Category

Central America

toby israel, home, travel, costa rica, nationalism
Central America, Nomadism

Don’t Ask me where I’m From, Ask me where Home Is

One balmy evening in Domincal, Costa Rica, two friends and I found ourselves stuck in conversation with a friendly tourist from the United States. Despite the best of intentions, he was boring us all.

We didn’t feel like chatting, and the dance floor was calling. So, when he inevitably asked, “Where are you all from?” we answered in the least gracious way possible:

“I forgot,” said one friend.
“I’m undecided,” said the other.
“I don’t know,” I finished. 

After close to a year living in Costa Rica, we thought our responses were a clever alternative to the repetitive small talk we had come to dread—with tourists and locals alike. Our unfortunate conversation partner doubtless thought we were very rude.

However, our reluctance to answer a seemingly simple question touches on a deeper issue for me, and perhaps for many vagabonds.

I have small talk fatigue. I’m tired of regurgitating the same facts. What’s more, I haven’t lived in the place I grew up (is that where I’m “from”?) for 10 years. I haven’t lived in the pace I receive mail (is that where I’m from?) for five years. It just doesn’t seem like relevant information anymore.

I definitely have small talk fatigue. But that’s only part of the problem.

As someone with vaguely European features, I never had to deal with the “No, where are you really from?” bullsh*t growing up. (That’s another ballgame entirely). But having spent most of my adult life outside the U.S., having a distinct accent in every other language I speak, and being obviously foreign more often than not, I face two questions with higher frequency than could possibly be healthy:

Where are you from? And, why are you here?

I just don’t want to answer these questions anymore. My place of origin is probably the least interesting thing about me. It leads inevitably to more uninteresting questions. Yet it is always, always the first thing we ask. (I am also guilty of this, though more and more I try to catch myself before it slips out). And, if I do answer the question, “ah,” they say, as if now they know everything there is to know about me.

I reject the very premise of the question: that the world is made up of nations, and that we “belong” to the arbitrary borders within which we were born.

I refuse to identify with a nation simply because we have collectively consented to buy into this fiction. I refuse to flaunt my country of origin (utterly accidental, and in no way representative of any personal merit), as if it were something to be proud of.

Do the advantages and disadvantages of our birthplace, the cultural conventions of our upbringing, and the social constructs of our particular place in the world play a large role in shaping our selfhood? Of course. They play a massive role. I will be the first to make this point. But do these factors define us in our entirety? I strive every day to ensure that they do not.

Is it an exceptional privilege to reject a national identity and seek a global one? In a way, yes. Few have the luxury to choose to dissociate from the title on their birth certificate or passport.

Yet, I believe we are all capable of taking a critical look at the structures we have been handed as incontrovertible—at the stories we have been taught as truth. We all have the choice to accept the world given to us…or to deconstruct it, fiction by fiction, and build a new one.

I was born in the United States. I have a U.S. passport.

On the one hand, this tells you everything: my position of privilege, my opportunities for work and education, my background, and cultural references.

But on the other, this tells you nothing about my values, my vision, my spirit, or my heart.

I was born in the U.S., but don’t ask me about that.

toby israel, home, travel, costa rica, nationalism

Ask me, “Where is home?” I will tell you:

Home is Costa Rica, for now.
Home is with my family, wherever they happen to be.
Home is my community—global.
Home was South Africa, Zanzibar, London, and Italy… for a while.
Home is in my body.
Home is a hot shower and a good meal.
Home is wherever I am welcomed—and wherever people are kind, good, and full of love (everywhere).
Home is many, many places, and sometimes it is nowhere at all.

And maybe tomorrow I will tell you something different. Isn’t that so much more interesting?

Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m at home. Then, maybe, we can talk about something real.


Originally published on elephant journal.

Image used with permission from Marc Maksim Photography.

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finca la flor, transformation, costa rica, yoga retreat
Central America, Culture, Transformation

I’m not responsible for anyone’s Transformation

Saturday, 23 June, 2018 — Finca Agroecologica La Flor, Cartago, Costa Rica — Yoga & Mindfulness Immersion

I sit straddling the drum, rocking forward with each beat—the only way I know to comfortably play this instrument.

My knee has slipped off the mat and onto the hard studio floor, but the pain dulls in the background, my focus absorbed in rhythm. Driving rhythm. Holding rhythm.

As I relax into the drumbeat pattern, I am able to expand my awareness to the people in the circle with me: One has moved to the back of the room to dance; others lie down, motionless; and others sing, sway or clap in conversation with the music. A web of sound makes our many points of connection nearly-tangible.

finca la flor, yoga retreat, transformation, costa rica, travel

I should be exhausted after co-facilitating our first “Yoga & the Art of Listening” retreat at Finca la Flor, Costa Rica, but I have wings.

Maybe it’s the cacao we drank, still sharp and bitter in my throat. Yet, this sense of inspired-ness—of in-purpose-ness—has been building since day one of our five-day experience.

Eyes closed to hold onto our rhythm, I see the room in my mind’s eye instead: low light, candles at the center of a rainbow of yoga mats, faces glowing—transformed.

“I did this!” my ego wants to shout, claiming for itself all the credit for this transformation, but no… there’s something truer beneath this voice:

At my core, another, wiser self is in awe. I am in awe.

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In retreat, as in ceremony, we have each held space for one another to delve inward and to expand outward. I am in awe of the sheer beauty and courage and power of each individual who answered the call and co-created a unique container for accelerated growth. I am in awe of the journey that brought us to the selves sitting together in our closing ceremony, expressing and blessing with joy and freedom and grace.

My ego, of course, is wrong. I didn’t do this.

I didn’t make this transformation happen in the space of five short days. That would be madness. An impossible task.

Each participant was responsible for their own growth and (dare I say it?) transformation.

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I—as a co-facilitator, co-creator, and co-learner—may have shared movement and mindfulness practices. I may have designed a schedule. But I am not responsible for the scene tonight, which makes me (rarely sentimental) feel like tearing up.

This is why I prefer the term “facilitator.” A facilitator facilitates individual and collective self-inquiry and development through invitation, sharing, and loving support. A facilitator does not presume to have any monopoly on knowledge—or potential outcomes.

After this experience (the first of hopefully many to follow), I feel grateful, blessed, honored and inspired by what I helped to create. But I do not feel the pride of ownership, because I don’t own this outcome, laid out tonight in my mind’s eye, dancing over drums and twining with the taste of cacao. I recognize that our collective effort, love, and generosity made the experience what it was.

I didn’t do this; we did.

And I am in awe of that.

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walk, choose your path, toby israel, adventure
Adventure, Central America, Nomadism

Remember: This Journey is Just a Walk in the Woods

Uncertainty. How many times must I meet you before I remember your stubborn face?

In work, in travel, in body, in love—nothing is truly stable, not at the core. That is the only certainty.

I have learned this lesson so many times, it rolls off my tongue like a prophecy when I speak to friends and vagabonds-to-be about my lifestyle. Yet, I find I must repeatedly teach myself my own lessons, too.

We’re all just human.

We seek, endlessly, for a secure future, a safe home, a lasting relationship, a full stomach, a rich coffer. To do otherwise would render us saints or bodhisattvas. To do otherwise would mean to no longer be human.

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The best we can do, then—maybe—is to remind ourselves often that our search for certainty is futile… and then to go on searching anyway.

The best we can do, maybe, is to see the humor in it all.

To observe our fallible human hearts and laugh at them—and love them.

Lately, I’ve been obsessing somewhat over where I’ll live when I return to Costa Rica in September. I know it’s too early to make this decision. I know. Each time I jump on the same cycle of thought, I remind myself of this. I stop. And then the next day I start all over again.

It just is. Asi es.

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It’s okay. I’m human.

I note without blame or frustration the patterns in my own life—the relationships where I’ve grasped at tomorrow, cities where I’ve hastily sought a room to call home, homes where I’ve ignored the “here” to plan my escape to “there.” I observe all this with a glint of happy laughter.

What a blessing, to have arms strong enough to grasp and a heart strong enough to learn, over and over again, to relinquish control.

“I know you’re tired but come, this is the way.” — Rumi

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This journey is really an aimless walk in the woods, but we forget that. In my imagination, the remembering goes something like this:

Angel: Look how many beautiful trails there are! So many possibilities!

Devil: But, which is the best route to get where we’re going?

A: We’re not going anywhere, come on! Remember, we’re just walking for the joy of it.

D: Right… right. Any path will do, just—

A: Just what?! Any path will do. That’s all.

D: Just, better be careful to choose the right one.

A: What do you mean? There is no right way to get there if we’re not going to any “there” in particular. That’s the whole point.

D: But, what if there are waterfalls on that trail? We wouldn’t want to miss out on any natural wonders, would we?

A: And maybe there are unicorns on this trail. We just don’t know until we try, do we? We’ll see what we see and miss what we miss, and our walk will be exactly perfect.

D: Might as well just stay here. Wouldn’t want to risk heading off in the wrong direction.

A: Not an option. We’re walking. Anywhere. Somewhere. Nowhere. Does. Not. Matter. But we can’t stay here. Life is moving, and we have to move too. So get up, count to three, and choose.

D: But, but… what about unicorns? And waterfalls? What about monsters? There could be monsters! No way, not worth the risk.

A: One.

D: Nope. Not going anywhere.

A: Two. Remember: There’s no right way, only the way you choose to walk.

D: Not sold. Monsters, remember.

A: Wherever you walk, that is where you’re going. Three.

D: …

A: I’ll choose, then. That way.

toby israel, vagabondess, nomadic, uncertainty, journey, choose, walk

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cacao ceremony, pura bliss microfestival
Central America, Culture, Peace

How do you Organize a Local Event when you’re Not a Local?

Inhale. Exhale.

Fifty bodies lift and settle in unison. The light changes from day to dusk. I look around the circle at faces from here (Costa Rica), the U.S., Venezuela, Canada, Germany; I see peace and unity and potential.

A lot of potential.

This is the conscious community I want to cultivate in my life, and my world. This is the tribe I serve in my work with NuMundo. This is the culture of peace I strive toward in my studies at the University for Peace.

I speak in English as I lead our pre-cacao ceremony meditation. I’m still not confident enough in my Spanish to use it for facilitation. I am not local here in Costa Rica. Hardly. I have only lived here for seven months. I have never met most of the people attending. Really, I’m not quite sure how I ended up in this position.

Yet, here I am. Co-founder of Pura Bliss Microfestival, Costa Rica’s “first locally-sourced, co-created transformative festival.” We have big dreams for the future of the event—and the community we hope to foster through it. As we develop our mission statement, we describe ourselves as being, “by locals, for everyone.”

toby isreal, pura bliss microfestival, conscious community, costa rica

From our last event, March 2018. Next festival slated for early 2019.

Taking this project forward, my co-founders and co-creators are Costa Rican. When they speak of building something rooted in this place, it makes sense. But coming from me, it’s a bit more complicated.

So, I’m grappling with these questions: How can I organize a self-professed local event, when I am not a local? Is it even ethical? How can I be a co-founder of it? How can I root my initiative in this place when I do not know it, can never know it, with the intimacy of those who have always lived here.

But, you may argue, we’re all one global tribe anyways. Why does this even matter?

In my view, it matters a lot. Wherever I choose to live or travel, the very fact of my choice represents considerable privilege. Whatever actions I take in those places—be they small, like buying a coffee, or large, like organizing a festival—they have real impact.

That impact isn’t a simple negative or positive.

Da Corpo, Ciudad Colon, costa rica, pura bliss microfestival

Water Flow Workshop with Lau Ra Gonzalez, owner of Da Corpo Studio in Ciudad Colon.

On the one hand, whenever we attempt to take an action outside of our “home context,”—as a development worker, community organizer, or even cafe customer—we are always acting within structures of power and colonial legacies of violence that color even the best of intentions gray. In my case, whether I agree to it or not, I will always be a representative of the hegemonic group into which I was born. We can’t escape these dynamics just because we disagree with them.

On the other hand, I refuse to accept the premise that because of these limitations, the only acceptable place for a white woman with a U.S. passport is “at home.” I am part of the Jewish diaspora, and while my official papers read, “United States,” I feel neither belonging to nor ownership of this identity group. Where can I ethically be and work and contribute? This question can be paralyzing.

On the other, other hand, what does it even mean to be local? Costa Rica, like any nation, is a simple name belying a complex society. If I collaborate with young, well-traveled artists from San Jose, is this representing the real Costa Rica? Can we somehow incorporate Costa Rica’s indigenous community into our efforts? Its immigrant community? Even if we try to represent every “local” group, someone is always left out. In a festival of just a few hundred people, basically everyone is left out.

pura bliss microfestival, local, yoga festival, costa rica

Pre-sunset yoga class at Pura Bliss.

Perhaps the goal, then, is to create an event as collaboratively and inclusively as possible, knowing that it will never be perfect.

I’m still exploring the nuance of being a foreign organizer of a local event, but as we progress toward our vision, a few considerations help me to understand my role in it:

1. My Co-Founders are local, rooted in Costa Rica’s creative community, and deeply supportive of this initiative. While Pura Bliss may have originally been my baby, it is now a collective and co-creative project. It is not mine. It is ours. And most of the “I’s” in that “We” are in fact local.

random collective, pura bliss microfestival, costa rica, transformational festival

2. Our Values support local, collaborative involvement at every turn. We are currently designing our financial structure, which rewards each collaborator equally with a fair share of the profits. The event itself is entirely non-profit. Local vendors, artists, teachers, and performers are our first priority.

pura bliss microfestival, local vendors, ciudad colon, costa rica, mercado

3. Local is Global. Global is local. In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, it is too simple to draw hard lines between insiders and outsiders. I literally feel like I am an outsider everywhere. Maybe it’s time for me to stop worrying about it and contribute where and how I am best able.

pura bliss microfestival, dance, co-creative festival, conscious community, costa rica

4. We’re All Here to Learn. And we’re all here to teach. Everyone has something to offer, regardless of nationality, location, age, gender, race, or any other label. And if another human being, or another community, welcomes that something sincerely, then it is our privilege and our responsibility to give it.

herbal medicine, workshop, pura bliss microfestival, costa rica, transformational festival

5. I’m Doing this for Free. If all else fails, I rest secure in the knowledge that I will not personally profit in any way from this initiative. I distance myself as far as possible from the historical trends of extraction and exploitation.

pura bliss microfest, conscious community, costa rica, transformational festival, self-expression

6. Listening with Humility. I take my cues from those with and for whom I work. I know that that there is a lot I don’t know. Hopefully I’ll learn some of it in this process. It’s not perfect, but we can’t wait for perfection. I will keep striving to fulfill my role with respect and integrity, and in service to this community. I welcome feedback, thoughts and suggestions on how to do better and do good.


To learn more about Pura Bliss and to stay up-to-date with our journey, follow us here!

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Adventure, Central America, Nomadism

How to Return when there is No Turning Back

The plane lands. The boat docks. The train whistles as it arrives at the station.

You step off. Pause. Look around.

Friends and loved ones wait with brilliant smiles and open arms to welcome your return. They look just like the pictures you carried in your mind, and yet… The station looks just like your memory of your departure, and yet…

Is this home? The place you left? It feels different, but you know it has not changed. No, you have changed. Or rather, you have become more yourself, and you do not yet know how to share this new, deeper you-ness with these specters of an earlier time.

You have crossed oceans, scaled mountains, fought dragons, and befriended shadows. You have faced challenges you could not imagine, and you have learned your strength.

But this. This seems insurmountable. How can you possibly carry your lessons back? How do you return?

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Reintegration. Maybe this is the hardest part of the journey. The return.

I know this. We all do. It’s archetypal stuff. Gather so much beauty, so much wisdom, so much knowing—but then, how to bring it home, into the body, into the mind, into the world?

The heart opening, horizon shattering, mind growing is the first step, not the end of the road. For every obstacle we overcome, there is a higher one around the bend. For every road we walk, there is a longer one still to travel. For every difficult journey we complete, there are yet more turbulent waters to navigate up ahead:

The return.

Everything that follows.

We come back from our journeys changed. More sombre, or more joyful. Heavy with nostalgia, or lighter with all the baggage we have dropped along the way. Wiser, or more innocent—or both.

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We live more lifetimes than we could hope. We die small deaths, traverse dark nights, emerge at dawn with new perspective. None of it matters, and yet—I go on, we go on, because the sun still shines. Because the leaves still whisper. The birds still call. The guitar strings still vibrate.

Just as they have always done.

And so we still follow rules of time, of dress, of conduct. We still shine, speak, sing, dance, play—just as we have always done. But we feel like crying and laughing both, because we won’t be the same. We will never be the same.

the return, cape town, toby israel, beach

We have traveled far. We have met dragons. We have shed the layers of ourselves, and now we put them back on. Now we return, full of questions.

We have said hello to the unknown and moved beyond it. We have touched secrets and tasted their blessings on our tongues, our skin, our hearts.

One thing is certain. There is no turning back.

 

Beach Photos Used with Permission from A Different Story Studio

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microadventure, fire spinning, costa rica
Adventure, Central America

Microadventure in Costa Rica: 3 Snippets of Daily Life

Whether I’m hopping continents or battling insects in my jungle house, life is always some kind of a wild ride… or a microadventure!

These days, I’m not moving around much. Between organizing events, being a full-time masters student, and working on the amazing NuMundo platform, I haven’t had time for big travel.

And I feel pretty great about that, because every day is already an adventure.

I read an article once about microadventure that meshed perfectly with my own vagabondish philosophy. According to Alastair Humphreys, microadventures are “short, simple, local, cheap—yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding.” I would expand that definition even beyond planned experiences; to my mind, a microadventure occurs anytime we approach a situation with a spirit of “I am here,” “anything can happen,” and “might as well play in the rain.”

Travel, adventure, exploration—they’re not about taking that one “trip of a lifetime.” In fact, if we only make one grand tour and then spend the rest of our lives in mundane monotony, I think we’ve lost the plot…

microadventure, costa rica

Below are a few microadventurous snippets of pura vida, Costa Rica style. I hope you will try slipping on on some adventure-colored glasses and looking at your own days through a similar lens:

Trickster Monkey

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There is one particular monkey who likes to play in the banana tree just outside my porch. One day, I ran to see what was happening when I heard him thrashing around through the palms, then watched as he tore all the white petals off the top of the purple banana flower, then nonchalantly dropped them to the ground one by one. ]

I don’t think he wanted to eat them, was only making trouble. The monkey thrashed away just as loudly as he had come, and I was left laughing to myself about the absurdity of the scene.

Insect Wars

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“Can this kill me?” I’ve never asked this question so often before, but the diversity of small and threatening wildlife that appears in my jungle house is really unprecedented. One night a baby scorpion appears on my cutting board when I turn my back for a minute. The next, a freaky, sneaky-quick spider flashes along my wall. And the next? Could be a millipede in my shoe, a black widow spider under my table, or an army of ants in my sink. I check my shoes before putting them on. I catch and release bugs, whose names I’ll likely never know, on a daily basis.

weird bugs, microadventure, costa rica

When I think or write about living in attunement with nature, this is the part I always conveniently omit. I don’t like these critters—especially when they fly up my nose or bite my ankles, but I do coexist with them. And then, these bugs are the part I conveniently omit when I talk about how much I love living alone. No one is going to deal with the dead lizard, the spider eggs, or the creepy flying creature if I don’t. But that is a good thing.

Sunday Morning Gratitude

gratitude, hammock, costa rica, microadventure

Sunday morning hammock time. I’ve managed to crawl out of bed without my dreams, which slipped away too quickly. I thought about going down to the river after a long rainy season hiatus, but my body is calling for a slower start. I sit in my hammock and catch the sun through my eyelashes.

Jungle mornings. It will be hard to live in a city again. Wake up to birds, green-tinged sunlight catching the steam rising from my tea, yellow-flowering bushes pushing their noses up against the porch screen—and sometimes raccoon creatures too. Sure, the spiders and lizards and stupid flying beetles win some battles, but if the war is to live a good life, then I think I’m winning.

Gratitude—for this home, this body this earth, this opportunity to honor it all by living. I don’t write about it every day, but it is always there. The roadblocks don’t even register against the generosity of it all. It is a blessing, this steam rising in the sun. It is a blessing, this exuberance of birdsong. It is a blessing, this gentle rocking, this skin, this heartbeat, and this one, and this. It is a blessing.

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On my way to Guatemala this afternoon—will report back with tales of Lake Atitlan, Cosmic Convergence, and anything else microadventure… or macro! 🙂

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Central America, Culture, Peace

How Technology Could (Maybe) Create a Nu World

Everything you wanted to know about my new work with NuMundo and studies in Media and Peacebuilding… and then some.

What will the internet age look like?

Will it result in a “pax technologica” independent of hegemonic power and military force? Or will it only deepen existing divides between different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultural groups, perpetuating conflicts and impeding understanding?

It is an exciting time to be thinking about these questions.

The choices we make now—as users, thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and consumers—could well direct the course of our technological future.

That is why I am passionate about the vision of NuMundo, a tech-forward company leading the way in “land-based online networks,” regenerative economies, and decentralized global tribalization. If those sound like a lot of strange terms, they are. But emerging organizations and businesses like NuMundo have the power to create and define the terms that will drive the future of technology and the social structures surrounding it.

NuMundo is a global, online network of “impact centers” with a focus on eco-restoration, education, empowerment, community living, and sustainable travel. It serves to link interested travelers, vacationers, and full-time escapees from The System with ecological, educational, and physical locations for stays, workshops, work-trades, and retreats.

I will argue that NuMundo (and other online-offline communities like it) solves the paradox of the “global tribe”—or at least has the potential to do so.

Rather than sacrificing individual and group identities for the dubious ideal of peace driven by homogeneity, it celebrates pluralism and cultivates close-knit, on-the-ground “tribal” communities. Rather than foregoing a global outlook in favor of insular “villages,” it encourages an inclusive and open-minded perspective through online resources, dialogue, and exchange across all borders.

NuMundo answers what I will call a “noble impulse” for connection, meaning, and peace; in so doing, it offers an alternative vision of “full spectrum media” that is earth-centered and regenerative, rather than transhumanist and exploitative. Defining media in as broad a manner as possible, I place this organization at the forefront of a promising trend toward “glocalization” bolstered (rather than hindered) by communications technologies.

“Minimalism: Just another thing rich people can buy?”

numundo, minimalism

Packing light. Helsinki, 2015.

Using media to promote anti-consumerism and counterculture lifestyles may seem incongruous, but networks like NuMundo are attempting to do just that. Leading propagandist Edward Bernays wrote, “This general principle, that men are very largely actuated by motives which they conceal from themselves, is as true of mass as of individual psychology.” While he and Freud believed these “repressed impulses” to be wholly negative—aggression, sexual deviance, violence—one could make a case for the existence of neutral or even noble human impulses, equally repressed, and equally driving consumer choices.

What of wildness? Intuition? Connection (to nature, self, and fellow humans)?

These impulses, too, are present in modern humans, and repressed as much as, if not more than violence by mainstream culture and conditioning. Some of the emerging media technologies of today could indeed satisfy our hidden impulses—just not in the way Freud or Bernays might have imagined.

Looking at a pattern of consumption, or more broadly a cultural habit, “The modern propagandist therefore sets to work to create circumstances which will modify that custom” to suit his ends (Bernays 55). That is, the processes of propaganda (and marketing) run deep beneath the surface. The elusive goal of altering cultural desires and values through media can create docile consumers, obedient citizens… or something else.

Taking propaganda as a neutral term, this could also describe the process of guiding a reluctant public to first recognize their disconnectedness from community and nature and then seek to reclaim such a connection.

Of course, at times the “selling of peace” is itself part of a broader trend of commodifying meaning that, for example, appropriates ancient practices and strips them of context. The Westernization of yoga, Madonna-ization of Kabbalah, and corporate “greenwashing” should well serve as cautionary tales. Nonetheless, if mainstream marketing can tap into consumers’ darkest repressed desires, then alternative models can play to their noblest ones. Success in this endeavor would undoubtedly have a net positive effect on global peacebuilding efforts.

We Have the Medium. Still Waiting on the Message.

editing, numundo, peace, technology

We could next consider what role these alternative media might play in building a new kind of peace.

The equation of Internet + Access = Peace is, most would agree, vastly oversimplified. It’s not only access to technology, but also how that technology is used that impacts social evolution. While that statement may seem self-evident, many appear tempted to label this new technological force as “good” or “evil.”

However, “It was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message” (McLuhan 7).

Communications technologies are the medium; how we use them will determine what meaning they ultimately have for human development.

Networks such as NuMundo seek to utilize new technologies in a focused and intentional manner, promoting ecological lifestyles, cross-cultural understanding and appreciation, and community-oriented systems. They do so by facilitating access to workshops on permaculture, natural building, indigenous wisdom, and traditional healing modalities. Furthermore, they enable “regular people” to discover “transformational experiences”—in the form of vacations, retreats, gatherings, or work trades—capable of permanently altering their worldview.

When we use “the machine” to promote sustainable travel, community empowerment, and ecological lifestyle, then the machine is…green.

If communications technologies ultimately serve to create a greener, more grounded, and more connected world, then we are a far cry from both the doomsday predictions and the transhumanist fantasies of many scholars and thinkers. “The “message” of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs” (McLuhan 8). We are currently embedded in the change being wrought by the introduction of the internet and associated technologies. Thus it follows that we cannot know yet what the characteristics of that “change of scale” will be. However, it appears likely that the participation of users will prove a strong determining factor.

Convergence & A Full-Spectrum World

costa rica, peace, numundo, yoga

Full-spectrum experience in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Convergence theory describes not only the convergence of media companies, but also consumers’ participation in and influence over media technologies. It is this “grassroots convergence” that applies to an analysis of NuMundo and similar digital communities.

Herein, “consumers are learning to use these different media technologies to bring the flow of media more fully under their control and to interact with other consumers” (Jenkins 18). Active and participatory internet users affect the form and function of media through their involvement.

What will they choose to do with the control of new media in their own hands?

Many are building tribes—some purely virtual, others avatars of more local groups. We will return to the topic of tribalization shortly. Other users, however, are building sophisticated digital networks of communication, growth, and resilience akin to those of the mycelium that run beneath the earth.

To follow the idea of convergence a step further, the concept of a “full spectrum world” takes on yet greater nuance when we extend our definition of “media” to concrete, physical experiences. If media, or communications technologies, are extensions of our own eyes, ears, mouths, hands, then the reverse could also be true.

By such a  definition, NuMundo’s unique blend of physical, grounded “impact centers” and the tech-savvy “digital nomads” visiting them are actually part of the media they use. In this instance, “media” does not only refer to the website, blog, search directory, photos, videos, and Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts that constitute NuMundo’s online presence.

It also encompasses the physical locations, the food forests, the dirty hands, the organic farm-to-table meals and the face-to-face interactions that characterize users’ lived experience.

At the risk of following the concept too far, we are the message. And the message is one of peaceful community and regenerative practices.

Networks like NuMundo promote peace at multiple levels. Permaculture principles engender food security, community empowerment, and nature connection. Respect for indigenous wisdom cultivates cultural exchange, learning, and awareness. A culture of travel and “transformational experience” de-commodifies the modern lifestyle and reinstates human interaction at the fore of our value system.

Many people, when picturing the future of technology, may imagine a dystopia (or utopia, depending on who’s imagining) of chips implanted in brains and credit cards embedded in forearms. However, there are alternative models.

NuMundo is one of them.

And this vision centers on the fusion of the global village and the local tribe.

Tribalization: The Good, The Bad, and the Nu

numundo, finca morpho, beach, peace

Finca Morpho, one of NuMundo’s impact centers.

The word “tribe” has many connotations—some negative, as in the conflict that often arises from “us versus them” dynamics and identity politics, but others positive.

Alternative communities across the globe are reclaiming the term, taking it to mean something quite different from the conventional usage. NuMundo, for example, often refers to their community as “tribe.”

In recent discourse, the idea of the global village frequently appears in opposition to the local tribe. And looking at the echo chambers of social media, the proliferation of online hate groups, and the fragmentation of the online world, we are likely to wonder which it will be: tribal or global.

The NuMundo model, on the other hand, synthesizes these two dynamics in a manner only possible because of modern technologies. Few species have achieved such a feat; mycelium are one of them. Underground mycelium networks can stretch for thousands of miles, cropping up above the surface at intervals, yet remaining interconnected through adept communication systems. Likewise, NuMundo impact centers and community members span the globe, and their virtual ties are invisible to the naked eye. However, through strong networks of communication, they remain intricately bound to one another.

The NuMundo approach to applying advanced technologies to modern society has its roots in natural processes. We would do well to ground our technology use in such a way more often.

Taken in the NuMundo sense of the term, tribalization is an overwhelmingly positive development. Modern “conscious tribes” represent small, closely knit and interdependent groups of people who support one another and their environment. These groups have strong identities, but ones which incorporate a global perspective and a value system centered on non-violence—between humans, and toward the earth.

However, retribalization can undoubtedly become a damaging and even violent process, whereby we we project our negative qualities onto an outside “other,” thus reinforcing an “in group” identity while demonizing an “out group.” Such trends have certainly arisen in many alternative lifestyle movements. Think militant veganism, minimalism, and sustainability. Dogmatic adherents to any value system will often move beyond their own choices to attack those who do not share them.

The inherent dangers of tribalization are not to be overlooked or brushed off.

What’s Ahead?

Can the global village coexist with the local tribe, then?

NuMundo would say yes.

If there is such a thing as pax technologica, I hope it will follow the NuMundo template: Technology-supported empathy and interconnection will lead to a “decentralized peace”—independent of hegemonic or state powers. Retribalization will occur along non-national, non-ethnic lines; rather, global citizens will group into value-aligned, semi-location-independent communities.

Potential for peace notwithstanding, however, we will do well to take cautionary measures against the divisive implications of a retribalization process. As this shift takes place, we must ensure that it is not divisive, with “eco-warriors” hunkering down in one camp, facing off against the status quo and corporate machine in the other.

Most likely, the dynamics of future digital communities will be far more fluid than either of these scenarios, a bit less black and white.

There is no utopian outcome to the global tribe paradox, whereby technology leads to perfect peace amongst mankind and harmony with nature. Not even an army of mission-driven, eco-focused organizations could achieve that. Still, in turning our focus toward globally linked, locally rooted projects, we could learn a lot about building new models of non-violent living.

If technology is going to define the world that future generations inhabit, let’s hope it’s less “Brave New World” and more “NuMundo.”


References
Bernays, Edward (1928). Propaganda. Routledge. Chapter 4: The Psychology of Public Relations. pp. 47-61.
Blondel, Ylva Isabelle. (2003). Violent Conflict and Roles of the Media. Uppsala University report commissioned by Sida and UNESCO. pp. 1-37.
Jenkins, Henry. (2008). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press. Introduction: Worship at the Alter of Convergence: A New Paradigm for Understanding Media Change, pp. 1-24.
McLuhan, Marshall. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Chapter 1: “The Medium is the Message” pp. 7-21 and Chapter 32: “Weapons: War of the Icons” pp. 338-345.
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Central America, Peace

Why I Don’t Care about International Relations

[Our] accomplishments do not make the Western paradigm exceptional or suggest in any way that it has or ought to have a monopoly on the path to the future. — Wade Davis, Wayfinders

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After a challenging three weeks in an International Relations course, I realized something…

Wait. Let me rewind first. Three wekes ago, I wrote:

Anthropologist Wade Davis—and particularly his book on indigenous systems, quoted above—has left a deep impression on me in the past year.

He expresses, with compelling eloquence and abundant case studies, my own feelings about our modern status quo. In these first few weeks at UPeace, I have seen the Western paradigm for peacebuilding and conflict resolution repeatedly touted in assigned readings as the apex of human thought, with few voices raised in opposition. (Makau Mutua comes to mind.)

While traveling over the last three years, I have encountered countless well-intentioned people doing far less good than they had hoped.

I believe it comes down to arrogance.

The problem is that we think we know everything. We think our truth is the only truth—that our reality is Reality. We are self-centered enough to believe human development is linear (and concentrated in the “West”) and that anything that came before, or from outside, is irrelevant to our future as a species.

This narcissism holds repercussions far wider than the field of peace and conflict studies. It impacts economic systems, food production, development, immigration policy, and so much more. Even worse, it closes our minds to all the wisdom available to us within our own history, and it stunts our capacity for creative and critical thought.

Human innovation is limitless, but only if we are humble enough to apply it to the flaws in our own paradigm.

As a storyteller, I am most interested in the role individuals play—as agents of change, or as champions of a flawed system. It is individual arrogance that calls America the “Greatest Country on Earth” and believes it devoutly. It is individual arrogance that can watch a system of production far outpace the earth’s capacity for regeneration and call that progress. And it is human arrogance that promotes the universalization of broken structures in the name of peace, employing many kinds of violence to achieve it. I believe real progress will come from empowering individuals to think critically and tell new stories about peace.

This is why I’m drawn to movements like social permaculture, rewilding, and experiential learning. These proceed with humility and open minds, don’t assume they have all the answers, and look beyond a human-centered, modern Western paradigm for solutions.

I do not believe there is anything idealistic about such an approach; given the circumstances, it might be the most pragmatic yet.

international relations

You see, I wrote the above words from the perspective of a writer, a student of anthropology, and a poet with an enduring interest in indigenous wisdom. The readings in my recent course, on the other hand, offered answers mostly rooted in the rigid and ethnocentric tradition of International Relations.

In our final assignment, we were asked to, “Cite the theoretical frameworks and readings that have most influenced your thinking.”

Instead, I decided to be honest—and not to simply put words on the page for the sake of a grade.

I had to admit that those theories and readings had not influenced my thinking—not in a meaningful way.

They made me question the utility of any political system at all. They made me seriously consider becoming an anarchist. And they have made me wonder if perhaps my incorrigible optimism is not so well-founded.

With the utmost respect to the field of International Relations and those dedicated to it, I am not at the University for Peace to learn about Neorealists and Neoliberals.

I do not care about great powers, nor small ones.

I do not care if China will be the next hegemon, not really.

I do not care if my worldview would be classified as “Cosmopolitan” or “Neorealist.”

I believe in the potential for transformation at the micro level, and I direct all of my efforts in my work—in writing, facilitating, editing, and learning—toward that end. I believe that the actions and choices of individuals and communities have an increasingly global impact.

This impact does not care what experts on civil society say about it. This impact will go on impacting regardless of what I say about it.

I believe in the exceptional power of media to inspire, accelerate, and sustain that transformation. International Relations speaks of hybrid warfare. Perhaps we could also speak of hybrid media: Individual “influencers” with audiences numbering in the millions. Online forums that subvert the status quo and utilize new blockchain technology to circumvent established channels of communication (and power) entirely. Anonymous “actors” who sway the tide of public opinion.

A single policy change may touch millions of lives (for better or worse), but so can a single viral article.

So, what do we do with that power? I am refining my answer to that question day by day. This new media is a masterless force, and I hope I can have a tiny, tiny role in directing its course—by adding my own voice to the multitudes and advocating for tolerance, understanding, equality, love, and curiosity, and by supporting individuals to find their voices and harness their experience for positive change.

The theories and paradigms I have studied so far paint an excellently accurate picture of the “world as it is,” but I am more interested in the “world as it could be.”

It is critical that we see things as they are if we wish to shape them to a vision of how they could be—absolutely. Frameworks and theories are useful tools for organizing practice, innovating solutions. Yet, as Einstein (or, it may have been Mark Twain) famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

From where I sit, even new theories look suspiciously similar to old ones. Human-centric. Stubbornly rooted in a Western paradigm. Of limited relevance to the average human being.

The extraordinary young entrepreneurs I met in South Africa, in Kenya, in Zanzibar do not need our theories. Are they not already doing more than any of us to promote peace in their communities? The writers I have worked with for years, supporting them to share stories of trauma, of sexual abuse, of mental disorder, may or may not agree with Kant’s theories on peace, but they are practicing peace—and inspiring others to do the same.

The yoga students in my classes do not need theories of transformation to transform.

The lesson is in the practice.

None of this is to discount the value of large-scale institutions, nor the power of structural change. Indeed, transformation must occur at all levels—for instance, nations signing onto the Paris Agreement; big business investing in corporate responsibility; entrepreneurs pursuing eco-restorative initiatives and non-traditional models of growth; and individuals committing to drastic changes in lifestyle.

But while the knowledge I have gained in the past three weeks is undoubtedly valuable as such, my work is not there at the level of state actors and UN resolutions.

My work is not theoretical—or, I do not want it to be.

I find it impossible to understand how my actions, here at the most micro of levels, have any bearing on these expansive theories.

And that’s okay.

There are seven billion of us here on the planet, and more on the way. There is no shortage of shoes to fill.


Adapted from a (perhaps overly honest) final reflection paper for my recent course at UPEACE.

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light
Central America, Nature

Pure Light, Pure Life: A Costa Rica Snapshot

At the edge of Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica, in 6 am light

The light falling through my windows at 6 am cleans the sleep from my eyes.

I study how it falls on the striped tablecloth, on the laundry hanging on the porch, on the dishes in the rack by the sink, now dry.

This light has weight. Depth. And levity.

As I walk through it to bring my compost to the pile at the edge of my yard, the light transforms the ordinary into magic. Last night’s rain glistens on blades of grass, hibiscus flowers, palm fronds. The air itself breathes, infused with life, illuminated.

The mossy track up the hill to the road could lead anywhere, in this light.

Portals could appear around the bend, elves could shimmy down the velvety rays, and I would not be surprised.

This 6 am, 7 am, 8 am clarity washes away the dark and the rain and the heaviness of the night before. It redeems the incessancy of the September rains. One could take flight in it; its very existence defies the gravity of the season, washes the soul, and lifts the spirit, suspending it in lush, velvet lucidity for the rest of the day.

And this 6 am tableau expands to touch all the senses. Birdsong rides upon the coattails of the light, insisting that all who hear it enter into the day. It is more effective than any alarm. Moths who stumbled inside at midnight, addled by electric bulbs, buzz now at the windows, anxious to rejoin the jungle. Close behind the birdsong sings the scent of dawn—wet earth and drip-drying branches—with the promise of a fresh beginning.

Amnesiac mornings, yesterday forgotten.

And within the light that trails the birdsong that carries the wet earth smell, a prescience of the daytime heat to come. Already, nighttime chill begins to dissolve. Cool tiles underfoot raise goosebumps, and the air is just brisk enough that one feels compelled to carry a sweater, which will be obsolete within hours.

Finally, the taste of 6 am light—because sunlight like this has flavour just as it has weight… dark green, a little bit dusty, rich and smooth on the tongue like homemade whipped cream. Or sweet and bright like ripe pineapple. Or tart and effervescent like good champagne.

It lingers. Leaves an impression.

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Pure life, this light.

But I don’t think there is anything particularly rare about it. Surely you could find light like this—uplifting and exquisite and soft to the touch—anywhere. Not only in Costa Rica. Not only in the jungle.

I think, though I have no proof, that we can find this light whenever we open space to it. When we slow down our mornings to hear it, deepen our gaze to observe it, stick out our tongue to taste it…

Sunlight everywhere reaches out its fingertips, nudges the soul to take wing, offers prayers for a velvet, amnesiac morning.

Pure life—

Not a destination, but a way of beginning.

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On Growing Wings & The Value of Figuring It Out for Yourself

wings

I have the clearest memory of asking my father for help tying my shoes.

I was sitting on the bottom step of our unfinished basement—I must have been around four years old—trying to remember something about a rabbit and a hole. And there was my father, who already had all the knowledge I needed about shoelaces and rabbits; he could help me.

But instead he said, “You can tie your shoes yourself.”

And I did.

Maybe that memory is real. Maybe my mind constructed it out of dozens of memories like it. I don’t think it matters.

My parents pushed me to “tie my own shoes” throughout my childhood in countless ways, large and small. It’s one of the gifts for which I’m most grateful. Without a doubt there is a fine balance between holding a child’s hand and pushing them out into the world alone. I have no idea what that balance is—one of many reasons I’m not a parent.

As an adult, I’ve made a religion of self-sufficiency. Perhaps I’ve taken it to too much of an extreme, but that is what I have done. Solo travel, distance walks, one-way flights to countries where I know nobody, constant seeking for edges—my own, and the world’s…

Some people are adrenaline junkies. The Unknown gives me my high.

When I moved to Cape Town for the first time in early 2016, I didn’t know anyone there. I came with a name—a friend of a friend—and an address. When I found out that the house I’d already paid a deposit on was nowhere near the center of the city, I hitchhiked my way to climbing gyms, dance classes, and cozy cafes until I figured out the informal shared taxis.

Would it have been easier to have friends, family, or resources at my disposal, ready to give me rides, show me the ropes of a chaotic transport system, and introduce me to new friends? I’m sure it would have—but then, would I have learned as much?

I’m a firm believer that we grow fastest and fly farthest when we push ourselves well beyond our comfort zones. Experience has taught me a key paradox to traveling (and living) in a state of discovery: To thrive outside our comfort zone, we must trust, absolutely, that we can thrive outside our comfort zone. But to truly believe in our capacity for flight, we have to fly.

In essence:

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” — Kurt Vonnegut

Now, there are a few key elements to this jumping-off-cliffs-and-growing-wings business…

First, that balance. We are none of us an island, as a wise writer once said, more or less. For every cliff we jump off alone, there may well be another to whom we say, “not today,” and third on which we find a companion to hold our hand on the way down. Balance.

Second, support. While my parents were teaching me to tie my own shoes, they were also giving me love and support every step of the way. I am blessed to know that my family and friends are always there, ready to cheer me on when I fly, or pick me up if I take any knocks on the way down. Family, friends, community—a support system, even if we never call on it, makes it so much easier to jump.

Third, will. You could argue that personality or background determine our ability to grow wings, and I would disagree with you. While stubbornness is my dominant personality trait, and I don’t like following directions, I have met so many others far more resourceful than I, of every possible personality type and cultural background. I don’t believe it is personality; it’s will. Tautological though it may sound, to figure it out for yourself, you have to want to figure it out for yourself.

To grow wings, you have to grow wings.

Easy?

Wrong question. It’s possible, and that’s really all we need to know.

Happy flying!


Many thanks to a good friend here in Costa Rica, whose conversation on this subject pushed me to articulate what exactly I think about it!

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