I’ve come to seriously dislike mosquitos. I was plotting their global destruction when I heard a story where they were credited with the survival of what’s left of the rain forests. If that’s true that would mean that in addition to being killers and general pains in the… wherever they bite. They’re also little eco defenders. That’s so confucian. I’m granting them a temporary stay of destruction until I can verify the story.
By the way… this should come as no surprise to any man but… only the females bite? And… this I’ve heard but haven’t been able to confirm… the one’s who make that high pitch bzzzzzzzz that drives you crazy are males. I kinda doubt it’s true. But it would be cool if that high pitched whine was male mozzie speak for… “no worries dude”.
Over the last few weeks we’ve spent some time helping a fantastic volunteer organization that’s worthy of your attention… Pass it On Guatemala. We helped them bring light and electricity in the form of solar powered inflatable LED lights and installed solar panels to remote jungle villages that have never known electricity.
In 1954 America backed the coup d’etat that overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenez. Here’s the setup: The United Fruit Company… who at the time controlled ninety percent of the world’s fourth largest food (bananas)… was convinced that President Arbenez’s proposed agriculture and labor reforms was going to put a crimp in their profits. The US Secretary of State at the time was John Foster Dulles. His law firm represented United Fruit. Dulles’ brother… Allen Dulles was Director of the CIA… and a board member of United Fruit. And Ed Whitman… United Fruits chief lobbyist, was married to President Eisenhower’s personal secretary. I’m sure you can connect the dots. I guess some things never change.
The ensuing civil war was particularly hard on the Mayans. They haven’t had a place setting at the big table since. Even today walking into one of their picturesque and tranquil villages of a few hundred people, where Q’eqchi is the main language, is like hopping in Professor Peabody’s way back machine. Huts with thatch or corrugated metal roofs and no floors dot the landscape. Hammocks the common bed. Running water the uncommon luxury.
The villagers share everything. Common cooking areas, and bathrooms. They watch after each others children… of which there’s a ton, and take care of their elders. It’s the closest that I’ve ever been to a functioning tribal community. And I gotta say… the way they take care of each other is pretty cool. The way they treated us was pretty damn cool too. When we finished our task… these people who had so little would treat us to copious amounts of that little. It was always special.
I think it’s common…especially for Americans, to equate a lack of book learnin’ with a general lack of knowledge. Here it’s not the case. For example, more than a couple of times we didn’t didn’t have the exact tool that we needed. The villagers didn’t have it either. But they sprang into action like a tribe of mini McGyvers and magically cobbled together palm fronds and wood and bailing wire and old pvc tubing and busted up engine parts into exactly what we needed. If the lights of the world ever dim these guys won’t miss a beat.
Each experience began with an opening ceremony conducted by a priest and a shaman. A great deal of vigorous chanting would ensue… that none of us understood. So I always positioned myself near the door and kept one of the kids in between me and the chanting.
And it typically ended with a very generous meal.
One time they entered our names into the historical records of the village. Saying that we were forever welcome. That was pretty cool!
But what I found to be the most interesting thing about the Mayan people is that not only do they have nothing. The game is so rigged against them that they will continue to have nothing for generations. They know it. And still… they’re happy. Where I come from people have a stroke if you’re out of their favorite top shelf tequila.
Now… I’m not suggesting that they’re totally cool with the state of the state. What I’m saying is that… well, let me put it to you as the Shaman of one of the villages put it to me. “If you’re going to be alive” he said, “you might as well enjoy it. Getting mad brings nothing to your life but more anger. And it ultimately changes nothing. We all die anyway. Things happen that we don’t want to happen anyway. Because, none of us has as much say in all this stuff as we think we do. It’s best to be happy for what is.” Including the existence of mosquitos… yes, I asked.
And it got me to thinking about the concept of living in gratitude. Which is something I’ve always blown off as a bullshit platitude that decorates inspirational posters. Because in real life people are trained to forever want more… it’s what moves America. More money, more stuff, more food, more life, more more. Lest ye be caught “resting on your laurels.”
Obviously, the reason for the high pressure sales job about the importance of never pulling out of the main current into an eddy to pause and enjoy: It’s much harder to hypnotize a contented populace into spending more time at work so that they can buy more shit.
Here’s the fallout from our quest for more. The average American is twenty three pounds over weight. Just over one hundred thirty thirty thousand dollars in debt. Watches nearly five hours of tv daily. Has a forty percent chance of developing type two diabetes in their lifetime. And fewer than thirty percent of us explore the world outside of the states. This is what we’ve done with the all important freedom that so many have fought and died for. C’mon guys… we can do better.
I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. You don’t feel crazy, or sick, or shallow, or broke if everyone around you is crazier, sicker, and broker. Or maybe it’s the frog in the gradually heated pot of water thing, that everyone understands… but actually isn’t true. (It turns out the even a frog is smart enough to make the change when things become too uncomfortable.) Whatever. It seems that our reluctance to stop and smell the roses as it were, is a hole in our thinking that’s been cleverly manipulated by… well, us.
If by now you’re thinking I’m crazy… allright I’ll grant you the point. But let me ask you this. Aren’t those of you on the religious team to be judged by what you’ve done with your one wild and precious life? Is the almighty going to be pleased to see the above stat line from the average American? And if you lean towards the non religious side of things… do you think it fair that the decisions that you make… decisions which add up to a great impact on the rest of us, are based almost entirely upon infrequently challenged second and third hand (at best) accounts of what’s going on “out there”?
Dig a little deeper into the Shaman’s comments and I think you’ll find that’s exactly what he’s saying. There is no out there. It all comes from within us. We are the source. The way to stop anger is stop being angry. The way to stop violence… stop being violent. The way to stop the wheel of the rat race… stop participating. Gratitude is the foundation for all of it. Because you see, being happy for what you’ve got is the energy of what is. And what you are… no matter how little, or how much you’ve got, is alive. As the great Joseph Campbell said: (I’m paraphrasing) “I don’t think people are looking for the meaning of life. I think people are looking for the sensation of being alive.” Things don’t bring that to us. If they did… we wouldn’t need to keep buying more.
The sensation of being alive begins with knowing… in that way that you know what happens if you don’t pay your bills, that we’re all… as in every single one of us… gonna die. No matter how smart we think we are. Mo matter how well we play the game. We all end up laid out on a slab. And the fact that you can go through your daily life postponing the things you really want to do. Pretending that death isn’t imminent is yet another one of those tricks that your brain is playing on you. In fact, since today’s the oldest you’ve ever been… it also brings with it the highest chance you’ve ever had of dying. But it doesn’t feel that way… does it?
And so… an addendum to the Shaman’s thoughts. If you’ve gotta die you might as well enjoy that too. Gratitude is the key to pulling that trick as well. Which… to my mind anyway, moves gratitude from the optional to the required skill category.
With all that in mind I’ve got a little thought experiment for you. Who in general do you think has a better shot at developing the skill of gratitude? Kids who’ve grown up with tons of things? Or kids who have made do with less? Now contrast your answer against the efforts that so many parents exert to make sure their kids have everything. If you think that the kids with everything can be just as grateful… there’s no disconnect. But if you… like me think that the kids who grow up with a lot will have a great deal of difficulty being grateful for anything less than they’re accustomed to. Then you’ll agree that there exists a great dissonance between what many parents do and where they intend it to lead.
While we’re at it… here’s another one. Who’s got a better chance of having a solid relationship: People who share a great deal of time and experiences? Or those who spend a great deal of their awake hours apart, fighting separate battles.? Now compare your answer to the lifestyle of America’s career first society. Suddenly the current relationship culture is maybe a little less mysterious. Who knows… maybe it’s the family law section of the American Bar Association who’s behind the effort to convince everyone of the importance of their career trajectory. Because they’re certainly the ones who benefit from it.
Now that I think of it… maybe mosquitos aren’t the first thing that needs to go.