Bhutan’s dark secret to happiness

Bhutan's dark secret to happiness

Citizens of one of the happiest countries on Earth are surprisingly comfortable contemplating a topic many prefer to avoid. Is that the key to joy?

On a visit to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, I found myself sitting across from a man named Karma Ura, spilling my guts. Maybe it was the fact that he was named Karma, or the thin air, or the way travel melts my defences, but I decided to confess something very personal. Not that long before, seemingly out of the blue, I had experienced some disturbing symptoms: shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness in my hands and feet. At first, I feared I was having a heart attack, or going crazy. Maybe both. So I went to the doctor, who ran a series of tests and found…

“Nothing,” said Ura. Even before I could complete my sentence, he knew that my fears were unfounded. I was not dying, at least not as quickly as I feared. I was having a panic attack.

What I wanted to know was: why now – my life was going uncharacteristically well – and what could I do about it?
“You need to think about death for five minutes every day,” Ura replied. “It will cure you.”

“How?” I said, dumbfounded.

“It is this thing, this fear of death, this fear of dying before we have accomplished what we want or seen our children grow. This is what is troubling you.”

“But why would I want to think about something so depressing?”
“Rich people in the West, they have not touched dead bodies, fresh wounds, rotten things. This is a problem. This is the human condition. We have to be ready for the moment we cease to exist.”
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Why some Polynesians speak of their homeland as Hawaiki?

Why some Polynesians speak of their homeland as Hawaiki?

The precise routes taken by the fearless explorers are not known. The migrations were many and were spread over centuries of time. Also the small companies of adventurers and scouts and the larger companies of immigrants came by different routes. The route through Java to the Fiji Islands and eastward is marked by stranded remnants of Polynesians at Futuna (Erronan) in the New Hebrides, at Rennel in the Solomons, and at the Ontong Java (Lord Howe Islands).

The Polynesian settlement at Nukuor in the Caroline Islands may mark a northern route by which immigrants came through the Marshall Islands, Gilbert Islands, and Ellice Islands to Samoa and perhaps to Hawaii. It is possible that some adventurous companies came by a yet more northern route through the Marianas Islands or the Carolines directly to Hawaii. After immigrants had become established in such places as Samoa and Tahiti, these centers probably were used as bases for exploration of islands in their vicinity.

When the Polynesians came

Some Polynesians speak of their former homeland as “Hawaiki,” a faintly remembered faraway region from which many choice things came and to which the souls of men returned after death. The first emigrations from this homeland took place so long ago that the record is lost. But at the beginning of the Christian era colonists were in the Pacific, and it is known that during the eighth and ninth centuries eighty-five islands and island groups had been discovered islands lying far apart on both sides of the equator.

The Maoris of New Zealand trace their descent from immigrants who reached the islands about the year 1400. But these immigrants had learned about the country from earlier voyagers and came with their wives and children, carrying with them the sweet potato and taro, their household idols, medicinal plants, and domestic animals. They found New Zealand occupied by people of their own race, who had come from different places, and learned that the Chatham Islands lying eastward across 500 miles of stormy sea had been settled.

As early as the thirteenth century the geography of the Pacific was fairly well known. The colonists were familiar with the mountains, volcanoes, rivers, reefs, and forests and knew the regions of large rainfall and small rainfall and the direction of winds and currents. All this was before Columbus had discovered America, or Balboa the Pacific; before Magellan had crossed the Pacific to the Philippines.

Pioneer navigators

Long before European navigators had ventured far from land, Polynesians were sailing back and forth among the dots of land in the broad Pacific, making voyages thousands of miles in length. The Polynesian outposts in the Carolines and at Easter Island are nearly 9,000 miles apart and 3,800 miles of water lie between Hawaii and New Zealand.

The route from Tahiti to New Zealand, used many times by Polynesian boats, is 2,200 miles in length. Yet these widely separated lands and intervening islands were not only known but were settled and served as distributing points for the shoots and seeds of such food plants as the banana, coconut, yam, breadfruit, and taro. Even the west coast of America may have been visited by adventurous navigators.

Long voyages

The facts about some of these voyages are known. Four early trips from Hawaii to Tahiti, 2,400 miles, are recorded. Uenga, a twelfth-century sea rover, sailed from Samoa to Tongareva, thence to Tubuai, and through the Tuamotus to Tahiti. The entire journey covered about 4,000 miles, most of it against the trade winds. Tukuiho, sailing from Rapa, discovered Rapa-nui ( Easter Island) after a voyage of 2,500 miles with no intervening stopping places. Karika, a Samoan chief, discovered and colonized Rarotonga, and the thirteen voyages of Tangiia cover a distance of more than 18,000 miles.

No compass used

The Polynesians readily made their way across the ocean without the aid of a compass or a log book. During the daytime they guided themselves by the sun, by the flight of birds, and the shape and color of clouds, and in stormy weather by the trend of the waves driven before the prevailing winds. A man with a knowledge of clouds and rainbows and winds ranked high in the esteem of the people. Some of the Pacific peoples made crude charts on which the trends of the wave crests in the trade wind belts were indicated by parallel sticks stretched on a frame, and the number and position of the islands included on the chart were shown by little pieces of stone or coral placed in proper position.

Mediterranean Sea: The heart of the Old World

Mediterranean Sea: The heart of the Old World

The Mediterranean Sea was the heart of the Old World; the important lands of the early history of civilization were grouped about its richly indented shores, generally decreasing in respect of culture as they receded from it. The northeastern part of the Mediterranean, because of its many islands, having an even greater proportionate coast-line, was the centre of the countries ennobled by Hellenic civilization.

Separating and uniting at once, like all the waters of the earth, the Aegean Sea formed the boundary between the two chief races of Greek intellectual life–the Dorians and the Ionians; while it was, at the same time, the favoring medium of exchange for the productions of their genius. European Greece, with its predominating Doric population, and the almost exclusively Ionic coasts of Asia Minor, equally looked upon this sea as their own, traversing it with thousands of ships, and gaining more from the trackless waters before them than from the interior lands of the immense continents whose seaboard alone they were content to occupy.

In Asia the Greeks were restricted to the countries upon its uttermost western border; in European Greece the development was chiefly directed towards the eastern coast, paying even less attention to their own shores on the Adriatic than to the early colonized ports of Magna – Graecia and Sicily. The Archipelago itself provided convenient strongholds and outposts in every direction. The numerous harbors and anchoring – places of its many islands offered protection against the notorious treachery of the Aegean main–a protection imperatively necessary for the primitive seafarers of antiquity. But, as in the history of all civilization, the currents of Greek intellectual and artistic progress moved distinctly from east to west.

The European (Doric) culture was in itself less calculated to influence Asia than the Asiatic (Ionic) to affect the younger continent. It was, as decided by nature, upon European soil, upon Attica–the most advanced promontory of European Greece–that the two branches of the Greek race united, and bore in Athens that double fruit at which we marvel. The Dorians, displaced, in some measure, by the rapid growth of Ionic Asia and Europe, turned still farther westward, and settled upon the shores of Sicily and the Gulf of Tarention, where imposing monuments still attest the extent of their power.

The legends of the wanderings of Hellenic tribes, and especially of the so-called Doric migration, were based upon the busy currents of intercourse between Asia and Europe, over seas and straits, and between the European continent and the Morea, the Island of Pelops. The relations and the quarrels of Hellenic and semi-barbaric peoples upon each side of the Aegean are illustrated by the tales of the Argonauts and their voyage, and of the Trojan War, both of which bear the stamp of a certain piratical rivalry.

The fatal lack of unity, resulting from the separate development of neighboring districts, could not be more distinctly characterized than by the fact that the Greek races, although they felt themselves divided from other nations — from barbarians — by an impassable gulf, and were aware of their own absolute intellectual superiority, yet lacked any comprehensive designation for themselves: the name Greeks, or Hellenes, is of comparatively recent origin.