Paraguay

20 years since slogging through the reddish mud country roads of Guaira, Caazapa, and Caaguazu. Guarani names that I practiced saying over and over before the flight to Asunción. A language that survived because of coitus, six women to every Spanish soldier.

Sitting shotgun in a truck, 3 of us squeezed in the front (Cayo, Ernesto, Me), no seat belts, sipping yerba mate. I’m speaking Spanish, asking questions about recycling plastic and filtering water with chlorine. Cayo drives, points his finger up at the windshield, motioning to each vehicle we pass on the two lane highway. Yvaga, he says, cielo, heaven. That’s where you will go when you die, his finger silently communicates. Watching this ritual I see the other drivers smiling at us, their fingers also pointing upward, telling us the same thing.

Cayo asks me about California. The Paraguayan campo has no cable TV, no CNN, no movie theaters. He doesn’t question me about celebrities or our president, he asks about the land, trees, animals, what the air smells like, feels like. I tell him about non-native eucalyptus trees, how they suck water out of the earth, take nourishment away from other plants. He understands. The conversation is easy, like the cumulus clouds that float like cotton above us. Ernesto speaks and at first I think I understand, the cadence sounds the same, but then I’m lost in a time before Spanish, before South American roads. I close my eyes for a few seconds, a lightness takes over. I’m hearing a language not of an evangelizing church or of plundering capitalism, but of a people, a community. A few minutes later we slow down, pick up a hitchhiker, normal in this part of Paraguay. I see the guy sitting in the truck bed, a large heavy sack between his legs. A man on a journey, we both watch the road, I look out the front, he looks out the back.

Scheduling Spiritual Growth

People schedule SoulCycle, mani-pedis, evening cocktail encounters with friends. I schedule spiritual growth. Very American of me, I know, but I live in a world of kid carpools, grocery shopping, laundry, and taking the dog out to poop. My daily calendar is always filled to the brim with bills that need to be paid and emails that must be returned. If I don’t make time to listen to myself, everything else takes over.

For years I knew there was a spirit in me, a writer in me, a poet in me, never fully free, always bound by external obligations. I have figured out a formula for expressing my inner being. I begin each morning reading a spiritual text that helps guide me on my journey. I meditate at least 45 minutes a day, scheduled breathing, in, out, trying to be as present as possible. Most Wednesday nights I meditate for an hour with a small group of friends, we then read and discuss the writings of Thich Nhat Hahn for another hour. I spend daily minutes (often hours) writing, reflecting on who I am with words, my words, on a page or computer screen. Every two months I plan intensive meditation weekends (Friday-Sunday) where I meditate multiple hours a day either at home or away. Each day I also do some form of yoga.

What exactly is spiritual growth? For me spiritual growth invites my internal quiet to speak loudly with truth. When I grow spiritually I learn things like love is everywhere, more is learned by listening than talking, there is good in everyone, anger is always reactive. Wisdom I’ve heard before, known before, but I need reminding, over and over again. Am I sitting enlightened under the bodhi tree? No, but I’m keeping a channel open, my spirit touching a timeless stream.