It used to be we believed people. We were younger and it seemed the polite decent thing to do.
But when we moved to India, where if you threw a stone it landed on an enlightened foreigner, the spiritual bullshit got too thick for even us to swallow.
Like one day in an up-scale chai shop, we overheard an oldtimer explaining to a respectful new arrival that, “In life you must learn to accept everything.”
This was someone who to practice for her dance lessons could hire a whole ensemble of local musicians, who was young and beautiful, and who had a cook, a cleaning lady, and a gardner….. and here she was preaching a sermon on acceptance.
We looked at each other and said nothing.
If our hero, a skinny guy with a withered leg who to clean his tiny river bank temple hauled heavy buckets hundreds of painful steps across the sand, if he wanted to talk about acceptance, we’d be ready to listen.
But of course he’d never say anything that silly, he’d rather sit laughing in the shade sipping chai with his friends.
Then there was the woman who liked to run on about the importance of loving everyone, who treated her husband like used tissue paper and was absolutely convinced her fellow Japanese expats were smarter and more noble than anyone else in the scene…..
How could these people who prided themselves on being spiritual, have so little self-awareness? Quickly it got old, and over time it drove us away from the foreign community.
So after a decade, when the sadness of watching Indian culture disintegrate and the ravages of dengue fever, malaria, chronic bronchitis, and the shits forced us out of Varanasi, we were ready to leave.
Sure we were not pleased to be losing our laid-back pre-industrial lifestyle, sure we knew where we were headed we’d be poor, but at least, or so we hoped, in the modern world we wouldn’t need to endure quite so much high sounding bullshit.
But no such luck.
Still culture shocked and going through our little hoard of cash scary fast, one day we shared with an older friend our quixotic dream of recording and selling music.
We were just fishing for a few supportive words, but she wasn’t one to miss a chance to expand our consciousness, so instead she treated us to a sermon cribbed straight from the Hindu scriptures.
“You know,” her big blue eyes were softly sympathetic, “just playing your music should be enough.” Then conscious she was gifting us with a major insight, she lowered her angelic voice to a whisper and continued, “you really should try to be less attached to the fruits of your actions.”
These immortal selfless words were from a woman who chased away his relatives begging for a small share of her dying husband’s estate, before speeding up his departure by withholding his medicine. A woman who charged her penniless son rent for parking his tiny trailer on her land.
And it wasn’t only ethereal types who were ready to share their spiritual knowledge.
A month later we visited someone about to be promoted to partner at Goldman & Sachs. Sitting 35 floors above the roar of traffic, we made small talk while an au pair brought coffee. Then the mood turned serious. Looking thoughtfully out over the skyline at the hills of New Jersey, he fell to musing about how money was not essential for his happiness. “If I had nothing, I could still see the universe in a blade of grass”, he confided.
Or how about the proudly liberal professor who explained it was impossible for his children to ever think they were better than anyone else. That they only dated rich white kids, he’d managed not to notice.
This particular dude was a true font of wisdom. On another occasion he actually told us, “I have never made a mistake.” Presumably he thought this demonstrated his understanding that nothing ever happens by chance, that whatever goes down is part of the cosmic plan, that when a sparrow falls from a tree it’s by God’s will.
We couldn’t resist running this jaw dropper by a friend well qualified to comment on the subject, someone who years ago killed his son and wrecked his body in a drunken car crash. He’s the janitor at Our Lady’s church, but to the locals he’s Father Chavez, a holy man, a guy they go to for healing words and a sip of something good from the small flask in his pocket.
“No way!”, was his instant reaction. Then he realized we weren’t pulling his leg and started sadly shaking his head muttering, “if you never make mistakes, how can you learn?”
“How can you learn?” That’s the sort of thing we should have said to all those people spouting high sounding words. But they were our friends and it felt uncool to call them out for stupidity.
Still each time they hit us with another spiritual jem, we were big disappointed.
They should have known it’s not that easy.