“The Middle East” is not a real place. It is a symbolic place, a metaphorical place, a mythological place. In reality, Egypt is part of North Africa, Turkey is closer to Europe, Iran is Persia and a thing in and of itself and the people of the Arabian Peninsula are rather distinct culturally from the Mediterranean coasters of Assyria/Palestine. Indeed, the legal/cultural/economic “experts” generally refer to the region as Western Asia. The people who live there certainly don’t refer to themselves as “Middle Easterners” or even discuss a place called “The Middle East.” Actually, if you think about it, the very words, “The Middle East” make no logical sense. But alas, I was born and raised in the United States and the American educational/entertainment system has taught me to believe in a far away place called “The Middle East.” In the Winter of 2012-21013, I decided to go there to search for the difference between “truth” and “fiction.” My most recent book is the story of that journey: Buy the e-book here. A Journey to the Middle of the East.
As usual, this is presented as a work of fiction. Some details of the events that unfolded have alternative interpretations.
The Buddha and the Hummingbird…
The hummingbird makes me smile. My heart goes pitter patter boom boom and I start to hum Beethoven’s 9th symphony… bump ba na na da na na na bump ba na na da na na… Yeah, I know, the medicine cards are not real. I don’t really believe them. But pulling the hummingbird as my morning coffee card is certainly a nice way to start the day…
In case you are unfamiliar with the mythology, the hummingbird theoretically represents JOY. That spontaneous exultation of good feeling that bursts forth from the center of your being and makes you want to sing or shout or cheer. Sometimes the sensation of JOY is a response to a particular incredible or wonderful event that you experience first hand: witnessing the birth of your child, saying yes to a marriage proposal or even winning a contest or sporting event. Sometimes the sensation of JOY emerges in response to less dramatic but nonetheless stimulating experience in day to day life: watching a mini-miracle in the natural world or hearing a favorite old song on the radio that you have not heard in a long time. And sometimes the sensation of JOY emerges for no apparent reason whatsoever. All of a sudden, you just feel like singing and dancing. The hummingbird as a symbol is not concerned with the cause of the joy or the environmental factors that bring about joy. The hummingbird is an image of the joyful sensation itself. In other words, looking at a hummingbird is like witnessing a visual manifestation of JOY as a concept.
Of course, the other side of JOY is sorrow. And as the universe is constructed; you can’t have one without the other… The hummingbird only appears for a moment… suspended in the air by the power of divinity… so beautifully iridescent…like an angel from a fantasy dream… it seems ready to speak… say something. But then it zips away and is gone. You are left with a feeling of absence that lingers and leaves you wondering what words the hummingbird would have spoken if it had remained.
Have I mentioned yet that we live In Paradise? Buddha Hill in the Catskills is a pretty special place. Joy is a common sensation for me and my family here and we also frequently see hummingbirds. I can’t help but wonder what my old friend Buddha would say… hmmmm enlightenment? Release from the sorrow necessarily means release from the joy? Does that mean there are no hummingbirds in Nirvana? If that is the case, well then, you can keep your enlightenment and your Nirvana, I’m going to stay right here in Paradise with the hummingbirds.
Actually, in a way, it’s the perfect expression of the spiritual conundrum… the debate… the challenge of all spiritual metaphors. To fully “embrace God” or “become enlightened”, we are taught that we must somehow give up or release ourselves from worldly or material desires. Some people meditate while others pray and fast. If you think about it, the objective seems to be to deny your humanness or animal nature in order to find peace?
The Buddha story is illustrative… Guatama was a 29 year old princely dude living the dream. He was a 01 percenter with an Ivy League education and a seat on the board of a very big multi-national corporation. He had it all. But then one evening he went for a walk with his eyes open. He saw a crippled guy crawling along the street. Then he saw a very old and worn out man huddled uncomfortably on a park bench. Then he saw a dead dude sprawled out on the sidewalk. The three visions changed Guatama’s life. He could no longer live comfortably in the lap of luxury. He gave it all up to live a life of homelessness. He sat under trees with his legs crossed and tried to figure out why? Why is all life suffering? Then one day, he was “enlightened.” Hmmmm. By non-attachment to material things and worldly desires, you can release yourself from “the inherent suffering of human existence.”
But is that something you really want to do? Aye… there’s the rub…. Non-attachment… but what about love? Isn’t love a kind of attachment… Intense attachment? What exactly is; un-attached love? Non-monogamy… swingers? A question to keep the Buddhists talking for days.
Guatama only sat around with his legs crossed under bodhi trees for ten or fifteen years. By the time he reached his mid-forties his thinking evolved and he came out of the forest and started speaking to people about “the middle path.” He then started collecting some hefty fees for big speeches. Elaborate festivals were held in his honor. He was welcomed at palaces and mansions and deluxe condo resort events. He was still technically “homeless” and he welcomed his followers into the “fellowship of homelessness”, but he now lived a pretty good life in the material sense. He wasn’t “attached” to material wealth, but he was able to enjoy it nonetheless.
Now is, of course, a few thousand years later so Guatama’s teachings have evolved. It is questionable if he would even recognize modern “Buddhism.” Unlike the Buddhist monks I met traveling in Asia, most of the American Buddhists that I know personally have lots of money and material wealth. Indeed, several I know even invest in the Imperialist stock market. No doubt there are poor Buddhists too and perhaps my perspective is skewed by the nature of my work but I can’t help but wonder about the contradiction. Apparently, under modern Buddhism, a person can “own” as much material stuff as they desire as long as they are “not attached” to the stuff that they “own.” Hmmm, kind of makes me scratch my head.
So here we are on Buddha Hill living the American upper class materialist dream. We have everything; hot tub, barbecue, trampoline and exercise machines… but we don’t own any of it. We are renting… using… possessing… Temporarily occupying while I re-arrange the rocks on the landscape. The “owners” are far away living in another state. Thankfully, they are “Buddhists” and “not attached” to this incredible place that we are free to use.
The central room in the house is a room we call the “Buddha Room”. The “owners” would probably call it the shrine room or the meditation room. It has incredibly high cathedral ceilings with wide sky-light windows at the top. No furniture to sit upon but there is a beautiful hanging chandelier suspended above and an amazing Asian carpet with intricate designs that covers the entire floor. There are awesome tapestries with different mythologically Buddhist images on the walls and there is a wicked cool Buddha statue surrounded by electric candles on a hand-carved wood altar…
I’m not a much of a meditator, but it really is a great room for meditation. Sitting perfectly still doing nothing is just not my nature. Instead, I juggle. I only use bean bag hackey-sacks because I don’t want to break anything. But juggling is almost the opposite of meditating. Or is it? I also like to lie on my back in the middle of the carpet and stare up through the sky-lights. In the daytime, I watch the clouds float by and at night there are stars and sometimes the moon. I do my stretching exercises/yoga routine in there sometimes too. We even use the room as the imaginary “Death Star” when the little one and I play Star Wars. So the room has many uses. It is a beautiful amazing room. It is a symbolic room. It is a metaphorical room…
The crazy thing happens on a sunny Saturday in early June. It is a perfect day… a wonderful day… a joyful day. I went to the Farmer’s Market in the morning and then made a nice big brunch for Ms. B., the little one and myself. I am now reclined on the couch in the living room sipping an after brunch cup of coffee while my two loves play games just outside the front door. I’m not sure if they are watching ants, picking strawberries or just rolling around in the yard but I can hear them laughing and giggling through the open door. It is an idyllic moment and I am thinking actively about how idyllic it is… Like from a Norman Rockwell painting but with sound. The sound of my family’s playful giggles pushes the joy button at the center of my soul and sends ripples of happiness through my whole being…
And then it happens…. a beautiful hummingbird flies right through the open front door and all the way into the Buddha Room.
“Oh no,” says Ms. B. as they rush inside to see.
“He’s trapped Momma,” says the little one, “what can we do?”
I rise from the couch in the living room and walk down the hall to the Buddha Room to see with my own eyes. Sure enough, the scene that unfolds now is like from a myth or fable or ancient legend. The storyline is so thick, the metaphor is so dynamic that I can hardly believe it happens in real life. The hummingbird is circling the chandelier in the middle of the Buddha Room. Round and round it goes like a character in a story looking for answers in a glittering globe. But then, suddenly, it stops or hovers in mid-air and looks up at the blue sky in the skylight. It seems to hesitate for a second as if making a decision and then shoots for the skylight window like a rocket ship. Slam… no, more like SMACK…. or pu-twang. It crashes into the closed window and falls backwards through the air tumbling towards the chandelier… Oh no, this is a disaster.
But then, something amazing happens. Just before the hummingbird crashes into the chandelier, it recovers and starts flying again… fluttering about…zipping from here to there, flying around the chandelier, precariously close to the chandelier, but not crashing into it. Once again, it circles the room. It looks up. Oh no, he didn’t learn his lesson. He sees the blue sky through the skylight, he shoots for the heavens like a rocket ship. And again… Slam, smack… pu-twang. He falls backward after crashing into the window and tumbles towards the chandelier. “He’s done for this time,” I think, “it s going to be a serious mess to deal with”.
But no, I’m wrong. I swear it is like a miracle to behold. As if the hummingbird is an acrobat performing tricks at a circus. Just before she reaches the chandelier, she somehow regains her composure again and starts to flutter and fly again. She zooms about the room…. circling the chandelier. When the bird stops and hovers for a third time, looking up at the skylight, a zillion thoughts rush through my head…. She must see the glass window now. Or at least know it is there. Maybe she thinks she can smash through. But that is impossible. Will she kill herself trying to escape? Help me Buddha, I really don’t want my little one to witness a hummingbird suicide. There must be a way to direct her towards the open door… But I don’t speak hummingbird, and the bird is focused on the skylight. Honestly, it is slightly horrifying to watch unfold because I know it is going to happen and there is nothing I can do to stop it. Sure enough, the little bird shoots for the blue sky like a little rocket ship. Slam, smack pu-twang…
This time however, she hits the window in a different spot and falls at a different angle. Instead of tumbling towards the chandelier, she goes sideways into a wall and somehow gets tangled in a hanging tapestry on her way to the floor. She’s not moving at all. Hanging by a single claw stuck in the fabric.
“Is it dead?” says the little one?
“I don’t know,” I answer, “maybe only injured or in shock. Let’s try to save her.”
Ms. B. retrieves a bath towel. All three of us go close to perform the operation. While Ms. B. holds the folded towel beneath the bird, I gently push the tiny claw free from the fabric. The hummingbird plops down on the towel. She is still breathing but her eyes are closed and she barely moves. Only the tiny feathered chest rises up and down to indicate life still lives. But it does live.
Our somber and anxious procession makes its way across the Buddha room. Ms. B. holds the towel with unconscious bird in front or her as myself and the little one walk beside it. Truly incredible to look at. The tiny body of blue and green feathers… like a toy but breathing and warm. We cross through the hallway and out the front door.
“Can I hold him Momma?” Says the little one.
“No sweetie,” says Ms. B.. “he is hurt badly already and we don’t want to hurt him anymore.” She lays the towel down on the grass. “If we leave him alone, maybe he will recover his senses and fly away.”
“I promise to be careful,” says the little one, “I won’t hurt, I just want to touch.” As she reaches out to pet the tiny creature, however, a strange wind blows through and something magical happens. Suddenly, the little wings start to flutter. The tiny hummingbird rises to its feet and leaps into the air…
As the tiny bird flies off into the sunshine, my entire family erupts into cheers. We clap our hands and shout with joy… “FLY BE FREE…FLY BE FREE!”
“Wow, Daddy,” says the little one when the hummingbird is out of sight, “was that a miracle?”
“Yes sweetie,” I answer, “I think maybe it was a miracle. A sign from the gods. Joy to the world!”
A Journey to the Middle of the East
It’s about time… My brand new “literary masterpiece” and “fun adventure story” is now available for purchase as an e-book. It is called, “A Journey to the Middle of the East,” and I really hope that everyone will want to read it. You can buy it here: New book
In the Winter of 2012-2013, I went for a real life four month “wander” around a few countries in “The Middle East.” Over the course of my travels, I wrote a whole bunch of stories in my spiral notebook about my various experiences as I traveled. Some of the stories I posted on this website as rough draft travelogues while I was actually on the road. Other stories were only outlined on the road but I worked on them when I got back and posted them randomly over the next several years. A few of the stories were never posted in any form. All of the stories have now been edited, refined, shaped and sculpted into a single continuous narrative… The fictionalized story of my own personal quest to discover the meaning of “The Middle East.”
I really hope people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. It was a truly amazing process. Sort of like watching a flower grow or a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis. To some degree, I was strangely removed from the final creation. I wrote each of the stories as individual units and then attempted to unite them as a “symphony” of stories afterward. But, ultimately, they came together in a way that I had not imagined before hand at all. It was almost as if I discovered a very old story hidden inside my brand new story. Wow… that’s about all I can say.
Only the e-book is available for purchase at this moment. I am planning to give away “Free” paperback versions as a promotion sometime very soon. The paperback will be available for purchase eventually and maybe even an audio version.
Buy it now: A Journey to the Middle of the East
Thanks so much,
See you somewhere…
This is a new “travel story,” and also a continuation of the previous story. It is presented as fiction… one part of a serialized novel. The events may be true but the narrator is a figment of my imagination…
Winter Solstice 2017 continued…
The waffles are delicious and the moment is almost here.
How to begin? I don’t know. Have I reached the wall? No, there is so very much more to say… The coyote.. The solstice moment. How did I get there? How much does the reader need to know to appreciate the significance of the experience? Can I capture the transformation of reality into fiction?
I started the ritual 22 years ago as an experiment. I used to suffer from severe Winter depression. How much of that depression was a product of my insane real world lifestyle… trying to be “successful” in a fucked up capitalist world…. and how much of that depression was a product of my own internal “chemical imbalances” is an open question. But I abandon my insane real world lifestyle and started my own little “imaginary revolution” to deal with the fucked-up capitalist world. And I started the annual ritual as an experiment to deal with the “chemical imbalances.”
My working theory on the chemical imbalances was rather sensible. Every winter, my emotional and mental health system would run slightly off track. The remedies I usually used to treat the sadness of daily existence no longer worked. I would have to take more and more remedies to less and less effect. It was as if my system was overloaded with remedies and they all just cancelled each other out and remedied nothing. I felt nothing in winter time… I felt dead inside. That is why I decided to try re-booting the system… my own internal system. How?
My four favorite indulgences or remedies that consistently brought happiness and joy to my physiological reality were fairly easy to identify: whiskey (alcohol), weed (THC), coffee (caffeine), ice cream (sugar). I decided to cleanse my system of all these remedies before Winter began so they would all have their full remedial power during the long, cold, dark, depressing Winter months. For no real reason in particular, I thought approximately six weeks was a sufficient time period to cleanse the system. So I started my first cleanse in early November of 1995. Actually, I think I started the first one on the morning after Election Day for symbolic reasons… It was the first Election Day of my adult life that I did not vote. But that’s another story…
So I went cold turkey on all four indulgences giving them all up totally and completely. No weening, no cheating, no finger crossing. It really was a bit like hell for the first week or so but after that it was kind of nice. It was a fascinating and healthy process to think actively about my internal biological system. I could feel my body changing… transforming. I drank lots of lemon water and herbal tea and I walked around with this notion in my head that my system was getting washed clean. And then, of course, on the moment of the Winter Solstice, I drank a strong Irish coffee with whiskey and whip cream and took a couple of great big bong hits… Continue reading
My life seems to be more and more fictional all the time. Here is another “travel story” that is also the continuation of the previous story. Actually, I’m beginning to think that I am writing a whole novel as I see a rather lengthy plot unfolding ahead. Perhaps I will serialize it upon these pages…
The Coyote Gets the Gold
The Winter Solstice (part 1); December 21, 2017.
I know it is going to happen before it happens. I shuffle the cards double… triple… Extra… to try to keep it from happening. It is the morning of the Winter Solstice. My ritual of indulgence will be later… at 11:21 am. At the moment, it is almost sunrise and I am heating water for herbal tea as I prepare to choose my medicine card. I attach special significance to today’s medicine card. In some respects, it is the card for the day, the card for the Winter season and the card for the whole year ahead. I shuffle the cards more and more but it makes no difference. Of course you know what card I turn over; the Coyote.
So, here I am, riding my bicycle over the mountain on the morning of the Winter Solstice. The temperature is hovering around 20 degrees and the wind is blowing but there is no snow.. Am I crazy; no, not exactly. Am I afraid of the coyote? Well, yes, maybe a little? Is that why I’m embarking upon such a foolish adventure? No, not really, but in a roundabout sort if way.., yes. My reasoning is, perhaps, convoluted, but my determination is profound. I am riding over the mountain in defiance of the coyote. Not because the coyote wants me to ride over the mountain but because the coyote is challenging me to ride over the mountain. I dare you he says… And so I do.
Honestly, the experience is rather thrilling. It is like a quest in an ancient epic. Frodo had to make it to Mount Doom in order to ditch the ring and I have to make it over Franklin Mountain in order to get the gold for the solstice celebration. I could have taken Ms. B.’s car. It was available. But I chose to ride. The first few miles were fairly flat and easy riding but I was passed by two big milk trucks that crowded me off the shoulder. Now I’m on the four mile long continuous uphill stretch that goes up and over the peak of the mountain. The other side is much steeper and shorter distance but harder to peddle up. This side is really not too bad. Like many things in this universe, the anticipatory thought is oppressive but the actual experience is mostly rather pleasant. The ache of exercise and the blood flow from heavy breathing excite the body. It’s more like a mid-range morning workout than some outrageous, crazy, impossible physical challenge. I’m dressed warm with long underwear and gloves so I am not uncomfortable. The cold air feels good on my lungs and the warm sweat starts to flow. The only real problem I have is with zooming cars and trucks that crowd me over to the shoulder. There seems to be lots of traffic on this road now; more than I ever remember. I guess it’s the morning rush hour. Peddle peddle push, up and over the top of the mountain. Continue reading
The Coyote continues…
I will state once again for the record: this is a work of fiction. The story may be “true” but the narrator is not a real person….
Three days after the coyotes appeared in the pre-dawn forest, another coyote appears.. this time as my morning coffee card. It is the 16th of December and I am planning to drive into town to get supplies for the Winter Solstice. I have gone almost six weeks now without my favorite indulgences; I want them to be on hand when the moment comes. I don’t have to pick up weed because it is going to be delivered here tomorrow; but I have to get coffee, alcohol and ice cream… I also have to go to the bank.
“Are you sure you want to go?” questions Ms.B.? “I have to go into town tomorrow anyway. I could just do your errands then.” She is aware of the coyote’s appearance as my morning card and she fully understands the implications.
“I refuse to let a card game change my behavior,” I answer, “I’m not afraid of any coyote. I’m going to town.”
Here is another new “travel story.” Like usual, it is presented as fiction even though it might be more of less true…
The Coyotes Howl
The coyote has now appeared to me three times in recent days. Once, in reality, on a pre-dawn walk in the forest and twice in the cards with my morning coffee. Does that, perhaps, mean that the coyote character or the coyote experience is about to manifest and throw my day to day existence for a loop? I don’t know. I can only ride this roller coaster I can’t direct which way it goes. The first encounter occurred on December 13 at dawn. I was tripping out from food fasting and I went for a wander around the pre-dawn wintry forest without a flashlight. Does that sound crazy? Well, yes, maybe a little, but not really. I should probably explain.
It all started with my annual cleansing ritual. My cleanse… that’s what I call it. I have followed the same routine every year for over twenty years. At the end of my work season in early November, I quit all four of my favorite indulgences; no more weed, no more caffeine, no more alcohol and no more more sugar. I give them all up for about six weeks up until the moment of the winter solstice. There is no specific religious or spiritual motive behind my cleanse as I first began the cleanse to help me with severe winter depression. But I have continued the ritual for over twenty years now so it sort of does feel like a spiritual or meditative process. I rather enjoy the re-boot to my system and I think it is very good for my overall well-being.
Some years back, in 2007, I added a three day food fast to the middle of the cleanse. Again, the fast does not have a religious or spiritual motive. I just met this impressive older world traveler human at a cafe in Chiapas, Mexico and in the midst of regaling me with his tales of travels far and wide he detoured into a rather detailed and interesting dissertation on the benefits of fasting. I was fascinated by his story so I decided to try a three day fast a few days later when I was camped out in the jungle near the Guatemalan border. My experience was amazing and I believe very beneficial for my physical and mental health. As such, I have added it to my annual routine.
This year, I started my fast on the 10th of December. I ate my last meal for dinner on the 9th and would not eat again until sunrise on the 13th. Nothing but water with a little cheater squeezed lemon juice flavor for four nights and three days. It’s probably a weird thing to say but I rather enjoy fasting and I can understand how a person could become addicted to it. But I only do it once a year. It’s been ten years now… every year some time in early December. I go for 80 something hours… Sunset to sunrise with three full days in between. The fasting guru at the cafe in Chiapas told me you have to go a minimum of 70 hours to transform your body and kick on the cell rejuvenator. I’ve never researched it further and I’m not exactly sure what a cell rejuvenator is but I can say from my experience that something remarkable does indeed happen to the body on or about the 70 hour point. The sensation of hunger disappears, the body feels weak and the brain starts to wander in ethereal realms. The hours that follow are like some kind of spirit ride… Continue reading