About a month ago, I posted about a peace vigil that was going to occur here on JMU's campus. And guess what? It happened! I won't say that hundreds showed up and we marched through campus, demanding peace from our leaders, sitting silently in a mass energy circle that vibrated the entire cosmos (because it didn't happen that way).
What did happen, however, is that a small group of people about 17 of us, showed up, talked a bit, and then went a sat down in a circle for 51 minutes. No rainbows, no lotus petals, no doves, just a nice clear day and a breeze. And that was, in and of itself, perfection. Thank you to everyone who came, sat, and witnessed to the tragedy of war and violence. It's not the end of peace-making, but the beginning of a long and hard road to live peacefully.
I've often thought that standing with a gun is easy. Of course, it takes many hours of preparation to become a soldier in the military. But facing someone in a conflict while holding a weapon is certainly easier than not. I carried a knife for a period of time after I was nearly attacked in high school. Somehow it made me feel as if I had control over the world; if anyone was going to attack me they certainly wouldn't do so again.
I don't do that anymore. I use my knife to cut apples now, rather than for defense. If someone were to attack me now I don't know what I'd do, but I doubt I'd fight back. I would speak on the nature of non-violence, the fact that soldiers of peace are still soldiers but really I don't have the experience to speak on that, so I won't. What I will say is that we have the opportunity to choose peace. For those who feel they are backed into a corner with no way out but through violence I must say I disagree. History speaks to the fact that, as cliche as it sounds, violence begets violence. We're willing to listen to politicians who proclaim that we haven't yet learned from history with respect to our economic situation, a true statement, but yet these same figures can't seem to say the same for our history of conflict and conflicts to end conflict from the previous conflict. Perhaps these two are related? But that's for another day...
Non-violence requires that we be free within ourselves. If no prison, laws, or oppression can harm us, then we are free to move forward without the sense of the need to "water the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants", or something to that effect. Maybe if we as a people learned to be free where we are, we might make some positive changes in the world. Idealistic? Yes. Even feeling free in life, things still need to be changed, rights protected, and liberties fought for. But the way we fight can change. Instead of harsh screams, venomous words, and the barrel of a gun an acceptance, and righteous opposition to the status quo.
I don't believe in World Peace. See? I said it. Mr. Buddhahappypeacelight said that he doesn't believe in world peace and I don't think you should either because really, it's a crock of bs. But don't mistake my words for my meaning. I do, with all of my being, believe peace is both possible and the most noble aspiration of humankind. Contradictory? I don't think so.
Today marks the day exactly one month before the 10th anniversary of September 11th. Details aside, what does this mean? It means we have been at war for 10 years in several different countries. It means thousands of men, women, and children have died as a result of a war they didn't start. It means that trillions of dollars have been wasted on destruction and control while thousands upon thousands still go to bed hungry and without proper education in this country. It means that the war of attrition started by our politicians has managed to survive until another birthday.
Make a wish, Congress and Mr. President. This one's a big one. Congrats.
I wonder what happened to the anti-war movement, the environmental movement, any movement really. No, I'm not talking about "Let's hold hands and sing while we sit in so-and-so's office". That doesn't work anymore. I'm talking about drive and creativity when it comes to standing up for what's right rather than what's easy. Swap out an light bulb for a CFC? Great! I'm happy. But don't call yourself an environmental freedom fighter. I don't even know what it means to be one, and I don't pretend to.
Yesterday I posted a short list of things I want to accomplish, but I left one out purposefully for today:
On September 11th, 2011 I will be holding a vigil for peace at James Madison University.
Time and place to be decided soon, but there you have it. I'm sick of watching idly as our elected in Washington continue a war I didn't start and vote for. I'm sick of hearing the stories of friends' children's funerals, my classmates in 5th grade now dead because they were sent to fight in a war they didn't vote for. I'm sick of the hate and fear that runs its course through our media and our minds of that small patch of land above Africa. I'm sick for the men, women, and children in those countries who never had the thought to blow up a building, yet their homes are bombed in the name of "Peace". I'm sick of it, yet I won't do anything. I won't hold a sign, I won't sing a song. I'll sit.
I'll sit and bear witness, a term crafted by Zen Master and Peace activist Bernie Glassman, to all of this. By sitting, we accept life as it is, allowing all of our anger and the anger of the world to be with us rather than running away. By being with ourselves, by being with the powerful feelings of others, we learn to listen, to understand, and we begin to heal. There can be no hate in this. Anger, sadness, despair, joy, all of these emotions are possible when sitting, observing, witnessing. We sit with all of them. I can't hate our politicians, our troops, the Afghani and Iraqi citizens, or even the "terrorists". When we get down to it, we all have the capacity to play each of those roles, our lives just haven't put us in that place. We can be thankful, and suddenly open ourselves up to the suffering of others. It's not easy, and it will never be easy. But it does get easier.
In lieu of continuing this for several pages, I invite you to keep a look out on Facebook for the event that will be created. Peace be with you.
Beware: Reckless-head-in-the-clouds-college-planning ahead. You've been warned.
Life plans. I can't count how many times I've heard people say, "Oh I wish I could do this and that, but *sigh*, work-family-othergeneralexcuse..." in reference to some long forgotten fantasy they had "in their younger years". And this may be my age talking, but why? Our society focuses so much on being "productive", actually producing a service, that I believe we may have forgotten how to live. If we as individuals don't provide a service or produce a tangible object, we're seen as failures, deadbeats, or, worst of all, hippies.
That's a problem, it creates a society that is devoid of introspection and self-reflection, at least to any measurable extent, because it doesn't produce anything tangible. Can it make us happier, more selfless, and conscious? Absolutely! But you can't factor it into GDP, so we tend to forget it. It's why the tradition of religious monastics (Buddhist, Catholic, or otherwise) has been slowly waning. But I digress...
The point of this post is the bring into general detail some nebulous, and not so nebulous, plans I've decided to accomplish by August 8th, 2013 (2 years after having originally set forth my intention). These goals aren't productive. Well, they might be, but that's not why I'm doing them. The following are being done because I want to, not because they might make me money someday, but because I think they're interesting and maybe I could share such interesting knowledge with others. The list goes as follows:
1. Become a certified yoga teacher (200 hr RYT)
2. Learn to sail a boat sans motor
3. Spend 2-4 weeks hiking through another country, speaking as much of the language and as little english as possible
4. Apprentice at a bakery
The first one is for my uncle who passed away 3 months ago today. Yoga was the vehicle that moved him away from the pain of drug addiction and allowed him to fully live and express the beauty of life, even one in what most would call "shambles", he had. I think about him almost daily as I move through life with feeling begrudged or generally pissed off. Really I have nothing but to be grateful for my life, even the seemingly dark parts. The first goal is as much for him and his memory, as it is for me and those whom I wish to give the opportunity to practice.
The last three require a bit less explanation. They're just things I want to do. I like the idea of sailing. I want to go to Japan and/or Wales. And I like making bread. They're what I want to share with the world (especially the bread, it makes everything better).
So there you have it. A formal public commitment. I expect those of you that read this to hold me to it. Because I, just like anyone else, can let "life" take hold and keep me from accomplishing these things. Life is life is life, and I plan to live this one to the fullest.
So I know,technically speaking I've been back for over a week. But it was good to get around to everything that needed to be taken care of before jumping on here and giving a half-ass response and follow up to my trip. If you've been paying attention, or wond
ered where I disappeared to for four weeks, you'd know I've been in Madagascar studying forest and lemur conservation.
I did keep a journal for the entirety of my trip, writing down what happened each day, writing letters to people who I know would never see them. My general musings and thoughts about what had happened that day. Now, the easy thing to do here would be to type out each and
everyday - what happened, where it happened, word for word. But as I looked over my journal I realized that doing that would eliminate the 20/20 hindsight perspective. So much ofwhat I experienced over there didn't ripen until I came back to this h
ustle-and-bustle world we live in here in the states.
It's easy to fall into the stereotypical, "I've been to a third-world country" category. Talking about all the poverty I saw, all of the environmental degradation, how things are so unjust and that it's the fault of the rich nations that Madagascar is how it is. Some of that is true. I saw more than a few children who were severely malnourished, I saw hillsides stripped bare or burning (we even ran up to put out a wildfire in area I was staying, luckily the local people didn't need our help, I doubt we would have been of much assistance) and yes, I did see the effects of rich nations shipping their toxic manufacturing overseas. "Out of sight, out of mind" only applies when your not the poor country having to deal with the mess.
But that's the story: if you're poor, it's easier for ot
hers who have their own interests in mind to keep you poor. Certainly, the big issue here lies in a flawed and corrupt political system that doesn't give its citizens a voice. But I digress...
Again, it's easy to become one of "those people"; those who have gone abroad, the defunct peace corps volunteer, the missionaries. It can get very depressing when you think about it. I mean, less than 10% of the rainforest remains and some of the officials I spoke to said it would all be gone in 25 years. Madagascar is very green, but most of the landscape is degraded, barren, and void of native species.
There's hope though. If there's one thing I learned throughout the entire trip, it's the importance of education. Educating people that, yes,this forest is important that, yes,
your country has so many endemic (e.g. that live nowhere else in the world) species that you can feel proud to still have them that, yes, you can find another way around the repression that the system feeds you. It's uplifting, but it takes time. It'll happen, because people are already starving. It's not a matter of the "white-man's burden", they don't need our help, it's a matter of national pride and a "Madagascar for Madagascar"attitude. They can feed themselves, they just need the opportunity and the resources to do it. That isn't up to America-the-Savior, to think so would be insulting. I saw more than a few people who w
ere extremely bright - paving the way for the Malagasy people.
I'm extremely excited to see what happens.
Yes, there was a ton of wildlife. I won't recap all of it, because that's one too many latin names for everything I saw. Lemurs, geckos, snakes, mushrooms, palms, birds, etc... I'm not a field guide! Instead, here are some of my favorite pictures of the animals, plants, and fungi I encountered.
Pardon the formatting. But anyways, that's about the gist of it. Sorry, no intense stories about trekking through the jungle. If you want those you'll have to meet me in person, text just doesn't have the right hand gesticulations. I'll be creating a flickr account with more of the "best of". For now, enjoy these.
I found it both necessary and appropriate to inform those of you who read this of the passing of my Uncle. He passed away this tuesday from severe complications regarding cancer.
Normally I would keep such things low key, and thus far I have, but my uncle was an amazing man and I feel it's appropriate to share his story, or at least part of it:
It's hard to describe his personality in words, you'd have to have met him, but passion is a word to jumps to the tip of my tongue at first thought. If there was anything he had, it was passion. For fishing, for family, for life, the intensity with which he met the world was incredible; it was also more than likely the reason for the course of his life. He struggled with addiction for a good portion of his life.
Such a portion of someone's life is usually swept under the rug in a piece like this, but had he not fallen down so far, his rise back up would not have been so astounding. I saw him at both ends of the spectrum, addict to clean and sober, within two years time. The transformation was beyond description; the air around him changed, he moved with grace and composure I had never seen in him as far back as I can remember. He had lost everything, his high-paying job, his house, his car, but he hadn't lost himself. He was a man at peace with the world, and the world was at peace with him. I could see the struggle leave him, he was open, allowing life to come and greet him, taking whatever came with open arms and an open heart.
I can't tell you the impact its had on me. For someone to change so much, to make such a drastic and beautiful change is indescribable. His joy and humility were tangible; no longer was life a competition to get ahead, to beat everyone back, it was simply a masterpiece as it was. He was a shining example of what I aspire to be everyday, open and in love with the world.
I wish I could say that I'm glad he was at peace when he passed, but I wish that he could have been here longer in order to be a living example of what is possible when you have not only the wisdom to look within for peace, but when you have such a strong support behind you every step of the way. For my uncle, yoga was the gateway, but life became his practice.
He is missed, and will continue to be missed. A light left the world, but the memory stays.
So, in less than two weeks I will be in Africa! Madagascar, specifically, and to be even more specific, on the eastern coast, in a rainforest, for a month. Freaking out, in the best way possible.
While I'm there, my academic endeavors will be two-fold: First, each of us has chosen a lemur that free ranges around the reserve where we will be staying. So, to keep things short, I believe I'll be following a lemur through the jungle for four weeks. This is my lemur:
Precious, right? The species is the black and white ruffed lemur, one of the largest in Madagascar. Luckily, they're awake during the day and are easy to hear from a distance. I believe I'll name them all Francis, as figuring out individuals will be difficult. But anyways...
The second section will focus on alternative farming techniques that preserve what remains of Madagascar's forest. The forest is cut and burned to make may for agriculture. People have to eat, so what can you do? The goal is to both feed the people and save the forest, something that, if planned correctly, can be done.
The environmental degradation in Madagascar is extreme, so I don't doubt this trip will be rough. But, it's once-in-a-lifetime (unless you plan to hang out in jungles your whole life, oh wait! That's me!).
I won't have internet, or electricity or running water, so you won't hear from me until I get back. A solid comp book will serve as a journal so there will be plenty of updates upon my return. I'm headed down to the Duke Lemur Center tomorrow, so there may be one more post detailing that trip before my departure.