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.”