Category Archives: ontario

Being Mindful of Transgressions

Friends,

The video counterpart for this post can be found here.

A few years back I attended a Vipassana meditation retreat in Cooksville, Ontario. It was a ten-day retreat based on the teachings of S.N. Goenka, and in addition to the long hours of meditation there were also a series of observances each attendee was required to accept. The complete list escapes me, but the most important ones were: no talking, no electronics, no eating of meat, no killing another living creature, no meals after midday and NO STEALING. Quite unexpectedly, this last observance was problematic for me and breaking this guideline led to perhaps my greatest lesson about mindfulness,

It was late February and snowy during the retreat and when entering the meditation hall we would ditch our jackets and boots in the foyer area which would, not surprisingly, get wet and dirty. At one point I was the last one into the hall and since the outer door was ajar and my own boots were a pain to slip on and off, I slipped into someone else’s boots to close the door. Instantly, and very unexpectedly I was overcome with a feeling of guilt; I had just stolen.

Was it temporary theft? Yes, only three to five seconds.

Did it cause any deprivation? No, the owner of the shoes was already in the hall starting his practice.

Was it for a good purpose? Yes, I was closing the door to keep us all warm.

But I knew all of that didn’t matter from a morality perspective.

Now, at this point I want to reiterate that I don’t really buy into morality myself, but I still was troubled because the person who owned the boots likely did. And this transgression, paltry and trifling though it may have been, was still an act of theft.

I brought this up to one of the meditation leaders, Bob at the next day’s optional counseling session. He was shocked when I mentioned I had stolen but as he heard me out he asked if, out in the real world I would have thought twice about slipping on those shoes. I told him “probably not.” According to him, it was a good thing to have happened because it showed that I was starting to think in more mindful terms, looking at the implications of my actions and considering the damage they could do in their ultimate expressions (i.e. larger theft, mugging or the taking of life-giving essentials). For me, it was an important beginning of looking at the things I was doing in my life and extrapolating them out to their logical conclusions and ultimate ends.

I think that very often we glaze over the fact that we let our ends justify our means because the negative means we employ on a day-to-day basis very often seem so trifling and paltry. For example, we would all likely have at least some compunction about taking a life, even if it was for the positive end of saving many. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s called empathy and it’s a good thing. However, our empathy is rarely sensitive or trained enough to consider that even something comparatively benign, say the act of marking up a price so that you can feed your own family, even that is a negative means for an ostensibly positive end. It is causing deprivation to one group to alleviate the deprivation of another. Survival at the expense of others cheapens the lives of all.

I don’t mean to come down on anyone here who has to eke out their survival at the expense of others. If that was my intent, I would be coming down on everyone including myself; such is the nature of our competitive socio-economic system: we are all complicit in instituting deprivation against each other. Nor do I mean to give a scathing indictment of our current scarcity-based socio-economic system; I have done that ad nauseum and I will certainly do so again at certain points in the future. Rather, I simply mean to shed light on the fact that we should be mindful of our actions, no matter how trifling or benign they seem and be aware that if those actions were amplified by orders of magnitude, they just might be more violent and deprivation-causing than we realize.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo
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One Night as an Illegal Alien

Friends,

This past weekend, Toronto hosted World Pride 2014 and good times were had by all (except for the drunk, gay couple yelling at each other on Church & Gerrard on Sunday night). If you fancied yourself too cool for a free street festival/concert with nudity and instead had money just burning a hole in your pocket however, you might have instead attended BUD LIGHT DIGITAL DREAMS, as I did on Saturday.
Now I don’t want to badmouth the event; there were some  impressive stages and great music. However, shit got derailed before you even entered the venue by virtue of the arduous set of hoops to jump through that was the admissions process. In brief, if you purchased a ticket online, you had to print off a confirmation which you then had to show at one booth in order to get your ticket, which you then had to take to another booth to get your BRACELET, which carried with it admission privileges and concession stand access.
Foolishly thinking that the $100+ we paid for our tickets* went in part to ensure a smooth, well-oiled in-clearance, we showed up at 5pm expecting to pick up our tickets within a half hour and go from there.
Two hours later and we had moved a few feet.
It was at this point that my friend, Shane suggested I go take a break from the line-up, which I did. I walked for a bit along some eight-foot high fences until I came to a park and laid under a tree planning my next move. Nothing came to me, and it occurred to me that with Shane’s phone dying and me being gone for so long I should probably get back tot he line-up lest they make it in without me.
But I saw a curious thing as walked back along the eight-foot fences: a stretch of about 100m with no security or police officers patrolling it. Then another curious-er thing: drunk people with only the most rudimentary of climbing skill hopping the fence.
Well, I wasn’t drunk and I climb regularly so I really had no excuse not to hop the fence (I had paid money for a ticket after all). So I found myself being put to a decision for all my chips: I either balked and shambled regretfully back to my spot in line to wait with all the other human livestock or risk getting arrested at 29 for sneaking into an all-ages (well 16+ anyhow) concert.
I think we know what choice I made:

photo (2)
Happy like a Mexican who just evaded border patrol!

Shit was Iiiight!! Sure, I was a little bummed out that Shane was still waiting in line but we’re good enough buddies that I knew he wouldn’t begrudge me for doing something wacky and irrational; I learned that from him after all.
Now I was set: I had two bottles of water in my cargoes (ALWAYS…WEAR…CARGOES), one remaining “party favour” and enough money to get me by at any concert…OH SHIT!; I didn’t have a bracelet. 100 bucks in my wallet and I couldn’t spend a dime of it, except perhaps in the black market (drugs). For to engage vendors without a bracelet, would be like trying to engage an employer without a SIN/SSN: Best case scenario they tell you to fuck off; worst-case scenario that call the authorities on you.
And what of the authorities? Well, failure to present a bracelet in that microcosm of society would be akin to not presenting any ID or proof of citizenship in the real world. Incarceration and/or deportation (ejection from the venue). Hell, even an injury that sent me to the paramedics would get me ID’d as an illegal and I would face the long dick of justice after my recovery.
So I did what any stateless/illegal alien would do: Kept my hands in my pockets and did my dirt on the DL.
After an initial two hours of fighting my way to the front of the mainstage I got a hankering to look for my brother who was managing the Bacardi tent. And while I never found that dude, it did give me cause to explore the grounds. During my exploration, I distinctly remember my heart skipping a beat when I saw choke-point where people en route to other parts of the venue were getting a little congested. Whence cometh this heart-skippery? Well, it occurred to me that much like the draconian mobility restrictions placed on Chinese and Soviet people in the past, the authorities might be checking bracelets before allowing access to other areas.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case, and neither my mobility nor my access to water was hampered due to plentiful hydration stations which had no bracelet checks either.
At my most jaded point in the evening it occurred to me that, short of waiting in line till my balls fell past my knees, all of my citizenship bracelet problems could simply be solved with lots of money; whether that meant bribing vendors to look the other way or going through official routes, like for example leaving the venue and spending egregious amounts for a VIP pass which would allow me to bypass the line-up at customs the admissions tent. Is that an overly cynical perspective? Maybe, but I’ll refer you to the homie Shawn Carter, for an interesting perspective on the matter:

“Everything’s for sale,
I got five passports; I’m never goin to jail.”
-Jay-Z, Otis

The reality is that money solves most problems** and since anyone can, in theory, get enough money to solve all of their worldly problems, everyone should do so. But here’s the problem:

Anyone =/= Everyone

Unless you’re one of the monied few like Jigga, you’re often S.O.L. when it comes to quick and expedient access to goods, accommodations and as I found out this Saturday, a bit of Earth to shake my ass on.
I’ll leave you with a final thought: Have you ever trespassed or been somewhere you weren’t supposed to be doing something you weren’t supposed to do? It was exciting wasn’t it? That excitement wears off however, when the care you must take not to get discovered interferes with your day-to-day life. Sadly, this is the predicament of what I conservatively estimate to be millions of people on the planet who are forced to live an illicit life because someone or some agency has presumed to tell them that they could not be somewhere that they desired to be anyway.
We really need to reflect on our sad tendency to deny poor people’s*** access to parts of our planet that are, in reality part of our shared heritage as human beings.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

*We paid $140 for one-day passes on Kijiji at the last minute
**It is actually people who solve most problems, but most of them “hop for cash, bitch!” (sic.)
***We’re all “poor” people on some level=> “You ain’t never rich in this world.” –It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, DMX

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Sharing Scraps

My Friends,
   An earlier post from today detailed one part of my adventures from yesterday regarding the aftermath of a traffic collision.  This post could be considered its direct sequel, or perhaps a spiritual successor in that its concerns so-called “good intentions.”  However, in this case it was less about people using good intent as a mask for petty, retributive malice, and more about people honestly believing they were doing right and being obstinate toward the suggestion that there efforts might be misguided.
   As I walked away from the scene of the aforementioned collision,

More or less, exactly what I looked like walking away except I wasn’t wearing a leather jacket.

I approached that bastion of upscale retail, Jackson Square.  For those not familiar with Hamilton, Ontario, that would be sarcasm.
   Anyhow as I approached it I noticed two reps from “Because I am a Girl” soliciting sponsorship for third world girls.  One girl called to me as I was crossing the street.  I supposed I looked like an easy mark for a charity as my attire (yoga pants, yoga mat on backpack, FiveFingers shoes, lilac-coloured bandana and skateboard in tow) bespoke a left-leaning individual burdened with a goodly amount of liberal guilt.
   I let her run her pitch to me about some girl from whereverthefuck-istan who, through the efforts (money) of sponsors had risen to become the first female lawyer in her proud country.  FTR I don’t think too much of the legal profession but for this girl’s sake and since we were about to butt heads on more important issues I feigned like I was impressed by this young 3rd world girl’s achievement.  
   The chick giving me the speech, let’s call her Mary Sue, gave me the full sales pitch which included well-worn lines like:
“I’m gonna level with you, we’re out here fundraising today”
“It’s really not so much about the money” (a direct contradiction to the first line)
“Have you ever been to a developing country?” (I guess this was used as an icebreaker to gain my empathy)
When she had exhausted her supply of anecdotal stories about minor achievements in third world shit-holes (with me, all the while smiling politely and trying not to come off like a smug, cynical asshole ) she came out with it and asked me if I would like to support her cause.
I don’t know if she was taken aback by my frankness, but she asked me why so I began asking her why the hypothetical street girl turned lawyer was impoverished and she told me something indistinct about not enough schools.  When I asked her why there were no schools she said there was no one to build them.  I of course, asked why and she said she didn’t know and asked me if I knew.  Without getting too in-depth I explained (none too eloquently, as if often the case when your audience is not receptive) that the reasons for the impoverishment of the third world were structural and that in-the-box solutions like charities only helped a sick system limp on a little longer when it should be allowed to fail.  As I explained this her eyes seemed to glaze over.  I went on to talk about just like there was absolute poverty in some parts of the world there was relative poverty here in Canada which was also structural. Not grasping the distinction between absolute and relative, she started protesting that noone in Canada or the US was starving and they all had a place to sleep if they wanted it.  I wasn’t about to argue her on this point but I felt tempted to say “google any number of Indian reservations or Camden, NJ, or Detroit, MI or Baltimore, MD or Florida slavery.”  I didn’t mention these things because I wasn’t wanting to convey the notion that we should focus on domestic problems at the expense of international ones (the Libertarian platform) but rather that things are tough all over and that all of these problems are connected.  
   Like I said though she was unreceptive, and though the conversation remained cordial I don’t feel I expressed myself well.  The tragedy of the situation is that the world needs good people like her, filled with passionate intensity to do the right thing, but it needs them to be better educated about causality and what leads to poverty, crime, violence, and the abuse of females.  
   Me throwing what limited money I have at the problem is not gonna solve the problem.   That doesn’t mean that we should never use our monetary resources to help others.  By all means, buy someone a sandwich or a coffee or whatever, but understand that the more valuable gift is your time.  Real charity, that is to say, charity that actively works to bring about the day where charity is no longer required, does not require large, established foundations to redistribute cancerous debt-based currency after it has taken its cut.  It simply requires good, educated people to take account of the eventualities of their actions and modify their behaviour accordingly.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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I Know What I Like

My Friends,
   Yesterday I met up with my father in Toronto and we attended the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).  I had never been before and there was a collection on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York which he was adamant about seeing.  The feature was called “Abstract Expressionist New York,” and I would recommend it for anyone who likes to have no idea what they are looking at.  Among these American Expressionists, or The Irascibles as the program called them, the most well known was probably Jackson Pollock.
   Now I’d seen Pollock’s trademark “drip” work in textbooks and it always struck me as not overly skillful, but I wanted to go in there with an open mind.  The first and most prominently displayed of Pollock’s works was perhaps his most famous, “Number 1A, 1948”

I approached this painting with a kind of “alright, let’s see what all the fuss is about” attitude and proceeded to stand rapt in front of it for about five minutes just taking it all in.  I admit that I stood there partly because I had the sense that I should really try and appreciate something so famous, but there was also a genuine attraction to it.  Something about the painting was just so much more than a Tremclad Golgothan having diarrhea on canvas; it spoke to me in a way I can’t explain.  And what people who see pictures of the painting can not appreciate is that the textures and three-dimensional aspects have so much to contribute to the overall experience.  For example, certain big globs of paint were poured onto the painting and left to dry as such leaving a protruding blob.  Another thing which caught my eye was the smear of magenta in the bottom left corner.  I started looking for more traces of this colour throughout the rest of the painting but was unable to find any which gave rise to a certain curiosity in me regarding Pollock’s choice to use it so sparingly.  Overall I can not say that the painting elicited a particular, nameable emotion but it had my attention, and with a nondescript name like Number 1A, 1948, that’s all the painting asked of me.
   One more of Pollock’s paintings had my attention, “The Stenographic Man,”

I spent a good deal of time examining this painting and the two weird robot-looking people looking like they are having an argument within.  To begin with I wasn’t aware that Pollock had strayed much beyond his drip-painting technique so this challenged my expectations.  Secondly, to me there is an aspect of the future in this painting (maybe than for no other reason than the characters in it look vaguely like automatons) and futurism is a genre/style which appeals to me.  The use of colour more than the textures caught my eye in this instance (but again, sadly, google images does not do it justice): To put it into perspective, in a room full of Pollock’s masterpieces, this one commanded my attention.
   I think I have a greater respect for Pollock than I did earlier.  I suppose I always suspected that there was something to his work which had to be appreciated firsthand.  Having now seen some of it I can attest to this fact.  Remember, a ticket to an art gallery is never money wasted.
Stay Thisrty
-Andre Guantanamo

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Breaking the Ice

My Friends,
   Today in preparation for an upcoming excursion around the globe I ventured to the travel clinic to receive vaccinations.  Whilst waiting in the aptly named “waiting room” I overheard a frustrated, middle-aged receptionist commiserating with her co-worker about patients demanding estimations of expected wait times over the phone.  “The wait will last until someone calls you in,” she went on, speaking the words she wished she could have said to the caller instead of the more placating answer she likely gave him.  The great irony in this is that noone, the receptionist included, wants their time wasted.  So we cannot fault someone for trying to plan their day and asking for a time estimation; but should we indulge them?
   I understand the importance of timings; they provide structure and allow the world as we know it to function (for better or worse) but for far too many people (regrettably, myself included more often than not), life is nothing but a series of timings: be at work for 9, pick up the kids at 6, dinner at 630.  It all seems a little mundane but we can justify it because we all think we are working for something better.
   Do you know what that “better” is?  I do.  It is the day when we don’t have to have our timings dictated to us and we are free to live as we please.  But we’ll never get there.  Because as stultifying to our flourishing existence on this planet as the rigidity of timings is, it also provides a modicum of security and stability; two things people feel lost without.  Therefore, people, even those who answer to noone, will always be slaves to the self-imposed rigidity of timings because it is, like a well-worn pair of underwear that has served you well, something that is difficult to part with.
   I opt to go without the proverbial underwear and forsake these timings.  If I must rush for something, let it be something I eagerly anticipate.  If I am late for something they will wait for me or they won’t; either way, I’ll be fine.  If I am early for something that gives me extra time to read something interesting or plot an escape route should things get out of hand (depending on the type of appointments you book). In short, inasmuch as possible, we should be attempting to throw off the twin yokes of imposed timings and obligations and revel in the time we can free up for ourselves.  If we don’t learn to live life on our own schedule now we will never know how to do it.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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