Sunday, January 22, 2006

reflections on Australia as we enter New Zealand-January 18, 2006

January 16th, 2006
Reflections on leaving Australia as we go to New Zealand
We’ll be in New Zealand for 3 weeks from January 16th, 2006 to February 6th then we fly to Singapore. On February 9th we’ll fly to Bali and stay there for a month.
We are on a flight to Auckland, New Zealand from Sydney, Australia. As we sit on the airplane, the kids love having their own TV to watch whatever they may want, or play video games, while Elijah just gushes his love of life. Now he sleeps in a bassinet hanging on the wall of the plane after being rattled to sleep with his favorite chant.
We are blessed to be flying Emirates the official airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), service and amenities that surpass the flights we have been on thus far. As we sit on the chairs we read “HELLO!” the official Middle East “People-magazine-like” magazine, filled with pictures and gossip and such. However, there is a much deeper article on the passing of the UAE Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai (a city that the whole family is looking forward to visiting in the near future). His name is Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, he passed away on January 4th at the age of 62. We heard of his passing when we were in Australia, the location that he died. We were told that in the Arab culture the body must be put to rest within 24 hours of death so his body was whisked back from the Australian sea coast to the UAE that same day. It appears from what we read of him, he was a true leader and one who had compassion and love for his country and his countryman. I felt such a grace and bigness of spirit when looking at a picture of him. In a land where there is oil and material wealth, I reflect on seeing such a generous man of spirit as I look at his eyes. I had read about one of these middle east country that is returning the wealth from the oil to their people. I don’t know if UAE is one of these countries, but I’m looking forward to going there and find out firsthand.
We had a wonderful time in Byron Bay, staying by the ocean for 5 days and swimming every day, but mostly relaxing during that time. A highlight was Shabbat at the lighthouse, the easternmost point of Australia that we shared with our friends Vinnie and Shelley and their 2 young girls. Australia was very hot, and a short time out in the sun caused sun burn. I feel we are preparing to ramp up the intensity of our journey very soon.
I was very excited to see the Sydney Opera House. Sadly we didn’t get into the theater, but seeing the building from outside was something special. What a masterpiece. We did meet someone there who was from Italy. His name was Sandro and he was very kind in recommending places to see in Tuscany, as well as special places in the Middle East. I’m excited to meet people with a different perspective than I’m used to, and who have lived in and seen different parts of the world. He was very generous with his help and I told the kids, “People all over will help you if you give them a chance, and treat them with kindness and respect.”

Sugar and the Hungry Ghost
Yesterday we were heading to a farmers market. I had a special interest in sampling a drink my friends Shelley and Vinnie had told me about, sugar cane juice with ginger. They had told me what a delicious and healthy drink it was, and that got me thinking. What happens when we change things from how they are naturally and make them into something else. When the sugar cane is processed into refined sugar, it changes dramatically. Instead of a whole and complete fruit, it is turned into a concentrated form that is without its natural enzymes and minerals, as well as missing other parts that assist us in digesting it. When we take refined sugar, our bodies must leach minerals and enzymes from our body to digest it because of what has been taken out. What also happens with refined sugar is that it creates an upward spike in the blood sugar, and then a compensating crash as the blood sugar drops below a healthy level. I’ve known people who experience a tremendous high after eating sugar, and then will go through the crash of low energy and irritable moods. Refined sugar is also well known as a substance that creates quite an addiction in many people. One aspect of addiction is an intense craving for something which than can create breakdown and a lesser life expression instead of building vitality..
I remember years ago when I traveled in Bolivia and was introduced to Coca leaves. They are indigenous to that area and are used by many of the local people to help them recover from tiredness, and stave off hunger and thirst at the high altitudes that they live in. Visitors like me would try the coca leaves to help with adapting to the high altitude. The affect of ingesting the coca was a gentle change of awareness, and the result is people are better able to carry on with hiking and working with less need for food and water. There are no big highs or lows with it. I tried it and remember how gentle it was.
Sadly, as part of our addictive culture, Coca leaves are processed into cocaine and sold through the world in the drug trade. It is highly addictive and the cause of breakdowns for many people in many ways. It gives people a feeling of euphoria, and then followed by an intense low and then an eventual crash. It then requires more and more of the substance to achieve the original high that was once experienced. Again, the coca is processed into something different than what it naturally is and then changes from something benevolent into a highly addictive and toxic substance.
I also wonder about medicines that are created from natural substances but then are processed into drugs that still have the active ingredient, but have refined out the rest of its components. Most drugs have major debilitating side affects especially with regards to their effect on the liver and kidneys. When these organs are affected it’s because they are trying to detoxify toxins. Most of the drugs are toxic in some way as proven by the number of deaths each year from prescribed drugs!

Anyway, I spoke to Matt and Kate about my thoughts on the concept of addiction and this brought up a huge conversation about the nature of addiction and the hungry ghost, as I had once heard it called. The hungry ghost is the part of us that is hungry for a feeling of connection, because intrinsically there is a disconnection in one’s connection to God. So we run and search for a feeling of connection from the outside. When the connection inside is severed, searching for it outside may come in the form of drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or name your poison. Something or anything to fill the empty hole of the hungry ghost.
They were very fascinated to discuss drugs, but especially as they brought the conversation to sexual matters, they became absolutely riveted with attention and excitement. This is their time of sexual awakening and I spoke very bluntly about the hungry ghost and how it can take over when we are not filled from within. I also spoke very frankly about sex and how I believe it is one of our greatest gifts and a way of making connection with the divine, but can also be very hurtful when we are not ready for it. This is a very exciting time for them as they speak about sex. I want them to feel safe to talk about it and feel no shame, because they have come from a place of snickering about it. This one series of talks about sex and life, I think, shifted their whole perception in a very positive way. I haven’t heard the same kind of snickering since. Consequently they seem freer since then.

A Special Performance in Byron Bay
We saw a performance the other night in Byron Bay that was absolutely brilliant. It was performed by a local troupe, with percussionists, dancers, and a newscaster broadcasting positive news that matters. On the whole the percussion stuff was lots of fun, the broadcasts were hilarious, and the dancers were good. One girl did acrobatic-type moves on a rope high up, the kind that makes my stomach fall. It looks very dangerous, one mistake and she could be seriously injured. On the whole, the sum of the parts was bigger than the individual parts. For instance, one bit was a conductor of an orchestra conducting his musicians. He is staid and proper, counting the time of the music with his baton, cueing his musicians at the right times, but as the music progresses, his body starts to dance and he brings himself back to being controlled and on top of it, pulling a stray leg back, and suppressing a propulsive movement of the beat. Finally he can’t hold it back any longer and just throws away his baton, throws all the sheets of music in the air and just rips it up on the dance floor in an ecstatic groovin’ dance.
The whole performance was so good, yet the opening piece was something I’ll remember a long time. They introduced the evening by coming out in the dark with the seven performers all playing different little instruments that mimicked the sounds of the forest. As this beautiful little orchestra played I felt transported into the forest, and the sweetness of that place. After a few minutes of this, a guy came out with a conga drum and he starts playing real loud, totally drowning out the sounds of the forest. What a simple and profound metaphor for how the dominant culture has come and obliterated the native cultures of the world, without listening, without paying any attention to the beautiful songs of the forest and the natural world, without any respect for the gifts of those in tune with their natural world. In this piece though, the loud drummer realizes his foolishness and he stops and listens. The songs of the forest emerge and he plays softly and in concert with the forest songs and adds to and becomes a part of it. Oh, if it could only be that easy to reestablish our connection with the natural world?

Arriving in New Zealand
Now we’ve arrived in Auckland, New Zealand and it’s January 17th, 2006. We’re very excited to be here, it feels so good. The air is crisp, and there is a lot of open land here yet we’re still near the airport and in this relatively big city (Auckland has a population of 1M). We can’t wait to get out and explore this beautiful country.

Now What about the Difference in the Hemispheres?
When we went to rent a car, and came back to the motel, I just couldn’t get my bearings with how to navigate around here. This is pretty funny to me. I think it has something to do with the difference of the hemispheres. You see, I was really looking forward to coming to the southern hemisphere and seeing the water go down the toilet in the opposite way from how it does back home in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately, the toilets flush in such a way that a small amount of water gushes out and goes straight down. As a result of this water saving toilet technology, I haven’t seen the vortex phenomena of the water going down in the opposite way, as I had been told it would. This has been very disappointing to me, but I have discovered another way to appreciate the difference between the hemispheres. Back in the States when we’re traveling somewhere, my sense of direction is pretty good, but when Icasiana says, “Go left” that usually means to do the opposite. She can’t even find her way around our home town of Santa Cruz, which is a big source of hilarity between us. But here in New Zealand, when she says go left, “I go left”. I can’t tell which way to go, and she is right on the mark, every time. I guess she’s found her hemisphere. Anyway, I thought it was funny.
Back to the more serious, we’re taking the time to set a sound foundation with the kids. The foundation is about standards of respect and honor with regards to communicating and keeping our word. I don’t understand why that brings up such resistance from them. But Icasiana and I know we’re on the right track.

We’ve shut off the TV. So far all the hotels we’ve stayed in have had TV, but it has remained off, and they don’t ask for it now (that’s why they loved the TV on the plane so much). They spent almost the whole flight watching, ah yes the addictive quality of the TV. We’ve thrown away the game boys and the video games. When they say, “I’m bored”. I answer, “That’s okay, you’re allowed to feel bored, what does that feel like? And what does it make you want to do?” I don’t feel that it’s my responsibility to entertain them, and I believe we’ve come from a culture that has way too much stimulation and too little time for reflection. The last few nights they’ve been drawing and coloring and writing. As I listen to them in the other room right now, they’re singing a song. I’ve told them that I want to see them play and have fun, that playing a game with a ball and running around outside is real, it’s constructive and enlivening. Playing a video game of basketball is not real and hooks their attention in a way that I believe is deadening.
Last night as the sun set we passed by a big open field, and I told them how I used to love coming to fields like this where I could just run and run. Icasiana said, “well then let’s pull over”…So we went into the field and ran and chased each other. Good simple fun – the real stuff.

The kids are learning how to be respectful and communicate in an honoring way. It's what Icasiana and I are trying to impart, “treat all life with respect, especially one’s parents.” Things don’t change right away though, except in the movies, and this is the real thing.
Well, more about the real stuff in New Zealand next time. We’re going to the beaches of Coromandel and Hahei before we go to Rotorua, a major center of both Maori spiritual culture, and fun activities for the kids. This part of the trip is less about all the things we might see and more about learning how to get along and travel together, and also taking time to just be.
After my last blog I was told that it was very long, I’m sorry that this one is even longer, but my mother really liked it.

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