other people - Home
June 17, 2003

Dear Friends,

Here is the latest update: News and Thoughts From Around the World. It’s been
nine months since I wrote you all shortly before departing for Asia. Here I am
again, back in the U.S.A. This latest round of adventures has proved fruitful
in a variety of ways, some of which I will touch on here. Although a few places
in Asia prompted serious consideration as possible places to settle, it seems
that the itinerant lifestyle has thus far refused to release me from its grasp.

I played around recently with a personal mission statement and came up with
this: “to research, develop, and incarnate lifestyle, psychology, and knowledge
that is socially and ecologically sustainable and harmonious... in other words,
to be honest and kind...” In case this isn’t confusing enough, there is
additional obfuscation provided in the explanatory brainstorm on the web:
http://www.geocities.com/peterchristopher/writing/2003_mission_stmt.html

You may remember that one of my experiments on this trip was to stop using
email for a period of time. This period of time turned out to be 3 months. Then
for about 3 months I decided to try out using email on a very limited basis
every few weeks. Now back in the U.S. I am using it more regularly, every few
days. The removal of email was also integrated with a general cutoff
communication “style” in which I received no mail of any kind (though I wrote a
few letters). Over the past 3 months, I have been delving into handwritten
letter-writing just like high-school days before email.

I didn’t anticipate writing another group letter. I thought that the act of
writing to a group of people was too emotionally complex, building upon a
desire for feedback integrated with considerable grandiosity. But as I’ve run
into friends here recently, there have been a surprising number of people who
expressed getting a kick out of past letters. So I decided to sit down and
compose after all, and deal with those drawbacks I’d thought to avoid.
Generally, readers report a certain level of interest in both the stories and
the perspectives on how I’m being human these days. So here’s some of both.

Picture yourself in a jungle. You have traveled two hours on bumpy dirt roads
past a lot of clearcut land and some random rice patties and banana patches.
When you get out of the pickup, you give an army-type guard a few US dollars to
let you pass down a path to supposedly impressive ruins. Along the path are
signs warning you of the mine fields on either side. Some kids are running
alongside, and as usual in Asia their facial features look about 5 years older
than their tiny bodies. I assume their small size is due to eating a diet of
white rice, white rice, only white rice, but maybe they all have intestinal
parasites as well. The kids seem to be employed in some way by the guard, to
keep you and the other visitors from straying off the path and being blown up.
You manage to avoid the mines. But the ruins blow you to bits. It was a one-way
trip. You see the castle/monastery/whatever, imagine the orange-robed monks
walking back and forth, the servants with rice and fruits, the elephants. You
see all this in your mind. Your eyes see massive carved rocks, either in piles
or still together as buildings. The carvings are obviously Indian inspired,
Hindu and Buddhist? But it's not India. The jungle has taken over the ruins
again. The locals who supposedly descended from the owners don’t seem to have
the same psychology as your modern endless mind. But what they are thinking
about, you have no idea. Are they more advanced and peaceful somehow? Is their
civilization beyond ours? A thousand years ago, as these huge monuments were
destroyed, did the culture decide these constructions were just a waste of
resources and devote themselves to helping starving people in Africa or
building instruments instead? Or did their culture slide back to a place in
history where it is beyond their conception that these rocks were quarried,
carved, and moved by human minds and bodies? There’s no certainty in anything
in your mind anymore. History was supposed to go one way. Progress. Is it the
past or the future you’re exploring? Then your diarrhea starts to press. You
back out of the ruins and find a toilet-like enclosure, then, relieved, wait
for your companions to be released from the monument. You’ve been in Central
Cambodia, not too far from Siem Reap. You have been exploring one of the least
restored monuments of Angkor Wat.

Later you’re in India. People say it’s a spiritual place. Riding your bicycle
along the street you get to wonder what exactly spiritual means. The streets
are all full of plastic trash, cow manure, cows, homeless people, diarrhea,
motorcycles. The motorcycles honk all the time. The cars honk even louder. The
horns are deadly loud and constant. Are people deaf here? Everyone says it’s
just a different culture. Some people seem to be walking slowly, patiently
along the side of the road. But the ones who have got their motorbike or car
are just as intent on rushing as anyone in America, if not more. What keeps the
ones at the side of the road from getting a motorbike? Do they have any idea
how to plan ahead enough to save one days wages per week? Probably not, you
later learn. They don't know how to think like that. In India, you have to lock
up everything valuable to prevent theft. People say it’s a spiritual place.
Isn’t there a contradiction here? What is spirituality if it’s not harmonious
living? Later you find out that the wanderers along the sides of the roads are
probably all untouchables, as are lots of the ones who ride bicycles like you.
But they eat at different restaurants from where you eat. They’re not allowed
to eat where you eat. It’s not the law; it’s social custom. Is that spiritual?
Or does “spirituality” here have nothing to do with actual relations among
people? Who are the ones who say this is a spiritual place? What are they
talking about? It’s India. As if your mind wasn’t blown up already, it gets
ridiculously hot and humid. That's where I was. And then all of a sudden it was
time to go. So I left. Two days later, I was back in the states. Some questions
are answered, some are destroyed, some are rephrased. It seems that I was in an
insane place; but this place (America) also is insane in its way. To open up to
the insanity of these cultures also brings an openness to the insanity of the
self, and I find myself wondering whether new levels of peacefulness are
achieved by navigating around insanity or through it.

Some people are scared of ghosts. Some people are scared of cities. I am scared
of the town where I grew up. Inspired by those spiritual warriors of the past
and present who claim to explore those territories of fear, I have descended a
bit too. I spent some time recently writing letters to old friends, meeting new
people from the humble town of Randolph, and feeling and watching what happens
when I go back there. I'm glad to report there's not as much to be afraid of as
my little mind had imagined! In fact, there are so many gems in that town and
in those people that I think I could spend a lifetime there mining. But for now
6 weeks was enough and I have wandered along again.

Right now I am sitting at a computer at Acorn Community, a small intentional
community in central Virginia. The members here run a seed business (Southern
Exposure Seed Exchange) and also make hammocks and assorted metal handicrafts.
I am here for a 3-week visitor period, during which I work about 40 hours a
week on gardening, upkeep (dishes, cooking, repairs) and income labor (hammock
making), as the members and I mutually check each other out. Someday perhaps
I'll settle in a place like this, maybe even here! But for now I have plans
already to move on at the end of June. I'll be at Ganas, another intentional
community, on Staten Island, during the first half of July. Then I'll be at the
IDEC (International Democratic Education Conference), which is in Albany this
year (http://idec2003.com/). Beyond that, I'm thinking of possibly traveling to
see more communities in the US and possibly in Europe later this summer and
fall. My schedule is quite open and open-ended so feel free to let me know
about anything that makes you think of me.

When I left for Asia, my main goals were: to investigate current and past
Buddhist cultures, to experience the economics, ecology, and psychology of the
third world, to be removed from my familiar context to explore and develop my
mind, and to explore monasteries with an eye to considering ordination as a
monk. All these goals were fulfilled appropriately. My lifestyle and goals
these days has incorporated all of this into my current directions. (There is
more on these issues in the brainstorm linked to at the beginning of this
letter if you want more on that.) I am trying to live simply in the US these
days: few possessions, no vehicle; few expenditures; healthy food as much as
possible. Life seems to be pretty flexible and inviting to give me whatever I
ask for. Being a human is pretty cool.

If I get a lot of responses asking for more thoughts or data on a particular
topic, I’ll write something up and post it to my website (peterchristopher.com)
within a week or two.

How are you all doing?

Best wishes,
Peter

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