Mezcal Prose/5 Facts About Mexico

AGAVE

When I planned this article, I wanted to incorporate a mezcal-fueled rambling. I have two reasons for this. Firstly, I am incredibly and romantically inclined to mezcal. I regard it as the finest drink in the world. If you are not familiar with it, it is essentially a smoked tequila. The traditions of roasting agave goes back to Aztec time. It is one of our connections to the old and mysterious. As someone who moved from the deciduous beaches of Long Island to the Sonoran Desert, I take absolute joy in Southwestern refinements.
Secondly, I’m heavily influenced by the Beat generation. Beat writers like Kerouac and Burroughs draw heavily on improvisation and streams of consciousness. They also thought Mexico was something spectacular. If you haven’t checked out Mexico City Blues, do yourself a favor and read it without distraction.

Here it is, a mezcal prose ramble…

The lattice of the sea holds in itself a miraculous geometry. Dilapidated shelves that are landmasses lie underneath the sea. They bring about the prehistoric silence that precedes the pachucos and pencil skirts above them. Love is an absolution that cannot be sequestered. I hold in my hands a dialectic prose that can inspire millions within this generation. Martyrs and Magrittes hold apples that may never be understood, a biological vessel into sin and obstruction. Decades of discovery lead to this: words on a page from a student of poets and sages. I value mystery as much as I embrace confusion. The convergence of thought and miracle, a gazing upon the hazy skies. My beautiful woman looks at me as I throw my passions upon her. I make sure she feels the delight and excitement that I have been blessed with from years of wisdom and heartfelt sorrow.

5 Facts About Mexico

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Paz was arguably the greatest Mexican writer in history. He incorporated utopianism, philosophy, Aztec art, Japanese poetic forms, sexuality, Hinduism, politics, so on and so on. A brilliant literary figure, this is what University of Arizona press had to say about him:
By the time he had won the Nobel Prize in literature, he was considered a giant. He was equally at ease discussing T. S. Eliot and Buddhism, the Aztec Empire, Japanese haiku, the balkanization of the former USSR, and the tortuous modernity of Latin America. In an era of obnoxious specialists who know more about less, his cosmopolitanism, his capacious eye, made him a rara avis.
“The Labrynth of Solitude” is a notable work that consists of Paz’s meditations on the identity of Mexico. It is a great combination of prose work and social critique.

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Reading this Breitbart article, you’d think that going to Mexico was a suicide mission. They report that 181 Americans died by homicide in Mexico since 2013. Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? And granted, more Americans are murdered in Mexico than any other country. But at the same time, more Americans go to Mexico than any other country.
It was reported that 7.86 million Americans visited Mexico between Jan. and Oct. of 2016. With this number growing at about 12% each year, that means over 20,864,000 people visited Mexico from the United States since 2013.
181 is .000087% of 20.864 million.

These deaths are tragic losses, and I send my respects out to the victims’ families. But these are relatively rare cases, given these numbers. Though I like to think I’m courageous, going south of the border is just not as risky as it seems

If you are planning to go to Mexico, do make sure you bring protection for your eyes. If you’re like me, you probably spend under $20 for shades. I found this site that has an awesome selection:

Hundreds of Styles $20 or less – SunglassWarehouse.com

Capture

You’re welcome.

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People aren’t exactly sure where the word ultimately comes from. It translates literally to “plug” or “wad.” Makes sense? Kind of…

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The Mexican banda ensemble often incorporates a sousaphone (tuba relative pictured above), drums, and cymbals. This instrumentation dates back to the 1880’s, when droves of German immigrants were settling in Mexico. They introduced military bands to states including Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Sinoloa.

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In 2011 Forbes declared Carlos Slim Helú as the wealthiest person in the world, with his worth estimated at $74 billion USD. He would hold this title the next year after adding over another billion to that figure.

Carlos Slim, a Lebanese-Mexican magnate, owns America Movil, Latin America’s biggest mobile telecom company. Carlos Slim opened Latin America’s largest aquarium in 2014, and to this day, he records all of his financial data by hand.

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An Evening with P.H. Naffah (of Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers)

The guys from the RCPM (Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers) are true class. The whole context for this article began when a couple of members, P.H. Naffah (drummer) and Nick Scropos (bassist), took time out to help with the Wedding Therapist‘s music therapy group (for Higher Octave Healing). She relayed to me how helpful and enthusiastic they were, and also that they invited us to a Strolling Bones event.

P.H., Nick, Josh Kennedy (of the Black Moods), Marc Norman (Ghetto Cowgirl), and Thomas Laufenberg (Ghetto Cowgirl) comprise the Strolling Bones, an exciting overdrive-fueled Rolling Stones tribute band based in Phoenix/Tempe.
The Strolling Bones performed a nice eclectic compilation of Stones songs, from popular hits like Brown Sugar to lesser-known gems like Monkey Man. The delivery was energetic and dynamic. A Crossroads-style guitar duel was a nice injection into the set. Roger Clyne took to the stage to join them for a heart-pumping rendition of Jumping Jack Flash. The entire event was put on to benefit GiGi’s Playhouse, an organization dedicated to the well-being of people with Down Syndrome.

After the show, P.H. has some words to say to #HMPYG:

“Thanks for listening if you know who we are. I don’t blame ya if you don’t (smiles). But, give us a listen and you might like us!”

You gotta love the modesty. As the man said, if you’ve never checked out RCPM, do so now. I’ve added a few tracks to our Spotify playlist (Mekong has been a longtime favorite of mine). A special thanks to P.H. for his kindness and generosity!

 

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The Wedding Therapist is a wedding planner/music therapist based in Phoenix, AZ.

What Causes Trance States in African Drum Rituals?

Rhythm-induced trance is one of the many documented modes of altered states of consciousness. It has been subject to much scrutiny in research, and often coincides with spirit possession in sacred African dance rituals. Spirit possession, where one experiences spirits controlling his/her mind and body, is a common feature in cultures worldwide. Is the trance state caused by spirit possession, or can it be explained by science?

The context of trance possession varies between different ceremonies and cultures. Steven M. Friedson (1996) describes, in detail, his experience in Malawi with the Tumbuka people, a Bantu speaking group known for their expertise in healing. Their healing rituals are characterized by all-night sessions with continuous drumming and singing. A learned healer is commissioned to facilitate these sessions, and oversees spirit possessions occurring in the group. Friedson describes the ritual as follows:

This kind of spirit-possession trance [in which the conscious will is taken over by the spirit] usually occurs during the treatment phase, when the particular drum modes are sounded. Following homeopathic principles, the drum modes resonate with the particular mode of the vimbuza spirit, heating it past a critical threshold into the world of living. It is during this musical treatment that the vimbuza takes over the personality of the patient and “comes out,” expressing themselves through the vimbuza dance. – Steven Friedson, Dancing Prophets, p. 114

A possession ritual in Liberia, however, looks pretty different. Ceremonies may last only a couple of hours. It is much more based in Christianity, where congregates dress in all white, chant psalms after possession, and claim to be in contact with God. The rhythm on the drum is monotonous, and doesn’t use specific modes as in the Tumbuka ceremony. What this ceremony does have in common with the former is the trance state itself. People convulse, dissociate from themselves, and feel a loss of conscious control.

Some say that trance states are the result of drumming’s effects on the central nervous system. Andrew Neher, a researcher from the 60s, is one of these people. The point is made that multiple frequencies of drums activates multiple neural pathways, similar to light frequencies. Rhythmic light induces similar brain patterns to drumming, where brain waves respond to amplitude and frequency of the stimulus (aka visual/auditory driving). Brain wave frequency is noted to be in between 8 and 13 cycles per second, varying between individuals, but stays constant in the individual himself. Several ceremonies in Africa are noted to have rhythmic frequencies between 7 and 9 cycles per second. The rhythms in these ceremonies are often slowly increased, eventually matching everyone’s individual brain frequencies. The body’s stress increases the release of adrenaline and decreases blood glucose, resulting in the release of adrenochrome, a substance chemically related to hallucinogens.

These trances can also be a result of highly focused attention. Long term potentiation (LTP) is the continuous activation of neural networks that strengthen and reinforce cognitive processes. Different states of consciousness activate different sets of neural networks, or tunings, made possible by LTP. In this interpretation, trance possession is not translated as a reduction in brain activity, but rather as an alternative brain function. This is comparable to REM sleep (dream sleep), where the brain shows patterns of working thought despite an individual being asleep and not fully conscious.

Though we have these theories, scientists are limited in their understanding. One reason is because you can’t really put on an African dance ritual in the lab. Also, there are limits in our knowledge and understanding of the human brain. Though many theories have been put forth, such as the “tuning” of neural networks, they are difficult to test. New theories are coming out often to debunk previous ones and there is no absolute true theory to human brain science.

But maybe the trances are the work of spirits?

For a full research analysis, Advocating for an Interdisciplinary Approach (for Studying Trance States in African Drumming Rituals) is available in PDF. Please consider donating $6 for this download.

Also, I recommend that you blast some funky rhythms with these speakers:

Edifier M3200 Multimedia Speakers

On Being a Therapist

  A 21 year old man screams, shouting that no one will ever understand the hurt he feels from being conceived from rape. He’s been a targeted murder victim over five times. His voice is starting to strain from over three hours of yelling.

  I stand to the side, interjecting that we should take another walk. He’s standing over his girlfriend, continuing to yell as she lays on the couch ignoring him.

  This is how our session began, and it will end with him walking off in the distance. I’m not sure whether he’ll find a place to stay, go back home later and make amends, or kill himself somehow. Such is the experience of a therapist. No matter what I see, however, what I feel will never amount to the lifetime of excruciating experiences people like him endure.

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Casual weeping/reflections/Threnody for the victims of hiroshima/Ultimate beauty

  Two of the greatest things you can do is help others and live temporarily in the wilderness. As I sit in the backseat of a Jeep, I think about the pines we’ll soon be sleeping under. My wife points out that a song playing on the radio is about domestic violence. My mind returns to the ugliness of the day prior, where clumps of hair laid on the floor because of escalated emotion and ferocity. I start to weep, a single tear leaking from my eye. My wife wipes it, thinking it’s eye irritation. I point out yucca plants along the road to shift my flow of thought. 

  As a therapist, I have to make sure I write down these experiences. I have to watch my drinking, making sure my imbibing isn’t the way I’m coping. As a lover of spicy bourbons and smoky mezcal, this can be tricky. I have to meditate, I have to exercise, I have to set limits, and I have to continue actively finding the beauty in life. 

  Being around the harsh realities of the world, you begin to really understand cacophonous music. Take this piece for example, titled for the victims of Hiroshima:

A lot of people hate this piece. I find catharsis in it. We need art like this to feel understood. The squeals and disharmony are a direct reflection of pain. Pain that’s like a pummeled eagle with mangled wings.

  I love being a therapist. I would never have made so many intimate connections otherwise. Intimate connections that are like flowery blooms on a desert cactus. The therapeutic relationship is a basis for organic growth, and ultimately beauty. Whether it’s a song I worked on with a client, watching them get excited for the first time in weeks, or simultaneously admiring a rap video, I smile, and they smile. Whatever pain that precedes us, there is opportunity for healing ahead.

The Hidden Hippie Oasis Down Under

Written by Danielle Peters

Spending a semester in Australia left me with a bunch of new friends, a lifetime of memories, and a bunch of new “favorite places.” One of the places I loved the most (and visited frequently) was Byron Bay, New South Wales.

If you told me my college orientation trip would consist of a bar crawl, skydiving, and tripping on acid at a bonfire with Aboriginal people, I wouldn’t have believed you for a minute. Little did I know, that was what was in store when it came to a weekend in Byron.

The trip started out like any other, packed on a coach bus with a bunch of college kids, passing vodka around in a sports bottle, eagerly awaiting to see this place the brochures spoke so highly of. I knew Byron Bay as the home of Parkway Drive, one of my favorite bands growing up. But I had no clue it was also the hippie capital of the Australia until one of the kids mentioned we’d have a much easier time finding weed over there than in Surfer’s Paradise, where we lived. He wasn’t kidding. The second we stepped off the bus and walked towards the hostel the aroma of marijuana filled the air, no one was wearing shoes, and everything was tie-dye. I knew instantly I was going to like it here.

Immediately, we were led to a trail to do some hiking. I’m not much of a hiker, and was violently hung over, but the trail was absolutely beautiful. We hiked up to the Cape Byron Lighthouse, “The Most Easterly Point of the Australian Mainland.” The sight was stunning.

 

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Here’s one of my favorite parts of the hike, about halfway to the lighthouse. I was dry heaving at this point.

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Cape Byron Lighthouse: Worth the hike no matter how many Redbull vodkas you had the night before.

After getting back to the hostel I decided to do some exploring. Since I didn’t know anyone, I grabbed a book and headed to the nearest smoothie shop (the little town had at least 10), ordered an acai bowl and sat down to read. I had a small conversation with the guy making my acai bowl and he told me about all the cool spots that Byron had to offer. He told me about Cheeky Monkey’s, Woody’s, and The Sticky Wicket. Coincidentally, that’s what our tour guide had on the itinerary that night. He assured me he would see me later at one of those bars, and told me to have a nice trip.

The tour guides were kind enough to throw a little pre-game before we went out to get us all mingling. That’s when I found a friend. Her name was Beki and she was from California. We clicked instantly. We stuck together the rest of the night, and when she got kicked out of Cheeky Monkey’s for filming a wet t-shirt contest we headed to the Sticky Wicket.

Almost immediately, we ran into my smoothie shop friend from earlier in the day. We got to talking and I asked if he had any weed we could buy, as neither of us had smoked good weed since we were in the States (the weed back in Surfer’s was atrocious). He didn’t have any weed, but he did have acid. I was a little hesitant, given my only other experience with acid was in a dank basement, listening to Ja Rule for what seemed like an eternity. But I figured I’d give it another shot in nature, and Beki was game. So we took our hits and took to the beach.

Immediately, we ran into a couple that had set up a bonfire on the beach. They were so warm and welcoming to us and asked us to join. One by one, our bonfire grew. People from all over the world, as well as indigenous to Australia came to enjoy the fire with us. A few of the aboriginal people present brought drums, one kid from the states had a guitar. So that’s how we spent the night, with a bunch of different cultures and a warm fire on the most amazing beach I’ve ever seen in my life. Tripping on acid that we got from the guy at the smoothie shop, and waiting for the sun to rise so we could somehow go skydiving the next morning.

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During my nighttime adventures I lost Beki. I ran into a few kids from Germany I recognized from the hostel and decided to do the lighthouse hike with them again to watch the sunrise. They didn’t speak English the whole time and it definitely tripped me out a bit. I’m sure they thought there was something wrong with me.

 


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I made it! Extremely sleep deprived and coming down from my trip, but still one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Over the course of five months I would return to Byron Bay four more times, and each time I was amazed. There’s plenty more that amazing town has to offer but if you ever make it out to Australia you have to see for yourself. Check out the Adventure Dudes and I can guarantee you they’ll make it a trip you’ll never forget.

 

This is Danielle Peters’ first feature article for #HMPYG!

 

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Desert Ecological Experiment or Tourist Trap? (Arcosanti)

The I-17 in Arizona connects Phoenix to three notable cities: Flagstaff, Prescott, and Sedona. These three destinations are each incredible in their own right. You experience majestic views of red rock, peaceful pine forests, and hundreds of hiking trails.
On the way North, you pass by an unnoticeable exit, Arcosanti Rd. This leads to Arcosanti itself, an experimental desert community developed by the brains of Paolo Soleri. Soleri was an Italian architect who came to Arizona to study with the famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. ASU architecture professor, Jeffrey Cook, describes Soleri as a visionary:

“He was part of a flock of utopian dreamers who designed mega-structure cities in the 1960s, but he had more of a social and ecological agenda than the others.”

The goal of Arcosanti is to “actively pursue lean alternatives to urban sprawl based on Paolo Soleri’s theory of compact city design, Arcology (architecture + ecology).” (arcosanti.org)

If you read Soleri’s writings, however, you are left with a sense of confusion and bewilderment. It sounds like he’s trying to say something grandiose, but I’m not really sure the relevance. Here’s an excerpt of one of his writings:

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Visiting Arcosanti, one gets the feeling that its goal is to sell expensive bells. The walls are lined with them, and they each have a price tag.

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Strange bronze castings are up for sale, too.

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Tours also come with a price tag. They’re advertised in pamphlets distributed to lodges across the region. Two-week seminars are held at Arcosanti for $1,075. Granted, you also get dormitory accommodation and food, but it’s hard to imagine someone not benefiting financially. In fact, president Jeff Stein was compensated over $60,000 in 2015. Not bad when you combine that with other writing and public speaking gigs, having travel expenses paid, and having your home paid for (he lives at Arcosanti).

Nevertheless, the development is intriguing. One wonders how much waste we could control if ecology was a top priority in architecture. We’re constantly producing garbage, wasting resources, using toxic chemicals, and practicing poor ecological habits in our homes. It’s truly admirable when anyone tries to tackle these issues. Yet there is still only one Arcosanti in the midst of millions of conventional homes across America.

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Finding Holiness in la Sagrada Família

As we walked down the streets of Barcelona on an early Saturday night, my wife and I had to swerve to avoid a drunken man. He was stumbling, couldn’t fully open his eyes, and held his arms out. His limbs were covered in lacerations and blood. It was around 7 o’clock. Other people parading down the block didn’t seem to care. This absurd scene was violently different than the experiences we had in Assisi, Italy.

In Italy, the cathedrals are quiet and ancient. Often, you are required to cover your shoulders. There’s a sense of modesty and solemnity accompanying many of the holy sites. This wasn’t so with la Sagrada Familia of Barcelona. The line is long outside the front entrance. Video monitors display information in various languages. There’s a grand sense of tourism that makes you feel like you’re at a trendy shark museum.

We had come to la Sagrada Família to admire the famed art and architecture. The structure is astonishing. Rectangular Picasso-esque statues of Christ dot the gargantuan cathedral. The towering steeples are reminiscent of termite nests. I don’t know much about architecture, but any formal knowledge isn’t necessary to admire this Gothic glory:
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I looked at la Sagrada Família as a work of art that had a secondary functioning of being a place of worship. Even as you go inside, the interior is something like a fantastical ice palace. People crowd around selfie sticks, speak at robust volumes, and talk about their lunch plans. As we sat, my wife and I overheard one conversation:

“The bible just doesn’t make sense. It claims to go back many millennia in time, yet says nothing about the dinosaurs.”
“Mm-hm.”
“They teach the kids that Noah brought animals in sets of two. Giraffes, donkeys, lions, and all that kinda stuff. But no dinosaurs on that ark?”
“Ha!”
“It’s just a timeless brainwashin’ of schoolchildren. The book isn’t based in fact at all. We just learn it and accept it without questionin.’ ”

We said nothing and just smiled at each other. I’m not a particularly religious man, nor am I an atheist. I can find humor in biblical fallacies. I also believe in sanctity very much. But this was a demonstration of the absence of sanctity, an outwash by tourism, skepticism, and commerce. The cathedral seemed figuratively plastic.

Then, all thought and contemplation was disrupted.

The sounds of a choral Ave Maria enveloped the cathedral interior. The pitches, balance, and timbre were perfect. I felt a power like my mother’s vast endless adoration, fortuitous rainbows, galactic mystery. My throat swelled and my tear ducts tingled.

This was one of the moments in life that you remember forever. A transcendent experience that stays with you until your last living minute. This was spiritual.

My ideas about la Sagrada Família were transformed. I didn’t know much about Gaudí, but I knew right there and then that he was a holy man. The perfection of that Ave Maria rendition wasn’t a happy accident. I later learned that much thought and planning went into the cathedral’s acoustics. According to MUSMon, a visitor’s guide, the church was constructed in a directly musical way:

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I quietly sob as I write this article, thinking of that moment. Underneath all the marketing and management, La Sagrada Família is a deeply spiritual place. It was made and designed with worship in mind.

Later on in the weekend, my wife and I went to the most unbelievable flamenco show we had ever seen. I sipped whisky and studied the guitarist’s fingers. The dancers displayed a synchronicity that must have taken decades to master. As mind-blowing as this show was, a thought fluttered about the Ave Maria moment. The world is full of marvel and wonder, and I believe that this kind of greatness can be found anywhere on the planet. Despite the magic of ordinary experiences, however, la Sagrada Família will emanate a particularly special harmony for a long, long time.

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