Early this year I made an important decision to re-enter academia to pursue a degree in communications which would impact and change my life in many ways. After several months of sitting at a desk, writing papers, guiding Native American cultural walks and teaching mindfulness practices to school children, I was ready to join my partner Renee on a holiday to an island in the heart of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico. Our trip had been booked months in advance and this entire area of the world was new to me which held the promise of being a memorable and exciting adventure.
Renee had booked our first three nights at Casa Picaflores, a quiet retreat space located in El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s vibrant tropical rainforest. As we drove into this beautiful destination, we were surrounded by lush, green vegetation, brightly colored flowers and endless varieties of tropical fruits. Our room had mesh screening on all four sides instead of windows, which allowed us to be up close and personal with the symphony of forest sounds, brief downpours and gentle breezes without the discomfort of insects crawling on us as we slept.
Finally that imaginary place in the future had arrived and I could now drop back into a peaceful and relaxed state, or so I thought.
It seems the entire island of Puerto Rico has taken a renewed interest in the indigenous teachings of local native tribes known as the Taino and information about their history can be easily found. On our initial walk to the swimming hole located along a flowing stream lined with dark, volcanic boulders, Renee brought my attention to the presence of these native Taino spirits on the property. Now it is a custom for both Renee and I to ask permission from native spirits when entering areas they inhabit, except this time I just thought to myself that I’d do it later.
Shortly after arriving at the stream and swimming area (which looked like a tropical grotto), I picked up a ripe breadfruit that had fallen to the ground and moments later was suddenly bit on my ankle by multiple ants simultaneously. The sharp stinging sensation left me feeling unwelcomed and unable to completely feel comfortable or at peace amidst my new surroundings. Adding to these feelings was the fact that as I began taking pictures of the surrounding landscapes, my camera suddenly stopped working (which never happens).
Later in the day, Renee and I found our way to a clearing on the property which was the site of a recent fire ceremony held by a healer from South America. As we sat next to the ring of ashes where the ceremony was held, Renee gazed up towards the canopy of trees and beyond to the sky and commented on the barrier of protection set by the shaman. Moments later I picked up a beautiful white jasmine flower, put it to my nose and took in the sweet aroma only to be stung again on the foot. This time it was a bee stinging my pinky toe which sent a considerable amount of pain into my body. Despite a stinger throbbing in my toe, I managed to scurry back to our room, grab some tweezers and get the stinger dislodged from my toe. I lathered a salve over the inflammation and proceeded to lay on the bed being present with the feelings of pain in my body caused by the toxin.
At this point I must note that I rarely have experiences in which I’m bitten, stung or otherwise harassed by the living beings of the natural world. So to be bitten and stung twice in the same afternoon was quite unpleasant and unfamiliar to me. While lying on the bed, I realized that I had become disconnected from the natural world and my surroundings. I also realized that most of this discomfort and unwelcoming feelings came first and foremost from within myself.
In anticipation of my holiday, I built up this belief that once we got to Puerto Rico, and only then, would all of the accumulative stress of a busy schedule literally fall away.
As a result, I slowly withdrew from my own personal mindfulness practices and began to take in less-than-ideal foods I would not otherwise eat. To put it short, I was allowing unhealthy habits and patterns into my life to the point that I was disconnected from myself and unable to enjoy our trip to the beautiful rainforest which I had been looking forward to for months. I had based and projected my happiness into the future and into something external and outside of myself.
This realization came with clarity and I actually felt relieved as I resolved to put my camera and all electronics away. Once the stinging had dissipated enough, I would take a pouch of ceremonial tobacco that I grow at home, I would head back to the enchanted trail through the forest and sit in prayer and reference amidst the green life all around me.
The following morning, on my third day in the forest, just as the sun was lighting the tall trees after a brief yet intense downpour, I set out in silence on the trail. This time setting the intention to commune with the native spirit keepers of the land and ask for permission with gifts of the sacred tobacco plant. This time setting the intention to honor the abundant life all around me and to honor my natural ability to ground and feel a sense of peace amidst the wonders of the natural world.
In my meditation I saw clearly that the veils between the spiritual realms and the world of energy have thinned and it is important to acknowledge the subtle world of energy just as our indigenous ancestors have always done.
In closing, it took me three days of unwinding a strong belief I had created, it took three days to detach from technology and clear out the residual stress of a busy schedule and it took three days of uncomfortable forest encounters to finally drop in and find my center. Upon my return to our bungalow in the forest, Renee commented on how connected with the land I looked.
From this important lesson, I created the following affirmations for myself and others. Please feel free to share or forward this information with anyone you feel may benefit from reading it.
I reside in the present moment, grounded and calm.
I release expectations and completely trust that the future will unfold exactly as it is intended to.
Nothing in life is without purpose, thus I am never on the wrong path.
I look for the teachings in all of life’s situations.
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