Thursday, April 2..........Minagua, Nicaragua
Tonight is a night that I will long remember. I am staying in one of the worst lodgings that I have ever encountered. Readers familiar with the saga of my traveling life will surmise that I have spent many nights in hotels, youth hostels, and pensions. While most of these accommodations have been moderately clean, though usually Spartan, more than a few have been remarkably filthy. But tonights lodging is not just another dirty place. It is a disgusting hovel. The walls are made of corrugated steel and sheets of rotting plywood; the rooms have not been swept clean in weeks, maybe months; and the beds are filthy foam mats held together with sticky tape. The windows have no screens stopping the relentless mosquitoes; the stinking showers have only a trickle of tepid water; and fat rats loiter about as if they own the place. From the dark recesses of the owners personal zone (the door is marked with an ominous DANGER! sign), the broken speakers of a cheap radio screech out distorted Latin love songs. And in the front, in the litter-strewn street, endless trucks roar by, spewing great clouds of black smoke into the air and through the broken windows of the hotel. To top all this off, the woman next door to me (her bed can be no more than five feet from mine because the rooms are so tiny), has a horrible cold. It seems likely that she will cough and groan all through the night.
I must admit that over the years I have developed a certain perverse pleasure in the sometimes difficult conditions of my travels. Yet still I am wearied by lodgings such as tonights. Why, you may ask, do I stay in such places? The answer is really quite simple. I have only a little bit of money and it must cover my expenses for this year of pilgrimage and research. Similar to other long journeys I have taken to the sacred sites these past fifteen years, my Latin American travels are on a shoe string. Tonights room cost $4 and my two meals today were also about $4 each. That is $12 for the most basic accommodations and food. Many days, the cheapest lodging and food I can find are around $20. Besides this, there are repairs on the van, gas, border fees, bribes, film and development costs, and a whole bunch of other little things that really add up. My current travel budget for personal expenses such as food and lodging is $500 per month. Needless to say, I am having a difficult time staying within budget. I try to cut costs any way I can. I sleep in the van many nights, even though it is risky in bandit areas and uncomfortably hot at low elevations. I stay in the cheapest hotels listed in the budget travel guides. And I make many of my meals in the van or sitting upon my hotel bed, from tortillas and vegetables bought in local markets. The lack of sufficient financial resources to fund my research has been a somewhat bothersome issue for many years.
And so you may ask again: Why do I come to such disgusting lodgings in the first place? Why not just stay in the United States, with its high degree of comfort and cleanliness? Or, why, if I want to travel so much, dont I save up a lot of money, go on shorter trips, and spend more on nicer hotels? Only on the surface does the answer to these questions have to do with money. Ultimately, the matter can only be understood by reference to three major motivations in my life. These are art; my love for the Earth; and the receiving of further preparedness for a work it seems I will soon begin. Let me speak briefly here about each of these matters.
When first I was learning to read books with more words than pictures, I became fascinated with the biographies and autobiographies of great artists. The artifacts and expressions of their different crafts (painting and dance were my favorites) were indeed wonderful to observe. Far more intriguing and inspiring, however, was the need, the compulsion, the passionate yearning which motivated the artists to create those beautiful artifacts. Whether such a yearning was already within me or I received it from those books, I do not know. What I do know is that from the age of eight or nine I had a powerful feeling that in my life I too must create things of beauty. More than thirty years have passed since I first felt that calling. It has grown ever stronger with the years. A decade ago I realized that the expression of this yearning could not, in my own life, be limited to conventional methods of artistic output such as music, painting, or dance. Art needed to, had to, flower in every aspect, every moment of my life. When this really became clear to me, every action I performed became a potential meditation on beauty. This was as true for apparently inconsequential things as for major endeavors. Little actions, like closing doors gently so they did not slam noisily and disturb people became as important for me as writing a great book or creating a lovely painting. I recognized that there was no place where beauty could not be expressed.
Simultaneously, all through these years, I also had the feeling that there was some larger endeavor that would one day call forth the fullness of my artistic yearning and ability. Dreams of my teenage years hinted at this possibility, as did visions I experienced during ten years in the ashram. But it was not until I began my relationship with the sacred sites that I came upon my first great way of making really significant art. From the beginning, more than fifteen years ago, I knew that I had entered a realm where time and effort should be lovingly expended in the bringing forth of beauty. This is one reason that, whatever the difficulty or danger, I stubbornly stay on the pilgrims path. Yes, it would be nice to have greater financial resources to ease the difficulties of my travels. But the splendid opportunity that life has given me - to visit the worlds greatest artistic creations and photographically record them for others to see - more than compensates for the Spartan style of my travels.
Intimately related to this artistic impulse is my equally strong need to do something of service for the Earth. How can I speak about this need in such a way that it will be understood and felt by my readers? I ask them to remember those situations and times in life when they have been overwhelmed by a passionate feeling of adoration, devotion, or love. In the context of normal human experience, this feeling most often arises in relationship to another person. These are the poignant moments when we find or lose or recognize more fully a cherished human love. Another example is religious devotion focused upon a particular deity such as Christ or Krishna. For me, this feeling of overwhelming love arises most strongly in relationship with the Earth. For whatever reason (and there are a number that I have discerned), I have a deep and passionate affection for the Earth. I have felt this since I was a young boy, when first I began spending long hours sitting in the tree tops. It grew as swam in the oceans and climbed the high mountains. It blossomed as I entered into the loving embrace of the Earth Spirit at the sacred sites.
Santa Clara de San Cristobal de las Casas
The long pilgrimages that I have gone upon have forged in my heart and mind an extraordinary connection with the living spirit of the Earth. The essence and nature of this connection is somewhat difficult to describe in the English language. Western culture has developed but few words and concepts to illustrate ecospiritual and ecopsychological matters (its philosophical bias has given it wonderfully precise articulation in other realms, however). As clear as I can say it, I feel as if I have an actual energetic and conscious link to the living and conscious spirit of the Earth. It is almost as if there were a wire running directly between us. My recognition of this connection has become increasingly clear as I have visited more and more power places. So also has grown my receptivity to that which is transmitted from the Earth Spirit via the energetic link. It seems to me that there are a number of frequencies or qualities being transmitted at the sacred sites. The particular frequencies I am discussing here are those of: a knowingness of human oneness with the Earth; an adoration of the Earth and all its manifestations; and a yearning to serve the Earth. I have been intensely fired-up with these qualities. They have become the primary drivers of my life. They have given me a work to do, a mission of service. And no difficulty, certainly no dirty hotel room, could ever hold me from that joyful task.
But to perform this mission I have been given it seems I must first experience and master certain teachings and situations. I must learn humility and honesty, patience and courage, wisdom and love. These are not always easy lessons to bear, nor rapid ones to complete. The development of impeccable character, like the forging of steel, is often wrought through the twin intensities of fire and pressure. While it has become a fanciful new age notion that all inner growth should be easy and sweet, I know of no serious student of spiritual things who has not experienced intensity in their lives. We really must admit this to ourselves. The teachings we receive from lifes sometimes demanding lessons are etched far deeper in our souls than fancy words written in many contemporary popularizations of the spiritual path. This at least has been my experience. Dirty hotel rooms, belligerent border officials, occasional bandits, and shoe-string budgets have given me the opportunity to deeply and truly learn the lessons of wisdom and patience, courage and love. Certainly it has become easier to accept the vicissitudes of life as I have altered my responses to them. While I am not always successful in doing this, I try to look upon all situations, both pleasant and difficult, as gifts from the great teacher of life. Those teachings inevitably help to prepare me for the service I so love. For that I am grateful beyond any words that I can express.