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:

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.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Power and Imperfection

I have been developing a new relationship with my personal power and it's been very private.

I've gone deeper into my yoga practice. I rearranged my schedule so my practice could be disciplined and dedicated. I commute to Philly most mornings, pay the bridge toll, and go to a studio where no one knows me. I keep it that way. I don't tell many people what I'm up to (and I'm going to keep it that way). I'm anonymous. It's just my body on the mat.

I'm practicing very traditional, classic yoga where my sweat burns my eyes and there's no talking or music. There's nothing distracting me from being a body on the mat. There's nothing distracting me from my body.

Repeatedly, my teacher says, "Stop being afraid to take up space! Take up room! Stop apologizing for yourself!"

I'm developing a new relationship with my own power.

This teacher and I have had maybe a conversation threaded together over a few whispers and a handful of emails. My body is showing apology and reluctance.

I'm working on it.

My job has evolved and made me more visible, which means I have to own myself more. I make decisions and live with them. My old stories and ways of being meant there was a lot of reluctance, ambivalence, and fear around displeasing people or being wrong.

I've come to realize that being empowered has a lot to do with being imperfect.

I've become much more strongly decisive. And I'm not always right. In fact, I'm learning how much healthier it is to let go of trying to be right. Instead, I'm working for present. In flow. Watching where energy is moving and going with that. Paying attention to where there's movement instead of what's the least controversial or most popular.

It feels juvenile. I was pretty sure that I was a fully mature adult. I'm not sure of anything anymore.

But I'm having a private relationship with my body and it's reminding me that part of protecting myself is being weirdly and wildly open. The more I'm seen, the more I learn what I chose to share. The more present I am, the more I have to stay home in myself.

I'm finding out how to be powerful and not apologize for having agency and control. To be in it, sometimes eff up, and own that too. That I'm allowed to be here. I'm meant to take up space.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Traveling from Tulum to Belize

As a somewhat obsessive travel planner, it has become a practice to be more spontaneous. And whenever we're recalibrating, we flux in both directions, right?

After years of anally knowing every possible hotel or travel route or fun day activity, I went to Mexico with only two nights booked in a tent. I knew that we needed to be in Belize by February 16 to safely be at the retreat on February 18.

I'd heard you could catch a bus.

We had about a week in Tulum so I did some asking around. There are a few ways to get down but they're rather time consuming. The option that left us with the most free day time was to take the overnight bus from Tulum to Belize City. We purchased our tickets, waited in the well lit station, and boarded the comfortable ADO bus.

The trip was really fine. People always complain that the buses are freezing. They are. But I'm glad the drivers are alert. I just bear it in mind and wear all my clothes. I was fine.

The less fun pieces are pulling into the Mexican customs around 3 am and trying to be coherent. You have to pay an exit tax. It was less expensive for us to book one way flights into Mexico and home from Belize so our airfare hadn't paid the taxes. The bus driver doesn't mention it when you board either. We always plan for the unexpected so we paid it and were fine. A few other passengers had bigger issues.

And then round two, entering Belize. Immigration and customs is always a bit stressful but especially in the middle of the night. The upside is that there are no lines. The down side is that you have to try to be together.

From the border we probably only drove another hour into Belize City. I'd heard a mix of reviews from other travelers. I didn't spend much time, but I didn't find it to be an especially dangerous city. It seemed like a normal city where you should have your bearings. It reminded me of a lot of cities in the Caribbean or US south. It has the slow feel you find in tropical settings and the city falls away to country quickly.

We didn't spend much time. From the bus stop we took a quick taxi to the ferry. At the ferry docks porters take your luggage for you. This took me aback but it's commonplace in Belize. Thankfully, in Belize City these porters are wearing uniforms so you know they're official. In Caye Caulker they don't always wear uniforms, which can be slightly more unnerving.

The dock itself is pretty great! There are cafes and plenty of wifi and seating. Soon, we were seated top deck of a racing ferry headed to Caye Caulker. As it was the first ride of the day we were mainly surrounded by commuters headed to a day of work on the Caye. People laughed and joked like they were on a bus back home.

About 40 minutes later our bus sliced through the grey sky to a small mangrove-clad Caye. Like, small. Caye Caulker has no cars, just golf carts. You can bike the whole island in about 20 minutes.

I had booked us two nights in an airbnb. We took a golfcart down. We were early so they stowed our things and gave us our bikes. We set off for coffee and to get our bearings.

Caye Caulker is maybe the most chill place on earth. The cayes do have soft sandy beach, but they also have a lot of sea grass in the water so most people swim by walking out on a dock. Some parts of the world remove the sea grass but of course, this is disruptive to the ecosystem. In Belize, they generally leave it, which I appreciate.

In Belize, they leave a lot. Time is slow. People are playful. They dish it out and expect you to give it back. I had a Rasta follow me on a bike mumbling "Blueberry." I asked a Belizean friend what it meant and she reminded me of the Marley song about it-- a type of kush. She said, "Belizean men will say anything. They saw my sister with a lot of tattoos and started calling her 'coloring book.'"

Very quickly, I felt very relaxed. It is an easy place to do absolutely nothing. We were pretty fried after spending the night in a cold, border-crossing bus, so nothing felt really good.

As we explored the island, we saw signs advertising ferries that ran from Chetumal, Mexico directly to Caye Caulker. I asked how long that took. It sounds like it would have potentially shaved 2 hours and Belize City off our trip.

I would have known if I did some research.

What I don't know if when those buses and ferries run. It could have eaten into one of our days. It sounds like we would have taken a 2-3 hour bus south from Tulum to Chetumal. There we would have transferred for a ferry bound direct for Caye Caulker. Also, that would be a rather long ferry ride and it might not have been a comfortable trip.

We'll have to go back to find out.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mayan Ruins on Tulum Beach

After enjoying the delicious (and more affordable!) meals in town, jumping into every cenote we could get to, and wandering around the Yucatan, we decided to finish up our time in Tulum back on the beach.

The Zona Arqeologia is closer to the ruins and also more integrated into public beach accesses. If you stay in town and ride your back down to the beach, these tend to be the points where you hit the sand. All the way up the road, practically at the ruins, there's this weird and great place called Zazil Kin. It had nicer hotel rooms but also plenty of dark cabins. We found an available cabin with shared baths (meaning you walk to one place where there are clean restrooms and you walk to another shower house for a trickle of water to clean you) and booked it for our remaining nights.

Our cabin had untrimmed palm fronds that batted our heads as we ducked into the dim space. We said it didn't have a hair cut-- as some did! Even in the height of day it was hard to see in there. It kept the temperature cool but made packing a bit challenging.

Kevin and I slept side by side in our comical twin beds. I couldn't understand the mosquito netting because there were few bugs so close to the sea. However, one day the wind turned and blew down from land. Then I got it!

There were only a few hours of electricity a night so we read by flashlight. There was wifi only in the reception area so in the evenings all the guests congregated there. Some would drink and swap stories at the bar. Kids would play in the playground. We scrolled our phones and answered emails.

The first night we arrived we took a walk on the beach. Remember that full moon? It was huge and hung over the horizon of the water. The only people we could see were two others skinny dipping. Immediately, I shed my clothes and walked into the water. I've never before swam in the ocean at night. The moon was so bright and the water so warm.

As I walked back to the beach I was disoriented from the tide and had to find Kevin again. As I said, he is a cheerleader to any attempt on my part to be adventurous. He just worried that I might be eaten by a shark.

The following morning we walked up to the Mayan ruins. The entry fee is small and getting there early means you won't be as dogged by the tour crowds coming down from Playa Carmen and Cancun. The site was actually better labelled than Chichen Itza and some of the other ruins. Also, the ruins are built on cliffs directly over the sea. They form a bit of a peninsula that juts out before the Bay of Akumal crawls back into the coastline behind (we visited there one day to swim with turtles).

At the ruin site you can descend steps to little beach coves that are only accessible in this way. People wandered down to swim and play in the surf. There was no shade but it's a beautiful area.

The only part of Zazil Kin we weren't too into was the restaurant. They had you in their little stretch of paradise and the food wasn't great. We started walking along the beach and found better options. A beautiful breakfast spot with a view of the mangroves. A fun spot at lunchtime on loungers.

Best of all, when our friends Julia and Richard flew in to begin their Honeymoon, we all met up and shared tips. We spent the day swimming, sunning, listening to jazz, and eating great food. They dropped us off at the bus stop in Tulum town as we began to journey overnight into Belize.

Friday, March 17, 2017

DIY touring in the Yucatan Peninsula

Wandering through the main drag in Tulum you find lots of tour shops hawking one day trips to Chichen Itza, a dip in a cenote, lunch, and maybe touring a chocolate factory in Valladolid. I was interested in seeing these cites (when in Rome and all) and we hadn't rented a car so we needed ways to get places. When I booked our first night's hotel in town I asked if they had suggestions on how to see Chichen Itza. He advised booking a taxi driver for the day who would take Kevin and me to all the sites. I price compared that with going on a tour. It was cheaper to have our own private driver for the day.

I highly recommend it.

Jose picked us up at our hotel at 7 am. We drove two hours to Chichen Itza. Through the miracle of time zones, we arrived at 8 am as the park opened. As we waited to enter the park Jose hailed a tour guide who suddenly slid into the seat next to us. We asked him his rate and it was rather high. Kevin and I used to get a little flustered in those situations and agree to a tour even though we didn't want to spend the money nor experience the site in this way. Instead, Kevin had his bearings and politely declined the tour.

Chichen Itza is open to the hot sun. Early, the crowds are smaller but it fills up quickly. It can be overwhelming with vendors hawking wares and guides selling tours. But, historical sites the world over are like this. Angkor Wat was often very similar. Kevin kept hunting for a good book so we could guide ourselves. The plaques mainly had to do with architecture, not history, context, ritual, nor belief. We found the information we could.

Most of the sites are dedicated to Venus. Venus is a star visible in the night sky to the Yucatan. Venus intersects with Mayan beliefs on descending Gods and Goddesses, astrology, and seasonality. 

Hot and sweaty, we exited Chichen Itza after about two hours in the park. We'd actually stayed a little longer than we had told Jose that we would. He drove us directly to Ik Kil, a cenote very near to Chichen Itza.

As I stood at the rail looking down into the depths of the cenote I instantly recognized it from postcards. This place is the stuff of dreams. As it's close to Chichen Itza and more commonly visited, it's more expensive and with more infrastructure. There's a gift shop and locker rooms. You pay for everything. 

We slowly descended slippery stone steps down to the water level. There's a small area to stand that's crowded and jostling with people from Mexico and all over the world. A few ladders were stacked off to the left for those who wanted to descend into the water slowly. There's not a lot of privacy. Often someone would scramble alongside you.

To the right, steps lead up to a small platform where you could jump into the deep water from a height of 25 ft. I held our bag while Kevin scrambled up the steps. In an instant, he was flying. 

There were two bored lifeguards really not doing very much. Most of the world seems to engage with the "life is risky" motto. Having recently shed much of my hesitation I told Kevin I wanted to jump. He is always interested in me being more adventurous and fun so he gladly took the bag. I began to ascend the steps. When I got to the top I saw the intimidating space between me and the water's surface. 

I said to the life guard, "I'm scared." He shrugged with boredom and said, "Jump." If I wasn't so nervous I would have found the whole thing hilarious. I asked if I should hold my nose. Again, a disinterested shrug. "Yes, that's good. Jump." Probably seconds had passed but I noticed people around me who were beginning to jump as I hesitated. It didn't feel safe to be so close to the edge. There was obviously no law and order. The lifeguard was mainly ensuring that people didn't jump directly on top of one another. I told myself to do it, held my nose, and stepped off the edge.

I hated the sensation of free falling through space but I loved the feeling of resurfacing in the water knowing that I jumped in fully. I loved feeling like I entered in with less hesitation than I used to, that I was doing the thing.

The waters were clear. There were plenty of quiet, private places to swim off to. Kevin spent a while on the edge of the cenote as the roots dripped water around him.

Afterwards, we climbed the flights of slippery stone steps back up to ground level and found Jose. 

He drove us to the colonial town of Valladolid for lunch. It feels like a place. Like, somewhere people work and live, which is always orienting after visiting tourist sites. We wandered around the center square before deciding on a spot to have lunch. There are factories in town that process chocolate and coffee for those who want to do more. We've taken some of those tours in other places. We just watched the kids leave school for the day, the retirees read their papers on a park bench, and life go by.

When we reconnected with Jose he gave us some options. We could always go back as we'd already had a full day-- we'd done what the group tours normally do but more quickly as we did it on our own schedule and only had to continually gather ourselves. We could stop at some more cenotes. Or, we could head to Coba, which is often it's own tour.

Coba is a slightly less touristed Mayan ruin by lagoons, some that are home to crocodiles. We asked Jose to take us to Coba. As we drove up to the quiet gate he told us to go inside and rent bicycles. The highest pyramid is about a mile into the park. He wanted to make sure we got there before closing.

His advice had been great so far so we rented two rickety bikes and set out on the path. The park is mainly flat and the trails are wide. The breeze gathered between the tall trees. Coba is much shadier and kinder than Chichen Itza. We passed smaller ruin sites until we finally found our way to the main pyramid. We looked up up up the steep stone steps with just one long rope to orient climbers.

So we climbed.

I've often found that up isn't so bad. You can lean forward and organize your weight. As we got to the top, we had to again negotiate lots of bodies speaking various languages with differing ideas of appropriate space sharing and respect for sacred sites. It's daunting. Little kids were up and down like mountain goats. We gulped at the height, sat a moment in the fading sun, before beginning our descent.

The tricky part. At a certain point the stone steps are so worn that they no longer have angles or a top surface to stand on. I think it's easier to shift into butt sliding there. I stuck my feet into little cracks and crevices to slow the descent as my butt slid on the smooth stone. My hands clung to the rope even as people on the other side grabbed on to aid their climb up. 

It wasn't my first rodeo.

We found our bikes again and dashed off to another part of the park to take in whatever sites we could before we lost light and access. The park was practically empty. The breeze was cool. The sites were beautiful and interesting. Ever since my evening and morning with the moon and sea I'd been singing a certain refrain in my head: "Everything is amazing. Nothing is perfect."

The breeze was cool and a mosquito bit me. The ruins were awe-inspiring and the crowds were annoying. The sun was glorious and it was hot.

It's all amazing. None of it is perfect.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Years ago, when Kevin and I traveled through Panama, we took turns reading Barbara Kingsolvers The Lacuna. We read about these clear, cold, aquamarine pools where human sacrifices were made and secret caverns are discovered. I started to read about these cenotes hidden throughout the Yucatan peninsula, known to those with roots to the land, and fantastical to tourists traveling through.

I love watering holes. One of my favorite scavenger hunts is for cold water hidden to refresh you on a hot day. I've lounged by the Blue Hole in the Catskills. Kevin and I got too late to one in the Pine Barrens (deforesting the surrounding environment changed the ecosystem causing the water to become polluted). I was enchanted by the idea of encountering cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula.

As Kevin and I packed up our belongings at the Zona Hotelera campsite and headed into town, we asked about visiting some nearby cenotes. We began hitching rides on collectivos, or vans that function like buses. For change you could ride shoulder to shoulder with local commuters to a site off the highway. Some cenotes charge more for admission than others. The more expensive sites tend to have picnic areas and changing rooms. The less expensive (and in my mind, more worthwhile) sites had pretty much no development. You encounter the crystalline water, set your things down by some tree roots, and dive in.

I remembered The Lacuna as I swam through the stories of each cenote. In some, there were roped off areas to not disturb swimming turtles. In others, you swam under cave outcroppings populated by thousands of sleeping bats. You could swim deeply and find caves and tiny pockets of air. By one cenote, we were harassed by a family of ducks that had likely been domesticated by tourists unwisely sharing food. Cenotes were sites of sacrifice and test at Chichen Itza and other holy places. 

I told my Aunt about visiting the cenotes and she said, "I have nightmares about them!" In her nightmares, she's thrown into the dark depths. As people have been through the centuries.

They hold our dreams and our fears.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hearing your own voice between the moon and sea

The last few months have been loud and dense and chaotic. There has been a lot of noise and fear. Again and again I tried to make room to hear my own voice, but it was really hard. I was traveling ahead of the Belize retreat in part to soften into a space appropriate for facilitating the retreat. I needed to make sure I was at peace to try to offer the same to the attendees.

Given the intensity I was wondering what it would take.

It took one day.

As I wrote, when I first woke in Tulum it felt sort of weird just because I was out of town proper. I just needed a minute to get a lay of the land. Once I felt like I had my bearings, I opened up to its beauty.

I spent a lot of time with the sea.

The water was clear and so many blues.

I'm often a really hesitant swimmer. While I love to swim, it can take me an unreasonably long time to enter the water. I let that shit go. I walked directly in and submerged. I felt a lot that was tangled in me float away.

There was a Full Moon on February 10. Astrologically, it had significance and due to my current love of all things Chani Nicholas, I was paying attention.

In the middle of the night on February 9, I woke up. I decided to exit our hot little tent to use the bathroom. As I walked out of the tent I saw I didn't need a flashlight due to the bright light of the growing moon. I walked into the moonlight, funneled through the palm leaves. I stood there looking at the moon for a long time. I stood there feeling the moon for a long time. I stayed with the moon in this quiet, soft place.

And then I went back to bed.

In the morning, thanks to our intel from the airbnb host, we went to get breakfast at one of the fancy beach front hotels. The hotel had these amazing cabana beach beds spread out along the sand. They had outlets and signs you could turn if you wanted to order something. Kevin was completely freaked out. We set up camp, ordered breakfast, and took out our books. Still a bit dazed by the moon, I stood up in the growing sunlight and walked directly into the water. And I understood something that I had been struggling with for some time: "what has this period of my life taught me? What was this struggle about?"

With sudden clarity, I knew.

I walked back from the water, laid in the shade alongside the person I loved, and let myself be warm and content and at peace.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Finding Tulum

Our first morning in Tulum we woke up in our hot tents, unzipped our doorway, and wandered out to the street that runs through Zona Hotelera in Tulum. We passed lots of long, lithe white people wearing expensive clothes. We saw lots of signs in English advertising things I like ("yoga! smoothies! cleanses! beautiful clothes!") but didn't necessarily expect to find written in English in a seaside Mexican town. I mean, I'd heard Tulum had a long history of Americans traveling to do yoga but I didn't think it had been annexed by Malibu...

I was getting a little salty. This is not unusual for me early in travel. I have a weird habit of feeling unclear and not super comfortable arriving in a new place. Then, something opens and I fall in love.

Kevin and I decided to go into town to see if we could actually see residential neighborhoods and schools and churches and evidence that we hadn't landed in some weird outlier. The taxi sped us up the highway to town proper. He spoke Spanish (amazing!). We saw actual people living actual lives. Things got dirtier and more real. He said people lived this far (a car or bike ride) from the beach because they actually know this environment. It's safer to give the sea some space.

As we thanked the taxi and exited, we found a little garden restaurant. We settled in to begin hunting for a place to stay in town. Tulum was beginning to reveal itself.

We got our game plan together. Our belongings were safely stored at our airbnb in Zona Hotelera so we were unencumbered to walk around town and see if there was a hotel we could reserve for the upcoming few nights. We probably walked in and out of 8 places but it was actually fun. In each setting we saw other possibilities of passing our time. We talked to people and got suggestions and ideas. Ultimately, we found two places on the outskirts of town that were affordable, could accommodate us, and felt good. We booked them and decided that our time in town would be base camp for exploring the wider Yucatan peninsula.

We call the art of figuring it out as you go "Guerilla Vacationing"
I started to feel like I had a sense of where I was. Tulum has three zones: Pueblo (the town), Zona Hotelera (the fancy), and Zona Arqueologia (pretty great, we'll get to that). Zona Hotelera is the concentration of resorts on a gorgeous strip of soft beach. Again, if you have a weekend free and want to be hot and happy, go! This is where we landed in our little camp site.

Pueblo is where people actually live. There are neighborhoods and permaculture farms and Indigenous community projects and hipster coffee shops and poverty and wealth and international schools and dirt and it kind of feels like a truck stop because of the highway running through. I love it. It's really weird and it's really wonderful. You drive or bike in any direction and there's a cenote. You can bike to public access spots at the beach. There are Mayan ruins and the streets are named for astrology and esotericism.

Zona Arqueologia is the quieter, less developed, more publicly accessible part of the beach leading up to the Mayan ruins. It's lovely but it is a drive or bike ride from town.

I'm starting to learn the value of secrets and privacy. Tulum felt like a place that knows that lesson. The cards you hold. What you reveal.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Getting Away. First stop: Mexico

Kevin and I believe in maximizing plane tickets. They're usually the most expensive piece of travel, so we milk them. Whenever we can, we add travel time around yoga retreats. Working for ourselves affords us some flexibility-- just not security!

Usually, I'd take the time after the retreat but this year we scheduled the retreat over President's Day to try to make the most of attendees' vacation days. This meant we were traveling rather late in February and if we added on travel time, we'd get into March, which is the beginning of landscaping season. It wasn't going to work so we opted to travel a bit before the retreat.

I was hesitant because it's normal for retreat attendees to have questions right before they fly out. I want to be accessible to them. I communicated with everyone well in advance of travel, booked my tickets, and headed out about 10 days before the retreat.

And it was all fine.

And it also wasn't. I had deposited a check of a chunk of my annual earnings into my business account. I waited a few days for it to clear before transferring it into my personal checking so I would have access to those funds, if I needed them, while abroad.

The teller had transferred my earnings into another account.

The night before I traveled out I stood in line at the bank trying to track down where they had put my money. Thankfully, they sorted it out and correctly deposited my money as I landed in Mexico.

It's always something.

Kevin and I decided to start our travels in Mexico mainly because Belize is kind of pricey! The retreat was an outlier-- Ak'bol purposefully keeps their prices low so the retreat was actually really wonderful and accessible. When I looked into travel around Belize I was a bit surprised by the rates. We knew our money would go further in Mexico so we booked!

Tulum had been on my radar for some time. I knew that Tulum was also a bit pricier than other parts of Mexico but it is super close to the Belizean border, which made good sense. On February 7 Kevin and I flew into Cancun. I had arranged a shuttle to pick us up at the airport. (I'm big on airport pick-ups and traveling with some currency for your arrival destination. Make things easy for yourself while you get your bearings!)

Our shuttle driver dropped off guests at big resorts in Cancun as well as more reasonable hotels in Playa del Carmen. As is our way, Kevin was snoozing while I was hungrily watching the highway. I don't mind overland travel overseas... I love to see life lived a multitude of ways.

We drove into Tulum and towards the beach. I'd found an airbnb close to the beach where I figured we could spend two nights getting our bearings. Other reviewers had warned that shuttle and taxi drivers often couldn't find this airbnb. The owner assured me they would.

The driver couldn't find it. We drove up and down the road along the beach where all you can see is the entrance to hotel after resort after hotel. It was sort of freaking me out. It felt ritzy and inaccessible and not really like Mexico... more how I would imagine Miami Beach or Los Angeles. I had other ideas in mind if Tulum was too weird-- maybe heading over to Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox-- I stopped the driver a few times to ask directions before we found our spot.

Our airbnb was "jungle camping" or renting a tent with a bed, near bathrooms and showers. Again, all location. In addition to giving me proximity to the beach I've often found the budget places offer you guidance to be independent. The owner gave us lots of tips of finding access on a beach that is overwhelmed by resorts. In the Zona Hotelera most hotels and resorts either deny access to the beach or charge those who aren't guests at their hotel. Our jungle camping friends pointed out where we could enter and where we could get discounts at nearby reserves. A resort can be OK if you don't have much time and need to get away. If you want to travel and explore, you need people who can orient you.

Kevin and I entered the beach access we'd been directed to and started to feel the tension and travel melt. The beaches at Tulum are some of the most beautiful I've seen. The sand is powdery soft. The water is waves of turquoise meeting deeper blue.

We started to trust that all our plans were enough. Everything was OK. For now, we paused and settled in.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Just Be: Yogawood Retreat to Belize

Years ago I followed the story of Julia Butterfly Hill, as she made her way into a 200 foot tall Redwood tree to protest deforestation and then after when she made her way down, toured to speak, and then ultimately settled on a tropical island in Belize. I slowly gathered that she became friends with an expat couple who'd founded an ecoretreat on Ambergris Caye. Sometimes they did programming together. A few of my friends had lead retreats there.

I love stories like this.

And I love to step inside the story.

Ak'bol had been on my radar from that time. I sort of kept it in mind for the right moment. After we concluded the epic adventure of the Vietnam retreat, it seemed like something hot, relaxing, and not too far was the counterbalance (yoga retreats can be like yoga poses). I booked Ak'bol over President's Day weekend and invited students to join.

And then 2016 happened.

As the election hit fever pitch, everyone I knew navigated big tumult in their personal and professional lives, and then trump was elected, I kept exchanging furtive messages with those joining the retreat. The content all pretty much amounted to: "I need this so badly and yet I feel guilty."

Me too.

I'm doing my best to watch that. To know that I can be conscious in my decisions, that I can care for myself in the ways that I deem appropriate, and that I don't have to apologize for it. We all deserve the space to get perspective. We all deserve time to relax. We function in our lives better when we do it from a place of intention and awareness.

You don't have to go to Belize to create those circumstances, but I have to say, it's not a bad way to do it.

So, a group of burnt, travel weary people amassed on the beach of Ambergris Caye, Belize. Our first evening together we shared dinner and our intentions. I shared that I'm looking for that liminal space where I can hold onto my own peace but not disengage. I'm looking to stay in it and not lose myself. There were many nods. We gather our people.

As the week unfolded we met under the palms to watch sunrise and drink coffee. We wandered out to the pier, practiced pranayama, meditation, and asana. The mornings were more intense often followed by a swim in the turquoise waters. Looking out, you saw a break point that indicated the second largest reef in the world. 

After lunch, some took snorkel trips to Hol Chan, Shark Alley, and Mexico Rocks. Others went further afield to visit caves and Mayan temples in land. Some hailed a water taxi and sped south along the coastline to visit the town of San Pedro. Others channeled their inner lizards, laying in the hot sun or relaxing in the palm shade. Folks scheduled massages and swam in the pool.

In the evenings we gathered at sunset for Yin practice. I relaxed my control freak self and ceded most of the Yin practices to be taught by Kevin. As we shifted positions we watched the palm tree outlines claim the lowering sun. After Yin, we had evening meditation sits over the lapping water. By the time we concluded it was dark. Ak'bol has a light so you can enjoy watching the fish racing under the water.

We walked down the pier back to our private palapa for dinner. We talked about the constellations and yoga and our lives at home. We could see it a little more clearly from that distance. 

As we reclaimed ourselves we also claimed one another. As always happens, a tight community formed, one where people hunt for each other's lost go pros, loan out bug spray and hair ties, stage elaborate and beautiful photos, write one another epic odes, and make plans to do it again.

I used to see art as a solitary activity. One artist, one page, one pen. These experiences are teaching me other levels of art. Art as experience, co created by an assembly of thinking, feeling, engaged beings. I think this is what was intended by group yoga classes. For us to try to get it together and to do it together.