It’s April and I could write about the luscious healthy spring greens that are starting to appear at the farmer’s market, but I’m bursting to tell you about my recent trip to Guatemala. I am not a seasoned traveler, but several weeks ago something took hold of me and in the blink of an eye I had written a check for a yoga retreat on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. From the moment I placed it in the mailbox, I never looked back. I knew that I was in for a big change in my life, and I was ready.
And so surprisingly fearless, I boarded the plane with seven strangers (soon to be friends), and the effervescent leader of our group, Priti. We arrived in Guatemala City and began our 3 1/2 hour journey via van and boat to our final destination – Villa Sumaya, a retreat center located on the volcano-ringed shores of Lake Atitlan. Imagine doing yoga everyday while gazing out at not one, not two, but three volcanoes! Heaven on earth.
We spent our days on boats, pick-up trucks and foot, making our way through local towns, markets and up a mountain into the farmlands of the indigenous Maya people. Gracious and welcoming, and always with a smile on their face, these hardworking beautiful people taught me some life lessons without even trying. They have so little by our standards and yet they appear happy, content and at peace. They are surrounded by Mother Nature in all her glory and the respect that they have for the land is evident. My friend, Stacey, who spent a year in the country, told me she was worried I would fall in love (with the country and its people) and never come back. Well, I’m back in NYC, but I left a piece of my heart and soul in Guatemala, figuring it would be a good reason for me to return some day.
In just seven days I became part of a community of amazing like-minded people. I thought that I would spend my days in quiet solitude but instead the unexpected happened. The nine of us bonded so quickly that we spent most of our time together forging new friendships. Our word for the week was surrender, and each time a change of plans threatened to shake us, or a camera battery died at an inopportune time (@#*#), we learned to surrender to the moment. Another life lesson learned.
It’s not always possible for us to hop a plane or a train and travel to some distant land. But it is possible to find a tree to sit under or a bench by the river, close your eyes and let yourself go to wherever you want to be. Reconnect with nature. Engage your senses. Smell the salt water or feel the mountain breeze, hear the waves lapping on the shore. Release any tension and forget about your troubles, even if only for a few minutes. Just breathe. You will be amazed at how restorative this can be. When I arrived at Lake Atitlan the first day, I noticed that my nagging aches and pains had disappeared, my breathing was deep and strong and my heart felt open and alive. Body, mind and spirit.
Sometimes, all we need to do is slow down and pay attention. There are little signs (and big ones, too) gently guiding us along our path in life. Often they come in less than gentle ways, as in the loss of a job, divorce or an illness. It’s all part of the journey, figuring out what we’re meant to be doing in this lifetime. Quiet time spent in meditation or in nature can help us find the answers. I was paying attention when I got an e-mail, not once but twice, from a yoga teacher I hadn’t seen in years advertising her retreat to Guatemala. And I was paying attention when my doctor said “Barbara! You’re a Sagittarius and you don’t travel? You’re not fulfilling your destiny.” That day I took the last spot available for the retreat. Follow your intuition and it just might take you places you’ve only dreamed of going.
That is why we need to travel. If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don’t lift to the horizon; our ears don’t hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience, and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days.
Don’t let yourself become one of these people. The fear of the unknown and the lure of the comfortable will conspire to keep you from taking the chances the traveler has to take. But if you take them, you will never regret your choice…
From Letters to My Son by Kent Nerburn