'Slow Down, Find Humanity.' - Paul Salopek

 Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

A friend once shared with me the proverb: that our souls can only travel as fast as a camel can walk. I believe that a camel’s walking pace is quite similar to ours, so this makes sense to me. It also helps to explain that while jet setting between Europe and the US it takes a long time to be present in either of these places. My physical self arrives for a visit and then I pass it on my return over the ocean, where it must make a turn to catch me again. Once I’m home, about two weeks goes by and finally, I feel like myself again. She found me.

Walking. I do it around my neighborhood, on mountain trails, and through the parks. But walking as a means of travel from city to city, country to country. This is something that is intriguing in our fast-paced world of planes, trains and automobiles. But, think about it, this was our main transportation for millennia.

We walked out of Africa, finding our way to new lands. Crossing the Red Sea when the waters were much lower or hadn’t yet arrived. Was our wandering caused by a shift in climate so it made it necessary to seek new lands for food and water or were our earliest relatives just restless?

‘We crave a past in our landscapes.’ - Paul Salopek

A journalist, Paul Salopek, is in the middle of making humanity’s epic journey of 21,000 miles across the world, and has named it the ‘Out of Eden Walk.’ He began in Ethiopia at one of the oldest human fossil sites, Herto Bouri and will end his journey at the southern tip of Argentina in Tierra del Fuego. He is constantly asking questions too: ‘Why is movement the default solution of our species? What is wrong with standing still? Why even ask such questions?’ He gives two answers to these questions: ‘Because we are restless. Because we always ask.’

Even now with the majority of our planet discovered, we look outside of earth to exploring new planets, new galaxies. Contentment is not one of our most defining attributes.

‘If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.’

-African Proverb

The beginning.

'On a clear day on flat ground—in a landscape, say, like the bone-yellow floor of the Great Rift Valley of northern Ethiopia that surrounds me now—it is possible to see 60 miles. This is a three-day walking radius. For the next seven years of my life, as I retrace, on foot, the pathways of the first anatomically modern humans who rambled out Africa, this distance will represent for me, as it was for our ancestors, my tangible universe, my limiting horizon.

I’ll be cheating a bit, of course: The communications kit I’m lugging on my back to share this journey will fling open digital infinitudes that our nomadic forebears could scarcely imagine. Yet the experience of pacing off the continents, one yard at a time through 2020, will still expose, I believe, an inescapable biological reality. We’re built to walk. We’ve been wired by natural selection to absorb meaning from our days at the loose-limbed gait of three miles an hour. And whether we count ourselves cursed or lucky to be standing on the Earth at this frenetic moment in our history—I, for one, would choose no other time to be alive—reasonable arguments abound to slow down. To pause in our tracks, the way a local Afar pastoralist named Idoli Mohamed does, arms folded akimbo atop hand-greased acacia sticks. To watch. To listen. To glance over our shoulders, seeking older compass bearings. Those first bands of Homo sapiens who blazed the trail to our becoming a planetary species—hunter-gatherers we know oddly little about and who may have numbered, researchers say, a paltry few thousand individuals—have valuable lessons to impart. They were, after all, consummate survivors. This is the premise of the Out of Eden walk.’ - Paul Salopek

The website where you can follow Paul’s journey is fantastic. With photos, videos, small blog posts and milestone entries, one feels as though they are on the journey with him. He has local guides taking him through these lands and they are as interesting as the landscapes themselves. It is inspiring and a beautiful educational platform on history, anthropology, geography and time and space. 

Currently, Paul is five years into his journey and is near Dhankoli, India. Read his latest post Milestone 58. 

I encourage you to start from the very beginning. To read his words and gaze at the photographs of walking the scorched desert land, crossing of the Red Sea, discovering ghost towns in Cyprus, trekking the ancient Silk Road to discovering cities that were once the centers of empires and now survive with the faintest trace.

It is a fascinating look at a part of the world that only seems to harken negativity in the media. There are so many stories to be told. Modern and ancient histories continue to shape the landscapes and the lives of humans that have been born and reside in such special corners of this earth.

May you find inspiration in this finding and it is my hope that it keeps you up at night as well! The stories, to me, all have a resounding theme of our shared humanity with one another. We are all connected in this world, and this moment it is more important than ever to acknowledge and cherish this fact.

Out of Eden Walk.

'If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.' - Pearl Buck

 The Star Fresco from Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan

The Star Fresco from Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan

The Act of Preservation Through Cartography and Song

I’ve always loved listening to stories of the past. There is so much we can learn from history, mostly on how to make better informed decisions in all realms of life. There have been many mistakes and also many successes throughout the multitudes of civilizations. Our view, knowledge and understanding of the world evolves daily and it appears that it has always been this way. 

The University of Chicago has made an epic project available online with free pdf downloads of the six volume collection entitled, The History of Cartography. The maps date back to 2000 BC and include findings throughout the ages up to the 19th century.

The following text in italics comes from the Open Culture article written by Josh Jones: 

“Cartography was not born full-fledged as a science or even an art,” wrote map historian Lloyd Brown in 1949. “It evolved slowly and painfully from obscure origins.” Many ancient maps made no attempt to reproduce actual geography but served as abstract visual representations of political or theological concepts. Written geography has an ancient pedigree, usually traced back to the Greeks and Phoenicians and the Roman historian Strabo. But the making of visual approximations of the world seemed of little interest until later in world history. As “mediators between an inner mental world and an outer physical world”—in the words of historian J.B. Harley—“the maps of the ancients tended to favor the former.” 

For most of recorded history, knowledge of the world from any one place was almost wholly or partly speculative and imaginative, often peopled with monsters and wonders.

“All cultures have always believed that the map they valorize is real and true and objective and transparent,” says Jerry Brotton Professor at Queen Mary University of London. Columbus believed in his speculative maps, even when he ran into islands off the coast of continents charted on none of them. We are still conceptual prisoners—or consumers, users, readers, viewers, audiences—of maps, though we’ve physically plotted every corner of the globe. Perspectives cannot be rendered objective. No gods-eye views exist.

The world is what you make of it and how you see it. Shapes, elements, still and in motion. What I love about the early maps is that squares and straight lines do not dominate the map illustrations. Creativity abounds with the unknown, which makes me wonder with all of the technology that we hold in our hands, what still remains mysterious to us?

Draw a map of your world. What does it look like?

Preview a volume here

 Detail of a Muse playing a cithara from a painting depicting the musical contest of Apollo and the Satyr Marsyas. Part of the collection at the Musée du Louvre, Paris

Detail of a Muse playing a cithara from a painting depicting the musical contest of Apollo and the Satyr Marsyas. Part of the collection at the Musée du Louvre, Paris

Another massive project of reconstruction and documentation has been occurring at Oxford University. Musician and classics professor, Armand D’Angour has been working for the past five years to reconstruct ancient Greek songs.

Only a few fragments of the lyrics remain, so how are they doing it?

D’Angour points out that many literary texts of antiquity “provide abundant and highly specific details about the notes, scales, effects, and instruments used,” the latter including the lyre and the aulos, “two double-reed pipes played simultaneously by a single performer.”

Check out the entire article and the video of reconstructed music here

With both of these beautiful projects, it has made me consider the importance of maps and songs. Both are two important fragments that hold our history and our present lives together. How do we define ourselves, guide ourselves, express ourselves, and orient ourselves? Can you imagine a world without either?

Inspiration Recommendations:

The History of Cartography

 

Ancient Greek Music Reconstructed

 

‘There is so much to admire, to weep over and to write music or poems about.’ - Mary Oliver

 Illustration by Peter Sis, from his adaptation of the twelfth-century Persian epic poem,  The Conference of the Birds

Illustration by Peter Sis, from his adaptation of the twelfth-century Persian epic poem, The Conference of the Birds

Poetry fills our days without us even having to open a book to read a poem. While I suggest visiting the poetry section in your local bookstore and taking the time to find a poet that you connect with, I do believe that poetry is everywhere and it is the poets that help us to recognize this.

In every song is a poem, the way the shadows fall on the sidewalks, how the sun sets...the earth gives us as much poetry as humans do. Poems guide us, comfort us, enrage us, call us to action, make us sit in silence.

In honor of my latest release of poems, Then Suddenly SunI am focusing this week on poets and poems that have been with me for years. Their words and their voices have comforted me in times of sadness and have inspired and given me strength when I’ve needed it the most. 

A good book of poems is the ultimate travel partner.

A few years ago I was driving through Texas and made a stop at Canarium Books in Marfa. This beautiful book shop is owned by Joshua Edwards. During this stop, I met Joshua and purchased (at the time) his latest book, Architecture For Travelers

In the yellow room

there’s a mirror for watching

the sunrise from bed

Architecture for Travelers is both a book of poems and a travelogue of his 1000 kilometer walk across Texas. It is a book that I’ve read over and over again and will continue to consult for inspiration, guidance and escape.

Architecture for Travelers

Travelers need a house

not only comfortable

for daily life and good

to come back to, but also

easy to live without:

a place that is a kind of

conspiracy theory of walls,

that doesn’t quite exist

when nobody is home.

-

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet, songwriter, and novelist. Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother. Her beautiful poems are filled with characters and stories of the Palestine that was, is and hopes to be. Nye is based in San Antonio, Texas. Her poems are stories that take the reader beyond the page. One can hear the cries of her characters, taste the olives, smell the tea leaves brewing, and hope, along with her and the people she writes about, that peace can be planted and flourish between the Palestinians and Israelis.

No one was right,

Everyone was wrong

What if they’d get together

and say that?

From the book 19 Varieties of Gazelle comes this moving poem set in Nablus, Palestine.

an excerpt from: Lunch in Nablus City Park

What makes a man with a gun seem bigger

than a man with almonds? How can there be war

and the next day eating, a man stacking plates

on the curl of his arm, a table of people 

toasting one another in languages of grace:

For you who came so far;

For you who held out, wearing a black scarf

to signify grief;

For you who believe true love can find you

amidst this atlas of tears linking one town 

to its own memory of mortar,

when it was still a dream to be built

and people moved here, believing,

and someone with sky and birds in his heart

said this would be a good place for a park.

-

Mary Oliver has been a longtime guide and may I even add a dear friend, even though she does not know me. Born in Ohio, but residing the majority of her life in Provincetown, Massachusetts, she writes her love letters to the natural world and at times becomes one with the waters, forests, and animals. It is amazing the comfort that one can find in her poems. By reading her books, I've learned to better understand myself and my place in this world.

From the book, Blue Horses:

The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac

I know you never intended to be in this world,

but you’re in it all the same.

so why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.

There is so much to admire, 

to weep over

and to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.

Bless the eyes and the listening ears.

Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.

Bless touching.

 

From the book, Wild Geese:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

   love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -

over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

 

“The world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you see inside of you.” -Miss Virginia Jones, mentor to US Senator Cory Booker

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This week I turn back to OnBeing. It is such a rich podcast that is filled with heartfelt, inspiring conversations with people from across all disciplines. Writers, philosophers, theologians, musicians, ecologists, scientists, artists, anthropologists, they are all there. She steers clear of politicians, except for this episode.

US Senator Cory Booker believes in the quality of ‘seeing’ people. In this podcast he encourages us to slow down, look into other people’s eyes and see their divinity.

‘The real test is to love the people you disagree with.’ 

This way of living can be so difficult, especially in such highly polarized times, but perhaps if we all met in the middle, took a breath in and tried to understand where the others were coming from, maybe this is the answer? 

As Senator Booker says, 'We must stop demonizing those with whom we disagree. Once we do this, we make a deliberate step forward in honoring the sacred spaces in between us'.

‘We must move beyond tolerance to love.'

Some questions that are interesting to consider:

What are the most meaningful things that have happened to you?

What really defines you?

How do you measure your own self worth?

By the end of this great podcast, he reminds us of the importance of self-care. Every morning he makes his bed, meditates, exercises and studies a new subject. Currently, he is learning Spanish.

A way to begin to understand others is to take some time to get to know them.

Inherently, we fear the unknown and those who are different from us. Once we befriend someone who comes from a completely different place we realize that we are all the same. We have the same needs and desires - breathing, eating, drinking, loving, laughing, raising healthy children, doing what we enjoy… 

There are so many ways to open yourself to other cultures and ways of thinking. Travel, reading, and learning a language are three beautiful ways to connect to the unknown. 

Two years ago, I embarked on my studies of both the German and Italian languages. It is a constant challenge, but one that is so rewarding. To understand and be understood by others is a beautiful thing! Words are worlds and to be able to connect with another in their own language is so important. I think it will take me years to be able to fully communicate in both languages, especially because English is so widely spoken, but I am determined!

I have been using two different apps, in addition to grammar books and real life situations, to guide me through this learning process. Duolingo is free and fun, I recommend it for children and adults alike! Babbel is much more comprehensive, but does have a monthly fee. Go for it - it's wonderful for your brain, your heart and it keeps you humble!

Inspiration Recommendations:

OnBeing Podcast with Senator Cory Booker: Civic Spiritual Evolution

Language Learning: Duolingo and Babbel

'Trail the stories, don't trap them.' - Dr. Martin Shaw

 Painting by Siggi Crombie

Painting by Siggi Crombie

What are we, but the stories of our ancestors and the stories of our selves?

Stories guide us in our understanding of humanity and encourage us to view the world in a different sense. There is an abundance of richness in our history and in the present that spans beyond our own lives. We can breathe these stories in, take them into our consciousness and value their wisdom, even if it isn’t needed at that precise moment. There is always a reason for something to be written. Some questions to consider when deciding the reasoning could be: It is to encourage us to get closer to the earth? To learn a lesson? To develop empathy, compassion, understanding? 

The ancient stories, the myths, are those filled with knowledge that want to wake the listener up  to their higher order of intuition. A new chapter of myth stories has opened up to me in the past month with the discovery of the brilliant storyteller and painter, Dr. Martin Shaw and with reading the book Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

In his talk with the amazing Emergence Podcast, Dr. Martin Shaw tells a beautiful rendition of the ancient myth, the Lindworm, an old Norwegian tale about a mythical creature that is part human and part snake. The story begins by introducing us to a gentle king and queen who live a wonderful life, but are unable to conceive a child. The Queen takes a walk into the woods and meets an old wise woman who listens to the queen’s desire to have a child. The woman tells her that in her garden the following day will be two flowers, one will be white and the other red. She must by no means eat the red flower. Of course, our curiosity always gets the best of us and the queen is no different. In all of her humanity she, as you may have guessed, eats the red flower. You must listen to the podcast to hear the rest of this beautiful myth. One that is filled with details of how our decisions and actions continue to affect those that surround us. 

Dr. Shaw’s questions to the listeners are important to consider:

What do you stand for and defend?

What do you love?

What are the one or two images (things) that have claimed your heart?

Myth stories ask us to recognize the difference between seeing something and beholding it. A thought that I think is beautiful to consider.

Women Who Run With The Wolves is a book that is rich and filled with stories that celebrate, embrace and embolden the feminine archetype. Ancient stories from Indigenous Americans spanning from Canada to Central America and stories that come from Eastern Europe are all shared along with descriptive commentary that helps us to relate these stories into our own lives. 

My favorite (thus far) is the Skeleton Woman. This story is beautiful for both men and women to read. What is it that we seek? This story opens up this question, especially when considering what we are looking for in love and friendship.. How do we view one another and how does this reflect our inner selves? It takes strength to go inward to acknowledge our bare bones and the darker sides of ourselves.

We haven’t lost our innate wisdom, it is there just waiting to be uncovered. The voices are still present but, they are quiet. Modern life is noisy, we must take an extra moment to hear these quiet voices. It is wonderful to listen to storytellers or to read the stories that have been ‘trailed.’ Advancement and technology seems to rule our everyday lives, but as I continue to find, it cannot replace the necessity of story and myth. The ancient knowledge is still so important and ever present in our lives.

As you go forth, remember these wonderful words of Dr. Shaw: “You were born for these times, proceed with a degree of urgency and a sense of humor.”

Inspiration Recomendations:

Emergence Magazine Podcast 'Mud and Antler Bone' with Dr. Martin Shaw

The fantastic book that highlights the 'myths and stories of the wild woman archetype': Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

 

'Knowledge sets us free...' - Ursula K. Le Guinn

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Remember the days when you would run to the mailbox every day for a favorite magazine or letter to arrive? Did you ever write in your calendar the day that your favorite musician was releasing a new album so that you would be the first at the record store to purchase it?

For quite some time, this is a feeling that I lost. As the digital age set in, it seemed that all of the instant gratification, numbed gratification. 

Until recently!

I've begun to use social networks differently. Through amazing podcasts, favorite writers and good friends, I have found beautiful online publications, outstanding musicians, writers, philosophers, scientists, ecologists, activists, photographers...the list goes on. Now, I can't wait for another episode of OnBeing and my recent discovery of Emergence Magazine makes me rethink the online community in a completely different way. It is an outstanding experience that could never be achieved via the print medium.

Welcome to my new blog. For so many years, I have only been sharing my music and words. Don't worry, they will still come, but with this blog I want to highlight those that inspire me, with the hope that you will also find something very special that will expand your mind, heart and soul.

Inspiration recommendations:

OnBeing with Krista Tippett: In conversation with author, Luis Alberto Urrea about borders, humanity and our duty as human beings. Stream here.

Emergence Magazine's second issue 'Wildness' features a beautiful photo essay by Bear Guerra about the Los Angeles River. Read and look here.  

From the introduction of the 'Wildness' issue: From stories of ancient forests, to legends of the feral winds that howl over mountains and the rivers that course through urban landscapes, the stories in this issue explore our most primal fears, our urge toward order and control, and the need to remember and listen to the wild within the world and within ourselves.

Enjoy and stay tuned!