I’ve always believed in something more, something that gives meaning to life. I have my own beliefs, but one thing I love to do is to expose myself to other ways of thinking. I have spent hours talking with Christians in East Africa, Muslims in North Africa and Atheists in North America, but none of these encounters perturbed me more than the three I’m going to tell you about in this article.
San Juan de Chamula, Mexico
Surrounded by dozens of people and various stands, I looked at the church from afar. Its appearance looked perfectly normal from the outside, but I heard from other travelers that the inside is totally different than what you would expect of a church. I paid the 20 pesos to get in and reluctantly turned off my camera since taking pictures was forbidden. Since I’m a “good little girl,” I respected the rule, but if you are interested in seeing pictures, just go on Google and you’ll find some. So, I turned off my camera and entered the church. Immediately, I could tell there was nothing about Jesus going on in there. In fact, there was nothing reminding me of an actual church, except maybe the line of saints in wooden boxes lined up against the wall on my left. There was no bench; instead, the ground was covered with branches of what looks like pine tree (however I am pretty sure pine tree doesn’t grow in Mexico, so I have no idea what it really was), there were candles lit here and there (and placed directly on the ground, yes!) and people were kneeling before the candles to pray and do Mayan rituals to heal the sick. At the far end of the church, many people dressed with furry clothes were chanting, mumbling, playing music and children were dancing. I really enjoyed feeling the energy of the place and being in the middle of something bigger than myself. However, the fact I had to pay to get in made me wonder: Were my eyes seeing something authentic or just a show for tourists?
San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
I became friends with a guy from Jerusalem and of course, I asked him questions about his faith. He told me what they were taught about history and the rise of Christianity based on historic facts… and then I told him that I took theology classes and that we were taught different things. The information given by our respective teachers did not match. Then I had a conversation with a guy interested in science and esoteric stuff. “What I believe is based on historic and scientific facts.” Really? Well my beliefs are, too! And the Jewish person I met earlier thought the same! I felt anger building up inside me: How can we ever be sure of anything on a spiritual basis?
San Marcos, Guatemala
After meeting several people who exhorted me to visit the village of San Marcos because they could feel “how spiritual I was and thus should avoid the futility of partying in San Pedro,” I decided to give it a try. On each side of the hidden alleys were schools of meditation, vegan restaurants, and yoga class ads. As I explored the town dressed in hiking gear and a backpack, I had never felt so out of place. All around me were half-naked hippies, old men who looked like shamans, peaceful healers, and soothsayers. I looked so common and boring beside all those people!
An interesting thing was the energy of the place. I expected it to be resourceful (what else should you expect when people go around talking about the purification of the body through crystals, spiritual breathing, and soothing rituals?) but no, on the contrary, I felt completely empty and weary after only a few hours. Spiritually drained. Overstuffed, as if I had tasted everything at once. I could not hear the word “spiritual” or anything related to it anymore.
That feeling of “don’t talk to me about anything close to spirituality or I’ll bite you” lasted for a few weeks. I had always loved having deep conversations about each and everyone’s beliefs (it was even part of my former job!), but I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had had too much. What happened? Well, thinking back on my Mexico-Guatemalan experience, I noted three things:
1) I’m not comfortable giving a price to spirituality. I think it should be given for free, just like Buddha, Jesus, or other masters did. I admire programs like Vipassana who only ask for voluntary donations.
2) I can relate with people seeking a spiritual meaning to life (I’m a seeker myself) as in San Marcos, but I think that experience was too much for me because I felt that everybody was on a very intense quest that pushed them to try anything that sounded spiritual.
3) Pure truth is unreachable.
After the conversations I had with my Jewish and New Age friends, I stopped looking for what is true versus false and started looking for what sounds “in tune” to me.