The quest for enlightement in Guatemala
Let me describe to you my current setting. I am lying on a trampoline on the serene shoreline of a sapphire-blue lake which fills the crater of an ancient volcano. The endless sky is fringed with tiny clouds hugging the smouldering peaks of neighbouring volcanoes. The sun is bronzing my perfectly relaxed body, the light breeze is cooling my unfurrowed brow, and the rhymic lapping of the waves is lulling my mind into a tranquil stillness.
San Marcos, a small town perched on the edge of Lake Atitlan in south-western Guatemala is paradise. It has been a long-term residence of a small but multinational group of hippies, seeking an escape from the incessant white noise of their homelands. I think they’ve found their utopia. And so, in an attempt to join the collective nirvana in this spiritual outpost of planet earth, I decided to take part in meditation classes. I’ve tried meditation classes before, and never quite managed to quell the incessant ramblings of my mind, but I was hoping that this inspiring haven would make the difference.
So with a renewed conviction, I arrived outside the wooden ‘Meditation Pyramid’ in a real-life garden of Eden. I felt immediately out of place. There I was, sporting a Guatemalan football shirt – a fake one at that – and ripped denim shorts, where as everyone else was female, 30 years my senior, and clad in varying amounts of home-spun organic threads, befitting the scene perfectly. Undeterred, I cambered ungainly through the entrance tunnel and up through the trapdoor in the floor of the alien structure. Meditation mats lined the outskirts of the room, while candles lined the centre where a crystal ball resided. The whole room was infused with the sweet smell of incense, naturally. Without any fuss, we were instructed to choose a mat, assume the lotus position, close our eyes and begin meditating. A deafening silence descended on the room.
Having glanced around the room to see how the regulars were doing it, I went with the general consensus. And that’s where my problems started. While my mind was beginning it’s journey to enlightenment, my body decided that it didn’t like the poor attempt at a lotus position that I’d stretched myself into. Within 30 seconds my feet, knee joints, groin muscles, lower back and neck were all competing to give me the most pain. My whole body was screaming out in pain, but in keeping with the zen atmosphere, I tried to use the mind over matter approach. It didn’t work. Apparently my body has infinitely more say that my mind does, and so I had to change position. The sound of my back cracking reverberated around the temple like a firecracker in a library. Moving my legs sent a shockwave of pain through my entire body, making me exclaim out loud, further destroying the previously-silent ambience. After several forceful stares from chief hippy, I assumed a barely bearable position and attempted to re-enter my inner peace.
In a stroke of luck for my decrepid body, chief hippy then instructed us to lie down on our mats. We were then taken through mental visualisation exercises to increase our self-knowledge. I’m sure these would’ve been fascinating, and useful, but unfortunately my lack of knowledge scuppered any chance of any profound self-realisations. Apparently I don’t know the order of the colours in a rainbow – although I’m still convinced that white isn’t present in a rainbow – and my knowledge of spiritual symbols is not even close to being sufficient, of which there is no doubt. Needless to say, I didn´t discover the meaning of life this time.
Upon limping out of the wooden pyramid, I did feel incredibly relaxed but discovering that my body is completely inflexible was my only achievement. I felt as out of place as Karl Pilkington from An Idiot Abroad would´ve, and so I headed back to my lakeside retreat where my mind and body fitted in perfectly. For now I think I´ll stick to exploring great places in a physical sense, there´ll be plenty of time for mind-enlightenment and self-knowledge in the future.