Destinations and Realizations

Mexico, The Musical: a blending of languages, hearts and sounds.

The Crossing from Guatemala

One balmy night I found myself in a speedboat across the Rio Dulce at 2:30 am to catch a bus to the Mexican border. I’d been staying in a rustic hotel with wood detail and colorful Mexican décor in an indigenous Mayan jungle village. I had just spent a few days meditating and doing yoga on their docks surrounded by lily pads and lush jungle (and chatting, eating excellent food and going on waterfall excursions – I’m a social yogi!). The boat driver was making a special late night trip for the fiery Mexican woman who owned the hotel; she was meeting her son and granddaughter at the border of Mexico, and I was happy to have a sharp-witted bossy lady hold me hand a bit with the crossing logistics – and the good tips! She recommended I stop in Chiapas and enjoy Palenque for a bit, and for that reason alone I could never forget her.

“We have an agreement with the locals – we return the water to them at night, and this reduces the chance that some hotel boat will hurt anyone who might be swimming,” her husband and business partner had told me in his Australian accent. “But my wife is special, she needs to catch a 3am bus, so there’s a ride for ya.” As we road on through the silent and dark body of water, I felt like a contraband product being smuggled across borders; Mexico, I’d been waiting a long time to meet you. It had to be dramatic, didn’t it?

Mexico was the ultimate stop on what ended up being a giant loop within Central America; it started in Guatemala, got as far south as Costa Rica and back up again. My lower back was inflamed and it sucked to carry a travel backpack. I figured I’d do some pyramid gazing and mosquito shooing in Chiapas before heading off to the beaches of Oaxaca. Sometimes in life it feels so good to be wrong.

I had come very close to just returning to the airport in Guatemala City, cashing in my chips and returning to the States to handle various matters I call “adulting.” But something convinced me to push onward to the land of the Mayas, despite reality. I was thinking what you’re probably thinking; I must be crazy. But didn’t the quirkiness begin when I took a road trip with a near stranger across Nicaragua and through Honduras just to get here? If continuing made me crazy, stopping now would render me a lunatic.   And since we were a few days short of the full moon I figured I’d hold off on lunacy.

I’ll say one thing about Mexico -the line of separation between foreigners and natives is more like a translucent veil than an impenetrable wall.  Even more so then bonds I felt in other countries, the Mexicans I met truly felt like neighbors – weaving, painting, laughing, singing and emotionally honest brothers and sisters.  Falling in love with the land below was an unveiling and beautiful experience.

Palenque, Sonic Jungle

Let’s circle back to my strange late night odyssey. I landed in the ‘magic town’ of Palenque and rinsed off my overnight travel and heated wild goose chase for a functioning ATM machine with a nice private cabin in a community called Pachan, close the infamous Mayan ruins. These first few days in Mexico can be defined as every musical and artistic fantasy you’ve ever had about Latin America. There was a restaurant pumping with live salsa music every night, followed by fire spinning performers. There wasn’t a corner left unpainted in this lush outdoor setting, with Mayan hieroglyphic inspired graffiti and “Ojo de Dios” hanging about (eye of God, similar to a dream catchers).

One particular afternoon in this rural region of Chiapas found me at the gorgeous waterfalls of Roberto Barrio with an Argentinian artist who shared some of his beautiful, spiritual music as we welcomed the full moon.  Later our attention was summoned by the sounds of local children playing instruments and singing “Las Mananitas,” the traditional Mexican Happy Birthday song -dressed just as if they were going to perform a recital on a country road that lead to waterfalls.  Their serenade concluded and was immediately followed up by the sound of a stereo coming from another direction, pumping more contemporary Latin top 40 tunes. You can hear Mexico, in every possible sound combination and setting.

The Ruins: Palenque is a gorgeous mixture of pyramids and temples, shady walks through stony interiors and sun-blasted climbs up ancient forms of the stair master. I learned two valuable lessons; don’t go midday during peak heat season and don’t try to walk there from the cabin – although it was a nice detour and I tried my first Orchato, a sweet drink made with corn or rice.  Palenque is a part of an inhabited jungle reserve, and when you enter the area you get a $2 bracelet that’s good for five days and offers access to hiking trails, a museum and apparently hidden ruins that only certain locals know about.  There’s a cluster of cabin resorts even a yoga and medicine community within the confines of this ancient relic and natural reserve.

A Mixed Crowd: One day, I found an even smaller, hidden community within Panchan. This was a gated area being overseen by two nice 30-year-old Mexican guys and attracted its share of artists, hippies, and travelers on enough of a budget to look beyond what can be found with the naked eye. I stayed there for several days – socializing, teaching yoga and exchanging holistic treatments with my hosts and some visitors. One evening we all went to see one of them play music in a reggae band downtown. My hosts were taking us on adventures for the fun of it, no financial incentive – they were from Mexico City and just as eager to explore the area for themselves as a New Yorker suddenly finding herself in Sedona, Arizona. This ritual of experiencing Mexico alongside nationals and Latin American travelers would repeat itself later in San Cristobal de las Casas. One day the guys took us on a river hike in search of one of those rumored hidden temples – which we never found – but we did get lost in the middle of the jungle before an imminent downpour.   We made it home, gobbling tamales from street vendors and I remember being incredibly thankful that I was back in North America where the days were getting long enough to not render me lost among the night creatures of the Palenque jungle. Although that would be a great blog post!

A piece of my heart is still lingering around the forest playground that is Palenque, Mexico.  San Cristobal de las Cases was my next stop. Stay tuned…..

Yoga & Holistic Tools

Five Key Steps to Developing a Life Changing Daily Practice

From yoga and meditation to daily affirmations, the first thing you’ll learn about any self-healing tool is that it’s important to create a daily practice. There’s no teacher, coach or guru out there who’ll recommend that you do something Monday and Saturday. It can feel overwhelming – besides eating, brushing your teeth and walking the dog, there’s something else you need to commit to each day?

There has never been a better (or worse) time in life to adopt a daily practice.

The wonders of the digital world have allowed us to shorten or eliminate many tasks. Texting has replaced speaking, and emojis have replaced words. Many people work remotely, eliminating the need to get dressed and go to an office. We are continuing to cultivate a lifestyle that reduces the amount of things we should or must do on a daily basis. However, a self-healing or personal development tool is still an important part of your day….daily. If you commit, it’s best to go all the way.

I’ll be the first to tell you how difficult it can be to keep up with a daily practice. But the benefits are endless!

Ten years ago I joined a Buddhist movement and began a daily practice of chanting morning and evening, and having the discipline to do this has been something I’ve struggled with for years. Last year I became a yoga teacher, and learned about the importance of daily practice on the mat, especially if I wanted to teach. I wasn’t done there; I really wanted to learn Reiki, a gentle and energy based healing modality that is also best practiced to some degree everyday. I realized that if I kept on this spiritual and holistic path, there would always be amazingly beneficial practices I’d discover and need to make time for. Instead of going crazy trying to have my various practices compete for holistic real estate in my day, I surrendered to one simple truth. Have a daily practice. And so I have one thing that is most important, and I allow the others to enhance it. Sometimes I combine practices, but the one ritual which is most effective in my life pretty much stays the same, and for me that is chanting.

So here are five key points to help you develop a daily practice.

1. Draw from your experience so far.

There are many physical practices, meditation techniques and rituals out there – I assume if you’re reading this post, you’ve tried at least one (and if you haven’t, read on). Take a moment and try to remember how that practice made you feel. Did it have a positive impact? Did you feel more balanced, energized and productive? Did it possibly even help heal an illness or physical condition? Now ask yourself this, did you try it consecutively for a few days or more, and how did that feel? Different from the isolated experience? If the answers forming in your head are not so positive, don’t be discouraged, it just wasn’t the right practice for you, or perhaps not the right timing or teacher. These are the types of observations that will help you determine if a particular daily practice is right for you. Your goal is to bring some type of spiritual or holistic routine into your life that carves a path in your day, not an obstacle to it. It’s kind of like a relationship. Or a job. Does it hold you up or drag you down? There are some people out there who simply don’t mesh well with yoga, or can’t get comfortable with silent meditation. When you find the daily practice that’s right for you, it IS a meditation.

2. Ask yourself – can I do this everyday?

While I recommend something that quiets the mind and incorporates breath and body awareness, you might decide a run in the park is as effective for you as yoga is for someone else. But can you run everyday? Will there come a day when you need to stop? Many runners need to quit eventually, because due to knee, ankle or back issues they simply cannot get that wonderful release of doing what they love anymore. I recommend a form of self-care that will nurture you in the long run, and that doesn’t put too much physical strain on your body. This is why restorative yoga exists – so dedicated yogis can still be on their mat seven days a week without running themselves down.

3. Don’t get too bogged down by the spiritual semantics.

Perhaps you grew up in a religious household and are a bit hesitant to embrace something that involves belief or prayers. Yoga is a perfect example, because it involves physical conditioning, meditation and in some cases, mantras or prayers. A lot of people develop a daily practice in hopes that they can keep religion out of it, but then realize on their own terms that honoring oneself every day is a form of religion; it certainly develops a sense of faith, seeing beautiful results across the board in your life from one simple thing you’re doing daily. Nobody outside of yourself needs to label it as your belief system. And no other belief system you hold within your heart has to feel slandered or slighted. Your daily practice can actually be a tool for keeping you on track with the religion or tradition you were born into. I’ve been a member of a Buddhist organization for 10 years, and I still consider myself Jewish. I’ve been to many Buddhist meetings where people talk about how the practice has enhanced their relationship with the god they were brought up with.

4. Be mindful of the company you keep. 

There are people who would rather sit at the bar with you and vent about problems then be supportive of the daily ritual you’ve set up for yourself to better manage those problems. Maybe this is how you became friends originally; you both had the same miserable boss or both had suffered a bad breakup around the same time. That’s wonderful. Now move on. You can keep these people in your life, to the point that they keep any negative opinions about your self-healing daily practice to themselves. Now, if it’s your partner, roommate, or family member that you live with….this is probably the hugest obstacle to a daily practice, but getting around it will really strengthen your dedication. If you don’t have a supportive environment, try practicing behind a closed door or when nobody is home. This is a great opportunity to evaluate the quality of your relationships. If someone you live with is posing an obstacle to a healthy and positive daily practice, is it a living situation that’s built to last? Maybe it’s time to consider relocating. You don’t have to impose your practice on anyone else, but nobody should get in the way of this sacred space you are creating for yourself – if they’re smart, they’ll realize that by being supportive of your daily practice, they’re going to have the best possible relationship with you because you will be the best version of you. Trust me.

5. Make a date with yourself, everyday.

Pretty soon, you’ll train your mind to treat it like an appointment. You’ve probably heard that it takes 2 weeks for something to become a daily habit. Or 21 days. Or 30 days. These are all very standard time frames used as a measuring tool by various experts of different healing modalities, and you can even create your own rule. You can decide that 25 days is what it takes. There will come a point where it not only becomes easy to do something everyday, but where it becomes hard not to – the consistency will transform you on a cellular level, so eventually your body is saying “I need that” instead of “I don’t have time for that.” Needing a daily ritual is a good thing. It is not an addiction. Are you addicted to water, or the air that you breathe? Or the food you eat? You are building a rhythm, but you need to get there. So if you have a busy schedule, find a time, pencil it in and make sure it happens. Like any other plan, you can always make minor time changes as you see fit. Making a date with yourself each day will increase the likelihood that you stay on track and really seek the long-term benefits of a holistic and transformative daily practice. 

 

Destinations and Realizations

From Vision Board to 18 Months Abroad

I remember when the seeds of foreign travel started to sprinkle my life as a real estate agent in Manhattan. I was feeling stagnate, and remember a friend pointing out that I wouldn’t want to look back on my life and see only TV shows, late night parties and career frustration.  I had a gnawing feeling that it was time to venture from my urban hovel and see a part of the world, but at the time I didn’t validate this frivolous fantasy.

Never underestimate the power of visualization.  

A vision board is a great tool for manifesting you’re heart’s desire; it displays images of a life goal or intention. Its magic is as pure as prayer and as tangible as an art project.  Just the other night I was invited to a vision board gathering at the home of Meg, the owner of Summit to Sea Yoga and a multitalented and warm spirited workshop facilitator who I was very lucky to meet soon after moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was an end-of-the-year, make-your-resolutions type of small event where everyone was cutting photos and words from magazines to symbolize their wishes for the New Year.  Inside her warmly lit yoga room diffused with aromatic oils, I recalled my first vision board gathering three years ago when I was frustrated with life in New York.

My healing voyage began with scissors and glue….. 

Many people have been curious and awestruck in these last three years as they’ve observed my very unexpected long journey through Latin America.  It all started with a vision board!  In December of 2014, while I was still living in New York, I attended a vision board gathering with members of my local Buddhist group on the Upper West Side.  That first experience with art supplies turned out a collage which depicted love, adventure and a powerful quote about determination from the Sensei, or mentor, of my Buddhist practice.

And there I was, flying into the blue……

Six weeks later I was aboard a flight to Nicaragua to take an English teaching course, volunteer with kids and get a taste for Central America. My plan was to be gone for 10 weeks. I landed in a colonial city named Leon, where the cobblestone streets had no names but plenty of vendors sparking monstrous flames to deliver small tasty snacks. Tradition was felt all around, from vibrant religious parades to passionate singing pouring out of pastel colored churches on Sundays.  Students, professors and philanthropists from around the world seemed to flock to this university town for various social and environmental projects.  It was my first experience in a developing Latin American country.

Realize that you must leave things behind, you must unlearn…….

I received a teaching certificate and completed a meaningful volunteer project, all within a seven week period of living overseas for the first time in my life.  After that I was ready to leave Leon and  explore the great outdoors of Nicaragua.  I’d spent my entire time in Leon trying to find a travel buddy; I was convinced I could not travel alone as a woman.  It was around then that I stripped away the first of many belief systems that would slowly fall away on my trip; I let go of the idea that I couldn’t get on a public bus and travel alone through Nicaragua, speaking hardly any Spanish.

Apparently, I could.

The road had a plan of it’s own…….

I trekked the exotic volcano island of Ometepe, strolled through the artsy city of Granada and enjoyed the gorgeous vistas of Laguna de Apoyo.  Then I decided to head to Costa Rica, which meant braving my first country border cross by land.  I made it into Costa Rica despite some quirky and unexpected detours, and it was around this time that I canceled my return ticket back to New York.  I remember being in the cloud forests of Monte Verde, climbing up the inside of Ficus trees and realizing it was time to leave something else behind – a plan to go home.

Now I call this a law of attraction case study……

What happened next really set things in motion.  I received two emails; the man subletting my apartment in New York offered me more money as an incentive to stay longer, and my real estate boss suddenly decided to close up his boutique and move to a larger firm.  For the first time in years, I felt free to wander without repercussion.  Before long I was looking for an English teaching job in San Jose, the country’s capital city.  I met a nice girl who’s now a close friend, and her friend happened to be looking for a roommate.  I had only been gone from New York for three months, and I was fully set up with my expenses covered back home.

Travel with an open heart, and locals will open theirs to you.

I started a job at a local school and developed fast friendships with  Costa Ricans or “Ticos,” and together we explored rain forests and Caribbean coastlines. My friends were hospitable people who sometimes invited me to join Sunday dinner with their families.  For almost six months I lived like a local, participating in community events and learning Spanish slowly, bit by bit. Alas, not all English teaching jobs are meant to be forever.  As my teaching contract came to an end at the height of rainy season, I realized it was time to leave the big city behind and explore Costa Rica’s natural beauty.

Pachamama; my gateway community to all things holistic and spiritual…..

I enrolled in a work trade program at Pachamama, an eco community in the jungle that welcomes visitors on the lush Nicoya Peninsula along the Pacific coast.  Many of the life decisions I’ve made in the past two years can be traced back to my personal development that was experienced on this sacred land.  My mornings were met with howler monkeys, six a.m. yoga and breakfast without coffee.  Try walking into the dining hall of a yoga-centric eco-community on your first morning and ask for coffee.  People will literally give you a blank stare.

I am only giving you a taste of Pachamama, but there’s a whole medicine jar in my heart….

I cultivated my yoga practice as I know it today, and experienced the endless benefits of incorporating silent meditation into my daily life.  I learned what a superfood was, and how to make delicious raw chocolates.  Pachamama literally means mother earth, and I gained a new understanding and respect for the medicines that come from our wonderful land and all the ways in which mother earth cradles us.  There’s nothing I can compare to living in this large and magnificent community of residents and guests from all over world.  There are ceremonies, sweat lodges, workshops,  musical journeys and an array of experiences that are completely unique to the 700 acres of lush reforested jungle that make up this community.  All of these experiences were accompanied by the constant downpours that greeted my fist month of living in a tent.   I was wet behind the ears….and everywhere else.  In retrospect, my first nine months of traveling was spent slowly discarding the old habits and beliefs that no longer served me, so I could rampantly speed up the process and allow room for emotional healing and growth found at Pachamama.

I had a vision to make it to South America, and through my healing, I got there….

From the northwest peninsula in Costa Rica, I found myself in Panama, Colombia, Peru…and beyond.  There are so many more stories to share about my unexpected time in South America which will unfold as this blog gets a deeper voice.  I trekked through ruins and experienced the ancient traditions of the indigenous Quechua people in the Andes mountains and the Shipibo tribes in the jungle.  I spent three months in the Sacred Valley, a region where healers flock to from all over the world to see ruins and learn the healing practices of  local wisdom keepers.

What you really are, now and always, is the witness……

Over the course of 18 months I loved, cried and peeled layers of myself that were tightly sewn on through social conditioning.  I witnessed the miracles of natural medicine. For example, one breezy evening along the Panama Coast found me sitting in a ceremony where an Ecuadorian shaman was able to energetically remove poison from a sick woman’s body.  I witnessed myself shedding calories, age insecurities and many things in between.  This was my first big trip and it happened in my late 30s, with very little planning…..unless you count a vision board!  Making a second vision board gave me a chance to renew my vow with the universe.  All circles come back around, yet we return to the drawing board just a little richer in spirit.