Walking on Fire, Falling in Water: 2017 in Review

This year will be over in about a week. Two thousand seventeen was eventful, painful, joyful, mindful, mindless, full and fast. Along with growth comes roughness and challenge. Along with practice comes patience and understanding.

In January, a long-awaited dream of mine came true: I led a week-long yoga retreat. The group was small, just three women plus myself, but it didn’t matter. I led a retreat and came away transformed. In February, we went to the beach. Even just a few days there was healing, refreshing, illuminating. Decisions were made. Intentions were set. Ultimately, nothing really changed, although everything is changing, all the time.

March was spent in the yellow house, April back in the woods. In May the rains came, as they always do, almost like clockwork, most afternoons and some nights. In June, everything was green and quiet, peaceful and tranquil. July was action-packed and I was busy working with retreat groups week after week. August slowed down yet again, September too.

We spent October in Texas with my family. The deeper depth of reverse culture shock shocked me. I found myself triggered as I never had been before by the images and noises coming from the television (most of the day, every day), the landscape of big box stores and the culture of consumption, and the traffic, my god, the traffic!

I went to a wonderful place called High Hope Ranch for a weekend to visit a friend and — serendipity! — was invited to a fire-walking workshop on a Saturday night. As the sun set over the north Texas mountain landscape, I gathered with a group of a dozen strangers and my amiga Gigi and listened to a young woman with streaks of purple in her hair talk about the history of walking over burning coals. She encouraged repeatedly us not to set up expectations in our minds, which of course we were all doing. I thought, “There is no way I’m going to do this. I will just watch the other people who choose to do it.” We did a bunch of activities, calling out our fears, sharing our dreams with a partner and encouraging other to “what if-up”, thinking bigger than we’d dared before.

We went to the spot where the fire had been lit an hour and a half prior. There was a carpet of burning coals, glowing and sparkling in the moonlight. They looked orange and red and magical and mean. I thought, and may have even said aloud to my friend, “There is no F***ing way I am walking on those.” 

Then we started chanting, a Native American prayer I had sung before in Spanish, in sauna ceremonies in Guatemala with my Mexicana friend. “Earth my body, water my blood, air my breath and fire my spirit!” Everyone chanted, people were dancing and moving as they wished, and soon enough, a woman walked across the burning coals, and another and another. I felt the urge to do it.  And so I did! Three times. Exhilarating.

The first two times, I speed-walked.  The last time, I sauntered, intentionally going a bit more slowly. My word, spoken aloud, was power. I got two “fire kisses”, a.k.a. blisters on the soles of my feet but they were gone by morning. All in all, it was a perfectly random, interesting and empowering night of fire walking.

Also in October, we visiting my grandmothers, Jade’s bisabuelas, who are both over ninety and both soak up the bliss that is my five-year-old daughter. We did a lot of yoga in Texas, too.

November was a month for being home, having space and creating my daily routines and morning rituals all over again. A month for writing, reflecting, remembering. Reunion.

In December, a week ago, I went to Panajachel and bought a bunch of food at the market and regalitos (little gifts) at the secondhand stores. Then, I took a boat home. I got off the boat, paid the fare, thanked the driver. In that moment, I suddenly lost my balance, and instantly fell backward off of the narrow pier into the lake, and was submerged in the water with my backpack, purse and market bag in tow. I came up, unharmed, but deeply embarrassed and shocked. “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God,” I kept repeating. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I was laughing and crying at the same time. What could I do but accept the fact. The reality was: I fell in the lake. That actually happened. Ultimately, the only victim was my phone, which will eventually be replaced. (In the meantime, I am rather enjoying life sans smartphone…. and being more mindful when I enter and exit boats.)

This year has been many things… all the things. My words for the upcoming calendar year, 2018 are: heartfulness, patience, structure, family and above all LOVE. Wishing everyone a feliz navidad and a cheerful new year!

Creating Space, Taking Action

#quest2018 #purpose

{The italicized are writing prompts from Quest2018.}

When we get clarity on what we want to create and it’s for the greater good of humanity, then that vision can happen more easily. When we make space to show up this way, the universe will fill it with our desires, but we have to make space. How are you going to make space in 2018 to create what you really want that will be for the greater good of humanity? What ritual might help your mindset make space? What habit or activity might you stop to make space and test your fulfilling purpose? 

I am going to make space by prioritizing four daily morning practices for myself, at least 5 mornings per week: sitting meditation, yoga (both asana and pranayama), reading and writing.

When I sit, I may chant mantras and do purification practice. I may sit silently and practice mindfulness or vipassana. I may do both. I may drink of mug of tea or light some sage. When I do yoga, I will stretch, strengthen and breathe consciously and intentionally. I will read a few minutes of inspirational text: Natalie Goldberg, poetry, dharma teachings and the like. I will do writing practice for at least ten minutes, ideally longer.

I am going to prioritize these practices by choosing to do them when I wake up, right after brushing my teeth, even if I don’t feel like it. This is the ideal time for me, because I am an early riser naturally and my husband and daughter usually sleep much later than I do. The ritual of going to the same place each morning (the balcony) and rolling out my mat, with my mala beads, book, journal and pen nearby, will help me dedicate to creating this creative space. If I am also inspired to do practice in the late afternoon/evening after work, so be it. Bonus!

Stopping the habit of listening to my inner critic will help make my head space healthier and clearer. The voice that says “you can’t do it” or “nobody cares to read what you have to write” or “just relax, you don’t need to practice today. it can wait” will no longer be heeded. It will be noticed and willfully ignored.

If you choose to tackle harder goals on a daily basis, imagine how you could amplify the positive impact you want to have on the world. It’s often said that ‘you can’t keep what you don’t give away.’ What will you give to others through your best work in 2018 that will positively impact them so that you might keep it, as well? What do you need to do in 2018 to ensure that you live without unnecessary regrets and have that kind of fulfilling purpose and impact on others?

I have a funny relationship with goals.

I was an overachiever as a kid, teen and young adult. Basically from age 10 to 29. Now, I am a slacker by comparison. I used to be obsessed with lists and had an excess of plans and schedules to dictate my personal life. I was a major goal setter.

In my thirties, I have consciously slowed down my pace of life. Significantly. Moving to Guatemala City in 2009 helped. Moving to Lake Atitlan in 2012 helped more. Moving “off-the-grid” into a more remote area of the lake in 2015 helped yet more. Now, it’s safe to say my life moves at about 35 miles per hour, compared to the average speed of approximately 80 mph for most people in North America.

However, I feel that I’ve come to a standstill. I am at an important turning point in my life, and I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m on a plateau. I have been practicing yoga and meditation for a long time, and I practice with dedication but I can’t say that I’m really improving or enhancing my practice…. or my yoga teaching skills. I need to be stretched and challenged. I need to have a good look at my shadow, shine the light on the places I’ve avoided looking. I need to set harder goals for myself. One concrete, hard goal: write every morning. Writing practice. Really do it. Use that as fodder for future published pieces: poems, posts, essays, etc. Another one: work on specific yoga poses that I want to improve. I want to have a stronger core and stronger arms, so I need to do poses like plank, side plank, handstand, headstand. I have been practicing every morning but it’s time to start challenging myself to go deeper and focus on strength and endurance.

Basically, my harder goals equate to greater discipline with my own personal practice and morning rituals. Sit, read, write, yoga. Or yoga, write, read, sit. I can do them in any order and for any length of time, but I must do them all, first thing (or else it may never happen all the live long day.) By giving myself the gift of these practices, I will be able to give others the gift of my insightful writing, clear presence and loving kindness.


On August 6, 2009, I boarded a plane in my hometown, Austin, Texas, and took a flight into the unknown. Destination: Guatemala. I was 29.

Ten years prior, the international travel bug had bitten. At age 19, prompted by my irrational fear that Y2K would cause global chaos and planes would fall out of the sky at the turn of the century, I’d flown to London to spend a semester abroad. I arrived at Gatwick; my two gigantic suitcases didn’t. A lesson in letting go. How I sobbed. I was so alone, on the other side of the pond, empty handed. Later I realized how lucky it was that I didn’t’ have to lug the luggage through the streets as I walked in frustrating circles searching for the big creaky Victorian house in Notting Hill Gate where I would live with a bevy of fellow college kids, mostly from the northeast US. Plus, I got money from the airline to go out and buy clothes.

Since there were two Michelles living in the house, some of the guys took to calling me “Texas.” Yankees, I called them. I took the tube, studied art and architecture, Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes. We went out for Halloween and I was so mortified to be on the tube with these rowdy, drunken Americans, my roommates. I was dressed up as a zebra but nowhere near drunk enough. I spent hours one long November day at a recording studio listening to Nik, my slightly-older British crush, and his band sing “In-Between Days”, over and over and over again, for a Cure tribute album. The one night I stayed out with him until after the tube stopped running, I slept at Nik’s place in north London. Zero romance occurred, and I was so disappointed. I visited Dublin, Barcelona and Paris for long weekends. Life was not as glamorous as it sounded, though. I was only 19 and largely a clueless, privileged American girl.

Living in London in the fall of 1999 was my coming of age. My first stab at “adulting”. Learning to cook actual meals. Managing my life abroad, alone. When I went back to work in Austin post-London, my good friend and boss at the ad agency noted how much self-confidence I had grown through the experience. I held myself differently, she said.

Back to the summer of 2009. I had a perfectly happy life in Austin, Texas, seriously. I was single and mingling. I’d become a school teacher three years prior, having left my first career in advertising. On a whim, I went to an international teaching job fair in Bethesda, Maryland in late June 2009 and landed a job in Guatemala. I chose it over Brazil for its proximity and Spanish language (although Portuguese is beautiful, I’m not inclined to learn languages and my brain can only seem to handle English, Spanish and the handful of Sanskrit and Kaqchikel Maya words and phrases I know). I chose the job in Guatemala, despite the fact that I became violently ill immediately upon accepting. Immediately. My body broke out in hives and my stomach ached and I threw up. I knew then that I had made the right decision.

For the next six weeks, I packed up my life: checked off endless to-do lists, condensed my funky little south Austin cottage into two 50-pound suitcases and stored the rest at my folks’ house. I brought along with me my best fur friend, a four-pound black and white teacup Chihuahua named Lucy. I left behind a loving community, two cats, a cottage, a mortgage, a car, a lot of material possessions, and my comfort zone.

There was turbulence on the flight as we approached our landing. When the plane touched down in Guatemala, all the passengers burst into applause, and I burst into silent tears laden with both trepidation and joy.

In retrospect, it seems as though I was fleeing, escaping from something when I left home. If so, I really wasn’t aware of it at the moment of departure. I didn’t leave home because I was disillusioned. I was rather happy. Perhaps too content, even. Comfortable. I wasn’t running away from anything, I was running toward something different. For the sake of shaking it up. Nothing was keeping me in Austin: I hadn’t had a meaningful relationship last more than a few months, much less come anywhere close to finding a partner with whom I’d want to share my life. My job was good but I had been at the same school for three years and was getting bored. Spending three weeks in Mexico in the summer of 2007 for a Spanish immersion had planted the seed. I could do this; I could live here.

Soon after arriving in Central America, I had a gut feeling that this would become my lifestyle. I didn’t know whether I’d stay in Guatemala after my initial two-year contract at the school was up, or try my luck in another Latin American country, or maybe take a leap and move to Asia or Africa like so many of my teacher friends. But I felt pretty certain that I wouldn’t be returning to reside in the States for a long time, if ever.

I was immediately free—the opposite of busy. I was liberated. Even in an oppressively dangerous, dirty and foreign city, I was free. I’d been busy in Austin. Lots of work, both during and after school hours, family visits, dinner parties, chores, errands, grocery shopping. Suddenly, I had no obligations (other than work, and my job was a lot less demanding than it had been in Texas), no plans and no expectations.

Moving to Lake Atitlan in the middle of 2012 was another total rebirth. If happiness is a place, that place, for me, is right here: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. It is my chosen home, where I belong. Its powerful magic magnet drew me here to live, as permanently as permanent can be, in the middle of 2012. Life has unfolded and consciousness expanded in wonderful and unexpected ways ever since. Having my daughter Jade has been the greatest blessing. I’m grateful to witness her growing up here in this natural paradise, far from the hustle and bustle and polluted culture of city life. Being in a stable, committed relationship with a loving partner is a revelation.

In front of me, I see a striped hammock. I see the patio roof covered in morning dew. I see coffee trees down below, their green leaves verdant, their lime green berries silently growing plump. In November, they will turn red and be ready to harvest. I see two redheaded woodpeckers in one of the shade trees, trying to find a place to peck and make a hole for their new home, or maybe just looking for breakfast. I see a hummingbird pass by in a blur, buzzing like a bumblebee.

There is the grandmother and grandfather lake, calm and steady. There are the three silent massive volcanoes, shrouded in light foggy cloud coverage, beaming their incredible staying power out upon us. There’s the woodpecker again, directly in front of where I sit on my meditation pillow and bolster. The bolster I brought with me from Austin in my suitcase is now faded by the sun and years but it’s still useful. It’s one of the few things I still have from the initial luggage. Maybe the only thing? I guess the black polka dot dress I had too, and maybe a few other garments. Not much has lasted. Things come and go. Disposable possessions.

I hear the first boat, its motor whirring, creating waves. More hummingbird wings flapping. One small hummingbird about the size of my thumb sits for a brief five-second repose on a thin branch, her Pinocchio nose jutting out in front of her. Actually, buzzingbird or chatteringbird would be a more apt name. They don’t really hum.

This morning meditation is happiness. The inner peace and happiness I feel beneath all the other emotions that visit each day are there thanks to years of devoted practice. I know, deep down, no matter what happens, peace and presence are available. Joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion are inevitable. What is “evitable” is the grasping, the constant seeking of entertainment in its ubiquitous forms, with its insidious way of pulling us away from this specific moment of life, here and now.

Perhaps I have misconstrued the lake to be sacred. To be somehow more spiritual, pure and blissful than other geographic locations. It’s just because I have known more happiness here than anywhere else I’ve lived. Could I be this pleased residing anywhere else? This lake is sacred to me. So is the cozy bedroom where I first learned yoga as a young teen in a suburb in the hill country of central Texas. So is this moment, regardless of location. This life is a gift; every breath, a miracle.

May all beings be happy and free.

Quest 2018

#wequest #bestyear

chakra 6th

{The italicized is a writing prompt by Jeffrey Davis.}

Find a quiet, private place. Then, follow these instructions:

Imagine your best possible self at the end of a year from now. In this case, imagine you are in December 2018 looking back upon how you have shown up for 2018. See yourself in a specific place as if you were looking back upon the year: maybe a favorite chair, a deck or balcony, a mountainside. As your best self “looks back” upon the year, reflect upon and write in intimate detail your response to these questions:

  • How have you shown up for your best work? What kinds of distinct activities have you been engaged in? What have you been making or creating as part of your best work?

My best work is three-fold: writing, teaching yoga and coordinating retreats. I have been engaged in daily writing, as part of my meditation each morning. Writing practice. Journaling. And also publishing. I have been posting weekly blogs, more thoughtful, longer essays that I spend more time revising and polishing. These weekly blogs, compiled, I have self-published as a book. I have been teaching yoga classes twice a week, once for kids, once for adults. I have led 3 successful, week long retreats here at Lake Atitlan. I have paid attention to all the details and double checked my work with regard to coordinating the logistics of each retreat group’s arrival, stay, schedule, activities and ceremony.

  • Who have you engaged and how has your work positively impacted them?

Through my blog, I have engaged my readers. Through my writing, I have inspired others to live a simpler more eco-logical life, practice yoga and meditation, and be a kind, compassionate and loving being on the planet. Through my yoga teaching, I have inspired my students to practice asana, pranayama and meditation both in a group and on their own, with a regular personal practice. Through my retreat coordination, I have helped group leaders and their students/guests enjoy their experience at the retreat center. Ultimately, our vision is to help assist the expansion of consciousness into the love light for the benefit of all beings without exception.

  • What have you done differently that has stretched you?

I have taken on some commitments: to write every day, to teach yoga twice a week, to lead 3 retreats, to work 36 hours a week (instead of 25) for my “day job.” I took a trip to Colombia to visit my husband’s family and then travel in South America. We spent a couple months exploring Ecuador and Peru before heading home to Guatemala.

  • What 1, 2, or 3 big goals have you reached?

I have written a book. I have taught regular classes and led retreats in January, April and November. I have excelled in my work as reservations manager/retreat coordinator for VS.

  • In the process, what challenge has your best self met and how?

It has been a challenge to continue my meditation and writing practices on the road. On the days I practice meditation and writing first thing in the morning, the day inevitably goes smoother and I am more present and patient. However, the reality of being in Colombia with B’s family and then traveling in Ecuador and Peru, is that daily practice sometimes goes by the wayside. It’s also challenging to work nearly full-time and also teach yoga classes and lead retreats. I have readjusted my yoga retreat offering to give myself and participants free time during the day with our group practices before breakfast and before dinner.

  • What skill set or craft did you learn or improve upon?

Writing! I’ve been writing for a long time, but sporadically and without enough devotion or discipline. By writing every day (or as close to daily as possible), I have improved my craft. Yoga teaching! Likewise, I’ve been a yoga teacher for 16 years now, but for the last several years I have taken long sabbaticals. Not so in 2018: I will be teaching weekly classes and leading three retreats. Retreat coordination! There is always room to improve and I am always learning more about the systems and how to communicate and work more effectively in a team at VS.

  • What 1 habit did you add, adjust, or drop?

Added: delightful, devoted daily morning practice of meditation (purification practice/chanting followed by silence/mindfulness), yoga (asana and pranayama), writing (practice and weekly publication).

  • And overall, how have you felt throughout the year when you’re engaged with your best work?

Amazing! Aligned with my heart and soul. Inspired and inspiring. Benefited and beneficial.