Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Heart of Australia

Its huge. A steel mill in Wollongong, touted as the largest manufacturing factory in the Southern Hemisphere. Bluescope. It has to be huge. This is the economic heart of Australia. It drives all the other economic parts and its heartbeat is the health of the economy. From it comes one of the most adaptable products on earth, steel. It takes iron ore, coke/coal, limestone and other elements--in most cases, from all parts of Australia--and in an enormous cauldron fuses them together to produce this commodity that drives the real economy. This is not the Wall Street smoke and mirror money, this is production. This is the basis of all economy. Not google, not facebook, not twitter. We have moved so far away from the means of production that we forget that all of the derivates, futures, all the stock market empires are based on this simple outcome...production. It is an inverted pyramid built on production. And you cannot get more basic production than steel (perhaps agriculture.) Standing 30 feet above the hot slabs coming off the line (picture) , even at that height, the intensity of the heat is unbearable. The shear size and the constant production (24/7) is a true analogy of the heart. The rhythm, the heat, the flow. How small seemingly inconsequential event have big impacts. Smoking and heart disease, and in the economy, exchange rates and the export of steel.

So it came as a surprise last week when talking with one of their workers at a BBQ that the local steel mill is closing one of its two furnaces. The exchange rate is so high that it is making steel too expensive to buy. SO they are shutting down their export side of production. Although Switzerland who faced similar export issues (not with steel) devalued their currency so that they stayed competitive, Australia remains with a very high exchange rate. But visiting the mill yesterday and seeing this enterprise in such a scale, I felt for the first time while being here, a sign of arrhythmia in the economy of Australia.

It's All Good

On my travel from Melbourne to Sydney I took a bus tour that took us to the southern most point of Wilson's Premonitory and to the roof of Australia Mount Kosciusko. We experienced beaches, tropical rainforest  deserts and blizzard, all in one day. Out guide's frequent descriptions would end with the phrase "It's all good" and despite the annoyance of the catch phrase, it is an appropriate metaphor for life and an excellent coat hanger for my thoughts today.

Because Australia is so far away, expensive and entails spending a large chunk of time, coming to Australia is a radical move. No one says, "Oh, I am going to Australia for the weekend, or to do some shopping or to go to a concert." Coming to Australia is radical.

Everyone on the tour had their stories. From the recently bereaved young man who lost his mother to cancer, to the mature nurse starkly adapting to her changing world. Some escaping, others embracing. I am always--without exceptions--encouraged when I meet people. There is so much energy and truth in what we do. Sitting at home constructing our reality inevitably leads to negative interpretations because we tend to remember negative events better than positive ones. We have more words for negative emotions than positive ones. But in real life, the life of people interacting, there is mostly positive energy. We are truly social beings and anything that impedes our ability to interact socially is cancerous. It's all Good.

People's Narrative

There is a story line running through my consciousness. A narrative of my life being played in many languages. Constant interpretation of events, regurgitating past ones, and predicting new ones. Choosing a language (or a word in most cases) for the occasion. Always narrating. Always there. I was first made to noticed this when I went to yoga the first time. The master said to listen to the voice but to accept that it is separate,  it is not you. Not me? my narrator goes? WTF. My narrator talks to itself a lot. Sometimes they (I do not know how many) do a comedy sketch for me and I end up laughing. Nowadays that is about the only time I do laugh. I would be walking and the narration starts a little joke. I think they know that there time is up, they are being nice. They know what makes me tick. So my narrator tells me that this is what you get paying for middle class yoga at upper class La Jolla, California.

As I sat there, slightly uncomfortable in the yoga class, I noticed that I was aware of my narrative. And it--my narrator--was frightened. I know it was frightened because it stopped for a brief brief second.

Yoga has been a salvation in many ways, but the best lesson is being able to separate the narrative from me. And you do this quite simply by observing and forgetting who you think you are, whatever that means, and observing everything around you. Your breathing, your narrator, your little pains, but not let them encompass your being there. It has not been that easy.

Like any healthy man I thought I could conquer yoga relatively quickly. I am active and strong, so I thought it would be a mater of practice. This attitude worked well for me going to beginner classes for six months. Until I went to the wrong class. That is when I realized that there is more to yoga than just strength or willfulness, there has to be release.

I am an early riser, so I decided to go to the dawn class at my regular yoga place. I must have misread the  level because by the time I got settled into the class people were warming up doing one-hand stands and lotus position handstands. I should have known I was in deep dodo when the instructor came in looking like a scandinavian Bruce Lee and, with a distinctly German accent, introduced himself as Schroeder. Oh shit.

I looked around and the faces around me expressed blissful smiles and quiet anticipation. How bad can it be?  It was a cool morning that only the affluent coastal regions can experience this late in the summer. So it was invigorating to start off with some allegro sun salutations. I quickly warmed up. The morning chill already a faint and distant memory.

I normally go to the beginner yoga. And although I feel accomplished and masterful in these classes, I did not realize that it was very gentle yoga that I mastered. My false sense of accomplishment was to be exposed. This wasn't gentle. The quick five sets of sun salutations quickly expired my repertoire of moves and energy. Standing in the tree pose I realized I had to be creative to survive. And that is what it was all about. I fucked up, got in the wrong class, and there is no way, no way I am going to give up and walk out to be the recipient of pitiful glances, glances I myself have punished others less competent. So I started sneaking a breath through my mouth. Like a whale gulping millions of plankton, I was stealing oxygen from the air through my mouth. This was war.

From tree position we did some downward facing dog. I normally do this for a few seconds and then go to the next position. Here, at first I thought I went deaf. No call to change. IAs much as I could through the film of perspiration clouding my eyes, I looked around and everyone was still in position. Shroeder comes around, reminding all of us that this potion is a relaxing position. My shoulder were burning with pain. Shroeder came closer. I tried to rotate my arms to alleviate the pain, but the pain just moved into my wrists. I was about to fall on my face when everyone came up into warrior one. I must have gone deaf. The bussing in my ear only more disconcerting than the pain that was moving like a pinball machine up and down my arms, buzzing at the shoulder.

And then came pigeon. Anyone who runs, or cycles knows that the pigeon position, which is where you lie down with one of your legs crossed infront, and the other straight behind you, and then you fold yourself onto your front crossed leg--is like sticking a hot needle into your gluteus maximus. This is when Shreoder came to gently press on my back, which would now be a very comfortable release of energy, but then it was excruciating. Encouraging me, "good good that is kundalini breathing." he compliments. I could not reply, I had involuntary tears streaking down my inverted face and I think my lower limbs went numb and my hips burned with pain. I was breathing hard. This was not kundalini breathing I was whimpering and breathing hard trying not to pass out. My hips felt like they were on fire and the burning had singed my testicles. I prayed to god to release me. To send a lightening and frizzle me away. I wanted nothing to exist.

Coming out of pigeon, looking up towards the ceiling, trying to keep the tears from becoming a cry, I went into the same position for the other leg. For the next hour there was a lot of pain. But there was also an acknowledgment that I am going to survive.

By the time the 1 hour 15 minutes and 23 seconds passed, I could not walk properly, and there was a funny buzzing sound in my ears, but there was no pain, and for the first time no narration. That is when I learned that yoga is not about strength but about release. And the first thing to release is your narration.

So it comes as a surprise, that while visiting friends in Australia, staying with them--I normally do not stay with friends when I travel, since when we meet with with friends it is for an evening, or an event--I noticed that not only do other people have a narratives, but some vocalize theirs. Some do it when they drive. They narrate everything about what they are thinking. By now you, the reader, can appreciate how much I treasure my lesson with Shroeder. Being able to switch off my narration and releasing. So I have another lesson now, to release myself from other peoples' narrative.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How to grow and develop as a country

The recent mayhem in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool; the continuing collapse of the stock markets in America, Europe, and now Australiathe daily news of disasters and personal predictions of a larger collapse coming to reality; the looming black economic hole that is sucking in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain (the “PIIGS”) now threatening France and with it directly, Germany, the final harbor in Europe's turbulence; the overwhelming and encroaching power of China; and sitting in Melbourne, in my apartment at Ormond College, I feel somewhat insulated.

Can the riots happen here?  I ask.

Not not here, But in 2005 there were the Cronulla riots, New South Wales and spreading, over the next few nights, to additional Sydney suburbs.  By 4 December 2005, a group of volunteer surf lifesavers were assaulted by a group of young Lebanese men, widely reported and commented on in Sydney media.. A large number of arrests were made over the subsequent months, from both the initial riot on 11 December and the retaliatory riots held over the subsequent nights. The incidents tarnished Australia's international image. But here in Melbourne, unlikely. The Master of Ormond College, Rufus Black, was confident that such riots would be unlikely in Melbourne


That was last month.

As I travel from Melbourne to Sydney, I ponder the real question of how to deal with the cause of this endemic malaise and economic cancer. I know what the cause is, but a practical solution has evaded me till today. Up to now I had a tentative idea about what is happening at my place of employment:
and the economic disaster evolving in US with the every increasing debt and accounting privileges of Congress:

The problem is the ever evolving bureaucracy that is answerable to no-one. My attempts at dealing with this is to propose to decentralize control to smaller units, to departments. But I could not find a practical and viable example until I stopped looking.

When I was at Ormond College, before I left, I asked Rufus how he deals with administration at the University. I had to ask twice because I thought I misheard. He does not. The college is an independent unit, he controls how he spends his own budget. And the penny dropped. That is why this college "works". Not just that it looks good, and it feels privileged, but it works. People talk to each other. There is a sense of right and wrong and not because of rules or regulations, but because there is an obligation, they are responsible how the college runs. If there is a problem they are vocal. There is a sense of belonging, a sense of control over your actions.

When Hilary Clinton in 1996 published a book "It Takes a Family to Raise a Child" a title which is attributed to an African proverb originating from the Nigerian Igbo culture and proverb "Ora na azu nwa" which means it takes the community/village to raise a child. She forgot that she needed to also adopt the Igbo's name for their children "Nwa ora" which means child of the community. The community needs to have responsibility and control.

The control part is the pivotal aspect that we are missing. We have relinquished control over most of what we do. With ever increasing responsibilities.