Against my better judgment I sought out spiritual guidance a week or so ago. I’m a strong believer in that we do pave the way for our own futures by our acceptance of and treatment of others and how we choose to manage our emotions, workload and so on. I realize that being here in Latin America I should be more respectful, but I just cannot abide anyone giving me the reason that their best made plans didn’t come about due to “el destino”. Destiny may well play a role but we, as individuals with free will, have the opportunity to manipulate destiny surely?
My intent is not to knock organized religion or any spiritual belief of any sort, far be it for me to cast an opinion on something so important to so many. As I routinely say in Spanish to my Catholic in-laws when they ask after my faith: “tengo mis problemas con el man,” and that’s how I leave it rather than to enter into the semantics of my problems with Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism…you name it, I’ve probably harbored some irritable feeling towards it.
Only the other day I snapped back – albeit lightly – at a colleague of mine when she spoke of the benefits of the Catholic confessional. We were actually discussing the paramilitaries in Colombia and atrocities committed by both sides in regions such as the Putumayo. For me, it was impossible to understand how a priest could maintain silence when a paraco or guerrillero asked for forgiveness in a confessional once he or she had admitted to absolutely brutal crimes. The crux of my argument rested on the basis that the church could potentially forgive this barbarism but the family of the deceased would have to deal with the loss in their own very real and painful fashion. I decided it was time to speak to someone.
Colombia is of course the pais del sagrado corazon and Catholicism runs deep here in the creole manifestation of Nueva Granada. But, by the same rationale, there is a very present, very obvious following of more indigenous and aboriginal beliefs here. Call it religious syncretism or bet hedging. All along the Avenida Caracas you can see various shamanic stores offering everything from the cure to erectile dysfunction to money making schemes. And people visit these frequently. Costeno friends will talk of their visits to the “Mamo” and in Mompós the house has been blessed both by the priest and by a shaman from the Guajira. Neither of these actions was of my doing, but, I maintain that I must respect the beliefs of my staff as they are the ones in the business all day every day.
Anyway, the months of September and October are almost inevitably months of deep introspection and reflection for me and rather than swallowing more emotional distress, I decided to go and speak to a “wise woman”. I shall call her this since I cannot think of a better term. Why September, well it is my birthday month and why October, well, let’s just say that there are significant dates from my past here.
The last time I found myself visiting a “spiritual” advisor was on our trip to Cuba in 2012. Alba had wanted to visit a santero and after to chatting with our host family we were bundled into the back of a windowless van and driven out to a nondescript and decidedly non-touristy barrio of La Habana. She had her reading and then I decided that being here, I might as well make the most of it. It was of course most interesting and I reflect on this day a great deal, not least for the experience of visiting Papito, but also for seeing an altogether different face of the city.
What would be my experience in Bogota?
Originally, I had not wanted to visit the wise woman. My fear of the unknown stems from a vivid imagination and a truly profound concern about messing with or upsetting something or someone on “the other side”. I partook in a Ouija board ceremony once at school and that was enough to terrify me. I couldn’t see what she might be able to offer me. But, after about two hours with her, it was evident, she had helped. Not with solutions, but she had listened. My concerns about work, my emotional state and worries for the future all could be addressed in an informal setting and without the structure of needing a rosary or to become more pious. It was like being on the psychologist’s chaise longue but with tarot cards. Things I knew but perhaps was unable to identify clearly or to explain became easier to share.
Apparently I am in a rush to succeed. Perhaps this is a result of a distinctly protestant upbringing? In theory, everything is possibly and most excitingly, she did mention that my planned book, the Mompós Project, is a good idea…so that was most comforting. I need to relax more, take more time to myself and just knuckle down. Personally, I see this as great advice for anyone. Maybe she says it to all of those who visit her way out in the Barrio Colon in Bogota. But, for me, they were welcome words.
Perhaps I am not the most spiritual or religious person, but, I am prepared to listen.