The Thousand Buddhas

The other day, my wife Alexis and I visited the Musée Guimet in Paris. It was a special outing, as we were celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first meeting. The Musée Guimet is a world-class collection of Asian art. It’s spectacular, gorgeous, fantastic, and marvelous, to pluck a quaternity from the Thesaurus (with a capital “T,” of course).

The Musée is off the average tourist’s radar, and at the height of the season you can find yourself alone in there. Just you, the thousand Buddhas, and no one else.

Yes. The thousand Buddhas, also known as the 144,000 Buddhas, the 432,000 Buddhas, the Seven Buddhas, the 12 Buddhas, and the Many-who-are-One. I’m making all of this up, but this proves the very point I’m trying to share with you: We each have our own subjective reality, composed of our perceptions, our filters and blockages, our family histories, our DNA, our Zodiac signs, and our diet among other variables. Alexis and I, together for 25 years and generally attuned to each other, undoubtedly saw two completely different Musées Guimet, two completely different sets of a thousand Buddhas. And my very informal and ignorant Buddhism—the one I’m making up right now—is totally unlike the Dalai Lama’s, for example. Which is totally unlike the Buddhism of any other བླ་མ་. (That’s Tibetan for Lama, but you knew that already, didn’t you?) (You didn’t?)

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Indeed, no two people have ever seen the same Buddha. And if a hundred readers read this blog post, there’ll be a hundred head trips with a hundred minds and hearts making up their own stuff. If you doubt me, share the post with a friend and then get together for drinks, and pick a fight over what the hell this post means.

Acceptance of the subjective dimension—yours and everyone else’s—is a healing process, a coming-to-terms, a letting-go. Since the subjective dimension is the stuff of your daily life, to accept it allows you to inhabit your life more comfortably. Believe it or not, other people are different from you, and they don’t see the world the way you see it, even when they’re standing on the same spot as you, and looking in the same direction. Accept the subjective dimension, and you’ll understand people more easily.

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Also, much as there are a thousand Buddhas, there are a thousand Pedros, a thousand Alexis or Alexises or Alexii, and a thousand of every person. Do your mother and your banker really see the same “you”? Does your mother see the same “you” before and after she takes her meds? As a matter of fact, do you see your own self the same way on Monday morning and on Friday evening?

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At the Musée Guimet, there was a temporary show on the life of the Buddha. Imagine a vast Wikipedia page illustrated with sculptures, freezes, lithographs, parchments, maps, all of it beautifully lit and displayed. You’ll travel in space and time, to north India 2500 years ago. You’ll visit Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Japan, Cambodia, Myanmar, and all points in between. You’ll dwell in princely realms, and you’ll also meet beggars, devils, and The Temptations. Also elephants, and whenever you see elephants they inevitably go pink and on parade. You’ll learn that the Buddha lived 527 lives before he achieved ultimate enlightenment, the containment-that-is-a-propagation, the delightful death.

Here’s a theory: Enlightenment is the recognition that the subjective reality you swear by isn’t Reality. In enlightenment, filters and assumptions and judgments dissipate, and then “you see.” 527 lives at an average of 40 years per life, give or take a month or two? It’s roughly 20,000 years. Start immediately, and you might reduce your sentence by several weeks!

Below is a police lineup of Buddha suspects. Which of these is the actual Buddha, good ol’ Siddhārta Gautama, the flesh-and-bones human being who “committed” Buddhism 2500 years ago?

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 ©2019, Pedro de Alcantara. 

The Dialogue of Differences

An osteopath and a psychoanalyst met in a bar. They shook hands, punched each other in the nose, and rushed out of the bar, swearing and spitting blood, never to see each other again. Afterward, the osteopath needed psychotherapy to deal with the episode, and the psychoanalyst went to see a chiropractor because his neck got out of whack during the fight.

Via The Daily Mail.

Via The Daily Mail.

Well, it probably didn’t happen exactly like that. Maybe they had a few drinks before the punch-out. It’s also possible that after the fight the psychoanalyst went to an osteopath rather than a chiropractor.

But that’s immaterial. The main thing is that people are very, very different one from the other. Different perspectives on life, different theories as to how things work, different priorities. Sometimes the differences mean war, sometimes fruitful dialogue. The one thing that never changes is the fact that people are different.

For the caricatural osteopath of our imagination, your health problems and your blockages in life come from your having fallen awkwardly on your ass when you were twelve years old. The coccyx, the third cervical vertebra, the mandible, the patella—you know. For the psychoanalyst, it’s perfectly obvious that, between your toilet training and your Oedipus Complex, you need seventeen years of psychoanalysis four times a week, cash only, and don’t you dare cancel an appointment, you sonofabitch. I’ll charge you double.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

We all have our priorities and perspectives. It’s like having an operating system for the brain, body, heart, and soul. Windows is different from Mac, and Windows 7 Starter Edition is different from Windows 10. Not only are psychoanalysis and osteopathy wildly divergent in theory and practice; no two psychoanalysts are exactly alike. In fact, two psychoanalysts met in a bar . . . and even before shaking hands, they already started killing each other. They couldn’t agree on the definition of “ego.”

It’s only logical, because one of the psychoanalysts was the Virgo son of a former spy from East Germany, and the other was the Sagittarius daughter of a one-legged tango-dancing dandy from Tennessee. There’s no way they could think alike.

Our operating systems are a mixture of intellectual and emotional bits, some conscious, some unconscious, some wholly individual to us, and some typical of our families or communities. Operating systems tend to be messy and incoherent. And they’re a mystery—to ourselves, and to the people who meet us.

I think it’s useful (1) to grasp that you have an operating system, (2) to grasp that you’re not totally aware of your own operating system, (3) to grasp that other people’s operating systems are different from yours, and (4) to grasp that you can’t make any assumptions about how other people think and feel. I mean, can you really put yourself in the shoes of a half-Serbian, half-Chinese Scorpio maverick psychoanalyst who fell awkwardly on his ass when he was twelve years old?

Lay ass-umptions aside, clear your mind and heart, and try to find out, little by little and by whatever creative means at your disposal, how the guy functions. Talk to him. Meet him in a bar. Google “half-Serbian half-Chinese” and see what comes up. War or dialogue? It’s your call. 

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Attention Must Be Paid

What do Medea, medicine, modesty, and meditation have in common? They come from the same linguistic root.

If you like stretching words beyond their intended limits, then you say that meditation is medicine. Taking appropriate measures (meditation) makes you feel good (medicine). Interestingly, “appropriate measures” means at least two different things: necessary steps, correct measurements.

I’ve just finished a week-long meditation that I found quite medicinal. From 12:01 AM on Sunday, May 26 to 11:59 PM on Saturday June 1 I decided not to jaywalk. For seven days, for 168 hours, for 10.080 minutes, for 604.800 seconds I’d cross the streets in Paris according to a strict interpretation of the anti-jaywalking ordnances. I’d only cross where a crossing was indicated; I’d only cross when the light was green for me; I’d only cross by walking inside the grid of zebra stripes.

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Let’s start with an informal definition of jaywalking: crossing the street in a way you shouldn’t. Should and shouldn’t vary from culture to culture, and from person to person within a culture. Believe it or not, there’s a Vienna Convention on Road Traffic containing Rules applicable to pedestrians. Believe it or not, Great Britain doesn’t have jaywalking laws; pedestrians are trusted to make their own judgments regarding the safety of crossing. Believe it or not, France has extremely complicated jaywalking laws, which—this we can all believe—nobody follows. Here’s the voice of Wikipedia:

Pedestrians [in France] are required to use sidewalks (if any), and zebra crossings for crossing street if there is one within 50 m; they also must cross perpendicularly to the road axis, only cross a place or intersection if some zebra allows, cross only at the green walker light if one exist, and obey a policeman if one is there regulating crossing. More rules apply at night, alongside countryside roads, to groups of marching people, etc. Disregarding those rules may be punished by a fine of the lowest grade ("contravention de la première classe,” 11 to 17€, or 33€ if paid late), but few people were ever fined for such behavior, usually because they showed contempt instead of apologizing or providing some legit safety reason. On the other hand, car drivers must always let pedestrians cross if they have already started, even when the pedestrians disregarded the rules, and drivers will bear full responsibility if an accident occurs. These rules are often not respected; most pedestrians would cross anywhere (including at red walker light) when no car can be seen nearby on the road, but would not take the chance to cross even on zebra when a car is coming, until it stops.

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The purpose of my non-jaywalking week, though, wasn’t legal or sociocultural. I wanted to decide to pay attention to something, and to become able to follow through on my own decision. In other words, I wanted to become mindful, alert, in control of my reactions to the environment, focused, centered, good-looking, and rich.

I failed, of course.

The very first morning of my meditation, I went to the street market down the block from home and shopped in my usual manner. After 45 minutes of visiting stands, chatting with the friendly sellers, and packing two heavy bags full of delicious fresh foods, I started home. And it was only when I was half-way across the street that I realized I was jaywalking. I mean, the zebra crossing was half a block away! Did you really expect me to carry TWO HEAVY BAGS for HALF A BLOCK MORE than STRICTLY NECESSARY? Huh, did you, did you?

Yes, I expected that of myself, since I had decided to pay attention to it.

Another time, I found myself standing at the corner, no traffic coming from anywhere. And I just . . . waited. I waited for the light to change from red to green, for the little stick figure to go from standing impatiently to walking joyfully. It took forever. Later I went back to that same corner and recorded the wait. If you’d like to meditate for 51 seconds, watch the little stick figure change from green to red to green (and turn the sound on, okay?). Look at it; keep looking at it; you just need to look at it, that’s all. What’s the big deal?

It is a big deal. It takes discipline! presence of mind! forbearance! dignity! wisdom! Out of the seven and a half billion people on this planet, only the Dalai Lama could stand there for all eternity and not wish to check his emails, not wish for things to be other than they are, not wish harm upon other human beings JUST BECAUSE THE LIGHT IS RED.

At another occasion, I was out strolling with my wife when she started telling me about a colleague of hers with some group-dynamics difficulties. So-and-so #1 was fighting So-and-so #2. I became absorbed and invested. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll! I took the side of #2 against #1! It was my fight, I can tell you that!

And I jaywalked. When I caught myself in the act of jaywalking because my head was in a fight where it didn’t belong, I threw a little tantrum. I had forgotten my meditation, my commitment, my Dalai-lama-o-rama. And I was unhappy about it.

The only thing worse than forgetting your commitment is to throw a tantrum because you forgot your commitment. It may take longer to heal from the tantrum than to heal from the forgetfulness.

Shall we simplify things until they’re as digestible as a spoonful of boiled white rice? In this life, you can either pay attention or not pay attention. And that’s it. What you pay attention to, how you do it, why you do it: this is who you are. Nobody else plays attention to the same things that you do, in the same way and for the same reasons. Any one change in your life, for better or for worse, is a change in your attention, in its what-how-why. And when; let’s not forget the when, which is preferably right now. And the where, which is preferably right here.

Paying attention to the crosswalk brought untold delights into my existence. Perhaps next week I’ll pay attention to my breathing. Or how I sit at the computer. Or how I swallow each sip of coffee. Or how I . . . never mind; the subject of the meditation isn’t the most important thing; what counts is your putting your mind to it, willingly and with a glad heart.

©2019, Pedro de Alcantara 

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Horn Calls from Outer Space

About six years ago, I started taking piano lessons. For reasons too involved to explain right now, it’s been a transformative experience. These piano lessons inevitably interacted with the rest of my creative and musical life, and as a result I’ve been writing a piano method for the past couple of years. The method is full of concepts, exercises, compositions, and improvisational prompts. I’m intoxicated with its possibilities, and every day I spend hours practicing the piano and learning my own method.

One of its chapters centers on the Horn Call. Here’s a little graphic representation of the Call, scored for two horns. It doesn’t matter if you don’t read music; you can enjoy its visual prettiness and let your imagination do the rest.

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At first this appears to be a banal musical figure of a few notes, but behind its simplicity lies the power of an archetype. For the sake of brevity, we’ll call this archetype Hunting. Like all archetypes, it manifests itself in a thousand ways, in your life and in everyone else’s. There’s the actual hunting, which you may or may not have done: killing a deer, for instance, or hunting down the mosquito keeping you awake on a summer night. You hunt for a solution to a problem, you hunt for clients when you’re self-employed, you hunt for meaning in a seemingly incoherent blog post you read every month. These are all manifestations of the Hunting archetype.

Forests, castles, kings and queens, princes and princesses, lakes, brooks, caves and grottos, wind and snow. The Hunt is a whole world, with its own objects, actions, and rituals. You’ll need a horse and a dog. And you won’t go on the Hunt wearing your pajamas; no. It’s going to be tweeds and boots, unless you’re hunting with a blowgun in the rain forest, where tradition and convention (plus high heat and humidity) require that you be naked.

By JialiangGao www.peace-on-earth.org - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3781580

By JialiangGao www.peace-on-earth.org - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3781580

The Hunt also comes with its own sounds. Horses galloping through the forest, dogs barking, birds screeching, wolves howling, firearms blasting, hunters shouting, hunters swearing. In the midst of it all, horns blaring an ancestral tune: the call to action, and above all the call to the attitude required to undertake the action. This is the Horn Call, a hypnotic and transporting soundplay.

Like Hunting itself, the Call exists in a thousand variations. For the sake of argument, we’ll say that the Call started its life as a blast of primeval sound, not different from the cry of a goat celebrating its territory, its mate, its hunger, its vital energy. According to this theory that I’ve just made up, the Horn Call is bestial by birth, and it unites hunter and hunted.

Over time, the primeval Horn Call becomes transformed, refined, cultured. But even at its most distilled, the Call has the power to transport a listener to an elevated domain, paradoxically divine and animal at the same time. In Greek mythology, Pan is the god of the wild and shepherds and flocks; and he has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat. Pan is a god and a goat; the Horn Call unites the hunter and the hunted. Therefore, a few notes played at the piano and manifesting the archetype of the Call will make you travel far, far away in space and time, connecting you with eternal Nature and reminding you that you, too, are half-god and half-beast, half-hunter and half-prey.

In the realm of the Horn Call, there’s a land encompassing the mountains of Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. It’s home to a multitude of archetypal sounds and traditions. While researching my piano book’s Horn Call chapter, I listened to an alpenhorn ensemble, playing a chorale in the mountains above Berne in Switzerland.

Then I listened to an excerpt from Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. Josef Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was an Austrian composer of extremely elaborate orchestral and choral works. Inside the elaboration, however, lives the primeval forest and its hunting grounds. Listen and travel, to the Austrian Alps and beyond!

I hesitate to tell you what happened after I visited Bruckner, as it might reflect poorly on my research techniques and, by extension, my piano method; and, by further extension, my very person. But YouTube, seeing that I was exploring the Alps, suggested that I listen to some yodeling, the vocal tradition where the singer passes quickly back and forth from chest voice to head voice. And I went where YouTube wanted to take me.

I heard a marvelous trio of women yodelers, one each from Austria, Switzerland, and Germany.

I listened to a German guy yodeler. By the way, you don’t yodel naked; no. The voice requires an outfit.

There are kid yodelers visiting the Ellen DeGeneres show, yodelers in country music, yodelers of every age and background. You could spend the rest of your life just watching yodeling clips on YouTube. But allow me to speed up your quest and take you directly to the ultimate Horn Call from the ultimate Hunter: the Japanese chicken yodeler. I think you should try to do this at home, naked or otherwise.

©2019, Pedro de Alcantara 

Zen Gardens of Albuquerque

I recently attended a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was my first visit to the city, which sits high in the mountain desert out in the American Southwest. I was busy teaching, and I didn’t see that much of the city. But on my first day, walking from my Airbnb in a residential neighborhood to a supermarket a few blocks away, I noticed how some of the gardens in front of the houses faintly resembled the famous Zen gardens of Japan. You know what I mean—rocks of varying sizes, arranged in attractive patterns that seem both formal and informal at the same time.

It’s easy to talk confidently about stuff you barely know. I do it every day. I like going on and on about Proto-Indo-European word roots, although I’ve never studied the subject in depth. I like saying I’m a Platonist (after the Greek philosopher of twenty-five centuries ago). I’ve only read one of Plato’s books, and I don’t remember a thing about it. But, hey, I’ve read Plato’s Wikipedia page! I like having opinions and letting them come out of my mind and mouth, and if my opinions bite me in the ass—well, my opinions are toothless. Their bite is more like a kiss. That’s right, my opinions can kiss my ass.

But I digress. I’m trying to say that I don’t know much about Zen. I’ve read books, I’ve sat on the floor, I’ve seen art exhibits of Zen calligraphy, I’ve actually visited the famous Zen gardens of Japan. But I’m not qualified to tell you “what Zen is.”

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An ancient law says that, once you acknowledge your own ignorance, you can speak freely. You’ve stated that you’re going to speak subjectively, approximatively, maybe incoherently. It gives you a certain distance from the subject matter and from your own ignorance. You claim no authority, and strangely this gives you a little authority. Yay, Zen!

One morning in Albuquerque I decided to go out and look at the same neighborhood again, iPhone in hand. The skies were clear, the streets quiet. For those of us fond of pithy poetic symbolism, we’ll tell a sweet lie and say that Zen is “clear skies, quiet streets.”

Albuquerque being a mountain-and-desert city, it’s dry by birth. Trees and flowers and shrubbery are totally unlike what you see in wet-by-birth Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Gnarly white-barked trees that receive gusts of wind and blasts of sand from the desert. And rocks. Lots of rocks. In Albuquerque, a rock is considered a plant. (That’s a joke, of course. We know that, properly speaking, a rock is an animal.) If you’re in sync with the environment, with the nature of the place, with the way the place was born be it wet or dry, then you’re Zen.

If Nature is the mother of Zen, then Craft is its father. (As you know, I’m making it all up.) Homes, sidewalks, walls, street signs, patio furniture: I saw signs everywhere of human attentiveness and care, human skill, human love. The thing is, too much care kills Zen. It’s the paradox at the core of healthy life: think and don’t think, watch and don’t watch, nourish and let go. Up and down those city blocks I saw evidence of this balanced approach.

What happens when Nature and Craft intertwine? Nature shines herself on a canvas that Craft built, and on that canvas Nature projects forms, shapes, shadows that move and breathe. Trick question: How hard is Nature trying to create exquisite beauty? Let’s say that Zen is an intelligent answer to a dumb question.

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There’s the thing, and there’s your perception of the thing. They may or may not be related. As we say in Amharic, ውበት በተመልካቹ ዓይን ውስጥ ነው (wibeti betemelikachu ‘ayini wisit’i newi). Google Translate helpfully tells us that this means “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Is Zen a thing, or a perception of a thing? Before answering, we’d need to find out whether this is an actual question. Let’s give a non-answer to this maybe-question. On Saturday, March 9 2019, starting at 8 AM and for about one hour, I went up and down seven city blocks in Albuquerque, New Mexico, taking snapshots quickly and without too much calculation. It felt good.

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©2019, Pedro de Alcantara

The Other Family

The word “family” comes from a Latin root meaning “servant, slave.”

You never know if the guy you’re talking to is telling you the absolute truth or an abject lie. For once, though, I’m telling you the absolute truth—which I found on my favorite website, www.etymonline.com.

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Words are like people: they change and grow, and sometimes you can’t recognize them anymore (particularly after you haven’t seen them for five centuries). Although we might claim, half-jokingly, that some family bonds recreate master-slave relationships, we can safely say that “slave” as the original meaning of the word “famulus / family” has long disappeared from our awareness. And if we aren’t aware of something, it doesn’t exist for us.

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These days, when we think “family” we tend to think first and foremost of our immediate blood relations: parents and grandparents, siblings, uncles and aunts, cousins. Starting from these immediate relations, we build a net that includes spouses, in-laws, the husband of the sister of your father’s brother’s wife, and a thousand other characters.

Like with so many symbolically powerful words, we also use “family” in a variety of meaningful ways. For instance, the violin family of bowed instruments, which includes the violin itself, the viola, the cello, the bass, the gamba, the rebec, the baryton, the nyckelharpa, the dīyīngéhú, and—well, a bunch of others. But not the guitar; no, not the guitar. It’s not from our family. “Plucked,” not “bowed.” Let them pluckers stay with them pluckers.

Believe it or not, this post isn’t about slaves or pluckers. It’s about your other family. I don’t mean your wife number 2, about which number 1 knows nothing. I mean the men and women in your life to whom you feel very close, so close that you consider them like a brother, like a sister, like a father, like a mother; like an uncle, like an aunt, like a cousin . . . My mother’s best friend was like a sister to her; we children called her Auntie, and we made no distinction between her and the aunties with whom we shared biological ancestors.

This non-blood, non-biological, non-inheritance, non-tax, non- non-family is as real as the blood one. And, like the blood one, it comes with responsibilities and obligations. To begin with, we’re obliged to “be aware of this family, so that it exists.”

As an adult, I met a woman of wisdom and wit who’s been helpful to me over more than two decades. She’s a bit older than me, and she’s my favorite aunt.

In the past, I’ve blogged about my piano teacher Alexandre, who besides being a student of mine is also a friend and a beloved brother.

In the American hinterland there lives a cellist I’ve known forever. She gets me; with her, I can open up and babble on incoherently, and she’ll misunderstand me ever so tenderly. She’s a very special sister to me. And her husband too is my dear brother. Ops! Does that mean that my brother and my sister are in an incestuous marriage? Nah. It means I love the two of them, that’s all.

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My second family has about ten siblings and aunts and uncles, and maybe twenty cousins. They include an older brother in New York City, a younger brother in London, a brother in the Lake District, a sister in Paris, another sister in Paris; a brother in Massachusetts whom I haven’t seen in several years but with whom I feel permanently intimate and comfortable, a fellow in Glasgow, a fellow in Chicago, a brother in São Paulo—I mean, besides my four awesome flesh-and-bones blood brothers and sisters in São Paulo.

Guitars don’t belong in the bowed-instrument family, but guitars and violins do belong together in the larger musical-instrument family. Start thinking this way, and you’ll soon see that everything belongs in the everything family. Counting all souls past, present, and future, your family is pretty big. It’s a bit impractical to invite them all to the party, so we limit the invitations to what the party bus can hold.

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©2019, Pedro de Alcantara

Nobody understands me

Does every last person you’ve met in your life understand you perfectly?

I didn’t think so.

It’s a verified, clinical fact that to be alive is to be misunderstood. Come to think of it, to be dead is also to be misunderstood.

Needless to say, if people—many people, most people, almost all people!—misunderstand you, it’s likely that you, too, misunderstand other people, at least some of the time. Misunderstanding is give-and-take, his-and-hers, eat-all-you-can.

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Your take on life is subjective. What you think and feel comes from, let’s say, your heart—that thing that beats faster or slower depending on the weather, caffeine, childhood memories, the Zodiac, a pretty girl winking at you, and a thousand other psycho-chemicals. You look at me with your heart, and this means you don’t see me as I am . . . because your heartbeat distracts you. Ka-da-boing, ka-da-boing, ka-da-boing. Sometimes kadakada-boing. If it’s KAKAKAKA-boing, you need to see a doctor ASAP.

I wish I knew what I was talking about, but misunderstanding is oh-so-difficult to explain!

Life being complicated, we try to simplify it by creating categories and compartments. Here’s a category: “Brazilian.” “You’re Brazilian! You just love Carnival, the samba, hot weather! You’re a soccer fanatic!” No, no, no, no. I can’t stand hot weather. I’m a hypersensitive intellectual introvert snob. I hate Carnival and noise and crowds. “But you’re Brazilian! You party night and day!” Nonononono. “But you’re Braz-IL-ian!”

Facts don’t solve misunderstandings. Poor little facts. They don’t stand a chance against the kakakaka-boing.

Misunderstandings come as compliments and as insults. A musician I know is forever telling me marvelous things about myself. “You’re such a successful performer!” (I only perform three or four times a year.) “You must have a great manager!” (Whaaat?) “You should invest in real estate, with all the money you must make performing!” (Whaaaaaaat?) “I searched for you online and I saw a performance of yours in front of an adoring all-female crowd!” (Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?) This fellow likes thinking these thoughts about me, and he’s gracious and tender whenever he tells me about who I am and what I do. We get along fine, despite the misunderstandings.

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Years ago, a different fellow told me one day that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. The evidence? I was wearing an old hand-me-down cashmere sweater. It didn’t matter to him that it was an old hand-me-down, it mattered that it was cashmere. As we all know, only the rich can afford cashmere. Ergo! Bingo! Voilà! Ultimately, his thoughts weren’t really about me at all, but about something in himself. And this is how it works among human beings. Among dogs, too. Cats, not so much.

Misunderstandings come from taking things for granted. I have some dear friends who never ask me anything about my teaching or my writings or my travels. One of these friends assumes that I teach “posture,” and— “That’s what you do. Posture. You show people how to sit straight.” No, no, no! Kakakaka-boing! He’s a generous friend, and I love him to bits. I probably misunderstand his every breath, but that’s the give-and-take of friendship.

God whispers in your ears, and Ze says, “Hey, I’m sending you a gift, but you have to choose from these two fine options: Either everyone will understand you perfectly, or you’ll have creative tools to handle being misunderstood by everyone.” God has a sense of humor, doesn’t Ze? The choice is obvious! Who on Earth would ever choose to be perfectly understood? (Incidentally, “ze” means “soul” or “voice” in Albanian.)

Next time you see me dancing the Carnival in the height of summer, be a good Samaritan and shoot me dead. You’ll save me from being a stereotype. Then I can ascend to Heaven and meet God in person.

“Hi, God.”

“Pedro! What you’re doing here, right in the middle of Carnival???? Go back down to where you belong!”

And that’s why I keep getting reincarnated as a samba dancer: a simple but woeful misunderstanding.

©2019, Pedro de Alcantara