Work Journal

2019-08-16 log: Excalibur biface

AuthorMark MacKay

I checked out out a book from the library which seemed immensely interesting at first sight: 82 objetos que cuentan un país: una historia de España. (82 objects that tell the story of a country: a history of Spain). However, upon closer inspection, I was disappointed by the approach of the book. The object is simply an excuse to speak about a location, a discoverer, a maker, an event or a cultural phenomena. The object itself (the product) is only discussed superficially.

Many of the products are objects of technology. The vernacular definition of technology is anything that is shiny and new, but a more accurate definition would be anything that extends the innate capabilities of human beings. I would define a product as a subset of objects that were created by human beings with a deliberate purpose. An apple is an object but not a product. Some works of art are products. A natural rock which serves as a stool is not a product, a rock shaped to be a stool is.

The first product that the book presents is the Excalibur biface, a stone axe found in the archeological site Atapuerca:


Atapuerca is located in a prehistoric migration corridor used by grazing animals. Neanderthal ancestors (it is discussed if these were homo heidelbergensis or a new species named homo antecessor) would use a natural trap there: a cave which had a chute and a side entrance. Early Neanderthals would lure or chase animals to the top chute where they would fall down to their death, and then use the side entrance to get to their meal. This feature made it a popular spot in prehistory, but Atapuerca consists of other cave systems which also yield archeological bounties.

The place where the Excalibur biface was found was a 13 meter long chute with many hominid and cave bear fossils were found at the bottom. It seems that these hominids (which are Neanderthal, not Sapiens ancestors) would use this chute to dispose of their dead, as in a cemetery, but archeologists often bicker among themselves and some argue that they might have been washed to the site from other places.

Some archeologists state that Excalibur was a ceremonial offering for their dead, the first one in recorded history. The facts that seem to support their hypothesis are the fact that this hand axe doesn’t seem to have been used, that it was quarried from a location far away, that it is larger than usual and that it has an aesthetic symmetry.

Others argue that this is highly speculative. The earliest evidence of ceremonial burial is 100,000 years (by Neanderthals), excalibur is half a million years old. There is simply not enough evidence to know if its placement was intentional.

Excalibur is an example of Achulean technology, a term archeologists use to distinguish techniques for fabricating stone tools. Hand axes of the Achulean industry are perhaps the first examples of product design, its fabrication required the hand-eye coordination modern designers are familiar with, along with an overall plan on how to execute the piece. Here is a video on its fabrication:

So, was the purpose of Excalibur ceremonial or utilitarian? In my imagination, a master tool maker loses his life and is dropped down the pit. A tribe member, filled with grief, throws the last product of his fabrication after him. His fellows had never seen anything like it, yet they all feel in their heart it is right.


Work Journal

2019-08-15 log: A Monk's Guide to a Clean House and Mind

AuthorMark MacKay

I blazed through A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind which I stumbled upon at René’s house. It was a pleasant read for which I have little to add, perhaps just warn the reader that the book is not meant to be a template for a cleaning routine (this would require you to become a monk), the main takeaway is the fact that it is possible to perform inner work by means of outer work.

The book repeatedly draws analogies between real world objects and their spiritual counterparts: windows ought to be spotless and completely transparent like our spiritual vision; light fixtures ought to be completely free from dust, for that which emanates light should not be obstructed; in dark and humid corners mold will grow, and the same will happen to our mind if we don’t find time to meditate, and so forth.

For the person walking the spiritual path, these analogies arise naturally from all activity. The spiritual shepherd will show his flock the way by walking it, the weightlifter will inhale and exhale upon each repetition like a yogi, the spiritual scientist will ([see himself as a karmic agent of the world], the spiritual architect will predict his buildings appearing in molecules, and so on.

For the person performing activity out of spiritual motivation, there is no such thing as success or failure. That would be attachment. The purpose of outward activity is inward transformation. The things that dwell within the soul cannot be perceived by our worldly senses: they cannot be seen, heard or manipulated in any way. But the material world provides a metaphor to work with it.

While removing the dust of your surfaces and possessions, you are at the same time removing the dust from your memories and from memory itself. Is this a falsifiable statement? No, it is not, and thus is is not science. The great misunderstanding of our age is that anything that is not science is not real. For, as much as a great tool science is, it is impossible for it to experience the first person perspective, so people often ask: what does science have to say about love? about art? about the meaning of life? and the answers that come up are dry, vacuous or meaningless. These questions are not meant to be answered by science, they are answered by each one of us, within our hearts.

Work Journal

2019-08-14 log: consistent people

AuthorMark MacKay

Some weeks ago, a person made me notice my words were not being consistent with my actions. I don’t expect any person to be 100% consistent between what they say and do, but one can definitely see a pattern of virtue in those who do. It made me think: who are the people who I know to be consistent?

They don’t seem to be stubborn or rigid. If anything, stubborn people seem to be incapable of noticing they changed their minds, they prefer to twist what they said so that it fits their actions better. They think they are consistent because any evidence of the contrary is promptly squashed.

Some (not all of them) have an ideological framework which seems to account for some of the consistency. They might be fervent Christians or Muslims, staunch hippies or libertarians, zealots of a particular philosophy or way of life. The consistency arises from aligning to a comprehensive way of thinking and acting. Still, within these groups one finds innumerable hypocrites among a small cadre of consistent individuals.

If they do not possess an ideological framework, they sure possess a great deal of self-knowledge. The problem is not trivial: the person who speaks today is not the same person who acts tomorrow. If you invite somebody to go on vacations with you next summer, when the time comes you may think it’s not a good idea.

The consistent person isn’t the one who sticks to his word despite all consequences. It’s the person who was wise enough not to give his word unless he was certain about it. These people sign contracts with their words, so they don’t go around making empty statements.

A part of it seems to be culturally conditioned. “I will send it tomorrow” and then asking for time extensions is the norm in Mexico, while in most of Europe and North America this would be a faux pas. If we agree that some cultural practices are sexist and thus should be addressed, then we can also agree that not all cultural practices are desirable and we need to address these too.

In the end I was glad this was pointed out to me. It made me appreciate people whom I consider true to their word. They are like finding fixed rocks while climbing a crumbling wall. The consistency seems to be part of a larger development of personality which still eludes me.

I would like to become a fixed rock too.

Work Journal

2019-08-13 log: a stone in the shoe

AuthorMark MacKay

While walking, you will sometimes feel a stone in your shoe which is so small you’re able to walk on it. It might be bothersome, but it’s innocuous. When is the right time to remove it, as soon as it bothers, or at your next stop?

Removing it involves pausing at a suitable location where you can sit (which usually involves taking off your backpack), untie your shoe, shake the stone out, and put your shoe back on. Seems simple enough, but momentum is difficult to regain, in walking as in all disciplines.

The parallel with work is that we often have small things that don’t completely impede activity, but are a drag which makes work less pleasant. I’ll volunteer my own problem: I came back with my clothes of the camino, and my wardrobe is extremely limited. I could go to where my things are stored, but then I’d lose half a day in this task. My work momentum is good and I don’t want to lose it. Should I resolve this issue when I need a break from work, or should I address it immediately?

The wise person would answer “it depends”, and may consider having a limited wardrobe to be a vain impediment to work. Let the wise person know that my entire wardrobe consists of exactly one shirt, one underwear, three pairs of socks, one pair of pants, and two bathing suits (it’s a long story). This partially binds me home instead of being able to work at the library, where I accomplish better concentration.

The wise person would also question the validity of some assumptions: do you really need to take your backpack to take off your shoe? do you really lose momentum or you’re just prone to procrastination and can’t help but loiter once you sit down? Do you really have to untie your shoe or can you pull it out and slip it back on?

And the wise person would whisper to your ear: you’re overthinking this. Just get down to work, and when you need a break, go fetch your clothes. Godspeed.

Work Journal

2019-08-11 Camino log: Madrid

AuthorMark MacKay

After two months of walking, without arriving to Santiago, or having any particular epiphany, I felt an urge to put myself down to work. I came back to Madrid and threw away my hiking shoes. They were utterly destroyed.

The only conclusion drawn from this walk is that there is no difference between a camino log and a work log, they are the same: inner work and outer work. The arrows point the way through seamless paths between personal and professional work, between inward and outward landscapes, between physical and psychological destinations, unveiling spiritual and rational truths.

But rather than waxing out cheap prose, I’d rather put these feelings into action.

Work Journal

2019-08-05 Camino log: Santillana del Mar → Comillas

AuthorMark MacKay

Walked: 27.3 Km

Too much navel gazing, but it is necessary to process it. I hope writing this will simply get it out of the way.

About two weeks ago I perceived I wanted to work, but this camino is too crowded to find the solitude necessary for it. I arranged things so that I could go back to Madrid mid-August. I had a bit of bad taste leaving the camino without arriving to Santiago, and I was seeking confirmation from the inner and outer world that this was the right decision. From the outer world, at Güemes Father Ernesto clearly pointed out that the true arrows don’t always point to Santiago, and from the inner world the confirmation came yesterday in a dream:

I was in therapy, and I was explaining my therapist the details of the issues I was working through. I paused, I took a deep breath, and said “you know what? I think all this is bullshit, I’m fine, I’ve done my work. All is resolved. Thank you for your help”. The therapist stood up from her chair and walked to me, reclining until her face was in front of my face. She kissed me on the lips and said “Yes, you are right”.

This dream is quite similar in meaning to another dream I had before. The subconscious creates a “judge” to which you reveal yourself, and then the judge accepts it. During my walk I found myself in a different, more confident state.

I encountered three women carrying surfboards on their heads, I guess they thought I didn’t speak English because, as we were negotiating our way in the narrow sidewalk, one of them said:

“I still don’t understand why they do this”.
“Do what?”, another asked.
“Walk”, she replied.
“Ah, walking the camino, well…”

Their voices trailed off before I could hear the answer, but it felt as a placeholder for me to complete: why do I walk? I’ve told different people different things:

  1. There is nothing to walk about anymore, it’s about the pleasure.

  2. To find the inspiration necessary for creative work.

  3. To say goodbye to Spain, because I’ll be leaving for Mexico soon and I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back.

But in the end I walk because I thirst for it. I may justify the thirst with a reason, but its basis is not rational. The thirst is sated at a certain point, last year I perceived satiation at around kilometer one thousand, and I haven’t been counting but I think I’m around the same amount again.

There is nothing special when this happens, it’s a Forest Gump moment: “I feel pretty tired now, I want to go home”. I’m not going directly back home, but changing the route for a camino called “Camino Lebaniego”, and coming back to Madrid in five days.

I’ll cease writing until then.

Work Journal

2019-08-04 Requejada → Santillana del Mar

AuthorMark MacKay

Walked: 14.8 Km.

Today I visited the reproduction of the cave of Altamira. After finishing, the guide asked if we had any questions. Things that raced through my mind:

  1. Being that there are so many inhabited caves along Spain’s northern mountain range, how is it that Altamira’s art is stunningly elaborate? Is it simply conserved better?

  2. Would certain caves belong to certain tribes? Was this a tribe where artists were particularly skillful?

  3. If tribes migrate to the coast during the winter and inland during the summer, would’t the coastal cave have paintings of similar quality?

  4. If the paintings represent animals which they didn’t particularly consume (i.e. there were many goat bones in the cave, not nearly as many bison or horses), can it be inferred that they were aesthetically attracted to these animals?

  5. Why is it that the entrances to the caves are never painted?

  6. How is it theorized that these artists practiced their art? Since there are not many/any unskilled drawings on the wall, how would they accomplish the skill necessary to paint the cave?

I asked none of this, of course.

Work Journal

2019-08-03 Santander → Requejada

AuthorMark MacKay

Walked: 20.5 Km

I met an old woman who warned me not to drink from the water fountain, which had two signs indicating unsuitability for human consumption. I shrugged and told her my Mexican stomach could surely handle it, and then gulped on the water.

Conversation turned towards health matters: she told me she lost her appetite some months ago, and her husband looked at it with suspicion saying “something is wrong, let’s go to the doctor”. They ran some tests on her and found a misbehaving thyroid gland.

She wasn’t recovering her appetite and she refused to eat, so the doctor fed her, and told her she’d be back to feed her for dinner if she didn’t do it herself. She resumed eating to please the doctor. She was put into an MRI scanner and the technician told her to be very still. When she came out, the technician was amazed and said that he had never seen somebody remain so still.

I smiled: the health workers were doing their job. A doctor should not only provide proper treatment, but also give compassion and compliment the courage and willingness of the patient to put through discomfort. With all the talk about objectification we seem to miss that one rarely feels like a human being when stepping into a hospital.

We bid farewell. The next day I experienced a bad case of The Shits.

Work Journal

2019-08-01 Castro Urdiales → Güemes

AuthorMark MacKay

Walked: 30.0 Km

How do you recognize a good spiritual teacher from a bad one? For the longest time I’ve tried answering this question by looking closely at videos of teachers, knowing their backgrounds and trying to discern any tell tale sign that might give off their true inclinations.

The task is not easy: first of all defining what is good and bad is difficult in the spiritual task. Some teachers are accused of being psychologically abusive, but spiritual growth requires a certain degree of friction as to break down the cage of the ego. The ego is not able to notice itself if nobody pokes and prods at it, and a good teacher sees our pride and sometimes by simply saying a well timed phrase, he or she can arise a storm within us. To the student it will feel like they were unfairly bludgeoned, but to the external observer it will be obvious that the damage was self-inflicted.

Like this, there are a long list of asterisks, the most difficult ones pertain to money and sex. This is why it’s probably a good idea to seek a teacher belonging to a well established tradition (religion) where the expectations of money and sexual involvement are clear. Spiritual teachers who do not belong to a tradition and also won’t siphon resources or sexual favors are exceedingly rare. Yet, most spiritual people are at odds with religion, and thus fall victim to either poisoned teachers or charlatans.

Last night I stayed at an albergue which was headed by a spiritual teacher. He was an ordained priest, but from his speech it was clear he answered to Jesus Christ and not to the Catholic Church. His way of speaking reminded me of Claudio Naranjo, and his philosophy that of Tolstoy’s Anarcho-Christianism.

I observed him with the outmost attention. He was speaking with a man whom I knew from a few days before, a very dull man who got drunk every day, to the point of having difficulty speaking. The teacher was speaking of some important things, and this dull man interrupted him to tell him about himself. He was this and that, was from Catalonia, and some other irrelevant details.

My blood boiled at the interruption, but the teacher didn’t flinch, he listened as if he was saying something very important. I saw it at that very moment: if this teacher has an ego, it’s exceedingly well behaved and non-reactive. He clearly didn’t give himself the same importance I was giving him. I was in awe not at his self-control, but at his lack of annoyance at all.

The man went on rambling for a few minutes until a story where he visited a cave where there were some bats hanging from the ceiling which reminded him of legs of ham, and laughed. The teacher resumed his speech where he left off, without the slightest annoyance.

A while later, we went to a chapel where the teacher gave a speech. I call him a teacher and not a priest (which he was) because he called us students. He explained his philosophy of the camino, to which I would make no justice in repeating, but I will try anyways. The chapel had no religious images, instead it had panels painted on the walls which explained his vision of the way:

  1. We live in a preconditioned state which supports the way civilization works today.

  2. When emancipate ourselves from this state through the use of our hands (labor), or feet (movement), and our eyes (inner eyes, self-knowledge).

  3. We will be lost for a time, grasping blindly at the way, bumping into things and people.

  4. The meaningless arrows point towards Santiago, the true ones point at other people who are in need of help.

  5. The path of helping others does not happen in isolation, but in community. Inclusive communities.

  6. This brings true inner liberation.

All spiritual paths are simple in appearance, but are the most difficult thing to execute. The map shows a line connecting six stops, but the terrain walked is unknowable and different for each person.

I left the albergue in the morning feeling spiritually refreshed, moved at having the privilege of meeting a living boddhisatva. The biggest instruction was not what he said or what he explained, it was his presence. It feels as if, should we put away all our little dramas and self-importance, we’d be able to unveil a world which is already there.

Work Journal

2019-08-02 Güemes → Santander

AuthorMark MacKay

Walked: 16.0 Km

Approximation, phone battery was drained

I looked down a cliff next to the sea. I saw some natural pools formed by the shape of the rocks. My phone was dead and I had no idea if it was safe to go down. I would later find out they are called Pozas de Langre The tide could come up and get me into trouble. I decided it was worth the risk, and found a narrow path that zig-zagged down the side of the cliff.

I stripped myself from my clothes and swam. It was the most amazing feeling. I went underwater and opened my eyes. Everything was alive, the rocks covered in moss and molusks, hermit crabs scrambling, tiny fish swimming. These raptures with nature have a healing effect on the soul.

But natural places of this beauty seldom belong to one lover, and as I floated on my back I saw two pilgrims peeking from the top of the cliff, and soon enough they were making their way down. One was either too coward or too sane to make her way down the path, the other pressed forward until she reached the bottom.

I decided that my 45 minutes of solitude were enough to refresh my soul, and that I ought to leave the place for the next pilgrim to experience the same intimate rapture with nature. I climbed up the cliff and said hello to the coward/sane friend, who was puffing impatiently for her friend to end her swimming. I looked down and saw she was experiencing the same thing as I had. “It’s better to not wait for her, she’ll take a while”.