Sunday, September 24, 2017

Allow Yourself: Longing Retreat to Portugal

I have a database of thousands of retreat centers all over the world. I consult it when a client asks me to scout a retreat for them. I filter through their perimeters to find an ideal fit.

I also have a short list of my own ideal fits.

Monte Velho Retreat on the Western Algarve, Portugal was a short list. People always want to go to to Europe. I'm down but people often don't want to pay European prices. Portugal and Greece are currently two of the most affordable destinations (for unfortunate reasons to do with the Euro and economic destabilization).


Portugal is safe and an easy connect for US travelers.

It was also the last retreat I have planned for myself for the foreseeable future.

When Yogawood transitioned ownership this past year there was a lot of work to do. I usually plan retreats well over a year out to secure best dates, negotiate rates, budget tuitions, and set a marketing strategy. I couldn't do it all. There was enough change in the air so I decided to let it happen. Let this be my last retreat for the foreseeable future and see where there was flow, movement, and growth.


I don't ever feel like you should do something because you do it.

Do it because it's aligned. Do it because it serves. Do it because it works.

When I do plan a retreat I look at what I know of that particular place or what that place tells of itself. Costa Rica has an environmental tourism campaign around reanimating the world-- reminding visitors that the land needs to rest, that animals need a break from human interference. Cuba tells the story of the joy of rebellion. Alaska reminds humans that we are small in the perspective of nature's grandeur.

Places have an identity.


I look at the place and where it might illuminate a facet of yoga. We practice yoga all over the world. What is the intersection of place and practice? What do we learn? How does yoga help us land where we are? How does yoga help us see a as it is place and not be blinded by our own expectations? How does yoga help us see ourselves and not be blinded by our own delusions?



As I started learning about this windswept coast of Portugal I read about the cliffs sailors saw before they sailed away and the songs of lament and longing both they and their loved ones sang. I listened to Fado, birthed in fishing villages and working class neighborhoods of Lisbon, and sung in very ritualized ways to lean into our own longing.



Saudade. Longing. Yoga works with longing. Bhaktis use yearning to reach for God, worshipping God, singing to God. The stories of Radha and Krishna in Vrindavan are filled with reaching.

After having such a wonderful time working with Colleen Seng for the Belize retreat, I worked with her again to develop material for this retreat. We filled it with poems from Leonard Cohen, Sanskrit yogic chants, traditional Portuguese Fado lyrics, meditations from Tara Brach and Thich Nhat Hanh, and notes from Rumi, Hafez and more. I created meditations and consciousness practices to use the retreat to work with place, practice, and feeling.


And we went in.

You can plan retreats until you're blue in the face but like any yoga class, it is co-creative. Any retreat worth it's salt will shift to meet the participants where they are.



In yoga we work with our bodies and our thoughts. Longing, bhakti, reminds us to work with the material of our feelings. Follow the feeling. What is the information?



The beautiful experience was a group of people who were willing. Who didn't feel ashamed of taking a break to step into their own experience. They didn't apologize for going on retreat-- instead, they excitedly talked about other ways to build in breaks, experiences, and celebrations. While we tuned in to events at home and with our loved ones, there was equal space to turn in to the breadth of our own experience.


Allowing joy, allowing longing-- where we reach towards integration-- allows ourselves. It means we're not banishing a part of ourselves as unacceptable, thereby giving it the power to control and influence us in unforeseen ways. Allowing our desires, our feelings, the scope of who we are allows us. Allows us to be. To exist.

So we lived. Together. In a very beautiful place.



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Allow Joy

Let yourself enjoy it.

Everything.

I lingered over coffee and watched the light. I did nothing with my time. It felt still and luxurious. Some little thought nagged at me-- "I should apologize for this." Or, "I should justify this." "This relaxation will produce some later writing. Or it will prompt an idea. For work."

Because everything is work.

I know people who won't share the joy in their life. If they take a vacation, they keep it quiet to not seem to brag, or to not seem to ignore the problems of the world.

Post-empire Portugal reminded me that it all ends. Enjoy it.

I lingered over coffee in cafes with reminders of Portugal's one time power. I'm not trying to romanticize nor justify that power but it was there. Influence and wealth that seemed permanent. I sat in the ruins of Portuguese power watching my birth place, the United States, dissolve in its own pool of unrestrained grasping. For awhile now I've been reading historians who chart the US rise and fall of power and comparing it to other fallen empires, like that of Rome for example. Many signals point to those of us living in the US living through it's decline. The future will confirm which prophets got it right.

We know that some people survive empire's collapse. Portugal is an example of that. What is life like after empire?

Detroit.

There is so much I love about Portugal. One big piece: enjoy it.

It's a very European attitude to prioritize one's life potentially more than one's work. The United States tends to produce the opposite affect: work justifies your life.

Again and again, we learned Portuguese history of slave trade, navel power, colonization, conquest, without apology. The monks who sought to atone, the Templar Knights who avenged the church, the white knuckled explorers sailing uncharted seas. Their descendents pour coffee and live in the ruins. They live in life's inevitable cycle. And they do not apologize for their joy.



I often wonder about that-- why do we have to hide our joy? Does our joy exacerbate another's suffering? Is my suffering soothed by other's shared suffering? Isn't the cycle about the whole of it? Do we get to have capacity to allow ourselves it all?

Not all of us gets to travel. I readily acknowledge the realities of privilege and access.

We all get range. Within our experiences, there is a range of feeling and experience.

I want to live it all. I'm not going to apologize for it.

I wish you all the experiences. I wish you thrills, sunsets, late nights with friends. I wish you the big mile stone moments and the small gentle ones. And I don't need your apologies. Your existence entitles you to it all.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ancestry

I burped a lot.


Not loud, aggressive belches but tiny windpipe burps. As a dedicated yoga student, this became tricky. I’d try to open my breath smooth and even. Instead, my breath would catch around air bubbles, burps, some type of disruption that I couldn’t fully resolve.


I met a myofascial release body worker at a party and thought it couldn’t work. As I laid down on her table, she began to lightly run her fingers through the sheaths of fascia around my throat, shoulders, and neck. I felt points of tension that ran from my thumb to my ears; she tugged and pulled and softened. She asked me, “Were you ever in a car accident?” “No,” I replied. “Huh.” More pulling, head turned, hair brushed away. “Were you ever choked?” “Thankfully no!” I waited while she moved her thumb deeper into my body’s webbing. “Why do you ask?” “Well… your body shows patterns as though your head whipped back. That can sometimes occur with people who had whiplash from a car accident. It also occurs if someone choked-- swam and swallowed water or was abused.”


She’s not the first person to ask me this. Body workers continually read this pattern in my body.


I went home thinking about it. I couldn’t shake the only story I knew in my line that fit that pattern: my maternal great grandmother. When her daughter, my grandmother, was away at Tennessee State Teachers College in the 1930s, my great-grandmother, the bookish, quiet, smart mother of 5 children, went into the barn and hung herself.


Throughout her life my grandmother said her mother had died from the “change,” a nickname for “change of life” a euphemism for menopause.


I’ve never known a woman to hang herself due to menopause.


I started looking into epigenetics, the study of how trauma is passed in DNA in surprising and seemingly improbable ways. I really have no way of knowing if I somehow, God knows how, inherited my great-grandmother’s hanging. I know that I have lived through so much of the trauma and tragedy written into her family line.


I grew up in homogeneously white, wealthy suburbs. Public schools funded by a strong tax base, well kept lawns, regular dental visits. The story told out there was that hardship lived in cities and refugee camps. We should be the nice wealthy white people who volunteered here and there.


In college, still safely inoculated from responsibility, I had enough distance to study systemic oppression, the web we all live within whether acknowledged or not. I began to notice the myth of the safety of suburbs-- as if there was a way to protect ourselves from one another, to let the fences allow some in and some out. I started to be able to name some of the ways we structured our relationships to one another and the embedded pain.


I studied systemic racism, sexism, oppression.


I became close to women of color as we had intense, painful conversations about the lived reality of racism. As I learned a level of accountability for my complicity in racial blindness I simultaneously felt waves of jealousy. Part of their path through understanding racism involved the lived details of resiliency. They poured over the lives of their ancestors who passed knowledge in food, music, and language. They investigated lost spiritualities, reviving them in their own lives as they lit candles to those who had passed, honoring them, and uttering their words.


Later, I traveled to Vietnam. In the corner of every shop and every home, a small altar held lit incense, small deities, money, and fruit. I asked people about these altars. They always said, “they are for our ancestors. They protect us.”


In the suburbs, I did not know my ancestors.


My paternal grandmother told me that I came from governors and governor’s wives. I should be the same-- I should aim high for a marriage that wielded political clout and power. I should learn to be a sparkling conversationalist to advance my husband.


These same people were slave-holders. After the Emancipation Proclamation these same people institutionally fought restitution. They voted for conservative politicians. They supported tough crime laws that resurrected structures of slavery in modern day prison industry.


My ancestors frighten me.


Their legacy frightens me.


As I walked in marches against police brutality and spoke out on behalf of political prisoners, I wondered if I could ever be “good” and what good meant. I knew I couldn’t ignore who I come from but I also didn’t know what to do with their memory.


I searched out for tender memories, memories of my grandmother braiding my hair or telling me stories. There were some… and the stories were racist. I remember my maternal grandmother laying in bed and telling me brair rabbit and the story of tar baby. Her voice still had the gentle Tennessee lilt. She’d never lost some of those colloquialisms like “hell’s bells” and “my stars.”


I hunted for the riches but they were always embedded with the shame.


My grandfather was a quietly hilarious man. He was really attractive, sharp, and mischievous. After his father died when he was a child, he held many jobs while going to school to help his mother and two younger brothers. He went to Georgia Tech and would take me to the Varsity, an Atlanta hot dog joint opened by a Tech drop-out. When we came home with greasy hands from onion rings, I’d go into the bathroom to wash up. I remember on the wall a framed picture with a caricature of a Black man captioned “I’ze a rambling reck from Gawgia tech and a helluva engineer!”


I still miss my grandparents. I don’t know what I would light incense to.


When my friend started exploring the tight tissues constricting my throat, possibly contributing to my burps, I thought of my maternal grandmother. My mother’s mother. I never got the sense that she was very motherly. My grandmother made it seem like her mother hid from her children, taking books into the barn or some other space of some seclusion.


My grandmother felt motherly towards her younger sister especially. She told me that they held dances in the barn and her mother would, on occasion, play piano as they danced.


My grandmother too, was bookish. She tried to help her father with farming one time. She took in the seed potatoes and cut all of them through the eyes. Her father came in seeing that the whole seed crop was ruined. He was kind with her and patiently explained her mistake. She remembered that with relief-- 80 years later.


That was a myth too-- they did have a farm but my great-grandfather hired white sharecroppers to work it. He was on the board of the local bank there in Sweetwater, Tennessee. I asked, reluctantly, if they had Black servants.


“Oh no.” My grandmother answered quickly. “They wouldn’t work for my family. On our property, there was an old slave auction block and when it rained, the Black folks said it turned red from the blood of the slaves. They wouldn’t work for us. We hired poor whites.”


Her mother, hid in the barn with her books, from her children, her husband, the slave auction block. Or did she? Did she think of it? What did she think?


As her eldest daughter studied to be a teacher, the next soon to follow, and three younger children still at home, she went into the barn and hung herself.


For the ensuing months my great-grandfather tried to keep his remaining children at home. And then he suffered a heart attack and died. Each remaining child was sent to a different relative, one as far away as Chicago.


One daughter died on her honeymoon in Niagara Falls.


Theirs was a Southern tragedy.


My great-grandmother dying of the change. Her daughter, my grandmother who went on to be a wonderful teacher and a wildly independent woman. During the age of Donna Reed, my grandmother embarassed my mother by wearing pants and refinishing furniture, less bound to the standards of white womanhood of the day. Her spirit influenced my mother. After bearing three children my mother went back for her master’s degree and started her career as I, her fourth, was a young child.


The women in my family are complicated and strange and I love them.


When I look at my family’s history there is mental illness, abuse, and dysfunction-- the ingredients for many of our families. They kept slaves, lived by slave auction blocks, and neglected their children. The stresses of power flowed out and in their homes. The weight of shame wound into repressed stories and half-lived lives.


I look back and wonder how long until I see people who belonged to a tract of land, to one another, to themselves?


And perhaps that’s the invitation. I’m steadily working on belonging to myself. Noticing where these histories choke me, force me to look at my own shame. The privilege I haven’t earned. The trauma not named.


My husband and I talk a lot about race. We still march against mass incarceration. We still visit our friends who are incarcerated-- Black men and women living in modern day plantations. We talk openly about race, about the access we have that is denied many. We talk about what it denies us-- a sense of kinship and closeness to our community.


And from my friends of color I hear their complicated ancestries too-- the white blood in their veins that came from rape, the African ancestors who sold their cousins to slavery, the compromises and negotiations of survival. It’s written in us all. Perhaps people of color don’t have the same insulating myth of amnesia.

I am a white woman who descends from slave holders and racists and I am naming it. My hope is that that I create space in the naming. This is what I come from. This is what I’ve lived. This is who I am. And I am working to be more.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Accountability is Help

Because I am no fun whatsoever, I am super into accountability. I love talking about it. I love thinking about it. I sometimes love being held accountable. I totally love holding other people accountable. I gaze longingly at it.

When I developed relationships where I was held accountable to behaviors and agreements I also found myself receiving help. These relationships are super invested in by all parties.

Recently, my friend and my Aunt were totally putting my business out there. For a bit, I squirmed. And then I thought, "They love me. They know me." I realized they were comparing notes on my nonsense because they want me to behave in ways that further my own joy and contentment. I sat back and sort of took it in. They know me. I have intimacy. I have people who respect me enough to remind me of how I can grow.

I'm lucky.

We're all scared of being called out and maybe ultimately dismissed or ostracized. This afternoon I had two big shame bouts back to back. I felt embarassed over some stuff and felt the immediate reflex to try to cover over that shame or bypass it somehow. I remembered what I believe and how I want to live and just sat a minute. I felt embarassed. I felt ashamed. It felt hot and stifling. And I reminded myself to treat myself as I would someone I really love. I would be compassionate and understanding. So I took a breath and let myself be human, fallable, and OK.

I've learned to self-regulate through my healthy relationships. If I didn't have them as a model I would have fallen into a different behavior when I felt embarassed by my own actions. Probably would lash out. Get defensive. Deflect.

The people who love me as I am and know that I'm capable of more than my worst behavior have shown me how I can love myself as I am and be my best self.

If they didn't hold me accountable, I would have been alone and really adrift in these very common emotions. Because they do hold me accountable, I have help.

Accountability works if both are invested, communicate in agreed upon ways (not abusively), listen, and have skin in the game. The beautiful thing about investment is that it flows in a multitude of directions. Investment means that my husband gets a look when I start arguing for no good reason but it also means that he'll pick me up at the airport. He cares. All around.

None of us has capacity to be accountable to everybody (beyond normal rules and regulations of community). But we can be accountable to our nearest and dearest. Most importantly, we can be accountable to ourselves.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Offend Your Mind

I recently heard a podcast where the interviewee related about a time when he left good, lucrative, successful work. There was something in him quietly pulling him in a different direction, but that new direction was pathless, off-the-grid, unpredictable, and frightening. While, on paper, nothing was wrong with the current path. He was good at what he did. Well compensated. Highly regarded.

He took a walk with a friend of his to sort out the tension. His friend listened as he laid out the terrain of the current conflict. Finally, the friend turned to him and said, "Offend your Mind."

At that, the interviewee burst out laughing.

It gave full permission to move away from his current work and explore the curiosities that were emerging. The path emerged in front of him in real time. New territory. Exciting. Worthwhile.

The only place the problem existed was in the limits of his logic where he had firmly defined worth, work, and self. In ways that didn't account for any of their scope.

I laughed when I heard "offend your mind" too as I've made my best decisions when I couldn't understand them.

I remember the fall of 2002 when I "should" have been a promising Junior at Mount Holyoke College. Instead, I had recently withdrawn, with a high GPA, and become a waitress, renting a room in West Philly. I remember walking down the sidewalks of Baltimore Ave often with tears streaming down my cheeks because I couldn't understand who or what I was anymore.

I made that decision with more clarity than almost any that preceded or followed and yet I still had to grieve. I had to grieve leaving that path. A path that I know, without a doubt, wouldn't have been healthy for me, but was clear.

I offended my mind. I offended my ideas and opinions and imaginings and beliefs. I offended it so greatly but that's because I was operating from other intelligences.

I've done that a few times since. I've felt really murky about my actions and choices because they lived in mystery. My mind couldn't decipher what we were doing. There was a lot of internal panic and sleeve tugging: "what are we DOING here???" But my body said, "keep going." Intuition said, "trust."

And intuition is a muscle. You can build it. The more you listen, the more you slow, the more you write down the dreams, journal the tarot, and trust what's off the map, the more guidance you receive.

I know. I live with an offended mind.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Comfort's Discomfort

Kevin loves landscaping long, muddy days in pouring rain. Bonus if it's cold. He's obviously a weirdo but he actually has some reasons for his preference-- among them, days like that make him more easily satisfied.

It seems counter-intuitive, but I've learned this to be more universal than his personal quirk. When he comes home soaked to the bone, cold, mud plastered to his boots, his hot shower feels like manna from heaven. Sitting, doing nothing, eating some food is a miracle.

When I've comfortably worked inside the shelter of my home, my shower, meal, and sitting are far less noticeable.

Recently, whenever possible, I go as remote as possible. It's hard to find truly uncultivated places these days, but I try. West Virginia is always a strong candidate. There are parts of West Virginia that are largely undeveloped, in fact, seem practically impossible to develop. I sat outside under a cool drizzle watching state park workers. Kids had set off fireworks from a trail and kicked off a fire. which closed the trail. No trail, no sun, no problem. I bummed about, ultimately swimming in an unlabeled swimming hole, found after multiple queries. I watched the workers reestablish the trail. I watched the workers navigating traffic, in the rain. Everything felt quiet. Our expectations, collectively, were pretty low.

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I'm curious what happens to your mind and outlook in those environments. I drove through more Christianity than I can remember. Christianity of every sort but Catholic! Tons of Baptist, even Mennonite. I saw country stores hanging fox skins and signs that said, "We're broke, we believe in Jesus, we know who we're voting for, leave us alone." There were proud Trump signs next to iconography and symbols of Indigenous people. Not one country store had any cheese apart from American though goats would be grazing nearby. There were plenty of jars of pickles and mayonnaise next to the white bread.

I've written before about how in these environments I get read as a WASP really quickly. I've also had a year. During it, I've sort of shifted how I encounter others and it's working better. I used to trust first and be surprised later. My current mantra is "trust no one and love everyone." I know it sounds dark, but it actually works way better. It means I'm more self-protective and more at home with myself. I'm responsible for myself and aware.

I saw a flicker of recognition in this worldview. I started noticing that with this as my outlook, I fit in better. In this neck of the woods, being polite doesn't mean being stupid.

I saw sign after sign urging us to humble ourselves before God as mountains soared overhead and trucks nearly ran me off curving mountain highways. This is a part of the country where humans are in context and proportion. Human power is very clearly limited.

I have various fantasies about living in the country but also an ethic that says, "don't move there unless you have a remote job." Jobs are hard to come by in all parts of the country. Moving to a poor part of the country and taking work is poor form.

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Kevin and I were fantasizing about living somewhere rural and I confessed that I'd likely want to build cabins to rent on airbnb and various projects like that. "I'd be developing what I love for being undeveloped." Kevin paused, "It's a bit different here. Yes, you're developing, but on that scale the forest takes it back quick. At home, when you build, it's permanent. No one is under that illusion here."

Life is a mandala, a moment of impermanence. Standing in the rain, under the shade of tremendous cliffs, directing traffic through nowhere.

The poet Morgan Parker wrote a beautiful book called Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night. A Black poet, Parker writes clearly about race relations in the US. Many of her poems illuminate the priority many white people place on their comfort and sense of well-being over truly understanding the functioning of racism in the US. I've had more conversations than I care to remember with fellow white people, trying to work through race, and hearing, "It's uncomfortable."

Yes, it is.

It's also more uncomfortable to brutalized or discriminated against.

When I travel, my comfort becomes significantly less important. I go longer without eating, I curl myself into tiny bus seats, I pack layers. My excitement over the adventure outweighs any temporary discomfort.

I've watched this tendency and tried to transfer it to my daily life. Why do I need to be so controlled by access to the food I want, when I want it? The sleep I want, when I want it? Why is my contentment so conditional?

Kevin's theory is that we need to be far less comfortable. He thinks the modern priority of convenience and comfort is making us sicker and sadder. Anytime he's by a body of water, in any season, he jumps in and swims in it. I've seen him swim in water with ice on the surface. He'll lose his breath and gasp for a minute, but as he recovers himself he smiles broadly.

I used to be very hesitant about getting into water. I'd walk very slowly. I wanted my body to gently acclimate.

This past winter in Mexico, I stopped that. I started jumping in without hesitation. It's better. My body is rushed by the surrounding water and then I surrender.

I'm curious: the more uncomfortable I am with myself, do I seek proportionally greater comfort in the world? And inverse: the more comfortable I am with myself am I then more willing to let the world be no matter my perceptions of how it affects me?

I'm watching out for where else I resist.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Evidence

On a particularly playful evening, my Mom started sucking in her belly and showing her rib cage. My older brother, then 16 (making me 8) started becoming all rib cage, all hollow stomach, squatted and haunched. She laughed and swatted and said it was yoga.


She had been one of the leotard-clad women in the 70s teaching her friends yoga in the basement. She was trying to juice and eat vegetarian. She knew she was pregnant with her fourth, me, at age 39, when she craved a cheese steak.


As a girl my parents took me on a trip to California. My Mom and I spent a day in Laguna Beach. Around lunchtime we hunted for a spot to eat. We dipped into a temple and looked at the buffet of ghee-heavy vegetarian food, listened to the droning kirtan, and saw the young white kids wearing saffron robes. My Mom asked the Hare Krishnas where we could get a burger. They giggled nervously and said, “I forgot people still ate cow!”


In college, I needed a part-time job. I wandered around campus to see what I could do. The religious center had an intricate Japanese tea garden. Woven mats. Stones (one duty was to pick leaves from them). I was hired to clean the tea garden.


The summer after first year in college I found a sublet in Brooklyn. I had an internship in Manhattan. My college had given me a stipend that covered some rent and expenses, but not all. I wandered around looking for a job. Randomly, unexpectedly, the health food store in the West Village, Integral Yoga, hired me. The dreadlocked yogi who worked in the bookstore came in to buy his bulk nuts. After classes above, students came down to pick up ingredients for dinner. I was cashier for the yogi's transactions.

My husband and I purchased our first house on a dead-end street across from a park. At the far end of our street there is a Jain Temple. I often run past the creek behind the temple. On the best days, the creek is bright with discarded marigold petals.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Yoga is a question

My relationship with yoga right now is funny and convoluted and for me, very central. I'm sort of having an affair with my practice. I made it secret and private and a bit clandestine so I could keep it sacred. I try to practice 4 mornings a week, doing the most classical and some say dogmatic stuff.

And then I teach sort of the opposite. I teach 6 regular classes a week and they're mainly informed by new conversations in functional movement. We explore patterns of movement, the classical poses deconstructed, and then reconstructed. To the degree that I have one, my goal is to try to make a space where each of us can truly begin to feel and know our body. Yoga teachers, for years, have told students "listen to your body" but the underlying truth is that most of us go to yoga to learn to do just that.

I try to teach a practice that is more about questions and space than answers and dogma. Cause what do I know?

My own body feels anchored by the classical because the practice I'm engaging in doesn't let me escape from my body. And I have a tendency to try to do so. Being placed squarely in my body, with no distraction, is useful for me.

I'm very clear that my students are not me. My students are practicing for a broad range of reasons. As facilitator, my goal is to see them to the best of my ability, keep them safe, and make space for them to explore, know, and steady. I learn a lot watching them. It reminds me that the broad variety of yoga practices (Ashtanga, Iyengar, etc) are generous-- there's an implicit understanding that we live many lives in one lifetime (if we're lucky) and we may seek balance in a plethora of ways. The practice is both a mirror so we can see ourselves and our own needs-- and a balm-- it gives us ways to create balance.

Yoga is not a magic bullet. It's not a one way ticket to zen. It's another means to coming to know ourselves and be intentional with how we are in the world. That's all. And that's everything.

I've positioned myself between a few voices in the yoga world and they're providing me with a really interesting orientation. Whenever I can, I practice with Alex Auder. I understand through her teaching a lot of functional movement patterns. I feel safe and comfortable in her class because she is so unapologetically herself. She's not for everyone and that's the joy-- she's not trying to be. By being herself so thoroughly I have the opportunity to opt in or opt out, and I opt in. I pull that understanding into my own teaching, reminding myself "don't dilute, obscure, or diminish yourself. That can be a distraction too when it's felt by the student. Be fully integrated to actually be able to serve the student."

I read Matthew Remski for his studies of abuse of power in the yoga world. He talks about the subjects and controversies that many yogis avoid. Through his conversations and insights, I start to map some of the pitfalls of power and abuse. I start to figure out how to own my space, make choices that are right for me, and untangle what is yoga and what is nonsense.

I watch videos from Diane Bruni and some of the teachers she's gathered around her in the study of functional movement. Some of it's yoga, some of it's something very different. It's a study of our bodies, feeling, form, and option. It's very organic.

I think about the stories I've heard of why or how yoga was invented. Some say it was whispered to a snake man. Some say the poses developed so we could sit quietly in meditation. Others say the poses developed to flush the digestive tract. Still more say that the poses were attempts to reintegrate into the natural world. As original yogis watched the animals and landscape and felt other than, they decided to imitate what they saw to try to get to its sense of being.

And then somewhere along the line that exploration became dogmatic.

I don't think that was the idea.

I think yoga is questions:

"where are you?"

"what do you feel?"

"how will your body move through the world?"

It's everything and it's enough.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Falling

Recently, I heard an interview with a dancer. The dancer said to free up organic movement she and her collaborators practice falling.

The interviewer, thankfully, had my reaction. How you do that?

The dancer, thankfully, had language around the practice.

The dancer said that the reason falling interrupts movement or hurts is because of our interaction with what we fall into. She said that if you visualize the floor as hard, if you expect it to be hard, your body behaves accordingly, tensing. This means that there is hardness in the interaction. The floor slaps your body, your body heaves to the floor.

However, it doesn't have to be like that.

When she practices falling, this dancer visualizes the floor as a soft, permeable, permissive surface. As she starts to feel a receptivity in the floor her body get softer. Her body responds to the floor as though the floor were soft and the interaction between body and floor gains that level of fluidity.

I am now practicing falling all the time.

Yesterday, I went to the ocean. The sky was beautifully, densely grey. The air was in the 60s and the water was colder than that.

I walked into the choppy dark ocean. When the water swirled around my ankles I gasped. My legs started feeling numb. A year ago, I would have shrieked and run from the water. 

But I'm practicing falling.

I breathed and I started talking to the water. Well, I started talking to myself via the ocean.

I let myself feel invited into the water. I reminded myself of how grateful I am for oceans. Just watching waves soothes me. I wanted to be in that water. I wanted to be with the ocean. I started thanking the ocean and feeling at home in the swirling water.

My body started relaxing into the water. I walked out. I stayed in the water for some time. I dove under a wave.

The water was bracingly cold but when I was a kid, I didn't care. I was so excited to be in water that the temperature didn't register. It's only as an adult that I put myself at odds with my environment.

I'm practicing falling.


I think this perspective could expand. There are a lot of environments and situations where I feel at odds.

When I shift my understanding of them, I change. I respond differently. I fall in and am received.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Rediscovered Beauty of the Alarm Clock

Thanks to helpful human suggestions gleaned through social media, I ordered and now own the Moonbeam alarm clock.

It's cute, it's small, and it lives on my night stand. After setting up the alarm clock I left my phone downstairs for the night. I went to sleep and in the morning this thing loudly woke me up. It has one beep and it is not cute. However! I quickly turned it off and felt awake. I pet my cat for a bit. I slowly got out of bed. With nothing to distract me I decided to meditate first. I went into the office, sat on my meditation cushion, got out my mala, and did a 10 minute japa meditation sit.

And went about my day.

It was calm and intentional. It felt really liberating. I was choosing what served me instead of negotiating away from what drains my energy.

Our house has two bedrooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. In the winter, we sleep upstairs because it's warm and cozy. I placed the alarm clock in that bedroom. For those of you in the northeast you know that we are in a heat wave of 90 degrees in May. Thanks Climate Change. We moved down to our downstairs bedroom as that room has three exterior walls, more windows, and cross breeze. The alarm clock didn't move with us.

I set my phone as an alarm and went to sleep. In the morning the phone gave me a more soothing sound but when I rolled over to hit snooze I saw 10 billion notifications. I was already stressed. The screen was brighter. After hitting snooze a kajillion times I decided I would wake up. I started mindlessly scrolling through email and Facebook and the rest instead of getting out of bed. When I got out of bed, I'd wasted a good bit of time and had to hustle.

I had been discussing this whole process with a friend and felt like it was an issue of willpower on my part. She very generously phrased it as too much choice, which drains energy. That shifted my perspective. When I travel to places with limited wifi I feel FREE because I don't have to chose whether or not to engage with email and the rest. I can't until I seek it out and make it happen. Instead, all of that energy can be allocated intentionally.

That is exactly what I'm feeling in my mornings with the alarm clock vs my mornings with the phone. World's apart. Alarm clock wins.

I've just ordered one for the downstairs bedroom. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mother's Day with Father Divine

Lucky for me, Kevin is interested in following bread crumbs.

Case in point, last Sunday, AKA Mother's Day.

The plan had been to go to Asbury Park and swim. Thankfully, we're both getting better at veering away from the plan.

It could have been a good day to pack a quilt and wrap up on the beach but it was cold, a little colder than the previous days when we laid these plans. Instead, we got some food in Philly. I knew I wanted to pick up some sacred stones for friends so I suggested heading to Garland of Letters. Kevin, always the nerd, happily agreed. The shop keep, with Buddha's naga serpents tattooed around his skull, let us in. I found myself fumbling over some moss agate and smoky quartz and assembled my gifts. Kevin found three rare books he's been obsessed with. While Kevin and the shop keep nerded happily together, I realized I'd forgotten palo santo. I picked some up and our friend, the naga-headed one, gifted them to us.

I realized there's a coffee shop near there that always feels good to me-- good light, pretty tiles, succulents. We headed to Chapterhouse Coffee to sit and plot what was next. As I sipped my cappuccino Kevin pulled a few books from the coffee shop shelf. He thumbed through and said, "Father Divine! I was just talking about him with Anthony! He was a Black man who founded a religion in Philly. The Divine Lorraine hotel and a few others were run by him and his followers. The followers still live in Gladwyne. We should go."

Normally, I'm not one for Gladwyne. It freaks me out. Seems to me that the oldest money in the Philadelphia area resides in Gladwyne. Driving through is beautiful. There are sun-speckled glades and gentle hills and soft trees but it's freaky! All the land is private. You can't actually be in any of that beauty and it doesn't seem like anyone ever enjoys it. I have many suspicions about how many torture lairs are underground in Gladwyne. All I feel out there is repression and corruption.

I also don't know anything about Father Divine other than his fantastic name and his beautifully named hotels. Yet somehow, on this particular day, it didn't seem like a bad idea to visit.

We began to drive from center city to Gladwyne. Here's the other weird thing about Gladwyne-- you never take the same route twice. I don't know that the roads actually exist. I think that the powers that be that make certain access points from day to day. You think I'm joking.

I have lived in the Philadelphia area for most of my life and I saw things on that ride I have never seen before. Somehow, somewhere near Manayunk we began riding on a residential street right along the Schuykill River. I DIDN'T KNOW ANYONE LIVED ON THE SCHUYKILL. A tiny street! People were FISHING out their back door! It felt like other areas-- maybe New Hope or Norfolk-- not the Philadelphia suburbs. I was shocked. If you want to get to this area-- if it's real! Try to get to Flat Rock Park. On the river. Stunned.

We climbed the hills into Gladwyne proper. Across from the Philadelphia Country Club we turned into the driveway of a private estate. One manor had 8 dogs barking at the fence. Fenced in nearby there were grazing donkeys, alpacas, sheep, and an emu.

I'm not joking about any of this.

We continued down the drive until we found ourselves at Gatsby's place. Seriously. An old mansion with an air of 1942. When Kevin and I are on adventures we're endlessly chatting so we were happily talking about something or another, parking the car, and walking towards the mansion when an old German woman in a 1930s school uniform comes to the porch and says, "Are you here for the tour?"

And that's when I thought we might die.

OK, I thought we'd wander around a largely abandoned place, maybe find a caretaker, and maybe take a tour.

It was way weirder than that.

This woman was genuinely sweet. Kevin eagerly said, "Yes!" The woman looked at me, dressed in jeans and a loose sweater and clucked, "Oh, we'll have to put you in a skirt."

She invited me into the mansion and found an old apron skirt with snaps. I began putting it on over my jeans as an old man in spats sat thumbing through a book to my right, a hunched over sweet woman in her 90s began clucking at me, and I spotted another very elderly woman seated in a chair in the room in front of me. I began to realize there were people EVERYWHERE. And they were all watching Kevin and I attentively.

It felt like a cult retirement home.

They gave us booties to slide over our shoes to maintain the cleanliness of the manor. The women debated who would take Kevin and I on our tour. The mansion was absolutely beautiful and completely frozen in time. The great room has vaulted ceilings, a fireplace with a Bible quote on the mantle, and life size portraits of Father and Mother Divine overhead. There was a music room, a drawing room, an office, and a dining room set for Mother's Day dinner. A table off to the side was filled with the only recognizable technology, a CD player and CDs. I asked about it and our guide said, "We listen to Father Divine's sermons as we eat."

In the music room she opened a beautiful wooden box filled with a giant perforated silver disc. "It's a music box!" our guide said, "this is what people listened to before the radio!" She wound it up and began to play it's tinny tune. We listened politely while people sat in their chairs or quietly watched us.

Holy shit.

From the dining room we were taken into the kitchen which was much more lively and gregarious. Women were preparing dinner, cleaning up, ironing, and cutting flowers. They even had a room dedicated to preparing vases!

After the tour of the house we were shown the outdoor shrine where Father and Mother Divine rest. There were estate trails that our guide invited us to enjoy. One took us to a cave where Revolutionary soldiers hid during the war.

Everyone we met on the estate was kind. We saw one other family touring; a couple about our age with two small children. They entered as we were touring the kitchen. The women giggled saying, "The children are wearing booties!"

Throughout the tour Kevin kept asking questions about belief and customs but we didn't hear much response. Our guide told us that followers believe in the Constitution and are patriotic. They believe Father Divine is the incarnation of God as was his wife, Mother Divine. However, theirs was said to not be a traditional marriage. Followers stay "virtuous." They all believe they are married to Mother and Father Divine but do not consummate relationships, which is why the group is slowly dying off. When we met visitors or followers everyone greeted us by saying "Peace." The Sisters, as they call themselves, lived in the mansion. The Brothers lived down the road. They share communal chores and responsibilities.

Father Divine was a Black man who originally married a Black woman. She passed when Father Divine was in his 50s. He found a young white woman in her 20s who he said was the incarnation of his deceased wife. This woman became Mother Divine. I tried to ask a bit about the group's racial politics but didn't hear much response. The elderly followers were predominately Black with a few white members, including our German tour guide who's parents joined the group when she was a toddler.

They seem to believe in prosperity gospel. At it's heyday Father Divine had or was given properties in Europe as well as many parts of the US. There were photos of Father Divine homes in the Hamptons and Hudson Valley in addition to the Gladwyne headquarters. The Divine Lorraine Hotel and second hotel in West Philadelphia must have also been sources of income but it wasn't entirely clear who built, owned, or managed what.

The space felt sweet and creepy-- a combination Kevin is fond of. The friendliness and care the collective gave to their daily tasks reminded me that these are simply the practices of any devout people. They infused meaning into tending the home, preparing the food, and engaging in the rituals they'd lived all the decades of their life.

It also reminded me of being with my grandmother. The house had the feel of the 1940s. Not much had changed. It's a time capsule and those are rare to find.

To see exactly what it looks like with a generous story, check out this piece: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/02/kristin-bedford-father-divine_n_7673846.html

We followed the bread crumbs to the Father Divine estate. We wandered the grounds a bit before returning to Flat Rock Park and winding our way home.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Our bodies, ourselves... at 36

I don't normally write about my vagina but I just had 3 shots of espresso and am feeling a little jazzy so why not?

If you're getting excited, don't, I'm about to write about menstruation. Calm down.

If you don't want to read about menstruation, now is a good time to navigate away!

OK, I'm hanging at my friend's house and somehow we started talking diva cups. These are the menstrual cups the hippies use to be environmentally friendly and up in their own business. I thought about shifting gears as a teenager but just couldn't get there mentally. Seemed like a lot of disasters waiting to happen. I'm a long-time pad-user. Simple, old-fashioned, gets the job done. (And leaves my sheets looking like a murder scene, but you can't win them all.)

My friend says that her Mom caught a diva cup sale at Acme. Yup! She bought 10 diva cups for my friend to give to all her nearest and dearest! Somehow, my friend and her Mom are the diva cup fairies. Or Oprah. All of the sudden I'm the proud owner of my first diva cup. At age 36.

I put it on my dresser. The next morning I gazed curiously at the packaging. I noticed on the side that there were options for two sizes. Size A is for those under 30 or who haven't had children. Size B, what I was holding, was for those OVER 30 or who had birthed children.

Wait wait wait!

Even if I haven't had kids my vag is stretching just cause I'm old?! That's a THING?! I immediately texted my friend. "I'm the big size?!" I didn't even know to be stressed about this. And now I am.

Period still hadn't come so I had a few days to mull over my knew found size-phobia. Be vagina-stretch-positive. Whatever.

Then it happened. The magic day. It was a Sunday and I was lightly scheduled. I decided it was time. My friend had primed me to watch some YouTube videos. I asked her what to expect and she assured me it would only be ladies talking and not their parts.

I proceeded to spend an inordinately long time in the bathroom. I figured out how to fold the diva cup appropriately. Then came the moment. I was gonna do this. I squatted like they said, the diva cup is folded, and I insert. So far, on it. It's not the most comfortable thing but it's bearable. Then they tell you to turn a quarter so that as it opens it creates a seal. I'm like knuckles deep in myself. There is no room to turn. No an option.

So then I start feeling really good about my size. Maybe I am a size A after all! I tried to brag about that to Kevin-- I may have yelled through the house, "Yo Kevin! My shit is TIGHT!" He remained unimpressed.

I felt like I was 12 years old again on adventures with my changing body. I had successfully inserted the diva cup! I felt alarmingly aware of a cup in me. Just hanging out. Like more aware than I generally am of my cervix. More aware than I think I want to be.

I figured I should try to remove it. They say to push so the stem of the cup protrudes, grab the stem, and pull. I tried. Again, knuckles deep searching for the stem. Not exactly how I wanted to spend my Sunday. I'd just gotten a manicure too. There's that. This experience makes you look a bit like you murdered someone and then buried them.

My Aunt was suffering a hernia and she said part of inducing the hernia was pushing. I'm feeling really ambivalent about how much I want to push! Finally, I bear down and the stem emerges. It is slippery. I have to take a little toilet paper to use for traction on the stem. I finally get a good hold and pull and it does indeed come out.

A few things.

A) Pulling a cup out of your cervix feels like you're being slapped in the vagina.

B) Holy blood. I HAD NO IDEA. It may be a good idea for every woman to use a diva cup just to properly understand what our bodies are actually doing. I cannot believe I am alive. I am shocked. I felt omnipotent. And like I might need a nap and a lot of iron.

C) The cup does come out, miraculously, upright. It has something to do with the shape of women and God knows what else. The moon and cosmos? A howling wolf? No spills.

I gazed in awe at my goblet of blood. I poured it into the toilet and watched the color become diffuse. Weird performance art.

Then you're supposed to rinse the diva cup and start again.

I did the thing for one cycle and one cycle only. It does work. I mean, I was a newbie so I wore a pad just in case and there were a few spots but by and large, the diva cup does what it's meant to. The main reason why I let it go is it is TOO ROUGH to shove that thing up and down! Too much! I rested my head on the sink and thought, "why does everything go up there manageably and come out painfully?" And I have not given birth.

I felt, perhaps, too open about my experience. I literally shared at coffee shops and prior to my yoga class. And now on a blog. Every woman I met had her own stories. The woman fighting to get it out as a hot guy was coming over. The woman who enjoyed being knuckles deep in her own stuff. Those who had to resize post-baby. On and on.

I enjoyed the shared camaraderie of this weird experience. But I really felt abusive to my vagina as I shoved this thing up and down. Another thing that concerned me was that the flow was not flowing within me. It sat in the cup. The rubber was the thing moving. I don't know if this is true but it feels like the shedding running down the cervix might be some type of balancing agent. I started feeling itchy and I never feel itchy. Things generally run pretty smoothly down there. For lack of a better term, it felt like too much action... ha... disruption? It felt like I was missing some balance of the natural cleanse.

I decided I needed to revert to pads or something like them but I did appreciate decreasing landfill waste. I'd been attentive to Thinx and decided to get two pairs.

I have found my promised land.

Thinx are underwear pads. The whole thing is a pad. No leakage. No murder scenes. No knuckle deep in yourself (not my jam, apparently). You rinse them out, let them dry, and begin again.

The whole experience prompted me to think about how much money I spend on one-time use products and the waste involved. All things I was aware of but hadn't resolved. I'm going to let my body continue running unimpeded, self-cleansing, and self-regulating. The diva cup sits in her pretty pouch on a pretty shelf, never again to smack the shit out of my vagina.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

No more decisions

I'm hunting for an alarm clock that functions (wakes me up reliably, with as few issues as possible), is somewhat attractive, and nice sounding. I'm finding alarm clocks that seem to meet these requirements but are horribly reviewed. Other alarm clocks are wildly expensive. Our phones are really good alarm clocks.

But I want my phone out of my bedroom.

I told my friend about all of this and sighed resignedly, "I guess I'll just have to be really disciplined about not opening email after I turn off the alarm." It's not that I want to. It's that I can. It becomes an addictive reflex but not one that serves me.

She said, "It's not about discipline. You are disciplined. The problem is it's another choice you have to make: to look at email or not. It takes energy. You're trying to limit choice."

YES. I LOVE traveling places where I can't get a connection or electricity is limited. I feel LIBERATED. I don't have to siphon off energy deciding whether or not to answer email or look something up. I can't so I don't. And I happily turn my attention elsewhere.

Getting my phone out of my bedroom is another step towards simplifying. I don't want to fight with myself nor negotiate first thing in the morning. The peace I crave is there if nothing complicates it.

The phone complicates it.

I remain on the quest for an alarm clock. I remain on the quest for stripping down, streamlining, and simplifying. I remain on the journey of aligning my energy where I intend it.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

God likes stories

I've been deep in the weird nether world of Duncan Trussell's podcast. This morning, commuting to and from my yoga practice. I heard Trussell interview Dr Moody who does research on after life experiences. The two swapped stories and evidence and stats on all the people, around the world, at various times, reporting falling into a light of love. Or something like that. Something indescribable and so beautiful and peaceful that those in the experience were reluctant to leave.

This left Duncan with a question. If pure consciousness is so wonderful why does it, or whoever, create and incarnate? Why are each of us here in incarnation struggling and fussing when we could be in the light pool of peaceful love?

Dr Moody said he'd tossed this question around and the best he had was

God likes stories.

Yogis say this is all a Grand Lila, a big play. Some say we incarnate to learn things and graduate to the next level. We're working out our karmas. A dear friend of mine challenges that-- why does consciousness need to learn anything at all? She thinks it's more playtime. We're just having experiences.

Backs up the story theory.

As a lover of story myself this sent waves through my body. All of this is an exercise in creativity. All of the journeys, meetings, partings, love, loss and feeling to tell a story. To live a story. Why not? What else would we do? Bathe in pure light?

Until then. We create.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

In the jungle, you can lie down and be claimed

Leading upto the Belize retreat, I didn't do my normal obsessive levels of research but I did some. While I was leafing through Lonely Planet I remember getting a sense of three Belizes: Belize City, the Cayes, and everywhere else.

Everywhere else is most of Belize. While in most of Central America, like Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, it's pretty simple to hop on a bus, land in a new town, and get a room in a small hotel. In Belize things felt... different. More remote. The majority of Belize's land is undeveloped. Tourists generally stay in a few ecoresorts spread out through the countryside. That's not arrive-in-town-and-see-where-it-takes-you traveling. That's planning-ahead-to-be-at-a-resort travel.

Kevin and I have never stayed at a resort and honestly have never been drawn to that. Resorts always make me feel like I'll be secluded away from where I actually am. While I can see the allure if you only have a weekend and want to relax, I generally travel to experience a new place so I want to be in the thick of it.

And I wanted to experience Belize. We had spent time in the Cayes (and loved it even beyond what we expected) so I figured we'd finish our time in Belize in the countryside. If you're going to book a resort it might as well be an ecoresort. I had read about Chaa Creek in San Ignacio. The resorts, including Chaa Creek, generally exceeded my budget, but Chaa Creek had a campground for budget travelers. You had access to the resort facilities when you hiked in from the cabins. I booked it.

When we arrived at Chaa Creek it felt fancy. Generally, on a graph of increasing fanciness my satisfaction decreases. I was a little nervous. Reception gave us a slip to give to the campsite director alerting him that I was vegetarian. Then they sat us down to wait by the manicured lawns to be driven to the campsite.

As we waited an older couple from New York passed us. They asked us if we were going to the campsite and we confirmed that we were. "It's rustic out there! There's NO electricity!" They told us in shock. We said, "We know." And nodded politely. Satisfied that they'd warned us they moved on.

Shortly afterwards, a big gregarious Mayan man showed up in a pick-up truck. Docio runs the campsite with his family. I showed him my slip of vegetarianism. He sized me up and said, "We don't do this." I shrank a little. He roared with laughter, "I'm just kidding! Get in."

I love Docio.


As soon as we climbed the hill to the little campsite we were happy. We gazed down on a few tarp-roofed, screened-in cabins. There was a shared outdoor bathroom and shower hall. A small kitchen and dining room were fully stocked with potable water and bug spray. As you climbed down the trail you were at an access to swim in the river. To the right was the Medicine Trail that lead back to the resort.

Kevin and I quickly climbed down to the Macal River and swam. Being in water felt very important during that time. We made it happen daily.

The water was cool and the river very quiet. There's not much around there. We listened to birds. We were nibbled on by a few fish. Docio's wife and son boarded a canoe at the far bank. They crossed the river and passed us as they climbed up to prepare dinner.



Dinner was summer camp style. We quickly made friends with a few other travelers. During our short time we'd catch up on their days over breakfast and dinner. Docio did indeed prepare me delicious vegetarian food. 

Over dinner the sky got dark quickly. We used flashlights to pass slowly from the dining hall to the bathroom and then back to the cabin. While we ate, Docio's family had lit kerosene lanterns in each of our cabins. We returned to soft light.

While we read in bed the nighttime outside our cabin grew noisy. Each night I revelled at how the jungle came alive. The howlers around San Ignacio sound immensely more monstrous than howlers I had heard in Costa Rica. I don't know what it is but I wonder about their echoes over the river? It almost sounded like a band of ghost cows. Seriously. Cows because there was a mooing at times. Ghostly because it took on this echoed quality. It sounded and felt like rushing wind. It was so loud it woke me up every night. I loved hearing it because it reminded me that nature is not quiet but it is peaceful. The sound wasn't manmade and it affected me differently. It brought me proportionally into that environment.

And I won't lie-- it scared me too. I was 99% sure that the sound I was hearing was howler monkeys, which I know are no threat to me. However, it did sound kind of otherwordly so parts of me wondered about some type of zombie panther? I did bravely go to the outhouse. That involved leaving the cabin and walking a ways in the pitch black dark. I think I win at jungle survival.

After breakfast we walked the Medicine Trail back to the resort, which is about a 10 minute hike. This was so exciting to me! Kevin and I had read about Dr Rosita Arvigo who studied under Mayan Medicine Man Dr Elijio Panti. Together, they created the Medicine Trail as well as protecting huge swaths of Belizean jungle for old growth medicinals. I loved walking the path labelled with various plants and trees, watching birds and animals, and gazing down at the Macal River.

Back at the resort things were resort-y. I took advantage! I spent a whole day at the Infinity pool where I could order delicious drinks and eat at the really good restaurant. Certainly expensive food for Belize, but pretty sweet!


We started to understand the allure of a resort! Most guests would book these expensive tours each day. They spent a lot of money going around to the various temples (you could go to Guatemala for Tikal!) and ruins or caving or any other adventure. I mean, it's cool! BUT Chaa Creek sat on acres of FREE hiking trails. The trails wound through a working farm (that you could visit), the Medicine Trail and associated history, a natural museum, the pool, the river, canoes, and plenty else.

We did all the free thangs.

Kevin and I canoed up and down the Macal River, or more accurately, Kevin canoed and I watched toucans and all types of fantastic birds. We woke up early one morning for a free guided bird tour with the best Tanzanian guide who gleefully shouted "Excellent!" every time he found a bird. We visited the butterfly reserve and were surrounded by blue wonder. We hiked and hiked and hiked and read and swam and relaxed.



One morning I thought I woke to rain. I heard big plops on the tarp roof of our endearing cabin. I went onto the porch and saw a band of howler monkeys. What I was hearing was the sound of the nuts they were discarding and throwing onto our roof. I love monkeys. They give no fucks at all.


A friend at the campsite suggested a lovely and very discounted DIY day. We arranged to canoe down to San Ignacio and have Chaa Creek pick us up a few hours later. We assumed our known arrangement: Kevin took the oar and I proceeded to enterain him with stories. We rowed 5 miles down the Macal, through territories of birds of every conceivable color. I don't think I've ever seen nor heard as many birds in my life. I felt like I floated through worlds before slowly encountering the small town that is the city of San Ignacio. 

As promised, a Chaa Creek employee met us and took up the canoe (fancy resort!). We walked into dusty San Ignacio, through the fruit vendors at the flea market, and wove into a few shops. It's a sort of rough and tumble town. A lot of travelers don't like it but use it as a base camp for adventures in caves and ruins. I could definitely see doing that.

Kevin loved it. It felt like the perfect balance of grit and skepticism of outsiders.

We decided that next time we're in Belize we'll likely stay there to do the tours that interest us--like the ATM caves-- through independent providers (which is less expensive than booking at Chaa Creek). Then we'd go back to Chaa Creek. The peace of the jungle had a hold on us.

We hailed a taxi to take us to the Mayan ruins located in San Ignacio, called Cahal Pech. The museum is one of the better I've seen and the ruins are practically empty of visitors. As opposed to the dense crowds of Chichen Itza and Tikal, here you get a very personal and calm visit to beautiful ruins.


Some of the museum exhibits we've encountered at ruin sites speak of Mayan people as though they no longer exist. Any trip through Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, or elsewhere in Central America shows what a lie that is-- Mayan people are everywhere. Cahal Pech did a much better job of acknowledging the continuity and lineage. I also came to better understand Belize's history.

I had been reading census figures of Belize's diverse population. The literature kept talking about various groups coming to Belize maybe a hundred or two hundred years prior. The ruins date human presence much earlier than that! The exhibit at Cahal Pech explained that Belize's population at the height of Mayan civilization was three times what it is today. When the inexplicable event happened that dashed Mayan populations, Belize was practically empty of humans. The jungle overtook many of the ruin sites. Many have still not been uncovered, or uncovered by people outside of Mayan lineage. Mayans and other groups began coming back to Belize in the last few hundred years.



Kevin and I have happily visited many Mayan ruins. This particular portal was a first! I shared this photo on social media just thinking it was kind of cool. My friends alerted me to the "feminine" quality!

That night, we decided to do one last Chaa Creek tour by signing up for the night hike. A few other campers joined us in shining our flashlights on the Medicine Trail as we hiked back to the resort after dark. We met our guide at the bar. Having been at the campsite we had no idea that it was a party down there! Our guide gave us each a head lamp so we could be the cool kids at the happening bar.

We set off as he shone his light at the lawn just feet from the bar. The whole lawn sparkled with THOUSANDS OF SPIDER EYES. Immediately, I saw what we had gotten ourselves into. This was a "things that go bump in the night tour." It was so funny because the guide was totally spooked by any type of creepy crawley-- he'd had a lifetime of experiences of bites and near misses. I understood why we'd been asked to wear socks.

As we walked quietly deeper into the woods, I fell in love. We saw scorpions, tarantulas, every type of spider, possums, snakes, and all the stuff of nightmares. We all learned to quickly train our lights, to walk softly, and carry no sticks.

Kevin was the first to spot the snake on the rail post. Apparently this guy is a fast mover and poisonous. The guide was very cautious. The snake was so beautiful!


After the hike, we sat at the bar with our friends. I felt sleepy and so happy. The jungle is so alive. Kevin kept talking about something sort of unnerving and also really liberating-- in the jungle, you could lie down and be claimed. If you waited long enough, you wouldn't exist anymore. The density of the jungle would absolve and dissolve and be with and use every bit of you. There was something weighty and beautiful in that.


As with the whole of our trip to Belize, I was surprised. Honestly, I didn't think I'd like it that much. From afar, I couldn't get a read on Belize's personality or way of being. I think that's because Belize has nothing to prove. It is. It's a sense. It's a feeling. It pulled me in. I love it.