22.11.2013 Consciousness

The World's Poorest President

President gives a timely lesson in humility and service to others, says Jeremy Ball

I was deeply touched when I recently heard the story of Uruguay's President Jose "Pepe" Mujica. On my travels through South America, I have often been touched by the sense of community I felt across national, racial and social boundaries and the calm rational caring approach of most people I met. South America felt almost like one country - in fact, many of the people around Lake Titikaka do not consider themselves Peruvian or Bolivian, but Andean. I was often told that if it were not for European countries coming to South America, it would be one country and, united with North America, the Americas would be one entire country.

I also heard great legends of the return of the Inkas, leaders with integrity and a connection with nature, and stories of the rise of the sacred feminine that would most noticeably begin in South America and then flow around the world.

These legends sounded wonderful but to my mind seemed a little disempowering, as they seemed to rely on a "special" person, like a returning Jesus. But this was just my Christian-tainted understanding. For it is happening and it is happening through ordinary people taking what, to modern capitalist thinking, are extraordinary and unselfish decisions but which the feminine heart in all of us recognises as plain common sense and natural law.

Many South American countries have the feeling that they have gone through the ravages of colonialisation and the intrusion of the world market and rampant commercialism. Yet the people have not been brainwashed or bought into it, completely. Of course, there are many CEOs and corporations and politicians drunk on power in South America, as we can see by the terrible devastation of the rainforests. Yet unlike in the West where too many people are in a coma of credit and material greed, more interested in the injury list at the beloved footy club than people dying of starvation overseas, the South Americans have largely remained humane in their thinking.

In Australia, we have recently chosen our new leader and the majority of our citizens have elected someone who puts companies above people, money above quality of life and almost everything above the planet on which we live.

In late 2009, Uruguay did the opposite - they elected Jose Mujica who took office early in 2010. He declined to move home to the palatial Presidential Mansion but stayed living with his wife on his humble farm. Jose also declined the government limosine and chauffeur and continues to drive himself as often as he can in his 1980s VW Beetle. And to top it all, Jose donates 90% of his presidential salary to charities mainly focused on providing cost effective housing for the impoverished. He does not donate his salary as a tax benefit or because he sits on corporate boards and can throw it away as small change; he does it because he does not need the money and cares deeply for his fellow citizens and the world.

Jose is often described as the world's poorest president to which he has responded by saying how rich he is because his life is not encumbered by possessions: "It is not what one has, but having an endless craving for more that makes one poor." To Jose, life is not about elegant clothes or money but about working as little as possible to enjoy life more.

Jose was the former leader of a leftist organisation called Tupamaros that used Robin Hood-like strategies to help the poor. These activities earned him 14 years in jail, much spent in solitary confinement, thus enabling plenty of time for insight and contemplation. He campaigned for the presidency using public transport with his rucksack across his shoulders.

As President of Uruguay, he attended the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. The central message of the speech he delivered is:

Today, man does not govern the forces he has unleashed, but rather, it is these forces that govern man; and life. Because we do not come into this planet simply to develop, just like that, indiscriminately. We come into this planet to be happy, because life is short and it slips away from us. And no material belonging is worth as much as life, and this is fundamental.

But life is going to slip through my fingers, working and over-working in order to be able to consume more, and the consumer society is the engine – because, ultimately, if consumption is paralysed, the economy stops, and if you stop the economy, the ghost of stagnation appears for each one of us. But it is this hyper-consumption that is harming the planet. And this hyper-consumption needs to be generated, making things that have a short useful life, in order to sell a lot. Thus, a light bulb cannot last longer than 1000 hours. But there are light bulbs that last 100,000 hours! But these cannot be manufactured, because the problem is the market, because we have to work and we have to sustain a civilisation of "use and discard". And so we are trapped in a vicious cycle. These are problems of a political nature, which are showing us that it's time to start fighting for a different culture.

I'm not talking about returning to the days of the caveman, or erecting a "monument to backwardness". But we cannot continue like this indefinitely, being ruled by the market. On the contrary, we have to rule over the market.

In Australia and other Western countries over the last decade and more, an increasing number of people have come to the realisation that the capitalist and corporation agenda-setting model just does not work, either for the health of individuals or the health of the planet. Yet in our countries where these boys completely hold sway, it seemed hopeless to fight against the tide.

So initially dozens and then hundreds and now tens of thousands of us have sought an alternative lifestyle outside or alongside the "matrix". Now that we represent a significant and momentum-changing section of society, it is imperative that, like Jose Mujica and many campaigners and humanists around the globe, we begin to take back the reins of our countries' custodianship and get off the sidelines and make radical change happen.

Because the alternative lifestyle we have been living and practising and honing is literally that - it is the alternative to self and environmental destruction. It is a lifestyle where the seas are more important than toxic wastes, where children's health is more important than drug experimentation, where people don't have five bedroom homes with TVs and air-conditioning in each room, where GM crops and CSG have no foothold. Where decisions are not made according to cost but determined by what is right. Where leaders from local to federal government are examples of humility and service, like Jose "Pepe" Mujica.

Jose did not alight on a mountain from a celestial cloud, nor was he teleported here from the future or a spaceship. He was not even recognised as a reincarnate lama at a young age!

All Jose did was decide he was going to live simply and for the benefit of others and then to live by his intention every day. The second coming is inside of you! What are you going to do to honour this force and live by it!

* Photo REUTERS Andres Stapff

Jeremy Ball

At 26, following a “shamanic intervention”, Jeremy closed his business and left London to visit sacred sites and elders, later creating Transformational Tours and SacredFire.

When not roaming mother earth, you will find Jeremy at home in Byron Bay's hinterland, playing with his children and planning the next adventure. jeremy@transformationaltours.com.au