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The Eternal Return - Tom Volpato

Part 1: Planting

When I arrived in the Jamaraquá community to teach English, the reason why the whole world has its eyes on the Alter do Chão area immediately struck me. It's not only because of its natural beauty or the fact that it holds the largest freshwater aquifer in the world; it's because the richness of the people who inhabit the Amazon continues to inspire and, in a more subtle way, sustains hope in the world.

From the first moments, experiencing a serene sunset by the Tapajós River, I thought that despite a world that increasingly seems to have this hope fading away, the universe into which I was thrown without mercy appeared to persist regardless of it all. However, as I turned inward, beyond the landscapes and the immeasurable greenery, I understood that it wasn't entirely true that all the anguish of life had vanished in the blink of an eye just because I was in a more decentralized location. I realized I wasn't there to provide resources to those in need or even for an exchange of values and cultures as I had hoped. Instead, I was there to redefine my own perception of Being. It was like walking on the moon if that experience were oddly familiar. The Amazon is a place that facilitates the understanding that the origin of suffering lies within us, not in impermanent experiences in the external world or in the feeling of helplessness in the face of societal decline. However, before defining these spectrums, it's important to note that the orality through which the stories of the thousands of people who have inhabited and still inhabit the area cannot be precisely described in written words. One might try to categorize it, but the radiance of each individual experience gets lost in the attempt to simplify something that was meant to be lived. Hence, it's a challenge to even write about my experience, yet it's for the same reason that it was so important.

As a start, it's also necessary to consider that it shouldn't be the responsibility of everyone who inhabits this universe called the Amazon to inform those outside that this place is the stage for the greatest territorial, cultural, and humanitarian battle in the history of this human cycle—they are clearly occupied with experiencing this struggle that extends far beyond their own communities, yet resonates within every individual. Hence, it's fair that it's also not up to me to complicate the task of describing what I experienced and to try to provide some kind of entry angle to the conflict. I learned that much in the Amazon is about simplification, so go and see for yourself.

In the city, everything is diluted. The world becomes a gray mass of culture, and individuality is lost, which ironically is the original purpose of living in a place like this—continuously work solely for oneself and for "your own," and receive material reward in instant gratification.

Here, things don't work that way; just like the forest itself, the seeds of everything planted need to undergo the gradual process of different seasons to fertilize, sometimes not even thriving. Nothing is done with the immediate intention of "harvesting," and the very act of planting, working, and living through this struggle is already the great achievement. Unlike in the city, here the sides are very clear: one, gray, filled with doubt and lack of self-knowledge/self-fulfillment; the side of deforestation, the loss of connection with spirit, and the direct or indirect genocide of culture; the other, green, representing evolution, the natural course of life, self-valuation, and preservation. As I mentioned, it's noticeable how both spectrums are present within each individual in the Amazon communities—nothing is merely black or white. It's easy to see how the peace that comes with the sheer wealth of being alive is constantly assaulted by the unbridled rhythm of colonization—the rhythm of ego. We all know that this process generates an anxiety that might be purely human, but the lack of perspective for tomorrow isn't natural. This burden of having to deal with the fate of the world, like a pesticide, seeps into the earth that naturally flourishes to simplify life within each of us, within everything that has always been here. I know I said I wouldn't delve into the subject, but it's impossible to recount the experience of entering the Amazon for the first time without a certain "taste" of what this intrinsic conflict means, so visibly manifest when you're there. The forest reminds us that we've always known the sides, just as when, like the forest itself, we breathe in and out what's within each of us—effortlessly, without even thinking. I guess that's it: thinking. The human mind itself has become our undoing.

Everything was planned, at least that's what I thought. I would start the classes by introducing a bit about myself and the purpose of my visit. I'd say, "my name is Tom," and then ask, "what is your name?" to each student, explaining the meaning of each sentence. Then, I'd follow the content of the textbook I brought with me until the end of the course, occasionally making room for something more flexible if needed.

Obviously, from the very first sessions, the more I thought and planned about the content, considering how many people would come, whether there would be enough energy to light up the room, and the general scarcity of resources, I was confronted with a reality that I should have expected—that, due to all these issues and the inherent weight I mentioned earlier, nobody would actually be willing to learn content that, even if offered for free, did not come from a place of genuine connection with each of these people. This need appeared to me as opposed to most "modern" educational proposals, which often mask themselves as personalized but end up restricting both student and teacher to standardized content that hinders creative thinking regarding the interdisciplinary nature of subjects—this was how my mind worked. I wondered: How was it possible? How can one do something for oneself and at the same time for others? I'm still not sure, but what I can say is that working in the Amazon is realizing that, in a way, doing for others is also doing for oneself. Every breath I took in the forest air, whether swimming in the river, sleeping in the middle of the woods where "you don't see the animals, but they see you," playing all sorts of "pira pega" games with my students, eating cassava flour with watermelon (it's the worst that works) and delicious cupuaçu cream, or even listening to the chants of the iconic carnival groups from Alter do Chão: the centenarios, "Eu Não Dou Meu Quati" and "A Jacu no Pau," I was certain that if, like me, anyone is willing to break old constraints and just experience the place, they'll find a new home there.

But in life, it's not all cupuaçu cream, and in the Amazon, which is now the center of the world, it couldn't be different. From the first week, fewer adults showed up in class every day, and my attempts to open new sessions in the nearby communities of Maguarí and São Domingos were unsuccessful. Except for the children, the seed I was passionately trying to plant seemed as though it wouldn't take root… That was when, again, I decided to stop, breathe, and just live for a while.

After a few days of pure reflection, I understood that it was futile for me to water the leaves of my plant, which meant spreading my message to more communities, if there was a deficiency in the seed itself. After all, what was it that I so fervently wanted to plant? This led to the main question: What was my seed? In other words, what was the motive behind my teaching?


Part 2: Sowing

The state of the educational system is deplorable and consciously chooses to harm those who need care the most, but we don't always ask ourselves why.

The natural course of life, and everything that strives to be evolutionary, stems from a relationship that mirrors the very nature of the interdisciplinary nature of subjects (or unified field) and the environment. For example, the abstraction I'm referring to, like any form of teaching, won't "take root" if it can only encompass its own dogmas. Even if the teaching aims to involve beyond its own discipline, it'll only acquire real meaning as it seeks to view all those who are willing to learn as individuals who might not necessarily thrive by adhering to the chosen methods. Only then is it possible for the exchange between "disciple" and "master" to occur genuinely because without this greater flexibility from the teacher, the true response from the student won't emerge through their own redefinition of their relationships with themselves and their environment. Any knowledge passed on is only truly valid if it goes beyond itself and recognizes itself as a result of age-old wisdom encoded to penetrate the unified field of life, rather than being a mere conglomeration of ideas from an individual or small group taken out of context, limited to a narrower approach. In one of these age-old cultures, Hinduism, this unified field is just another word for everything that remains constant in life despite possible sorrows, temporary pleasures, and mainly in the face of the domination of these vicious cycles over us, you, and we—who create the environment. I say this because I was fortunate to bring with me on the trip a millennia-old Yoga scripture that I read fervently for two weeks; it was a guide for the potential liberation from old harmful patterns of humanity—a process that can only be achieved by breaking individual cycles from within to the outside. These teachings, which seemed so synchronous with my mental state, provided me at the same time with an escape route and a penetration angle into all the anxiety I felt for not believing I was doing enough. Now, considering this unified field, in my inner world, my anguish was transformed into a maternal instinct toward each student, even if sometimes it was just one. Over time, this attitude proved to be just a reflection; one of the "leaves" of the tree that was my relationship with the Amazon itself. The more I was willing to remember the natural process of stopping, breathing, and learning to be flexible, the more it took care of me, showing me the way every day—effortlessly, without even thinking. Everything became simpler.

In the following weeks of classes, only the children remained. Of course, they showed a special preference for games, especially one of question and answer in which, as swiftly as the flight of the Japiim birds passing over the Community Center where the classes took place, they would rush to press first the paper "buttons" representing two teams, and in the count of 'one, two, three...' answer questions about what they had learned, which I narrated in a high-pitched voice, announcing the victory and defeat of teams like 'Bubbling Onions' and 'Valley Trout' (the winning team got to choose the next game). I mainly integrated games into education, yes, because each time I understood more what was necessary to reach the so-called unified field. I started considering four aspects—always from within to outside—that served to represent the path of interdisciplinarity and its intermediaries until achieving a reflection in its environment.

The first aspect is the relationship of the unified field with the content; the second, the content with the teacher, which in the community's case was focused on animals and expressions used in the region (as I wasn't going to teach them how to say 'shark' in English when there are only pink dolphins and tucuxis here); the third, the relationship of the teacher with their students (which, because they were children, was based on games, in which I also participated to put myself in an equal place with my students: seemingly innocent amidst the weight of guiding oneself in a decomposing world); and finally, that of the students with their environment. Harmony was necessary throughout the process, as everything was already out of my control even in my direct relationship with the children. For example: although the community center was surrounded by one of the most peaceful natural landscapes I've ever seen, with one side exposed to the warm waters of the Tapajós River meeting the vibrant green Igapó, and on the other, hundreds of Japiim bird nests enveloped in a large tree where they care for the offspring of other birds, the children's concentration was slow and rarely stable. Many times, I had to sit in silence and wait for about 10 minutes until they calmed down, stopped kicking the water bottles designated for breaks, tore the cardboard with the class content, or ran after each other knocking over all the chairs. Faced with this behavior, I didn't dare to say a word because to me, it was clear that it was a rare opportunity for relief given all the weight they faced in their daily lives. What weighed on me, and always raised doubts about my method, was that all these aspects were interconnected; hence, a lack of proficiency and attention to any one of them generated a deficiency in all.

The purpose of planting and watering the seed must be to cultivate harmony among all phases. This must be the main force in the conception of teaching so that the relationship between the four aspects is always flowing with the sap of love that shapes all parts of the tree. This tree must always be a continuation of the seed first and foremost, from its root to its highest branch where the light first touches it.

If our purpose doesn't get lost along the way until its manifestation in the material world, everything we need already exists within us. All this is to say that this purpose exists regardless of whether we are willing to see it or not. We all have the light of limitless knowledge, but to remember this, the four aspects need to flow in harmony. Even today, when we survive in a dysfunctional way, this light will always exist despite everything and everyone trying to take it away—it is nature, and nature is the Amazon, and the Amazon is everything there is. As my friend Jorginho from Alter do Chão says, Pará is a router of culture. This culture of simplification, which works hand in hand with nature, is the very source of knowledge. That's why I determined that my seed is self-valuation.

Self-valuation must exist so that the inhabitants of the Amazon can enjoy their own purpose and reflect it in their environment. Therefore, the lack of proficiency in English, even in communities that have their main source of income in tourism, is still a leaf on our tree. For the inhabitants of the Amazon to serve as an example of their struggle for self-valuation, it is necessary that the resources, traditions, and knowledge that were and are taken from the place can function again as their own sustenance, not to propagate the attempt to extract the culture and wealth that has always been here.

Only in this way, with a true harmonization from within the indigenous peoples of this same knowledge, will humanity know the true extent of the Evolutionary Plan that dictates the course of the Universe from the smallest grain of sand to the whole that encompasses it.

Even though time seemed slower, the month turned into weeks, weeks into days, and the day turned into the time to leave, to undo being sowing everything right there, at the root. Before the last class, I made 'certificates' out of cardboard with the classic 'my name is ____,' including each student's name, drawings, and followed by a message: 'I graduated from teacher Tom'—the 'kit' came with a muiraquitã necklace. Not all the students were there; I learned that here they don't talk much about goodbyes because you never say goodbye to home. When the class ended, we had already descended to the ground level of the community center and also the ecstasy of the experience itself. I was about to dismiss my dear students, but I noticed that when it was time to end, it was the first time I had looked at the clock in a long time, as if I was already ready to move on. In fact, what was about to permeate me again was fear and anxiety. No, that wasn't the end; it was just the beginning, or rather, a reunion. That was when I decided to call everyone back again with a whistle similar to the Japiim birds that accompanied us throughout the journey. Almost ready to move on, everyone turned around: 'One more round of "pira pega"?'

I hope to have soared to the height of everything in this universe of the Amazon and to have found a way to share my purpose gliding amidst the culture of these people, so that I can also represent them from now on, in every environment I find myself in. From the beginning, there has never been one path, and if there were, it would be to recognize what has always been here—the eternal return to all our love.

Antonio Volpato I Tom I Teacher Tom

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