Looking out over the vast sea towards the horizon the portal through which one could change their lives entirely if they only gain the courage to set foot on the boat or airplane and go!  

The New Year gives us a reason, an excuse to wipe the slate clean and start again.  But just as those who stare out over the ocean and wonder must step on the boat or plane to turn their fantasy into reality, so too must the NYE reveler act to bring about change in their life.  They must open those doors to possibilities instead of passively waiting for their hopes to come to them.  

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Looking over a beautiful scene like this I had no regrets about not attending a New Year’s Eve party.  This experience was much more meaningful and did not give me a hangover the next day.  

As I look back on 2013 I am most grateful for my experiences and the fact that I’ve recorded most of those experiences.  What is life if not just an accumulation of our experiences?  Experiences shape us, make us who we are.  Everyday we wake up and experience life.  Making morning coffee, reading the news, learning about the Roman empire, living overseas, these are all experiences.  In fact from the moment we are conceived until the moment we die is all just an accumulation of experiences combining to form one big life experience.  

Therefore, I really cannot see how anything could be higher in terms of importance than trying to have a good life experience and helping others do the same.  Everything we do, every goal we set is in the hopes of having some sort of experience.  

Now, for 2013, I had plenty of wonderful experiences and I find it very valuable to try and record these experiences.  The important thing is to know when to put the camera down and really soak in the moment, taking it all in and making it part of who I am.  But I also like to relive these moments and thus take plenty of pictures and video.  Having the picture above helps me remember how beautiful that moment was although it was quite cold!  To be all alone on that mountain in the cold as the sun has set and darkness advances is a truly wonderful experience.   

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The next morning I awoke at 5:00am and went to the Bay in order to catch the sunrise.  Just as 2014 is the beginning of the New Year full of all its possibilities, the sunrise is the beginning of a new day full of possibilities and excitement.  

People often make resolutions and how imagine how things will be different in the new year but this could also be done with each and every sunrise.  Each single day is going to contribute to how the year 2014 turns out so wouldn’t it be an excellent idea to wake early and appreciate all the possibilities and opportunities that this nascent day could bring?  

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Snapshot of my mind at 36 years

I have recently turned 36 years old and thought it would be a good idea to get some thoughts down in a post.  

When we are young time goes by very slowly.  I recall my elementary school days where I attended a K-8 school.  At an age where an hour seems like an eternity I thought I would never get through all 9 years of Elementary school.  One day was long enough, but a year, and 9 of them were too immense to be comprehended!  

I remember my mother telling me that she never thought she would turn 40.  Now, here I am facing that same prospect with complete disbelief.  Life has become such a blur that I have actually had to take some advice from Buddhism and just live in the moment, learn to savor the here and now.  I didn’t have these thoughts when I was 10 or even 18.  Life just occurred, one didn’t think too much and both pain and pleasure were at extremes.  I’ll always remember the absolute euphoria of a day spent at the water park as well as the darkness of being grounded (punished) which meant being made to be completely idle for a while.  

At 36 I don’t have any problems with being completely idle, I could just sit and meditate, or just fall asleep.  Grounding doesn’t work well at this age.  By the same measure the intense pleasures felt as a child are lessened, they are dimmed a bit.  Sure I still feel joy at a good mountain bike ride which leads to beautiful views, or an hour spent surfing in the ocean.  However, it is not as intense as when one is a child.  I miss the excitement that simply being a kid brings.  

As an adult a lot of “fun” seems to center around alcohol.  I don’t think I would enjoy drinking very much if the only choice I had was beer.  Luckily I live very close to great wine country and opening up a good bottle is kind of like an investigation.  You’re never sure how the wine is going to taste and the alcoholism takes on a rather sophisticated air as we reach for the right descriptors: I’m detecting the strawberry, with a hint of minerality and a long fruity aftertaste.  

For me, I balance all this wine drinking with exercise and my favorite being the mountain bike.  I wouldn’t have taken up the activity if it were not the beautiful mountains and ocean that I’m surrounded by.  Taking the bike up these mountains and seeing the views is quite a spiritual experience!  

And speaking of spiritual I find that a lot of my old acquaintances have “found Jesus.”  This makes me smile because I know that many of them have a lot of repenting to do for their High School extracurricular activities.  They start out the worst sinner and now really really really love Jesus.  Two completely different extremes.

As for me, I gave up religion and am very glad to having done so many years ago.  Through all my studies, travels and investigations I’ve come to the conclusion that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are simply the biggest fairy tales in the history of humanity.  Reading many of my posts in this blog and *the other one* a reader can get a sense of how I came to this conclusion over time.  No need to rehash everything here, I would just say that at this point and time I’m feeling very confident that I know much more than most people about history, and the mysteries of the universe which is ironic because I think my ultimate belief is that I understand everything I think I know could be wrong.  

Friends 

Thanks to Facebook I was able to reconnect with just about everyone I’ve ever known.  Most of my connections I would never have seen / spoken with again if it were not for Facebook.  On the other hand it did rob everyone of those spontaneous and long catch ups. It all happened so quickly and suddenly we were all in touch with a hundred of our long lost friends.  Due to this, I believe the conversations were rather short instead of the longer and more intimate drawn out conversations that would have happened otherwise.  

Oh well, I’m still glad to be in touch.  

At 36 I feel very fortunate to have found many new and very good friends.  There is a saying that if a person can have one or two really good friends in life then they are lucky.  A few of my better friends from Ohio turned out to not be so great in the long run.  For me, a really great friend is one that will see you no matter what when you are in town.  This did not happen for two people I thought were very good friends the last time I was in town.  What this means is that I was not important enough for them. 

It certainly did not feel great, but the good news is through my travels I’ve been able to meet and remain in touch with some of the most amazing people.  These people are simply at another level in life, ideas and passion.  This is certainly one of the most valuable aspects of traveling/living overseas, the ability to compare and contrast between your origin (where you grow up) and an unlimited amount of others (depending on how quickly one gets around!).  I find that people who do not travel stick to the same beliefs and ideas of that which surrounds them, and how could they not??  Without being exposed to other ideas and thoughts it is no surprise they will just repeat that which they have heard and do what others around them do.  

This is the main reason people choose which religion to follow; if they believe they have thought it out and come to the correct conclusion based on logic and or some divine feeling they are simply deluding themselves.  Just as a person believes their football team is the best, so do they with their chosen religion, it is not more complicated than that really. 

Conclusions

At 36 I’ve come to one conclusion for the purpose of life. 

1. There is no purpose.  

– Life is a sojourn from the eternal something.  A holiday which could turn out good or bad depending on the thoughts that stream through ones own mind and thus resulting in choices.  The playing field does not start out equally for everyone but no matter how good or bad the starting position is, the state of mind is really what will determine the quality of life.  

However, while we are here on this holiday, this detour I think I should be doing two things to make it worthwhile and to give my thoughts a pleasurable boost.  

1. Be kind to people and help them when possible. 

–  There is something about helping others that really lifts up the soul.  I know what cerebral pleasure feels like but to help others, connect with them is something quite different.  I feel that the whole universe rejoices and supports the effort when people help each other.  
 
2.  Have as many experiences as possible.

– Life is to be enjoyed, to be savored.  I find that many people always need to be doing something.  They have programmed themselves to do one activity after another and trained their minds to not be happy if there is not something to physically do.  Some are afraid to be alone for too long with their own thoughts.  

It think it is best to slow down, really appreciate the beauty of life day by day and really live in the “right now.”  This is actually very hard to do without training.  Our minds can easily slip away, we think about something negative and before we realize, we have put ourselves in a bad mood due to none other than our own minds!!  

Instead, I like to reign in my own mind and constantly ask myself “What am I doing here, where is here, but in any case, how beautiful it is!”  To really look at your wife, child or the flower in the planter as though it were for the first time is quite a rewarding experience.  Through this, it is as though we recapture the magic of life that often fades as we grow older.  To ponder the mystery of exactly why a seed can grow into a plant is a wonderful miracle that we’ve trained ourselves to not appreciate!  

Yes, yes I’ve studied biology in university, but to simply look at life only through scientific explanations is completely  missing the larger metaphysica
l point!  Why do the cells, atoms react in certain ways when in any other universe the rules might be quite the opposite!  

And the question never becomes clear.  

Yes the plants grow in part because of the sun, but where does the sun come from.  Ok, the sun comes from the big bang, but where did the big bang come from.  What was before the big bang?  Who/what/why are the physical rules as they are in this universe?  

Now what irks me most is when people respond confidently to this question with “God.”  It makes me want to bang my head on my desk.  They too are missing the beauty, the mystery of everything around us with a flippant “one shot” response.  ‘

I could easily ask them how they are sure about this and they would point to the Bible.  If I interrogate them further about history, the origins, and with many “whys” their “knowledge” quickly, quickly deteriorates.  

But I do not do this because let us remember rule #1.  

Be kind to people!  

It really does not matter if they believe there is an old man called God who just made everything.  It is also not my job to convince them otherwise.  Instead I much prefer to live in harmony and gently discuss their beliefs with perhaps an inquiry here and there but to leave the conversation in a very amiable way.  We are all on a path of discovery and there is no need to try to forcefully yank someone from their state of belief onto another path.  It never works anyway.  

But getting back to experiences, are experiences not the absolute essence of every moment of every day?  Why do we listen to music, watch movies, meet with friends?  Why do we have children, plant flowers, go for a run?  Isn’t the absolute answer simply to have the experiences?  

In my current culture (the USA) many believe we do things to reach some sort of goal.  Everyday we have to do something to try to get towards something in the future.  For me, living life today is the goal in itself.  

For religious types they would say that the purpose of life is to “honor God.”  This is the same as living life fully, and learning to appreciate the beauty of everything.  Seeing beauty as though it were the first time is in itself a kind of prayer.  

However, when life and experience are boxed, confined in the religious context I find it to be akin to riding a bike with training wheels.  You get the basic idea of the mysteries and wonder of life but within a very limited framework.  Eventually, these training wheels should be discarded so the individual can ride free, go fast and really really enjoy the ride! The training wheels were a false sense of security, really limited the person at best, completely stopped them from developing at worst.   

Final Thoughts

As with so many of my other posts I’ve ended up discussing religion.  In any case, these are the thoughts of the 36 year old me.  I’m glad I’ve gotten these down into an archive (this blog) so I may look back many years from now at a version of me that no longer exists.  I wish I would have done much more of this throughout my life.  It seems like I’ve beaten my apathy demon today though and it feels great!  

Just as I ask myself, “Why am I here” and “What is here.” I ask myself why I bother to write.  I write because I am an archivist.  I like to archive, to try to preserve this wonderful experience that I’m living.  Every experience is infinitely valuable to me and I want to collect and keep them all.  I really do hope that this life is being recorded by something much more powerful than my picture taking or blog writing abilities (insert NSA joke here).  I am referring to the great archivist that exists beyond space and time that has never missed a moment of this life experience.  I wish to be able to look back upon this life in full technicolor, surround sound and to feel everything just as it was felt in this life.  

I do think there is a grand archivist in the sky but I like certainty and so I do much archiving on my own as weak as the attempt may be in comparison.  

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Importance of an Open Mind

I’m sitting here this morning listening to music called “Ancient Temples” by the artist High Priestess. It is just peaceful music of the fantasy genre and I found it to be a suitable selection for the morning.  I discovered it just the other day through last.fm when I followed a chain of suggestions stemming from The Hobbit soundtrack.

As I drink my tea (high grade from Chinatown) and listen to this soothing music it occurred to me that I really like fantasy and the magical. I like to try and imagine the world from a child’s point of view and how wonderful a world it can be when you use your imagination.

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Or, for those who take life a bit more seriously, we could frame this is a Zen, universe, theoretical physics sort of way and say we are just opening ourselves up to possibilities! 

I think adults often forget that. The simple magic of being alive and discovery is either completely lost or severely dimmed.  As for me, I cannot say exactly when or where my mindset changed but for the past couple of years I have really enjoyed discovery, trying new things and simply enjoying the world around me.

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Perhaps I am taking a cue from my little boy who is interested in EVERYTHING!  I try to imitate his wonder and suddenly realize that I do not know very much about ants, plants, rocks and so on.  He becomes very excited when he finds a new type of bug and it dawns on me that I do not even know what the bug is called!

I’m not sure if I can describe the feeling or these vivid, wonderful thoughts I have when I tell myself to start paying attention and see everything with fresh eyes.  What I can say is that life becomes wonderful, it becomes magical!  Just by changing my mindset I now open myself up to ever expanding possibilities.

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To bring this down to earth a little I can tell you that through this love of discovery I suddenly had the urge to buy a mountain bike last week.  Now I find myself getting a LOT of exercise and am really enjoying being able to cover a larger range.  I think it also may help quite a bit that I live in a beautiful place called “Pacifica” where there is plenty to explore.

Now how many adults no longer feel the need to explore?  It is not that you need to travel long distances or live in beautiful places to explore (although it helps.)  As I mentioned above I can explore my own backyard with my little boy as I’m quite certain there are many more bugs out there to be discovered.

It has also just occurred to me that perhaps technology has really encouraged this type of thinking for me.  Perhaps it is not just faerie music and extremely caffeinated tea after all.  My Iphone is a magical device which connects me to all of human knowledge.  Therefore, when I find that strange bug or weird looking plant I can look it up and know what it is!

Yes, yes, that is the magic brew!

1.  Keeping the curiosity of a child
2.  Seeing the world with new eyes
3.  Being able to actually tap into all of human knowledge to really understand what you are  observing!
4. AND faerie music does not hurt.   🙂

Believe it or not, this was not my original conclusion or what my main point started out to be.  Sometimes I go in completely different directions and it is a rarity that my posts retain any sort of cohesion.

My original thought was about the perceptions people would have if say, I wrote my profile on a dating site or something like that.

1.  Listens to fantasy music
2. Drinks tea
3.  Likes to explore his own backyard
4.  Previously played too much Warcraft
5. Attends the Renaissance Festival every year.
6. Favorite Book:  Don Quixote
7.  Favorite Movie: The Lord of the Rings

How many responses do you think I would get and what conclusions would people draw about me?

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Now I ask myself the same question.  What conclusions would I draw if I were to read a female’s profile of the same type?

(Luckily I don’t need to do this anymore as I’m married and my wife likes to attend the Renaissance Faires with me.  My little boy does too but actually he likes everything.)

I guess in conclusion, keeping an open mind is something everyone says is a positive thing to do but in actuality is quite difficult.  By limiting ourselves to our own biases and set opinions we are limiting the experiences we could have, we are limiting the possibilities!

It would be akin to looking at a menu in a restaurant and that you will only look at the plates with beef.  Not just beef but only beef that comes with sauce.  Not only that, but the price must be above $20.

Terrible metaphor I know but I believe it accurately describes how we go about living our lives.  There is so much to experience (and re-experience) but the main impediment isn’t money and it isn’t time.  It is ourselves.

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Growing up and Passage of Time

It has been quite a while since I really sat and wrote down a personal post.  I used to do this quite a lot back in 2003 – 2006 but then I realized people were reading this stuff.  That is the problem with writing from the heart when you have a readership, you tend to censor yourself.

Then came along Facebook and it seemed your entire world became connected online and that things you wrote were completely exposed to everyone, not just the anonymous internet.  Well, the good thing for me, is I’ve been “unplugged” from all of that for about a decade and therefore really have no fear about writing what I wish.  Most of it was political things that I learned while being abroad but in the past few months I learned how to spin it off into a separate blog with the help of my expatriate friends.  There is always protection in a group!  🙂

Well, enough of those thoughts, I just wanted to write post like the days of yore and I’m not really concerned about who will read it or not.

Today being Friday, I sad down, cracked open a bottle of Spaten beer “Oktoberfest,” and turned on the T.V.  Have had a lot going on in my life at the moment and just wanted to take a minute, vegetate in front of the tube and relax.

The TV show that came on was “Friends.”  Now this TV show has been with me throughout my entire adult life.  It was on while I was in High School, College, Japan, Vietnam and in San Francisco.

When I watch it I wonder to myself if my life would have been like that had I stayed in the USA.  To rent an apartment, share it with friends and then have a bunch of life experiences with those same friends.  Quite a few of my friends come to mind when I think of people I would have liked to share an apartment with and the fun we would have had.  But I chose a different path and thus had completely different experiences.

The episodes affect me now as I have recently purchased a house and am no longer living in an apartment, in the middle of a big city (Tokyo, Saigon, SF) but have “retired” to the backwaters.  Actually, I was unable to cut the ties completely and am still 20 minutes from San Francisco but cannot help the feeling that a big chapter of my life has closed.

The funny thing is that the characters in Friends moved on a long time ago and it was about time I did the same.  Yet, we still get the reruns which bring the storyline back to the mid-1990s.  It makes me wonder how fast time moves on and how much things change.  You start to reflect if you made the right moves, did the right things and if you are “successful” enough.

In this culture we live in it would seem that one cannot ever be “successful” enough and even if you were to reach that point then you would be midlife before you did.  Then, upon reaching that point you look back upon your life and wonder if you made the right decisions on the way to “success.”

I for one, always have my “midlife crisis” a bit early.  I knew at 19 that I would not be a famous professional sports player and now at 33 I have the same thoughts most people might have at 40.  Still feeling good about things but that pressure to achieve seems to never go away.  It doesn’t help that economically we are in a very bad time and I wonder how many “superstars” there could have been but simply were not due to the recession.

So, I watch Friends and see the fun they have and wonder how my life would have turned out should I have chosen another path.  With Facebook it is very easy to see what others have done and you start to ask yourself “What is the meaning of success?”  You see what they do and wonder if you will ever reach a point where you are simply “comfortable.”  In the culture we live in, it seems that one can never be successful enough.  Perhaps it is just the times we live in and watching Friends, it would seem that the same problems they had in the mid 1990s’ continue to this day.

If you have never seen Friends, let me just show you the beginning and listen to the words.

So no one told you life was going to be this way. 
Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, you’re love life’s DOA. 
It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear, 
Well, it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.

Reading the Facebook updates, it would seem like some of my friend’s lives accurately reflect this description.  None of us would have thought that upon High School graduation.

As for me personally, I do not feel “stuck in second gear” but given the times we live in, I would think that I’m in 3rd gear with the chance to stall at any moment.  I still have confidence but the economy is different now and it seems like a “live or die” type of environment.

In High School we all thought that we would be kings of the world… and then we grew up.  We all still want to be happy but the weight of the world is giving us “challenges” as they say in business parlance.  Some find themselves in school, others with families, some fighting that corporate ladders.

Kind of interesting how an episode of “Friends” can bring all these thoughts to bare.

In any case, this is what is on my mind this evening.  Will try to write more in the blog, but as I mentioned, now that I see many people actually read the stuff I feel that I am self-censoring myself more.  It could be I wish to conform, or it could be I think job recruiters may actually read this stuff.  In any case, I shouldn’t worry about that and write this down for not only myself but for others who may be thinking the same way.  The most valuable type of post is what is written from the heart.

In case you haven’t, check out:  www.globalcitizenblog.com for interesting perspectives and a bit of reality in these times of silly media.  I still spend most of my time there and I’m sure you will not be disappointed.

Signing off,

El Mateo