I’ve never really been a dog person.
They’re messy, they smell, and more often than not they sniff your crotch, slobber all over your face, and hump your leg.
They’re needy and codependent and can’t handle being alone. They’re desperate for attention and cry for hours when you leave home. They’re aggressive and impulsive and can even be dangerous if they’re not properly trained.
It’s no wonder dogs are so often compared to men.
Years spent traveling alone in Latin America, with more unfixed pitpulls and misogynistic men than I ever imagined possible, left me jaded about both breeds.
I saw men as dangerous creatures who would hurt me physically or emotionally if I let them come too close. They were the source of my insecurities, the cause of my confusion, and the perpetrators of my heartache. Keeping them away made life so much easier.
That is, until a few months ago when everything started to shift.
It was my first night back in Costa Rica after being gone for almost a year. I was living in a simple wooden house in the jungle alone, with doors that locked with the same hardware you’d find in a public bathroom stall.
In the darkness that night, I felt vulnerable. Because I knew that a man could come to hurt me if he wanted to.
While trying to fall asleep I heard footsteps on my back porch. My stomach dropped. I prayed for a monkey or an iguana or even a jaguar, but when I opened the door, I found a dog. A dog sat right in front of the door, facing me, with a friendly smile on his face.
Every day that followed a different dog from the neighborhood slept on my back porch. And because they guarded the house, I slept soundly.
In the past I wanted dogs as far from me as possible, but that experience made me want dogs around. I began to see dogs as powerful protectors. Empathic animals, highly receptive to our needs and feelings. The guardians of our bodies and our belongings. Fiercely loyal, trustworthy, and dedicated to serving. The bearers of unconditional love without expectation. Able to freely give and receive affection. I saw dogs as woman’s best friend.
When I started to see dogs in a different light, I asked myself if I could see men that way too.
Intellectually I knew that masculinity couldn’t be further from machismo. True masculinity makes you feel safe not threatened. It serves to support not to take. True masculinity lets a woman blossom, it doesn’t make her shrink.
But I had never really felt a man that way.
For a long time, I hadn’t let myself feel men at all.
So I asked to see and understand what it really means to be a man. I asked to see that a man could be a lover and a protector so that I didn’t have to fear him anymore.
And it started with me.
I connected with my own masculinity, an energy that every woman possesses as soon as she acknowledges it. I cultivated that masculinity to feel protected and secure from within. I cultivated that masculinity to feel desired and beautiful and adored. I cultivated that masculinity to feel worthy of love.
Eventually, I became the man that I had been searching for all of my life.
(Read about that in my post How I Found My Soulmate on the Road.)
Then I flew to Mexico.
To my surprise, in a country with a strong reputation for machismo, I found myself surrounded by pure love. It was as if the divine masculinity I had cultivated from within was reflected back to me in the face of every man I met.
While I typically connect more easily with women, every traveler I befriended was a man. Most of the locals who I conversed with, from strangers on the street to hostel workers to taxi drivers to restaurant patrons were men. It felt so good to be around sensitive, conscious, and considerate men to remember that they did exist.
In their company I let myself soften into my feminine. I visualized myself as a benevolent queen as I walked down the streets and as a divine goddess as I lay in bed in night.
And I noticed that men started treating me like one. They gave me free rides and invited me to dinner. They gifted me with gemstones and fresh fruit and flowers. They snuck me into roped off sections of famous ruins and sacred cenotes. They told me I had a beautiful smile, a beautiful heart, and a beautiful mind. They expected nothing in return except the pleasure of my company.
Not to say that it was easy.
I saw myself enacting old, destructive patterns with men. I felt trapped and smothered around the ones who gave me attention and unworthy and needy around the ones who didn’t. I withheld my feelings, avoided confrontation, made excuses, acted flaky, and instead of setting boundaries I ran away.
But every man I spent time with offered me a dose of his medicine to help me grow. Whether they brought out the best in me or the worst in me, every experience was here to help me.
For the first time I realized that I gravitated towards men who were unavailable, because with them I didn’t have to set my own boundaries. I could just be distanced by theirs. My spirit and my temple deserve all that they desire but it’s up to me to set the rules about who comes in and how and when. If I learned to set boundaries that felt good, maybe I’d feel safe enough to let a man in.
I wasn’t sure if I was ready to do that, but I felt like I finally had the tools to know how.
By the time I got to Guatemala, I thought my journey was complete. I felt so content from all of the lessons I learned in Mexico that I wasn’t looking for anything in Guatemala. I even decided to take a break and not write about my time in Guatemala at all.
Until I met Diego.
After a brief stop in Flores to see the stunning ruins at Tikal and a few days of wandering in Antigua, I arrived in the tiny hippie town of San Marcos on Lake Atitlan. My soul sister Sorrel who I met last year in Puerto Viejo was here teaching yoga, and I came to visit her for Christmas.
On Christmas Eve we wandered around the one lane town collecting the best cookies to create a cookie Mandala for the Christmas Day potluck at the neighborhood ashram, Maha Devi. It was also full moon, and we created an altar in our bungalow with flowers, candles, crystals, and of course chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Real dark chocolate.
The pure cacao fruit (used to make chocolate) grows abundantly throughout Central and South America, though I’ve never been anywhere that worships it like they do in Guatemala. Cacao is big in Costa Rica, but in San Marcos cacao is a religion. You could even call cacao San Marcos’ drug of choice.
Every day there’s a cacao ceremony happening somewhere and plenty of people line up to drink it. Beyond simply eating chocolate, in a cacao ceremony you drink a “medicinal” dose of cacao melted in hot water with different spices and natural sugar. Sure, cacao can give you a high like sugar or caffeine, but that’s not why everyone’s drinking the cacao-aid.
Many tribes in pre Hispanic Central America worshipped cacao as the goddess of fertility, pleasure and sensuality. Many still do. Cacao is meant to open the heart and anyone who has ever eaten a piece of really good chocolate knows the instant feeling of satiety, pleasure, and joy she offers. There’s no coincidence chocolate is often compared to an orgasm.
Addicted to the orgasmic joy of chocolate, Sorrel and I stocked up on some colorful artisanal chocolate tubes known around town as the “chocolate sausages” and we added them to our altar. Sea salt, local macadamia, coconut, and cardamom. Oh baby.
Afterwards I went to a café in town to finish up a blog post about Mexico. As I usually do, I popped in my headphones and put up my protective shield so that no one would come over and distract me. A few minutes later, a tall attractive man in his twenties walked in and lay down on the booth across from me. “Not talking to him,” I told myself and kept typing.
In no time he and Sorrel started chatting and quickly realized they were both from the same town in San Diego. I ignored them as best as I could, slightly agitated by the distraction.
He told us his name, which Sorrel immediately decided did not suit him. He needed to be called something sexier. So she renamed him Diego. With an accent.
Diego told us that he had been staying in the party town San Pedro across the lake and was meant to leave that day for Antigua. However when he heard about the cacao ceremony being guided by a world famous Cacao Shaman in San Marcos, he decided to extend his stay by one night. Like so many others, Diego came to San Marcos for cacao.
“And how was the ceremony?” I asked.
“It was ok,” he shrugged. “But I didn’t really feel it.”
“What were you hoping to experience?” Sorrel inquired.
“I was hoping to feel the essence of cacao. To feel my heart open.”
“Well, the Cacao Shaman did say that cacao isn’t a medicine that takes you, rather it opens the door and you decide whether to walk in.”
“Say that again?” I asked.
“Cacao doesn’t take you, it simply opens the door and to receive it you have to walk in.”
It sounded like cacao was just like a woman.
I went back to blogging and Sorrel and Diego caught up on all of the places they knew in common in the town where they had both grown up. Sorrel now lived with me in the jungle of Costa Rica and Diego now lived in Portland.
“So, what do you do in Portland?” I asked.
“Um, I do cuddle puddles,” he said simply.
An exceedingly unconventional response to an exceedingly dull question, that took me completely off guard.
Sorrel told him he was welcome to come and cuddle with her to get the heart opener he didn’t feel from the cacao. She continued painting her watercolor of a rainbow serpentine river and he crawled over to snuggle.
The two of them talked about how they open up easily, but never get attached. How easy it is to fall in love with someone for a day and then move on to the next town. They were both Aquarians, just like me, but romantically I was the opposite. Slow and hesitant to open but fiercely loyal in love.
He looked over at me and said, “Why don’t you come cuddle with us?”
It seemed weird and threesome-ish, but I knew that writing was a lost cause and with Sorrel there I felt comfortable enough to let my guard down. I closed my computer and awkwardly laid my head near them. He dug his fingers into my hair and gave a gentle tug before rubbing my temples and my ears. It surprised me how good it felt to be touched by him.
As he massaged my arms, I joked about how he could start leading his own cuddle ceremonies. He could be the nomadic Cuddle Shaman and offer his services around the world. I gave him an elevator pitch, which went something like this,
“Want to heal your relationship with masculinity and help your feminine essence blossom? I will hold you in a sacred container that allows you to surrender into your true divinity. Let me be the big spoon to your little spoon.”
I didn’t realize it in the moment, but I had just written an ad for exactly what I had been looking for since leaving Mexico. And as it often does, the moment I said it aloud, it’s exactly what transpired.
The café closed and we wandered over to a courtyard restaurant to snack on tapas and lay on giant day beds. Diego only had two bites of his food before asking if he could come and massage my head while I ate. I could almost laugh it felt so foreign to accept this treatment, but it felt good so I went with it.
Without question we all walked back to my and Sorrel’s two story bungalow and sat beside the altar unwrapping those colorful rolls of chocolate. We read oracle cards and inhaled essential oils and Diego offered me a massage. He fixated on the back of my heart space, where a long scar marks the spot with all of the knots just beside my scapula.
It surprised me how he could be so manly and sexual and yet fit in perfectly at a girls sleepover. Maybe I wasn’t the only one working on balancing my masculine and feminine energies. Maybe there were men out there doing it too. Hot ones.
It must have been midnight by the time I climbed upstairs and into my bed. I started to drift off to sleep when I heard footsteps. I opened my eyes and it was Diego. He asked to come snuggle with me, and though I was shy, again I said yes. I let him spoon me and caress me and kiss me. For no other reason than because it felt good. He felt good.
And though it would have been easy, I didn’t attach to stories about him leaving the next day or being a Casanova or me not being special. I let myself feel him as every man in existence and let myself become every woman in existence. I let my woman be held by a strong sexy man. We kept all of our clothes on yet I wouldn’t call what I experienced anything less than intimate.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still very closed. He gave without hesitation yet I received with complete hesitation. Frankly I didn’t know him intellectually, so I had to just feel him physically, something I’m not particularly used to doing. But I did open up more than I have in ages and I felt safe with him. Very safe.
The next morning he woke up early to catch the bus to Antigua. He kissed me goodbye and I thanked him for being so kind. I felt blessed for the experience without any ache from him leaving. Though part of me wanted to have the same experience with someone my heart did throb for, and I knew that for that to happen I would have to open.
I found Sorrel outside of our bungalow meditating with the altar. Beside her was a roll of the colorful chocolate we had purchased for Christmas. She picked it up and started to cackle. I looked at the wrapper and for the first time I read the label. The chocolate commonly called “sausages,” was actually named “Artisanal Chocolate ‘Diego’”. We fell on the ground laughing.
I guess we all got our dose of cacao that night.
For Christmas Sorrel and I carried our cookie mandala in an empty pizza box to the local Ashram. Bits of Diego chocolate were scattered on top with strawberries and edible flowers from the garden.
At the Ashram nearly a hundred people sat in a circle singing Kirtan. Giant mugs of creamy cacao were passed around the room and at first I hesitated. I had overdosed on the Diego chocolates the days before and I didn’t think a breakfast of chocolate was a good idea, even on Christmas. I took a tiny sip and it was the creamiest saltiest spiciest most delicious cacao I had ever tasted. The next thing I knew I had gulped down the entire mug.
We sang and I melted into the vibration. My mind floated away from me and back to Diego. I felt him there holding me. I felt his sweetness and his strength. His fire and his gentleness. His free spirit and his unconditional love. It was so much easier to open up to him in spirit than it had been in flesh.
And then I started to cry.
I cried tears of pure love and happiness and bliss. Love and happiness and bliss in the company of everyone who surrounded me. I looked around the room and fell in love with every single person I saw. I held Sorrel and we rocked side to side. We got up and danced like little kids, tears streaming down my face.
Cacao opened the door and I walked in.
I walked downstairs from the platform to use the bathroom and a dog ran up to greet me. I wrapped my arms around his neck and suddenly I began to see them again. The men I met on my journey through Mexico.
The soft and manly Mayanist I hung with on the beach in Mazunte who taught me about spirit animals.
My hot male yoga teacher in San Augustinillo who sang to the grandmothers and kissed the earth.
The tough on the outside goey on the inside surfer who toured me around Puerto Escondido on the back of his motorbike.
My spiritual guide in San Cristobal who showed me how to take hold of my feminine power and love my true essence.
The kind and open Italian in Palenque who stuck by my side under waterfalls and in caves in the jungle and bowed down to my wildness and my strength.
The Mayan tattooed fire keeper who showed me how to be a humble warrior in every sense of the word.
The strong handed massage therapist who guided me through a visualization to remember my purpose in being a channel being heaven and earth.
The Australian backpacker who opened his heart with the full moon and reminded me how it feels to be respectfully desired.
The designer in Tulum who took me to a secret cenote and swam with me under a rainbow and asked me how such a woman could have such a baby face.
As their faces came to me, I understood why each of them had serendipitously entered my life.
They came to tell me the same message as the dog that night in Costa Rica.
They came to tell me I am safe.
That I am safe being a woman.
That I am safe enough
to trust myself
to let a man in.
That I am man enough
to be woman enough
to let a man in.
Thank you Diego for the sweet chocolate reminder.
Thank you to all of the men
and all of the dogs
for your sweet reminders.
I love you.