Food for Thought

Can the world accommodate everyone living in their purpose, with every step and decision intentionally propelling them towards their pre-designed destiny? Many people I know are like trains locked into tracks made of responsibilities, obligations and social expectations, unforgiving and unrelenting. We are governed by mantras like – “man must chop” and “I have a family to think of”, the system needs everyone to play their role to exist, we must go to work to earn and pay the mortgage, the bank must give loans to kids to go to college, who must in turn find a job to pay back those loans and on and on. The system needs us just like we need it.

Staring out this window at my regular 15 minutes work breakfast, I watch people file into worker, I ponder their faces. Some look like they are still trying to fully awaken while others look laden by what awaits them as they walk in the door. I see some people who look like drones, compelled to put in their 8 hours by some unseen force, living for the 48hrs between Friday and Monday. I can’t help but wonder – are all these people doing what they want to do or better yet, are they doing what they are meant to do? Is it possible for us all to do what we are meant to do?

Can the world support a mass awakening, the systems: education, financial, political, social even spiritual are all built on people sucking it up and accepting the hand dealt, what would happen if half the people in our jobs decide to quit tomorrow and follow their heart, downsize and live for contentment. I am not quite sure. Would that be a good or a bad thing? What if the farmer, accountant, doctor decides to quit and become a musician, or load up a backpack and through hike the Appalachian trail? As much as I want this for everyone, I wonder how this would play out. In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam work to do, I assume he liked doing it, it was what he was meant to do. The woes of living in a fallen world.

As usual I have more questions than answers. I just am moved by our collective level of compromise, overwhelmed by the courage and vulnerability required to unshackle oneself and take the leap, intimately aware of the possibility of failure which if the other face of the coin on which courage lies. The saddest part is that the effort required to dream for a better tomorrow or contemplate decisions in the past that has lead us to our today, actually ends up robbing us of today. I guess all we can and should do is keep fighting, keep dreaming but all the while not forgetting to keep leaving because as of today, TODAY is all we have.

I do need to get some pictures, I know posts without pictures to lighten up the melancholy sometimes end up sounding depressing

 

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To Pacify..

Here is how I feel today

In our microwave society, a pacifier is the ultimate symbol of our desired state of ideals. The burst of contentment it provides to a wailing child is abrupt and absolute, it captures and distracts, albeit it temporarily. It takes away the object of a child’s desire, that thing that prompted the crying in the first place. We constantly live life actively or passively pacifying, this is evident in the numerous addictions we all carry, some big, others small, no one is free, everyone has something calling their name, something they are running from, and in many ways running back to. We distracts, comforts, quiets the things that trouble us… We pacify our needs.

Unfortunately, distractions are just that – distractions, merely transient captors of desire, respite from yearnings that cannot quenched. What it gives never quite goes deep enough, it only caresses when a good scratching is needed. The one resistor to this pacification is the voice of the Heart, logic and rational win over the brain and the mind but the heart sits in silent rebellion, waiting, like Samson in the chains of the philistines, it bids its time, waiting for the opportunity to push down the pillars and return you to reality.

Recently, I have been in a deep state of pacification, chained to a cubicle, a three walled cell which is bigger than my previous cell. I continue to journey up the ladder of cooperate ladder but down this narrow dark hallway like a cow led to the slaughter room. My heart calls, begging me to snap out of it, but now I am good at ignoring it, besides my brain yells much louder. I have put my heart in a dark room and not gone back for some time, and for some time it has let me be but the ambush has been sprung – like waves of old Negro spiritual floating over a southern night, it calls for liberty, it cry’s for freedom, it cry’s for adventure.

Unlike many people, I know what I want to do, where I want to be, and what is stopping me (my good old friend fear.) The bottom line is my heart is about to make a break for it, it will either be let out of the jail or it will be broken trying to do so.

 

Rambling of a cyclist on hiatus…

   

Every avid cyclist has been there, the rumination of your mind as you approach the base of a big climb, usually starting with the early optimism when for a minute it seems like you might be able to hang in the pack till the top, then early signs of anxiety slowly emerging from the corners of your mind like new born critters poking their heads in the sunlight for the first time. No power is the registered error message as you try to keep pace with the pack, the road tilts skywards, a gap opens up and the group gradually becomes a sperk in the distance. 

  

It is at this point of desolation that I pondered the gamut of emotions that we go through as humans, how diverse, compelling and most acutely, how fickle…our emotions are. I contemplate how thin the craverse is between love and hate, how elation and ruin walk side by side, how the only constant is change. I think on this age of “pay as you go” marriages, a woman could walk by her ex husband, one she spent 15 years years of her life with, through joy, pain, loss an triumph uttering nary a word but watering down such overwhelming ironies in statements like I saw Joe yesterday…

The mysteries of our passions are quite intangible and in emotions lie the essence  and reasons for our indulgence . 
Passion is in many ways an epiphany to me, it is an amalgamation of emotion, drive, ambition, external influences, internal inspirations and the intangibles. During this 15 minutes climb which felt like 2 hours, it occurred to me that no group of people are bigger slaves and masters of their passion as Musicians. Capable of fully opening themselves to the fury of the creative process and fully in touch with the intangible to command, bend and express it in its fullness, music can bring you to your knees emotionally as you watch the musician poured out. Many times we walk through life like a plugged stream, able to let out only portions of our essence, dammed, by fear… Fear of judgment, failure… Fear to be vulnerable and called out into the light. Musicians on the other hand seem to be able to break that dam and if only momentarily flow at full force, portraying their full self in all its splendor all the while pulling the listener out from behind his mask and exposing to the light deep things rarely seen. 

A great song is to me like the view from a mountain submit, stiring so much of your souls that the best you can offer is speechlessness and a nodding of the head. This brings to mind Nathaniel Rateliff, Ben Howard, CEF, Jon Foreman

   
 On this climb I thought of my brother CEF, a musician and artist in its true sense, living his life in seasons and servitude to his musical calling, capable of disarming the most distraught with the wail of his voice and contortions of his face, evidence of the deep spring from which the music flows. Right now I wish there was a spring from which to draw energy to get up this hill, alas I must ride this current emotion out, looking down every 50 yards to see if miraculously an extra gear appears and waiting for a gay emotion at the summit all the while  humming the song Hero and trying to recreate the magic only music can give. 

  
Sing on, play on, ride on…

The Intangible. 

Slow days at work put me In a state of malaise and deep introspection, I sit feeling un/underutilized like a luxury sports girl used only to run errands…wasting. I wrestle between desiring full utilization and living a bohemian nonconformist life style, do I press to be a CEO and control the destiny of others or sell all I have buy a VW Westiva and drive cross country biking and skiing whatever my pleasure. Both options contain room for doubt and discontent. Deliverance at such times come in a slow long ride (SLR). I punched out early, bundles up and rolled out for a lumpy, windy, slow spring ride on an overcast 45degree day. 

  

Irons mountain remains my second favorite place in the world, the beauty of that place hunts and hugs me simultaneously. It is an ode to the solitude usually required for such beauty and the urban infrastructural cost (lack of). I love to drive up that mountain on my lunch break and watch the turkey vultures soar, jib and juke with the thermals as the rise out of the adjoining valley. The ride to the top was tasking to put it lightly, my legs were flat and instead of ruminating on my thoughts and figuring out the world’s problems, I was wrestling the mountain gradient, mentally struggling not to abort, point my front wheel downhill and do what ever thinking I had hoped for in front of a TV set. I suppose there are some climbs great for getting in a zone, where the body goes into autopilot, churns out the miles liberating the mind to think and there are others where all faculties (physical and mental) are summoned to maintain forward momentum. 

   

 

Lately I have been working on relocating to Nigeria, there is so much to look forward to, and so much to miss in that one decision. Endless sunny days to ride, a slower pace of life and community alien to western living where you actually know your neighbor beyond the once in month hello exchanged as you walk out to get the Sunday paper.  There is however the price paid in the forfeit of some level of comfort: Mosquitos with teeth, insecurity, lack of snow and winter sports, state parks, the vibrant Appalachian mountains in the Fall. This was what I was chewing over on this ambitious ride for someone with Spring leggs I have taken many a long rides intent on sifting through the fog, to convincingly articulate to myself the reason I am really trying to move there, many times I end with more questions than answers. 

  

Grinding up Warrior mountain, on the section with a steady 7% grade, it becomes clear, the answer is “the intangible” that which can not be quantified, can’t be articulated, qualities like providence, destiny, serendipity. The intangible if the anchor that keeps one commited to a resolve when all fails. The enigma however is that we seek to unravel the intangible, to clearly articulate and bring to the light the ethos of our motivation, but we fail every time. I guess we have to keep going on those Slow Long Rides. 

In the Eyes of the Beholder…

In the Eyes of the Beholder.

 

Lately, I have been pondering the limits of morality as it applies to different people in different circumstances. What sets the boundaries beyond which we call a morality timeout? Who draws the lines where it is too far to cross? Are we governed by some universal meter, religious, social, or political ideologies and are these standards universally applicable? Are our personal morals universal or do we reserve the right to adjust them depending on out physical location and social circumstance? Really, think about that… Do We?

I just came back from Nigeria where the economy is doing great with $510 billion in GDP, ranked 26th in the world (the fastest growing economy in Africa) but also a country where the great troughs of poverty can still be see. It is still a place where uncertainty in the areas of food, shelter and security is commonplace alas tell me a place where those concerns do not exist. Someone supposedly credible explained to me: Nigeria has two economic streams, the legal/transparent stream, and the Shady stream. He claims the legal stream puts Nigeria not so much better than any other African country in terms of economic viability and growth but the illegal really boosts the economy and provides people with the resources required to drive economic growth (the reliability of this statement is a topic for another day). Now when I say Illegal, I do not mean stealing and tax frauds and extremes like that though those things do exist and are commonplace. In this case I mean markups on prices which both parties know is going on, gratuities given and received that reach up and above the 20percent expected in western cultures (actually American culture), bribes, kickbacks, unprofessional gifts etc. These things done because it’s the way it has always been done, because it is the grease that lubricates business and gives you a better chance of getting the next contract. It is a means of spreading the wealth in a country where the socioeconomic stratification is so wide and distribution of wealth and resources so uneven and restricted to the one percenters’.

Now if one looks at the world through a “Black and White” lens where there are no grey-zones, if we judge the world through the standards set by the bible without discernment, if we are rigid in journeying through the rigors and messiness called life, we might relegate such practices as illegal with no possible excuses to justify them. However we fail to take into consideration that only God judges the Heart and rewards according to what our actions deserve (Jer 17:10). Now I know some might see this as me justifying such behaviors but like many other quandaries, I find myself the amphibian; born of the land and of the sea, able to live both lives and torn by the dichotomy that exists thereof. Pondering this situation whilst trying to reconcile the prevalence of “off the book side businesses” almost everybody I know in Nigeria does,(a banker gets a N15,000 appreciation for fast-tracking someone’s application, an Oil company man gets $50,000 for choosing this contractor over another) there is the unspoken rule that one good turn deserves another. I asked a friend where he draws the moral line, I said I want to be financially comfortable, I want to contribute to society, to my country, I want to give and I want to receive but I don’t want to steal, so help me see how what people are doing is not stealing.

A quote from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath summarizes his response: How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.

People do what they must to survive. A system in which surviving requires, some rules be bent, truths warped, actions taken with the normalizing clause “as long as you are not hurting anybody.” Well at the end of the day, we are hurting someone by marking up the price, by selling a good for twice its actual cost, someone is paying for the greed that has been trickled down the system, the price being paid is not always in money but in opportunity, in dreams, and the most costly of all in hope and faith. Usually people are okay if the only people they are hurting is the government because the general feeling is they do not care for us, they plunder and loot us, but in the end hurting the government gets richer and the people poorer.

I will not pretend I know the answer to this conundrum because its a system where you need to stay alive in order to change, and to stay alive you might need to reevaluate your moral boundaries and any adjustment of your moral boundaries puts you in same group as the rest (no small or big thief… a thief is a thief). Here we need strength and wisdom … Strength, Wisdom and Gratitude that God does not just judge the works of out hands but sees the inner things of our hearts.