Ball and Chain

What if there were no clocks? Not in your car, on the walls, computer or phone. There are no watches or timepieces either. Only skyward approximations illuminating from the universe’s originating source; the faithful rising and setting of the sun.

While we’re at it, let’s also remove calendars. Birthdays, holiday celebrations and election years are no longer. We’ve merely the rotation of the planet and seasonal metamorphosis of climate and foliage reminding us of the fragile impermanence of all that is.

Work still exists and life still goes on, albeit at a more leisurely pace and gracious, forgiving speed. There are still 24 hours in a day and 52 weeks in a year. However, without the conventional tools to tell us so, this tasty morsel of conversational minutiae is reduced to party faire.

What exactly is time?

Ultimately speaking, it is a concept. Much like a country’s borders, it was contrived by man to provide mutually held beliefs by which we may organize our lives. Certainly, there's usefulness in this design. However, as a planetary population, it seems we’ve taken this tool of convenience and premeditated our world around it, losing sight of the fact that at its core, time is an intangible illusion.

Janis Joplin, at the end of this live performance of Ball & Chain, imparts to us, a gift of insightful commentary. It’s an impassioned plea to begin living a life of love and compassion today because, “…it’s all the same fucking day, man.

She plucks an intriguing cord.

By removing the rigidity of calculation, the x number of years we’ve each spent roaming the planet, have been nothing but a single continuum, broken up by fitful nights of sleep. Without fretting over age related accomplishments, milestones, aspirations or projections, we awaken to each new day and what has changed? Everything? Nothing?

The imagery of the past does not truly exist. Neither do our fantasies of the future. These two insoluble states of our existence are poised in constant culmination at the present moment (see fig. 1a). These guideposts have however, instead of providing direction, been mistaken for our destination.

Missing the signs due to our focus on the past and future, something has been lost. Don’t you feel it? In the pursuit of chasing of our dreams, what many of us have traded, in addition to our present, is our ability to give freely. Pragmatic generosity and compassion, on a global scale, are missing on levels that rise above quotes passed through social media.

The late mystic, Osho, is of the belief that compassion cannot be forced; that it may be derived only through the process of mental purification. Because of this, we’ve only a superficial grasp of what it means to love.

This is far too bleak for those of us taking baby steps toward our altruistic ideals. As prosaic as the social trend of quoting sagely wisdom may appear, at least it demonstrates hope. And even the largest of blazing infernos begins with a single spark.

But hope is not a strategy.

If we are the hero in this epic novel of Life, what's the plot? To pay off the mortgage? Take a nice holiday? If the predictability of security replaces our need for raw spontaneity we risk losing interest in our own story. And if absorption within our own pursuits misplaces our ability to freely care about others, we’ve lost something even more valuable.

Hope may not be a strategy but if it sparks desire and this desire ignites action, this is a formula for change. Humanity as a whole is in dire need. We’re losing our ability to see past our own desires and into the lives of the millions that suffer, truly suffer, on a daily basis.

I happen to be of the belief that Osho is misguided in his assertion. It isn’t purity that begets generosity and compassion; it is repeated acts of compassion and generosity that contribute to mental purity. Ultimately though, it is Janis that truly has it figured out:

…if you gotta care for one day…that one day man, better be your life…because that’s all you got. If you got a today you don’t wear it tomorrow, man. Cause you don’t need it… Tomorrow never happens.

The only mastery we will ever truly gain over the passage of time is in continually re-discovering the present moment. This seemingly long stretch of days, nights and seasonal transformation, simply provides a vivid stage upon which our temporal existence is acted out. It is not the dawning of each new day, but along every point of life’s continuum that presents an opportunity to choose. An infinite string of tomorrows, only ever arriving in concept, will always remain one day too late to make a difference.

How will the next chapter of your story read?

Live. Learn. Most importantly: Lend your voice.

~ by Christine Fowle, Pokhara 2014


As I trudge through the rising mire of conjecture regarding what should and shouldn’t be done regarding the escalating crisis in Syria, I continue getting stuck. Something repeatedly, is tapping the inside of my psyche begging to be heard, but every time I stop to listen. Silence.

"What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional. It will degrade Assad's capabilities. At the same time we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition.”[1]

I don’t understand. Something limited? Something proportional? What does limited mean? What is proportional? These words are changing the composition of my interior landscape.

Degrading the enemy and upgrading the opposition. By killing and supplying weapons?

This is what’s being said, isn’t it?

“Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.  This would not be an open-ended intervention.  We would not put boots on the ground.  Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.”[2]

We would not put boots on the ground. Limited in duration and scope.

The words echo in my ears.

“I'm confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors.  I'm comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable.”[2]

Confident in the case our government has made?

Comfortable going forward without approval? Paralyzed and unwilling.

The gripping in my chest tightens with every spoken word.

“A country faces few decisions as grave as using military force, even when that force is limited. I respect the views of those who call for caution, particularly as our country emerges from a time of war that I was elected in part to end. But if we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage, then we must acknowledge the costs of doing nothing.” [2]

The war in Iraq is over? Did we win?

Caution isn’t appropriate? Doing nothing is the only other option?

There’s that word again: limited.

“Here's my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community:  What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”[2]

I also have a question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community.

What message will we send to our own children if instead of dropping bombs we find another way?

“If we won't enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?”[2]

As individuals and as nations we are being confronted over and over again with the same gruesome tests. What does it say about our resolve if we continue to choose guns over dialogue?

Words cannot communicate the injustice, maliciousness and insanity responsible for the murdering of innocent men, women and children. Nor can images place us into the center of a battlefield.

The footage we’ve been exposed to is horrific. So are the options we are being presented with. Regardless of what is now so vividly flashing before us, never, will we experience the scope of unforgivable carnage if our country goes to war. We will never see the men and women we murder. We will never know the full extent of the sickening devastation we engender.

Trust is an illusion and control, even more derisive. Dead human beings however are not conceptual imagery. Dropping bombs and supplying weapons does not guarantee one single thing except more bloodshed. It is counter-intuitive to believe otherwise.

Just one more war and then finally we’ll have peace?


Syria is but one battle. What about the next? And the next?

We have the power to do something revolutionary. Life is presenting us with the ultimate moral challenge, propelling us into playing the hero in our own story. We can be the generation that chooses peace over war and dialogue over violence.

How does the story end?

“We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.”[2]


~ by Christine Fowle

[1] Jeff Mason and Yara Bayoumy,  “Obama wins backing for Syria strike from key figures in Congress”, Reuters - September 4, 2013

[2] President Barack Obama, “Statement by the President on Syria” August 31, 2013





Finger Wagging

Siem Reap, not quite ready to release me from her grasp is bequeathing the gift of one more night. I extended my stay and very quickly discovered myself free to attend a performance. But not just any performance. It’s Beatocello.

There is a hospital next to the hotel. For days I have wheeled past the men, women and children — lots of children, queuing on the sidewalks in front. They stand under overhanging tree branches quietly watching life on the street pass by. Every day they wait. It’s my new friend Boran, that finally clues me in. “It is a free hospital,” he tells me. Surely his English must be confused. “Free?”

Throughout town, poked into grass, posted on buildings, light posts and storefronts, even in the hotel lobby, are signs for Beatocello. Held every Saturday night, it’s gratis performance that includes J.S. Bach cello works and remarkably enlightening commentary. Beatocello is Dr. Beat Richner, founder and director of the Kantha Bopha hospitals. And yes, treatment for allCambodians is completely free of charge.

Dr. Richner began working in Cambodia with a small pediatric hospital in the 1970’s. When the Khmer Rouge invaded he was driven out and forced to retreat to his homeland, Switzerland. Years later, at the request of King Norodom Sihanouk, Dr. Richner once again left behind the comforts of Zurich and returned to Cambodia. In 1992 Kantha Bopha I officially opened its doors. The hospital was a tremendous success and in 1996 Kantha Bopha II was christened, followed by the Siem Reap, Jayavarman VII in 1998.

Humble beginnings employing 16 foreigners and 68 Cambodians has now grown into a revered operation supporting 2,100 Cambodians and only 2 permanent foreigners. The impact has been astounding. Against the odds of governmental corruption and a fractured healthcare system, the Kantha Bopha[1] hospitals have treated over 9 Million outpatients, 900,000 inpatients and performed 90,000 surgical operations. Over 550,000 children that would have otherwise died, did not.

This is indeed remarkable but it has come at a price. That price has been Dr. Richner’s life. Of the hospitals’ funding, 90% is derived from private donation. And this is why Beatocello plays. Every Saturday. Over 600 performances. For twenty years, Dr. Beat Richner has been sustaining the financial burden of these institutions. He is the primary reason people donate.

He’s frustrated. He’s angry. And he’s tired.

Beatocello’s performance is moving and his style direct. The good doctor has no qualms about prodding his bow into the BIG white global healthcare elephant stomping through the operating room. He stabs at the debilitating issues of international bureaucracy, inappropriate fund distribution and grossly ineffective methodology. But this was not at the heart of Dr. Richner’s impassioned plea. The most critical dilemma focuses on the rights of poor people to quality medical treatment.

Several years ago I began exploring global issues, mostly because I was painfully ignorant.  I’d spent a great deal of time working in Northwest Europe but didn’t comprehend what was taking place in the poorer countries of the world. The more questions I raised, the more answers I received. The more answers I received, the more disturbed I became. Years later I’m still sorting through the quagmire of information. There are however, some glaring certainties[2].

  • In 2010 there were approximately 8.8 Million cases of tuberculosis.
    • An estimated 1.1 Million died.
  • In 2010 there were approximately 216 Million malaria cases.
    • An estimated 655,000 died.
  • There are 3-5 Million cholera cases every year
    • 100,000 – 120,000 result in death.
  • An estimated 500,000 require hospitalization for Dengue Fever every year.
    • 12,500 die. Mostly children.
  • Worldwide recorded cases of SARS were slightly over 8,000.
    • Less than 1,000 have died.

Which issue ignited a global media frenzy?

Every year 7.6 Million children under the age of five die; 19,178 children, every day.

What constitutes a crisis? What is preventing the international community from garnering the necessary awareness to solve these problems? Why haven’t we experienced worldwide rallying to stop this senseless loss of life? I still have more questions than answers.

My passport is issued by a country that in less than two years, has generated $1,317,000,000 for a presidential race[2]. The 2012 Congressional elections have amassed $1,853,106,280.

Admittedly, I find the finer nuances of politics confusing. But there is nothing perplexing about how $3.1 Billion could be spent. I’ll give you a hint — in the twenty years Kantha Bopha has been healing the Cambodian population, operating costs have totaled $400 Million (with only 5% paying administrative costs).

Twenty years; $400 Million. One election season; $3.1 Billion.

There are obvious systemic flaws if chaotic campaign financing is not only conceivable but legally permissible. It would be easy to wag a finger and say, “Bad, bad, politicians.” But we as individuals are ultimately responsible. We are responsible for electing the governmental officials that make decisions on our behalf. We are also responsible for policing them when they step out of line.

Fixing these problems involves the removal of root causes, of which there are many. One of the most basic is the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution that recognizes corporations with the same legal rights as living, breathing human beings. The most immediately prevalent issue however, is the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission  which essentially provides corporations with a green light to procure politicians. A corporation can legally now spend limitless amounts of cash toward funding the candidates that best support its idealistic value of maximizing profitability.

The rules that govern our lives are not static. If we shake the planet loud enough we can affect change. Until then, we get what we get. As I’ve come to understand, democracy, much like life, is not a passive process. I’m not saying that fixing the United States’ political problems will mend global healthcare. But until the political lunacy that is gobbling up billions of dollars and bombarding our psyches with polluted promises of prosperity stop, nothing will improve. This much is certain. The planet will continue to hemorrhage cash. Beatocello will continue to play. And over 19,000 children will continue die — every day.

Live. Learn. Most importantly: Lend your voice.

We have an opportunity to be part of the solution. Each one of us as individuals has personal power and a choice.

~ by Christine Fowle

[1] Source: Kantha Bopha Website
[2] Source: World Health Organization.
[3] Source: FEC.
[1] Source: World Health Organization.