Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One semester abroad by Zack Salvati

What can I take away from studying abroad the last three months in Costa Rica? Well, this question has a answer, but it's not "I learned so much about the culture, how to better speak Spanish and how to travel." That would be too easy and in fact too cliche to actually be true.

When I really ask myself what I learned down here, I come up with blanks. It's not that I didn't learn, it's that I lost. What I mean by that is that over the past three months I have become more mature, more comfortable with myself, and more at ease in my life through the gradual loss of what I know to be true.

But you may be asking yourself what I am talking about. Well, it sounds strange and maybe even stupid that losing what you know to be true makes you happier and more peaceful but it's absolutely true. I personally came here with pretentions and ideas about how things should be, but these have only hampered me-as I have seen over the last three months. I discovered that when I stop expecting things to be a certain way, I learn to see things in a different light. I start to see things as perfect, even if the perfection is different than what I am used to.

As Americans, I think we tend to easily label things as bad and ugly when we first see things as different. When I came to Costa Rica I immediately did this and still catch myself doing it over and over again. When this happens I question my beliefs, because I want to understand why I think the way I do. I see run down buildings, gates on every house and a lack of cleanliness overall and think, "What's going on here?" But I am learning to take a step back and lower my expectations or, even better, eliminate them.

There is a passage from the Tao Te Ching which I think describes this:

Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child's?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.

When we have absolutely no expectations and don't see things as in comparison to other things, we begin to slowly see the beauty in it all. We start to see things not as good or bad, but as one, and that is when we begin to really enjoy ourselves.

So this is exactly part of my learning here in Costa Rica. I am beginning to loosen my idea of how things should be and starting to see things from a larger magnifying glass. I remember hearing from Allan Watts, something to the effect one of the only things you ever need to know is that you can't have white without black. In that way, I can't have pristine neighborhoods without impoverished ones. I can't enjoy good food if there wasn't crap to eat. I can't feel safe at home if there was no dangerous feeling away from home.

I don't know if I really have taken in some of this deep,(but yet very simple) stuff I have been reading about on my own. I only know that life is much easier and funner when you don't know what to expect and how to do things. This reminds me what the German girl Kalina said to me in a recent conversation, "Life is easier when you're not talking about people." Life is easier when you're not using your previous understanding to approach new conditions. It's better to just go along life, as the Taoist Holy book says, with a "cleansed inner vision" and see things as they are, making the best with what's offered.

Three months in Costa Rica. Three months of my life in another country, away from what I know to be true. Ironically enough, these three months have sent me closer to what I can imagine truth to be.

So, that leaves me still to answer the question, "What can I take away from my time here? Um, why am I asking this? What do I need to "take" something with me. Why can't I just leave something behind and experience life in the unique way I do? I don't know if I am better off coming here in any sort of external way but I do know it was worth it. Costa Rica is a beautiful country, and my experience here has been awesome. I have seen another part of the world and am better off for that. But, I am not better off and that's why I loved it.

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