Monday, April 30, 2007

Reflections on a Costa Rican Vacation 3-1-07

“Pura Vida”
Costa Rican phrase that is widely used meaning
“Pure life” or "This is living!"

Last week, Shelley (my adorable wife) and I along with our small group (Greg and Marcia Erickson, Dave and Terri Churchhill, and Alex and Julie Ross) vacationed in Costa Rica. Terri was diagnosed with pneumonia the day before we departed and spent most of the time recuperating. All the girls struggled with itchy bug bites (for whatever reason, I wasn’t bitten once). A Scorpion bit Marcia. Julie stepped in six inches of liquid excrement (we laughed so hard we could hardly breath) stepping off a curb. Alex got locked in a hot, smelly, nightclub bathroom for 45 minutes (again, we could hardly breath). It wasn’t quite “Pura Vida” all the time in the Garden of Eden, especially for poor Terri.

Despite these facts, it WAS a wonderful vacation. Here’s the highlights:

* Every afternoon, when the sun was a bit less intense, we went to the beach -- the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to. Most of us spent a good deal of time boogie boarding. It was a riot. After six years of trying to boogie board, I was finally getting the hang of it…the waves were IDEAL! The water was so warm, even Shelley decided (for the first time!) to give it a try. In sharp contrast to me, she was an instant expert, riding her first wave all the way into the beach! (Life is not fair). My favorite memory from this vacation was watching Shelley and Julie acting like giddy adolescent girls as they caught wave after wave on their boogie boards.

* The sunsets and evening stars were awe-inspiring.

* Marcia (to her lasting credit) joined the guys on a zip-line tour through a Costa Rican rainforest. We glided above the treetops on cables that connect to platforms on taller trees, seeing the forest from a spectacular bird’s eye view. The guides pointed out various plant life and animals of the rainforest.

* Every afternoon the house we stayed at was surrounded by, and somewhat invaded by, dozens and dozens of monkeys! They were adorably mischievous. At first we weren’t prepared for these little thieves, and they raided our open-air kitchen taking all our fruit. Another day we hiked through Manuel Antonio National Park and came upon a herd of monkeys (or family? or tribe? what do you call them?). One bunch was tenderly picking insects off each other. It was so cute. One actually came down to us and let Marcia (our official small group paparazzi) get within inches of him as he nonchalantly posed on a branch.

* As a group we don’t do much on our vacations. We mostly relax and hangout. We’re lards (as we call each other). We sit around and eat, talk, laugh, tease, philosophize and/or argue with each other. Being quasi-autistic, I often have my nose in a book while the rest of the group interacts, and it says something about our group that this offends no one. (Others on occasion do the same thing). My friends know me and accept me for who I am, in all my eccentricities. In a world where most people live in loneliness, I feel incredibly blessed to have friends like this.

* I managed to get about half way through all the writings of Philo of Alexandria in these 8 days (he wrote a lot!). Philo is important to a book project I’m working on (The Myth of the Blueprint), as he was a Jewish thinker around the time of Christ who tried to fuse biblical teaching with platonic and stoic philosophy. A lot of the church fathers took their cues from him, and in this way Philo contributed a good deal to the gradual replacing of a biblical warfare model of God and his relationship with the world with a Hellenistic blueprint model.

Yet, in keeping with my present obsession with Platonic Forms, the thing that was most on my mind this vacation was the beautiful way reality balances form and freedom. There’s structured spontaneity and spontaneous structure everywhere, and it was screaming at me this whole vacation.

For example, the waves of the ocean are so regular, and yet each one is completely unique and, in its own way, manifests the radical contingency and spontaneity that permeates the cosmos. This is what makes waves so interesting. Had anything in the history of the cosmos been slightly different than it was, any particular wave might have been different than it is. For the brief moment it exists, each wave puts on display the structure and creative contingency of creation.

The same thing is true of the rainforest. I delighted in the bizarre randomness of some of the vine-configurations, for example. Why did this particular group of vines grow in the completely unprecedented way it did? An ultimate explanation would require an omniscient understanding of the history of the cosmos, for had anything in creation been slightly different than it was, the vine configuration might have been completely different than it is. And yet, the configuration isn’t totally random – which is why it can be identified as a vine-configuration. It shares in the structure (the Platonic Form?) all vines have, yet it does it in its own radically unique way. This balance of form and freedom is what makes the rainforest so interesting and beautiful.

Everything – every single thing! – displays this dance of form and freedom. While the insects of Costa Rica were a bit of a nuisance they also manifest the cosmic balance of form and freedom in a most awe-inspiring way. For example, Greg Erickson and I were hiking in the rainforest one afternoon when we came upon a magnificent spider resting in the center of its web. The sun hit this heavenly masterpiece in such a way that it acquired an almost fluorescent quality as it shimmered in the tropical breeze. Every detail of this intricate saucer became clearly visible to us.

As we gazed in awe upon this site, it occurred to me that its beauty is rooted in the way its structure displays contingency -- or, to say the same thing a different way, the way its contingency displays structure. A virtual infinitude of contingent, creative complexity lies behind this intelligently designed web. Innumerable variables extending back to the beginning of time could have easily rendered this particular web different, or non-existent. In fact, the chances of Greg and I happening upon this particular web at this particular time were infinitesimal small, measured against the cosmos as a whole throughout history. And yet here we were, in this moment, enjoying this infinitesimal improbable beauty. And the beauty was all the more beautiful because it was all so utterly improbable.

This is the dance. It consists of creative spontaneity and freedom amidst structure, and structure amidst creative spontaneity and freedom. And it permeates every centimeter of reality. Each particular insect, plant and animal, and each grouping of insects, plants and animals, participates in it. And each experience of these things participates in it. The contingent structure of the eyes and ears and brain that intersects with the contingent structure of a particular slice of reality in any given moment exhibits form and freedom. And it’s all awe-inspiring if you think about it, precisely because none of it had to be exactly the way it is.
Reality. It’s a dance. And we’re all part of it. Pura Vida!

Do it with passion.