As our plane took off from Puerto Vallarta last Sunday, I sat on the plane thinking about whether or not I was ready to come home. After 11 days of yoga, mediation, devotional chanting, ocean breezes, sunsets, impromptu folk/jam sessions and too many incredible heart-opening connections to count, I did not want it to end. This meditation retreat opens you up to such a degree that pretty much every moment feels incredibly profound and I found myself spontaneously weeping with joy on a pretty consistent basis.
It’s also an experience that gets you in touch with your own vulnerabilities and when I use the word ”vulnerable” I mean it in the Brené Brown/“open-hearted” sense. We are not talking about weakness here. On the contrary. We are talking about being witness to every part of ourselves, being curious about what comes up for us and practicing self-compassion at every turn. It’s about being our own best friend and taking care of ourselves, wherever necessary, without judgment.
For well over a year now, I have been committed to practicing Self-Love and a big part of that journey has had to do with first learning what it means to be “me”. Authenticity, transparency and vulnerability have been the cornerstones of this process and it seems that the more I find the courage to practice each of these things, the more I begin to appreciate and love who I am.
On this retreat, I was amazed at how quickly and deeply I felt connected to all 40+ participants and by the last day, I honestly felt that I had “fallen in love” with each and every one of them. The day before I left, I sat by the ocean with one of my new friends and we shared our experiences and insights about the retreat. One of the things I shared with him was the realization that, in my appreciation for each of the wonderful souls I connected with, it seemed as if I could see myself reflected back to me, through their eyes. For the first time ever, I felt the power and the magnitude of my own love and inner beauty because I could see it so strongly in them. And, because we are all “one” I could no longer deny that the divine light which I saw in them, was also in me. This is the meaning of the sanskrit word, “Namaste” and even though I use it all the time, I never fully embraced it’s meaning, as it pertains to my divinity. I’m not sure if I can even put it into words because in that space, there are no words. Suffice it to say that, I not only fell in love with each of them but, through them, I think I finally fell in love with me.
So, how does that happen?
Well, for me, I think it’s because I had given my unconscious mind/the universe a pretty specific agenda. I have been doing a lot of work around setting intentions based on my values, discovering who I am and what I want to manifest in my life so, as soon as the opportunity arose, my unconscious mind/the universe wasted no time in bringing me face-to-face with a few limiting beliefs which needed to be cleared before I could manifest what I had been asking for. These are ones that I have been schlepping around for decades and which have so many layers to them that it’s taken a few passes for me to really get to the bottom of them.
I thought a lot about what example to use to illustrate this, as I had a few really profound moments with certain people on the retreat. However, I feel that those interactions fall into a “sacred” category and therefore I would not want to write about them without the permission of the people involved. Instead, I’ll tell a different part of the story…
When I arrived in PV, I was alone for the first day. Even though I’ve done a lot of traveling this year, I’m still aware of how vulnerable I sometimes feel traveling alone. It’s a very interesting combination of freedom, loneliness, excitement, fear and ultimately, (I’ve decided) incredible courage. I know it mostly sounds ideal and even enviable but, I assure you, it’s not easy at times. The payoff, however, is that I have discovered more about who I really am and what I want during my solo travels this year than at any other time in my life.
To keep myself busy that first day, I decided to visit a small, bohemian surfing village called Sayulita, about an hour’s bus ride north of PV. It was a really cool place with tons of shops and restaurants and an amazing beach filled with surfers. I would have spent more time there, but I wanted to get back to the hotel before dark, since the PV buses, while perfectly safe, can feel a little bit sketchy for a single woman traveling alone.
I got back to the hotel just before sunset and grabbed a chaise near the pool overlooking the ocean to watch the sun go down. I put my headphones in to continue a wonderful book I was listening to called “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A.Singer but, before I knew it, a very handsome bartender was standing over me. He looked at me intensely. I took my headphones out as he reached out his hand and presented me with a drink.
“A margarita for you, señorita” he said in a thick Mexican accent.
“Oh, gracias” I said, “but I didn’t order this.”
“It’s on the house. From now on, I am your personal bartender. You only come to me, ok?”
“Ok,” I said, grinning uncomfortably.
He smiled, winked and walked away.
“Hmmm… What was that about?”, I wondered.
As I took my first sip of the margarita, I felt the warmth of the tequila spreading down into my chest. It was very strong but perfectly balanced with sour and sweet. I relaxed into the feeling as I watched the sun sink slowly over the water. It was beautiful and I felt such gratitude for being there.
No sooner had I finished half the drink when the bartender reappeared with two more.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“We are closing now. I wanted to see you one more time.”
“Ohhh… Ok….Thank you” I sputtered. I was completely caught off guard.
“I am Hugo” , he said. “You are a very beautiful woman. How long are you here for?”
“About a week”, I answered.
“Are you here for vacation? Conference?”
“I’m here for a meditation retreat.”
“Ahhh… meditation… Si.”
“You have a husband? Boyfriend?”
“No” I said.
“Ahhh… is good for me! Muey Bien!”
I smiled, thinking “Is this guy for real?”
“I gets goosebumps when I look at your eyes. Perhaps it is the meditation?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at this.
“Perhaps” I said.
“Maybe you will make time for me one day? We go for some wine? I will be your bodyguard.”
“Oh, that’s so nice”, I said, “but I don’t know…”
“No problem. When you are ready, I will be here waiting for you. You just tell me when. Come and see me at the bar tomorrow. I am here every day until 6 o’clock.”
“Maybe”, I said.
He reached for my hand and kissed it, gently.
“Buenas noches, hermosa señorita.”
“Buenas noches” I replied.
He held my gaze as he walked away.
“Holy shit!” I thought.
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking that it reads like some kind of Harlequin romance. How cheesy is that? But, I have to say that, since I haven’t really been open to male attention for the past 15 months (but who’s counting), it really made me spin out for a while. I typically tend to shut it down when men come on too strong and yet there is a part of me that has really (really) missed feeling desired and desirable. The funny thing is that, before I left for PV, a friend predicted that I was going to meet a hot mexican man and instructed me to “just go with it” (if you know what I mean). When I explained that I’m still not feeling ready to get over that hump yet, she said:
“Ok, then just flirt. Would you be comfortable with that?”
I answered “yyyyyeeeessssss….. I guess so…..”
It felt excruciating even to say it. But I agreed, never imagining that the opportunity would, indeed, present itself.
Until it did.
For the next few days, during our lunch breaks by the pool, Hugo continued to pursue me relentlessly and I continued to feel uncomfortable, not knowing what to do. On one hand, I knew that some harmless flirting would probably be good for me but, on the other hand, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I went back and forth in my head trying to figure out why this was such a big deal for me and why I was so anxious about it. Here I was, in a situation that I have not been in for almost 30 years. Completely single. Nobody to answer to. Nothing to feel guilty about. I had an opportunity to reconnect with my femininity which had been dormant for over a year. People write novels about this kind of thing and most women in my position would be flattered, or even thrilled and yet, I went into a panic.
It was a truly fascinating experience to listen to the messages going through my mind which, I realized, have been my “programming” for for over 40 years. Things like
“He’s just looking for tips”
“He’s a gigolo”
“He just wants sex”
“It’s my imagination”
“He probably does this with all the women”
You get the idea.
But the really amazing and shocking thing I noticed was that, regardless of whether or not any of the above was true, there was not one part of me that thought “Of course. I’m a desirable woman. Why not me?”
Thankfully, my “witness” was fully present and I was able to see how these messages and the anxiety I was feeling were pointing to some pretty strict limiting decisions which I had to make in order to protect myself from the inappropriate attention I received from men at a very young age. Since that time I have done a lot of healing and was blessed with a loving relationship which helped me reclaim my disowned sexuality but this issue didn’t feel like it was about sex. It was much more subtle than that.
I shared my plight with another retreat participant who offered to do some emotional healing work with me and what came up is that my anxiety was about another person expressing a strong desire which triggered me not feeling in control of what could/would/should happen. I was feeling “groomed” again, like I was as a child. (Yuck).
The antidote, we decided, was for me to take my power back by taking control of the situation and deciding what I wanted.
What a novel idea :)
So, I decided to call Hugo’s bluff. The next time he asked me to “make time for him” I said “Ok, when?”
Sounds simple, but it felt like one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do.
What happened next was really interesting.
Our schedules didn’t line up. He was working during the times I was free and, I have have to admit, I was SO relieved. Problem solved, crisis averted. Thanks, universe!
But, as I watched his face when he realized that it wasn’t going to happen, he seemed so sad and genuinely disappointed, like a little boy who had lost his favourite toy. In that moment, he became a real person to me and I realized that the whole time I was worried about him objectifying me, when, in reality, I had been objectifying him. I had made him out to be this playboy/gigolo when he was really just a genuinely sweet, young, passionate and vulnerable man who knows nothing other than living in the moment. As I looked into his intense brown eyes, I was able to understand what he saw in me. Just as I had experienced with my friends on the retreat, I saw my own beauty, passion and vulnerability reflected back at me.
After that, our interactions were different. More real. More human. And, in his case, even more intense. In a way, I “fell in love” with Hugo, too, because he gave me a wonderful gift. He helped me realize how I hadn’t seen myself as desirable, sexy or beautiful for a very long time. So long, in fact, that the only thoughts that came to me were filled with doubt and fear. I reduced him to someone with an ulterior motivation instead of simply accepting a lovely compliment from a lovely man.
Hugo and I never did meet privately and, while I think it’s ultimately for the best, I can’t help but wonder…