Sunday, January 23, 2011

To Leap

Hiking the other day, the trail I was following died out. I had to make my way down the cliff side to the river bed in the valley below. Bushwhacking we call it in Canada. At one point I had to swing out on long grass to to get down a sheer 5 meter drop. Phew!

Somehow I had to cross the river back to the main road and to civilization. The Chico river, although it is low now, is nonetheless fast and deep. I found a place where for about 200 meters there were many stones sticking out and scattered throughout the flow. I set across, leaping stone to stone.

At one point, I was daunted by a major leap. I back tracked, trying to find another easier way across. There was nothing. I made my way back and faced my foe. A metre and half leap was required to a stone with no flat landing. I would have to land and hold myself up with my hands. Upon landing I had two more stones to jump across, each with only room for one foot.

There would be no stopping. No turning back. I would have to jump, jump, jump-- the last two without pause, jumping with the foot I landed on It was the deepest part of the river. If I fell in, there would be no catching myself with my feet.

It felt like I was in the midst of some Life Metaphor! Except, the words were stones and the lesson the cool, deep, fast water.

I gave the rocks a good look over. I imagined the jumps in my head. The required series of muscle movements played in my mind. My heart was pounding and my legs shaking. I breathed deeply, striving for calm. Then sun was getting low in the sky.

Then, without a second thought I just jumped. My hands firmly grasped the first rock. I pulled myself over. A long pause. Leap! ... Left, Right, left...

I made it! I was alive! I hopped my way to the other side, the remaining jumps nothing in comparison.

This hike had begun by exiting the main road, the Known, for the Unknown, across the rusty bridge. The spiritual author Osho was a great influence here. He argued persuasively that we must always choose the Unknown. This is where living happens. This is when we are deepest in our moments and our world scintillates with possibilities, passion, inspiration and life.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

The River

On my hike, I wrote these lines and took this photo while at the foot of the Chico river as it coursed over the pebble strewn river bed. The path had died out and I was forced down the mountain side to negotiate a crossing.

There is something deeply refreshing about the the swirl and sound of a river. Like liquid crystal it courses the bottom of this verdant canyon that I find myself in-- I a speck of red sweatshirt in a vein of wild, untamed life force. I drink with my ears, eyes and soul; peace is it's gift to me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Across the Rusty Bridge: Hello Unknown!

I have made the walk from Bontoc to Sagada a few times now. It's beautiful. The road runs along a winding mountain river. Green mountains tower up on either side. Rice terraces flow down the mountain side like the steps of some long gone race of giants.

It's an easy walk really. A smooth, paved road, everyone takes it. However, on my last walk, I noticed a rusty suspension bridge to the other side of the river for the farmers and the faint wisp of a trail cut into the green mountains.

I have a personal dictum. "Always choose the unknown". Its inspired by a book by Osho entitled 'Courage'. The Unknown is where learning, experience, wisdom, adventure and indeed life take place! Yet, indeed, to leave our comfortable well worn road of patterns, places and people-- the Known-- it takes Courage. With a capital C.

A rickety suspension bridge separates the nice paved road and the other side where the farmers labour with oxen and hand tools on the rising steps of the ancient terraces. I stood there for a good five minutes trying to decide what path to take!

My dictum called to me over my fears and the beckoning coziness of comfort.

With a leery first step I stepped out on the bridge. You can see right through the rusted iron to the river far below. The entire structure shuddered in the wind. The bridge was oddly symbolic to me this day. To live or not to live? The unknown or the well worn path?

My sweaty hands grasped firm the rickety iron railings the whole way over to the other side. As I stepped onto the grass on the other shore, I beamed. An epic hike of aliveness, trial, tribulation, dead ends, victory, leaps, scratches and heart thumping, leg shaking moments awaited me.

Alive I am!

Western Union is Evil - Part II

Today a friend sent in a 1Mandala project donation.  The donation was for 30$.  The Western Union fee was 12$.  That's a 40%!  Insane.

The fees basically get larger the less you send.  So for the global phenomenon of oversees workers sending small sums of money back to their families in developing countries, this means that the poorer one is, the more one pays.  Crazy.

Do you know why it's called Western Union? I read a book on the advent of the telegraph in the 1900's. Western Union was one of the first telegraph (telegram delivery) companies. It was a union of smaller telegraph services that merged to serve more broadly. It connected the Western American states to the Eastern states. Then the states to Europe and the world.

When the first telegram was instantaneously sent between England and America there was great rejoicing! How could wars continue? So mused a headline at the time-- now world leaders could communicate across the distances and talk! And if we can all talk and connect then any problem could be resolved before it became a war! This was the vision of the technology's pioneers.

And despite the massive wars of the last century, there is still wisdom and truth to that vision of interconnectedness and peace. The more we connect the harder time injustice has. To think that the company founded on such hopes and vision is now ripping global class separation wider.

Time to connect and unite.

Once again here is the Avaaz petition:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Western Union is Evil

Back when I was in university, I did my philosophy ethics thesis on "Usury". Most haven't heard of this word. It's a term from a forgotten age-- the good old medival days when lending money at a rate of interest was considered a sin.

Yes. Interest was a sin. And 'Usury' was it's name. And not just a little sin! Dante put the usurers on a level all their on in his Inferno. They had a special place of suffering in Hell all their own for their particular monetary deeds. Indeed, usury also was one of the Seven Deadly sins. Muslims concur by the way, and have banks and financial systems now that work without charging interest.

In university the concept was academic. Living here in Sagada, I now experientially understand.

You see, there's no bank machines here that work with my card. In order to live here, I've had to rely on Western Union to receive my money that comes in from international art donations and sales.

As you may know Philipinos go to work all around the world, then send money home to family-- to places like Sagada. It is one of the biggest sectors in their economy. And they too must use Western Union. In this way, I have suddenly become a financial Filipino! This is how Filipinos must send their money. And Africans, and Latin Americans and so many other workers from developing countries that go to developed countries to work.

I've almost fainted each time I've had someone send me a national Western Union transfer. I've almost passed out when I've done international transfers. The fees are insane. Local transfers are from 10% to 20%. International fees go up to 30%. Thats my hard earned money and kind donations vanishing into corporate coffers. It's fucking crazy.

But when your financial options are limited by location, country, status, education and Internet access, there just aren't any other options! The financial instruments available to first worlders-- credit cards, wire transfers, paypal, and even just a bank account just arenet available.

And so Western Union usurously exploits.

Of course Western Union doesn't charge by percent. They call it a"fee". Which is bullshit. Dante would see right through that. The quotes above are the percentage value of the "fee" to the amount sent.

And that's mighty reminiscent of Usury-- charging a percentage for access to money. Usury was a sin in the medival days because folks saw clearly how it enslaved the borrower to the lender. Poor borrowers became incapable of capital repayment because they could only just barely pay the interest. Rich lenders would in fact make the most from the poorest borrowers. Its not a matter of personal weakness but of social power balance. We see it today clearly with credit card debt, and of course poor countries and their debt enslavement to the IMF and first world countries.

Western Union is essentially no different. Except it doesn't just enslave people, or even countries. It basically is ripping wider the gap between the planetwide classes of rich and poor. Western Union's client base is folks in disadvantaged countries all over the world. Folks with no access to the Internet, to banking, to financial instruments. Families in Filipino villages like mine, or Africa or Nicaragua, or somewhere else where there are no other financial options.

I've just discovered that alot more people think the same.  Check this Avaaz petition out:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas Love Pancakes

I returned to Manila for Christmas.  Walking the streets with my lover,we were hit hard by the street kids simply asking for food. A charity had just given away some meals-- alas packed in styrofoam and leaving a big mess.   It got me thinking.

Manila is full of the disadvantaged and hunger and poverty and want and.... opportunity!  Opportunity for creative generosity.  It grates the soul each day to walk by people just asking for need.  Rather than turn a blind eye, why not get creative and doing something beautiful with the opportunity?  In my country the poor are pushed to the margins.  Here the opportunities are for giving and touching folks are at every turn.

So... Both of us being  professional artists... We got creative!  Next time I am in Manila I will make another monster batch of pancakes and walk around with them in my bag.  :-)

Thanks to Darragh Kenny for the use of his music.  It was just right.  He and recorded that track together in Amsterdam!

I am who I am Becoming

Who am I?

Tis a fitting question for the end of a year and the beginning of a new one. 

 Holy shit have I had a crazy intense year. From Canada to Paris, where I lived with my lover in an amazing and posh pad, to six months of being down and out in a remote Filipino village where they sacrifice chickens and drink cobra blood.

Wow... I could never ever have imagined all this. Yet, despite the vast material, relationship and geographical fluctuations my intentions and purpose have never been more consistent and focused.  And thus a realization about this very blog.

This blog has a lot of white in it does it not? It's pretty plain. Even the title is vacuous. I came up with the title on a 2AM whim two years ago. I went with white and the sparse design because, well, I suppose I felt alot like a blank slate. I was discarding skins that were not my own to become he who I am becoming.

 Now, hundreds of posts later, thousands of kilometers and through countless moments of heart rending beauty, I have much more to say about myself.  I feel I can now say it and express because of one paradoxical reason:  I know it isn't me.   I mean, it is me now, in this moment, yet I can and will change-- but what the heck-- why not just be it full out while I am it!

So this blog will now be evolving dramatically to catch up with he who I am becoming. 

 Let's start with my blog bio:

Russell Maier is a Jedi Artist.  Integrating locally to co-create globally,  Russell speaks over seven languages from Arabic to German to local indigenous dialects.  His art has exhibited in galleries from Vancouver to New York to Berlin. Yet, he is most at home far from the great cities.  Believing passionately that Art is not just for the wealthy but is one of our most powerful Oneness Consciousness tools, he travels the Earth, sharing the sacred art of the Mandala  to the disadvantaged and disconnected in humble villages and challenged lands.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Years in Sagada!

The scene from my New Year, in Sagada: 12:00 AM - the locals do their ancient circle dance to the beat of their brass gongs. A hazy mist of cloud, bond-fire smoke, and the remnant of fire crackers has fallen over the village. All around he town erupts in dancing, gongs and firecrackers. Bang, boom! It feels half like a war zone and half like a tribal celebration as a cacophony of sounds erupts all over the normally sleepy town. Young and old form spontaneous rhythmic circles of dance in the streets. My friend and I duck and take cover as misguided pyrotechnics fly at us from the other side of the square.

What a night! And all this after stumbling on a feast full of friends, french food and a profound conversation and connection.

What a truly beautiful beginning to the new year!