Volunteering Collections: Costa Rica

For those of you that read my latest post, you’ll know that I have been hesitant to share too many of my ‘highlights’ in an effort to keep things realistic in a world full of perfect media platforms. I have forever been a big emoter and find deep value in representing the full gambit of ups and downs in any situation. As Khalil Gibron says in The Prophet, seeking out ONLY life’s pleasures will leave you “into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.” This poem is one of my most treasured, and though it speaks specifically on love, I find that it applies to so many of the dualities we experience day after day. Before I go too far down that magnificent and bottomless rabbit hole, today I would like to share some of the incredulously normal things I’ve been up to- the good, the hard, and the biggest takeaways of my travels thus far (updated as I go!)

Stop #1: Rancho Margot, near Arenal Volcano,Costa Rica

In a previous post (accessible here) I spoke a bit about the mission and processes of Rancho Margot. If you asked me to boil down the experience into a sentence or two, you’d be awfully disappointed because I don’t think I could do it. It is a complex and wonderful paradise off the grid, steeped in the mission to experiment with nonconventional, natural living. The deal went something like this: work 6 hours per day, 6 days per week, and in return we had a place to lay our head and 3 amazing meals, 80% of which was grown on the farm (sometimes by us!).

  • My favorite part was the opportunity to be fully immersed in a natural learning environment- self study, reading, nature, farming, ecotourism, agrotourism, entrepreneurship, culture, language, yoga, sustainability, food cultivation….you name it, I learned it bit by bit each day. Another major attribute was living off the grid. We were about two miles of dirt road from the nearest town and had little to no internet access, cold showers, and the darkest night sky you can imagine. I enjoyed walks into town and occasionally shelled out some cash for a drink and a burrito (the BEST you’ll ever have…amazing), but to do so I had to reallllly want it. On most days, we just read or visited with other volunteers instead.
  • The hardest part of the entire five week stint was the weather. We had RAIN every. single. day. The first 10 days or so it rained with a vengeance, pouring buckets on all of our belongings and chilling us to the bone. Eventually we saw some sun and our spirits were lifted, but our clothes stayed mildly wet (and STINKY) throughout the entire stay.
  • Biggest takeaway? I had a lot of time to be with myself, away from distraction. Busy is a good word to describe the state of mind I brought with me, and though I haven’t quite ditched that habit, I’m working hard to overwrite it. The ranch taught me a lot about cycles, about humans in nature, and how to be a more natural human.
  • Must see/do: Hot Springs river at night! Although the La Fortuna area is riddled with Hot Springs tourism and resorts, there is free access to Rio Chollin (an entire HOT RIVER) just outside the Tabacon. One crystal clear night, 14 of the volunteers and staff pooled (*pun intended*) our resources and rented a shuttle to watch the stars from a hot, rapid river. It was unforgettable- a pitch black night, hot water rushing around you, floating in natural and bubbly minerals and gazing up at the stars. I lost track of what was water and what was air as I watched the trees move like seaweed in the wind agains the backdrop of an endless sky. That night we all slept like rocks as the minerals that were not to be washed off nourished our skin and spirit. Pure Magic.

 

Stop #2: Puerto Viejo (de Limon), Costa Rica

 

Traveling in Costa Rica has been very simple and pleasant, but you have to have the mental chutzpa to handle the bus system if you don’t want to spend all of your money on private shuttles. Generally speaking, you can get across the country for less than 15 bucks per person if you take the public bus system- but don’t expect to have a seat and be prepared for a FULL day of slow, sticky, travel. So, when we found out that a common way to travel from Arenal to Puerto Viejo is by white water raft, we were GAME. The Pacuare River is equidistant from three major cities, so they offer a free shuttle to and from the river. The trip includes breakfast and lunch, plus a full day of rafting Class III and IV rapids on the 4th best river in the world! They keep your luggage safe while you raft, and afterwards you grab your things and take the proper shuttle. Said and done, the trip costs $99/person, which is only about $25 more than a shuttle would have cost. The public bus would have been an easy $20 or less per person, but we would have needed to connect 3 buses over the course of a 10-12 hour trip. Given the circumstances, we splurged a bit and chose Rafting.

  • My favorite part was renting bicycles and staying just outside of town in Playa Chiquita. Chiquita is about halfway between the first beach (Playa Negra) and the last (Manzanilla). It is quieter than downtown Puerto Viejo but a quick 6km bike ride to the heart of the party if you want it. We had quiet nights and peaceful mornings, lots of yoga, and plenty of beach time. It rained a lot while we were here too, but we had at least a bit of sun each day.
  • The hardest part was certainly $$$$$. We spent a week here as a beach buffer between volunteer gigs, so this was completely on our own dime. Having been out in the wild for 5 weeks meant we were a bit too eager to shell out $5-6 for a craft beer. Everything in PV is for sale, and if you like the boho, carefree, surfstyle, you’ll want to buy it all. It took a lot of discipline and an acute awareness of the space in my backpack to avoid spending all of my money here. Oh yeah, and also this is when my two wisdom teeth started to come in, making it extraordinarily difficult to open my mouth and shooting pain down into my neck, ear, and jaw all day. Nothing some beach time couldn’t help!
  • Biggest Takeaway? Fresh food (besides fruit) in PV is hard to come by, so cooking our own meals was key. Find a fisherman (or go to Mopri Market) and get yourself some fresh fish. Make a simple flour/spice dusting on the outside of the fish and flash fry it in a skillet until flakey. All in all, we fed ourselves for a week on five fish (snapper, green jack, grouper), a massive pot of rice and lentils, and lots of fruit and chocolate. One night we went out for a sushi buffet at Chili Rojo….save your money.
  • Must see/do: Honestly, I really wanted our time at the beach to be completely unstructured and unattached- I didn’t want to have that feeling of “should” be doing something all the time…no one needs that FOMO, especially not on vacation. There is certainly a plethora of activities, shopping, and wildlife to experience, but my must see advice is to just CHILL with the PV vibe. Do Less. See Less. But definitely rent a bike 🙂

 

Stop #3: Hacienda Sur- Parrita, Costa Rica

Hacienda Sur is an Artisan Beef farm, specializing in the intersection of top quality dry-aged beef and cutting-edge sustainability. Our first task as volunteers was Cut Day, involving the preparation, packaging, and cleaning of nearly 700 steaks and over 200kg of ground steak over the course of a 15 hour day. Talk about an experience. Watching this small family-run operation work their well oiled machine (spoiler alert, its their own able hands!) is something to witness for sure. As we continue to find ourselves in a world divided by the horrors of factory farming and evangelistic veganism, I am happy to be learning about the good neighbor farms on the forgotten side of the documentaries. One major theme of volunteering on sustainable farms is that just as humans can be wildly destructive to the environment, so can we be supportive.

I have written and rewritten this section a handful of times, but can’t seem to figure out how to say it. The meat and potatoes is that meat and potatoes are becoming deeply divided on the plate- it’s hard to talk about meat production in a way that doesn’t severely offend most of the people interested in sustainability practices. What I can say is this: what is good for the environment and the animal is also good for the production of meat. Businesses that take extra care to take care of the environment are naturally going to have a better product. Though we may disagree and feel an emotional response to referring to and consuming an animal as a product, we also must refrain from generalizing too quickly. Whether or not you agree with meat consumption, you want more farms like Hacienda Sur out there. Even if the farmer’s intention is simply to create a higher quality product, his byproduct (and therefore what affects us directly) is clean and sustainable land stewardship. His deep knowledge of the grass and gentle eco-systems that go along with it will do more for this land than any protest we organize against him. The cows at Hacienda Sur are indubitably the happiest, healthiest cows I have ever observed (and I’ve seen a LOT). They frolic and romp with each other, explore the hundreds of acres of grass selected specifically for their nutritional needs, and live in an environment created to reduce as much stress as possible. They are cared for by three wonderful men and a rotation of eager volunteers life myself.

Though I’m on the brink of once again deleting the above, I’ll leave it for now. Perhaps I’ll write more later, or on its own page. But for now, I’ll open it to your thoughts, questions, ideas, opinions. I want to talk about it! One of the reasons we find it difficult to write on such divisive topics- and indeed one of the reasons they are so divisive- is that we don’t talk about it. So please, you know how to do it: comment below or send an email. The discussion is open.

Stop 4: Nosara, Nicoya Peninsula

If you are dying to see Costa Rica but afraid to be leaving behind your beloved American culture, look no further than Nosara. Playa Guiones, the popular stretch of pristine surf, is a part of a development known as the American Project. It is the only area of Costa Rica I’ve been to that has street names and addresses. Populated primarily by expats and surf tourists, Guiones has everything your organic/vegan/yoga/surf/party soul could want…as long as you’re willing to pay the price. We were lucky enough to be visiting a Nica friend who has been living there for seven years, so we had access to some of the cheaper, slightly more local hookups.

  • My favorite part was the sunset at Playa Pelada, just around the bend from Playa Guiones. There is one little bar and one nice restaurant on the beach, but it is much less inhabited compared to the tourist hotspot of Guiones. Grab a few beers and pony up to a bit of driftwood to enjoy the show.
  • The hardest part, again would have to be the $$$$. The town almost had an Austin-like vibe, full of young active people that do a lot of yoga, except here they also surf every morning. It amazes me that anyone can survive here with that cost of living. Oh, and the roads. Everything is dirt road, so getting there is nothing short of a mother*&^%. The bus from Samara to Nosara, at just 12km distance, takes nearly 2 hours on a hot and sweaty bus. To get here you have to really want it, but you’ll be glad you did.
  • Biggest take away: The vibe here is very laid back. Still a small town with all dirt roads and few cars (most people use dirtbikes or quads), everyone knows everyone…and looks after each other. As eluded to above, it is hard to comprehend how to make ends meet, yet most people seem to be extremely relaxed though underemployed. This combination brings a bit of peace to the mind that we can all survive on much less than we think, and a life that prioritizes peace and play will always trump a life spent worrying about income.
  • Must see/do: If you’re there, and you want a bit of boujeee….check out Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort. A drop in will be at least $15, but it is truly beautiful and well staffed with knowledgeable folks. It’s pretty easy to sneak in to their pool as well, so you can potentially get your money’s worth. We did a lot of home-cooking here too, so skip the expensive food and save your money for the 2×1 happy hour cocktails or aforementioned yoga class. Do not leave the city without trying some of Chocolate Dave’s chocolate at Pura Vida Raw Foods. You’ll also have an endless supply of healthy, organic, raw, vegan yummies at just about any restaurant in town.

Pura Vida, Month #2

Today, February 18th, marks two months since I stopped, dropped, and rolled out of employment. On December 18th, I finished my last day of work in a hurry and without goodbyes after receiving word that my father’s business had caught fire and burned to the ground. Two days later I loaded my car with as much as I could and left Austin for the last time as a resident. Two weeks later I totaled said car and two weeks after that I said see ya later to New York too. I guess you could say I was shedding some layers, making some space. A lot of people will look at this life and say that I am lucky. And I am, for so many things. I’m lucky that my family didn’t suffer a more tragic loss when the Dairy Supply burned. I’m lucky that no one was hurt when I wrecked my car. I’m lucky for all of the love and support I have received with each decision I make. Most of all, I am lucky to have embraced the many opportunities to learn from my obstacles. Luck did not bring me here, my learning opportunities did.

The five weeks I spent at Rancho Margot were full of learning, internal and otherwise. As a yoga teacher, I had a pretty wonderful routine. My responsibility was the yoga space- creating it, cleaning it, opening it to the guests. I was given all the time and room I needed to practice, meditate, and prepare for public classes with few other duties. When I wasn’t teaching, I was finding new places to hang my hammock to read, journal, and ponder. I taught my first real yin class…and then I taught one every evening, sometimes followed by yoga nidra or meditation. By the time I left, even my vinyasa classes were starting to feel fairly yin-y, a fairly new and welcomed concept for me. Each day started before six in the shala, and each night saw me asleep before nine. My belly seldom saw sugar or meat, and processed foods dropped out of recognition. I often visited with guests, volunteers, and staff to soak up a bit of their story. Days off were spent hiking, riding horses, and adventuring in the jungle. It was lovely and it was quiet and it was simple- exactly what I wanted. Despite all of this perfection, I spent a lot of time feeling lousy.

I want to make it abundantly clear that the experience I have had thus far is unequivocally, deeply positive; Positive in that I have found a deeper understanding of meaningful living; Positive in that I have experienced a wide variety of emotions, including the unattractive ones; Positive in that I have found and lost and found inspiration. It is wildly complex and wonderfully beautiful. So when I say that I was feeling lousy, please don’t assume I wanted it any other way. It is all part of this process of learning, of understanding, of self-discovery. Its so easy to get swept up with the highlights, the story of the girl that quit the rat race to teach yoga in the jungle with her lover. I think it is important to share the less glamorous stories too, because in a lot of ways, a lack of ugliness in our collective story leads to our own increasingly negative feelings about our situation. It’s easy to think that if you do what others do, you’ll feel the as happy as they look. And then when you get there and you feel lousy, you think something is wrong with you. The problem isn’t you, it’s the us, collectively. In refusing to feel the backswing of the pendulum- the ugly, the dark, the negative- we are limiting our ability to feel the contrary- the thrill, the high, the elation- drawing us into a stale and unseasoned existence that we then dull with distraction.

 

Now that I am reflecting on my first good chunk of time out here, it is clear that some of the lousiness I felt stemmed from my own expectations. Out of nothing but naiveté, I assumed that the time and space awarded to me by this expedition would make clear what I was wanting- time to think about life and really just figure it out (in a matter of weeks). I craved the courage other travelers had, with their steadfast commitment to the lifestyle and fearlessness of the future. My expectation was to gain a bit of this simply by doing it too. I forgot that I am still me, and before I can emulate that same courage, confidence, and fearlessness, I need to spend some of the hard, ugly, dark times with myself to uncover my own needs. In my two months of liberation, I’ve boiled those needs down to the following:

  • Food Autonomy. I like to choose my food, cook my food, and I like to decide when and how to eat it. When I am given food, though I am immensely grateful, I feel powerless and a lack of control over a very big part of me.
  • Variable Work. When my days are filled with the exact same activities or a lot of free time, I get lethargic and deeply uninspired. Routine isn’t the problem per se, as long as I have different things to do each day. I have always been this way, but never realized why. I spend a lot of time thinking that my exhaustion was coming from taking too many classes in school or having too many jobs. I am starting to see that this variability actually gives me energy. Now the task is to find the path that benefits from this quality without abusing it.
  • Stimulus. I am a slow mover, and without stimulation, can get stuck in a low place. I enjoy doing things that force me to come out of that low place and get active early on. Once moving, I can keep the fire burning and the upward cycle begins.
  • Learning. I am most stimulated and inspired when I am in the learning process- whether it’s learning about someone, something, or somewhere, I crave it and it feeds me.
  • Alone time…together. I am very sensitive to the needs of others, and will often fall into the patterns described by the martyr archetype by sacrificing my needs to meet theirs, even if (and especially when) their needs are figments of my imagination. Spending time with my guy helps me work through this tendency and cultivate a healthier empathy that protects against emotional burnout. I am forever grateful for his ability to ground this heart- a process I find to be one of the most important qualities we can foster in each other, especially those working in emotionally charged jobs. After five weeks without any real alone time together, I found myself completely burned out and unable to listen empathetically. I was short tempered, irritable, and fiery as hell. Big thanks to my main squeeze for always supporting me, even in that.

As I begin to identify these needs, I feel that I am tending to my seeds of growth and transformation. I can feel a weight lift as I name each one, but also the burden of releasing that blissful ignorance. The biggest learning opportunity of all is the one you take to understand your needs. Now the real work begins. I cannot simply identify my needs and then ignore the situations that come up when I deny myself of them. It is now my responsibility to make sure my needs are met, and to take action when they are not. It is empowering and intimidating, but I intend to continue identifying and working to balance each and every one so that I may be forever cultivating, transforming, and honoring my very best self. Pura Vida, Month #2.

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Rancho Margot: Lessons in Sustainability

We arrived here in Rancho Margot after a four hour public bus ride through the Costa Rican countryside, plus another hour by shuttle along a twisting and turning dirt road.  [Note: this trip was quite literally the country-SIDE of massive mountains with tiny roads and lots of big buses. Not everyone on our bus had a seat, so there was plenty of excitement! The entire trip cost about $8, compared to a fancier bus for $50, or private taxi for $100]. There is a lot to be said about the experience of travel itself, but for the sake of some semblance of brevity, I’ll keep this post anchored in our first few days living on a sustainable farm in the jungle (still not sick of saying that!).

The most salient, overarching theme that I see from macro to micro processes here would have to be Symbiosis. Every single aspect of life at Rancho Margot is sustaining something else. It’s difficult to even identify a beginning; the only trace of origin is in the owner, Don Juan’s, vision. Even there, I’m sure there is more (and I’m excited to find out!).

Let’s say things begin in the garden (you’ll soon see that they don’t, but for argument’s sake, we’ll make the assumption). When Rancho Margot was established in 2004, the land was pastured with little to no wild jungle. Over the past 10+ years, the land has been allowed to return to a more natural growth, with banana/papaya/cacao trees abound and countless shrubs, flowers, and herbs. As you will frequently hear, Nature is always Perfect, and they have allowed her to do her thang again! So, back to the garden. We consider this system to be Agrocology- much like permaculture, sustainable agriculture, etc- we are planting in harmony with the land, directing the natural water source in a way that does not destroy the land and enhances the soil. Different vegetables call for different beds, different orientation, and different partnerships. Let’s take the Bell Pepper as a micro-example. These beds are oriented more vertically because there are several horizontal beds above them, slowing the flow of water down the small slope. Normally, to plant beds in line with this slope would cause the water to rush too fast and overtake the beds and strip the soil of its nutrients. The bell peppers have big root systems, and are therefore planted in the center of the bed with a few feet between each one. Bryan, the head gardener, noticed that bugs were eating the leaves and causing damage to the peppers. Rather than spraying insecticide (never EVER permissible here, organic or not), Bryan simply plants arugula between the pepper plants. Arugula, like garlic and lemongrass (also good options) acts as an insecticide with its pungent smell and does not compete for resources due to its smaller root system. These plants work in concert to keep the bugs out, keep the nutrients rich, and create ….drumroll please….. fresh PRODUCE! This process is reproduced in endless variations to create enough fresh vegetables to feed a bustling restaurant, nearly 50 employees, and all of the animals (approximately 700 chickens, 70 pigs, and 15 cows).

Beyond the plants, we have the soil. We all remember the learning in school about the deforestation crisis and farmers clearing rainforest only to find that the soil is not conducive to production. So…how do we make a sustainable ranch in the middle of the jungle? Compost + Agroculture. After you establish the system for planting, which is basically to say after you have figured out how to work with your water source, your next step is to create a home for nutrients and microorganisms to blossom. Here, the cows and piggies are fed clean, good food (more details in future post about the livestock!).

Pig Feeding Area
All buildings have forest growth on top, lowering the heat and contributing to more naturaleza! This is where the pigs are fed and manure is collected.

The feeding areas are located on the second floor of a building, with iron grates in the floor so that their excrement collects underneath the building. This area is also on a slope, and when propelled with water from a hose, collects down in the compost building. It will then go through a system of filters to separate the solid from the liquid, where the liquids are diverted to a biodigester (to become the harvestable methane gas for the kitchen + hot water). The solids are shoveled into a system of piles where all they combine with the organic matter from the kitchen and farm (think your leftover food, scraps, etc) and microorganisms harvested from the mountain (think little fungis and mycelium that decompose the forest matter).

Each day the piles are churned and moved, creating lots of heat (enough to burn if you are not careful) and eventually breaking down all of the matter into a nutrient dense mulch, which is then used throughout the garden. This process is constant, producing approximately 10 tons of soil per month. In addition to this compost, we also work with Lombricompost- or worm compost. The separation process is the same, this time coming from the cow barn, the poo is washed down to another building where the solids and liquids are again manually separated. California Red Worms are then introduced to the solids, beginning the process of digesting all of the bad bacterias and leaving behind the richest soil we produce. To separate the worms from the finished product, we line a bed in strips alternating manure with compost and the worms naturally leave the soil (it has no more food for them!) and make a run for the manure. After a few days the worms are all in the manure and the soil is ready for the gardens. This stuff is so nutrient dense that it acts like a super fertilizer and is primarily used for germinating seedlings because it is both gentle and effective. With both types of compost, only a small amount is needed on top of the vegetable beds. Because the water is controlled and guided so as not to wash away all of this prime-time compost, a little bit goes a long way.

 

And that’s not all! Whew, it is a lot though, no? Okay…so more on the compost. As mentioned briefly above, the liquids that are separated from the solid manure find there way to a biodigester. This is essentially a massive stomach used to harvest methane gas to power the grills in the kitchen and, when needed, to warm the water. The liquid makes it way down the hill to another building where it is housed in a massive tank and given time to ferment. The fermentation process recreates the methane gas (like a big cow fart), which is piped directly to the kitchen. The liquid byproduct, which our teacher promises is clean enough to drink (not gonna try it), is then sprayed on the fields as a nutritive water/fertilizer. Again, every last bit has a purpose, and it’s all cyclical. The plants are cultivated with the help of compost and its derivatives, and are then fed to the animals so that they can then create more compost to support the plants and on and on and on.  If it were not for the clean food that the animals eat, this process would not be successful, but could in fact be harmful to the environment. Additives such as GMO’s, antibiotics, growth hormones, insecticides, and pesticides at any point in this process could potentially flourish and contaminate the compost, working against both the animals and the gardens and eventually making their way into our food and water sources.

 

In addition to the compost, there is another secret ingredient in the gardens at Rancho Margot. Yes, it’s love, but more tangibly, it’s patience. All of the seeds for future veggies are taken directly from each harvest. For example, if you have a row of tomatoes, the gardener will choose the best looking tomatoes, extract the seeds and allow them to dry on a piece of paper. When the time comes, he will use those specific seeds to plant his new tomatoes. These seeds have knowledge of the land already, because they were there before and therefore have a better likelihood of flourishing. For some vegetables, the replacement is even quicker. Goodies like turmeric, ginger, and taro can be replanted immediately, using just a portion of what is harvested. Simply trimming and replanting the root will suffice (you can even do this with roots you buy from the store!). Nothing is wasted.

There is so much to add, including a MAJOR piece of this puzzle- the hydroelectric system- but I’ll save that for another day. Every day on the ranch is a day of learning and growth for everyone. I consider myself very fortunate not just for being here, but for the opportunity to truly immerse myself in the process of day to day sustainability. “Easy” is not the word, but “Possible” is. This first hand experience in sustainability has opened my eyes to the world of possibility in just one week. The attitudes and visions of everyone here have helped me to see a future that human’s aren’t destroying- a future where we are actually living in harmony with nature. And that’s some powerful stuff y’all. More to come!

 

be here (for) now: poco a poco

Little by little, this little life sneaks by us.
Little by little, these little moments stack up.
Little by little, the little things we do become the large stories we tell.
Little by little.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking (and therefore, talking) about the way this season impacts the little moments that become our days. Nature is slowing down and curling upon herself for the winter ahead. The slowing of the natural world highlights the wild pace at which we live. While it may be easy to blame our chaos on “holiday madness,” what we’re really feeling is the whiplash that results from ignoring Nature’s hints to slow with her. As a kid I used to spend hours at the park with friends on a merry-go-round, pushing each other as fast as we could and jumping off into the grass to see who could keep their balance the longest. Oddly reminiscent.

Flash forward to current moment, and I’m struggling to stay grounded when all I want is to be swept up with the excitement of the season. I’m fortunate because I have a lot that I’m looking forward to. Every day feels like the first day or two of a week-long vacation…so much to do and see, so much anticipation, but also the desire to soak up every moment. It’s the edge of a cliff that you are so excited to jump off that you forget to stop and take in the view from the top.

Three weeks from tomorrow my bags will be packed, my tears will be flowing, and my heart will be bursting as I make my way from my beloved adopted home in Austin to my treasured first one in the forests of New York. I’ll spend another three weeks there saturating myself with the love and warmth of family and lifelong friends, and then set sail for an untamed and unplanned journey to the jungle with my main squeeze. After years of talking, thinking, and dreaming, we finally pulled the trigger and started making the real changes that would enable us to live a life on the road. My toes are so close to the edge of that cliff that I can feel the breeze caressing my face every time I close my eyes.

But then I open my eyes again, and the real work begins. How can I keep these daydreaming eyes wide open for the last few weeks of this chapter? Rather than rushing ahead to the next chapter and speed reading until I find out what happens to the girl (!)…I am slowing down. Reveling in each sentence, each word. Reading the details between the lines of each moment that will ultimately foreshadow the future. It’s hard work, but it’s work that I choose. Choosing to slow when I want to move fast, when others want me to move fast, I move slow.

It’s not easy, and I get distracted easily. I’m busy prepping my bags and cleaning out my closets; mundane work that is fueled by reveries of waterfalls and soundscapes of the wild. But then I remind myself, Be here…for now. Be present in these little moments. Feel the hot Texas sun on your bones. Enjoy your morning stroll, rich in appreciation for your neighbors near and far. Blast some tunes as loud as you can when you clean the kitchen. Turn the radio off and roll the windows down on your commute. Say yes to dinner with friends on a work night. Say no to the things that lower your vibration. When I began practicing this little bit of mindfulness, my energy shot through the roof. I had been spending so much time on the merry-go-round of routine that I felt depleted and depressed. Once I jumped off, caught my balance, and sat in the grass looking up at the sky, the energy started flowing. Little by little, the daily practice of staying present began to feed my inspiration. I’m still working on it, but little by little, I know it will become my freedom, my refuge, and the springboard to my next big chapter. But don’t worry, I’ll take my time getting there. Little by little, I’m building my story.

Here Goes Nothin’

Here Goes Nothin.

 

Gotta love when you hear that! We all know that means something that is very much NOT nothin’ is about to go down. So here’s mine.

2017 has been a year of learning. A year of emotional turmoil. A year of many personal highs and even more societal lows. I can remember this time last year, feeling desperately hopeful that we had hit the bottom and the only way left to go was up.  Haaa. While I could go down that rabbit hole (and I will), I’ll save it because there’s another something that’s not quite nothing a’coming.

Three months ago, I decided it was finally time to quit my day job. It wasn’t because it was a soul-sucking, ass-kissing, culture-squashing corporate job, it was quite the opposite. I was managing and Adult Education program for an amazing nonprofit organization with a fantastically supportive team at my side. However, juggling that plus teaching yoga PLUS trying to dip my newly licensed toes in the Massage Therapy world was too much. “My plate overfloweth” and something had to go, so I took my biggest responsibility (and therefore stressor, and therefore Self Identifier) off the books. I went on vacation and didn’t open my email once. I released myself of the need to put out all the fires. I thought it would be liberating. Exhilarating, even.  I did not expect all of my newly freed time to leave me exhausted under a heavy load of guilt, ego, and loss. Months after the clothes from that trip were put away, I’m still here unpacking what it means to no longer work in the nonprofit world, and even deeper, what it means to feel all of these crazy emotions about no longer working in the nonprofit world. I’ve come a long way, but the first few times people asked the daunting “What do you do?” question, I felt like I needed to give them a resume along with my new job title; as if I needed to explain why I’m more than a Yoga Teacher, or not just a massage therapist. It makes me cringe to admit how much value I inevitably put on my super-cool do-gooder past in nonprofit. Ugh.

“A real sign of progress is knowing that your natural worth does not change depending on what you do” –yung pueblo

I read this quote to myself just about every day. The first time I saw it was long before this big transition, I’ve quit many jobs that didn’t serve me and never looked back. Hell, I’d even coached my friends through leaving their own jobs, preaching this same ideal. This time was just so different, it was my turn for the lesson. I know that there are a lot of reasons why I felt defined by this role- I loved what I did. I believed in our mission, wholeheartedly. I left some of the most amazing coworkers I’ve ever had there. I spent a lot of time defending it to my friends and family who just “didn’t get it.” And then I gave it up for something of which they had even less understanding. Stated bluntly, wherever understanding is missing, respect often is unheard of. I am so happy with the work that I do now, but I know that many people that I love dearly cannot make heads or tails of it, and that’s OK.

The purpose of this post is not to defend the virtue of one industry over the other. Let this serve as a reminder that you are not what you do. That your worth is not defined by your paycheck or the hours you put in to earn it. That only your actions can define the person you are. And most importantly, that it works both ways. Everyone knows an asshat that does charitable work and a saint in a cruel industry. There will always be so much more to the story, and defining ourselves and others by our line of work is unrealistic. Just as working for an undesirable company does not automatically make you bad, long hours at a nonprofit does not automatically make you good.

Now I work at a spa. An expensive one at that. Each time I look at my schedule, there is a big part of me that aches for clients that don’t have “Spa Retreat” in their vocabulary. It’s not on my employer to make that happen*, it’s on me. I need to be the person I think I am and go out there and do the work that I value. After weeks spent chewing on these thoughts and cultivating this acceptance, I am finally out of my own way and re-energized on this path. The timing of this epiphany is impeccable too, because…and drumroll please…I’m moving to Costa Rica next month. More to come on that. Here goes Somethin!

 

*Special note, my spa does a TON as a business to give back in other ways, just sayin

Good Morning, Sunshine: 10 Ways to Make Sure You Kick Ass Today

This one has been on my mind for a while now, and it’s time to share.  Mornings are lovely and exciting times for everyone; the sun opens its warm shiny rays upon us, birds are singing, animals frolicking- the world is waking and YOU get to witness it!  Unless you are not a Morning Person…in which case mornings are your sworn enemy- a time when you are rudely robbed of your right to bask in the glorious cloud of dreamland.  If you hit snooze multiple times on your several alarms, rush out the door, and hope to someone there is coffee in the office, READ ON.  We’re going to take this slow, and we’re going to do this together.

Daily Disclaimer:  I am not naturally a Morning Person, so I (absolutely) do not do all of these things every day.  Some days it is difficult to drag myself out of bed and I have to eat my words for breakfast.  One thing is for sure, on the mornings that I hit the most of these targets, I have the very best days.  Think of this as a menu of options for your own daily dose.  And then expand. Grow.  Brush your Teeth.  Call your mom.  Okay, I’m done.

1.  Stop Pressing Snooze

This may seem obvious, but it is important to be honest with yourself the night before.  A good morning routine starts before you even get into bed.  Take a moment at the end of the day to rehash your experience.  Do this OUT of bed so that you don’t carry along as an obstacle to sleep.  Set your alarm clock for a reasonable (and achievable) time to wake up, not a reasonable time to start pressing snooze.  Give yourself a little pep talk about that time, and mentally set your body clock for the same time.  By eliminating the unpredictability of when you will wake, you increase your chances of a more meaningful sleep.  The simple act of anticipating a good night’s sleep actually increases the chances of it occurring.

2.  Move

An important first step to your morning routine is simply taking one.  Or maybe a few.  Go for a walk until your eyes open.  Focus on open-chain movements and calisthenics, finding rhythm in your mind, body, and breath.  Yes, I know that you don’t have time to exercise/go to yoga/run 5 miles…save the excuses and make time for just five minutes of movement.  Although I love to work my way through 30 minutes of the Ashtanga Primary Series followed by a solid savasana, there are (many) days when I don’t have time.  My favorite alternative is to take a walk while shuffling my legs like a Olympic hurdler and moving my arms like a crazy person pretending to swim along the sidewalk.  Bonus points if it’s raining.

3. Think

The same way you did last night before bed, take a moment to set an intention for your day.  That Morning Person I mentioned in the intro loves mornings because they serve as one a beautiful backdrop emanating a delicate balance of peace and energy that is marvelous in the truest sense of the word.  So do it; marvel at it.  Sit and listen to your body and the way your breath naturally dances with the nature around you.  Things are coming to life, and  you are lucky enough to bear witness to it.  Let it inspire you to be just as amazing throughout the day.

4. Drink

Don’t forget to hydrate for your day.  You’ve been sleeping for the last few hours and your body has been working hard.  Fill that gas tank!  Schlepping down some agua first thing in the morning will do wonders for the cells in your body and leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.  Personally, I think it helps fend off the impending coffee jitters though I have no scientific proof of the relationship.  I’m chronically on the verge of dehydration because I get too distracted to listen to my thirst siren, but starting my day with a big Spring water has helped me stay privy to my needs.

5. Cold Showers

This one took me a long time to embrace, but I promise it is worth it- especially on those days that I only have time for one or two morning activities.  There are plenty of gnarly dudes in the Cold Thermogenesis field worth giving a look and listen, and finding your own way to incorporate it into your routine is key.  My quick tips?  Pay attention to your breath and your shoulders, make plenty of noises.  If you are holding your breath, your shoulders are raised- both no no’s in the stress-release world.  Once you mentally prepare yourself to hop in, continue breathing controlled, smooth breaths.  You’ll never need coffee again (stay tuned).

6.  Stay Naked

Who says you have to put clothes on the moment you dry off?  One of my favorite taboos on my To Tackle List is Nakedness.  The only way to get over your own aversion to it is to practice it.  Stay naked for as long as you can, wherever you can.  If you are lucky enough to get some sun on those buns, do it!  Pay attention to the way being naked makes you feel.  Does it feel wrong?  Sexual?  Embarrassing? Do you feel that your body is connected to your mind at all?  The art of being naked in non-sexual situations is incredibly energizing and equally intriguing if you take the time to analyze your feelings about it.

7.  Unplug.

Notice the punctuation here.  There is no question mark, and no room for ‘unless’es and ‘until’s.  Put the phone down.  If you are in a profession that requires you to be accessible, keep the volume on but seriously just put it down.  Emails can wait.  Texts can wait.  Facebook can absolutely wait.  If someone needs you as badly as you think they do, they can call you.  The only person able to enforce the work-life balance is one that makes a promise to their self about boundaries and enforces it.  No one else is going to do it for you.  If you want to fully dedicate yourself to your profession, make sure you have the best self to give.  Take your naked morning coffee moment and savor that shit.

8. Create

Make something.  Let your inherent ingenuity out of its cage.  You don’t have to paint a masterpiece or make a spectacularly crafted meal (but if you do, c’mon over to my house).  It can be as simple as making your bed.  Do anything that is a small accomplishment that you can take a bit of pride in.  It’s the proverbial “step in the right direction” that can set the tone for the rest of your day.

9. Learn

Spend a little time educating yourself about something you are interested in.  Read a book or newspaper.  Get those neurons firing about something that excites you.  Start thinking critically and write down ideas that pop up.  Clearing the fog in your brain before you get to work is an essential ingredient to the “How is she always so on?!” reaction.  Plus, you get to learn stuff!  Stuff and things (ie: passions) are good for keeping in touch with your youness and the world you plan to interact with today.

10. Protect

This one is admittedly general, but make your morning your thing and guard that bubble of gold to the death.  Stop telling yourself that you don’t have time for you.  I get it; I’m not a mother, I’m not an executive, I’m not responsible for your typically defined “high stakes” anything, but I am happy.  I work hard in an emotionally demanding industry, and I’m able to give myself to my work each and every day…Just don’t expect me to drop my morning for you (okay well once and a while, sure…but I’ll be sure to accomplish at least a few things first).  I’ve made this clear to those that depend on me, and I set that alarm early enough to be ready to answer their calls when they need me.  So yes, this may sound naive, but what if it’s not?  I dare you to try.

Gen Why: The Problem with Millennials

The Millennials.  Oh, the Millennials.  Everyone has something to say about this rambunctious group of young people taking over the planet…literally (pun intended…literally).  Who are we?  Why are we making headlines?  And why is it so damn hard to understand us?  The corporate world doesn’t know what to do with us; Marketing firms have their very own subject devoting to engaging us; Older generations scoff at us just hoping the next generation will save us…and if you’re anything like me, our parents are absolutely terrified of us.  I’m not speaking from experience, but as far as I’ve heard, we are something so acutely undefined that society trembles at the mere thought of us.  But here’s the kicker…our numbers indicate that WE are society.  So, what is it that makes us so different than every other generation?

Problem No. 1: Definitions

Generation Y is loosely defined as anyone born in the time spanning the early 80’s to early 2000s.  We’re the first crowd to come of age in the new millennium (ahem, the name).  Anyone from 12 to their mid thirties could technically be categorized as a Millennial, and that’s a huge spread.  In some cases, parents could be in the same generation as their kids.  How exactly are you supposed to define a group of people so large?  It’s easy, just use the word diverse, which is admittedly accurate but about as telling as the Natural Flavor label we’re all protesting.  Trying to confine us to this ambiguous un-definition is a problem.  And you wonder why we’re all so avidly trying to break away from labels!  The one that is most commonly ascribed to us is completely irrelevant, so it follows that we rebel against any others you try to pin to us.

Problem No. 2: Society’s Box

We are essential a society of boxes.  Humans just love to categorize things, it’s the way our brain works (or so the brainiest in our society tell us).  Millennials are sick of the categories, and we aren’t confining ourselves to the solid structures our parents so happily passed on to us.  We grew up in hand-me-downs and we don’t want or need any more of them.  Our world is quite literally bigger than our parents’ was as we grow more and more connected and find easier ways to experience life in every different corner of the world.  Backpacking through Europe for the summer out of college has turned into years spent as nomads chasing our dreams and living on pennies, smiles, and the pure knowledge acquired from living in cahoots with foreign soul siblings.  We embrace the ways in which we don’t fit in a box, and celebrate the uniqueness in others.  We all go through the same awkward, mortifying (thanks to the explosion of social media, selfies, and the “share” button) stages in life when our confidence is knee high to a grasshopper, but luckily the elders of our beloved Gen Y are there for us with powerful campaigns to reach out to each other in moments of need.  The confidence that follows is a force to be reckoned with.

Problem No. 3: Success

It’s suddenly cool to have a passion, not stacks of cash.  We absolutely do not define the quality of our life by the depth of our pockets.  And who could blame us for questioning this paradigm?  We went to college like we were told, traded our souls for a diploma, and got strapped with crippling debt that will last until we’re sixty.  Money means almost nothing to a person with $100,000 of debt accruing interest- especially when it was spent on a Brand (college) of education that does almost nothing in the workforce. When we do amass a bit of extra money, we spend it on things that improve the richness of our experience, not flashy toys to look at.  If you ask most of us, we’d be perfectly happy living a simple life on the country side surrounded by the ones we love;  Love is the thing that drives us- a love for each other, a love for a cause, and most importantly, a love for ourselves.  You would never ask the person you love most to work a lousy job that made them absolutely miserable.  As we grow into the shoes of self-love, we treat ourselves with this same tenderness.  So yes, the head honchos of previous generations may call us soft and unmotivated…but more than likely it’s because we’re gearing up to walk out of that awfully lit cubicle for the last time with a big ol’ Fuck It stamped to our backs.  You can’t quit something you never really started.  More and more Millennials are rising to executive levels and six-figure positions and trading it all in to follow their dreams.  Don’t take it personally, ‘cus we don’t.

Problem No. 4: Entitlement

It’s easy to get caught up in stereotypes of the few of us that emit the pungent air of Entitlement wherever they go, but don’t put that on all of us; there are bound to be a few in every crowd.  It’s not so much that these folks are bad, they are an extreme case of what a lot of us believe in: the idea that there is more to life than just getting a job, finding a S.O. to marry (in extravagant fashion), having kids…you know the story.  This is not to say that Millennials are anti-marriage or family, we are just waiting longer to dive in.  We are living longer than ever and there is less of an emphasis on the race to family life.  We are beginning to understand the difference it makes to know who you are before you try to raise another human or promise your life to one.  In true Millennial fashion, we question the societal pressure to “settle down” and its apparent measure of well-being.  Back to Entitlement- I will be the first to admit that there is certainly a crowd of folks in our generation that wear this word proudly and make the rest of us shake our heads.  However, there is also a bit of a blurred line between Entitled and Unsatisfied.  We are more willing to up and quit it all not because we feel that our 40 hours aren’t valued, but because we don’t value those 40 hours.  If it feels like a waste of time or goes against the standards we’ve set for ourselves, no amount of money will make us feel satisfaction.

Problem No. 5: Gen Why

My very favorite attribute of my fellow Millennials; we are the pinnacle, the epitome, the alpha, and the omega of the WHY.  We simply do not allow a statement to linger unquestioned.  We are curious creatures with an affinity for investigating.  If you tell us it’s healthy, we want to know exactly what it has in it and why it belongs in our body.  If you tell us its dangerous, we want to know who decided and how they came to that conclusion.  We absolutely do not adhere to the “Because I said so” or even the simple “No.”  We care about what is going on in (and to) the world, and we’ve lost a lot of trust in authority figures  (sorry y’all, but you haven’t been exactly a beacon of assurance!).  The idea that someone has a more important voice than any other someone is suffocating to us, and we won’t stand for it.  We have an unprecedented understanding of the different walks of life that bring us all to the same table, and we value each and every individual as much as we value ourselves.  We know that experience fosters learning, and given that each person will experience life through different eyes and realities, we are hungry to learn from and with one another in a mutual exchange of information achieved through good conversation, a bit of wine, and a lot of questions.

Last Thoughts

Millennials are inquisitive folks, and we have infinite access to information at the tips of our fingers.  We have the ability, creativity, and information we need to follow our passions and we do so.  We enjoy making connections–rather than competitions–with each other.  We’re finding our deepest selves and what makes us tick in a way that no generation has taken the time to, and it’s making us more confident and innovative than ever before.  Our generation spans almost 30 years of growing, and we’ve got a lot to show for it.  But maybe Millennials aren’t so different, maybe society is undergoing a “House on Mango Street”-esque coming of age.  We challenge the boundaries that the previous generation has created to keep society in line and in doing so we are inspiring growth, connectivity, and an ambiguity in which this fearless generation takes comfort.

A Note on Hipsters: Okay, yes, I too giggle at people that spend inordinate amounts of money to get clothing that looks just thrifty enough…but I also spend more time than I’m willing to admit putting on makeup that looks like I’m not wearing makeup so am I really one to judge?  Nah.  The case I want to address here is when people, even Millennials, complain about “the hipsters taking over.”  I live in Austin, Texas.  I get it.  But you’d probably be lying if you said hipsters don’t bring their own gamut of insanely delicious food and drink.  It’s creativity that you can physically consume and it’s fantastic.  Often pricey, but fantastic.  Now, if you’re going to charge me $7 for a PBR I’ll probably just turn around and leave.  But then again, I probably wouldn’t order one anyways when you have such a huge selection of locally crafted beers on tap.  Stop hating on the hipsters yall!