Wednesday, August 20, 2014

No You Don't


There was this one time.

About ten years ago I was doing some work with my job that took me down to the country of Belize of all places.  Belize is a lovely place to visit if you have a reason to be there or on a vacation in one of the pampered tourist areas.   Of all the countries I've visited though, the people of Belize entirely redefined my perspective on what poverty looks like.  There are some terribly poor people there among the tropical beauty of the beaches and countryside.


There are also Mayan ruins, a place called “Xunantunich” (zoo-nan too-nik) which means “Stone Maiden”


These ruins are still under excavation so when the people I was working with had a day off to be tourists some of us piled off to visit Xunantunich.  The Mayans are by no means extinct as a people.  Some of the indigenous people of Belize and part of Guatemala are direct descendants of Mayans and some still regard themselves as Mayans.   When you visit a place under excavation like Xunantunich there are finished structures that have been retrieved from nature, but its not like the Indiana Jones movies.  What you see are these lumpy looking hills with trees and jungle growing on the sides of them.  Hills that look natural enough and yet, not quite right. Buried in the hills, like graves, are buildings where people lived and worked.  If our own civilization ever collapses someday out tall buildings and houses will someday look like lumpy hills.

The pleasure of history, of museums, of historical places is the association of the imagination.  To realize that these places were once alive and important to people.  That people like yourself lived here, fell in love, gossiped, has families, worried about the future.  Worked hard, loafed.  Worshiped and speculated.  And then all things pass away.  When you walk along the green paths among the ruins you come to the small and narrow foundations of what were once private homes, where people lived their lives, gave birth and died before the conquistadors arrived and upended everything.

In the midst of the excavations , there is a pyramid called “El Castillo” which means “the castle”, probably a modern name.  El Castillo is quite a landmark and appears on the beer bottles of a  locally brewed stout which everybody drinks.  El Castillo has a band of images that surrounds the sides of it.   On the reverse side is a stone stairway that leads up from the ground to the top, about 130 feet straight up, where there is an observatory of some kind where the Mayans would observe the stars or perform whatever rituals bound them together.  The stone steps are a piece of work as in “Yeah, that guy.  He’s a piece of work.”  They are as narrow as a step ladder, close together and almost vertical.  One hundred and thirty feet of vertical.  No hand rails.  At the bottom of the steps are broken rocks and debris where workmen have been clearing things.  Certain death if your foot slips.  I couldn’t wait to climb it.

And why not?  Tourists, and students, some of them in sandals and back packs were whizzing up the steps and taking selfies at the top.  I put my foot on the first step.

It wouldn't move.  My body wouldn't move.

I had never experienced anything like this.  It was a mind and body split.  My mind wanted to go up, see the top, see what Mayan priests saw, take pictures of the surrounding land.

Nothing doing. 

My feet were planted in cement.  I could go anywhere else, even climb partly up the other side, but those vertical stairs;  I tried and tried.  Each time my body froze as if it had nothing to do with me.  I never made the climb.  I stood by and watched other people climb up and down like angels on Jacob’s Ladder.  A couple of times I went over to the steps and put my foot on them – and all though I wasn't consciously afraid my body would go no further.


This was one of the first times I was made aware that there are deeper levels to our minds.  We know that as a concept, but it’s a strange thing to have some deeper level, something beyond your self awareness, put a heavy hand on your shoulder and prevent you from doing something you consciously want to do.  It goes back a little to a previous post where I mentioned to Lisabet about how a person’s consciousness could simply be snipped into two people like a flatworm.  It reminds me that we are not who we think we are.  That personality and ego may be an illusion, a construct, and that the totality of our personhood may be much more complex and mysterious, and largely out of our reach.


13 comments:

  1. Garce:

    Touching observation about the everyday life of people long gone.
    I shudder thinking about that climb, though. Apparently, your other mind is imbued with self preservation. But you do wonder why the personality/mind/whatever you project became the dominant one.

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    1. Hi Spence!

      I've got adult ADD, I'm convinced of it, so lately I've been reading a lot about brains and consciousness and so on.
      When you find is that the brain has many layers to it that evolved over long periods of time with increasingly ocnplex functions. We experience ourselves as a single entity and the world our senses convey as a certain kind of world, but a lot of this is just a construct to help us function. THere are levels within levels of us that we know nothing about and even consciousness and identity is fluid.

      Garce

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  2. Did you ever find out what, during antiquity, would be the purpose of making that walk? Perhaps you were channelling previous souls who had to scale those steps. Shudder….

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    1. Hi Daddy X!

      I know, I saw that Mel Gibson movie too. I thought it was amazing. The Aztecs were known more human sacrifice like a chicken factory. I'm not so sure about the Mayans. Wikipedia says that Xunantunich was a relatively little, unimportant city by Mayan standards, sort of like Evansville Indiana or something. So there may not have been all that much blood shed if any. Whatever ghosts may have been stopping me sure weren't stopping the tourists.

      Garce

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  3. It seems to me that coming back down those steps would have been even more dangerous and scary than going up. Maybe you were very lucky that your inner good sense prevailed, and you didn't have to discover that once up there, your body refused to make the descent.

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    1. Hi Sacchi!

      I remember thinking that after the fact. All I wanted was to climb up, but as you say, climbing up is often much easier than trying to climb back down. Cats climb trees easily and then often panic when its time to climb down. Whose going to rescue you when you're gotten yourself stuck on top of a 130 foot Mayan pyramid going "Meow! Meow!" ? If you're a romance novel heroine that might work, but in the real world nobody's going to rescue a guy like me.

      Garce

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  4. Fascinating story, Garce. Personally, clumsy and accident-prone as I am, I'd be terrified. In fact, I have dreams about those kind of stairs, not exactly nightmares but close. In those dreams, though, as Sacchi suggested, I'm trying to go down rather than up.

    About ruins and imagination: a few years ago we were lucky enough to visit the ruins of Angkor. I'd read a lot about the place ahead of time, but somehow I could not imagine at all the lives of the people who inhabited Angkor Thom some 1000 years ago. There are no remnants of the ordinary folk, just bare stone monuments built by the god-kings. I actually wanted to write a time-slip novel set partly during the Angkor period, but I just couldn't make it come alive in my mind.

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    1. Hi Lisabet!

      You should post pictures of that sometime, we'd love to see them. Those kind of ruins have always been the stuff of dreams and novels, and I think its partly because we have that sense of how things pass away, even people who may have seen themselves as immortal at the time.

      I wonder what stairs symbolize in dreams? I wonder if that is the connection somehow. If my unconscious, beyond the mortal idiocy of a clumsy man climbing a narrow age worn stairs without safety precautions, sees stairways as a symbol of something it didn't want to share. Not the stone stairs but what the stairs represent? See? I didn't have time to put a lot of thought into this piece but if I had it to do over I would explore what a phobia of stairs might symbolize to the unconscious. That's interesting to think about.

      Garce

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  5. Very interesting slice of life, Garce. I've had paranormal experiences that my rational mind berates me for, but that have affected me all the more intensely because they made no sense and shouldn't have existed. I tend to agree with Daddy X--I wonder what the people going up those stairs would face when they got up there? Being Mayans, I'm sure it would have involved blood-letting, perhaps even beheading? There was a reason you couldn't make the climb...no matter that you aren't aware of what it was.

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    1. Hi Fiona!

      I don't have any luck. I get haunted by stairs that may or may not have had a dark history when I'm really waiting to be haunted by buxom lady ghosts with impulsive sexual cravings. Oh well.

      Even if people had died there, wouldn't that be an interesting reason to go there? Even more so if it were haunted? I still think if I met a ghost, rather than fear I would want to ask questions. And an ancient Mayan ghost? How awesomely interesting is that? And a buxom ancient Mayan lady ghost with impulsive sexual cravings? What man wouldn't climb a stairs for that?

      I'm telling you - where was this stuff for me two weeks ago? Sometime we should all write a story here together round robin.

      Garce

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  6. Fascinating experience, Garce. I'm glad you weren't able to risk the climb, and continued to live and write.

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    1. Hi Jean!

      It's hard to say. Maybe in some parallel universe I made the climb and felt richly rewarded for it (Lady ghost?) or fell on the rocks and spent the rest of my life on a respirator. Who knows . . .

      Garce

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  7. "The pleasure of history, of museums, of historical places is the association of the imagination."

    I love this, and it's dead-on as far as my experience. I love nothing more than to go to a small town and imagine what it would be like to live there, or to have lived there at another time.

    As far as those stairs, I'm shivering just thinking about it. If I'd been there and managed to get the top, I'm pretty sure I would have had to sit to work my way back down—I've done that more than once to get out of tall places.

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