2017 Recap & Lessons

This post is a little late since I’ve been busy getting my life set up for a comfortable and productive 2018 (details coming soon!), but I have spent a lot of time thinking about 2017… all the lessons I’ve learned and how to integrate those into my life. And so I’d like to recap my 2017 – perhaps the most growth-oriented year of my life. Here is a little something I wrote in my personal diary on New Year’s Eve along with a little poem to commemorate the year.

Goodbye 2017. You were crazy.

You began on a sprawling beach covered in fire along the coast of Ecuador. There were effigies burning all around. It looked like the end of the world and it was, at least for me.

You were full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. You showed me what my body and mind could do, as well as what they can’t. You stretched me, then cracked me open. I didn’t even know there was such a hard encrusted shell laying atop my spirit. You stripped away so much of what I thought I was and then left me naked and homeless, discovering what I truly am. And for all of this, I am grateful.

2017 was so productive…

  •  I lived on three continents.
  • I opened and closed a hotel.
  •  I gave away everything that I owned.
  • I detoxed the past.
  • I left an oppressive relationship.
  • I fell in love then had my heart broken.
  • I learned to believe someone when they tell you who they are.
  • I befriended so many beautiful new souls.
  • My best friends showed me how much they love and accept me. I cried.
  • I hosted and co-hosted some powerful yoga retreats.
  • I had a kundalini experience, which I’m still trying to understand nearly eight months later!
  • I had out-of-body experiences, clairvoyance, visions, and received messages – while sober.
  • I sat with a few different plant teachers and I learned there is way more to this “reality” than we can ever be aware of.
  • I completed a Vipassana course where my sense of intuition was validated.
  • I discovered the boundless joy at the core of my being.
  • I reconnected with my dharma.
  • I began writing again.
  • I began sharing myself more openly.
  • I got a new tattoo.
  • So many friends came to visit me in Ecuador. <3
  • I learned a LOT more about yoga.
  • I leveled up to a 500 hr RYT.
  • I learned that ^ that doesn’t even matter.
  • I learned a LOT more about meditation and the inner-workings of the mind.
  • I was the thinnest I’ve ever been and discovered that it didn’t matter at all. I was not any happier. 
  • I followed a voice to Asheville and started building a new life.
  • I learned that disconnection is the source of our pain.
  • I understood my own worth for the first time.
  • I upped my Spanish game (un poco).
  • I saw how dependent I’ve been on external validation.
  • I learned that there’s no wrong way to be.
  • I hit my lowest low. I was broken. I was rearranged. I was humbled. I grew.

“I” understood on a cellular level that there isn’t really an “I”.
My relationship to the world shifted and nothing is the same. 2017, Thank you for coming. Thank you for leaving. You were one hell of a ride.

And a little poetry to commemorate the year…

2017

I thought I’d seen much, but this year was intense
It broke open my shell and took out my defense
I’m grateful and joyful, but glad that it’s done
Shifting shapes like the moon while it burned like the sun
I loved and I lost and I broke, but I grew
What more could a girl on three continents do?
The year began strong on the Ecuador Coast
But no time had passed when my studio closed
I gave away all that I had to my name
And found that my life went on just the same
I detoxed the past and befriended new souls
And I marked off the list my India goals
My long-time best friends loved me so much I cried
They held my heart close while a part of me died
I had telling visions and followed a voice
I felt kundalini and saw a new choice
To keep my soul locked or to finally break free
And see there’s no fault with me just being me
I understand now, the source of my pain
The disconnection we feel even though we’re the same
I know now the value each human is worth
Inherent to us as a part of our birth

I love you.

Plant Medicine Part 5 of 5: Ayahuasca Upgrades

It took me a while to recover from my first Ayahuasca experience in 2015, but it’s been on my mind ever since. Looking back, I realize that the purging I did was not simply a physical purge, but a release of so much toxicity I was holding in my body. While I had many opportunities for another Aya ceremony while living in Ecuador, the timing simply wasn’t right and so I abstained, but it never left my mind.

I was looking through Facebook one day when I saw that a friend of mine “liked” a page – Soul Quest – an Ayahuasca church in Orlando, Florida. Aya had been on my mind daily for at least a month and I was even looking at flights back to Ecuador for a ceremony. Intrigued, I followed the link and saw there was a ceremony that weekend.

Four months clean from unprocessed foods, all drugs and alcohol, sex, and caffeine, my body was as pure as its ever been. Four months of detoxing from unhealthy relationships, my heart was on its way to purity as well. With my last weekend free before teaching yoga again, the timing was synchronous. I was called and when Aya calls, you go. Two days later, I was driving twelve hours to Orlando.

The retreat was three days and two nights, with an Aya ceremony each night and an optional daytime ceremony on Saturday. There was also a Rapé (rah-pe’) ceremony late Saturday afternoon – another sacred medicine from the Amazon, a powder made from tobacco and other plant leaves, finely ground herbs, seeds, and ashes. Check out my last post for my Rapé experience.

Friday Night
The medicine was mellow. I did throw-up once but it was minor. I cocooned on my mat and slipped in and out of consciousness for hours. At one point, I was held in my grandmother’s bosom while I felt the pain of losing her. I cried as I could feel that at our core, we are all the same and we are all craving connection. I felt the desperate longing for connection within my own soul.

I looked at the fire and saw the volunteers all dressed in white, looking like marshmallow men. They were enjoying each other and I was tapped into their energy as I found myself laughing along with them despite not being in on their jokes. The rest of the night passed quietly.

Saturday Night
It was clear that Friday night was prepping my body for Saturday as the medicine came on strong. I lay cocooned in my blankets, in the fetal position with my eyes closed. With the sound of crystal bowls resonating in the background, a most miraculous show began to unfold. Geometric patterns of the boldest alien-like colors sliding around in my head. I was entranced for a while before I began to demand, What is behind the show? I watched. I waited. I demanded again, Behind the show. Behind the show… I want to see what is behind the show. I’m not here to be entertained. I realized I was whispering this aloud.

A voice emerged and a conversation began. I was told,

     You can have anything you want, Stephanie.

     Anything? I countered.

     Anything.

     Fame and Riches?

     Yes.

     Really?

     Yes. Make it so.

I found it interesting that Fame and Riches were my first ask. I’ve realized that “Fame” and “Riches” are the worldly validation of what I actually want: To be valued and respected as a thinker and a writer. My logical brain knows this is already so, but my heart doubts. It’s so full of fear. Fear and its transcendence was to be the theme for the night.

We had been warned about the music. Our Sound Goddess, Amy, had said she would be playing some tracks that we might find unnerving. To let it take us deeper inside ourselves. There would be dissonant tones and they were meant to break up energies…. Ummm….Yeah. That worked.

I began to feel uneasy. The music was heavy. My organs were shaking. There was too much pressure in my body. I was running my hands through my hair incessantly as if smoothing my hair would smooth out my nerves. Finally, I purged.

It was all black liquid. A mixture of Ayahuasca, Rapé from earlier, and bad energy. I was on all fours in tabletop position, hovering above the bucket and staring down at my vomit. I was asking,

     What just came out of me???

     “Do you really want to know?” I heard. “I’ll show you if you want to see it.”

As I stared down at the liquid an image began to form as if looking into a magic mirror. Then I heard, “You don’t have to look. You can leave the past in the past and be happy it’s out of you.” I pushed the bucket away and laid back down on my mat content to leave the past behind me.

The show began again. The patterns, the colors, they carried on in their glory but I wasn’t here for a show so I repeated… What is behind the show? Then I heard, “Open your eyes and see. Look at all the light beings.”

I opened my eyes to the most incredible sight. Amongst the construct of reality that I had known before drinking the Aya were also the light beings. Thin holographic ribbons of rainbow light streamed through the air in many directions. It looked like a trail that Tinkerbell might have left behind, but these ribbons were entities in their own right. I was told, “These are the light beings. They love you more than you can imagine. You are surrounded by love.” And I felt it, I felt all of the love in the world. And then they told me…

There’s no wrong way to be. There is no wrong way to be. There is no wrong way to be!

It started as a message but soon I was the one whispering it aloud, There is no wrong way to be. So I can be me??? I asked.

     Yes! You are a Stef, Steffing! You’re not doing it wrong. No one can tell you you’re doing it wrong! There is no wrong way for you to be. Be You, Stephanie. Do not worry about what others think. It does not matter.

I was like a child full of wonder. It was hard to believe that I’m allowed to be myself. That I’m allowed to be open and vulnerable, to be strong, talented and successful, to be unapologetically beautiful and sexy and kind and smart. To be a gift in this world.

It feels hard to believe that I can be a gift in this world. But I am. I am a gift. We all are.
Why are so afraid of it? Why have so many of us been made to feel shamed for who we are?

The sights and sounds carried on as I marveled. The messages were firing at me second by second.

     Lay down your “needs”, Stephanie. You don’t need anything but to breathe. You have everything you need. Stop with the neediness. Lay it down.

     Take better care of yourSelf. Your energy. Your spirit.

     Don’t worry about food. Stop counting calories. Start counting blessings.

     Stop digging for skeletons. You already know what’s there. Set down the past. Leave it behind.

     Don’t worry about timelines.

     You’re too controlling. Stop forcing things. When you resist life as it is, you push tension into your unconscious mind. This is why your body hurts.

     You made a mistake with CAYA Yoga. You knew it too. When will you learn? Listen to your gut, Stephanie. You already know everything. Stop doubting yourself.

     Your writing is a beautiful gift in the world. Stop being afraid of it. Don’t worry about what others think. Create from within. Own it. Share it.

     Let your body age. Stop resisting it; it’s inevitable. Let your insides show. You’re beautiful. Be graceful.

     Tell everyone how beautiful they are.

I asked about a former lover. I asked why I couldn’t let him go. She told me to “Be love and then leave.” This was what he had done and it was the lesson for me to learn. I hold on for too long sometimes. Sometimes it’s okay to just go.

I kept asking how to be an open-hearted being in the world. She said simply, “Be open-hearted.” I asked, BUT howww???? She grew tired of it. “It’s simple,” she said. “BE Open-hearted.” And so I’m opening. Poco a poco.

I was in awe of my experience. I was crying while saying “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” to Mother Ayahuasca. I was overcome with a sense of sacredness, sensing the ineffable presence of God. I understood, with all of my being, the sacredness of this plant and that it is not to be abused. She should be treated with absolute respect. And then she said to me…

You, too, are beautiful. YOU are worthy of love.

I felt so vulnerable – so fragile and passing – but at the same time seeing so much beauty in that. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I am incredibly special and that I am worthy of love – all while feeling like I might disintegrate at any moment. It was like being a strand of the highest quality and most delicate golden thread, lingering out in space. I sensed my own value and fragility. I understood the need to protect my self-worth by setting clear boundaries with others.

I’ve never been clear with personal boundaries and I was receiving the message that I need to be. I need to understand my own self-worth and I need to protect my body, heart, mind, and spirit at all costs. I’ve never before considered any part of myself sacred. I was never shown that I am, until now. This was some very deep second chakra healing.

The thing that’s amazing about Ayahausca is the clarity it brings. This has always been a fuzzy area for me. I have moved through the world confident and self-assured, not even realizing that I had no sense of self-worth. They are different things – one is based on merit and the other is based on the inherent value of being. But lacking this esteem has resulted in depression, falling short of my own potential, and tolerating abusive situations and relationships. Aya illuminates the limiting belief systems that we are all carrying around unconsciously.

As I started to come down, I felt the need to expose my belly. Since feeling my IUD with San Pedro and having it removed a couple of weeks later, I was concerned that I had damaged my body. I was told to expose my belly so that the sounds could reach it. My womb needed healing from decades of birth-control.

Eventually the medicine wore off and I fell asleep. I awoke from the most beautiful journey feeling self-assured. Renewed. Upgraded.

We gathered for integration where I heard stories of recovery from addiction, fear, trauma, and pain. I heard people discovering purpose, who had uncovered their next steps, and who were taught how to connect with themselves without the medicine. Stories of how to be. How to heal.

For me, perhaps the greatest message that I received was to stop hiding. To be myself.

I have been conservative in what I have shared in the past. I have also made many choices that were not in alignment with who I am, in an attempt for validation. I have pretended to be someone else for too long. And so I will do my best to step out, into the life, and to be unapologetically Me.

We are all rising. This is a promise. We are the bringers of light.

I love you.

My Vipassana Experience

On Sunday morning I emerged from vipassana, a ten day silent meditation course, feeling a deep sense of peace, renewal, and optimism as I embark on the next chapter in my life. Here I’ll explain the basics of the organization and philosophy, and then my personal experience and take-aways from the course.

Vipassana, Boot Camp for the Mind
Vipassana is a meditation technique that was taught by Siddhartha Gautama, whom we know as “Buddha” today. It is a method by which he found enlightenment, the understanding of dhamma (truth, or the law of nature). This method has brought peace and better living to countless individuals since he first began sharing around 500 BC. The tradition has been carried on posthumously by many gurus, at my retreat through Goenke (Gwen-kuh) and the organization at dhamma.org. I’m impressed by a few things: 1) it’s free, 2) it’s non-sectarian, 3) it lives on through technology despite Goenke’s passing in 2013.

It’s free.
For 11 nights and days, you are provided with food, shelter, a meditation space, valuable life teachings and guidance… for free. The organization lives on donations which are only accepted by students who have completed a full ten-day course. This ensures purity of the organization and is a testament to its value. The average cost for a ten day course in Menomonie, WI where I attended is over $10,000. That it’s spread to 310 locations in 94 countries based on volunteer work and donations blows me away. At the end of my course, students were lined up to contribute so that future students may have a chance at the same experience.

It’s non-sectarian.
Buddhism may exist, but Buddha did not teach a religion. Many consider him a scientist for he discovered internally what many Western scientists are now also finding – existence of the subatomic particle, which he called “kalapa” and that there is no solidity in the known universe – we are made of wavelengths that are continually arising and passing away.

Vipassana practice hinges on three primary teachings, none of which are religious in nature and can be practiced by all, universally.

1. Sila (shee-la), or 5 moral precepts. If one violates the precepts, they are immediately punished by the law of nature with the storage of samskara in the mind-matter complex, which results in (physical and emotional) suffering. These precepts are simple morality and are found throughout all religions, cultures, and philosophies. The 5 precepts are: do not kill, do not steal, no sexual misconduct, do not lie, abstain from intoxicants. The reason for silence during the retreat is to prevent lying. For the ten days there, you are well-shielded from your own misdeeds – provided you are able to follow their rules.

2. Samadhi (suh-mah-dee), or mastery of the mind. Our minds are out of control. This becomes evident during the first couple of days when you are asked to spend the meditation hours observing your own breath. That the mind runs wild with stray thoughts and requires constant vigilance to bring it back to the breath is evidence that very few of us have control over it. If thoughts become actions, mastery of the mind is essential for good living.

3. Paññā (pan-yah), wisdom that is gained through the technique which purifies the mind. These are essentially the concepts of impermanence, that there is no “I” (the illusion of the ego), and the lack of craving or aversion – the development of equanimity throughout one’s life.

As you can see, there is no deity to be worshipped or prayers to be recited. There is simple morality, focus of the mind, and the wisdom one gains based on personal observation of their internal state. There is no power given to an outside source, everything exists deep within. After a lifetime of seeking meaning outside of myself without good results, this very much resonates with me.

It lives on.
Despite Goenke’s passing in 2013, the organization continues to be run through volunteers, assistant teachers, and videos of Goenke sharing his philosophy. The hour long dharma talks were the highlight of each day for me.

My Experience
I live a quiet life, so the silence was not a problem for me. The first five days, I was brimming with joy, feeling a deep sense of inner peace and marveling at the nature around me – the bright autumn leaves falling like rain, the birds and the insects… I was fully present as I closely evaluated the spiders, a fallen red autumn leaf with its golden veins, or the morning sun shining through rain droplets left on a single blade of glass, casting rainbows like little gems.

Our day began with a morning gong at 4am and ended around 9:30pm. The program consisted of ten hours meditation, breakfast and lunch (no dinner), fruit and tea at 5pm, and an evening discourse covering the philosophy of vipassana. After each meal there was time for rest which I used to walk rounds on the 200 ft walking path.

For the first three days, we focused solely on our breath, concentrating on the space from the nostrils to the top of the lip. Day four, we began systematically scanning our bodies. The initial sensations uncovered were most obvious, such as hot and cold, tingling, itching, etc. I quickly got “the vibe” as I’ve already tuned into energetics through years of yoga and meditation.

For three of the hour-long meditations each day, we were asked not to move at all. This was perhaps the biggest challenge for me. As the world’s most fidgety person, that I met this goal on my first four consecutive sits was a real accomplishment. I was tracking each hour by the degree to which my lower limbs had gone numb. There goes the toe, 15 minutes… there goes the lower calf, 30 minutes… can’t feel my bottom any longer, must be around 45… The pain was intense at first but lessened by day 6, no longer feeling a compulsive need to stretch.

Each time my awareness went to a specific area, I felt a distinct pull, like my brain was a magnet physically tugging on the part being considered. Later during the day 8 discourse, Goenke gave an explanation of the technique that gave me an “aha moment” when I recalled this observation.

A prominent American metallurgist had gone to India for vipassana. He left baffled at how his lightness of being had resulted from the process. Years later he came again but this time, he sent his teacher an analogy that outlined his understanding. In order for a metal to be used in spacecraft, it must be purified to the point where not even one molecule in a million can be a foreign molecule. To accomplish this, the metal is melted and then passed through a metal ring, which is 100% pure. Because the ring is pure, it develops a magnetism which draws out all impurity from the rod. The remaining molecules become ordered in such a way that there is enough strength to be used in the spacecraft.

This analogy made so much sense to me. We move a ring of pure consciousness from head to feet, feet to head through our awareness. If the ring is not pure, it does not work. Because we are moving our awareness with complete equanimity – that is, no craving and no aversion – the consciousness surveying the body is pure and draws out impurities from the mind-matter complex, manifesting on the surface as physical sensation. And this, is what I believe I was feeling with the magnetic tug as I scanned my body. It also explains why my pains would dissolve into a uniform energy, only to be replaced with new pain dissolving again in a cycle.

The first five days, filling my water bottle was the only thing to do inside the dorm so that’s what I did. I filled my bottle and I drank, and I repeated, and repeated, and repeated…. I had never been so well hydrated in my life. At one point, I decided to count backwards from 500 for my own amusement. On the fifth night, I naively thought it would get easier from there, knowing that I was more than halfway through. Ha! Days 6-8 proved to be the most challenging.

On the morning of Day 6, I awoke with a beautiful poem in my head and I couldn’t take it anymore – I had to write it down. I needed to write. And so I took the sharpie off the bathroom cleaning sign-up and grabbed some toilet paper, quickly scribbling my poetry down to get it out of my head. This began The Toilet Paper Chronicles. Constantly struck with inspiration for articles and poetry, I began stealing away to the stall to get my thoughts out. I’ve known for quite some time that I’ve wanted to write, which is why I began this blog, but now it is so very clear that this is my dharma, or at least part of it. Writing and sharing are fundamental to my being.

Day six was particularly challenging – not because of some big emotional upheaval but simple boredom. My mind couldn’t take my body anymore. My roomies must have felt the same way since one pulled out a book and the other began to crochet. I was envious that they had something else to do, even though it wasn’t in the spirit of vipassana.

During the evening meditation, I experienced something that I’ve glimpsed while high, but here I was fully sober, and had been for months, with the purest body I’ve ever had!

Transcendence of Form
My body seemed to liquefy and with a few exceptions, my edges were indiscernible. I could feel the pressure of my bottom making contact with the meditation cushion and my vertebrae were still firm, yet disconnected from each other, pieces of matter floating in an energetic soup – sort of like chunks of carrot in a stew. Tripped out by the vibrations, I could hear Queen’s famous anthem, “nothing really matters, anyone can see… nothing really matters to meeeee….” with an overlay of Goenke’s voice repeating… uh-nee-chuh, uh-nee-chuh, uh-nee-chuh. Anicca is the Pali word for impermanence.

On day seven, I went from soup to television static. There were tingling sensations arising and falling away with such rapidity that it seemed as though I wasn’t really there. Like a hologram, one might be able run their hand right through me with no resistance at all. I felt my consciousness splitting from my physical state.

By day nine I was over it and ready to jump out of my skin, writhing around like a snake in my meditation spot, unable to stay still at all. I was tired of Goenke, tired of the meditation hall, and tired of being there altogether. I kept thinking, Why is he telling me to come out of my misery??? I’m not miserable! I am pretty happy and in fact I just came here so I could learn to be less reactive and to lose my ego. Why does he keep telling me to remain equanimous no matter how pleasant the sensations? I want to enjoy pleasure. I’m not ready to give that up yet, even if the end result is love. I have love!

As I’ve thought about it more, “misery” is really the wrong word, at least for me. I have no doubt that many people who come to vipassana are miserable, but I’m not. Rather than misery, I think he means to gain stability of the mind.

My mother’s death was like a punch to the gut, knocking me off-center. I was in the middle of leaving a career in business to live more simply as a yoga teacher but with no energy for a transition, I accepted yet another job in tech that had easily floated my way. Freaked out that I might die sad and lonely the way she did, I also jumped into a bad relationship that I was too weak-willed to leave. The job laid me off, but the boyfriend didn’t.

Our relationship got worse after we went into business together. Instead of leaving the business and the relationship like I should have, I got high to cope with it all. Meanwhile, a split began to occur and while my personal life was crumbling, I was understanding yoga in a new way. My teaching evolved and I started to thrive again, shifting back into a high vibration while still dragging the dead weight of my poor decisions. I realized the split needed to continue and I finally left both him and the business behind. That’s when I went to India, where a lot of reflection and healing occurred. Vipassana was icing on the cake, bringing clarity to all that has recently unfolded in my life.

My Takeaways

  • I’m a really happy person! I was able to see my present self and my past with grace and love, understanding that I’ve been doing the best I can. I’m now armed with a wealth of knowledge about how to take better care of myself as I move into a new stage of life.
  • I have equanimity. When I do go through tough times, I don’t see them as devastation, I see them as contrast and I have an awareness that they will pass. I appreciate these times also, seeing them as the dark shades in a painting that make light pop off the canvas. Likewise, when times are good, I have a special appreciation for them realizing that they too will pass away.
  • I want to live in accordance with my nature. I commit to taking better care of myself, staying sober, eating whole and natural foods, surrounding myself with positive and healthy people, and doing work that brings meaning to my life such as yoga and writing.
  • I have boundless energy and I want to use it to be of service in the world.
  • I can trust myself. When I look at my past decisions, my intuition has been on point at every step of the way. I spent my time looking outward for validation and guidance, denying the inner voice which knew what was best for me all along. No more thinking that I could be wrong or that someone or some circumstance may change for the better. No more letting others convince me what my best course of action is – I am my own guru moving forward.

I’ve looked into vipassana a couple of times before, but it never worked out. I’m so thankful that it came at this time in my life, at this time of the year, and in this location. The beauty surrounding me was like salve on an open wound. Mother Nature’s endless bounty of creation and artistry is an incredible source of comfort to me. Watching the Oak and Elm trees shed their colorful leaves was the perfect metaphor for me as I shed the emotions, relationships, and situations that no longer hold value in my life.

For more information, check out dhamma.org

MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY!

 

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

 

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.