Posts Tagged ‘Central America’


My days as a zoologist, canoeing through the jungles of Central America, gave me a unique perspective of how living in a wild area affects the perspectives and perceptions of people. Living in my canoe or in a small tent set up by the edge of a river made me feel like just another animal among many. The villages I visited were just a few huts clustered together every few miles at the river’s edge. The human presence was small compared to the overwhelming intensity of the jungle – its colors and shapes, its humidity, smells and rhythms of life.
As soon as I arrived in the jungle, it “grabbed” me. There was an instant transformation in the way my mind perceived and understood my relationship to the surroundings. By travelling back and forth from New York to Central America, I could feel the effect of each environment on me. I could also see and understand how the people in each area were very different because of their respective environments.
This experience, plus my life-time of training in several types of traditional healing, has led me to several conclusions. The first is that the natural tendency of our minds, (our consciousness – or what I call “attention”) is to expand into the environment and connect with it. This means more than looking at something. It means that each of our minds, in order to operate properly, cannot be locked up inside of us. The mind is not just a by-product of brain activity. It is the biological glue that connects us to the environment.
One of the effects of modern life is to “lock up” our minds into our thinking process. In this way, mind is no longer connected to the body. The body seems to be “down there”. The mind is no longer biologically connected to the environment, except in the sense that we think about our environment.
I have found a fundamental difference in human nature in those societies in which the mind is “locked up” as compared to those in which the mind is not locked up. Stress levels, for example, are higher when the mind is locked up, as if it were soda in a bottle that was shaken. Warmth and humidity have the effect of making the mind more fluid so that it is like watercolor ink dropped onto the wet rice paper.
Notice how you feel inside your home in the winter as compared to lying in an open area on a warm summer day. We have designed our environment to be disconnected. Our shoes and our floors disconnect us from the ground. Our cell phones and computers disconnect us from other people, even as we try to communicate with them. Our packaged, prepared foods disconnect us from picking food from trees and plants.
Our single celled ancestors gathered together in colonies and eventually formed multi-cellular animals that are now considered to be a single animal. Each cell became more and more disconnected from the “natural” environment. In the same way, we are now creating super-organisms, disconnected from the natural environment.
But there are many people who don’t feel comfortable giving up their individual, biological identity, in a sense handing over their very minds to the “hive”. These people require a direct connection to nature, balancing their membership in society with their membership in the living earth.
One of the things I have noticed is that the more removed you are from nature, the more you are addicted to the “drama of life”. The people living at the edge of the jungle certainly had their interpersonal dramas, but their joy of life came mostly from simpler things. On my first trip to Panama, my hosts sat at the edge of the river every evening, staring at the river. They weren’t looking at anything in particular; they were just participating in the world around them. Even when I was young, people would sit in chairs in front of their houses in Brooklyn, “participating” in life.
Things have changed drastically since then. Now we have our televisions and computers to look at. Our activities are less communal. While our society is becoming more isolated from nature, we are becoming more isolated from each other, even as our society as a whole is becoming more condensed and interdependent.
When single celled animals formed into multi-cellular animals, each cell lost much of its function and became specialized (muscle cell, gland cell, etc.). They were no longer whole organisms within themselves. I am reminded of our educational system, no longer emphasizing a “classical education”, but just teaching students to pass tests.
It certainly seems like we are witnessing the birth of a new type of organism which requires a new type of “mind”. This new mind is not whole and balanced. It is not aware of the whole history of humankind, to serve as the backdrop to understand what is going on now. It is designed to be only a piece of a person that is useful for one particular function of the society.
The goal of many philosophies and religions is to acquire a natural type of mind. When Buddhists speak of Buddha, they aren’t only referring to the person, but to the state of mind that he attained and that we can also attain: The same for Christians who use the term “Christ”, really meaning the Christ type of mind. When Taoists speak of “no-mind”, they mean a mind not filled with excess of any kind.
I consider each to be a rebellion against re-shaping the natural human mind for use in the new societal “machine” of each time period. With the natural mind, each person is a whole human, directly connected to the living earth. Relationships are between two whole people rather than between two parts of a machine. Each person is allowed to grow and develop into a mature, full person, rather than be molded into just a piece of a person.
If we believe in developing whole people, connected to nature, then I believe that a well-rounded education is the place to start, an education that emphasizes creative thinking rather than memorizing answers to tests. Growing your own food is another place to start so that your food is healthy and nutritious and so that you have a feeling for where your food came from.
I cut and split wood for my wood heating stove. If I figured out the amount of labor involved in getting wood and taking care of the heating stove, I’m sure it would be a lot cheaper just to use the furnace. But heating the house by my own efforts keeps me connected to nature, especially in winter. On the one hand, I could just consider how to be the most efficient to amass wealth. On the other hand, I could consider how to be the most efficient to maintain the natural mind. I try to balance the two, willing to sacrifice wealth in order to hold onto the wholeness of my life.
What is the balance of these two factors in your life? It is especially hard to maintain this balance in tough economic times. Putting food on the table – any food – is pretty important. But let’s remember that if we put off the health of our bodies and minds, we are more prone to disease and we feel miserable. If you can find one thing to do that re-connects you to nature, such as cooking your own food, or growing it, that will go a long way to keeping you healthy and happy. Meet someone face to face, rather than texting. Sit in the back yard, or at a sunny window, and watch the sun set. Doing one natural thing each day can help us to maintain our humanity in the face of a more and more machine-like world.


“In the tradition quickened by the Celestine Prophecy, Bob Klein takes us to places at once far away, intimate, strange and familiar. The beauty is in the lush regions, cultures and cosmologies it describes, and in the invisible realms it remarkably and simply illustrates. The warrior within each of us in invited to: Wake up; deeply see and listen; remember what reality is really made of; and honor, cultivate and harness our connectedness, consciousness, power, and history in order to reinvent our culture in a Golden Age.”

Michou Landon, Shasta Magazine

“The Doubting Snake depicts a colorful world full of wild animals that take an active part in guiding Steve to his truth.  Filled with mystery, laughter, and insight, this book is a pleasure to read as we accompany Steve on his incredible journey to self awareness.”

Karen Porter, Indicator Magazine

Note: See information on “The Doubting Snake” by clicking onto our “Online Store”.  You will see this book listed on the left side of the page.  It is also available as an Amazon Kindle download.


Kano tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a movement beneath some dead branches.  “That is a paca.  Go and get it.”

I walked over to the spot and discovered a paca which seemed to be full grown – about 25 pounds.   But as soon as I approached it, the little brown, creature ran away for a few yards and then froze.   Again and again I approached it and just as many times, it bounded away.

Finally I gave up and walked back to Kano.   “We have to set a trap first,” I said.

Kano merely walked over to the paca, reached down and picked it up.   He held its belly outwards with his arms under its front legs.  Then Kano put the creature down and it bounded under some nearby branches.

“Kano, why did you let it go?”

“So you could catch it.  I’m teaching you to catch paca.”

Again, I tried and failed.   I could hear Kano snickering.   I guess this was good for him to see.   He must feel mentally inferior to me and seeing that he does possess some skills which I do not, must make him feel better.

“What did I do wrong, Kano?”

“You didn’t catch the paca.”

“How were YOU able to catch it?”

“Because I know how”

“Then tell me how to catch it.”

“You just walk over and pick it up.”

“But when I walked over, it ran away.”

“You scared it.”

“How come YOU didn’t scare it?”

“Because I wanted to catch it.”

“So did I!”

“Then you shouldn’t have scared it.”

What a situation!  Kano knows a skill which I would like to learn.   Yet he doesn’t have the intelligence to explain it to me.  I tried once more.

“Kano, listen to me.  When you walk over to the paca, it doesn’t run away.   When I walk over, it does.   Obviously, we’re doing something different.  What?”

Kano thought for a moment and said, “You are scaring it away and I’m not scaring it away.  That is what is different.”

“O.K.   I understand that.   Now what can I do differently so it won’t get scared?”

“Don’t do anything differently.  You can just walk over and pick it up.   You can walk over any way you want, just don’t scare it.”

Kano walked over to the paca once more to demonstrate.   He skipped part of the way, jumped, twirled around and walked in various strange ways.   When he reached the paca, he bent down and picked it up as before.

I had heard that retarded people are good with animals.   The animals seem to be able to sense the retarded  person’s helplessness.  Perhaps Kano’s disability has actually helped him out in this case, although I don’t know how altruistic a paca can be.

The “empty one” insisted that I keep trying.   I wandered about, following the creature for almost an hour, but could never come within thirty feet of it.

Finally Kano picked the creature up and brought it to me.   He suggested we keep it as a pet and told me he thought it was cute.   It was a strange creature with a narrow face, a pudgy rear and slick fur.  I petted the creature and talked to it.

“Why are you so frightened of me?   I only want to eat you.”   I laughed yet I felt a tear come to my eyes.  It was certainly not because of sympathy for the paca.   I feel very comfortable with the idea of eating meat.   Perhaps my subconscious  remembered some painful event which was evoked by this situation. Kano released the paca and once again it bounded for the bushes.

“I thought you were going to keep it as a pet?”

“Do you really want to?”


“Alright, you get it and bring it home.”  Apparently the paca had grown used to us as I had no trouble picking it up this time.

As we walked back to the hut, Kano said that we could really stuff ourselves on that much meat.

“What do you mean?  Are you going to eat it after all?”

“Of course.  I only said that stuff about keeping it as a pet so you would walk over to it with a friendly feeling.  I taught you how to catch it.”

“Kano!  How could you?  That’s not fair.”

“Not fair?   Why isn’t it fair?  I said I was going to teach you to catch a paca and I did.  That’s fair.”

“But there are morals here.  The only reason I was able to catch it was because I thought of it as a pet.  And now, in a way, I’m lying to the paca.  That’s not fair.”

“Lying to a paca?   I don’t know about such things.   I neither lie to paca nor tell them the truth.  I just eat them.”


This is an episode of my experiences traveling the jungles of Central America.  If you would be interested in reading more such episodes, please let me know in the comments for this article.  I will be happy to write more.  (Note: These experiences formed the basis of my novel, “The Doubting Snake”).

A heavy rain danced on the swollen River Chepo.  I huddled under a bean pod tree in my dugout canoe, basically a long log carved into a canoe.  Once in a while, I grabbed a bean pod, opened it up to reveal the beans covered with fuzz and popped the sugary, fuzzy beans into my mouth, sucking out the juice. 

Suddenly Miguel appeared on the shore, walking along what appeared to be a trail along the river.  He grabbed a branch, leaned out over my canoe and asked, “Are you hiding from the rain?  It is good to get wet.”

I realized how ridiculous it was to hide from the rain when the temperature in this Panama jungle was over eighty degrees.  I saw other people paddling up and down the river in the rain.  So I returned to town (a group of about six stick huts). 

Miguel was already there and had apparently told people that I had hidden from the rain.  A few children ran up to me holding pieces of paper above my head (to protect me from the rain) and they laughed. 

Back on Long Island, my home, I hid from the rain and from the cold and from the traffic, etc.  It seemed that a large part of my life was hiding from things.  Here in the jungle, the mood of the people was to connect with the environment and with each other.  When I realized this difference, it was startling.  Hiding was the theme of my life up North and connecting was the theme here in Central America. 

Carlos was visiting and asked me to come back to his stick house up in the hills about three miles away.  He would answer the question I asked him yesterday about healing.  Carlos was an approximation of his Indian name.  The Spanish people of the town couldn’t (or didn’t want to) pronounce his real name.  Carlos was around seventy years old, wiry and vibrant and lived alone.  He was the best know healer of the area.

I had asked him, “When you heal, what do you feel?”

Carlos brought me into his hut.  After walking all those hills (and after having paddled up River from Chepo City to get supplies) I was ready to go to sleep.  But I was anxious to hear his answer to my question.  Carlos built a fire and kept adding wood to it.  Yet he didn’t seem to be preparing a meal.  Usually meals are cooked on a stone table.  Several sticks are laid on the table like spokes of a wheel and they are burned.  The pot is placed on top of the burning sticks.

But Carlos made a fire in the ground in the middle of his hut.  After a couple of hours there was a large pile of burning coals in the fire and it had gotten dark outside.  I was still waiting for him to answer my question but knew not to rush him.  Everything to him was a ritual.  He threw some herbs on the fire.  I can only describe their smell as “friendly” or “delightful”. 

We both continued to stare into the coals until I realized that it was morning.  I don’t believe I slept at all.  I remember either a sensation or perhaps, it was a dream.  The coals were burning away an army of what I would call “antagonists” which “lived” in my back.  I could only interpret this as the tension in my back (probably caused by sitting in one position all night).  The coals seemed to burn away these antagonists or bad feelings and my back was filled with warmth. 

Then my sternum seemed to split open and I felt another “army of antagonists” living in the front of my body also burn away (again probably tension).  As the front and back of my body seemed to melt and open, the “friendly” smell of the burning herbs filled my body as if to take the place of the bad feelings.  I felt very happy and positive as if I didn’t need to know anything else. 

My concentration was broken as a woman started talking outside and I smelled breakfast of eggs, rice and beans.  Carlos said something to her in an Indian language and she brought the food inside.  He told me to go outside before eating.  I looked at him wondering why I needed to go outside, especially since it was raining.  Then I remembered that I shouldn’t be afraid of the rain.  I went out expecting him to follow but Carlos stayed inside.  The cynical thought came to me that he was going to eat all the breakfast.

Suddenly that thought felt like one of those antagonistic feelings living in my back.  As the rain poured down my body, this feeling was quickly washed away.  Little by little, a lot of feelings inside of me were washed away.  Soon, there was little of me left, as if the coals had burned me up and now the rain was washing away the cinders. 

Carlos called me back in and I sat down.  The woman, middle aged with a hint of a little girl still inside of her, gave me a plate of breakfast.  As I began to eat, Carlos told me to look outside (the door was just a big opening in the hut).   The rain had stopped and the sun was bright.  Butterflies and birds began to visit the plants around the hut and every plant was glistening.

“Like that!” Carlos said.  I said, “What?” 

“I feel like that when I heal,” and he nodded out the doorway.  I continued to watch the flurry of wildlife activity against the glistening plants as I finished my breakfast. Perhaps I understood what he meant or there was just too little left of me to care.  I wanted to go out and be in the hills.  As I looked back at Carlos, he poked his chin towards the door as if to say, “I answered you so now go home.” 

As I walked the hills back to the little “town”, there was less of me than before and more of the jungle.