MECHANICS & BALCHÉ
On Sunday Gerardo from Mérida visited, bringing along a newly released DVD on which experts spoke of the philosophical implications of recent discoveries in quantum mechanics. What does it mean that one thing may be in more than one place at the same time, that the future is not necessarily distinguishable from the present and the past, and that solids are hardly present at all, from certain perspectives being no more than illusions human minds create for their own utility?
Not two hours before seeing the film I had sat atop a building with Don Pedro from the village. I'd asked him if anyone around here still makes balché, the mildly intoxicating drink of the ancient Maya (they do) made from fermented honey and the bark of a tree growing here, Lonchocarpus longistylus.
The question led Don Pedro to tell me how until 15 or 20 years ago Maya farmers in this area sponsored a yearly ceremony in their cornfields presided over by a certain old man in the community who knew how to conduct the rites in Maya. In the center of the cornfield a bowl of atole (emulsified sweetcorn cooked and sweetened) would be suspended above the ground in a certain way, then at all four corners of the field balché would be offered to the spirits.
Don Pedro says that farther east, in the state of Quintana Roo, "where the people are more innocent," the ceremony is still conducted. He says it has disappeared from here because people no longer establish cornfields, in response to changing economic conditions. It's true that here the countryside supports a few citrus plots and fields of henequen, but mostly it's just abandoned, hurricane- and fire-ravaged scrub and weeds.
So, what is one to make of a world in which the secrets of quantum mechanics are being revealed even as balché continues to be offered to the spirits?
I find myself sensing that quantum mechanics is right about the timeless unity of all things, and the illusionary, brain-manufactured nature of the world we humans inhabit. However, at the same time I recognize the beauty in offering prayers of thanks.
In fact, if I had a cornfield, I think I'd invite the old man from town to come do his thing in it.
Giving thanks to the Universal Creative Impulse is always a fine, mind-focusing, self-orienting thing for a human to do.