Reflections on My Time in Ecuador

About a year and a half ago, I was laid off from a well-paid, prestigious role at a technology startup in San Francisco. After a major investor pulled out, the two founders needed to get scrappy and let me go with a severance check. After a stressful several years working in tech, I used the money to go backpacking through South America.

I found myself in a tiny pueblo with a short tourist season, driven by the promise of good surfing in summer. I fell in love with the relaxed vibe of the town. My then-partner and I came across a unique opportunity to rent a small ten room hotel and we jumped on it.

Daily life in the pueblo made it clear that my expectations of American style comforts had no place in Ecuador and a major shift in my “needs” began to occur. My first three months were spent in a major drought and water was being severely rationed to the village. While it was a challenge to start, many of my baths took place in the ocean and I began to revel in my more natural state.

We converted two of the rooms into a yoga studio and began hosting yoga retreats. I was overjoyed to focus on yoga which had been my desire for some time, but I hadn’t pursued it due to the drastic cut in pay I’d have to take in the United States.

I was growing leaps and bounds through the experience, but realized that I had recreated the very stress I had been attempting to escape. Always striving for excellence and the approval of the world around me, I was a ball of anxiety as I slaved to keep up my very American business values and image. Conditioning is so hard to undo.

Six months in, the daughter of a local shaman began coming to my classes. When I hosted an open mic poetry night in the courtyard of our small hotel, she brought her parents along. We all clicked and I was invited to visit their property, an eco-reserve located atop a small mountain with open views of the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the jungles of the rainforest on the other.

During my visit, I fell in love with them and with the reserve. They saw my delight and invited me to host the retreats there. Not long after my visit, my partner and I went our separate ways and we broke the lease on the hotel in town, so I moved in with a friend into a small house on the reserve. They would provide the lodging and food to the retreat yogis, leaving me with just one thing to do: teach yoga. With less responsibility, I had more time and space for the shift to continue.

My way of life became so drastically different from my previously over-scheduled and materialistic life back in California. Without a car, I hiked about 15 minutes up and down the very narrow and muddy mountain road whenever I needed supplies. For anything other than the basics, I had to take an old and overcrowded bus an hour and a half to the closest city. If totally exhausted, I might have taken a cab up the hill but only if it hadn’t been raining and cars could pass up to the property.

A few weeks in, a bat made its way into the house and took three days to die in the shower. I forewent hygiene during this time as we let him pass peacefully. Around the same time, we encountered a five-foot rattlesnake in the yard which would have previously sent me screaming, but instead I stood in awe of her majestic presence then safely passed as I thanked her for stopping by to say hello. I encountered horses, mules, and donkeys coming by for a bite of grass and I was always surrounded by butterflies. I did not have a phone, nor was there internet access at the house. What I had instead was the sweet sound of birdsong and the crashing of ocean waves as they echoed up the mountainside.

After just a couple of months on the property, I made my way to India for a 300 hour Hatha & Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training Program. While there, I continued to experience some fundamental shifts in my thinking which I’ll be sharing here over the coming months. These required that I return to the United States for the time being so that I may be of service here, but I’ll never forget some of the lessons I learned while living in Ecuador.  

I was (and still am!) dirt poor compared to what I had in my previous life, but I had never been happier. I had time and space to explore my creative side: painting, writing, and making music. I explored my own yoga practice and deepened my connection to God, Mother Earth, and myself. As Americans, we are overworked and under-connected to what truly matters: God, ourselves, our dharma, our families, and Pachamama.

I was overworked and over-scheduled in California because I was seeking validation from the outside world, placing my own worth into the hands of people who don’t even know their own. We create our own realities and I had created my own reality of unhappiness and discontentment by looking outside of myself for a sense of purpose.

I also learned that comfort and happiness are not the same thing. As my needs lessen, my satisfaction with life rises. Detachment from the objects of this world is not some cold esoteric principle, but instead the realization that all we need exists inside of us. So long as we place our value in the changeable world around us, our worth remains fickle and is placed at the mercy of what can be taken from us at any time. The deeper we go within, the more treasures we find dwelling in our own hearts.

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
–Carl Jung

 

Faith

All I’ve ever known is slipping from my grasp
Beneath it is a whisper…
Let go of that which is going

My hands and mind have been like magic wands
Creating all I’ve ever wanted
But magic doesn’t last

Ego-creations can glimmer fancy in moonlight
When no shadow is cast
But they decay in the sun

And so I’ll try something new, I give it up to God
Naked and scared, I ask
Where then am I going?

There is a whisper above it all. Surrender…
There is nowhere to go.
All is coming, Love.

Tribute to My Omi (Grandmother)

When I was a little girl, my Omi told me I had God in me. And that God is everywhere and that God is Love. Despite a tough childhood due to other influences, Omi remained a light in my life. I’d visit her every summer after a rough 9 months at home, and we’d play. She’d make me ramen while I drew the Simpsons or Archies characters. We’d play Yahtzee all the time and I’d always get cocky about winning, though I tried to hide it with my smug face – and she’d always let me and she’d laugh at me. We’d eat ice cream and watch heat lightening crack onto the Tennessee horizon. But my favorite was when we bought large rimmed straw garden hats and decorated them with ribbons, bells, and flowers.

She believed God was everywhere and that God was Love. It was in us too. Since I was little, I knew I was special and I owned it. Everyone thought I was much older, wiser, smarter than I possibly really was, all the time. Some people loved me and a lot tried to put me in my place, to temper me, to dampen this light, which admittedly, isn’t a gentle light but more like a blaze. But my Omi always just loved me.

Not only did she love me, she loved God. When I visited her, we’d go to church every day. Her friends were fathers, sisters, brothers and anyone who wanted to to be around her beautiful light – which was and still is, a lot of people. She already knew who her mother was. She’d sit with the dying; she’d kneel and pray for the lost – including me many, many times. She’s spent her life doing God’s work. She’s spent it loving people. And for a small visit each year, so did I. I loved her so much.

I was allowed to be little and ignorant and impatient and sometimes say stupid stuff. She’d correct me by not giving it any energy at all. She’d flat out ignore me. I was also allowed to play and I deserved to be shown love. In loving me anyway, she was doing God’s work. She always was doing God’s work.

I love her for that. And I love you for that. Because you are special. You are God. You are light. And you are also dark…. And that’s okay! It’s totally okay – just come relax in the light. You are welcome here too. It’s really not as bad as you think.

You don’t have to have a big coming out party because you’re not actually as calm and collected or “together” as everyone thinks you are… But you can release your “issues”, your “trauma”… we all have stuff and there’s no point in beating yourself up about it. Just be cool. Know what’s going on and don’t get trapped in the dark. Remember your light. And thank God for it. I do, everyday.

 

Seeds

It was I who started the fire.
I admit, I was careless when
I decided to plant these seeds.
Yes, I could have been more thoughtful.

I wasn’t paying attention.
I didn’t realize that they would,
Strangle out the warm sun.
Yes, I could have planned better.

So I burned my garden down.
It wasn’t easy to do and in fact,
It was hard to see it all go.
Yes, I should have known better by now.

What a blaze that roared!
It was so big and out of control,
Burning up everything around.
Yes, I could have been more careful.

The sky was hazy with ash.
I couldn’t see or hear a thing and
Neither could anyone else.
Yes, I was sad and ashamed.

But the skies are clearing!
I can see the shining sun and
I can hear the birds singing.
Yes, I’ll find my way again.

Oh, the lessons learned!
The soil is fertile once more and
I will be a better gardener.
Yes, we reap what we sow.