Keep it simple, silly

Thursday, February 24, 2005

How is it I have been so lucky? Six-and-a-half weeks in Mexico and no banditos, no mugging, no interminable illness, no kidnapping, no theft, no rip-offs; only warm, friendly people who open their hearts and homes, shopkeepers who I’ve never met before telling me to come back and pay later when I don’t have any change, people who give and give and give even when it’s clear there’s nothing much left in the coffers. Where is this other Mexico I’ve heard so much about that keeps evading me at every turn?

Today I arrived in Mexico City and it, at least, is as big as they say it is. It must be, because somewhere out there is the poverty, the gangs, the filth that seem to represent this city to so many. Not here in La Condesa, a leafy, quiet neighbourhood close to the centre of the city. A wander through the streets conjured up images of Paris or San Francisco with a cosmopolitan array of cafés, restaurants and people. It is delightful here.

And I know this place does not represent either the city or the country of Mexico. I have spent enough time in the latter to have some sense of the place. Yet, in a sense, it does represent Mexico – a land of countless aspects. This is a big country where there seems to be no typicality, no stereotype that could accurately represent it.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The great way is easy,
Yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centred within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
While farmers lose their land;
When government officials spend money
On weapons instead of cures;
When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
While the poor have nowhere to turn –
All this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

Tao te Ching, verse 53

President Bush picks another fight while upping the funding to the Pentagon while cutting costs in health, welfare and education; corporate farms and Monsanto take over the land, leaving honest farmers everywhere bankrupt and landless; Paris Hilton, Prince Harry, James Brown, Bobby Brown, Robert Downey Junior, gangsta rappers. The world is an interesting place right now, and though it may not be in keeping with the Tao, the Tao is in keeping with it. Always.

The Tao is about balance, and everything remains in balance: pick fights and people fight back; mess with the environment and the environment messes with us; try to change the world and watch it change you. It is all the same. It is all a case of getting what we ask for: getting what we give.

There was a time when I thought I was special, a time when I thought I could change the world. And then one day I found the only thing I could change was myself. And you know what? Since that day I had a bigger impact on the world than ever seemed possible before. No earth shattering breakthroughs, just a series of gentle awakenings along a steady path through the eternal. Only when I’ve been unattached to outcomes have any been effective. Life is beautiful that way.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Look at this. Look at this situation and laugh. Nothing is impossible, nothing stands between here and eternity. This is eternity. It is the way and the life. There are no questions in eternity, for everything has been answered, which leaves only what is, and that is eternal.

We lie and wait for the impossible, the improbable, when here it is flowering all around us. None of this could have been imagined without the spark of the impossible, and all of it exists by virtue of the improbable. No stone unturned, everything where it should be, and harmony abounds. So clear, so beautiful, the sun on a clear day: so incredible it is blinding. And that is where the problem lies: the truth too is blinding, blinding of all that has been believed before. And this is frightening to one who holds desperately to what they think they know, shrinking from the truth, turning away and stepping into the darkness, preferring to be lost than found in a world not of their making. The arrogance. Who are we to assume that we know best when the evidence abounds that we don’t? Stumbling, falling, breaking our necks in the darkness, pain becomes reality and fear the light that takes us deeper into the interminable cavern of the ego, where no true light shines and everything is a reflection of suffering.

This is not the way home. Blindness is the way. Blindness to all we thought was real, and clarity to all that is. Removing our hands from our eyes is the toughest task, for we really don’t want to know the truth: admitting that we were wrong for what seems so long gives the illusion of suffering to an ego-driven mind, while the truth is nothing could be more beautiful.

So we see what we see and the truth lies hidden. Everywhere around us yet still hidden. What a strange world this is.

Uncover your eyes, stranger, and be a stranger no more. Love is all there is. Be it.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The rising moon in Zacatecas is huge, like a misshapen football I could reach up and pluck from the sky to kick across to the other side. Golden, a tasty chunk of cheese, half eaten by the gods, awaiting the next heavenly bite.

Mexican eyes are deep, dark caverns to lose yourself in on the journey to eternity. Big, open, mysterious and inviting, a welcome-sign to their souls.

And Mexico is a fiesta. It is a celebration of life, with the food, music, dancing and smiles one would expect of such an occasion. Colour is the _expression, and the colours are bright. The streets are rainbows: vibrant, effervescent rainbows, dancing in time to a glorious rhythm.

This is not the country I was warned about. Could these be the people I was told to fear?

Falling in love is easy here. All you have to do is open your eyes and breathe. Before long you will find an ancient building, a magnificent church, a tasty treat, a beautiful child or a helping hand to reinstate whatever faith may have been lost in a busy mind. Faith is devotion is love, and Mexico is full of faith. They believe here, and for their devotion they receive a daily feast. And daily they thank the Virgin of Guadalupe for this.

The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a beautiful one. When the Spaniards first came here they did so with the missionary fervour common among colonialists. Naturally, the local Aztecs were none too keen on changing faiths, so a battle of religious wills reigned supreme until the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to a peasant named Juan Diego, who was trekking across the countryside to obtain help for his ailing uncle. She told him to tell the local priests to build a church on the spot she appeared. He said he would but well, I've got this sick uncle and all. She told him that she'd look after that if he'd just go and do what he was told. He did, and of course they laughed at him for being a crazy peasant. So he returned home to find his uncle had miraculously recovered. He returned to the spot to thank the Virgin and she said no worries, now go and tell the priests again to build a church here. So he did, and between guffaws the priests told him okay big fella, whatever you say, just bring us some proof. So he went back to her and said look, I'm feeling pretty stupid about this whole thing already and now they want some proof. No problem, she told him, just go to the top of that hill and pick all the flowers. I must be going crazy, he thought, first I'm seeing visions and now she's telling me to pick flowers in the middle of winter - everybody knows that flowers don't grow on that hill in the middle of winter. But he trudged up the hill working out how he was going to explain all this to his family and surprise, surprise, when he got to the top it was covered in beautiful flowers. So he picked them all and put them in his white cloth poncho blankety thingamy they call a tilma that was all the rage with Indian peasants in the 16th century and took them back to the priests wondering how a bunch of flowers was proof of anything much at all. When he got there he opened his tilma and as all the flowers fell on the floor everyone gasped and kneeled before him and did that sign of the cross thing Catholics are wont to do. Neat trick, he thought, until he looked down and saw the image of the Virgin - the very samy Virgin he thought he must have been imagining - imprinted clearly on his open tilma. And then the whole nation fell in line and lived happily ever after in pure Catholic bliss. Maybe not quite, but the Virgin of Guadalupe is very much the symbol of this country today.

Nice story, isn't it?

After a couple of weeks in Mexico and a couple of months in the States, I am struck by the similarities Australia shares with each nation.

Like America, Australia strives to be the best in so much it does, giving its insecurities away so often with the ‘world class’ tag placed on everything from hotels to kitchen sinks. And like America, Australia seems to have been bitten by the wealth at all costs bug; education is no longer free and the once public utilities that abounded in the country are now private as a result of this obsession, but people are driving European cars and living in bigger houses furnished with mod cons galore nowadays, so that is presented as a worthwhile consolation.

Like Mexico, Australia appreciates leisure. Most people still enjoy four weeks of leave annually, and depending on where you are and who you’re with you could find yourself regularly at the beach, in bars or restaurants, at the footy or cricket, in the bush, or enjoying a barby. Despite increased working hours, we still find time to drink more than anyone else in the world except the Germans, so somebody in Australia must be trying to have a good time.

What I have been experiencing in Australia in my lifetime is a shift from a more ‘Mexican’ lifestyle to a more ‘American’ one. There is no judgement in this, it is simply an observation, and maybe it is worth examining the motives behind it and their veracity.

There seems to be an underlying assumption that to be wealthy is to be secure is to be happy. If this is the case, why does Australia have one of the highest suicide rates in the world? If correlation proved causation, then we could explain it away by blaming it on having more hangovers than anyone else, but it is more probable that the (world class) drinking and suicide statistics are symptoms of a greater condition in which people who are trying to be happy are realising they’re not.

So it seems wealth and happiness may not necessarily share a direct relationship. What about wealth and security? My observation is that the more wealthy a person is, the more they tie their money up in trust funds, the higher their fences and the tighter their security systems. These are not signs of security to me, these are signs of insecurity. Personally, I have never felt so insecure as in those times when I have had wads of cash in my pockets. Conversely, now the less I have, the less I have to lose and the more confident and secure I feel. If I step out the door and get robbed now it would be no different than stepping out and buying a t-shirt or a bus ticket. So where is the security in wealth?

“Ah,” you say, “But if we don’t focus on improving the GDP, we’ll become a third-world nation.” And? Your point is what, exactly?

I can only speak from my experience, and my current experience extends only as far as Mexico which, admittedly, is not regarded as a third-world nation. It also is not, as far as I am aware, considered to be a ‘developed’ nation, whatever that means exactly.

I’ll tell you what my experience of this ‘underdeveloped’ is to date: the people are warm and friendly and generous; they eat really well, and their produce has more flavour than you’ll find in the supermarkets of Australia or the US; tertiary education is free; the nation is not at war with anyone; the houses, the clothes, the people are all colourful; young people respect their elders; music is everywhere; the people love to party; and there is a community spirit, a real sense of interdependence, wherever I go. What exactly is wrong with this picture? What are we afraid of?

And no, I’m not saying we should be like Mexico – that is Mexico’s job. But nor should we strive to be like America – the US is much better qualified for that. Australia is the land of the fair go, and if we trust in what we know, what we’ve always known, rather than believing in a dream – someone else’s dream – then we will realise that regardless of our financial status, she will indeed be right. She always was. Dead set.