Snake in a bamboo pole

Pattaya, Thailand.

Once again I find myself in some coffee shop, in Pattaya this time. It is called Brew ‘n Bake and I don’t recommend going there. After my third latte I asked for a glass of water and I only could get expensive bottled water from Nestle (a brand I try to avoid after hearing the recent speech of the CEO). The waitress first told me that they did not have filtered water and when I enquired further she told me that only the espresso comes with a glass of water and not with their other coffee variations. Irrefutable logic of course. I am sure she did not make up the rules but it does give me a foul taste in the mouth. I really dislike place that do not serve free water to otherwise paying customers.

I wonder if some researcher ever calculated the economical losses caused by rudeness or unfriendliness of the entrepreneur. But in my case the results are quite obvious. The day before I moved into a new house in east Amsterdam I had to lift a table through the window on the first floor. I was by myself so I asked the guys of the cafeteria on the corner to help me. I thought they would because I would eat lunch there every day since I was painting my new house. The refused to help me. I never went back. For all my little groceries I went to the night shop 2 minutes further walking from that moment on. I would spend about € 5,- per day in the night shop or € 35,- per week. That’s € 1820,- per year and I lived there for 10 years. That would make € 18.200,- in lost sales for them plus all the negative advertising I did for them (every friend that came to my place and went out for cigarettes or something would get very clear instructions never to go to the store on the corner). And after finishing this article I will never come back here.

But I am getting side tracked. A bit.

I made a friend in Hong Kong. Like everybody else in Hong Kong he is a banker and like many other men on this planet he wonders what his purpose in life is. Is there more to life than selling financial products in exchange for a handsome salary? When somebody asks himself such a question out loud my heart makes a little summersault. I love to hear it because I know it could be the beginning of a fascinating journey outside the personal comfort zone and beyond the expectations of education, upbringing and society.

I offered to help him on his upcoming journey by challenging him and inspiring him in the ways that are available to me. It could be by phone, Skype, email or – like today – through a post on my site. My intention is to keep the desire for answers burning and keep the search going. I want to keep the flame alive. As an exchange of energy I will gracefully accept any donation that makes my friend feel good about himself. It is a type of deal that I haven’t been successful with but still like to give it a try once more. It will be so beautiful when it really starts to work. I would love to do my thing (trying to be as helpful as possible) without having to talk about money ever again but just seeing it appear on my account. I want to create the conditions for people to help each other because they enjoy helping each other.

And thus we started. First thing is to realize and to accept that the journey is not an upcoming journey anymore but work in progress. The first monk I ever met (on the second day of my first retreat in 2004, he is a sensei by now: Michael Mugaku Zimmerman) told me that I was ‘a snake in the bamboo pole’ when he heard in my enthusiasm about that something new and exciting that had gotten a grip on me. There is no way back once you started your journey is the implication. His words caused dizziness in me. Fuuuck! I am a snake in a bamboo pole! I can’t go back! Wowwowwowwow!!

Once you have started your journey everything you do and don’t do is your journey. You are a snake in a bamboo pole too. The journey is towards becoming more authentic, more real, more conscious of what is going on inside and outside. It doesn’t really matter if you spend your waking hours in a ‘spiritual’ way or not. The important thing is that you now are aware of your desire to deepen and slowly (or not) become aware of all the inner  and outer obstacles that try to prevent you from doing that. Now you can ask yourself why you are not doing what you want to do. Every self-confronting question answered honestly is a gain in your process of self-development or – as you wish- spiritual growth.

We have a voice in our head that tell us what is good and what is bad. We are conditioned to obey that voice, to live up to its expectations. Once we have told ourselves that self-development is good and being superficial and a slave of agenda and habits is not desirable we now add a new layer to our self-criticism. But it is just the same old pattern and once you see that the game changes. It is not about how many hours you spend on your meditation cushion, it is about how well acquainted you get with the voice in your head and realizing that you are NOT that voice. Don’t get me wrong, meditation is a great (and essential) tool but the awareness is the goal.

I started with a little talk about the significance of a small negative experience. I had to pay for water in the coffee shop where I am writing. Nothing new, really. But by giving it some reflection and comparing the experience to another experience I can discover a pattern. A pattern that lives inside me could very well live inside others too. I might not be able to change the policy of this coffee shop but I can decide to minimize my own rudeness. This could even be an economically very wise decision.

When you start your spiritual path you are basically saying: I am willing to look everywhere, especially in the places where I haven’t looked before. And the cool thing is, once you made that decision you will find little lessons everywhere, all the time.


  1. Grant says

    Snakes are amazingly symbolic, I would have been proud as well to be the “snake in a bamboo pole”. Not every culture reveres snake but in some cultures the cobra snake is respected and recognised for its power to teach. I’m alsways happy to read stories of respect. Well done.

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