Pay Attention

Do you ever feel like you are chicken running around without a head? I know I sure do.  In a sense, it can possibly be a good thing if it is a metaphor for living with a little spontaneity.  However, if the metaphor resembles the chaos that engulfs your life, it might be worthwhile to examine how that can change.  It is important to pay attention.  If not, life will pass by in the blink of an eye before we even knew what happened.  Colombia has been great for me- it has allowed me to simplify.  My responsibilities are very specific: teach English, teach/perform magic, learn, and have fun.  Although I haven’t been keeping up with my meditation practice like I would like, I have been learning how to pay attention, and I believe this is a result of the relative simplicity of my life here.  Gratitude has been one of the most important teachers for paying attention.  So often, I am overcome with gratitude for all that is happening here.  And in that moment of gratitude, I am forced to stop and reflect on the multitudes of happenstance events/connections that have led me along the way.  The more I pay attention to these nuances, the more I realize and appreciate how dynamic my life is.



So I left you all hanging for a few weeks in terms of the kids’ big performance in Gustavo’s magic show.  There is only one way to explain it: pure magic.  As Daniel, Andres, Carlos Lopez (from Conectando Sonrisas), and myself joined Gustavo on stage, the heat from the stage lights was just as intense as the roaring applause we received after Gustavo introduced us to the audience.  Carlos and I both explained a little bit about ourselves and our organizations.  Then, all attention was on Daniel and Andres as they began their ball and vase routine.  I was so proud; they executed it perfectly with enthusiasm and showmanship.  Sharing that sense of empowerment with them is not something we will ever forget.  Just to put it in perspective, at that point, they had been studying magic for just a little over two months and they were already performing in a professional magic show in front of an audience of over 600 people!  Wow.   On top of this, it was also a special evening because we brought my 10 children from the magic club and Carlos arranged for 15 more children from Bella Flor to go to the show.  They were all in awe with the variety of talent they saw that night.  Check out this video that documents the event (in Spanish of course).

iIusion2012 from Conectando Sonrisas on Vimeo.

Last post, I mentioned that I was feeling some frustration in regards to the lack of discipline the kids had with practicing outside of the magic club.  The following week, it worsened and reached the point where I was considering cutting 2 of the kids in the club.  I sat down with the director of Bella Flor and we discussed our options and decided to implement mandatory practice hours outside of the club twice a week.  It is a required space that the kids go to in order to practice together.  I am grateful to share that this has completely changed the energy and enthusiasm of the club.  The two kids I was thinking of cutting are two of the children that are in most regular attendance at these practice sessions.  In the last three weeks, all of the children have advanced light-years ahead of where they were before we implemented these practice hours.  They are also learning many impressive tricks independently.  From the moment I show up at the foundation, I notice the difference immediately.  Now, when  I walk in the door of our practice room, the majority of the kids are already there, diligently practicing.  With this whole process, I have learned that they simply needed a little more structure for the process of the magic club to be effective.  They weren’t quite independent enough to manage their own time to come practice, but now that those times are in place, they are really taking off with the magic.  Because they are improving so much, their confidence is higher than ever, and because of this I am seeing passion and joy emerge like never before.  It is a beautiful thing.

Two weeks ago, I found myself and my performing partner in crime, Joe, strutting down the sidewalks of the barrio of Ciudad Bolivar rocking RayBans, backpacks, and shit-eating grins as TV cameras (a well-known reporter, camera man, and assistant) from Caracol (the largest TV network in Colombia) followed.  How can I take myself seriously with an experience like that?? Only in Colombia.  This was the second day I had TV cameras follow me; the first day, they came to film me teaching at my university.  At the university, it turned into quite a commotion as professors and deans were literally bickering over who would get an opportunity to be in front of the camera.  It was hysterical for me because they didn’t understand that the whole thing was not really about the university.  In Ciudad Bolivar, the film crew captured Joe and I performing at the hospital and they joined me with the magic club at the foundation.  It was quite an experience having TV cameras breathing down my neck for two full days- it was a lot of fun, but I was ready to be done by the end of the second day.  The program will be airing on the news either this week or next week.  It is a special they sometimes run during their news broadcasts called “Historias que hacen la diferencia” (Stories that make the difference).  I will be sure to find a way to share a copy of it with you all as soon as I get my hands on it.

Believe it or not, last Thursday I finished teaching my last class for the semester.  That went fast.  Next semester we are going to change things a bit- we will be offering less classes, but each class will last two hours instead of one.  We will only allow students who have been consistent this semester.  It has been exciting because with those who have been consistent, their English and comprehension has gotten noticeably better.  Immediately after that last class on Thursday, I put my RayBans back on and hopped on a plane to the famous breathtaking Caribbean city of Cartagena.  My friend Joe invited to me join him and his family there- they weren’t getting in until that Saturday, but I wanted to take advantage of having my Fridays off.  I was a little uneasy about going and not knowing a single person to hang out with, but I trusted I would meet people at the hostel I would be staying at.  I met three absolutely great Australian friends (of course, Australians are everywhere, especially in hostels)- Anthony, Jessica, and Bethany.  We took an overnight trip to an island off the coast where we went snorkeling, swam in a bioluminescent lagoon, explored mangroves, and ate a fresh crab and lobster dinner.  Leaving early couldn’t have worked out better.  The week with Joe’s family was amazing, and they were incredibly generous- I got to live like a king for a week.  We stayed in an amazing hotel, ate fine food, shared some good laughter, and got to enjoy the elections from abroad- congrats Obama!  Cartagena is truly an amazing city- it has everything: an old castle where many battles have been fought, colonial architecture, the Caribbean, a modern section, and a relaxed culture full of dancing and joy.








Meet Johanna.  She is pretty great.  We have been seeing each other for a bit over a month now.  We share a lot in common: we love hiking, we love philosophy and good conversation, we love laughing, and we both have a common interest- medicine.  She will actually be graduating from medical school at the end of this month!  Last weekend, I went with her to her family’s finca in SanGil, which is the outdoor adventure capital of Colombia.  On the finca, they produce coffee, and during harvest season which is right now, they pick over 2,000 kilos of coffee a day!  It was an interesting weekend to say the least.  The main motive for the trip was for me to meet her parents so that they would be comfortable with the prospect of her joining Ty, Jessa, and I for our December travels in Peru.  I think we were a little premature with the whole meeting the parents thing.  Her parents are extremely traditional and on my first day there, they asked me to take out my earrings.  I really didn’t want to and felt it was rude of them to request this, but I wanted to respect the fact that I was a guest in their home, so I did.  Throughout the weekend we did have a lot of fun and went on some amazing adventures such as cave exploring, rafting, rapelling down a 70 meter waterfall , and visiting Colombia’s famous Parque de Chicamocha (2nd largest canyon in the world).  However, there was an underlying tension that was brewing all weekend.  I could tell her parents did not exactly care for me or the fact that I was seeing their daughter.  The thing that bothered me the most is that they never gave me a chance- they judged me the second they saw my earrings and never really attempted to get to know who I am.  It was definitely an interesting cultural experience- in the middle of a culture that goes back many generations and is as solid as cement.  It was also one that I wasn’t prepared for- I figured that if Johanna invited me, there weren’t going to be any such issues.  For me, culture differences are something to learn from- to enjoy and to even find humor in.  For them, culture differences are something that is completely negative.  Johanna and I have been enjoying our time together, but after this weekend, we obviously share enormous differences and that means that there is a lot that remains to be seen with the trip, with her graduation, and with us.



The experience with Johanna’s family is exactly what I am talking about in terms of paying attention.  When you see the photos from the weekend, you would never know what was really happening because it was all happening under the table.  However, I have been learning that those seemingly subtle, underlying things are actually not so small.  In fact, I venture to say that they are more important than what is obvious and out in the open.  That’s why it is important to pay attention.  When we are busy or do not stop to examine such cues, we can lose that which is most important or meaningful.  Truly paying attention can help prevent grief and it can also bring immense joy.

Whatever you pay attention to, will grow most important in your life.  Ten years ago, I never imagined that magic would become such an integral part of my life.  Lately, I have been giving magic a lot of attention and it is becoming increasingly more important to me.

What do you want to pay attention to?

7 thoughts on “Pay Attention

  1. Wow…you are so fortunate to have an open mind! I love your words about paying attention…because what you put your attention on is where your lessons & passions are! So proud of you!

  2. Way to be Ryan! So good to read about your adventures and successive reflections. As a very un-magical person, I find the connection between paying attention and your magic very appropriate–the more I pay attention to a magic trick, the more I am fascinated by the technique, skill, and deception of it all. The more you give (attention), the more you get (appreciation and awareness in life). Keep on keeping on, good sir!

  3. Life’s lessons are so important and you are learning to pay attention to those things that go unsaid. A touch, a glance, or even a sigh say so much; things a good Doctor uses in diagnosing along with the more scientific aids.

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