Open Letter to Mom, Part Two

(This was written in November 2015)

Hello again!

I was going to wait a little longer to finish up but we go into five days of silence tomorrow morning, and since I’m sure you’ve read about the first half of our day over and over and over, you’re probably waiting with bated breath to hear about the second half of…

A day in the life of a moon course student
at Las Pirámedes del Ka

Here we go! As you may recall, we were last in metaphysics class. We get out around noon, and I’m hungry.

Noontime

Dining room and kitchen
Dining room and kitchen (door on the right)

We have a break after metaphysics. Our kitchen is communal, shared by 24 people, so it can be a nightmare to cook in there’s an opportunity for spiritual growth that I’m not all that interested in pursuing.

Because of this I’ve restarted a habit called intermittent fasting where I don’t eat in the morning. It feels great. After the first two days I didn’t even think about it; when I eat breakfast I find that I get hungry in a couple hours anyway, no matter how much I eat.  So it’s just easier right now to forego breakfast.

 

Our kitchen is vegetarian only and for the month, by choice, so are all of us
Our kitchen is vegetarian only and for the month, by choice, so are we
By noon I’m varying degrees of hungry. Last week we had an optional breathing class at 1pm, which presented a feeding challenge. Breathing class or meditation on a full stomach is kind of a drag (which is another reason I don’t want to eat in the morning after yoga, since we meditate at 10:30), so around noon for a week I ate a snack of either an avocado or papaya. Avocados are Q2 each – two quetzales, which is about 15 cents – and papayas are Q12 (less than two dollars).
Avocado snack. Minimal clean up - key when dealing with a communal kitchen
Avocado snack. Minimal clean up – key when dealing with a communal kitchen

Even though the food in Guatemala isn’t exactly destination cuisine – I came here for this retreat, not for the food – it’s pretty sweet to eat an avocado without thinking twice about how much it costs. Sliced in half, sea salt, pool of olive oil in the cavity, sprinkle of chile powder. Stylin’, right dog?

At the end of last week we gained access to fresh local yogurt, cheese, and milk. The cheese is like feta and it comes wrapped in a banana leaf, smells a tiny bit funky, and is delicious. (There are those who aren’t the biggest fans, it’s a gamy cheese for sure.)

Fresh queso
Fresh queso

The yogurt is tangy and screams freshness. Yogurt and papaya and banana with a few raisins, almonds, and coconut is my go-to lunch. Easy to make, easy to clean, and it sits well in my stomach. Also, I’ve been eating vegetarian since I got here to the center – the communal kitchen is veggie only – and the yogurt adds some protein.

Lunch
Lunch. This bowl is from a set I bought with lids (not shown), keeping in line with the family’s storage obsession

 

Breathing therapy, 1pm

Picture: 75 degrees Fahrenheit, partly cloudy (after the as-per-usual cloudless morning). A ragtag group of 20 sitting cross-legged in a garden. Everyone collectively taking a HUGE nasal-only inhale, as big as they can, bellies and chests expanding, shoulders scrunching up at the tippy top of the breath as each person reaches capacity, then forcefully – noisily! – expelling carbon dioxide out their mouths, heads jolting slightly towards the ground as if furiously trying to blow out a fire directly in front of their crossed ankles.

Repeat immediately two more times.

These three exaggerated movements were “cleansing breaths,” and they came before a choreographed series of breathing exercises that were slightly less dramatic and way more intense. Historically, they evolved as a way to move energy through the body, including negative energy that has been locked in at a cellular level for much of our lives.

At the end of my two month trip I might consider this course the highlight.

The gist is that by using certain specific patterns of breathing we can heal our bodies, that all sorts of maladies can’t survive in oxygen rich environments. Along with tapping into our subconscious using a mental approach – setting intentions, writing down behaviors which no longer serve us, and journaling about our entire lives – for about an hour a day for five days we increased the amount of oxygen in every cell of our body. We did this by actively engaging in this involuntary yet controllable action that most of us do without thinking for 99.9 percent of our lives. We healed ourselves – and each other – by breathing.

We did this in Las Pirámedes lush garden because all the plants and trees make the area rich in oxygen (“prana” – life force).

The garden
The garden

The breathing practice itself was rich, but there’s no way it would have touched all of us as profoundly if it hadn’t been for our teacher, Jenika. Jenika is a grounded magical healer who is exceptionally gifted at everything we’ve seen her do: she plays the harmonium for chanting sessions; once a week she instructs us in yoga (one classmate, hand to heart, said to me, “How do you thank someone for the best yoga class you’ve ever taken?”); she leads meditation sessions; and she helped us heal ourselves through breathing.

Jenika, Luli, and two niñas
This photo was in last week’s as well but it’s so happy here it is again: Jenika, Luli, and two niñas

I think the key is that Jenika has internalized these different healing practices to such a degree that – as with Chaty talking about traveling to other dimensions – when she’s instructing there’s no hesitation, not even the remotest doubt in her mind that by breathing this way for this long then that way for that long, then journaling about these years of our lives – there’s no doubt that by following this ancient practice, healing will inevitably take place. And so it did.

Over course of this class many of my classmates were on a roller coaster of moods and feelings and came out the other side feeling jubilant; I was simply in an elevated great mood for about six days straight – the word that kept coming to mind was buoyant. In my journaling I made a significant discovery; I’m sure there will be work to do around it at some point. And some seeds were planted – in the form of intentions about how I want to show up in the world – that I already feel starting to push up.

Absolutely amazing. Really.

 3pm (or noon). Breaktime.

Once the five days of the breath course was over we returned to something I realized I really missed – a glorious stretch of afternoon free time. I love free time. I’ve never identified with people who say they get bored sitting around – there’s always something to read or write or do.

Cafe Cristalinas in San Pedro
Cafe Cristalinas in San Pedro

Being free at noon means that my main meal of the day can be after we get out of our midday class and I won’t be overfull during 5pm meditation. And after that meal, the world is my oyster. I can read (I’m on my second book from the rustic but overflowing library a few feet from my cabin), write long letters to my mom (whom I miss desperately), take a boat ride to the slightly larger town across the lake, San Pedro, that has the best coffee I’ve had in a long time (as well as the best wifi around), or just hang out at the Pyramids with new friends and drink cacao, the heart-opening beverage of choice here in San Marcos and at the Pyramids. Five hours is enough time to do several of those things, and after my few hectic weeks in Boulder wrapping things up, I love it.

5pm. Meditation and thensome

Shoe zone outside the temple
Shoe zone outside the temple

I’ve been jotting down notes on my computer every night and this is what I have for our second day:

“Meditation 5pm with Chaty. 30 min. Then lying down doing breathing exercises. So powerful. Had a very clear image many times of my inner temple. Speeding / flying over water, dissolving into white light. Mind blowing Om session. So so so incredible.”

Group meditation at five is my favorite part of the day. We gather in the temple and first we practice in silence. After 30 minutes there’s a guided part that varies each day. We usually switch from cross-legged to lying down, which is personally much needed because one of my legs is always asleep. After we switch positions our instructor, usually Chaty, directs us.

On our second day – the one in my notes above – our instructions were to breathe in for a seven count (counting silently in our head), hold for a three count, then out for seven. Close your eyes and try it.

Come on, really. Do it.

After a few minutes we were told to change the count to nine in, hold for three, nine out. So we were still counting at the same pace but we were inhaling and exhaling slower. Once again, try it yourself.

This is all taking place in silence (except for Chaty’s instruction every few minutes). Peaceful. Neighbors’ breath.

Then the count was changed to 11 in, hold for three, 11 out. After a few more minutes 13, three, 13. Slowwwww, gentle, protracted breathing. I didn’t know it at the time but this breathing exercise is something we would revisit often over the next weeks.

During this exercise we were told to picture our inner temple. This is where we might find God when the time is right. As we were breathing I had a very clear image of my temple and it wasn’t serene and garden-like. I had a vision of flying across water – I didn’t see myself flying, it was just the point of view I had of the water, zooming over it – and it would occasionally fade into white, blown out light. Then I would see the water again, then the light. Sometimes an unidentified, nondescript woman would be in the light assuring me that it was okay to be there. It was cinematic, beautiful, and moving.

We began chanting “Om” afterwards. Not sure if you’ve ever heard it chanted, it’s not a quick “Om.” It’s more like “AAAaaaauuuuuummmmmmmmmmm.” When a group of twenty do it together there’s a strong, palpable vibration in the temple. Chaty prompted us for the first few Oms, then, without being told to do so, as a group we ran with it. We made the temple reverberate for about ten minutes. It was magical.

Since that session I’ve tried using that imagery again – the water, the light – and I can’t quite get there. It was only in the past few days that I realized something important: I can’t simply conjure it up because I didn’t simply conjure it up. Even though I was aware of being in the temple and breathing, I was also on the verge of something – somewhere – else. That’s why my recorded impression was that it was “so so so incredible.” (And why I was so so so articulate?)

For a few minutes I was slightly closer to something else.

Another example.

Since this is my favorite time of our day I’ll throw in one more example from a couple days later. No explanation, I’m just going to cut and paste it from my notes from that night. I wrote them quickly, then edited them soon after once I got more info from classmates, so in my writing sometimes I pose a question that I answer.

“Meditation w Chaty 5pm. 1/2 hour during which leg was painfully asleep. Then we lied down and she led us through a guided visualization. We were to picture a desert. What did it look like? Was there an end to it, or did it have no end? Were there cacti? Were we alone or with a person or people? Did we come to an oasis and if so, what did it look like? We came to a box and opened it, what was in the box for me? We came to a die (one dice) – throw it, what was the number? There was a storm, what was it like?

After the visualizing as we were still lying eyes closed Chaty explained the symbolism of what we visualized. “Read between lines.”

The desert for me was like in Lawrence of Arabia – expansive, with no end (which means no self-imposed mental limitations). No cacti (which represent obstacles). I was alone. I was wearing my Maui Jims, my Hawaii Forest and Trail cap, and my TNF Overhaul 40 backpack. Self-sufficient.

My oasis was modest – one or two palm trees, nice amount of water. Not huge by any means. That’s our spiritual life.

The box had a ring in it. That’s my mission in life. What is that? Personal finance? To make money? To get married? Personal finance is the first thing that came to mind…

The number I threw was originally a two and a three, before Chati told us that it was one die. She said in her accent that we came to dice (“very strange in the desert.”). So I had already thrown them in my head; then she said it was one die, and what number did we see on the face. It resolved to a five for me. I can’t remember what that means. Three was a strong family unit. Five is….spiritual (gigantism?). One: unity; two: duality (partnership); three: trinity (family); four: stability (earth, air, water, fire); five: spirituality (?); six: balance.

The storm. I have seen this storm forever thanks to Bruce and The Promised Land. “Gonna be a dark cloud rising from the desert floor, packed my bags and I’m headed straight for the storm. Gonna be a twister that blows everything down that ain’t got the faith to stand its ground. Blow away the lies that tear us apart, blow away the dreams that break our heart, blow away the lies that leave us nothin but lost and brokenhearted.”

So I’ve seen this storm many times before starting when I was 21 or 22, a senior at BC. Wind. Rain? Not sure. Wind signifies mental life (air.). Sand, physical (earth). Rain, spiritual (water). Lightning, emotional (fire).

Have to check on what the storm means, can’t remember right this moment. Ah, how we handle adversity.”

I loved this exercise, maybe because two key parts were so clear for me – I’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia three or four times and, as I noted, I’ve lived with that Bruce song for a long time. I think I used that exact part in a college essay once.

I’m really enjoying the subconscious aspects – the visualizing immediately and then hearing what the imagery might mean for us. I still have no idea about the ring in the box, in the week since the exercise it still doesn’t really gibe with anything. But it’s fun to have lurking around, unresolved…

End of day

After this session it’s a little after six and that’s it for structured time. Most people eat at this point, either making food at the center or out. If I’m hungry I might have an avocado or more, or make myself a cacao. Or I’ll tag along out and about, there are many restaurants where you can eat for Q40 or 50 (six or eight dollars). Or I’ll go to my cabin and read and write for a few hours. Whatever. I love the free time. Love it so much, am so grateful.

Whatever I do, I’m in my room at nine latest. Type up some notes. Read. Sleep. Dream. Maybe someday lucidly. Or not – who knows? I’m not worried about it.

So…

Does that give you a better idea of what I’m doing here? Trying to figure it all out, so to speak. Or at least get some direction for what’s next. How am I making the earth a better place? What is my mission? Such good questions.
Thank you for your support and your help in getting me to this point, I couldn’t have done it without you. And though you may be skeptical, thank you for accepting and being supportive of my choices in life. Love you and miss you!
Your son,
L.R.

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