Sunday, March 04, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 3: Silence and Fire

Hola amigos del mundo!,

If it's possible to extend a hearty hug via email then I'm doing that now. I hope that this update finds each of you in a great mood, and if not then print this up and read it on the toilet later today. Trust me, it's a great time to read excessively long emails… I'm currently in San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala at the Las Piramides meditation center. I've been here for a little over three weeks completing their "moon course" that, in case the name didn't give it away, follows the lunar cycle. To give a brief description of this magical place, which every single one of you should absolutely visit no matter where your commitment to spirituality stands-

Las Piramides was started by a Guatemalan woman named Chati, who comes from a family of healers and astral travelers. During one particularly powerful vision she was told to create her spiritual center near the three volcanoes of Lake Atitlan, which led to her selecting the quiet holistic town of San Marcos. I assumed this place would be a hostel with meditation and yoga classes, but it is actually far, far more. It is a community of people, that are rapidly unified through a deeply significant experience…Each full-time resident (at the present moment there are 13 of us from the US, Canada, Ireland, Chile, Israel, France, Japan, and the Cayman Islands) lives in a pyramid-shaped small wooden hut on the verdant two-acre property and is expected to attend the four daily courses that last about an hour and fifteen minutes each. The courses all take place in the candle-lit pyramid-shaped Sun Temple next to the medicinal herb garden.

You just can't help but feel something mystically present upon first entering the beautiful wooden structure, which has space for about 15 people seated on mats in a circle around the small center pyramid. There's no major lighting at night so either you grow accustomed to walking around in the dark or some people use flashlights occasionally. We share a kitchen with no dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave or toaster but most of us cook every single meal ourselves. We hand-wash our clothes and hang them to dry on clotheslines, often flush the toilets but dumping a jug of water in the basin, and generally live in a pretty naturalistic state. It takes a few days of acclamation, but it's absolutely great. Actually in my first hour here I tried to strike up a friendly conversation with two guys who refused to respond. It turns out they're part of the 3-month sun course, which includes a 40 DAY vow of silence that they are currently undergoing. That's tough.

Below is the daily schedule I kept throughout my first week here-
6:30am- Awake to go watch sunrise over the lake
7am- Hatha yoga
9am- Cook breakfast of 4-egg Rocky Mountain Toast
10am- Meditation followed by metaphysics lecture
12pm- Create broken-glass artwork with crazy Frenchman nicknamed Merlin
1pm- Make two PB&J sandwiches for lunch (thanks to Ryan "No Limit" Silva)
2pm- Swim in lake, treading water for 15 mins, jump off 45 ft cliffdive
3pm- Catnap a la Shaun McNamara
5pm- Meditation followed by spiritual introspection exercises
7pm- Hatha yoga
9pm- Cook dinner of either rice or spaghetti dish
10pm- Journal and go to sleep

Needless to say this is easily the healthiest living I have ever committed myself to… Days are passed in meditation, reading or journaling in shaded gardens, swimming in the pristine lake, cooking deliciously uncreative meals, and all without indulgence in any substances that poison the body. Along with a few others I recently completed a 5-day course on how to give an Ayurvedic Indian head massage… so I got that going for me… which is nice. Hysterically it was taught by a Bulgarian woman named Nadie, so the quotes like, "you girls need to verk your muscles, your hands are so puny and veak! hehehe" were amazing. In our metaphysics courses we've learned and discussed theories of astral travel, lucid dreaming, spiritual health, esoteric religious mysticisms, balancing one's chakras, kabbalah, tarot, numerology, astrology, kyballion, and the deepest levels of introspection possible. The days pass slowly but gently here, although in retrospect it feels as though my time here has passed far too quickly. The final five days were spent in complete silence, something that is way harder than I ever realized… The purpose was to save the energies normally expended on conversation, and direct them towards deeper self-analysis of one's own spiritual existence, ideals, realities and ultimate mission… Obviously it was highly intense, especially with the almost cult-like but amazingly cool closing ceremony. Overall though, a truly phenomenal experience.

I could write about the beauty and depth of the experience that this place provides for the next 100 pages, but I will simply say that I highly recommend spending some time here for any individual. Just as I have often described Koh Tao, Thailand as my closest conception of physical Paradise, this is my Eden. The indigenous peoples are a beautiful race of welcoming souls, and the ex-pats who have moved here are all great, funky people. As one guy said to me recently, "Look at this place, it's seriously camp." It's almost as though a bunch of random people decided that they wanted to do the one thing that made them happiest, which they lacked the talent to do professionally in their home towns. One guy moved here and opened the restaurant Unicornia, simply so that he could start a band which he fronts every night as if he is a rock legend filming an episode of VH1 Storytellers. He does 10 minute sound checks before songs, tells absurd stories that no one believes are true, has a 1980's psychedelic visualization playing on the big-screen behind his amateur three-piece salsa band, and wears outfits that would make Grand Master Flash proud. The crazy Frenchman who runs brokenglass artwork classes fervently dislikes Americans, solely because he believes he was a Native American in a past life and had his land stolen. His real name is Alan but here, he actually goes by the name Merlin. During parties at homes or bars there's always a mix of jugglers, fire dancers, yoga-pose performances, guitarists, djembe and dijereedoo players, and there's even one guy who puts on a devil sticks performance with fire!! I mean, really?! Devil sticks man!

On several afternoons I've taken the public transportation (about 50 people standing while holding onto a metal pole in the back of a pickup truck) to the surrounding towns on the lake to play some pickup basketball, buy groceries at local markets, take in the beauty of the lake via a trip to the tranquil beach of Las Cristalinas, and checkout the nightlife scene over in San Pedro (an extremely cheap hub for backpackers looking to enjoy a town where cool movies are played every night at restaurants with excellent food, weed is practically legal and short local women seriously walk around with chocolate cakes on their heads throughout bars at night hahah… they clearly know how to cater to their crowd). Each of these ventures has further given me the impression that Guatemalans are among the kindest people in the world, as they continually greet strangers with toothless smiles and warm calls of "Hola amigo! De donde esta?"

Possibly the best night of the trip so far occurred earlier last week when a 41 year-old ex-pat named Rick threw a birthday party at his house. On a whim we went with the mohawked, tattooed Julie (who two weeks ago told us at breakfast that she'd been crying the night before because, "After 27 years of existence, I finally realized that I am gay." Wow, talk about sharing with new friends) through the unlit dirtpaths and rocky hill up to Rick's house… The scene was absolutely awesome. About 40-50 people from every corner of the globe, each uniquely true to their own self and style, had gathered to share one great night in the presence of one another. A sick electronic DJ played throbbing beats throughout the house/patio as people talked, played djembe drums and danced. New friends conversed in the kitchen, others seshed in the dimly lit rooms of the guest area, and the massive patio doubled as a great dancefloor under a brilliant star-salted sky… each person just finding their own groove, their inner jam, expressing themselves in whatever way felt right (which for one guy was putting on a 15 minute fire-twirling show)… Again, impossible to describe, but easily one of the best party scenes I have ever been a part of… very reminiscent of the small but amazing nightly gatherings in Koh Tao.

I feel like this email hasn't been too overtly dramatic for a 3-week period, probably because it is truly impossible to accurately relay the internal travels experienced when spending weeks calming one's mind to a state where continuous revelations are illuminated and explored. One thing I'd like to share is a realization I had during a very simple yoga exercise the other morning, which anyone can do now by taking one minute to stand up, place your bare feet together so ankles are touching, and close your eyes. Take off your shoes, stand perfectly straight, so as to draw a straight line from the top of your head, through your pelvis and down to the heels of your feet. Attempt to maintain that position with your eyes closed for a minute, and see what you feel in your body… Go ahead, just try it. I'll wait about a paragraph away in time…

You will invariably notice that the maintenance of balance requires many, many small movements. Tiny distributions of weight from one area of the body to another are necessary to retain a position of comfort, consistency and strength. The metaphor in this basic exercise seemed so clear when considered- Like life's path, even when we think we are remaining in one place we are constantly in motion through innumerable modifications and shifts. At every moment we are altering ourselves both internally and externally to accommodate the dynamism of existence. While that point of perfect, immovable balance will always be present, it can never be fully attained. It is like the shadow which can be intuitively felt within grasp, but never wrangled into our absolute physical possession. The best we can ask of ourselves is to place pride and honor in each of our adjustments, whether large or small, acting with conscience and nobility at all times… The tiny actions may seem insignificant, but they collectively allow us to stand tall.

Challenge the assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 30
Showers with Heat- 1
Beard Status- Respectable fullness, unrespectable length... but getting there
Song of Choice- "Longtime" by Salmonella Dub… its sunshine for your ears.
Quote of Note- "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." –Richie Havens
Random Person- Mr. Belding


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