Monday, October 26, 2009

...That´s Me in the Spotlight, Losing My Religion

The first time my host family met Paulette, we sat around making stilted and awkward conversation for a while, and Miguelangel asked her what she liked to do. "Oh, you read and write a lot?" his eyebrows shot up. "So does Angelica." "Oh, you like to make things...just like...Angelica" The look he was giving me was saying, "Are all Americans exactly like you?" As they´d gotten to know me, they´d been clearly thrilled with everything I did. You read and write for fun? What a unique American treasure they had. Then I bring along this other Norte and now they´re thinking that their little treasure isn´t so special at all. Actually, I´d been thinking the same thing.

I´m not going to lie, like most people, I´ve always thought I was a little special, a little different than other people. As a teenager it had manifested as frustration that no one understood me, but since then it´s been more this feeling of anticipation and excitement to see exactly how I´d turn out to be special. When I temporarily lost my religion a few weeks ago, I got my explanation.

I was reading this book called The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are. It´s about evolutionary psychology, and the fact that not just our physical traits, but our behaviors and mentalities, can completely be explained by evolution. The "goal" (although there´s no actual thought process attached to it) is very simple - to perpetuate our genes. From that point, evolution can explain all facets of human behavior - why we love, why we fight, why we are at times generous and at times selfish, at times manipulative, at times sacrificing, why we gossip, why we think we are here for a higher purpose, why we always think we are right in an argument, why we are attracted to certain behaviors or people, just EVERYTHING. Every single thing we do can be logically and completely justified by evolution. As I was reading this, I was slowly coming to the same conclusion that the book eventually did - God was to explain why things are the way they are, and thus with this explanation it is very possible that there is no God. Darwin was an atheist. And the Golden Rule, Treat Others As You Want To Be Treated, like all other "universal truths" that span religions and cultures, is actually an evolutionary treatise that will help get your genes carried into future generations.

THIS ROCKED MY WORLD. The problem was that I agreed with it, fully and completely. It is extremely clear that evolution is true, but I just couldn´t get it alligned with the other "truth" I know, and have felt to my very core for as long as I can remember; that there is an energy all around us, a general sense of balance in the world, and a PURPOSE for all of this. Even if the results were the same, that we were "good people" and the same behaviors that might have carried our soul to the next life or heaven or wherever were the ones carrying our genes to future generations, the WHY still mattered to me...A LOT.

I wrestled with this idea, mentally and emotionally for about a week, and honestly got a little depressed. I wasn´t here in the Peace Corps because I wanted to DO good things as much as I wanted to LOOK like I was doing good things (another evolutionary idea I had to admit was true). Every decision I made that week, when I followed my most natural urges, was completely justified because it´s only human. How silly and egotistical of me to have thought that the powers that be were conspiring to teach me lessons; that I needed to learn those lessons to better myself as a person, since a person is just a moral animal. But at the same time, I´d seen evidence of those "powers that be" in my own life and in the life of others for YEARS. I´d acted under that assumption of "purpose" and it had always been to my advantage, every single time. Was it all really my own delusion?

Eventually, I visited Paulette, in desperation of needing to talk to someone (in English) about what was going through my head. I threw the book on her couch and pointed at it, accusingly. "This book...this book..." I gasped out before collapsing defeated in a heap on her sofa.
"I rocked your world, didn`t I?" (She`d loaned me the book). She understood. Calmly, she went to her room and brought out another book for me to read - this one, The Power of NOW, by Ekhart Tolle. We worked on Ao po`i and talked about other things. When got back home, I was barely into the first chapter when I could see that this book was true (I felt it inherently, like it spoke to my soul, which had been protesting hard for the last week within me, rallying to proclaim its existence, despite certain evidence to the contrary), but that evolutionary psychology was also true, and they were not mutually exclusive. Here`s the gist, the salve that has since left me with a budding zen-like demeanor. Evolution formed the brain and part of the brain is the ego. The ego is the voice in our heads, our insecurities , our sense of separation, our constant thoughts. This can and does get in the way of our other level, our Being or God or spirituality, which is our connecting force; it is love unconditional. To quote "I Heart Huckabees", it is the Blanket.

I`d been running into that same idea everywhere over the last few years, in different forms; in The Secret, in Yoga, in books on writing, books on development, in meditating, in Life Success. It seemed to be everywhere I turned, like a universal truth...and why wouldn't the two levels of ourselves be connected, at times working together and at times going head to head? It certainly explains a lot. It`s like the Walt Whitman quote, "Do I contradict myself? Ok, I contradict myself. I am vast. I contain multitudes."

It happened that after all this I found an essay I wrote BEFORE all this, called "Igual, No Màs"("equal, no more". Paraguayans use this constantly and I love it.), which I´ll include here since we`re on the subject:

What do I believe? I believe I`m already there and have always been there, even before I realized it. I believe we are all very clearly part of the same thing, the same force, the same existence, the same God. Entonces, somos igual, no màs (Then, we`re equal, no more). I believe we are here to help each other, always, along our paths, for we are all in different stages of realization that we are already there. For me, it`s easy to want the physical comfort and to choose the easy path, even when I want to seem like I`ve taken the hard path and I`m tough. I believe that all the world`s religions are the same, and they`re all just fables to explain what we all want to know, which is "Why are we here?" Entonces, religiònes son igual, no màs. They are not inherently bad, but people can and do make them so. I think that I don`t need to go to a certain place and read a certain book to commune with God, but the truth is I do, it just might be a different place or different book. Sometimes I find my life wandering and need to consciously do things to reset my priorities, just like everyone else. So again, somos igaul, no màs. We`re all just doing the best we can all the time. There is no devil, there is only ourselves and our minds and our egos getting in the way of our inherent connection. The physical us, our needs, our desires and evolved personalities and problems, can get in the way of our us, our spiritual us. Our souls, individually and collectively, are always there, constant, unending love, and this is God.

So now I`ve come full circle and reached exactly the same conclusion I had before this whole religious crisis started, but feeling like I`ve walked across hot coals to get here. Maybe I`m not unique, or just not more unique than anyone else. But I am special...exactly as special as everyone else. Maybe the fact that we all feel different from other people is a uniting factor for us. We are the products of evolution, yes, but we can also work toward our own spiritual evolution and more clearly connect the two truths.

I debated whether or not to include all this in my blog, preachy as it might sound, but this really is what`s going on with me, so es lo que es (It is what it is). Or maybe, to bring us back to the REM theme, "Oh, no, I`ve said too much...I haven`t said enough".

In case you doubt divinity:

1 comment:

  1. The "Moral Animal..." is a good book. I'd recommend it to everyone to read!



Chuchi - this is probably my new most popular word. It means snobby or fancy, but is used in the Peace Corps as anything nicer than dirt roads and shacks, or for a person, anyone who showers with hot water. Living in the city, I am super chuchi for here.

Fuerte - literally means strong, but because the culture is based on talking around everything, it´s when a person says anything they want in a direct way - it means asshole

Puede ser and otro dia - literally means "could be" or "another day", but because noone will directly blow someone off, both of them mean "never" and are the answer to a question of when something will happen

Deseas, en tus sueños, Que Arriba Perra/o and Es lo qué es - these are the terrible translations of American sayings that are not used here and don´t really translate, but we say them anyway. Literally they mean "you wish", "in your dreams", "What´s up bitch/dog?" and "it is what it is"

Qué guapa - this means "what a hard worker" and is used by Paraguayans every time I do ANYTHING manual, including carrying a dish to the sink or sweeping out my room. I don´t think they have high expectations for Americans and work.

Saludos - sending saludos by way of a mutual friend is how people tell each other they have a crush on them. The most serious kinds are given with a pinch on the arm and they mean business.

Thumbs up - this is done everywhere here and is a simple answer to pretty much any question. I will probably have carpal tunel in my thumbs when I leave here because I do this so much.

No se como comer esta - this is how one refuses food in Paraguay. Literally, it´s "I don´t know how to eat this" which creates an internal struggle for me each time it´s said because I want to be a smartass and explain that, just like any other food, you put in in your mouth and chew, but I don´t think that´s acceptable here.

No Más and Un poco - this is said after almost every phrase for no real reason other than to make everything sound like it´s not a big deal, even when it really is. Literally, it´s "No More" and "A Little", so the translations are something like "Sit down no more", "Come here a little", and "Do you want dinner no more?"

Cocido - this is a hot drink mixed by carmellizing sugar with a little yerba, adding just enough water to wet it, and then adding more sugar. It´s served by the thermos-full just before bed.

Mosto - this is to sugar what crack is to cocaine. It´s a "tradional" drink capable of putting even the sweetest tooth into a diabetic coma, and is served continuously at fun gatherings like funerals.

Ch-ch-ch-ch - this is the sound Paraguayans make to get each others´attention - like "Psst" . It´s especially used for catcalling, and they have nothing to follow it with - they just want you to look.