“Ultimate freedom has nothing to do with your life circumstances –it is the freedom of allowing the self to dissolve into the waves of the ocean. It is the freedom that is born through one’s absolute trust in life.” – The 55th Gene Key
People often say that Puerto Viejo filters out whatever it doesn’t want.
It has its own special cleansing process.
In other words, if it wants to get rid of you, it will.
I’ve seen it happen many times over the years.
People experience an unfathomable tragedy and they leave and never come back. Like the couple whose bar was held at gunpoint and received death threats or the woman who got raped in the middle of the day or the ones who ventured too deep into drugs or the souls who swam too deep into the ocean.
Rather than a personal choice, often it’s seen as the jungle deciding to spit you out.
So, after my shower exploding on me, waking up with an inexplicable second degree burn, and coming home to the doors kicked in and my valuables gone, all within two weeks of returning, you can guess that I questioned if Puerto Viejo was rejecting me.
Paranoia whispered that I was being punished for my detachment from the jungle. That this was her way of retaliating against me for leaving her and intending to find a new home. Another voice spoke it was life telling me I didn’t belong here anymore. That it was time to get out. Was I even meant to come back after running away to Thailand?
Undoubtedly I was in the midst of a tremendous awakening, I was just deep in that very human stage called suffering. My heart soothed me as it spoke that this wasn’t punishment, but actually evidence of just how much the jungle loved me, and through this gift she was going to change my whole world. I just didn’t know how yet.
I reminded myself that this was not the first time the jungle delivered me such strong medicine.
In fact exactly five years prior she nearly killed me twice in one day. I recall riding my bicycle through the jungle down to my favorite beach in Punta Uva, and hearing the crack. I looked back and just a few feet behind me a giant almond tree had fallen across the road. A few feet can make the difference between life and death. A woman further down the road ran towards me screaming “Gracias a Dios! Gracias a Dios!!” Thank God, thank God, she said, this gringa didn’t die.
After swimming in Punta Uva, I headed up to Beach Break for the sunset in front of the magical island that sits in the distance. White birds flocked to the craggy rock face and unpredictable waves crashed in every direction.
The beach was empty save for myself and a group of other tourists. We body surfed in the swells and it reminded me of when I was a kid at the Eastern Shore. Waves didn’t scare me, I had been tumbled and sucked under and spit out so many times during those summers in Jersey that I knew I’d always come out the other side. To me, these waves seemed small.
But then in an instant something shifted. Maybe they weren’t that big, but they were strong, and getting stronger. What had felt fun started to feel scary. I watched the group of tourists about fifteen feet away try to make their way in and get crashed and tumbled. They called to me to ask if I was ok or if I needed help. I was struggling, but felt silly as it wasn’t that deep and I was sure I’d make it back.
The ocean pulled harder. Every step I made forward I’d get dragged about ten steps back. I was exhausting myself quickly and the waves were now crashing over my head. At that point, still embarrassed, I realized I should probably ask for help. I waved my arms up to the other tourists, but they couldn’t seem to enter the whirlpool I had caught myself in.
As I exhausted myself more and more, pushing against the current, eventually my fight gave up. I was too tired to keep going. That’s when something far stronger than my will to survive took over: surrender.
I came to the understanding that maybe I was never going to get back to shore. My body relaxed as I allowed the likely possibility that these would be my last breaths. Oddly, it wasn’t as scary as it was relieving. At least I didn’t have to fight any longer.
That’s when a lifeguard came in and grabbed me.
The current was so strong it took us four waves and a lifesaver to get back in. When we got to the shore I collapsed, exhausted, and stunned. The other tourists who had been in the ocean beside me rushed over to see if I was alright. “We tried to help you but we couldn’t get in; we thought we were going to watch you die.”
I ran into them again that night in town when I went partying, and they took selfies with me and told everyone I was “the girl who almost drowned.”
At that point in my journey I didn’t have the awareness or the tools that I do now, and so I saw it all as a strange coincidence. Though I did come to some deeper understandings. One: respect the ocean it is powerful; two: surrender is what will save you.
I figured that even if the lifeguard hadn’t come to rescue me, perhaps my surrender would have drifted me beyond the break where I would float. I decided that if I was ever in a riptide again, I’d just relax my body and drift, rather than fight and exhaust myself.
Five years later, and the jungle was teaching me the same lesson:
Surrender is what will save you.
To recap, the lesson began with me being so badly burned I had to surrender to the needs of my darkest shadows and humble myself to let others help me. Apparently, I hadn’t fully learned the lesson, and so life took away everything. Because sometimes it takes losing everything, to realize the only thing that’s actually ever been yours.
But let’s not jump too far ahead just now… because yes, they did take what seemed like “everything” to me at the time. And that’s worth feeling into. Specifically they took…
Essentially everything I use to do my work.
My brand new Macbook Pro that I had charged on my credit card literally two weeks before.
My professional camera and lenses.
Every speaker, microphone, pair of headphones, and charging cord I had.
No, nothing was insured. I know. And no, I didn’t have the money to replace it. Besides, even if I did have the money, you can’t buy this stuff in the jungle. Unless you buy it from thieves that is (more on that later.)
It was comic really, as I was in the midst of tremendous progress with my business, had just sold out my retreat, announced a second one, filmed all of the videos for The Freedom Tribe, and was nearing the completion of my website redesign and new branding.
To say I was overstimulated would be an understatement. I had stirred up so much creativity I could write for hours but not sleep at all. I tried to do yoga to help me to relax, but due to my physical limitations with my burn wound, my practice usually consisted of just laying on the floor. Without nature and exercise to de-charge my already intense energy, I was like a pressure cooker. Whenever I journaled the words that came again and again were, “I need to slow down.” I couldn’t leave the house and I could hardly move, yet what I need most was to slow down.
“You’re welcome. Slowed down.”
Fortunately I could recognize this gift. Life gave me a forced vacation that perhaps I wouldn’t have given myself. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t difficult. And I lost more than just my electronics.
I lost my access to money.
All of my cards, my cash, and even my passport had been taken along with every single pair of underwear I owned. Oh wait, scratch that, I did have the one pair of underwear I had on, which absurdlly somehow ripped in half the next day. Pura vida. So, I wore bikini bottoms and relied on friends to front me cash.
This brought me deeper into the humble space I had opened with my leg wound. I was more vulnerable than ever and practiced receiving as I was gifted treats, palo santo, new underwear, money, emotional support, and safe places to stay. Once again I faced my shadows and shame, learning to allow others to support me.
Though certainly the most difficult loss in all of this, was the loss of my home.
The one place in the whole wide world that as a wandering gypsy I ever considered mine. While I may have just rented, I had lived in that house seven times over the years, done ceremony after ceremony in the garden, danced heartbreaks and healings, hosted dozens of gatherings with dozens of friends, given my blood to the Earth every moon, prayed to the stars lying naked on the Earth, and died and been reborn again and again, all on that land.
My entire foundation had been rocked since coming home to the jungle, and all I wanted was to come… home.
I even tried to sleep in my house the night of the break in despite not being able to even shut the door. Fortunately my logic guided me to stay at my friend’s hostel that night. The following night I tried again, but by the time it was dark I felt sick just being in the house. By the third night I thought I’d be over it. The door was fixed, my fridge was full of food, and I just wanted to go home. Once again, when darkness fell and I just couldn’t do it. I got this eerie sense that if I stayed any longer something would happen to me.
Bluntly, I was afraid I was going to get violently raped. An experience I’ve fortunately never endured, yet often feel guilty for being spared, since so many women have suffered it. Here I was, traveling irresponsibility alone all over the world and living by myself in a wooden house in the jungle. How come it never happened to me?
Then came in the voice of my inner mother. The loving, strong, compassionate voice I had gotten to know while confined to my house nursing my burn wound. She said, “I will never let that happen to you. Even if I have to kill someone, I will do everything in my power to keep you safe.” Which meant, as much as I wanted to go home, I couldn’t go back to that house.
But the fear was still there and I knew I needed to face it.
Living in the jungle requires constantly facing your fears.
(**Side note: I want to emphasize that my inner dialogue in no way suggests that anyone who has ever been raped or abused in any way wasn’t doing a good enough job keeping themselves safe. No one deserves violence and as this story illustrates, no matter how well intentioned we may be, life happens beyond our control. Bless us all. May all beings everywhere be safe.**)
In a small town like Puerto Viejo everyone knows who the thieves are and yet nothing is ever done about it. Yes, I filed the local police report the night it happened. Yes, I spent the day at the regional police station and filed it officially. Yes, I did all of the legal things to try to recover my belongings and sort it out. Though frankly, the best chance at getting your stuff back around here is by negotiating with the thieves.
At first when a friend suggested it, I was like… there is no way.
I held onto my principles and refused to reward those who had robbed me.
Then… I got desperate.
I wanted my stuff back.
I wanted my old life back.
I wanted to get back to work.
I wanted to undo what had been done.
So, I asked around. Like I said, it’s a small town, and I know people.
By the time word got back to me, a week had already passed. Apparently my laptop was being advertised for one hundred and fifty thousand colones (less than three hundred dollars) and my camera and professional lenses were offered in trade for a bag of weed.
It was frustrating to know who the thieves were and to feel powerless to do anything about it. I now had confirmation through the gossip mill, but I knew immediately in my gut from day one.
The morning after the break in, I passed this local teenager on the road. Something about him caught my eye, I recognized him, I knew him, but I couldn’t recall from where. Then something in my tummy said, “it was him.” Undoubtedly. By the time I got home to meet the locksmith who was fixing the door, I remembered why.
He, along with a few other guys, used to hang out in the alley beside my house last year. I felt uncomfortable around them instinctively, so I did my best to be especially friendly. During that time I had three bicycles stolen from my backyard. More recently I had seen this man hanging out in front of this blue house affectionately named “the house of thieves.” The same house I had passed on my way to yoga, when I got cat called by some kid. It was starting to click.
I conjured in my mind that they had been watching me, waiting for me to leave the house. That afternoon they watched me pass on my bike, made sure to sexually harass me, and took the golden opportunity as soon as it rained, to steal all of my stuff.
This icky sense of judgment, anger, and dare I admit racism arose within me. Seeing them as enemies, other, somehow not brothers in the family we call humanity. I knew this was toxic for my soul, so I sat down in my garden and began to meditate for peace and clarity.
I brought forth each of these men into my space. Softened into their presence. Looked them in the eyes to see their innocence. Then I remember coming down onto my knees and bowing forward into a child’s pose. I imagined myself surrounded with peace roses, they dripped out of my fingertips and covered my front porch. In this vision I saw myself as Lakshmi, pure abundance, offering my heart wide open for any and all to take whatever they need. Blessed am I to be so fortunately abundant. “Take it,” I humbly offered, and I meant it with my whole heart.
Carrying that forgiveness into my waking reality was not quite as easy. I remember one night, riding past their house and shouting “I hope you’re enjoying all of my shit!” And another time singing Adele at the top of my lungs, “Go on and take itttttttt, take it allllll with you, don’t look back at this crumbling fool, just take it allllll, with myyyyy love.”
But this was part of my healing process too. I was reclaiming my power in a situation where I felt like a victim.
If I was actually going to live in Puerto Viejo I needed to feel safe despite the darkness. I knew that my physical abilities weren’t exactly impressive, but I did have my voice. When I felt scared walking on the beach alone or riding my bicycle at night I would sing as loudly as possible, chant in ridiculous octaves, and often make wild animal noises.
Though I was still too afraid to speak to the kids I deemed thieves directly. So I tried to find someone else to help me. Admittedly, I was dodging the responsibility of doing the very thing the universe asked of me. I just wanted someone to magically fix it all.
I went from strongly attaching to my “principles” and working with the police, to desperately asking everyone I could think of if they knew a way to negotiate with the thieves. No one seemed up for the job, except for a friend of mine, a local I hadn’t even seen in about four years who had just returned to town. “Let’s just go talk to them,” he said.
Just like that? Couldn’t it be more indirect, calculated, and guarantee I could buy it all back for a couple hundred and some weed? And I was scared.
As soon as we got to the gate, my friend began to speak to the kid in the yard, the same one who had cat called me that day. Faster than I could process in Spanish, he sternly explained with penetrating eye contact, “Look, we know it was you who stole everything. We have you on camera. So, bring the stuff back to the house and we won’t turn you in to the police. Do you understand?” I stood there like a papaya saying nothing, slightly stunned and not in control. Then we left.
I kinda started to freak out that if I had any chance of getting my stuff back, it was now gone. It also didn’t feel right to me the way the confrontation had gone down. Shaming and blaming these kids wasn’t the remedy and my heart felt conflicted. So I went back a few hours later, this time on my own.
When I arrived the same kid rushed out to greet me. Before I could speak he immediately explained his innocence over and over again. I used the opportunity to simply introduce myself, tell him I knew that he was innocent, that he was a good person, and to let me know if he heard anything about my stuff. I expressed my intentions as pure, and also stood proudly as a woman who lives in this community and has the right to her body, home, and belongings being respected. Nobody needed to be blamed, we just needed to all remember our humanity.
When I left, I felt like we had made a quantum leap from enemy to neighbor. And I was pretty sure that between my kindess and direct eye contact, and my Afro Caribbean friend’s dominance and threats, they wouldn’t mess with me again.
That night I had a dream that I went back to my house and all of my stuff had been returned. Except.. none of it was quite right. The laptop didn’t work anymore. The camera had been scrambled and it was like pieces of different cameras put together that couldn’t make up a whole. My passport had been ripped apart by animals. And there was no underwear.
In my waking life I was doing everything I could to try to recover my belongings, and my dream state told me what I didn’t want to accept: it’s not for you anymore. But I was in the midst of the fight. I was still pushing against the waves, exhausting myself trying to go in the opposite direction of nature’s pull. And it was exhausting.
Until the moment when, just like four years ago out in the ocean, I finally gave up.
I was so exhausted trying to find the perfect place to live that I finally accepted the beauty of staying with friends.
I was so exhausted trying to coordinate using people’s computers for work and not knowing what would be appropriate to say on social media that I finally gave myself a true vacation and didn’t do any work at all.
I was so exhausted trying to get my stuff back that I finally threw my hands in the air and said “I don’t even want it anyway.”
I was so exhausted trying to keep my skin safe that I finally tore off my bandages, walked down to the beach, and I proclaimed to the ocean, “OK! I give up!”
Then, for the first time since the jungle burned me, I dove right into the sea.
I was so exhausted trying to resist life that I finally let myself fall into it. I finally let myself trust life because I knew that whether I feared it or trusted it didn’t matter: life was happening.
And when I accepted that…
that’s when life began to give me everything.
(to be continued)