Selling out or buying in?

The following remarks were scribbled at 3:00AM :

Starting a business is like trading everything you enjoy for life insurance.  Maybe that’s just the sun setting on my twenties.  It’s not even my business.  I’ve been building it for someone else and haven’t yet decided if I want to be a partner.  Usually when someone turns down good money, there’s a good reason.  Something isn’t right.  You try to put your finger on what is wrong, but everything is interrelated.

This feeling of resistance is my reaction to change.  Coffee roasting has been an eye opener and entertaining.  The feeling of caging myself grew stronger during my recent vacation to Antigua. For years, I’ve made fun of Americans who take 2-week vacations and here I am.  It’s actually 4 weeks, but one is in the States, and I have an itinerary, which is just gross.

Marketing has overshadowed my relationship with truth.  Customer loyalty is much more important than friends when your life is based on taking people’s money.  Friends are quickly ranked by spending power and then ranked again by how strong you are financially connected.  Instead of staying up late working on photography or learning blues riffs, I  run numbers to predict next months sales and costs.

Pretty exciting stuff, right?  All of this for about half the $ of being a waiter.  But, like all american dreams, it might pay off one day, so there’s the potential of being happy. Maybe after losing all meaningful relationships, giving up my passions and hobbies, and a permanent resting-bitchface, I’ll have a profitable business that only requires 80% of my free time.

I am stoked! (He said sarcastically.)

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While these notes reflected my true feelings at that moment, feelings change several times throughout the day.  Below is a quote from Mark Manson’s newly released, first book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.  

You know who bases their entire lives on their emotions? Three-year-old kids.  And dogs.  You know what else three-year-olds and dogs do? Shit on the carpet.

An obsession and over-investment in emotion fails us for the simple reason that emotions never last.

I say I’m buying in because I’m trading the reckless habits of my twenties for, hopefully, a more sustainable approach to well being.  I’ve met the dudes and chicks who traveled non-stop into their 60s.  After 7 continents and 89 countries, their eyes say they are as unfulfilled as the next person.  (This article, like all writing, is a rationalization.)  It could be a good life change. It could be me finding clever ways to lie to myself.

Drastic, spontaneous life changes worked great in the past.  Today I’m trying out my grownup shoes.  I’m comparing present Me to those of past Me and extrapolating the wants/desires of future Me.  More than likely I’m becoming a spoiled American again and getting older/weaker.  These days, I like eating well.  While I still believe expensive clothes are pointless, I enjoy clean clothes that fit.  Finding used clothes that fit is difficult because I’m average height and vagabonds are thin.

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I’ve found a new fascination in economics.  It seems fair, like yin-yang or Newton’s 3rd Law, or as my dad put it, that money is just a measure of productivity.  With enough financial momentum you can take a hiatus from reality, which alters your perception. Experience is the best teacher and most people miss this one.  Taking an outside look will heighten your sense of bullshit detection.

Freakonomics is an entertaining book about psychology and money.  It has chapters like “Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?” and “What do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers have in common?”  At times it’s longwinded because they show you exactly how the numbers and connections are found.

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As far as work goes, the job is fun when I’m not burned out, the people I work with have good hearts, and I make enough to survive.  There’s really nothing to bitch about until I have a dream about backpacking China and wake up craving to sell everything and go.  Another quote from Manson’s book echoes in my head daily:

“Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen.  When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life.  Relish it.  Savor it.  Welcome it with open arms.  Then act despite it.”

Many of the greats say the same thing and I’m trying to listen.  Reading books like Ben Franklin’s autobiography keep the motivation fresh.  They also lead to a boring life, so I like to throw in some Bukowski in there.  In my experience, we are influenced by our surroundings.  When my thoughts get dark or dangerous, it’s time to switch back to the sunshine books and movies.  Reading the funny pages on Reddit helps.

If I do this coffee thing for another couple of years and end up with nothing but a new wardrobe and some business experience I can still take off to the other side of the planet and start working on a farm with a bunch of hippies.  There are always options.

On the positive side, living the same life everyday gives me a chance to confront my bitchy behavior.  Some people call it being “grounded” or “depth of experience vs. breadth of experience.”


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In the 1st world, it’s important to not get brainwashed by various forms of news media and the plethora of small-talking dumbasses milling through the promised land like bumper cars.

Ask yourself some quick questions.  Do you like being afraid?  Would you say it is a guilty pleasure?  If not, why watch or discuss news that will never affect you?  If a bus crashes down the street, that’s worth talking about.  The local library burned down?  That’s awful and you should feel something.  If “several” (3) people were killed in a shooting across the globe, that has got nothing to do with you.  Don’t be influenced so easily by meaningless fear advertising.  It makes someone else a lot of money and gives you nothing but paranoia.

Let’s talk about the Zika virus.  I’ve heard tourists in Key West talk about canceling flights because they would be too close to a reported transmission country.  The U.S. is listed as a transmission country.  Are you going to run to Canada or Iceland?

Steve and I were asked upon returning from Guatemala if Zika was bad down there.  In the 1st and 4th largest tourism destinations, neither one of us had heard a word about it except through visiting Americans.

This article explains the difference between the original suspected number of cases and the actual proven cases.  It turns out it’s much easier to suggest something scary than to find real evidence.

Some “expert” will throw up a random number of suspected cases with no data at all and a journalist can write an article stating the “reported figures”.  That is how these silly scares start.

“Many people infected with Zika virus won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms.”  -https://www.cdc.gov/zika/symptoms/

Some babies just have small heads.  That’s not a good reason to cancel your trip to Jamaica.

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Every year, people die from “epidemics”.  Some of these epidemics have as few as 10 deaths per year.  One of the biggest killers in the world is still influenza.  Are you going to change the way you view the world because of the flu?

Here are the epidemics numbers by century.

Discussion and preparation are almost useful, but the real thing that saves people is medicine.  Get sick, get checked out, and get better.  We already do this.  It’s not some new revelation that Fox News or Washington Post is helping us to understand.  They help us to buy more Windex and McDonald’s.  That is what the news is good for.  If you want “4 Weird Tips for Belly Fat” that are sure to disappoint, click the link for Dangerous Latin America Travel Info.  If the article you are about to share with your friends is covered with ads for lame products or celebrity breakups, stop and ask yourself how much that story is actually worth.

These trending stories about horrible illnesses abroad are effective at keeping American dollars in America.  One time in grad school, I changed a vacation from Mexico to The Dominican Republic because of H1N1 Swine Flu.  Can you guess which animal has the closest anatomy to humans in the food world?  Pigs.  If we were to BBQ a person shoulder, it would probably look and taste just like a pork shoulder.  Guess what is now a seasonal flu in humans? H1N1.  Here is the full list of terrifying symptoms according to WebMD:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Holy shit!  Honey, get the kids!  We’re going to Maine until this thing blows over!!!

Joking aside, the flu does kill a lot of people each year.  Swine Flu (H1N1) is one of the many subtypes.  More people die in car accidents.  Heart disease is still the leading cause of deaths for humans.  Does this mean we are going to stop driving to get our hamburgers and fries?  No, because it has no shock factor.  Exotic diseases are new and interesting conversation starters.  The real epidemic is word of mouth fear mongering.  That’s why I can’t even be mad at the news outlets.  People are begging to have the shit scared out of them.  I guess that’s what happens when a species has no natural predators and whose fight or flight instinct has no practical use anymore.

But isn’t traveling still dangerous, even beyond the threat of runny nose?

Why would anyone ever want to leave the greatest country in the history of the world? It’s so much better than everywhere else… 

…unless you consider that cities are evolving simultaneously across the globe.  It isn’t realistic to imagine that New York operates on technology much differently than Tokyo or that Atlanta has less violence than Panama City.  It’s a timing thing.  A decade before I lived there, my neighborhood in the Lower East Side of Manhattan was “the projects” with a dwindling crack problem.  

If you are thinking, “well I’m not a city person”, would you consider a small town in Texas to be threatening?  Why would human behavior and psychology suddenly transform because the small town is now located in the mountains of Poland or Vietnam or Nicaragua?  The problem with nationalism is it makes you believe that people morph into a different species when they live across an imaginary border.

Think about the town you grew up in and how it looks today.  Our world view is dated.  In box office movies, foreign or abroad, the scenery and context focuses on the extremes and the stereotypes.  Humans like contrast.

I’m looking forward to the days ahead when we can view the world as it is now, not as it was during the time of the American Wild West.

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Self Revelation Section:

I’m almost 30 and still say dumb, selfish, and immature shit on a daily basis.

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Learn a language 20 minutes/day

Message_1467858015214At least once a week, I hear people say they want to learn a language.  Because I live in Florida and near Cuba, people usually talk about learning Spanish.

From spending over a year in Spanish speaking countries, I’m already on my way with that language.  Because of my interest in coffee, history, and travel in general, there are more languages I’d like to be able to communicate in.

It’s too bad that the average American holds multi-lingual ability so high.  They’re just languages.  There is a finite number of words and rules, and you don’t need to know that much to get by.  English has a ton of rules and exceptions, especially when it comes to spelling.  German is easy to spell, but grammar is horrendous.  Spanish is easy all around.

Now I’m going after French.  The alphabet is pretty much the same, so it’s not as difficult as Arabic or Cantonese or one of the 22 languages of India.  After French is underway, I don’t think Italian and Portuguese should be that tricky.

So, let’s get into the method.  The key is to stay interested and not feel overwhelmed.  

I recommend you spend 15 minutes/day (or whenever you feel like it) reading/writing.  Spend the other 5 minutes listening.

It makes sense to me to start with a group of common words.  You can Google the 100 most common words in the language you are learning.  Although a forgotten and failed search engine, About.com actually has some really great language tools and I use it almost exclusively.  Write the words one day.  Start defining them over the next few sessions (see the picture above).

For listening practice, there is a site called www.rfi.com which you can listen to in 15 languages.  It broadcasts in different countries so you can hear Argentine Spanish in one article and reporters from Spain in another.  You can also choose the category and topic like news, sports, economy, etc.

After the 100 common words, verbs seem to be pretty important, so I made a list of 20 common verbs, most of which are from the 100 list.  Present tense is easy and effective in early communication, so I practice the conjugating patterns as seen below.

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Work on only what you are working on.  That’s one way to avoid getting overwhelmed.  If you’re learning conjugation, don’t worry about understanding, you are just building patterns.  After the 4th verb, I was guessing the endings.  I was still way off, but by the 17th, I was conjugating confidently with 75% accuracy.

The next day, I defined the verbs I didn’t recognize, reading a few examples to improve association memory.  By now, I feel it’s important to overview pronunciation.  Using a guide like this one, I guess, listen, and practice the sounds.  Again, I spend about 15 minutes studying and then I listen for 5 minutes while doing something like organizing my room.

Then I look for another part of speech, maybe prepositions.  They pair well with nouns and and articles to make simple phrases like “on the table” and “beside the door”.  With a pad of post-it notes, your room can turn into a constant learning environment.parts of speech puzzle

If I spend 2 days on each part of speech, that’s just over 2 weeks.  After that, I’ll look into regular verb conjugations, common nouns, and start moving into past and future tenses.  That will keep me busy for another week or two.

So in just a month of studying only 20 minutes/day, I can start watching kids movies that I know, like The Lion King and Toy Story.  Watch them with the audio/subtitles in the language the you are learning.  When I can’t watch movies, I read very short stories for extremely young children.  Pretty soon, I’ll be able to watch adult movies that I know by heart such as The Matrix and Forrest Gump while studying French grammar and common expressions on my laptop.

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It takes time and interest to begin learning a language, but once that momentum is built there is absolutely no stopping it.  For the rest of your life, you will be exposed to new bits and pieces of whichever languages you start.  The key is to start.

How dangerous are Central America and Mexico?

Is it dangerous outside of the U.S.?  Here are some photos from living over a year in Latin America.  You decide.

(The following photos are from 2 separate trips, a year apart, paid for in full by working entry level jobs at restaurants.)

Consuming Fear

“You travelled for 9 months with THAT?!”  That’s what I hear sometimes when I show up with a little black backpack and a guitar.

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This fits my DSLR camera (3 years without a case or problems), my MacBook Air, my tablet, and some clothes and books.  I always seem to end up with a guitar.  This one was just sitting on the boat, slowly getting moldy, so Steve suggested I take her to a dryer climate where she can get some lovin’. 

Fingernail clipper and toothbrush ride with my passport and a piece of amethyst given to me by my good friend Melissa.

Besides chargers and headphones, that’s really all I need.  I can buy soap or baking powder if it’s cheaper.  (Your armpits stink because of bacteria that only survives in acidic environments.)  Apple cider vinegar is a great conditioner, fabric softener (no, you won’t smell like vinegar), and good for stomach bacteria.

If you think you need more clothes, you’re terrified of what other people think and stuck in routines that never get questioned.  Get a few shirts you really like, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, and a swim suit.  Wash clothes once a week.  Hand washing is a great meditation. Have a couple pairs of socks and running shoes.  I like to be barefoot as much as possible, but that’s just me.  I like to feel the city and the dirt and do some auto-acupuncture-grounding stuff.  We have electrical currents that need to get out.  The fleece lined jacket is for cold buses & airports.

If you don’t want to have an awkwardly huge backpack and bang into everyone on the bus then don’t.  Don’t be tired from lugging 50 pounds from hostel to hostel.  Don’t dread packing up because you have too much stuff.  Just make a decision and stop looking like such a tourist.  It also keeps me from being a target, in case you like using fear to motivate your lifestyle changes.

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“I cannot conceptualize or put into words what fear is.  I can describe various forms and details and events, but not the base fear from which all of its infinite manifestations flow.” -JK Freedom From the Known

But, I can feel it.  

I can detect it and either make my decision based on fear or not based on fear.

 Death is inseparable from life.  The fear of death, repeating the past, and any unknown outcome is part of how we think.  As long as we have thoughts, we will have fear.  Life uses fear to avoid death.  You can’t have life without fear, so don’t worry about it.

Thanks Cori Carlo and Krishnamurti for helping me get over this.  I was really stuck on trying to figure out how to eliminate something that I can’t live without.

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We are called Homo Sapien Sapiens because we are self aware.  When we look at our reaction to fear, we think we are separate from the fear, that we can get rid of it or overcome it.  But if you realize that you are observing YOU, and that the fear you are observing is also you, than you realize that you are fear.  You really can’t live without it.  Then you can get on with life and spend your time thinking about something more productive. pg 48

I’ve always heard: Enjoy your life.  I don’t remember hearing: Enjoy Life.  There are many forms of life.

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There was a little boy crying in the coffee shop this morning.  I think his sister may have taken a bite of his chocolate frosted donut. He might have been 5 years.  I realized and told the couple sitting nearest the coffee machine, “It just goes to show that life was never easy.”  We want to look back and say it was all gravy when we were kids because we had no responsibilities, but it was just as emotionally exhausting as it is today.  I also said, “Remember the next time you are having a tough day, how silly your problems are.”

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Getting settled meant getting a new phone and then a haircut.  During the haircut the girl and I talked about styling my short hair.  At that time I had no apps installed on my brand new phone.  After the haircut, I pulled out my new phone and went to YouTube.  It was the second time I used the phone and the first time on the internet.  The top ad was a video titled “How To Style Short Hair.”

Fear in the U.S. is amusing, but sad and equally threatening.  It infiltrates every aspect of life in the first world.  Half of the customers at the donut shop are terrified of trying a new donut. They look round-eyed at the bacon maple bourbon donut and laugh that nervous, uncomfortable laugh because they know they don’t deserve to do what they really want in this life.  Out of guilt and paranoia, they choose the safe option of chocolate frosted.  So instead of 375 calories, they order the much healthier 350 calorie option.

As silly as most of us know organized religion is in this day and age, it is still a major part of politics.  Every U.S. president has an affiliation to show their allegiance.  I find it interesting that in 2016 anno Domino (in the year of our lord) there still is no separation of church and state.

“You are always translating the new in terms of the old and therefore you are everlastingly in conflict.” – JK

20160318_120532— we all love a good swindle

You are a product of everything you observe.  Some things you accept as good and others you reject, but they all have influence on you.  You treat them as separate from you, but that’s where you came from, what you’re made from—your observations, judgments, and conclusions.  You influence your environment, but are also a product.

We judge the world as if it never changes and we never change, neither of which is true.

Books and quotes teach us to live in the present, but by the exact nature of the lesson, only have a temporary effect.  Like will power, we have to constantly seek inspiration and motivation.

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I judge people who are wasteful, closed-minded, uneducated about the world, are not thoughtful of others, and who think they are above other humans.  So, I feel like I’m above them, I’m not sensitive to the way they live, where they are on their journey through life, and I scold them for not knowing the implications of their ignorance.  A better option would be to ask questions about the way they see the world and ask them if they ever consider the source of their thoughts or how they live.

I was scared to come back to the U.S. because I knew it would unavoidably turn me into a slightly fearful shithead.  I know this.  Guatemala was turning me into having low standards and making me lazy.  I find it important to soak up the best features a place has to offer and accept that every yang has its yin.

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When the observer realizes that he IS THAT which he observes, there is no like or dislike and conflict ceases.-JK (this only happened to me once in Antigua)

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The moment you try to force something, you are creating violence.  I’m not talking about violence as in a video game or movie or in your neighbor’s house.  Those are forms of violence, too.  I’m talking about the very nature of violence.  Have you ever tried to look past the discussion, past the visual forms, past the churning of your gut feelings, and tried to figure out what is the root of violence?  Where does it come from?  What does it require?  If you are interested in learning how you and other humans operate, take a minute and go into your mind and figure it out.  Don’t assume you can’t.  You can.  I know because I did it and it was surprisingly easy.  Go ahead, I’ll wait (smiley face).

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This is what I came up with: We are violent because we want to control our existence.  But our existence (the instance of existing) is out of our control.  We had no choice in our birth and we cannot decide that we’d rather not die.  Only once we realize that we have no control, do we cease to follow our violent predisposition.

“Principles, beliefs and ideals must inevitably lead to hypocrisy and a dishonest life.”

Rules aren’t meant to be broken.  That’s not why we make them.  We make them because we are pleased with past results and plan to receive a similar pleasure if we follow the rules.  Pleasure is different from joy.  Joy happens in the moment, being pleased is dependent upon expectations.

Your pace

When you feel that flash of violence and are about to rush a task (answering a question, handing something over, walking) especially when it involves someone else, make sure you are acting at YOUR speed.  This may seem selfish, but I think it’s best for everyone’s vibe.  Pause for a moment and then move or speak as if you are focused on the smoothness of the execution.  This allows you to deliver the world an unspoiled movement.  You are at once deliberate and graceful.   You are then moving with confidence, alongside but independent of fear, handling the present circumstance with the gloves of your true character.

We learn the difference between need and want when we are uncomfortable.  To go without air conditioning for months teaches you, after returning to A/C, how much your body really dislikes it.  Once you have no money to spend, wasting it sickens you.  At work I watch people pay 6 dollars for a newspaper and $2.75 for a bottle of Smart Water.  The news is online free of cost.  Water is the single most abundant resource on the surface of our planet.  The United States has potable water everywhere.  You can drink from the sink.  Filter it if you like.

“So we have discovered a fundamental truth, which is that a mind that is seeking, craving, for wider and deeper experience is a very shallow and dull mind because it lives always with its memories.”

Thanks JK for making me question the last 5 years.

Everything is always falling apart

STOP! – Put on some music.  Music and pictures go together well.

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One of the beautiful things about the Guatemalan culture is their practice of total impermanence.  Everything is a quick, temporary fix, because after all, everything is always changing.  Leaky faucet?  Put a bowl under it.  Need new door hinges?  Install them under the old ones and then paint over the bad ones.  Paint peeling after 2 months?  Slap on another coat.


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This is the same shoddy craftsmanship that drives us Westerners crazy (Europeans really) when we are having a defensive, egocentric day.  On our peaceful, observational days, we admire and muse over these same modifications.

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“Awareness is without choice, without demand, without anxiety; in that state of mind, there is perception.  Perception alone will resolve all your problems.”

-someone

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Life came to this planet a long time ago.  It mutated into what we’ve discovered and not yet discovered using the same basic elements of an ever changing code.  We are here as long as life has use for us.  I plan to take pleasure in as many irrelevant, useless activities as possible.

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Sadness is like photography in the morning.  There’s plenty of light, so open your aperture and turn up the shutter speed to 1/200.

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Humans are like bacteria.  Different cultures all trying to take over their host.  Sometimes the cultures mix and one tries to annihilate the other.  It’s interesting to read about wars and then afterward the cultures return to doing what the humans do most which is just living and consuming.

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This is one of the local bars I worked at called The Snug.  Probably the smallest bar in Antigua.  It felt full every time there were between 3 and 39 people.

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They have some tasty treats, too.

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It gets easier living somewhere after you accept things as they are.  It’s good to challenge things, but trying to change too much just makes you frustrated.  I realized that I can’t change every person living in Guatemala to my liking.  Reminding myself this allowed me to laugh when salespeople lied to my face and everyone (including myself) was 30 minutes late if they showed up at all.

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It’s not actually that I love a place, but rather my adaptation to it.  When things aren’t going my way, I do not enjoy the place.  But,today I finished work swiftly with a few bucks in my pocket and went home to sit on my comfortable cot and play music.  Things in my work and home life are set up the way I like.  My mentality is set to view the happenings with a neutral, abstract tranquility.  This style of management can make any town seem like the place to be.

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The best description I’ve heard so far (by David Gerow) is that Antigua is like a cartoon.  Illegal mezcal bars and blues singers with one-eyed dogs.

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Guat City is bike and art friendly.  And their coffee/food scene kicks ass.

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The mercado is definitely the place I’ll miss the most in Antigua.

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I lived 2 blocks away and went almost every morning for a chihuahua-sized bag of freshly chopped fruit for 5 quetzals = $0.65
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I’d like to know where us gringos learn to get angry when we aren’t in total control all of the time.  It’s not all gringos, only about 80% of them from what I’ve seen.  I think it’s a misconception that latin people explode with anger.  Maybe I’m in the wrong parts, but in the 16 months or so of living/traveling in 9 latin countries, I can only remember once someone going on a yelling rampage.  Guatemaltecas just don’t have that emotional eruption inside themselves.

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I’ll miss walking aimlessly around town with my camera.

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And of course I’ll miss free bananas in the back yard.

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The inside is like Cracker Barrel, but the food is fancier.  Pretty decent cappuccinos.  My guess is a gringo from the South got homesick.

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I asked my friend if the guy lying on the sidewalk needed help.  She said, “He’s just drunk from watching soccer.”  I laughed and said that’s just like football fans in the States.  Pan y circo.  I used to think it was trickery to control the masses with entertainment, but on this day I realized it’s not control.  They need it.

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I joined my girlfriend Gaby for coffee and dessert.  After our how-are-ya?s I start talking about how I am working too much.  Instead of sympathizing as usual, she said, “Always.”  That stopped me in my verbal tracks.  

“Always?” I asked.

“Yup.” She said.

I didn’t know what to say.  I guess I’m always whiny.  Why is this?  All of a sudden, I realized Guatemalans are better at life than me, probably better than most white people.  They have far fewer resources, a relatively higher cost of living, and still pay the bills.  If 2+2=4 in the U.S. then 1+1=3 in Guatemala.  Man, I suck.  Back to the drawing board.

 

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Rio Dulce

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Instead of dealing with volcanic ash, my brother has to sweep mayflies off the boat.  They come for half an hour every dusk to die.

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My friend Eli noticed that our eyes can’t track their flight, so I turned down the shutter speed on my Nikon.

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Stop taking home monkeys!

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Instruction manuals are rulebooks.  Children are told what is and is not possible.  This severely limits imagination and reasoning skills.  If you don’t understand then you’ve probably never left the land of guard rails and warning labels.

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That’s CARVED from a TREE.  Good luck even trying to imagine doing that.

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My good friends Karlita and Elito.

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Separating Lake Izabel from Rio Dulce, this is supposedly the tallest bridge in Central America.

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Side A – When I walked around the tree and noticed this guy was 2 feet from my bare feet my voice got all cartoony and high pitched like Butters on South Park.  I said something like, “Ugh guys, I don’t think we should walk on this nature trail!”  Looking back I just think: What a pansy I was!DSC_0076

Side B – The middle of this 5′ dude was easily as big around as my calf.

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So if you’ve never been stoned for 7 days in a jungle with naturally heated water falls, howler monkeys, some kind of skin-softening hot spring mud, and the Nat. Geo. soundtrack on ∞.1 surround sound, go ahead and put that on your calendar.  I finally understand why people like living in Rio Dulce.

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“Anything that challenges what you believe is going to make you feel unsafe.”

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If you want the majority of a country to be trained a certain way, you DEFINITELY don’t want them traveling.  Even the most unobservant people start questioning their belief systems.  

It’s nobody’s fault for the things they were taught when they were 3 years old.  The understanding of what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” probably starts with breast feeding.  Happy emotions vs. angry/sad emotions are learned from family, teachers, church, and all other members of society.

When you go to a new cultural system, people do things that they were taught are “right”. In parts of the world it’s perfectly OK to pee on the side of a busy road in daylight or to stand against the next person in line at the grocery store or to set a backpack in a stranger’s lap on the bus.  In one part of the world it’s ok to let children run and yell because they are kids.  In other parts of the world kids are punished for acting like kids, depending on who’s around or where they are.

What I’m getting at is this: what is “right” in one place is “wrong” in another but both are possible and don’t really harm anyone or improve survival.

We get information about different cultures, not from the culture itself or even people who have experienced that culture.  We learn about the world through the tinted lenses of television, Hollywood, and the news.  Only after enough people have been paid do the remnants of truth trickle down to us in our plastic bubbles.

As a young American from a small town in Georgia, this is what I learned: 

Mexicans and Indians are roughing it.  Africa is fucked.  Europeans have a little bit going for them.  At least they look like us.  And they drive nice cars.  Even if they talk funny and wear clothes a little too tight, they are the most similar to us.  So, we’ll consider their method of living to be acceptable even though they aren’t quite “right”.  One thing is for sure— you don’t want to end up in a place where you can’t blend in.  All other species of humans, especially the one’s that look different, are very, very dangerous.

It amazes me how much of the U.S. believes this.

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Nothing grabs your attention quite like a pack of little kids sprinting toward you with huge smiles and even bigger knives.

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Birth right is a pretty messed up concept.  Natural born citizens act as if they demonstrated some herculean effort to have earned their “rights”.

“Pride is a sense of worth derived from something that is not part of us.” -BL  

To visit the U.S. requires total proof of returning home and costs a Guatemalan $150 (a month’s rent in Antigua) plus all associated entrance and exit fees and transportation.  This is possible if you have adequate sponsorship from a U.S. resident.  Multiply the cost of your rent by 6.  That’s the relative price to step foot in this country.

Some argue this difficulty is to prevent immigrant labor from working harder and cheaper and longer hours than the spoiled citizens of ‘Murica.  It’s ok to manufacture goods in less developed places like India or China and pay them next to nothing, as long as we don’t have to look at their ghettos every day.  It’s smacks of the same flavor when we send our youth to foreign soils to get shot at and kick down strangers’ doors.  Do we really have to ensure our way of life at the expense of theirs?  I have to admit it was thoughtful of them to install those nets at the Foxconn factory (Apple and Hewlett Packard) in China to catch the employees after 14 killed themselves by jumping out the windows.  But, I digress.

So what is the real reason we defend our borders from our more friendly, lively, and compassionate neighbors?  My mind immediately goes to real estate value.  No doubt the problem is complex.  The way I see it, my life could have just as easily started in Madagascar.  I wouldn’t know the difference.

One thought on leveling the playing field is that the rich will lose at the gain of the poor.  I think lazy people will stay lazy and the only change is that the lazy Americans will either get it together or fall behind.

They already have huge advantages with being able to read and speak English.  A taste of the world’s reality might give them a touch of humility and appreciation instead of blindly hating anything different, groping desperately for more stimulus, and following whichever side is predicted to win the next election instead of consulting your own dust covered intuition.


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“People already made up their minds [about what they believe] and only listen to supporting evidence.” – Eli Vellieux

 

Yin Yankee

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“The artless art is the art of the soul at peace, like moonlight mirrored in a deep lake.  The ultimate aim of the artist is to use his daily activity to become a past matter of life, and so lay hold of the art of living.  Masters in all branches of art must first be masters of living, for the soul creates everything.” – Bruce Lee

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I started get skinny to the point of looking at my gums in the reflection of my tablet to see if I had any pocketing.  Gross, I know.  It’s time to get some nutrients.  (Don’t worry, I am a hypochondriac.  While working at a local school to give kids checkups, I took a blood test and my iron levels are fine.)

I didn’t start to look in the mirror until I started working more—before I had the luxury of considering my diet diversity.  Before I was just happy with food.  This was usually a tub of yogurt, bag of granola, bunch of bananas, and a loaf of bread.  Nutrients beyond this would be from the cheap taco restaurant around the corner and in shift meals at work.  Having a pretty girl take me out to dinner is nice, but makes me feel like a bum. (Mario knows what I’m talking about.)

I’ve discovered two (2) (II) (dos) (zwei) (二) ways to get by in life and I alternate between them.  I would bet that most people do this many times throughout their lifetimes.  Some do it only once and call it “retirement”.

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The first way to get by in life is to work, and keep working, and early in the morning work some more, and at the end of the week work, and sometimes late at night work, and on the weekend work, and into the next week work, and work all week.  Eventually you develop a type of endurance to the discomfort and you can just work non-stop for weeks, months, and your body starts to crave the routine.  It’s not that your mind becomes numb, but it’s working so efficiently that there’s no time for refined thoughts.

I enjoy the ability to buy pizza whenever I want and have money saved up for travel and new clothes and my own transportation.  I enjoy buying the good food at the good grocery stores and not having to worry about things like malnutrition.  The funny thing about advertising is that it has no affect on those that can’t afford the product.  As soon as I started working like crazy and had money to spend, I needed all kinds of things.

The efficient mind part is what I have a problem with.  Fog. Fatigue.  A new form of self-pity arises after working your 14th day straight.  Part of the resistance is knowing that I’m letting go of my mind a bit.  Knowing that I’m not going to be as analytically sharp or aware.  It’s just one of the give and take parts of survival, I guess.  Like how living in society is easy, but also voluntary slavery.  I say voluntary, because the idea that the “world” is trying to make us into this or that is only our own innate tendency to regard other’s “judgement”.  In reality, it’s only us judging ourselves.

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The second way to get by in life is to work as little as possible and have oodles of free time for reading, exercise, art, observing, and thinking.  This of course gets abused and turns into “laziness” [from Proto-Indo-European *las- (“weak”)].  Goals are pushed aside for other goals and the whole schedule dissolves.  Life is grand for a couple of months until you realize that it’s not a self-sustaining system.  You realize that more fuel has to be pumped in from the outside.  Only pets who have genetically evolved to domesticate humans can get by with only “working” an hour a day.  

After the first 5 or 6 weeks of not working, my mind becomes “fully awake.”  The less monotonous, tedious, demeaning tasks you do to make other people money, the more you are connected mentally with the life-force-thing that flows through your veins, makes plants grow, and is in the sun and water and the wind.  The more you curiously and freely wander the earth, the more you feel your connection to everything.  You have the time and patience to watch the world.  And it’s both interesting and entertaining.

But, there’s a but.  The thing that allows you this freedom from worry and time to soak in 100% of your surroundings (which change constantly if you are traveling) is a pile of money.  The size of the pile determines the duration and luxury.  I find there is more to see at the ground level, so I don’t even bother with the luxury part.  But, when the pile is low, you can choose two routes.  You can figure out a way to start making money on the road or you can go back to your original source of income.  Both options involve surrendering large portions of your mental faculties and significant amounts of time.

Since time moves at a constant rate, there do not appear to be any shortcuts.  The best thing I’ve found is to figure out how to enjoy the run-ragged work part.  It has it’s perks.  Cinnamon Toast Crunch is one of them.  Just don’t stay in the fog too long.  It’s just anxiety vs. sadness.  Anxiety when I’m running out of money.  Sadness when I have to temporarily say bye to my mind, my hobbies, and myself.

But, there’s another but!  There’s this thing called presence.  Sounds spooky, right?  It is a common theme that has been rediscovered by many influential people throughout history and it can be taught, but like anything, only to willing students.  It has a myriad of other names too, all equally bashed by skeptics who don’t experiment a whole lot throughout their 75 years on this planet.  “Awareness”, “awake”, and “grounded” are a few.

Basically, all you do is stop every now and then to ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?  Is there anything bothering me?”  This looking inward somehow makes everything outward more clear.  The same thing happens when you leave town for a long-over-due weekend to go camping.  It’s like stopping to clean the glasses of life.  This is my newest experiment.  Supposedly it’s a game changer.  As Boots says, “I’ll give it the old college try.”

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When you get a key made in Central America, the key maker doesn’t hit it with a brush machine to clean up the edges.  It’s obvious that it’s just a jagged piece of metal.  It’s not some magical object that opens locks.  

When you buy a machete, they grab a flat bar of metal, grind off one corner and wrap the other with duct tape or rubber.  A knife isn’t something that can only be made by a knife maker.  It’s a piece of metal that’s filed thin on one end.  A shotgun is an oversized metal tube with a loading/firing handle.  When you go to Little Caesar’s or the post office, or the grocery store, there are guards with sawed-off shot guns.  They smile back and you realize the shotgun is a cheap tool, about as easy to construct as a coffee maker.

It is infinitely more clear what objects really are when you are not living in a polished consumer society.  

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“The way to transcend karma lies in the proper use of the mind and the will. The one-ness of all life is a truth that can be fully realized only when false notions of a separate self, whose destiny can be considered apart from the whole, are forever annihilated”  – Bruce Lee

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“It’s very strange when we arbitrarily decide on one drug.  Regardless of its impact on people’s health and wellbeing and crimes committed under the influence of it.  Which is one of the most devastating ones.  Alcohol.  And we make that our primary drug.  And we just decide.  You’re dealing with a sophisticated and intelligent civilization.  You’re dealing with people who have previously impossible levels of access to information.  In the face of all this overwhelming evidence, you’re choosing to put people in cages for plants.  That’s unconscionable.” – Joe Rogan

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Chairs with back rests just aren’t good for your body / health.  I’ve been thinking about this for about two years and this is my conclusion.  Your body has built in muscles that give you posture.  These muscles, like the heart do not get tired, if you use them.  If you remove their need to work (using a back rest) then, like giving money to a bum, you only make them weaker.  You have a choice.  You can keep your ability to support your own body (i.e. sit up) or you can throw it away like bone density by using a mattress.  I’ll save the mattress for another article.

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When Joe Rogan asked Jay Leno what caused the end of the era of Italian mob-run clubs and casinos, he said this:  “Corporations are meaner and nastier and tougher than the mob.  At least with the mob you got a free drink every now and then.  Once the corporations came in, that was the end of that.”

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Most love songs (unlike The Distance by Cake) rationalize the sickness that humans develop through interaction with other sick humans. I’m talking about not taking responsibility for your own emotions and not admitting what is reality.

“I realize all the uncountable manifestations the thinking-mind invents to place a wall of horror before its pure perfect realization that there is no wall and no horror, just Transcendental Empty Kissable Milk Light of Everlasting Eternity’s true and perfectly empty nature.” Jack Kerouac, Tristessa

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Something I’ve learned recently is that you can look at everything in two lights.  Like the idea of Yin and Yang.  Here’s a story by Alan Watts explaining the concept:

The Farmer’s Horse

  • There is a story of a farmer whose horse ran away. That evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was such bad luck. He said, “May be.” The next day the horse returned, but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came exclaiming at his good fortune. He said, “May be.”
    And then, the following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy for the misfortune. He said, “May be.”
    The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of the broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbors came to say how fortunately everything had turned out, he said, “May be.”

The yin-yang view of the world is serenely cyclic. Fortune and misfortune, life and death, whether on small scale or vast, come and go everlastingly without beginning or end, and the whole system is protected from monotony by the fact that, in just the same way, remembering alternates with forgetting. This is the Good of good-and-bad.

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The greatest fear or all is fear of the unknown.  That’s why traveling to foreign countries is so terrifying and interesting.  Why do you think death haunts us all?  Why do you think religion has been such an important part of our history?  If we knew death was only temporary or a transition, it wouldn’t be so damn scary.  But we don’t know.  Death is very useful to us because I think you can link it as motivation to everything we do in life.  It’s a good example of the duality of all things.

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“Put aside your notions of how people are and the world will surprise you with it’s grace.” – Arielle 5 to 7

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Kites and Farms

Festival de Barriletes Gigantes (Festival of Giant Kites)

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The other white dots in the sky are normal sized kites.

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We are taught as kids that one thing is better than another.

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The 40-foot tall kites are just for decoration.

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Before acid, flowers just smelled like flour to me.  I was always disappointed when I would stop to smell the roses.  Now I get all kinds of different scents and they smell great!

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The Day of the Dead is a tradition used to celebrate the lives and assist the spiritual journeys of loved ones.

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Random Blog Poem

Eat food as if you are speaking a language.

Window drip like the sound of a train

Ringing silence of mosquitos in my brain

here come the bombers

Here comes the pain

Fluffy and sharp, right on time

fear begins when traffic feels first

Breath in the to lack the walls

Sell light, tickle elders.

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MAYANS & FARMING

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The Mayans had some pretty clever ideas.  After harvest, each pen is rotated.  Animals are where plants were and there’s even a “resting” pen.  This is key to “sustainable farming” or “permaculture”.  Mono-cropping, on the other hand, is a short sighted, efficient technique that depletes the soil of nutrients and offers limited protection against disease.  Disasters such as Ireland’s Great (Potato) Famine are the result.  Dense concrete jungles are also vulnerable to viral attacks due to lack of microorganism bio-diversity.  With plants, animals, bugs, and soil nearby, the local immune system is fortified.

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“Every sound is born out of silence, dies back into silence, and during its life span is surrounded by silence.” – Eckhartt Tolle

Following their ancestors, Antigua’s Caoba Farms plant in spirals to match the shape of our galaxy.  This may seem whimsical and if I go into it too much, half of you will click the Facebook notification in the corner of your screen.  As a math/physics guy, it intrigues me so I’ll touch on it briefly.

In most of the world, we use a single calendar based on this solar system, particularly our relationship with our Sun.  If you Google  “how many stars are there?”, it says this:

    “There are about 10 billion galaxies in the observable universe! The number of stars in a galaxy varies, but assuming an average of 100 billion stars per galaxy means that there are about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 1 billion trillion) stars in the observable universe!”

 That’s just what we can see.  Could it be possible that there is something else influencing our world?

Around the time of the 2012 excitement Guatemala was crawling with hippies, tourists, and archaeologists.  A local farmer and his twin brother decided to do their own research and see what they could learn about their ancient heritage.  Emilio, one of the twins, who I’m working with on farm tours, explained to me that the Mayans actually used 23 calendars.  Only one of these pertained to the physical world.  They didn’t want to focus all of their attention on material items lest they live for superficial motives.

The others were based on energy because the Mayans apparently believed all life and the universe were made of energy.  Picture an electron doing laps around a nucleus.  Or the moon and Earth around the Sun.  Or our solar system around the center of the Milky Way spiral, which I just learned is a “supermassive” black hole.  Yikes!

Here’s something to bring you back to the present moment:

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“I don’t know man.  I just think it’s important to always try to be self-aware and self-correcting.” – Ben Hurst

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Instinct-driven Simplicity

So I’m riding a chicken bus back from Mexico for my 3-month visa renewal.  The guy who manages the money is wearing an authentic smile and a soaked t-shirt.  It’s not raining.  

At first it looks like there’s no room.  Even the front steps are full.  Following the assistant’s instruction, I SQUEEZE to the middle of the refurbished school bus.  My bag is on the storage rack, so I did not capture the amazing, everyday feats that were about to take place.

There are 3 adults in each of the 24 bench seats (built for two children), plus a FULL aisle of standing passengers.  I’m comfortably sandwiched between at least 4 people.  This must be similar to India, except there are no children in the overhead luggage compartments and no small crowd sitting on top of the bus.

A packed bus is no obstacle for the assistant.  After taking bus fare from those in arm’s reach, he asks a young passenger to slide down the window.  Grabbing the overhead luggage rack, he neatly slips both feet, hips, and shoulders out of the bus, which is traveling through the mountains at about 45 miles an hour.  (A week before, my brother and I were trying to figure out how the driver was able to squeal tires around every turn without flipping.)  Ten seconds later I see him standing in the back of bus collecting money.  Using the seat backs as steps, he duck-walks to the center of the bus, collecting money before he Houdini’s through another window and reappears at the front of the bus.

Since Central America is still “developing”, they don’t yet have rampant lawsuits, so people are still allowed to make their own judgements when it comes to personal safety.  One downside of an underdeveloped law system is the labor force is abused and the cost of living is significantly higher than the minimum wage.

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Money is a tool that is over used.  It’s like carrying a screwdriver around to open doors, write notes, get people’s attention, start your car, flip pancakes, scramble your eggs, eat your breakfast, and pet your dog with.

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ECONOMICS: “Developed” VS. Developing (and tangents)

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From time to time the discussion comes up about the differences between the economies of the U.S. and Central America.  After pondering, reading, and discussing with a variety of world citizens, I’ve come to a common denominator.

Latinos live in the moment.  Gringos live in the future and the past.  Keep in mind that this is a spectrum and I’m discussing the stereotypes to help contrast.

When you live in the future, you are more prone to make responsible decisions, plan effectively, and be motivated to address your scheduled priorities. 

When you live in the present, you make decisions based on what is occurring around you.  

This is one reason travelers gravitate toward Latin America.  Travelers, by definition, are inconsistent.  They like to put themselves in situations where it is necessary to pay close attention to their surroundings.  They also value experiential quality over financial growth.

As a traveler, I perceive benefit in surrounding myself with people who are more focused on what is happening now.  This is one reason I prefer the service industry to the construction industry.

The way Latinos deal with “stressful” situations inspires me.  When road construction consumes a sidewalk, pedestrians weave in with cars and no horns are honked except a quick beep to say “Hola!” to a passing tuk-tuk driver.  The tension of judgment is simply absent.  People just adapt, because that is how the body functions.

The body only reacts if something is actually happening: fire, dog bites, cold rain, being hit, etc.

The human mind works a bit differently.

The mind calculates, forecasts, recalls, extrapolates, exaggerates, rationalizes, and replays scenarios which may or may not have even happened.

The mind tells the body it is angry, jealous, resentful, sad, anxious, annoyed, and a bunch of other dis-eases, both future (fear) and past (pain).  If you stop to notice, each of these emotions are tied to a physical reaction of the body.  The next time you have negative thoughts, check out your body and see if you are tense somewhere.

There are also feelings reminiscence and excitement, which in excess show discontent with the present moment.

The future and past (and mind) are tools for deciding how to address the present.  If you catch yourself drifting off into thought, you can say to yourself, “I don’t need to use that right now.”

The point is that if you live in the moment (the latino stereotype) you may not have a luxurious lifestyle, but you are also not a stressed-out space cadet.

A quick glance at a developed economy seems like all sunshine and rainbows, and could be, except most of its citizens are missing the show because they are too busy planning for a rainy day.  Want proof?  Watch a crowded sidewalk or grocery store and see how many people are actually there.

If any of that psychological mumbo-jumbo intrigues you, you can get a healthy dose from the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.  It makes sense to me, but gets quite dense after the first 1/3 of the book.

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If children just arrived from a different, non-physical world, then things like bubbles would be very entertaining.