According to the Popul Vuh, we were not the first of our kind to tread the Earth. First came the clay people, then the wood people. Only once they had been effaced from the planet did we, the hijos del maíz, come into being.
See, these clay and wood people had been no good, for they lacked the capability to praise, acknowledge, and give thanks to their creators, the Gods. We could, and thus lived on. Yet you have to wonder- do we practice this gift of ours enough?
Rich (of Summer Dragon’s Instructor fame), recently pointed out to me that the main cultural difference he’s noted between the US and here, Guatemala, is that whereas in the US, we’re constantly thinking about all we do not have, here, they’re constantly giving thanks for all that they do.
This US state of mind is something that David Brook’s book On Paradise Drive, which I just finished, analyzes. Summarized, it speaks of how we as US citizens are in a perpetual state of striving. We live in the future tense, our minds immediately going to what might be, could be, will be. It’s never about the action, always the action’s repercussions. Few times have words felt so fitting. Am I not always, always thinking about the future? It’s as if everything I do is a means to an end. And what end? It’s that notion of “Paradise.”
Brooks owes this American attitude to the abundance of opportunity the country presents. Cliché as it is, from the first push westward we have structured our society around the prospect of opportunity. We are a land of dreamers, clinching to hope, hope, and hope. As a result, we also find ourselves plagued with hope’s counter-emotion, anxiety. All because, as my tíos would say, we’re running a Race to Nowhere.
From an anthropological standpoint, Brooks points out, this is largely why the US has risen to as much power as it has. We are simply never complacent. It goes against our psychology. While a standard society ought to function in a poor→hard work→wealth→sufficient satisfaction→end of hard work→decline as a result cycle, we in the US seem to be missing that crucial “satisfaction” trigger. So we seek and seek and seek, eyes on the horizon.
Whatever happened to the thankers, acknowledgers, and praise givers? The hijos del maíz?
Try as I might, I don’t believe I could ever fully relinquish the future tense mindset, ingrained into my culture as it is. I will always have, at the very least, a flicker of Strive. One which may take me to lovely places. One like that which took me here.
But wouldn’t it be nice, for once, to just give thanks? To praise the forces of the universe which brought me to sit here, in the home of Angél y Elvia y Eddy y Juan Antonio, sipping herbal tea and gazing out at the stars?
If I never try, I’ll never know.