Thailand, Three Years Later
Everything dissolves into saltwater my last night in Thailand.
I’m not sure if it’s because I just said goodbye to a friend I love and may never see again or because I’m saying goodbye to a place I love and may never see again, but I’m overwhelmed with the bittersweet sadness that comes with letting go. It swells and I release in intermittent waves, returning my tears to the teal ocean.
Away from my thoughts for moments, I’m mesmerized by the sight of my hands and hair slowly combing the water, like looking at myself through sea glass. Quieted. Peaceful. If my mind didn’t think so well, I would think that I was looking at a mermaid.
I glance out to the islands, forming a doorway into the mystical vortex of Phang Nga Bay, from the little island they call Koh Yao Noi. For three months Thailand and her people have held me, sweetly, and now it’s time to go. With gratitude I bow to these islands, the sea, the palms blowing in the wind, for giving me a time that was so… gentle. Easy.
Three and a half years ago it was a very different story.
Within hours of landing in Bangkok I ate a papaya salad so spicy it gave me blisters, avoided the violent protest areas leading up to the military coup, and got butterflies sharing smoothies on Rambuttri Road with a man who would help me break my walls and remember how to love.
I visited palaces and temples, explored the ancient city of Ayutthaya, celebrated the Yi Peng lantern release in Chiang Mai, chilled out in the backpacker paradise of Pai, slept in wooden huts, dirty dorm rooms, and on mattresses on the floor in the Thai islands of Koh Lanta, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, and at Tonsai Bay.
I crashed on the back of a motorbike in Koh Chang, ate 100 plates of phad thai, and drank questionable alcohol out of a plastic bucket covered in glow paint. I got bitten by a stray dog and had rabies until the vaccine kicked in, got food poisoning many times, and literally was down to my last dollars.
For eight months I backpacked all over Southeast Asia, through Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia, traversing in and out of Thailand. I experienced the beauty and the hardships of moving constantly, getting by on next to nothing, and making the road my home.
It was an incredible journey that undoubtedly changed my life. My heart and mind cracked wide and I’ve never been the same since. There’s something so romantic about that period of my life. So romantic that a piece of me has longed to repeat that transformational adventure, for the last three years.
Though as I’ve learned time after time, when I go back to get my fix from the last place where I got high, I never get the same trip. I always get something new. I’m not allowed to be attached. Life doesn’t want to indulge me, it wants to evolve me.
So three years later, coming back to Thailand, nothing was the same.
Because I’m not the same.
Most notably, I wasn’t here to just “travel” this time. I wasn’t as much of a free bird anymore.
For the last eighteen months I focused my energy on creating and facilitating retreats and on my own personal development through attending trainings. I came back to Thailand for both: to lead my first retreat outside of Costa Rica and to become a facilitator of DANCEmandala, a type of meditation that stuck with me from my trip to Thailand three years prior.
This time I flew business class with credit card points, landed in the easy breezy airport of Phuket, took an air conditioned taxi and a short boat ride to Koh Yao Noi, the island where I was hosting my first retreat outside of Costa Rica.
For my first three weeks, I barely left that tiny island. Exploring every bit of her and the nearby islands of Phang Nga Bay, getting to know all of the locals, making every connection I could, in an attempt to create a retreat as deep as the ones I’ve led in Costa Rica.
At first I had some resistance being in easy vacation paradise. Where were the tuk tuks? The backpackers galore? The fire dancers? Where was the grit? The buzzing stimulation? The squat toilets? Where was the culture shock?
But instead of shock, Thailand gave me sweetness. Through the nectar of morning mango sticky rice wrapped up in banana leaves and smiles and waves of locals as I rode by on my bicycle. With gorgeous sunrises and empty beaches and rainy afternoons spent swinging in my hammock.In the gentle embrace of instantly belonging to a place that barely knew me.
Rather than shatter me open to forget who I was, this time Thailand helped me remember. She cocooned me in her caves where I let out my song, bathed me in her waters where I felt my fins, and graced me with the gifts I was now ready to receive. She reminded me what it means to be a mermaid.
As I melted into the simplicity of island life, awakened to the magic of the king cobras and the sirens at sea, in my rainbow bubble I also had to face what I left Costa Rica to escape. There was the practical business part of me who came for retreats and trainings, but there was also the emotional part of me who came to run away.
Just like the last time, I came to Thailand this time to take distance from the man who never loved me back and from the home who was quietly leaving me with every tree being cut down and every new model home. I was there to escape the heartbreak of both. But even with an ocean between us, I still felt it. (Read more in The Way This Story Ends and Same Same Everywhere.)
My last morning on Koh Yao Noi before flying up to Chiang Mai to begin my course, I walked down to the Thakhao pier where there’s a statue of two hornbills sitting in the center of a giant heart. I looked to the lovers and made the intention to release my own love story, to set myself free of it. I held in my hands two gifts, one from the mermaids, one from a man, and offered them out to the sea. The masculine and the feminine united as one. My offering for my New Year.
By sunset I landed in Chiang Mai. Golden light bled across the horizon shading the mountains purple. A softness swept across the landscape. I checked into my family owned guesthouse down a tiny little soi with vines crawling up the concrete walls and flowers dangling from shrines on every corner.
Chiang Mai was different from how I remembered. She felt gentle. Sacred. Quiet.
It was New Year’s Eve and paper lanterns lit up the sky like thousands of giant stars moving across the galaxy. I knew this sight, because I had been here before during the famous lantern release of Yi Peng. The day was different, the year was different, I was different, but the sky looked the same. Chiang Mai on New Years was like revisiting my past as a new person.
Wandering around the Old City, no aim just intuition, I eventually found myself on a winding street that felt so familiar. By the time I got to the end I knew why. There was the small guesthouse where I spent intimate moments with a man from my past. The same one I met my first afternoon in Bangkok, over smoothies on Rambuttri road. He had completely painted my picture of Chiang Mai, the place where our love affair really began. Just like one man has always been Puerto Viejo, this man has always been Chiang Mai.
I stopped and let myself take it in. The time we said goodbye here on this very soi didn’t feel like long ago. Yet I felt a long ways from then. Seeing the beauty in the grief I had once felt, how far it had taken me, how much I had learned from it, all I could summon was gratitude. From where I stood now, I had a chance to re-experience Chiang Mai from a new perspective.
And on the very last night of 2016, I did.
My feet remembered the way to the very temple where I released my lantern three years ago. Sentimentality overtook me when I entered the temple grounds. Rows of Buddhists sat with white strings tied around their heads, all connected into one grid. Monks chanted endlessly and decorated a small island, their orange robes and the twinkling candles reflected in the still water that surrounded them.
I silently made prayers for my New Year and allowed the gift of my tears. I made peace with myself from the past and felt grateful for who I’m becoming. I closed my eyes. Suddenly loud gongs rang out, men joyously ran around outside of the temple banging whatever they could. A monk threw coins at us and I received a two baht piece, around fifteen cents, and placed it in my pouch. Easily the most magical New Years I’ve ever spent. I wondered if I might get stuck in Chiang Mai.
But the traffic, stimulation, and lack of green space caught up with me quickly. The city had its magic, but it wasn’t at all the kind of place I would choose to spend six weeks. I loved the cheap, easy access to green juice, every health food under the sun, yoga, and conscious community, but I wondered how this jungle fairy mermaid would survive for six weeks in a 2sq km concrete box. (Read more in Remember Your True, Wild Nature.)
Fortunately, thanks to my dance meditation training, I got to dance. Within city walls or on a wide-open beach, dancing is what makes me feel most free. And it was in Chiang Mai, three years ago that I discovered dance without the need for a bar and ten tequila shots. I discovered dance as meditation, through DANCEmandala at a place called The Yoga Tree.
It was on my last night, just before saying goodbye to the man who I had developed stronger feelings for than I knew what to do with. In the dance, I was free of all of that. I was free of everything. I was breath and bliss in motion. Purely. Essentially. Ecstatically. I was free.
I never forgot that feeling. I started dancing with my eyes closed at home to rediscover it. Started weaving dance into my yoga practice. I even started offering dance meditation as part of my retreats. Over the three years since discovering DANCEmadala, dance had become an integral component of my life. And here I was, three years later, back in Chiang Mai, ready to dance with my eyes closed for six weeks and become a teacher myself.
Rather than offer an easy escape, DANCEmandala presented with me with every obstacle, block, and source of suffering that stood between me and freedom. And while it wasn’t always the sweaty freedom I found in my twenties in seedy bars, it was deeply, deeply healing.
In the first dance of our training, I remember hearing my teacher say, “Look into the eyes of the divine.” With my eyes closed, I imagined myself standing in front of a mirror, waiting to see what would appear as my reflection. What arose were the faces of each of the men I had been with in my life. I would look into one man’s eyes, soften, see myself. As I felt peace and oneness with him, he would dissolve into the next. Eventually they all stepped out of the mirror and stood behind me, gently placing their hands on my back, supporting me as I took a step forward.
That’s what they were all doing after all wasn’t it? Playing through my reflection, challenging my acceptance, and standing one after the other behind me to help me step closer and closer to true love. Every single one of them, in their own unique and often difficult way, helped me get closer to love.
It wasn’t always that pleasant though. Because I didn’t see what I wanted to see, I saw what I needed to see. And in the first week there was still a lot that I had to face.
I recall feeling the pang of how “not over” it still felt with the man in Costa Rica. My feet were running but he kept following. There was no escaping. I tried to manifest a different man. Then I saw, for the first time, how unavailable I am. How guarded I am. I saw what so many people told me over the years: I’m not with a partner because I’m not open for partnership.
There was no getting attached to that story, because already by the next dance it became something else. I saw how desperate I am. How victimized I am. How insecure I am. I saw my fear of being hurt by men. I got frustrated wondering if I was ever going to change and if I was ever going to get over the one who seemed to always stand in the way.
Spending more time in my flesh than in my head I started to notice the fear I carry in my cells. How often my body contracts in the face of desire. How many stories are bound up in my bones. Or were they? Was it my body itself, or the way my mind controls it? I wondered, what if I just let my body do what it wanted? What if I let my body lead? What if I let my body decide? Terrifying. Liberating. In the safe space of dance, I tried.
When I allowed my body to move freely, emotion was the next thing to arise. My practice became letting my emotions be uninhibited, uncontrolled. This happened pretty spontaneously as soon as I let my body lead me. I’d step onto the dance floor with no plan in mind, let my body start moving, and the next thing I knew I’d be laughing, crying, or screaming. And when I let it flow fully, naturally, not suppressing it but not attaching to it, I was stunned to see how rapidly it transformed. Within a span of five minutes I danced through sadness, longing, desperation, anger, resistance, back to longing, defeat, complete surrender, acceptance, gratitude, peace.
Sometimes I was able to dance through it, break it apart, transcend it, and soar into weightlessness. Sometimes I fell apart. But always in my broken moments a wise loving voice would arise and soothe me. The more I danced the easier it was to connect with the part of me who unconditionally loves. The more I let the emotion out, the more the wisdom came in.
This practice taught me that all emotions are transformational as soon as they’re given space to be felt and expressed. Rather than certain emotions being “unspiritual,” I experienced that through acceptance, all emotions become gateways to higher states of consciousness.
Lucky for me life made it easier, by giving me a man to project all of this onto. A lovely, unsuspecting, conscious, kind one who I connected with instantly, and somehow fit all of the archetypes of men I love and judge, depending on who I needed him to play in that moment. He of course had no idea, but simply by showing up and being part of the dance training, he gave me the opportunity to witness my patterns with my eyes open. It was a challenge and a blessing.
Then one day, peace came.
Through acceptance of one of my greatest fears.
I surrendered to the idea that ok, maybe I’m going to be alone forever. I drank it in. And it wasn’t so bad. Because right now I am alone, and all is well. All is perfect in fact. Am I happy? Yes. Would I trade places with anyone on this Earth? No. Am I exactly where I’m supposed to be? Of course.
Nothing to fix. Nothing to shift. Pure acceptance without attachment. It was like lifting generations worth of baggage off of my shoulders. It’s ok that I’m alone. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not forever, but for now.
As I unraveled my romantic patterns dance after dance, something else rose to the surface. A love and a heartache much deeper than I’ve ever felt for a man. One much harder to accept. My love for nature and my fear of losing her. When I explored the depths of my desire in my dance the Earth stood at the bottom of all of my layers. I saw myself most loyal first and foremost, to her.
Could it be enough, I wondered, to let her forever be my lover? Yes, the answer came. Maybe my purpose wasn’t to be anybody’s soul mate, but to be endlessly devoted to her. After all, she’s the one I love most, and she’s the one who loves me most.
But could there be more? Could I be loyal to her, and also be with a partner? Could I find a man as in love with her as I am? Could our love for her make our love more? Could our love make her more? The image appeared like Eden in my mind’s eye.
I danced with the magic of the natural world, alone, with a lover, with community, and alone again. And again and again. All of it was beautiful. Every expression was perfect. Fulfilled. Alone. Coupled. Grouped. Alone. Sometimes I imagined it and sometimes it imagined me.
One evening in our meditation, I recall dancing my way into a forest, tall blades of grass sparkling in the light of the full moon. I was a wolf. A woman. A shapeshifter. Looking up to the glowing ball in the sky surrounded by other wolves. Howling. I touched the blades of grass and faeries were born out of the dew.
Then something shifted. Nothing looked real anymore. It was like I was on a film set. I reached forward with my hands and tore down the whole scene, one giant painting on paper covering up four concrete walls. My heart broke, realizing that it had all be an illusion, and now I had to find the magic within this cell.
So I created a door. I opened it and on the other side was a sea of blackness, full of glittering stars. I floated into the night sky of nothingness and landed back into the forest, howling under the full moon with the wolves. When the dance ended, I remember sobbing as I tried to speak, lost in the unfulfilled desire for something so real yet so elusive, so close yet so far away: a world of tangible, endless magic.
The next day I did finally step outside of the concrete box and immerse myself back into nature. As part of our training we went on retreat to the Sri Lanna National Park about an hour outside of Chiang Mai, to a place called Om Waters. Being there was pure medicine.
For three days I meditated with the sunrise over the forest covered mountains, danced with my DANCEmandala family on a dock floating on the lake, sang kirtan and medicine songs around the fire under the milky way, and reconnected with true nature, my wild self, and a sense of family community.
I nearly forgot what it meant to remember, and returning was such a sweet reunion. It was the feeling of coming home again.
Held on all sides by strong mountains, floating on the ripples of the lake, being moved by the winds of change, and stepping forward into the fire, I remembered the simple lesson I learned so many years ago when I surrendered my soul to Costa Rica.
I remembered that life only makes sense when I’m loving myself. The dramas of romance and the chaos of the world will always send me into a tailspin, unless I make loving myself the most important thing of all. Alone, in pure nature, that’s when it’s easiest for me to remember. The challenge was carrying that message when I felt disconnected. In cities, in crowds, in the face of rejection. The challenge was to remember to still love myself when I felt the illusion of being separate from nature, separate from source.
Soon after leaving Om Waters I took a long weekend in Pai. The small mountain town left me with sweet memories three years ago, and despite hearing “Pai is over,” from one of my Thai friends, I wanted to return.
After four hours snaking through the mountains, shaking of nausea, dripping in sweat, and nearly hurling, I rolled out of the minivan into the center of town.
The walking street was busy, full of people, full of businesses; I remembered it being empty and vacant. I took the harrowing journey from Chiang Mai to escape the city not find another one. I had trouble deciphering who had changed, me or Pai. Definitely both it seemed.
On my first night I walked down to the famous night market, where you can find every kind of food and trinket imaginable, and every backpacker in town, and saw a familiar face. It was an Argentinean man selling jewelry who I knew without question, but I couldn’t remember how. We spoke in Spanish, me trying to place him. He laughed and told me we met on a tiny island in Indonesia, Gili Air, three years ago. Unlike me, he never went back. He made his way up to Thailand from the Gilis and got “stuck” in Pai. Three years later, there he was. I wondered if anything actually existed in the space we call time.
Last time in Pai I made friends with a mish mash of travelers, rode out to the canyon for sunset, enjoyed the waterfalls and hotsprings with no one else around, nibbled all night long at the walking street market, and soaked up the chill vibes at the reggae bar on the river.
This time all of the attractions were so busy it was difficult to relax. The few reggae bars mushroomed into a trashy getting wasted scene ala Koh Phi Phi. There were still aspects of Pai that I remembered and enjoyed, but Thailand’s once chillest town no longer seemed chill.
My only respite came at my guesthouse, across the river back in the rice fields where I could simply lay on my porch and watch the water buffalo graze at sunrise and sunset. Though even this area was more built up than I remembered.
I thought of one especially sentimental evening in Pai of the past, when I wandered down a small nature trail to arrive at the big white Buddha on the hill. It was just before sunset, I was with two close friends, and there were maybe a dozen other backpackers. We watched the sun go down behind the mountains and talked about our life paths. We were all lost and confused, walking clichés, “finding ourselves” on the road.
My revisit to the white Buddha was nothing like that. Over the years it had become a booming touristic attraction, and was still growing. An enormous grand staircase stood at the Buddha’s feet, faced by a large parking lot full of tour buses. Hundreds of tourists walked the stairs and snapped photos at the top. I put in my headphones and played meditation music to try to relax while watching the sun go down.
Walking home through the rice fields I felt a deep sadness. I thought of all of the towns I fell in love with the last time I traveled through Southeast Asia, especially Koh Rong and Otres Beach in Cambodia, Kuta, Lombok in Indonesia, Luang Prabang, the Four Thousand Islands, Vang Vieng.
Had they too suffered this fate? Is this the fate of all places on Earth? Am I part of it by being a traveler? Of course I am. Wait, no I’m not! I’m different. Am I? Or wait, is it even bad? Is it even a problem? What is it that I’m attaching myself to? Is it just my perspective? Were they already over touristed before I got there? And again, is it a problem or just my preference?
So flow the endless waves of the mind.
While I didn’t know for sure the ethics of any of it, I did know that in nature, with few people, it’s easier for me to feel magic. It’s easier for me to gain clarity. It’s easier for me to feel good. I did know that without nature, I cannot survive. Nor do I want to. If she dies, I die.
When I came back to Chiang Mai to continue the final week of my dance training, this theme continued. I saw friends post photos on Facebook of places where they had recently chopped down a ton of jungle in front of the beach in my home in Costa Rica.
I’ve watched the jungle grow thinner and thinner, to the point that there are places where the once virgin beach is now totally exposed to the road. If this continues I wonder what the town I fell in love with will become. Like my recent experience in Pai it’s more and more difficult for me to find spots in Puerto Viejo where I can still feel that peace and quiet, the original essence that I fell in love with.
I snapped into fear mode. Anger. Blame. Defeat. Apathy. Sadness. It reignited the energy I left Puerto Viejo to avoid. Questioning if I could actually commit to Puerto Viejo as my home, with her future appearing uncertain at best, devastating at worst. I found myself wanting to fight it to change it, then giving up on it, not giving a fuck about it, and back again.
My mind couldn’t sort it out, so I let my body guide me. I danced with my fear. Let myself feel all of my emotions, the sweet ones the ugly ones the inappropriate ones, to help me awaken. To help me to see. Frustration carried me through most of the session, until I finally surrendered to sadness. With my ego broken and defeated my wisdom voice could finally be heard.
“Let it go. Let go of the weight of the world and create the one you want to live in. They cut down trees? Plant more. Fear takes over? Choose love. All is well. Be that.”
In that moment I saw the irony in running away from a place I love that I’m scared to see destroyed. It mirrored my response to romance: so afraid of being denied love that I didn’t want to put love forward.
My response was relatable, but not entirely practical. Because avoiding the very thing you’re afraid of losing doesn’t make you any safer. It doesn’t make you any fuller. Any happier. Any richer. Letting yourself feel every ounce of your love, drink in every note of your love, and accept your love as the gift that is, does. Whether it hurts is beside the point.
I danced that theme three times a day for our final week.
Every dance was like moving through a lifetime. Layers upon layers revealed, shed, liberated, dissolved, enlightened, embraced, received, blessed. Old stories would come back to visit me. “What, didn’t we get past this?!” I would think. The dance was an endless cycle of facing layers of beliefs and discovering new levels of acceptance, release, transformation, and peace.
Towards the end of the week I found myself dancing beside the man in my course who had represented so much for me. The one I had used as a mirror for my patterns in relationships. “Ok, I guess we’re here again,” I thought. But I let my body lead me beyond my resistance.
With my eyes closed, moving into softness and tenderness, I imagined myself dancing with him. I let myself open to him. Bliss arose from deep within me, and I felt overwhelmed with a sense of pure love for him. Not desire or attachment or needing, just love. The love overflowed from within and I was so full from it I could simply offer it. That feeling was an absolute gift.
Then my mind went to the man I always leave Puerto Viejo to let go of. I cringed wondering how I would face him if and when I returned. My mind played out all of the possibilities. Then I let them all go and I let my body become love. In his presence I just let myself be love. Nothing to do, nothing to say, nothing to try, just be love.
It was then I understood that the suffering I experienced over unrequited love actually had nothing to do with my love not being returned. It had to do with my own love being withheld. It came from my judgments about whether or not I was allowed to love as fully as I wanted to. If I let myself love, I first received my love. Which felt like… bliss. If I let myself love, all was well.
The very thing that brought me peace was the very thing I had resisted for so many years. Accepting that I would love him forever. That my feelings would never go away. Being ok with loving him, and not needing to do anything to make it become something nor to make it go away.
I had these thoughts before, many times yes, of course, but for the first time, because of dance, I became them. I embodied them. I lived them. Which is something else entirely.
The last day of our training, the morning of the full moon, and my thirtieth birthday, I prepared to guide my first DANCEmandala session. Very appropriately I chose to invite the intention of love into the dance.
To inspire the theme, I grabbed my rose quartz wand off of my altar. Last year in Puerto Viejo I bought the crystal hoping it might bring more love into my life. It of course did, because everything is actually love, just wrapped up in all kinds of packages, some easy and some difficult to receive.
As I walked out the door, the rose quartz flung from my bag, dropped on the ground, and broke in half. It was too perfect. There I was on my way to teach a room full of people about love, when everything I know about love, I learned from heartbreak.
Though through being broken, many times over the years, I’ve come to see heartbreak in a new light. I’m come to understand that heartbreak is actually impossible. Because the heart itself is unbreakable. Unchangeable. Untaintable. The heart is home.
So this thing we call “heartbreak” must be something else of course. I believe the pain is not the actual heart breaking, but the breaking down of every wall that stands in the way of the heart. The shattering of anything that stands between us and love. In other words, heartbroken is the gateway to heart open.
That’s what we danced in my session.
Because it’s one thing to think wise thoughts, quite another to become them.
In my own journey of becoming, I brought something very close to my own heart into the next dance. As a dear sister facilitated our final dance together, I danced my way back to love. Higher lover. My love for this Earth. A love I very much suffer and agonize over.
On my journey I saw the faces of all of my loved ones. My soul brothers and sisters. My tribe in Costa Rica. All of the humans on this Earth who are doing so much to create a world made out of love. All of the humans everywhere, on their unique paths, in so many ways so many shades, remembering how to love.
And then something unexpected happened. For the first time, ever, I let go of my need to change the world. Not in a defeated way. In an accepting way. Without losing my desire to inspire, to create, to heal, I let go of my attachment to the outcome.
For the first time, ever, I thought, “Maybe I won’t see the world become the utopia I long for in this lifetime.” And for the first time, ever, I thought, “And maybe that’s ok.” Just keep walking the path. Keep doing the work. Keep becoming the change. Even if there is no change. Even if everything around you becomes destroyed. Even if it looks like it’s all getting worse. Even if you keep being shattered and shattered. Let the breaking crack you open. Let the breaking teach you to see everything as love.
That evening, after our graduation ceremony, I walked out into the garden of the Yoga Tree with my now two rose quartz crystals in hand. I offered them to the two giant trees, the wisdom keepers, the watchers who had grounded me these six weeks. All the while I danced, all the while they stood still. I let them take my love story and transform it into something new.
I returned to Koh Yao Noi feeling like a different person. I felt no romantic longing. No unfulfilled desire. I felt full acceptance for all that I was and all that I had. It was an unfamiliar feeling, so liberating I almost feared losing it. I winked at the statue of the two lovebirds on the pier, remembering the day I threw my offering out into the ocean, not so long ago.
Days later, my friend Dannie, part of my tribe in Puerto Viejo, flew to Thailand to help support me for my retreat. It was sobering and wonderful and also difficult being reminded of home. We talked about the changes happening there, and I practiced softening into my own fears. Expanding beyond my judgements.
I loved Koh Yao Noi but it lacked a certain energy I feel in Puerto Viejo. When my retreat began, I noticed it too lacked this energy. The jungle energy. As fantastic as the retreat was, as magical as it was, and truth be told we had much more incredible excursions than I’ve ever offered in Costa Rica, I understood why I’ve always led my retreats in Puerto Viejo. Because I believe that a person can transform just by being there. After all, it is the place that changed my life.
There were certainly places in Phang Nga Bay like that. Places where the energy was so powerful it could cast spells. But these places were isolated, protected, and only mermaids and monkeys were allowed to dwell there. We were simply visitors on day tours.
One of these places they call the Big Tree. I discovered it on my first visit to Koh Yao Noi, on an adventurous kayaking trip I took with a new friend, two hours up the coast to the tip of the island. After paddling for ages, we pulled into a bay, entered the jungle, and walked across wooden planks to arrive at the biggest tree I’ve ever seen. The jungle pulsed in a way that excited and terrified me. It reminded me of home.
So of course, we took our own adventure there during the retreat. Nature helped by calling upon the winds of change, whipping up the ocean, and creating vortex pools where we paddled for what felt like forever without getting anywhere. But eventually we did arrive at the feet of the tree. Rain came down, the jungle sang, and for however long we were there time stood still. We pulled oracle cards, read the messages of the dragon faeries, and when it came to mine I couldn’t help but laugh.
The card was titled: “Divine Union” with the image of a feminine nature goddess being held by a strong, masculine dragon. The question I asked when I pulled my card was, “The next step?”
Then the tour group came in. Dozens of them spraying mosquito repellent and snapping photos. The guides looked over at us confused, women sitting on the bare Earth crying from reading cards. Time to leave we knew. What a difference between what I saw as sacred and was I saw as not.
Leaving the Big Tree was very difficult. The ache of homesickness overtook me. Being with the tree brought me back to the wild, something I’d been missing since leaving Puerto Viejo. As we walked down the path, I let the women go ahead and clutched onto Dannie. I cried without understanding why and knowing a million reasons why. I held onto her the whole walk out, afraid that if we stopped touching the world might somehow evaporate.
To my reprieve Dannie brought the essence of Puerto with her. Literally. She had two kilos of raw Costa Rican cacao, grown and processed right in our jungle town.
Cacao is known to help open up the heart, which makes it an amazing facilitator for women’s circles. I’ve been participating in them for the last year guided by my friend Hannah. On one of the last nights of the retreat, Dannie and I prepared the cacao and shared a ceremony from home.
As we went around in circle and offered whatever was on our hearts, I spoke about my homesickness. My ache to go back and also my hesitancy in going back. Eventually the words came out, “I’m afraid to watch her die.” She being Puerto Viejo. She being the essence of the place that I love. I had never fully expressed it in those terms. “I’m afraid to watch her die.” So I’d rather just run away.
Meditating on those words something else rose to the surface. My grandmother, who did die last year. I didn’t go back to Seattle knowing she was on her deathbed. I had time to see her, but I didn’t go. For many reasons, partly because I had just experienced my own ego death and wasn’t ready to leave my cocoon. But I finally admitted another very obvious truth: I didn’t want to watch her die.
The same way I didn’t want to see the jungle, my mother, die, I didn’t want to see my grandmother die. Because, it’s hard to watch someone you love die.
Yet eventually, as I know, everything of course dies. And also, nothing ever dies. The sun rises and the sun also sets. Just like my life themes circled their way back into my awareness again and again, melted dissolved and resurfaced, all things persist and all things shift. Death is one part of the eternity. As my wise DANCEmandala teacher Areeradh said, “letting go isn’t about getting rid of anything, that isn’t actually possible, it’s letting it become something else.”
My heart knows that death is just the transformation from one into another, the ultimate letting go. It’s just that my body, mind, and emotions, are still trying to catch up with that truth, in order to really live it. This deep fear of death we’ve all inherited, seems to be the thing that keeps most of us from coming home.
The next morning, with a proper cacao hangover, I woke up shaken by a dream. Despite feeling clear of my romantic wheel, free from all of the men from my past, free from projecting men for my future, I dreamt again about the man in Puerto Viejo. “Why? Why? Why?” I asked myself. “How is this back?” He hadn’t even been on my conscious mind.
Then the suffering resurfaced. “Why didn’t he want to try? Why didn’t he want me?” My mind could not make sense of it. I knew there was no way to resolve it there. So I simply said, “I don’t know why sweetie, I just know that it’s ok.”
It rocked in my mind for my sunrise meditation and as I rode my bicycle to teach our final yoga practice on the retreat. In class I shared the story of Hanuman, the monkey in Hindu mythology who has been given amnesia and will never remember that he’s a God. Because Hanuman has forgotten his divinity, when given a seemingly impossible task, he has to take a leap of faith. He’s totally equipped to do it, but because he believes he’s mortally limited, he must rely on faith, driven by love. Literally, he leaps across the ocean to Sri Lanka. And he makes it. Because he is divine.
On the ride home, clarity came to me.
“What am I supposed to do about these feelings? What am I supposed to do about him?” My mind asked, still troubled by my dream.
“Just love him,” My heart replied.
Plain and simple.
“Just love him.”
Nothing to do. Nothing to change. Nothing to fix.
Just love him.
Just love him, even if he will never be the one.
Just love Puerto Viejo, even if she changes.
Just love the world, even if she never does.
Just love, that simple.
And with that I have peace.
With that I can let go.
The women have left, the cacao has been drunk, and Dannie has continued on with her journey. Now I’m alone. Just my breath, the ocean, and the stormy sky. Everything other than this moment has died. Echoes and memories only.
I submerge my head under the glassy surface of the ocean, blow bubbles, crawl my way up onto the sand. I look out to the islands, kiss them from a distance, and I turn around and I hop on my bike. A little bit heartbroken to be saying goodbye. Learning to let the walls fall. Learning to stay open. Learning my way back to my heart.
Last time Thailand showed me the way to travel.
This time Thailand showed me the way home.
To be continued in Sri Lanka…