Tag Archives: Society

Discovering Your True Self

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We never really know who we are until we strip away everything we thought defined us.  All that comprises our daily life; our home, the food we eat, the people we greet, the clothes we wear, the trivial material objects of our unearned affection.  When you leave all this behind in pursuit of a foreign land, in quest of that noble unattainable quality that makes one ‘worldly’ – the word we’re taught from childhood to revere as a synonym for ‘wise’ – life dumps you on your ass to start from scratch.  It’s as if the teacher of life wiped clear the blackboard and handed you a fresh piece of chalk, challenging all you have ever learned.  You begin again, you are free to be yourself with no strings attached, your spirit renewed.  When you travel, it’s as if the world is letting you be as you are, accepting your quirks and graces with open arms, saying “I embrace you, because I understand that you are you, and the accumulation of that is what makes me such an awesomely profound place.”

And only in the absence of our possessions and familiar beings do we begin to unravel the hidden jewel of our soul that has been buried in the pages of a self-written play, the predictable plot we have contrived for ourselves, acting the role of a character we thought to be the perfect part.  I wonder how many people I pass on the street are where they want to be in life…. I wonder if they are living the life they always wanted; if they find happiness in the roles they have assumed in this world.  Isn’t the thrilling rush of travel the notion that tomorrow could bring anything? – that the shackles of routine are tossed aside for a brief window of time where the world is your oyster and fate your only comrade.  Where skipping down the street between your two long lost friends – ‘spontaneity’ and ‘youthfulness’ – is your staple joy to pass the time, all that you need aside from your daily meals to find fulfillment.  It is the freedom of daily choice, of open possibilities, of approaching the unexpected bumps in the road just to see where it may lead, that fuels my incessant hunger for travel.

Some people travel for the allure of escape, of ‘leaving all their baggage behind’.  The reality is that this is rarely achieved; those who are running away seek sanctuary from themselves, and they will never find it traveling – for this is the medium that best unveils the fading fresco of the true self.  Traveling is a self portrait.  It is a voyage of self discovery. The experiences you have along the way are individual brushstrokes that depict a portion of your being.  If you are fraudulent with your interactions, your painting reflects that – your brushstrokes will quiver, distorting into a crooked wretched portrayal of something you thought you wanted people to see.  A person must approach life with an authenticity, explore the world with no parameters of who they think they should or should not be, engage in community unaffected by what people do or do not say about them.  They must act as they were naturally born to act; and that is how the masterpiece will be achieved.  I hope someday in my ripe old age, if someone were to see my portrait, the fresco of my life, they could say – “that person looks like they have seen a lot of action.”  I hope that it would look like someone who could be large by acting small, who could say a lot with few words; who knew the forest and children’s laughter, who showed kindness to others with subtle quiet gestures… like someone who believed in treading lightly upon this earth to fully hear its heartbeat, rather than the stomping of one’s own feet.

Have you found your true self?  How would your fresco look?

Photo by unknown

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Filed under Culture, People, Self discovery, Society, The Deliberate Life, Travel

Humanity Defined: The meaning of Ubuntu

As humans, we too often forget that our actions have  a cause and an effect.  We forget that we are all connected to the consequences of one another; that what we do – our actions, our words, our feelings, eventually manifest themselves out into the world.  We do not realize that our efforts at achieving isolation and independence are in vain, for we cannot escape the decisions and revolutions that affect the world in which we live.  Our hands reach out unknowingly, and spread like breath, a soft vapor touching the peripherals of our fellow beings.  We forget that to be our best, we must look for the best in each other; that to live in peace, we must strive for harmony inwardly and outwardly.  We cannot ignore the lives of those around us.

We must greet one another with Ubuntu.

I remember the day I learned this word.  It was a revelation.  I was eating lunch across from Mark Mathabane, (maw-tah-bah-knee) held captive by an excruciatingly heartbreaking tale.  I could hardly swallow my food as I listened to a story of growing up in poverty, of unendurable suffering, of innocence robbed.  This tale was Mark’s childhood.   It was life as he knew it, through the eyes of a young boy confronting the hardships of apartheid in South Africa.  Confronting thoughts of suicide at the age of 10, facing a future that appeared so bleak and hopeless – digging in garbage heaps for food, never knowing where his next meal would come from.  But what he did know, was that despite the weary destitution, Ubuntu held his people together.  He guarded his family’s love like a fragile blossom, its tendrils gingerly holding the fragments of his life in order.

Mark Mathabane (formerly Johannes), native South African tennis athlete, scholar, author, and former White House Fellow.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains the South African philosophy of Ubuntu as “the essence of being human”,

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.  

Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

As Mark told the story of his coming of age, I gained a new appreciation for the meaning of the words family … friends … community; Ubuntu.  I could feel, through subtle cracks in the constant strength of his voice, the pain he endured – all the struggles he fought to be here, sitting right in front of me.  I realized right then and there, that nothing in my life was to be taken for granted.  I realized that everything I am, all that I have, all that I will be, I owe to my roots – my foundation – my family.  I saw,  in the dark pools of his eyes, that pain and suffering can be overpowered – that man can prevail in the face of oppression, that if he stands beside his fellow man instead of against him, they both are stronger.  That to embrace each other with Ubuntu, is the light in the shadow of darkness.

I later read Mark’s autobiography and best seller, Kaffir Boy, followed by his sister’s biography, Miriam’s Song.  Both are controversial stories, strong staples in literature curriculum, challenged by narrow-minded parents yearly.  Reading his books, particularly Kaffir Boy, deeply moved me.  But nothing has struck me with such profound effect as the expression on Mark’s face the day I learned Ubuntu.

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Filed under Community, Culture, Humanity Defined, People, Society, Tribal, Tribes

Living the Dream: or have we already lost it?

It dawned on me the other day, that people say this phrase so freely, yet seem to have no concept of what its value actually represents.  LTD…Living The Dream.   So simple, and still profound.  I saw it as a sticker slapped on a climbing helmet of a man I can’t help but admire.  And it made me stop and think…. Now THAT’S living the dream…..What is the dream?  Do I have the dream?

 First, what is the dream?

 To dream implies that one has a goal in mind, a fantasy, a vision of what could be possible.  Dreaming is what moves man forward, it inspires, it motivates, it allows us the freedom to imagine the unknown and to viciously pursue it; own it – conquer it.  It is the nature of being human, what sets us at the top of the foodchain.  It is creative.  It is intelligent.  It is brave.  But what have we collectively sucumbed to in our society as our standard of ‘the dream’?

Let’s take a closer look…..

Living the dream A:  Watching the superbowl on Tevo using a combination of 4 different remotes

Because is one ever really enough?

Living the dream B:  Books on tape, the I-pod/pad/broke, and kindles (because if Hitler can do it why can’t we?)

When you just can't turn the page

Living the dream C:  The KFC doubledown (610 calories, 37g fat, and 1990 mg sodium, um yeah…..)

Apparently buns are over rated, its a low carb thing

Living the dream D: Drinking beer in the shower

Not just a good idea anymore

Personally, I’d go with option D.  Nothing beats a tall cool one after a long run…. in the shower.  But that’s just me.  The point is, our ‘dreams’ have gone down the crapper and are replaced with completely asinine social norms.

Is it our culture?  Our generation?  Our geographic location that influences these weakened ideals?   Or is it because everything has already been done.  All the pinnacles have been reached.  All the books have been written.  All the discoveries have been made.  All the landscapes explored and named.  I frequently like to reflect back to a different time.  An era of the past, of the firsts.  The first men who where brave enough to dream, who first conquered their realm.

It’s refreshing.

I think about the pioneers of this land and how they dared to dream of a new tomorrow.  They had the courage to break away from the way things were, from everything that had been done before them; everything that brought them to where they were.  They picked up and left, to start a new way of life with a new way of thinking.  I imagine the first men who summitted mountains.  The first ascents.  The first true risks.  They had nothing; no gear, no equipment, no REI, dryfit, or nalgenes… they relied soley on courage and their own ingenuity for survival.  It hadn’t been done before, hammering the first pitons into a solid slab of granite to ascend to unreached heights.  I think of the first underwater explorers, the men who discovered that air could be channeled through tubing from a tank to a metal helmet.  They found untouched depths, an entire macrocosm undisturbed by the expanses of man.   It hadn’t been done.  And now it had.

Because they lived.  Because they dreamed.  Because they did.

Pioneers heading west on the Oregon trail in the early 1800's.

Sir Edmund Hillary with Tibetan sherpa, first to climb Mt Everest (Jomolungma)

King of the Cascades, Fred Beckey has made more 1st ascents than any other American climber

Emilio Comici, Italian alpinist who first summited Mont Blanc of the Alps

A diving bell, one of the first scuba suits created by August Siebe in 1837

They were the greats.  They were first.  Everything after them, is just walking in the footsteps of giants.

Nowadays we’re all just hanging out at Starbucks waiting to die.

So put down the skinny chai late, get off your ass, and go do something.  We may just be tracing footsteps, but we are re-living a dream worthwhile.  Chasing a pursuit already conquered, but we can at least glean from it the victory of accomplishment.

Life is too short to put off living the dream.

LTD……today, not tomorrow.

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Engineers Without Brains? So begins my Walkabout…

In a few short days, I moved my queen bed, hand painted table set, and dilapidated college futon back into my parents’ place (thank you mom and dad).  I grabbed my backpack, and said goodbye – to friends … family… my loving boyfriend … to my home … to that chapter of my life.  Maybe I was crazy?  Brainless? Maybe I was going through ‘a phase‘?  Or maybe I was impulsively acting on a surge of inner momentum, drawn out by the primal call that had been festering inside me all these years.  Whichever the case, it felt like I was closing more than just a door behind me.

So I raised my head with vigor towards a bright new sunlight and passed through a window that was once out of reach.

My dedicated involvement with the Engineers Without Borders volunteer group seemed like the perfect launch pad.  Our Portland travel team was heading back to Ecuador to construct the composting toilet we had been designing since our site observation trip in march.  It would be a good take off point to begin my walkabout in addition to providing closure for the on-going project I had helped nurture over the past year.  My initial objective was to see Project Bua through its final phases over the first 2 weeks in Ecuador and then head south to roam Peru.  I had always been captivated by the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu; but travel plans aside from that were minimal at best.

I knew only one thing for certain: the captivity of my routine had been revoked and it was time to run free.

I was to live the way I had always imagined: free of all commitments, with no phone to answer, with only my own company to enjoy.  Free to experience, reflect, and consider all life had to offer with no strings attached. To spend my time as I pleased, to interact with whomever I chose, with no obligations, no social considerations or inhibitions.   I was a drifter of foreign lands, a seeker of wisdom, a judge of truth, a worshiper of beauty in all forms; a nomadic spirit.

The destinations and landmarks were merely a side note.  It was the ever changing state of being; of getting lost every day in the world at hand; of rediscovering the core of my being; that formed the roots of my walkabout.

The trip itself evolved as I traveled, and so did I.

Leaving Portland

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Filed under Family, Society, The Deliberate Life, Uncategorized

Break my rusty cage and run…

When the vice president of the company handed me my letter of termination, the sucker punch of disbelief overtook the gradual realization that this was the best thing that ever happened to me.  Getting laid off was like getting called on by my 6th grade math teacher when I was completely oblivious to the question; there’s the squirming awkwardness in the spotlight of not knowing what to say or do, but when the tortured moment passes it’s the most rewarding flood of relief a kid could possibly know.  I walked out of the office that day feeling completely confused –  my idealistic nature felt liberated from the weight of my responsibilities, while the realist in me felt the adrenaline rush of a drowning child barley keeping its head above water – the panic rising along side the ensuing circumstances.  Mostly I felt a single question…

Now what?

My new found freedom of having a place of my own was my first loss.  Perfectly situated mid-distance between work and the gym, my hilltop fortress of solitude was a stone’s throw from the highway that led to the mountain or ocean.  The nearby park trail system catered to my mid-day runs from the office as did my benevolent project manager, who empathized with my daily requirement of fresh air and blue sky.  I had to admit I was sitting pretty; however, adding up the hours of lost life sitting like a doomed robot in cubeville was a convincingly offsetting counterweight.  Giving up all that had been my life for the past 2 years made my stomach twinge, but my precocious anguish transformed into rising butterflies at the first thought of exploring my lifelong fantasy of taking a worldly walkabout.  I had secretly daydreamed away countless hours, of abandoning my practical career and running off to explore the world.  And now that the bars of my cage were torn down – I was free to run.

I had the rug pulled out from under me, but my feet landed solid on the decision to buy a plane ticket to South America.


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Filed under The Deliberate Life, Travel