I remember the first journey I made outside of the United States as if it were a long time friend, who every now and then comes for a brief visit in the movie of my own awareness. I travelled through Mexico on a rather unexpected jaunt, on a whim really. From the time I crossed the border, I woke up to the depth of what being alive means to me.
My partner at the time, Jason, and I, walked across the Mexican border in Nogales. I immediately was excited to smell the smells, to feel the dust that was tossed up in the air from the bustle of the desert infused city on my skin… I was in love with the sounds in the street, and the noticable life, so warm and alive, and not numb, comparatively from the border we just crossed.
After 18 years, it was a gift to finally step outside of what was familiar and realize the being I was told I was, was not in fact who I was, and in fact who was I?
I found myself travelling at night, as the passenger on a bus, mystified by the constellation filled sky. I was uncomfortable as hell, travelling for more than 40 hours, freezing cold, dusty from previous said hitchhiking and sleeping the night before in a tenement apartment yard little Mexico playground in Arizona…. There was a loud American movie blaring in Spanish on the bus, and I was hungry…let’s face it being a vegan travelling through Mexico is about as easy as sleeping in a bed full of fire ants, it can sting at times!
Despite my discomfort, I recognized my unplanned, unannounced vision quest journey had begun….and I was elated. Literally tears were streaming down my face, but there was no sadness, only an overwhelming love for the mystery of this life.
The stars always looked different to me from then on. I began to feel as if I pulsated with the stars, that the stars were within my own being. It was as if some string in my heart that had previously not been plucked, was in perfect tune, and attuned to the moment. I definitely had less than $200, and seemed to not mind.
When i finally arrived at my destination, a surf camp on the beach on a little estuary off in the Pacific ocean in the state of Tepic, everything was perfect to me…
Everything except the mosquitos and sandflies. La jajenas as the all surfers in the camp called them. They were voracious and loved feeding on my fresh off the boat not yet acclimatized skin. I asked the locals if they were worse there than other places, and as if that was the most hilarious thing they ever heard, they told me yes.
Around the same time in my life, I had reclaimed a life-times long yogic curiosity and love of practice, and was very dedicated to always taking time to sit in meditation. To stand on my head and let the breath breathe me….I tried practicing on the beach, at the surf camp where I was staying, on the roof tops of old abandoned houses that mashed up in a recent hurricane, as close to the water as possible, with natural oils on to keep the bugs at bay, even in the kitchen, and felt utterly defeated by the onslaughts of bug bites I would get each time I tried to sit for meditation or practice.
After about a week of being there, a very interesting man rolled up on his bicycle. The bicycle had a cart on the back with the Belgian flag and was carrying medicine for the people of the village. He walked right up to me and introduced himself as Vicente.
Vicente told me he had ridden his bicycle from Northern Canada to Southern Mexico, loved MX so much he decided to stay for a while in a village inland. Before being in the Western hemisphere, he pedalled his bike through India, lived with yogis, and cooked curry and brewed cup after cup of gingery chai made with jasmine tea. We became friends and would blare Bob Marley’s album Exodus and cook big pots of food for all of the other people willing to eat.
One day, as I was setting out on my mission down the beach to find a place to practice, he wished me good luck and said he would join me on my mission, smoke his porro, and make sure I didn’t get myself into trouble being alone on the beach like a true crazy person, because as he reasoned out,”You don’t look like trouble, but you have a way of finding it.” (very honestly referring to a scenario I got myself in the previous day on the beach).
So we walked a small ways down the pink sand and I rolled my straw mat out to begin my yoga practice. Of course, within a couple of minutes, I was uncontrollably itching all of the little stings I felt from the jajenas, (sandflies) and kept interrupting my practice with an agitated, scattered mind over and over to try to shoo away a bug that is nearly invisible.
Vicente took one look at me and rather seriously said,”Hey, I thought you were a real yogi, you cannot even sit through a few bug bites. You are weak in your mind. The true yogi, meditates, even when the bugs bite him. You have to meditate beyond the bugs. You use too many excuses. Meditate beyond the bugs. use them to help you focus “
Upon hearing him say that, something in my consciousness snapped like a dry branch, and a realization beyond words awakened within me. I was agitated that he was saying that to me, but also grateful for someone to tell me the truth. I became determined, not only determined, but angry and ready to try again, and this time, meditate through the bugs. He did not back down, and sat there in the morning sun, patiently, holding space for me perhaps, to realize I was more infinite than I thought. To show me I was stronger than I thought.
As I resumed my practice, the bugs continued to bite me, but I allowed my mind to become one pointed. Like an archer drawing the bow string, focusing on the target, I became still within, and holding my awareness in one-pointedness, I practiced.
The focal point for me was equanimity within discomfort. To be able to find the effortless effort, even when i was uncomfortable. It was an amazing practice, i still remember it, eleven years later, as if it was yesterday. When i finished, Vicente had already walked back to the surf camp, but that did not matter. I had not even noticed to ask him where he was going. I allowed myself to submerge myself into my own being. I touched the place within that is beyond all sorrow or doubt, and felt the pulsation of all of life within myself.
This was the first time I believe I had an experience of pratyahara, sense withdrawal, in this lifetime. I meditated not only with the bugs, but beyond them. Allowing the bugs to bite me was a practice in unattachment to even my own body. That day on the beach I felt the essence of what yoga is touch my being.
I watched the ocean as my dhristi (gaze point) and the endless horizon as my inspiration. In all of that intensity and beauty, it didn’t seem to matter how well I performed the asanas. Whether I balanced or not. What mattered in that moment was that I was alive to feel everything within myself. I was blessed to be a traveller amongst other travellers, all finding oneness within the open road. I felt completely supported by the Universal Being, to have angels come to me, in disguise as amazing humans, offer teachings, and then just like the rising waves, once again they are destined to merge into the ocean of existence, perhaps never to be seen again in this lifetime.
That afternoon, when I returned to the surf camp, Vicente was sitting there smiling at me. Laughingly he said,”You look more vibrant than I’ve ever see you. The yogi within you has been awakened!” I sheepishly smiled and asked,” Time to make some curry?”
This experience has set an example for me that I constantly draw upon now, not only within my yoga practice, but also the rest of my life. After all, yoga is life. When I am uncomfortable, and start to get restless and agitated, I remind myself to settle my mind as silt settles in the bottom of a motionless pond. I focus on the moment in front of me, and breathe into myself. I watch the feelings arise within me as if they are waves in the ocean, I realize now that impermanence is the only reliable truth in life, and if I am patient with the process, all discomfort, all perceived suffering, will once again dissipate into the vast and eternal ocean of consciousness within me.
Within that consciousness there is always peace. The yogis describe it as a sorrowless, luminous place. I recognize the awareness within me, is one with the Universal Awareness of all, and through this I am able to let go, to surrender to the flow that is the journey of this lifetime, mosquitos and all. Namaste xo, K