Emptiness. That’s what my sleep has been of late. No dreams. Just an absence of consciousness. A state of being in which I am utterly unaware of myself and my context. Although, somewhere in my brain and in every organ in my body, automatic responses to the external and internal environments take place all through the night. The same thing happens during the day, when I am fully awake and alert. But I also am unaware of those automatic responses during my waking hours. Unless, of course, I direct my attention to them: breathing, blinking, thinking, wishing, experiencing aromas and tastes and sounds. We are complex beings. But not as complex as the remarkably intricate nature of the interactions between and the interdependencies of all lives on the planet.  THAT is stunning in its remarkably convoluted, yet astonishingly beautiful, complexity.


A BBC.com video short describes Vanuatu as one of the happiest nations on Earth. Vanuatu is a South Pacific Ocean nation made up of roughly 80 islands. One of the people interviewed for the video suggests that the people of the nation do not depend on money; he says people of other nations tend to rely on money to stoke their sense of happiness, but a genuine respect for and engagement with the environment and other people drive the emotional sense of comfort and joy for the the people of Vanuatu. The picture painted by the BBC.com video suggests that Vanuatu is such a happy place because life in the island nation is simpler than in the rest of the world. And that simplicity is based largely on a purity of attitude unique to the islands’ culture. A willingness to accept each day as it comes—and to consider each day a gift—paves the way to living a happy life in a happy society. That is how I perceived the message from the video.

If one reads the description of the nation produced by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in its World Facebook, one would view the country from an entirely different perspective. Though absent much judgmental language, the country described in the CIA’s World Factbook suggests a very different place; a rather delicate nation beset by significant problems involving political factions, resource scarcity, and various other challenges. The following sentences are extracts from the CIA’s description of the country:

Linguistic divisions have lessened over time but highly fractious political parties have led to weak coalition governments that require support from both Anglophone and Francophone parties. Since 2008, prime ministers have been ousted through no-confidence motions or temporary procedural issues 10 times.


Economic development is hindered by dependence on relatively few commodity exports, vulnerability to natural disasters, and long distances from main markets and between constituent islands. In response to foreign concerns, the government has promised to tighten regulation of its offshore financial center.

Does the CIA’s description of an economically stunted and politically contentious environment comport with the BBC’s description of one of the world’s happiest nations? I suspect a deeper, more intense, and purely objective exploration of both the culture of Vanuatu and the nature of happiness would be required to answer that question. My guess is that neither the rosy image offered by the BBC nor the starkness suggested by the CIA is the “true” Vanuatu. And, in my innate skepticism, I suspect both images were created with purpose; the CIA has a vested interest in describing Vanuatu in one way, the BBC has a vested interest in describing it in another, somewhat conflicting way. And I have to sort through a carefully crafted series of mixed messages—both subjective and objective—to reach my own conclusion about the place. Unless, of course, I am content to let my assessment of the country mirror either the BBC or the CIA perspective. I am not content to let someone else decide what I should think, so I sort through messages of questionable reliability and come to my own conclusion: the culture of Vanuatu encourages an appreciation of the largesse offered by the nation’s history and its resources. But like everyplace on Earth, the country is constantly teetering on the edge of an abyss. The people of Vanuatu apparently have come to terms with their circumstances so, for the moment, they are living in a state of fragile contentment.


He feels every emotion as if it were amplified a thousand-fold. Disinterest becomes loathing. Liking becomes passionate love. Curiosity becomes unregulated attraction; unchecked fascination.  Following on Facebook morphs into stalking in real life; watching, listening, longing to see and hear and feel.

But is that him, or are those emotions the expressions of a character struggling to escape the confines of his brain and make its way through his fingers to the screen in front of him? The questions become: Who is he? Where is he? Why is he so distant, yet so very close?

Finally, are these questions real, or are they ghosts of sentences long since erased and discarded? Sentenced to erasure… Hmm, riddles designed to engage the brain and lead to more, deeper, more engaging questions.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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