Saturday, September 29, 2007

Northwest Light

The sunlight in Washington State is like a rare jewel when it arrives, sparkling clean and pure on the evergreen trees, shimmering a luminescent blue with streaks of gold on the Dungeness spit as the sun slowly falls behind the horizon.

A spit is a long stretch of skinny land that juts out into the ocean water. It doesn't have a very romantic sound--and when you look at it on a map knowing its name it does kind of look like a long thread of spit that some giant standing on the mainland let fly.

But actually standing on the sand of the spit you are in a landscape of mist that huddles up next to you,then moves back to reveal in the near distance a boat, a tree, a heron, before sliding on again to reshape itself and the landscape.

This is not San Francisco coastside fog, with its harsh and often incessant wind. This is something far more delicate--it paints the landscape around you with a misty brush, shifting and changing, like a Japanese watercolor.

Evergreens shrouded in wise silence, punctuated by persistently conversational ravens. Long and cool narrow beaches scattered with white clam shells resembling the small hard wings of angels.

The angels may not always be visible, but they have left us, in this physical world, with tokens, reminders, evidence of their presence.

I walk the beach collecting these hard white wings in my hands,following the fluctuating presence of light. At the end of my walk, I let them fall again, emptying my hands for whatever is next.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Shopping for George Bush Terrorism and other Deals

I just love the creative ways my computer has come up with to get me to buy things. When I googled for information related to my last post, here's what it came up with:

Shopping for George Bush Torture Terrorism 2007?

Find George Bush Torture Terrorism 2007 any many other great deals at MonsterMarketplace!

Wow, sign me up.

But seriously folks, I've realized I need to do a serious about face about George Bush. Instead of constantly maligning him as many of us lefties have been doing for the past eight years, I need to thank him.

Yes, thank him. For showing me the shadow side of my own country, and of myself. For galvanizing a lot of us into creating better alternatives. For our country, ourselves, and our world.

So, GW, my dear sweet enemy-teacher, thank you.

Now would you please leave?

frog in the boiling water

If you throw a frog into the boiling water, it will feel the pain of the water. If you put the frog in the water and then slowly turn up the heat, the frog gets accustomed to it, doesn't feel the pain, and doesn't notice the water is boiling.

This story has come up several times for me in my travels back and forth to the U.S, as I jump in and out of the water.
Every time I return it seems the water has been turned up a bit more, and no one is noticing. A few years ago, when it surfaced that the U.S. may have been using torture for terrorism suspects, there was a lot of press and discussion. Some relatively low level folks were arrested. There was outrage. Now it just seems to be part of the common knowledge: yeah folks, that 's just the way it is.

Then there's the domestic spying, on peace activists, journalists, etc. It was good in a way to read media validation of what most of us already suspected. But what's being done about it now?

The other news that caught my attention is an article about the epidemic of obesity in this country, primarily among poor people, folks that live in Mississippi and Washington DC. And of course many of us in this country are carrying a few extra pounds.

What it all amounts to, INHP,is a kind of collective bloatedness, which is physically made manifest in certain communities and individuals. As if the layers of flesh on our bodies were a metaphor for the layer of numbness we seem to need to survive here. We consume a lot, yes, but what are we consuming? In the case of the poor diabetic folks in Mississippi, a most likely a lot of junk. Poison.

We should probably ask ourselves, with so many people gaining so much weight, what are we hungry for?

I also notice more desperation, more obsession with security. Has it always been this way and I haven't noticed, or is this a change? We are so highly trained in our individualism that we have forgotten how to find security in one another.

Okay, I'm on my soapbox ranting again. Forgive me. These are just my froggy observations.

At the same time that I am noticing all this, I have to also say that I am seeing increasing pockets of change and inspiration, like new plant growth sprouting up in a decaying sidewalk.

And our collective head and heart turning towards the wounding of the planet may be a sign of our own healing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stopping to Hear the Song

Whew, I'd also forgotten how fast everything here runs, how time-poor many Americans are. Those that are the working poor are running to pay their bills, and the rich, well they are also running to pay their bills, they just have higher bills. And of course everyone in debt. It's the American way.

So okay I checked out of the afternoon classes I teach to go to the dentist (more bills) and sit down in a cafe afterwards and watch people walking by. Maybe I'd had too much wine, I don't know, but all of a sudden it felt like I was being hit by little hammers of clarity, bam bam bam. In the sixties I had to take acid to get these kind of insights, you know, the kind you can't remember afterwards, but now all it takes is a sip or two of Chardonnay. Okay, it takes the whole damned glass.

So one of the many insights I had in this insightful afternoon was that I suddenly began hearing the individual songs of people. I mean as each person moved by me, I could literally hear their individual rhythm and voice call out to me... some people were kind of shlub schlub schlub, you know the fat guy with his shirt out and some messy notebooks under his arm ambling along, and others had high clear notes, perhaps with a little percussion to accompany them, like that high cheekboned blue-eyed Swedish girl with her pony tail pulled back swish swish swishing in the breeze, and her heels going clackety clack.

Suddenly I wanted not just silent me there observing all this, but the whole band to play it out loud. I wanted to round up a group of my musician friends so we could play back the songs of people as they passed.

Stop and try it sometimes, and see what you hear.

Monday, June 18, 2007


What is always a cultural shock coming back to the US of A is the amazing abundance of stuff we swim in on a daily basis...physical stuff, food stuff, informational stuff. And here in the Bay Area, I might add the rich and densely packed cultural mix we live in..anglos, francos, italianos, latinos, african-americans, asians of all persuasians, muslims, jews, indians from india, american indians. Amazing.

It is rich, it is beautiful, and yet I think it can also contribute to a kind of numbing out, a kind of overload. Most certainly, living here, we rarely step back to appreciate the abundance of stuff we have.

I am always astonished, returning from the developing world, to see television sets, sofas, CD players, boxes of books, just left out on street corners for anyone to pick up. The variety of mustards we can buy if we are so inclined, to put in our refrigerators. The fact that we even have refrigerators. Holy shit.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nobody Goes Anywhere Anymore, We Just Transmute

Is "transmute" a word, or is it "transform"? My English is suffering, I'm afraid, after the year and a half speaking Spanish and the occasional pidgeon Quechua.

I am now physically in Berkeley, Ca. Yes these are my arms and legs and this is my head and I do believe I am all here in one piece.

Yet I go to this electronic box..and presto are my friends in Peru, Argentina, Colombia! With all of their passion and problems and interests, just as I left them before. With You-tube I can even see them dancing or hiking or doing inane things around the house if they want me to.

In our electronic world, we don't go anywhere anymore, we just transform ourselves into bits and bytes, into emails or jpeg images or You-tube videos and do our work or hang out with our friends that way.
In Bolivia once, I traveled by bus with a 19 year old and reminisced a bit about what it was like travelling for me at her age. "Yeah," she said, her eyes wide like I had been to the North Pole and back in a bathing suit, "You traveled before there was email!"

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Closing the Circle

Ironically, now that I am back "home" in the San Francisco Bay Area, I will probably blog more. I realize my entries during this last trip have been pretty thin. Probably because a great deal of my writing energy was caught up in doing journalism, and my energy was also caught up in simply moving from place to place. Homelessness as an art form.

Constantly writing in internet cafes didn't help my "reflective writing" much, either, though it was fine for writing articles. Usually I went to the internet cafes with the article already written in longhand, and then braved the noise (screaming little boys with video games, loudtalking tourists) and confusion and chaos of the place to enter what I had written. But this was probably better than the risk of carrying a laptop from place to place.

In many ways, the return from a long trip like this is often the most important time for me, it is a time of closing the circle, of seeing and digesting what the trip has actually given me, and perhaps also reviewing what, if anything, I have been able to bring to the place I have visited.

Some people talk a lot about the importance of staying in your own community, or with your own "people" (whoever the hell they are)and doing your work there. But for some of us, that is not at all our path. The concept of the traveler--the travelling healer, the messenger, the chaski--seems to be much more accepted in South America than in the North. And it is not just young people who do it. Here, with our mortage payments and our debt and our need to have "stuff", it is much more difficult.

Some people who choose to move around a lot do it in a more linear fashion, moving from one place to the next, and shedding like skins the lives they have set up in various places. But I have always been a more circular traveler, with the point of return being this multi-layered, multi-cultural place called the San Francisco Bay Area.

It is spring, and the weather is good. Here in the East Bay, the flowers are blooming. Welcome home, they seem to say.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Home Again

..and what exactly is that thing called "Home"?

I am in Los Angeles, the place of my birth, after a year and a half of South America. Every time I leave for a long period and return to the States it's like falling into a time warp. I return, read the magazines and newspapers and sometimes have no idea what they are talking about. What? A black man and a white woman as front runners in the presidential race? Schwarzzeneger on the cover of Time promoting environmentalism? (In his way of course, without any of those "girly" hybrid cars that might cause men's penises to fall off or something). New techie terms and tv shows I don't's all like returning from a very long dream.

And yet, this time I am actually feeling positive about my return. Newsweek had a piece by a man who noticed how many people around him, particularly "conservatives" who had done an about face in their lives and politics. This is happening, he says, because people in the States are suddenly getting it that we are connected to the rest of the world.

Yes. I'm all for that.

And these huge supermarkets, with this abundance of food and variety. As well as the abundance and variety of different nations and ethnic groups represented on the streets...this is what the US of A has going for it, among other things. And this white guy Imus has been fired for trashtalking some black female basketball players, opening up a renewed dialogue about racism and sexism in our language and how much we let people, black and white, get away with it.

Yes. I'm all for that too.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bolivian Education : A Long Way To Go

I've been having long talks with Marta Orozco, a friend who lives down the street, and a longtime acivist in indigenous movements here. She was one of the people who resurrected the ceremony of the Aymaran New Year in Tiwanaku, along with about 30 others from South America, and 5 from Canada. Also one of the first to bring in the Wiphala flag as the symbol of indigenous movements here. She is very warm, friendly, and also has very strong opinions, especially about the negative role of the Catholic Church on indigenous people.

Today her 16 year old son Huascar joined us in our conversation, and we talked a little about education in Bolivia. He says no Quechua or Aymara,the two main Native languages here, are taught in the schools. The books are there, but there's no one to teach the languages. Marta tells me that last year when he insisted on wearing his Chullo, the traditional Andean wool cap, to school, his teachers all told him he couldn't do it. The textbooks give pretty much the European viewpoint of view of the Conquest, though some of his teachers will add their own opinions. Former education minister Felix Patzi was trying to change things, bring more teachers of Native languages into the school system, etc. but he's no longer minister and now Huascar feels that everything has been left "up in the air." Some felt Patzi was trying to go to fast and was unrealistic about what could actually be done.

Indians here were not allowed to learn to read and write until 1952. I've heard stories about hands being chopped off and all kinds of atrocious punishments given to those who tried to learn, as well as to their teachers.

Morales has his work cut out for him.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


It's carnival time in Bolivia...which means the streets of La Paz are packed with tiny kids shooting white foam out of waterpistols bigger than they are, teenagers in red t shirts drenching each other with waterbuckets, masks, yells, laughter, and the rumba rumba rumba of the Bolivian marching bands that have by now become almost background noise to me.

I'm installed in the Sagarnaga Linares district of La Paz, where I can walk down the cobblestoned streets in the morning to a buffet breakfast at the Sarai Hotel and then in to one of the internet cafes to work or just meander through the Net.

But during carnival time you have to be careful, because one of those little kids or teenagers is likely to see you as a potential target:splat.

In the nearby Plaza San Francisco, some miners from Huanuni and their family members have been staging demonstrations, climbing up on the front of the cathedral, and roping themselves to crucifixion crosses. Apparantly Morales wants to take them away from the mines they have been working as cooperatistas and send them to a different region, where there isn´t as much money.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Back to Bolivia

Back to Bolivia, just a few weeks after street battles in Cochabamba killed two people. The division in the country is apparant: one the one side, the indigenous and working class, most of whom still support Morales, and on the other, the wealthy and middle classes, who accuse Morales of "racism" and indigenous extremism at their worst, or simply muddle along feeling like something is slipping from their hands. Which it probably is.

There is talk of civil war, mostly in the foreign press, but I don't see it. I do see Morales trying very hard to keep the country together, which surely ain't easy with these kind of divisions. He recently replaced seven ministers and the news headline said he was adopting a more "consensual" attitude, after being criticized for being too confrontative. But now he is being criticized for not moving the country forward fast enough.

I suppose it remains to be seen what will be the best for Bolivia in the long run--keeping the country together, or allowing it to break up into, if not distinct nations, more autonomous sections.

Despite the political tension, I am happy to be back in La Paz. I have always loved this city: the surreal rugged stony mountains rising up around the city, with snow-capped Illimani in the background, the streets alive with all kinds of people: tall skinny white people, darkskinned businessmen and women in suits, fashionably dressed Latinas, Aymaran women in their bowler hats, elegant shawls, and wide, beautifully pleated dresses, boys leaning out of careening busses, shouting out the names of destinations, marketplaces filled with vegetables, candies, pharmaceutical products,anything you need.

When I return to the States, it's always the noise and song of Latin America that I miss most..the vendors singing and shouting, the caw caw caw of tropical birds, the people huddled in front of newspaper stands, discussing the daily news.

And yes, I will be returning within the next several weeks, so I'm trying to get myself psyched up for it, back into the different, Northern rhythm.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Color of Ash

Alejandro is one of my Q'ero teachers. He's fifty six, and radiates the peace, humility and warmth I have seen in other Qero elders. His sister, another one of my teachers, is Maria Apasa Machaca, said to be the only Altomisayoq (high level Andean healer)left in the Qero nation, and definitely the only female Altomisayoq in a long time. To become an Altomisoyoq, you usually have to be hit by lighting three times. Maria seems to have survived it well. She's in her eighties, strong and vigorous. Alejandro tells me his mother had him when she was sixty, and lived to be over a hundred. That's how good the air is in the high Andes.

Alejandro also tells me that in the Qero Nation you have to be at least thirty before you can begin studying to be a pampa misayoq (Qero healer) and not everyone can do it.

We speak in a combination of his limited Spanish and my very limited Quechua. "You have to have luck (suerte) to become a pampa misayoq. Another pampa misayoq will read the coca leaves for you and let you know if you can take that path."

Today I performed a despacho with him, really the first that I undertook on my own, with his supervision. As usual I was impressed with the beauty and elegance of the process, a kind of artful unfolding of petals, coca leaves, seeds, candies and other items, as well as a powerful energetic connection with the forces of nature.

Actually putting the elements into the despachos with my own hands gave me a greater feel for each distinctive energy I was working with the apu masculine energy being quite different from the female pacha mama.

Alejandro and I don't seem to need to say much to acknowledge the energy of this work. "Allinta," he'll say. "It's good."

After making the despachos, we burned them both in the patio, in a small coal burning pot that I use to heat the house. We sat for a long time with the fire, praying, then he left me alone to pray on my own. After the fire burned down the pot had a fine white ash in it.

"VERY good," Alejandro said. "I didn´t expect it to be this good. I expected some black."

I was pleased. If you pay attention, you learn after awhile that what has long been called "superstition" is actually reading the language of nature: in the flight of a hawk or condor, in the visit of a spider, in the color of ash.

More than anything else I feel a deep sense of happiness after ceremony with the Qeros. Having escaped to the high Andes during the Spanish conquest they are carriers of an energy that is amazingly powerful and uncontaminated, a wisdom and innocence combined. It's not a head wisdom, but a heart wisdom. Somewhere I read that the Qero teachings contain an opening of different energy "eyes" that we have in our energetic field. Though none of my teachers have mentioned this, it is something that you simply begin to feel after awhile. Unlike Western teachings there seems to be little need to discuss analyze or evaluate the teachings one receives or experiences energetically.

I'm okay with that.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hat Story

It's the low season now in Cusco, very quiet, very few tourists, days of rain and tranquility.
My favorite time to be here, though the locals hate it because their income takes a steep dive.

A few months back, during the high season, I made a face and mentioned to a street vendor friend in San Blas that there were far too many tourists in Cusco. Of course, I want to be the only one.

My friend, a Q'ero who sells chunllos, or Andean woven caps, shook his head sadly at my ignorance. He took one of his woven caps and pointed out its elaborate multi-colored texture. "See this hat," he said. "This hat needs all of its colors to be what it is, and all of the colors need each other. "

Well, shut my mouth, I thought.

Besides, without the entire hat, full of its colors and complexity, your head would get pretty damned cold.

The Cusco Paradox

Cusco is a paradox.

On the one hand, the energy here is powerful and cleansing--high up in the Andes, you feel the mountain spirits as they are, grandfathers and grandmothers. And the town itself is magical: light hitting the huge cut stones of the Incan ruins, steep cobblestoned streets, the Plaza de Armas alive with festivals of people in traditional clothes, the Incan traditons still alive in the thoughts, hearts and conversations of the people. All of this is seductive and captivating.

On the other hand, Cusco is so thick with bullshit you could cut it with a knife. A lot of this is due to the mystical reputation of the place, which attracts spiritual seekers from all over the world, and has made a commercial business of ¨shamanism¨and mysticism. I'm putting ¨shamanism¨in quotes because this word is not indigenous to any of the peoples I've met here. Though now that there's money to be made from it, it seems everyone's a shaman. And I can´t blame the Peruvians for hustling the tourists--the economic imbalance has created a kind of apartheid situaation within the town of Cusco, with the old town of San Blas converted to a high-priced tourist playground, and everyone else scrambling for the dollar or Euro.

Yes, there are genuine healers here, some of them local and some of them imports. Ironically, though a lot of Europeans and North Americans come here and spend big bucks to work with indigenous "shamans", some of the Peruvians I´ve met prefer to work with the imports, Europeans and North Americans who have taken up residence here. Not being rooted in the local traditions, they are less likely to engage in the "shaman wars" which local people sometimes get bogged down in. And, as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, whether it is a physical fence or a cultural one. It seems a human response to want to enrich your own perspective with the gifts of others, despite all the advice I've always heard about sticking to the spiritual traditions of your own community.

Peru in some ways strikes me as the archetypal wounded healer. Here is Cusco, attracting thousands of people a year who want to work with healers, paqos, curanderos, and plant and medicine "shamans", often returning to their countries with powerfully moving healing experiences from ayahusca and other medicines, yet the country of Peru, and particularly the Cusco region, stumbles along unrecuperated from the ancestral wounds of its 500 year old conquest. I suppose that is the paradox of the wounded healer, who doesn't always receive the gifts that he or she gives to others.

I have been enchanted and seduced by the magic of the Cusco region, both the landscape and the people. I have tried maintain a detached amusement about the bullshit, which includes "shamans" who put together wowie zowie mystical tourism packages, mixing all kinds of spiritual traditons in a single night or weekend, and my favorite..the "kissing shaman"...a young man who wanders the streets in Andean garb offering to do "rituals" for gringas he encounters, which always seem to end up with his lips on some part of her body.

The bullshit you can always walk away from. The real magic will be there when you need it.