Nature Meditation – GETTING LOST

“ “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” Henry David Thoreau

The irony of the situation is hard to miss. This week’s meditation theme is about “getting lost” and here I am, writing these lines, lost in a world of in-between, in an unwanted place, away from my tribe, struggling to find my bearing. Yesterday, my life was structured and somewhat stable; I had plans, a schedule, confirmed engagements, and I had just celebrated the passing of a major personal milestone. And today, well, all the cards have been thrown up in the air and where they will fall is still unknown. Hours ago, my compass was bearing straight ahead, steady and holding course; now I look at the needle and it is pointing to all directions, going everywhere but the place where I want to go, leaving me in a twilight zone of torment.

How many times have, each one of us, felt this way? How many times have we faced uncertainty, the feeling of powerlessness creeping from the inner depth of our insecurity? In all my years of solo wilderness expeditions and in my personal life, I have always been able to look back at those moments of feeling lost, and, with the acquired wisdom, to see how positively transforming those truly unfortunate events turned out to be; how much I grew personally and spiritually. Despite knowing in my core that it was going to be ok, that I would make it through, I had been there before and that I had all the tools and capacity to find my way again, this chaotic present is still a burden of monumental proportion. And that is ok.

Erika Harris has a wonderful quote: “It is good to feel lost… because it proves you have a navigational sense of where “Home” is. You know that a place that feels like being found exists. And maybe your current location isn’t that place but, Hallelujah, that unsettled, uneasy feeling of lost-ness just brought you closer to it.

Besides reaffirming our sense of belonging, these forced detours are always filled with treasures, if only we let ourselves be open to being able to see them. I have lost count of the times when I have found the most beautiful places, met the most amazing people, lived the most incredible moments, and discovered my most cherished possessions, more often after finding myself lost and surrendering to the moment, letting the flow of life carry me, and my intuitions guide me.

There is an undeniable sadness and anxiety when faced with uncertainty. Let’s be honest, who really takes complete pleasure in being at a point in time and space that seems to be disconnected from everything? A location that has no name, no clear direction, no obvious way out? Should I go this way? Or that way? What if the solutions are in the opposite direction? Am I making things worse? Am I walking towards a precipice or closer to home? The answers, as distant as they may seem, reside inside of us, inside our “inner fire”, that place made of energy which is connected to everything and everyone. It is that place that feeds our intuition, that whisper which only wants to protect us. My fears and doubts will often be the loudest and quickest to react, urging me to flee and find shelter. But in those moments where my sense of orientation disappears, the bearing to find my way through the heavy fog, the path that will take me back home, the clarity that will illuminate my world once again and lift away that opaque shroud, all appear when I surrender and open myself first. The key is to accept the predicament and understand that I have no power over the past but I do hold the keys to the future.

Meditate on the times in your life where you’ve lost yourself not to the events, but to your fears and doubts. In the future how can you make sure not to give in to these negative feelings? We all get lost from time to time, it is an inevitable part of life. But whether these moments make us grow spiritually, happier, wiser, and richer, is within our control.

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


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Magical Sea Cave

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Part of upcoming story written for SIDETRACKED magazine

After five hours of smooth paddling, a couple of dolphin pod encounters, and several mobula ray breaches, I rounded the north end of the island and started looking for my next campsite. San Marcos, an island in the Gulf of California, off the Baja Peninsula’s Santa Rosalia, has plenty of beaches where I could land. Inexplicably, as I was paddling toward a desirable looking spot, my attention was pulled to the end of a giant rock formation where a tiny beach on the side of it was partially exposed. At first glance, there was no justification for me to explore this beach. It didn’t even look big enough for a camping site, but a little voice inside my head kept whispering that it might be something special. As a longtime solo traveler, I have learned the value of gut feelings, about the importance of listening to the intangible, about believing and accepting the signs when the world speaks to us. So without much mental resistance, I shifted my weight and edged the kayak on its right side, stroked hard with my paddle, and turned left. Little did I know what treasures lay just ahead.

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Gliding around the edge of the rock formation, my first glimpse of the hidden beauty behind it came at the very last moment when the tip of my kayak reached the beach. The back side of the rock revealed itself to be a remnant of a sea cave, a sort of half-shell amphitheater that faced the beach and sheltered a tiny lagoon filled with water that flowed in from the sea through a small porthole in the back of the cave. At the center of the lagoon, where the half-cave’s roof gave way to the sky, was a boulder surrounded by water at high tide. The boulder acted as a focal point, collecting the energy that seemed to bounce from every angle of the cave’s walls. The force was seriously strong in this place. No wonder it had called me, pulling me away from my trajectory. This cave was like a magical giant planet with its own gravity. Perhaps a portal to another world? My stay there would lead me to believe that yes, indeed it was.

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After setting up camp on the beach, I put on my fins, snorkel, and wetsuit, grabbed my spear gun, and went fishing. Stepping into the water, I walked knee-deep into the lagoon toward the porthole. I took a deep breath, dove, swam out into the sea, and entered a world full of fish and wonders. An hour later I was back with my meal, a large smile on my face and a blue mind of enchantment that comes from being in the water. I was at peace after spending so many minutes holding my breath, 20 feet deep, mesmerised by the life swimming around me.

At day’s end, the wind was nowhere to be seen or heard. Everything was quiet; even the birds that had so far chirped without a break. The gulls stood in silence, each balancing on one leg on the rock and on the beach. A deep stillness permeated the air, as if time had slowed down. It was similar to the excited feeling I get before something grand happens, in that precise moment before the show starts, before the curtain rises, when everybody stops and directs their attention to the stage, waiting for the magic to appear. I felt my attention drawn to the middle of the cave, onto that boulder surrounded by water. I walked to a rock near the beach, faced the cave, and sat. Taking a deep breath, I felt my energy spreading outward. Interestingly, it didn’t feel like my energy was escaping, but instead stretching far and connecting with every other molecule that surrounded me—the rocks, the animals, the water, the wind. Closing my eyes I could see the giant web that was being formed. It reminded me of the neural patterns in the brain, the filaments that stretch in all directions, connecting, transmitting, unifying, constantly evolving.

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As if on cue, two things happened at once. The small cave entrance that squeezed between the water and the rock lit up with a burning glow like a mini-sun, radiating with such intensity that for a second I had to cover my eyes. The sunbeam was in perfect alignment with the arched porthole, and the water acted as a giant reflector, focusing the light into one small opening and blasting it to the other side. It was as if I was
witnessing the birth of a star.

The tide had reached a height where even a little ripple, the tiniest of movements on the surface of the water, pushed enough air through the cave’s hollows to create a gurgling sound that felt like an ancient language. The spirit of the cave was talking. This elder of ancient times had awakened and was sharing its wisdom. It was a privilege being here amongst the birds, the rocks, the water, and the wind. But unlike the powerful things that surrounded me, I was only a guest, a passerby, someone whose species has disconnected from the magical thousands of years ago and has since stopped seeing what is now un-seeable.

At this moment, in this place, I was the one who felt primitive, simple, lacking depth and unable to understand the grandeur and connectivity of the universe, of life. Staring at the water, listening to the cave, feeling the silence around and in me, I realised that it was our species that needed saving, not the other way around. My eyes were not seeing a world where humans were the chosen ones and stewards of this planet, but rather that we were the ones who needed to be brought back home, from the darkness, returned to a world of love, compassion, and humility.

The serenity of this place convinced me to extend my stay—certainly not one of my hardest decisions. For another day I fished, read, relaxed, listened, and soaked in the energy that was offered to me. The following morning, after packing and tucking myself into the kayak, I took one last moment to reflect. Dipping my hands in the water and closing my eyes, I thanked the cave and promised to return—but I would bring others so they too can know its marvels.

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The Power of the Voice

The black bear stood tall, mounted on his hind legs, only 15 feet away from me. Its nose was covered with long grey hair, some remnants of a deer carcass it was just feeding on. Its front paw claws hung in front of him while the ones on its back paws were firmly dug into the ground. Its nostrils grew larger, then smaller, with a rhythm, inhaling the air with vigor, deciphering what the emptiness around us hold secret. Its fur was wet and looked heavy and scrubby – the weight of winter hibernation still buried deep into him. Our eyes, these marvels of evolution, so similar to each other despite belonging to such distinct species, were locked and engaged into a staring contest. As if on cue, the birds stopped chirping and the forest became silent. Just a slight cold breeze bristling the needles of Pacific Northwest conifers. In some distant corner of my memory, these iconic musical notes for a duel in a Western movie were coming out of the closet.

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I had left Telegraph Cove earlier that day. The tiny historical village was located at the north end of Vancouver Island, about 6 hours from Victoria. I had paddled south for about 5 miles and set up camp. The plan was to spend the night there then cross Johnstone Strait the next day, visit the famous Orca Lab and circumnavigate Hanson Island. With the tent up and food hoisted up in a tree, I grabbed the camera and went on a hike to investigate the area.

No more than 20 minutes had passed when I heard a sort of crunching noise, somewhere not far, over to my right, through the thick green canopy. The sound puzzled me. My hearing over the years has become attuned to strange things, the wilderness is always full of weird melodies, but this in particular was forcing me to search my repertoire of possibilities.

With binoculars in hand, I crouched and moved forward, slowly and silently, like a lion stalking its prey. My blood started to rush, my pupils dilated and my senses became super sensitive. My ancestral hunting mode had just turned itself on. I was aware of everything – the ground beneath me, the air around me, the trees surrounding me. Every step became a thoughtful process, assessing the sturdiness of leaves and branches, before I delicately lay my foot or hand over. When I photograph an animal, I make a point of not hiding, but this was different. I didn’t know what was on the other side of the curtain and before I announce myself I wanted to know what or who was there.

Inching my way closer to the source, a change in the pattern emerged. What was supposed to be green, now was black. It took only a fraction of a second to realize what it was – a black bear. But what was it doing? It was not really moving. It fact it was in one spot, its head low and slightly moving upward from time to time. Its body was mostly stationary and its focus was concentrated on what seemed to be one single task. But what was it? On the ground around was nothing in particular and yet, through my binoculars, the bear seemed to be tearing something from something else! I still remember the thoughts running through my mind – what is it that this bear is doing? It was certainly not digging. There was really no sign of a carcass, no bones sticking out, there was really nothing that would give me any clue. So I inched my way closer.

At this point, having identified the culprit, the hunter in me subdued itself and the photographer in me rose. So I took a branch with my two hands and broke it. The cracking sound reverberated through the air and the bear abruptly stopped, its ears aiming on me. Its eyes locked on my position and without any hesitation, it interrupted itself and started walking towards me. At that moment, I took my camera out, took a deep breath and connected with the inner power within me, from a species that has evolved and successfully spread its reach to almost every corner of the earth. For thousands of years, my ancestors stood where I stood, when two predatory species face each other and judge what is at stake and the possible outcomes. I was not a threat and it was my responsibility to communicate and transmit my intentions. As the bear maneuvered its way through the trees covered in moss, I let the moment sink and kept contact with the wild animal. The wilderness demands to be respected and honored. I was a visitor and my intrusion was nothing of a farce. I had imposed myself onto the bear, disrespecting its intimacy. Now I had to answer for my actions in a humble and respectful way.

Kneeling on the ground, I announced my stand. I was not to disrespect the bear no more, but I was also not going to give away the control of this situation. When wild animals meet, and right now I was one, it is all about the bluff, who holds the fear and who owns the moment. The bear in theory and physically had pretty much all advantages over me. And yet, I had to show him that I was not afraid and convince him that an attack on its behalf would be a waste of energy and not worth the effort.

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As it walked, I started to talk: “Hello Bear, I am not here to take anything away from you. This is your territory and I apologize for the intrusion. I will respect you as long as you respect me.” My words filled the silence. While they communicated my intentions and presence, the tone and calmness of the delivery reassured me. The voice carries a lot of energy. The sounds that emanates from our mouth, the air that originates from inside our lungs is pure vibration. It is alive. It has a power, and yes it can also announce a lack of it. From the dawn of life, every single species has used its vocal capacities to communicate with the world. And right now, my words were carrying my intentions and making a stand.

The bear stopped. It studied the situation. Its ears, eyes and nose were in overdrive. What was I? Was I a threat? Was I a threat to its territory? To its food? Whatever I was, I was certainly not something it was happy to have around. So it moved forward and closer. Continuing talking to him, my tone and assertiveness changed drastically when he got off the mount of dead tree and found itself no further away than about 25 feet from me. At that moment, my voice got deeper and sturdier. I remembered that scene in the Lord of Rings when Gandalf stood on that ridge, hitting the ground with his staff and loudly spoke:”You Will Not Pass!” I didn’t have a gray beard nor I had a staff, but my command to the bear resonated and echoed across the forest. As my words faded into the distance, the bear stopped, stared at me, turned around and went back to the place it had come from. The dynamic had been established. While I had taken control of the moment, from the bear perspective, it felt that I wasn’t a menace and it resumed at tearing whatever it was tearing before my interruption.

With a mix of curiosity and pride, I decided to stay where I was and kept observing. I was still clueless on what the bear was eating and perhaps deep down, some dominant species behavior was forbidding me to leave. So I sat there, not moving for another 20 minutes, glued to my binoculars.

The bear must have felt the annoying stalking cause it came back. And this time, everything felt different. I could see it in its eyes, they were defiant and had a purpose. Its stride was solid and grounded. It was not charging but it was coming with an intent. As it passed the dead tree, my Gandalf move fell into dead ears and I had to suddenly change my strategy. So I stood up.

As we faced each other, eye to eye, predator to predator, mammal to mammal, survivor to survivor, I reached down into my inner core and connected to a primal place I am not even sure existed in me. I don’t carry any firearms but I do have with me ways to defend myself. Attached to my belt was a long machete with a velcro wrapped around the handle. Pulling a John Wayne, my hands hovered at my waist and I told the bear that if it wanted to come at me, I would not go down without a fight and that if one of us would end up beaten, I swore to it, it sure wasn’t going to be me. With my lips closing on that last word, my fingers slowly pulled the velcro and as the stripping sound of the fabric tearing away filled the air, the bear slowly lowered itself back to its four legs, its ears showing sign of defeat and its eyes avoiding contact with me. It throttled back to its spot, then proceeded with much energy at tearing something. To my surprise, I gazed at the bear running away with half a leg of a deer. It had indeed been a carcass hiding there beneath the tree and all this time the bear was protecting an important source of food. The adrenaline still pumping into my veins, I sat down once more on the ground and took a deep breath. I thanked the forest and my ancestors for their protection and apologized to the bear for the trouble.

Our voice and words have tremendous power. Our culture of technology and science might have reduced them to simple  phonetic products, but the truth is that they carry much more. They are vessels filled with subtleties, nuances, emotions, and intent. If the roar of a lion can rule the Serengeti, if the howl of wolf can conquer the forest and if the unique sound of a baby penguin can be recognized by it mother amongst millions of others, imagine what your voice can do.

“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” Confucius

Disruption, the Nature of Life

“The end is the beginning of all things, suppressed and hidden, awaiting to be released through the rhythm of pain and pleasure.” Jiddu Krishnamurti

The wind has been blowing steady at 25mph all morning. The mountains around, which on any other normal day can be seen reaching out to the sky are cut in half by a dull blanket of featureless clouds. My tent anchored in solidly is bending every time a gust comes rushing by. The magpies and crows are flying low while the gulls seem to truly enjoy this treacherous air. The Great Salt Lake, normally with its water flat and still like a mirror, is covered with foot high waves. Interestingly enough though, as if purposely playing tricks for a seemingly obvious weather forecast, the Rabbitbrushes and Sage Brushes are barely moving – their coarse branches specially adapted for this harsh, windy and dry environment. The warmth and quietness of yesterday was now replaced by a cold and noisy today.

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The little fortress of rocks built around my stove didn’t do much in stopping the fluidity of the wind and I was left with little choice but to improvise if I wanted to have my morning tea and oatmeal. I popped the trunk of the car open, moved the equipment around and set the kitchen there – now protected in this beacon of modern transportation.

In some bizarre fashion, I love these moments when you are reminded that the beautiful and precious you had is never to be taken for granted. Disruption is the foundation of happiness and it is the way the world and nature works. The key is to accept the unexpected and understand that the “ups” are only appreciated because they are relative to the “downs”. Life would be boring if it was constantly positive, independently how amazing it is. Which reminds me of John Maeda’s book “Simplicity”, where he defends that it is the complex moments in life we love, not the simple ones.

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Everything that we cherish is rooted in disruption. Think about it for a second. The spices in my food, the color in my room, the decorations in a christmas tree – they all disrupt an initial simple state and make it more exciting. It is the clouds in an monotonous sky that make a sunset or sunrise truly amazing. A straight road might bring a little speed, but the real pleasures of driving come with the curves and turns. Point taken, these are small on the disruptive scale, but the way of dealing with them is no different then with the more challenging events. The secret is to realize that disruptions are not meant to be avoided but rather to be explored and appreciated. They expend one’s mind, bring new experiences and make you appreciate the things and people you care for. Too much or too little disruption is only a question of perspective.

“I like learning stuff. The more information you can get about a person or a subject, the more you can pour into a potential project. I made a decision to do different things. I want to do things that have a better chance of being thought of as original. I do everything I can to disrupt my comfort zone.” Brian Grazer, film producer

When our ancestors moved around, nomadic not by choice but by necessity, life was a constant adaption to endless disruptions. The world around them changed, seasons came and go, and with it the understanding of living in a dynamic world. As we became sedentary, no longer adapting ourselves to our environment instead transforming it to our needs, our view of the world changed to a more static one. We started to separate ourselves from nature and what had been so far a world we “lived in” became a world we needed to escape, conquer and control.

Today, with technology, more estranged from nature and the realities of life than ever before, disruptions are the enemy, members of the axis of evil, threatening our sanitized culture. Instead of embracing them and their power of discovery, we do everything to eliminate them. Instead of inspiring and teaching people to find the positive in situations that are mostly unwanted, we propagate the message that life is unfair and that there must be someone to blame.

We have heard many times of people who have said that cancer, how unfortunate and destructive it is, was the best thing that had happened to them. How many times did we fear the end of a relationship only to admit later of its misery and how much life was better since. How do you think we have evolved and survived? Adaptation and disruption go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. We shouldn’t dismiss the gravity of the changes that are upon us today as our impact is threatening our own existence, but we can’t allow ourselves to think that this is the end. The best is always to come, cause I refuse to think that it should be used in the past term.

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The day was coming an end and even as I entered the tent to discover the interior and sleeping bag covered in dust, I smiled, remembering how the day had turned out despite the stormy weather. The bland day light and dusty air wasn’t really interesting to photograph so instead I hung out with the Park Manager as he took me around the island – beyond the gates, and told me about the fascinating history of this place. But the surprise of the day was when I went into town for lunch. I knew that dinner would be wet and windy so I wanted to give myself at least a “proper” meal. It was on my way out that I noticed a coyote walking by the water. For the last two weeks I had found it impossible to approach them – they were always on the move and would quickly disappear the minute they would see me. I got out of the car and walked down to the water’s edge, hoping the coyote would keep his direction and pass by me. Perhaps it was because of the strong wind, who knows, but even though he noticed my presence really early he kept trotting his course and finally came within 10 feet of where I was sitting. It was the only time during my stay on the island that I was able to photograph a coyote the way I wanted. Hadn’t been for the wind and rain, this encounter wouldn’t have never happened. Had the day been sunny and beautiful, this photograph would have never been created.

“Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”  Zhuangzi

Our Salvation in God Technologius

Data & Technology are two pillars that have redefined our world in every imaginable and possible way. From design to healthcare, from business to personal relationship, from war to education, there is not an inch of our lives that hasn’t been affected. While the other essay looked at data and the dangers of living in a world of concepts – disconnected from realities, this text will look at technology and how it is driving us further and further away from nature and the true essence of life.

ipad godTechnology has become today’s most important religion. Much like pilgrimages in the past, people now demonstrate the same kind of devotion to hardware, lining up in front of stores for days or weeks just to buy the newest model. Not that there is a limited amount of them available for purchase. On the contrary. But the act of holding in your hands the newest iPhone seems to offer the same kind of “spiritual” experience as to touching a statue of Jesus after climbing up Scala Sancta on your knees.

Although technology is fulfilling most of the criteria of being a religion, it differs on one of the fundamentals – Divinity. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism worship a God, Gods and Goddesses, supreme beings from a supernatural realm. Technology holds a more corporeal attraction, stripping away the supernatural and putting divinity within the human grasp. Humans are now the divine. Humans are gods and life is something constraining from which they can break free. This new reality was strikingly evident at DLD 2013.

Before we go into the specifics, let’s just have a look at how the application of technology into our lives can be divided into three distinct categories.

SALVATION
The definition of salvation is the following: “Deliverance from sin and its consequences, believed by Christians to be brought about by faith in Christ / Preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss / A source or means of being saved in this way. The word comes from Latin salvare – ‘to save’.

Technology saving earthThat is exactly how we see technology today. We expect, hope and blindingly believe that it will deliver us from our sins. That it will correct and fix the damages created by our unsustainable lifestyle. We think there is no need to reassess how we do things and why we do them, but that the problem is only a question of application, of management. So if we can come up with the right solution, the right technology, everything will be alright. Therefore, we continue to plunder our way through, waiting for the silver bullet, just a like an addict gambler who gambles his last dollar, convinced that his luck will turn around.

UNFAIRNESS
Life is unfair and we anticipate the day when technology will correct this mistake. Our privileged upbringing in the Age of Invention leads us to intuit that natural selection is broken and flawed. Nobody should have to deal with birth defects or the loss of a limb. Nobody should have to live with unbalanced hormones or bad genetics. Everybody deserves to be “happy” and anything that infringes on that “right” needs to be corrected or eliminated. Whether it is a disease, our fear of ageing or our lack of self-esteem, nature is the enemy.

What we have been able “fix” so far is nothing compared to the scale of what we will be able to “repair” in the near future. Gattaca was science fiction in 1997 but today it is reality. No one will want to accept what life has given them, instead focusing on what they don’t have and how to get it. From the moment we are born we will start shopping to mend our undesired and unwanted bodies – hormones, surgeries, implants, electrodes, nano shots, etc. Technology will try to re-create the human body, making it more resilient, longer lasting, resistant to aging, smarter and stronger – so we believe.

FLAWED HUMANS
The evolution of society would teach us that not only is our body limiting us to achieve maximum potential, but it is above all else a source of great risk. While computers are consistent, logical, rational, fast and powerful, humans are – simply put – a pool of emotions always on the verge of breaking. Technology will make sure to correct this unpredictable, risky and unsafe situation by taking humans out of the equation – for the greater good of humanity!

Hugh Herr is an Associate Professor within MIT’s Program of Media Arts and Sciences, and The Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. His talk at DLD 2013 embodied to the core the “unfairness” mentality. He envisions a world free of injustice where bionics and machines “cure” us from our disabilities. He rejoices at the promise of a world where humans will be “fixed”. Himself victim of an accident that took away both lower legs, he professes how he has become a better athlete with his artificial limbs.

It is his moralistic view that worries me the most, that it is a human right to be born “perfect” and that machines and technology will be our way to perfection. He states:

“Over half of the world’s population suffers from a cognitive, emotional, or physical condition and because of poor technology, bad technology, these conditions often resolve in disability and poorer quality of life. It is my view that basic levels of cognitive emotional sensory and physical function should be a part of our human rights. Each person in the world should have the right to live without debilitating disabilities… Through fundamental advances in human machine interaction we can eliminate disability and set the technological foundation for an enhanced human experience. The mergence of humans with machines and the elimination of disability will be one of the great narratives of this century”

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.08.25 PMAt the end of his presentation at DLD, Herr welcomed on the stage one of his climbing heroes Reinhold Messner for a chat. It was obvious that Messner was not so excited about the prospect of living in a world where our bodies would merge with machines – even going as far as to predict the death of our species. In response Herr admitted that there were great dangers on entering these treacherous waters, but believed that we would be able to manage and control the applications.

“… how depressed do you need to be to have an intervention? Do we want people to receive the intervention that are slightly depressed who producing great art or do we only want it to use when they are suicidal? These are very complex questions that we will have to address.”

In response I would draw a correlation to the plastic surgery industry – a medical advancement developed to help people in real need, but which has evolved into an industry which profits mainly from insecure egos. Towards the end of their discussion, Messner posited that in reality this technology would only be used by the rich and leave behind the poor, to which Herr answered that manufacturing would be done in such a way that local communities could build such high tech devices at very low costs, consequently allowing anyone to use it. Again, our record is not really optimistic, whether with medication (drugs) or healthcare. Our system is far from being an example of fair opportunities. It is flagrantly naive to believe that the proliferation of bionics will be any more altruistically managed by society.

428102_10151434935701800_1544050890_nMissy Cummings is an Associate Professor in the Aeronautics & Astronautics Department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director of the Humans and Automation Lab. She appeared on the Daily Show (part 1, 2, 3 of the interview) recently to discuss the technology behind drones and highlight their uses outside the battlefield. Cummings is a firm believer that humans are a risk and that the sooner we take them out of the equation, the better it will be for everyone.

“…80% of all aviation accidents, commercial and military, are due to pilot error, so the machines doesn’t make mistakes that we make…”

Pushing further, she suggested that technology had even been beneficial for gender discrimination

“… technology has kind of equalised the playing field because now the automation is a much better pilot no matter what gender there is [piloting]. It is not men vs women anymore, but Man vs Machine … machines are simply better pilots than humans.”

Stewart then worried that we were taking the “Art” of flying away and warned that even though computers were great, they still failed from time to time. Cummings replied that, just like anybody that works in technology, we would have the necessary structure in place to deal and contain any problems.

With both Herr and Cummings, there is a recurring theme, a word that constantly comes up with whomever presents or talks about technology – speed. Everything is going so fast these days, so fast indeed that the only way to keep up is by going faster. Hence the need for machines.

“… this technology is advancing at such a lighting speed it is ultimately only limited by the human ability to process the information… ” says Cummings.

This for me is the scariest and most worrisome aspect of the whole technology and future debate. The notion of pressing the gas pedal when you are about to loose control is the most illogical and arrogant argument ever.

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 2.39.40 PMWhen DLD audience member Elizabeth Taylor asked Peter Thiel, following his talk (check timecode 47:10), about his Acceleration Model and that perhaps we should decelerate since our quest for growth and constant acceleration has had tremendous consequences on the planet’s resources, Thiel answered that the past acceleration was one of collapse, which he states was not a proper acceleration, that we should focus on “good” acceleration. He concluded with

“… technological acceleration is absolutely critical at this point because the other three models (cycle, deceleration, collapse) are worst … the only way forward is through technological progress with all the risks that it entails … the current model is indeed not entirely sustainable but we have to actually move forward even faster…”

As if we hadn’t learned anything from the past, there is this utopian belief that we will be able to control, for the greater good of humankind, all technology to come. That all the past mishaps will not apply to the future because we are smarter and know better. This naive and false sense of control is troubling. We are simply drunk with our own god complex.

Life is not about perfection. It is not about the shortest point between two points. Ask anyone who travels – not for business trips, but to discover new places, new cultures, new experiences – and the most wonderful moments are the unexpected ones, the ones where you get lost and explore the unknown.

“… there is no better imagery to epitomize our life journey, than the river. It starts from a point, and ends at another. No matter how wild the river is, no matter how unruly it wants to be, it still has a direction, a purpose, to reach the ocean. It flows blindingly to a place where it will cease to exist. It will merge with something bigger, it will become one with the others. Young rivers are straight – giving more importance in the destination rather than the journey, often missing much of the world they flow in. Their banks offering no protection, the water rushes down, in a hurry. Old rivers meander, understanding that the journey is more important. They turn right and left, sometimes go back up, they explore and wander. There curves offer refuge to others and soon their banks and waters find themselves bursting with life.” – from a story I wrote in 2010 Rio Chubut

I am not against technology -believe me. I love my gadgets and all the convenience they bring me. But we need to be humble and remember who we are, and more critically, the limitations of the collective “We”. There are countless concrete past experiences, and stories, that we can go back to and realize that independently however much we think we are in control, we are not. And that our quest for perfection has consequences that are not worth it.

We need to take time to ask ourselves: “Is perfection something we should strive for? Or is imperfection the key for happiness?” Are we just a society in denial, buried in work, blinding ourselves with our capacity for the grandiose only to avoid our sickness? Any psychologist or therapist would say so. I do not believe that the key to our happiness and humanity is in our ability to go faster and embrace technology. I do not believe in fast food, diet pills, fake meat and running on the treadmill with glasses that projects a virtual trail. Instead I believe in opening a bottle of wine, inviting friends for a meal, slow cooking a nice roast and planning the next sailing trip!

“Nietzsche, who believed that every man should be a god to himself, saw the challenge of being human in a very simple phrase. He spoke of the human condition as being between the animal and the superman – that is the challenge of the human condition – what you make out of your endowment as an animal and how far you can go along the journey of becoming a god. But even himself, the philosopher against pity, the master of conceptualising everything, felt overwhelmed by the sight of a fallen horse in the street of Turin and rushed to its side, putting his arm around it. Nietzsche was able to express in one of his last gestures to the world, profound sympathy for living condition animals and humans share. Nietzsche’s last sane action had been to affirm his identity not as a god but as a man full of human weaknesses” BBC Documentary Nietzsche – Human, All Too Human

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Wrong Idea of Nature

“It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.” Theodore Roosevelt

I often wonder how Roosevelt would be perceived today. A republican, a liberal, a politician, a cowboy, a rebel, a naturalist, an explorer, a scientist, an avid reader, a soldier, and a lover of nature. He was also a great hunter who went hunting in Africa but in the process helped the Smithsonian museum creating an exhibit that would fascinate and continues to do so to millions of children and adults alike.

He was someone who believed in using natural resources, but opposed being wasteful. What would the United States of America look like today if he hadn’t created 5 national parks, 18 national monuments and 150 National Forests, protecting more than 230 million acres (930,000 km2) of American soil in various parks and other federal projects.

Would Roosevelt be thrown to the pit by the conservationists? Would he be called an “animal hater” by the nature activists? Unfortunately I believe so, and to the lost of our culture.

Like politics and many other issues in our society, nature and the environment have become extremely polarised topics. Common sense has become a rare commodity, replaced by harsh judgements to anyone who tries seeking the middle ground. You are either one or the other and dare if you wish to bring some perspective to the table.

In my talks about our relationship with nature, I spend a lot of time showing how not only have we become disconnected with our environment but also how our perception of nature has become extremely erroneous.

Living in cities, away from the wilderness we are detached from the realities of living in nature. We shop for food at the grocery store, getting our electricity without much effort and have our garbage picked up every week. Our lawn is mown weekly and kept green with pesticide. The modern definition of nature is now a “sanitised and censored” one.

We personify it as this cute and cuddly entity that just needs to be taken care of, fragile and delicate, in dire need of our protection, us its Saviour! Nature has become this poster we put on the wall and admire, this beautified television show where a predator capturing its prey is edited so that blood and death don’t appear to the viewer. It is a world where animated ant, fish, dog, and bear talk and move like humans. A world where hunters who decide to connect with their food are branded prehistoric barbarian and animal loving extremists the voice for an unfortunate and unrepresented kingdom. It is a nostalgic ideology of a pristine and utopian world, a debate where anyone who doesn’t cheer for the cat and eats meat is deemed cruel and against the planet.

But nature is far from any of this. Nature is raw, rough, a struggle, a fight, cruel, deadly, strong, destructive, intimidating and yes also amazing, beautiful, relaxing, humbly, and inspirational. Above it all though, it is resilient and a source of priceless teachings. It teaches you about perspective and reminds you that life is not about Us, that there is something bigger than Us, mere little humans. It teaches you about the costs of life, about sacrifices and what it takes to survive. Try to understand what it means for a species to spend most of its life and energy giving birth to hundreds of thousands, even millions, just to have a handful of survivors. While all the dead ones are essential to support a complex food chain that makes this great biodiversity inhabiting the planet possible. There is nothing sad about this because this is life.

It is easy to chastise the indigenous for hunting when sitting behind a desk pampered by today’s convenient world. It is easy to claim your love for deer, coyotes, elephants, monkeys, badgers, and so many more when you don’t have to physically deal the consequences of their presence. It is easy to click any cause on Facebook and claim to the world what you believe in. I dare you to go live with monkeys in your backyard and see how you deal with them. I dare you to go and deal with elephants destroying your crops year after year. I dare you to go live where deer will eat everything you plant on your property.

Did you know that elephants cause millions of damage and are involved in destruction of woodland and contamination of water?

Did you know that Snow monkeys in Japan raid farms eating soybeans, watermelons, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, potatoes and mushrooms, destroying about 5,000 hectares of farmland each year?

And if by any chance the price of your “organic” food increases, lets say because of “nature” – weather related or some invasion, you are the first one to cry unfairness.

Did you know that our society’s beloved domesticated cat has been responsible for hundreds of million of dead mammals, birds and others? Combined with rats, they have almost wiped out entire island’s ecosystems – so much for  our infatuation with the small feline.

So when the CBS Sunday Morning show aired the segment, the “Pro & Cons of Growing Animal Population”, featuring Jim Sterba’s new book “Nature Wars”, harsh comments quickly followed – “… this is anti-nature bullshit propaganda…”.

Because we see nature as this static world. Because we see ourselves separated from it, better than it. Because we believe we are above it. Because we want to pick and choose only the “good” things from nature. But ask any Inuit or Eskimo and they will tell you that the “Whites” live in an egotistical bubble detached from any realities and absolutely disconnected with real nature. And I agree with them.

Nature connectedness doesn’t mean wanting to protect nature – in fact “protecting nature” is a modern concept. It means understanding that you are a part of it and that you are dependent on it for your food, health and survival. It means that you understand that if you don’t respect it and accept the finitely of it, it is not nature that will loose but you.

Being connected to nature is not eating organic food, supporting animal welfare organisations, consuming green or being vegan or vegetarian. It is not about being emotionally attached to it either. Being connected to nature is to understand our interconnectivity with our environment. It is about accepting its teachings, to understand about losses, death, that nothing is perfect – that life is about perspective, that everything is relative. Being connected to nature is basically one simple word, humility. But like everything else right now, we see the world and the planet through the anthropocene lens and believe that life will end if we don’t fix our mess.

I will go as far as to say that except for old indigenous cultures I don’t believe that neither Buddhism nor Hinduism, or again Paganism are philosophies or religions that are connected to nature, because they all put humans as the central being and above everything else. The day that we will stop seeing ourselves as this god creature, we will then be for the first time on the right path.

Our bond with nature has become conceptual not physical and here lies the problematic. Away from its realities, we  are unable to balance our judgements. We are ruled by our emotions and incapable of seeing the bigger picture.

“I heartily enjoy this life, with its perfect freedom, for I am very fond of hunting, and there are few sensations I prefer to that of galloping over these rolling limitless prairies, with rifle in hand, or winding my way among the barren, fantastic and grimly picturesque deserts of the so-called Bad Land… its toughness and hardy endurance fitted it to contend with purely natural forces… to resist cold and wintery blasts or the heat of the thirsty summer, to wander away to new pastures, to plunge over the broken ground, and to plow its way through snow drifts or quagmires… There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” Theodore Roosevelt

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Humble enough to listen and tough enough to decide

In the 1960’s during a plague of Crown of Thorns starfishes on the Great Barrier Reef, in the waters of Australia, people decided to counter attack by slicing them into pieces. Whether it is true or not, according to certain reports, their numbers then doubled or quadrupled when each piece of starfish regenerated itself into a full new one.

In 1584, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, a Spanish sailor, established a settlement at Buena Bay (locally known as Mansa Bay) on the west side of the Strait of Magellan, near Punta Arenas in Chile. In less than a couple of years, all 300 plus settlers died of starvation. The unfortunate location is known today as Puerto Hambre or Port Famine (Port Hunger in english!)

In 1819 Sir John Franklin led an expedition in the Canadian Arctic. Of his original crew of 20, 11 died of starvation. Again, in 1845, his famous Northwest Passage expedition got lost and all of his 129 men, himself included, died.

What do those three seemingly unrelated events have in common?

The Crown of Thorns is known to the Fijians as “Na’Bula”, meaning living or alive, reflecting the regenerating power of the starfish. Puerto Hambre is located in an area where the Alacaluf, a Fuegian tribe, had lived for hundreds of years. Franklin’s doomed expedition perished in a place where Inuit had been living for thousands of years.

Each case represents a total lack of consideration for the precious knowledge held by the indigenous people. For the “White Man”, coming from civilized countries, these “people” were considered savage and primitive. Not only were their beliefs in nature seen as a flagrant obstacle to progress, but it was ridiculous to admit that they could know more on how to survive in these remote places than a highly decorated naval officer.

While the natives saw themselves as part of Nature and understood the delicate balance that needed to be respected, the “White Man”, supported by his belief that God had created the earth for him only, plundered the resources as if there would be no tomorrow. Anything found in the way was destroyed. His motto has always been “Act Now, Think Later”. He wants something, he gets it, then deals with the consequences later. He decimated the buffalos, the wolves and the whales. On the Pribilof islands in the Bering Sea, he succeeded in reducing to almost zero a population of fur seals that was considered limitless. When the resources were gone, he simply moved to another location and proceeded again. Where the indigenous people managed to live off nature for centuries, the “White Man” only took decades to destroy everything.

Not much has changed today. Reading recently about the incredible and fast decline of stock of Mackerels off the coast of Chile, we don’t seem to have learned anything. We keep repeating the same pattern over and over. The only difference is that today with our technology, we do it much faster.

The natives have warned us since the beginning that our lives were unsustainable. That our lifestyle and values would destroy the earth’s resources. We laughed at them and told them that we had amazing technology that would fix everything.

…overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted the wax. Icarus kept flapping his wings but soon realized that he had no feathers left and that he was only flapping his bare arms. And so, Icarus fell into the sea…

This Greek myth is a premonition about our culture of consumption. Obsessed by satisfying our desires and pleasures we have forgone common sense and wisdom. We have lost the ability to limit ourselves. Blind to any consequences, we plunge into our ego centered lives and quietly hope for salvation. We take pride in our intelligence, bragging about our inventions and technology, believing that only WE have the power to save the world. But are we really that smart or simply extremely arrogant? One thing for sure is that we are not a mature civilization. Mature is by definition something that is based on slow and careful consideration. Which lies at the total opposite spectrum of how we operate.

And in those moments, when everything around us is crumbling, we look at our leaders for guidance and courage. But unfortunately, as Margaret Thatcher said: “One of the great problems of our age is that we’re governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.” Will our world find the humility to listen to the indigenous tribes and have the courage and strength to take the necessary decisions to move towards a sustainable growth? Will the Arctic become the stage for a new kind of development or sadly be an “Encore” of a very bad show? A dialogue like the one recently put forward by Prince Charles is a good step in the right direction. The only thing it takes is people that are willing to make the right decisions rather than wanting to please everyone.

“In the distant past, scientists often ignored and even made fun of the knowledge of indigenous people. But we now recognize that people who live off the land for generations know more than researchers will discover with years of investigation.” Smithsonian Blog

The Sun Will Keep Rising


“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.“  Harry Truman, 33rd President of the United States of America

Call me an eternal optimist. I have always looked at life with a glass half full mentality. I have always believed that the world is what you make out of it. Even in the worst of times, we see what we want to see. I abide by those three little words: “Everything is Relative”.

But being an optimist nowadays is no small feat! Not one day goes by without having the gloom of the world plastered in front of our eyes, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Sometimes, it seems that the only way to escape this behemoth of negatively charged matter is to disappear, disconnect from the grid. Something not so easy according to recent studies. For many, especially for the young generation, to do so is as hard as kicking a drug or smoke addiction!

An intrusive network of satellite TVs, combined with limitless access to the internet and an economy that knows no boundaries, have reduced what was once a vast planet of great distances into a small village where everything is only a click away. Whether you are on the train, in a cab, waiting for the bus, on the plane, walking down the street, or even on a beach in the Caribbean, at school, at work, in a meeting, or in bed. Fast Food information (information that is devoid of any meaning, fat on drama, sweet on bias opinions, saturated with voyeurism and presented in large portions without any context) is constantly pushed down our subconscious. Independently if one wants it or not, it is getting harder and harder not to be “connected”.

Is there a correlation with food? There was a time when it was limited to the kitchen and restaurants. Now, Fast Food (devoid of any real benefits, full of processed fat, sweet on corn derivatives, saturated with attractive colors and presented in unnecessarily large portions) is found anywhere from the gas station to the pharmacy. Consequently, and obviously combined with other factors, our health has degraded tremendously. Is our intelligence awaiting the same fate?

We live in an era where every second, we are reminded that Armageddon is upon us. Today it is Climate Change. Yesterday it was Gas Stocks. Tomorrow will be the Economy, and next month it will be time for Fish Stocks. Next year is 2012 – The End of the World. An Asteroid is coming soon, within the next 2,500 years and the Rise of Sea Levels will drown most of the big cities in the world, sometime within the next 100 years. TV thrives with shows that fantasize on computer simulations that illustrate what will happen when the End is at our door. Hollywood has an orgy every time a Doomsday prediction comes out.

We must ask ourselves, are we actually wired to process all this information? Is it making our lives better? Is it necessary and trivial to know everything that happens everywhere? Or is all this information instead making us more anxious, depressed and giving us a false interpretation of the world? Is the world really worse now than before?  And if it is, relative to what?

I am not saying that the world is beautiful and that we should’t worry. Not at all! Believe me, I am going through my share of craziness down here in Argentina, a country where making sense has been extinct for a very long time. (Don’t get me started!) I do believe that indeed the world is coming to an end, the end of a “cycle”!

This morning, while running, I witnessed a beautiful sunrise and it made me think. Independently of all our tragedies, our wars, our losses, and our threats, the planet keeps going and the sun keeps rising. And the beauty of the sunrise will have nothing to do with the state of the world. Isn’t it refreshing! Isn’t it amazing to realize that at the end, all of our daily worries, all of our anxiety, our stress, our doubts, our complaints, have no place in the scheme of the Universe. The world could come to an end tomorrow, yet, the sun will rise again, reminding us that life goes one, as it has since billions of years and will do for billion of years to come.

Dreams

WIP_030609_Dreaming

”For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

It is dark. Absence of colors. Black and white tones. Various shades of grey.  Daylight illuminates the world around us, but the night transforms everything into a monotone landscape. For a moment, I wonder, if actually this seemingly boring reality has a purpose. My eyes pan from left to right trying to find a destination. With no where to go, they are left with one choice – go up. And right there, I understand. We spend our days looking in front of us. Always trying to see what is coming. But the night belongs to dreams and there is only place you can find them – in the Stars. I am curious if this is why in Asia they write from top to bottom, as if to insinuate that everything in life starts with a Dream. My eyes are fixed on this black tapestry made of an incalculable amount of white pinholes. My pupils dilate trying to capture the gargantuesque size of the Universe.  Millions of specks of light, so distant from our planet than their location is measured by the number of years light takes to travel from them to us. Their sight reminds me of the infinite amount of possibilities our world holds. That we still know so little about Life. My thoughts of boredom are long gone now as I lay down on the sand, gazing at a world that is only reachable through my imagination, through my dreams.

Man has been looking at the stars for thousands of years. It has been a source of inspiration, a source of mystery, a source of faith, and a tool for orientation. It also has been a way for us to understand our relationship with Nature, and with Life. Ever since the dawn of humanity, the night sky and Nature have walked hand in hand. Through the ages, from all cultures, every time we raised our eyes to the night sky, we saw animals and mythical creatures. The Zodiac, invented more than 10 000 years ago, depicts our symbiosis with the Universe through images of animals. For centuries, constellations were named after Nature.  It is only in the 1700’s, at the early age of the Industrial Revolution, that we changed our relationship with the Stars. Frenchman Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, famous astronomer, broke all the rules and named all of his discoveries with man-made objects.

In a world where more than half of the population lives in cities, we tend to forget there is even a night sky. Our eyes barely rise above the horizon. Our sense of vertical is developed mainly around tall buildings. And if we do one day find our way to look passed the top of those skyscrapers, we find an almost white canvas with a few sparse bright dots. 

A night sky is a limitless source of creativity and fascination. Like painting by numbers, you trace imaginary lines from star to star, giving life to worlds that know no boundaries. Shooting stars and northern lights, props for magical stories. As much as we learn about the Universe in museum or on television, there is nothing like experiencing the sight of a night sky saturated with stars, the Milky Way casting shadows on the ground – it is overwhelming, it is humbly.

We need never to forget to look up. We need never to forget to dream.