Conversations on the topic of spirituality — Culture, identity and an existential crisis.
This is a series of articles based on the conversations in several meetings that are taking place with folks from all over the world on the questioning and understanding of each of our own spiritual beliefs, trying to align and comprehend what are our conceptions and misconceptions about “the other and their belief systems”.
This is the article on the fourth conversation we’ve had in the last month or so. We have been meeting regularly and conversation flows much easier. The topic of today was: How can we pinpoint the exact problem with the world today? We can go back to the roots of what seems to be the problem: a crisis in our shared culture, an existential phenomenon of cultural identity, in the age of surpassing cultural appropriation and ethnocentrism.
Part I — Ideas of culture, ideas of difference.
A lot of academics will tell us that we live in the age of the Cybernetic Revolution, but as far as I and others are concerned, we live in an age of Human Rediscovery. We are in fact, rediscovering what is actually human nature, concerning notions of ecology and being integrated and well-integrated into ecosystems and notions of nativity and originality. From agroecology to green fuels and inventions in the socially innovative aspect of the word, we have rediscovered the grace of creativity facing the challenge brought to us by the Industrial Revolution and the addiction to technology.
Most of what we deem as “spiritual” nowadays is full of contradictions and mostly is seen as a way in which to achieve certain standards of “mental health”. I remember going to therapy and wanting to deal with childhood issues with family, and my therapist kept insisting I meditated and found my own brand of what being spiritual means. I find it funny now, mostly because I barely discussed my spiritual needs and likes or dislikes with that therapist, actually, I remained adamantly with no spiritual notions inside the therapy room, mostly because of a bad experience in the past concerning ideas of mental health and ideas about what being spiritual actually means.
Allow me to explain: When you look at the picture above, you might think it belongs to some sort of celebration. If we’d see someone walking along the streets of Paris in this outfit, with lime on his mouth, and a deity on his chest, we’d find it weird. The person could be institutionalized for sure if someone who didn’t like it enough would consider the attire a threat to them or anyone else. But in fact, the celebratory aspect of it, it’s fine — we feel it’s like a costume we have on Carnivals and similar types of experiences.
The Burka is a fine example of what Western societies draw a line at. From apologists that any “terrorist” could be hiding behind the veils and black clothes to demonizing an entire culture relating the use of a piece of clothing, to standardizing notions of patriarchy outside Western notions of what being a patriarch means, and very much in tune with ideas about what being “culturally appropriate” actually means, waging a very visible war with anyone who thinks otherwise. Traditionally in Europe and Eurasia, the use of the all-black attire with the black veil is a traditional mourning attire, used by widowers who have lost their husbands. But the Burka on the other hand, for Westerners, represents oppression and a very close encounter to something so widely different it becomes incomprehensible.
The idea of anything outside our own culture is or can be utterly savage, is something so ingrained in our notions of what development and civilization actually mean, that most people have lost sight of what being a culturally involved person actually means. From academia to the common peasant or supermarket cashier, we are witnessing a melting of old beliefs and ideas about what “superiority” is and new ideas about being well-integrated into society brings to our notions of self and cultural identity.
Brazil has been considered for decades now a mystery in terms of what being cultural means. “Brazillian culture” is a non-existent concept, you have all sorts of identities and cultural identities inside one single line of territory, from ancient Original cultures passing by African descendency from slavery and even Naponic, Dutch, Portuguese, and even Anglo-Saxonic. It’s an incredibly wide net of ideas about what being cultural means, and also an incredible connection to the idea of spirituality that we don’t share in the common Western shared reality — something so multicultural is barely impossible to draw lines of separation, despite the wide differences in deity’s beliefs and even aspects of ritualistic habits. Race has become a phenomenon-idea of separation which is also non-existent, it’s a major issue: the constant point out of superior and inferior skin tonalities, which is absurd— the idea that people with a whiter complexion can have superiority over the culture of all the others is dying a slow and deserving death.
Part II — Food, cultural identity, and spiritual connection
In Bolívia, La Paz deserves its recognition for being one of the few places in the world in which attempts at colonization failed miserably in terms of Western Hegemony in food, for anterior, present, and posterior times. No Americanized food franchising works there, there is no point in even trying because the people prefer its authentic cuisine and live off what we now call Street Food, but has been widely recognized by every person outside the bubble of the European-centered view as the most valid option for food sharing in every urban or quasi-urban center in the world. Street Food has been one of the most prominent and recognized methods of sharing culture. Street food in La Paz is an anti-imperialistic statement of the power of the people.
But what is Street Food exactly and why is it called that way? Most of what we now consider appropriate places to eat (or “restaurants”) are the “civilized” way of sitting everyone down in places of comfort and nice interior design and allowing people to rest in the musings of food. But for most of human urban history, people would flock to where was food being served and generally, small tables of confection would provide amazing nourishment for all types of people, from children to the elderly. From Portuguese sweets being taken out of monasteries to selling in urban street markets, to Thai authentic cuisine being served in carts alongside the crosswalk. All over the world, what we now call Street Food, has been simply — food.
Not-that-old Beijing had the tourist attraction of the Chinese Opera being served with a gigantic multitude of different types of Chinese cuisine, and as a tourist, I remember being so hungry afterward that we walked a few streets along to find authentic food being served to regular Chinese folks living and residing in Beijing. Also, on the drive to the Great Wall, we stopped at a simple place where we were met with enormous amounts of local confections and were delighted by the creativity in cooking that we don’t see regularly in what is deemed “Chinese restaurants”. It’s almost embarrassing for anyone who has lived in Asia to walk in these Westernized Restaurants, for the lack of diversity to inventions that serve the purpose of getting to simply taste what could be.
In Lisbon there used to be only one authentic Chinese restaurant and the concept was very much like street food, and how street food is served in China. Along came the Erasmus students and people flocking to taste the originality. The last time I was there it was a bit further from the original concept into a group-type of a restaurant for people who wanted to eat in a “different place”, but that place was never granted the certification for a valid restaurant, it remained illegal for more than a decade, even with rumors of closing down.
Also in Lisbon, an authentic African cuisine restaurant gives us the delights of Moamba and Cachupa and mouth-watering dives to that place always bring a sense of belonging to a wider and happier world. I remember when I lived in Lisbon, that to find the authentic places to eat, we needed to dive into all sorts of different barrios and find the places most inconspicuous and often, getting a clear picture of what a truly loving globalized world could be.
For millennia, we used food as medicine and for millennia it worked great for humanity. The idea of food consumption as an item of consumerism has brought disgrace to our ideas of food and what it means to eat. I was reading an article on how to recover from anorexia nervosa and was showered by a feeling of disbelief when I read that “food must be considered an item of energy-giving” and to not associate food with good or bad ideas, but simply as a way to maintain the facet of being alive, and having the energy to work, study, and do daily things like showering, cleaning and driving a car. The idea of food as simply a caloric intake has driven young girls to mental disorders and young boys to ideas about what a perfect human being is — all lies we tell ourselves to maintain appearances of well-sustaining life that in turn, provides us with time to be here.
While studying indigenous and original populations, from Native America to European ancient cultures and African and Asian habitual influences across the human spectrum I found a magnificent way to look at the question of food: a connection to the deeper part of our spiritual experience. In the old days in Europe, Christian monastics were the developers of the food culture, despite multiple attempts at changing these cultures, the ancient proto-Indo-European habits maintain to this day alive and well in the villages of interior Europe. The way to use common native herbs and the way to incorporate them into the daily consumption of animals and plants, and how that connects to living a good and long life has been widely discussed as simple popular “speak” to say how good it is to eat. When you drive into a big urban center, you’re almost immediately brought to some sort of industrial type of franchising which will give you a momentary pleasure of something out of the originality of marketeers, but outside of the public influence of wisdom and knowledge on the art of cooking. We collectively call that food garbage, by no mistake, it’s simply not a valid way to eat and feel belonging to your cultural identity.
The spiritual connection through eating comes from understanding that what we consume to be alive, was something that once lived and was sacrificed for our benefit. The deeply inherent respect for life ends when there is no understanding that the sentient being you’re eating clearly deserves its recognition and well-being for being part of your daily consumption habits. To think of a pig as an intelligent being brings tears and horror to most people, with good measure. To think of cows as beings with feelings, emotions, who cry missing and mourning their children, who have their own intelligence and meaning in this world besides being food — it gives us heartache. But I truly think it’s necessary to feel that snippet of a feeling, and learn how to make better choices in our day-to-day life.
Candomblé teaches us that we can reach God through food and eating. From knowing how to pick the ingredients for creating a dish, to knowing how to recognize the different aspects of every ingredient and the levels of satisfaction of a confection. It’s not mathematical, mechanical nor does it need the scientific method, it’s simply a way in which we inherently and intuitively know by assessment and ancient wisdom and knowledge being passed down from generations, how it is to simply eat. The African origins of the human being are ingrained in our collective dormant mind what is good for us or not. By drinking a glass of water, which is routinely and satisfyingly a hidden gem of pleasure and health, one does connect to the highest of what we can connect to. Buddhist monks have been trying to teach the art of mindful living for more than two millennia, to bring us down to a place of humility in simply drinking a glass of water or brewing a pot of tea.
Who thought you could get high from a simple glass of water?
“Getting high” is confusingly thought to be a habit of drug addicts, but often drug addiction begins with a very empty feeling of the individual self who finds themselves isolated in a commonly distressed society void from meaning and tries to find a spiritual understanding of itself through plants, herbs, fungi, and other natural beings. Nowadays the idea of getting high simply means getting “wasted” — like a piece of human garbage. But in fact, all addiction begins with the need for a higher spiritual and emotional connection to one’s self and others. Buddhism, Candomblé, Hinduism, and thousands of vast other cultures tell us we can achieve a spiritual connection by simply being alive, being kind and aware, feeling our bodies, eating, drinking water, talking to each other. The words “getting high” means to get to a plane to speak to God, to the universal source of love and compassion. If we only try to have a better life, a more happy and fulfilled with love, compassion and kindness towards all that is living, the whole human living experience changes in the absolute of the term of impermanence.
In this light, there is no addiction — simply a mechanism to feel more authentic and heal intergenerational trauma, over and over again, without really healing or being authentic. That’s why when someone overcomes what psychiatry calls addiction, is almost always someone who clearly overcame one of its biggest obstacles — feeling connected and in wellbeing with one’s self and its surroundings, that’s always the goal of recovery.
The idea of smoking plants or ingesting something to be in higher planes of existence is a practice done by original and native populations since humans could barely utter dialects. It’s an ancient practice of getting to know one’s self and what one can be. Recently, it has been reserved for shamans because it’s of such deep importance — that the Western societies have vulgarly tried to popularize by telling fairy tales about it, and in turn creating a myriad of issues concerning identity — to be the keeper of knowledge and knower of the planes of existence and the importance of human imagination. A shaman is most often than not, someone with the capacity to handle knowing what is there to know and to pass down information about what sort of “human purpose” there is to acknowledge. Not everyone with a certification in shamanism is a shaman, to be a shaman you must go through a process of becoming spiritually capable, and even if you are one of the best people you know, you cannot become a shaman just by simply wanting to. What happens is deep confusion about one’s role in this world and identity and disbelief and ignorance about what “drugs” and knowledge about what is, actually is. That’s why we see so many people looking sort of insane saying they are spiritual Instagram masters, most often than not resides a deep lack of affection for themselves that can only be healed through healing social constructs about what it means to be them. Not all peyote will tell you the truth if you aren’t capable of listening to that truth. Not that the peyote lies, but that your mind is full of confusion and conflicting thoughts to understand what is being said.
In fact, from a wider range of spiritual knowledge, you need to overcome every single lie you believe in, and live in love, order to even see a snippet of the truth. All else are the lies that our imaginations construct in order to give us a sense of identity and to not get lost and die of suicide. Western culture and particularly the obsession with the thought of white supremacy has done a great deal of harm to the human collective, including the majority of people with a white skin tone — to feel superior without being, to feel special when you’re common, to feel enlightened when you’re vain... it’s a curse, not a very good one, as it propagates more anger and hateful words and action. From lies being told for generations in the old academies, that are brought forth in today’s academies by those who clearly don’t know the sources of where they get their information.
Spiritual evil does not or can’t even possibly exist if every spiritual path in this world is towards love, compassion, and kindness. There is really not more to it. Hegemonies and control over populations is also a lie, if you want to dive deeper into the realms of freedom, simply sit in silence with no tv, internet, or unhealthy consumption for a week and foster love for others and for yourself. By the end of the week, you’ll cry voraciously from relief and freedom. The quest for freedom has always been freedom from what harms us. And evil, the only thing it really is, is a “going away” from actions of love, affection, and caring, compassionate presence. It could never be spiritual, it does not connect to anything that lives in freedom.
Imagine the deep levels of disconnection and pain these violent individuals have inside.
It’s a moral question of compassion to elevate all others in the quest for human identity understanding and overcoming violence, war, and the ideas of terror that our “culture” gives us. It’s up to us, those who don’t abide by the quest for anger and violence, and those who live in deep compassionate wells of kindness and wellbeing, to help others overcome their disconnection.
And it all starts by overcoming our problems with food.
PART III — Cultural crisis, existential crisis, and the love for the art form.
Where does the love for the art form come from, and where does it begin in our human experience? For most people, it starts off as the spiritual experience of being an exposer of the surrounding creation, by allowing creativity to possess and multiply ideas of connection to what is.
It’s by no chance that the last greatest living artists in the European scene are thought to be the masters of natural landscapes such as Van Gogh or Monet. And it’s by no chance that artists like Jeff Koons are ridiculed. And it’s by no chance that not everyone becomes an artist, even if their life is dedicated to it, either by wanting status or spiritual experience. Like when one eats peyote one does not automatically become a shaman, the paintbrush or the art form are not for everyone and anyone or someone. The connection of the meaning of culture to attempts at the art form and the using of marketing to sell the art form as a consumption item is in the long run an ending game for this consumption society. The arts will never be a part of it. The true arts still reside in the unknown and the native, the true possessors of the knowledge of the art form. You can learn techniques, but you can’t learn to be an artist.
The void of meaning Hollywood and Pop music has brought us, the violence of hard-core rock, pornography, and other items of consumption for the unable to feel good about themselves are not more than consumerism. It does not mean that these things do not have their importance and place, but it also does not mean that they are of the utmost importance, or that they are the grand best of the best, creme de la creme of our cultural societies. It just means they have the printing money capacity to be existing as they do and to keep acknowledging melancholia and sadness, violence, and terror as valid, or women as mere sexual objects— this is also a losing game. But it does bring some sort of solace to the well-intended.
The grand part of our cultural heritage comes from the vast unknowingly and of the cant possibly be famous — the object creators, the street artists, the performers, the living and breathing art people. We are few but we are strong, the creation of art comes from a deep well of understanding, and a “bad artist” is by any means not an artist at all, as art conceptually, even though some tried to change this meaning, is for everyone pure beauty and meaning. That can never be achieved by someone who does not value life or the art form.
The grandmothers that teach us the power of herbs in cooking are artists, the poets in the streets of the city telling you that the world is beautiful anyway are artists, the ones who keep all the best books on their shelves for no other reason than to offer them prosperity are artists, the ones who can talk to clay are artists and the ones who can paint with extreme originality are artists, the lady in an African community who creates baskets is an artist, the obscure jazz player from the streets of New York is an artist, the indigenous poet trying to understand other cultures is an artist, the creative force is the biggest artist of all — all nature is art. More than that, consuming items for a passing society that holds no ground in culture creation.
So, is it an existential crisis when people try to be what they are not in order to fill a status that does not need filling?
What is the actual reason for the recent cultural decline, in most art forms in Western society? Filled with melancholia and sadness and exposing the most terrors and horrors of the human condition? Or balloon animals.
Why not exalt the best of us all? Is the best of a bad artist his best bad art? Why put Koons in MoMa, just because it feels modern?
Duchamp proved to us all that even a urinal could be art for the extravagant of the elites who think they understand art just because they buy it. It was a statement, not more not less.
Art is not supposed to be a statement. Art is beauty and overcoming horrifying conditions laid out by those who seek to destroy the best in us all, while they do it to overcome that horror in themselves. Confusing people are not artists, are not intelligent, are simply confused about their ideas about themselves, and how they lie to their grand fake superiority to just feel better about their existence the way it is. To exalt the best in us is to see kindness and beauty even in those who don’t want us to see it. Not everyone will understand that intelligence and creativity come from true kindness and compassion. But when we collectively understand, we resonate with what’s most living in us all, the freedom to love.
The love for the art form can’t be faked. It exists or it doesn’t.
The understanding of nature does not come in a university degree, it comes from diving deep into our humanity and forgiving ourselves and our ancestors, and changing behaviors for the better of us all. To live in love for being alive, in freedom to love everyone and everything, through music, painting, sculpture, cooking, traveling and gardening, and reading, and talking and hugging and being present. That’s the true cultural revolution happening, jump on board or stay behind.
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