31 January 2011

Why Do We Travel?

I think it's different for everyone. I travel to learn about other cultures, other people, and about myself. I met a really interesting ultrarunner who wants to travel to every country in the world - a feat I am definitely not interested in. (Hello, why would I want to visit Human Rights Abuse Extraordinaire China?) He also travels in a very fast way - a country a day, three days in a country, running across a country (sweet!). I said I don't like traveling fast, I prefer slow traveling, that way you get to know the culture and the people.

Traveling is about so many things but if you move to fast, you miss out on a lot.


“Go to Tikal,” everyone urged me. They were all right. Tikal is an ancient Mayan city that is still partially in the jungle; it’s difficult to some see of the sights because they’re still covered with jungle. We saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, various birds, and of course, the amazing stone buildings. Most impressive, tall, powerful – yet what truly shocked was that this city crashed in a very short period of time – perhaps a week. There are theories, but nothing has been confirmed – so we can all have our own suspicions.

I went to gawk at the buildings, to climb some of the incredibly scary stairs, and to see what the Mayans were capable of. I was truly impressed (especially by the height to which I climbed – and to the height the builders must have climbed as well).


Pretty streets. Stones. Coloured buildings. Random circles of walking. Manicure/pedicure. Reading books. Going to a club. Dancing with Guatemalans. Laughing so hard my eyes feel alive. But really, the tourists suffocate much of the vibe, and it’s hard to connect with the actual culture.

29 January 2011

Cacao Ceremony

When I first got to San Marcos de la Laguna, I was a hysterical wreck. I was crying all the time. I told everyone, “My love and I just ended things.” It was hard, so hard.

People suggested different things to me. “How about rebirthing?” So I pay you $350quetzales for you to sit and watch me breathe, something I’m struggling to do with my asthma right now? Or I could try reiki or a mind-body therapy or a massage or tarot cards.

Then two people suggested to me, “Oh, I know what you do need to do. You must see the chocolate man. He’ll help you.”

The chocolate man? Sounds like a man I need to meet.

The chocolate man is this amazing guy, Keith. Ultimately, he’s a healer, and a compassionate sentient being. He’s an older American hippie dude who lives in San Marcos as a cacao shaman. He uses cacao to tap into your deepest emotions, to release emotional density, and to provide emotional release. As I love chocolate, and he came at a high recommendation, and because I was willing to try anything, I decided to meet him.

Having gotten only vague directions to his house (head out of town, like you’re going to Tzununa, going behind the church. Go straight, not up that steep hill. You’ll pass Hostal del Lago and a house with an outline of a Canadian flag. You’ll see a very steep downhill; take it and it’s the first house on the left, with the signs for the Cacao Ceremonies.), I ran past the next day. One, two, three, four times before someone was home – his assistant, who told me to come back the next day. There would be a ceremony at 12:30 for 200 quetzales, and perhaps I wanted to see him for a private session as well? His chocolate maker promised me, “He will put back together the broken pieces of your heart.”

At 8am, I met Keith for a chat – “I’m broken hearted. My boyfriend and I broke up two weeks ago and I’m a miserable wreck. I can’t function, all I can do is cry. I love him so, and all I want is to be with him.” Keith recommended the group session, but said a private session might also be good.

At 12:30, I went to Keith’s porch. Many people from town who I’ve met were there, including Candy and Ada. Keith’s various healers-in-training, including Brenda, Moses, and Ambe, were there as well.

We began by drinking the ground up roasted cacao beans (cooked with water), us adding raw sugar or chili sauce as we desired. Keith told us about his interest in cacao and its potential links to Mayan shamanism, and how he got involved with healing with chocolate. It sounded cliché-ish when he said, “The chocolate spirit came to me…” but after my session, I absolutely believed him.

Cacao can push you to a different state of mind. You don’t hallucinate, but it does allow you to tap into various emotional densities. After drinking the cacao, Keith talked about how so many of us have allowed people to treat us like a garbage dump, how we allow others to shit on us. Because of this, we store pain to the utmost degree. Empaths, we suffer truly. He also led us through various meditative exercises.

Just before going to the cacao ceremony, I had received saddening news in regards to my ex-love. I was crying on the way over, and was also the first one to cry. I cried many times, I cried harder than I’ve ever cried. I cried, loud, body-shaking, intensely relieving and painful tears. I let so much out, so much of the pain I’ve been keeping.

“Let it out. Don’t keep it inside. There is no reason to keep all that density inside,” Keith urged as others around me were doing the same, were meditating, or were helping others.

I don’t even know who it was helping me all the time, but I was grateful. I was crying, seeing nothing, feeling nothing but absolute pain. I felt a horrid sense of loss, about B but also about a million other things. I cried my heart, I cried my pain, I cried for all the things out there that need crying for. I cried so much I felt sick. I cried with my eyes closed. I cried so much Keith quipped, “Lesson number one: cacao and mascara do not mix.”

While I cried, Ambe stroked my back and sang to me. Someone else rubbed my feet. People put their hands on me, giving me good energy, pushing the light inside of me. I was covered with a shawl. I was encouraged to just cry, to keep letting it out.

I didn’t know what else to do. I felt like I couldn’t stop it. I kept crying. And crying.

Keith worked individually with me many times, probably because I was such a wreck. He helped me to push out the pain, push out so much density that I have been holding onto for so long. I realized many things about my past relationships that simply were not true, that were not healthy for me. I realized I need to make myself happy before I can make anyone else. I realize that, while nearly impossible in our culture, nonattachment is an ultimate goal.

I cried because it is so easy for so many people to have so many things – you know, their dream life of all that good stuff, love (the ultimate thing we all need/want, I believe), great job, happiness, house, maybe family and money if they want that – and why is it so hard for me to even get one droplet of love?

And then I cried because so many people have absolutely nothing – no money, maybe no job, they’re alone, diseases, so much struggling – and I have so much more than them and I’m crying over what is now lost?

I would calm down and meditate, and then cry again. Back and forth. To myself and beyond.

It’s hard to explain, but it was one of the most intense days of my life. It was probably the best thing I did for myself on the trip.

People were able to release various negative energies, to meditate, to heal themselves and others. Since B and I ended things, I have been unable to feel truly happy. I cannot let light in. An English herbalist (who later correctly pronounced me to have struggled with various menstrual problems throughout my life, and he recommend I drink marigold tea, loads of it) helped me pour in the light as I opened my crown chakra.

And the light came. There was a struggle, a very deep one, to remove the pain, but I was able to do it with help. I filled up with light. I knew the ending was not near, but it truly helped.

After the ceremony, I felt drained. We staggered up the hill, almost drunk, exhausted, drained. I ate dinner and passed out…

And went back the next day for more.

This time, it was just a private one-on-one session with Keith. We did not use cacao, but meditated together. We tapped into a past life of mine (and perhaps you, dear reader, don’t believe in past lives, well, in that case, call it my subconscious) and I’ve realized, I’m always looking, I’m not very often in the present moment, connected, and I need to learn to change this. In a past life, I was a woman, living in England, and this was a long time ago – when cars and technology did not dominate, and when things were hard and simple, but that doesn’t mean they made sense. I loved a man who never connected with me, who was never around. I had children, many of them (though four of them died), but still felt lost and alone and unconnected. It wasn’t until I was dying that I connected with my grandchildren, played with them without inhibition.

I realized I have a serious problem: I never am living in the present moment. I’m always looking forward to what’s next. Part of this is because all of the people I have been in love with, at least for part of the relationship, lived away from me. I’m okay at being a long-distance partner because I have so much going on in my own life, but it keeps me always looking forward to when-we’re-together-next. Even if I’m with someone, I’m looking forward to the next time we’ll be together, because we’ll be together for longer, or look forward to the time when I’m living with someone. I can’t live in the future because I’m missing out on so many good things in the present.

Part of the bigger problem with B is that when we ended things, we talked about how we still loved each other, and hopefully, if we can work on the problems within ourselves, and if certain currently-uncontrollable circumstances are dealt with, we can be together. Someday. That’s not what I need right now. I need to work on recovery, on healing, on moving forward. I can’t keep looking to a future that might not exist. I need to be happy in the present moment – and if I’m happy now, I’ll be more likely to be happy in the future.

I didn’t end up crying, but I did feel enormously relieved, and moved. I realized I had done some things which, while I think weren’t so evil, they hurt my partner and I should not have hurt him and should have done everything possible to not hurt him, even if at the time I thought he was being irrational.

I felt much better. I felt like a different person.

Ambe and Moses were hosting an ecstatic dance workshop. We started on the ground, connected to Mother Earth, then rose in layers, dancing, letting the music bathe us. I felt so ALIVE. I felt alive like I haven’t in a long time. I reached out to other people, dancing with my eyes closed, smelling soap, sweat, love. I easily understood how each person in this very dance floor could easily be fallen in love with. All had such wonderful, beautiful, invigorating, alive energies. I smiled towards the sky – I haven’t smiled in a long time. Tears have been clouding everything for a while. It felt great to be alive – dancing with the baby on the Guatemalan guy’s back, smiling at how River swayed his body, grabbing Ada in a spin, pushing forward, back, all around, there goes Brian, there goes Keith, oh god, this is simply marvelous, this is life, this is love, I am here.

I felt healed.

But we’re never healed. We’re all healing each and every day. The next day, I went back for one of the informal daily studies that Keith hosts. We drank cacao. It was very much like the first day, except less intense, less formal. We began with a meditation.

I lay down on the beach in the midst of the meditation. Keith came over. “Where are you?”

“I’m lost. I don’t know where to go.”

“You’re falling.”

“Yes. It’s dark and cold and there’s mud everywhere and I can’t stop myself.”

“You’re going to fall for a while but when you stop, we’ll be here.”

A woman pressed her hands against my body, giving me her energy. I shivered. It was awful. “I want to leave.”

“You need to sit with the darkness.”

“I can’t. I need to leave.” I felt a panic overcome me. Much like the panic I felt at BM when my lip hurt and I was caught in a dust storm and I just needed to run, I knew I needed to get out.

I sat with it. I worked around. I explored but there was no way out. It was suffocating. It was frightening. It was miserable.

Ambe and Brenda came over. I was having a hard time. “Let the light pull you out.”

It was a long process, very personal, and I can’t even explain it very well, but the light pulled me out. It took a while and it was not fun.

After, talking with Keith and meditating further on it, I realized I feel lost. Sometimes I allow my partners to give my life happiness and direction, and I can’t do that. True, I don’t know where I’m going in my life (Will I live in San Marcos or San Francisco or Brooklyn? Will I ever sell my books? Will I ever find true love?), but that doesn’t mean I’m lost. It means I’m traveling, but I need to stick with where I am, my beautiful scenery and learn to appreciate it.

I also became aware of other areas in my body that need healing, because pain still exists.

As Merja and I walked out, she said to me, “Ruins are ruins. They’re everywhere. I think you should skip Tikal and spend more time with Keith healing you.”

I can’t put off the end of my trip forever. I did seriously ponder it, but decided to move on. Massages will heal me. Solo hikes. Swims. Runs. Other ruins, yes. People. I can’t stay in a safe space forever. I need to move out and on, and embrace the world out there. Cacao or no cacao, I must learn to help others, to spread the love, and to spread the light – though first, I must do all of this within myself before I can help anyone else.

The hippie towns are the ones I always fall in love with, like El Bolson in Argentina. Or San Marcos de la Laguna. The kind of town where people talk to crystals. The kind of town where people tell you sincerely, with wide-open eyes, “I’m working on myself.” The kind of town where you can do yoga in the morning, mind-body massage after breakfast, a lecture on crystals before lunch, a rebirthing process in the afternoon, chanting after dinner, and talking with several healers about how to let go of trauma and pain and reconnect with yourself.

It sounds cliché, but these are always the type of places I feel like I fit in best.

I’ve done most of the things above (though I didn’t go through with the “rebirthing” process since I couldn’t fathom spending 350q to have someone watch me breathe, which is currently a difficult process with my asthma), and am loving this town. I love the music, the candles, the people. It’s been a great place to do a lot of healing. I came here with my heart completely exposed and found myself swaddled, loved, my tears encouraged and then dried. I’ve been learning to let go of a lot of the pain, and to embrace the love that is out there.

I originally came here for two or three days, and am staying four. I kind of want to do five. This is the kind of place people stay. Expatriates dominate, but naccionales continue to influence. It’s a beautiful place.

I’ve done some wonderful running in the mountains, above the lake. I’ve connected with the people, with the plants, with the water, with the hills. I’ve connected with myself.

After a Cacao Ceremony, I cried my heart out. I didn’t think I had any more tears in me. And today, after releasing more of the pain with the Cacao master in a private session, I’ve felt better than I have since before B and I split.

I’m enjoying the healing process here, mostly because it also means that there are new wonderful things out there. New people to meet. New volcanoes to climb. New lakes to swim in.

I’m learning about my flaws, about my pain. I have a tendency to not live in the present moment, and being here has forced me to think more about where I am, where is now. I can’t live in the future – maybe B and I will get back together in six, ten, fourteen months – because that is a very painful wait. I need to live in the now – I need to live in the, “Oh my god, what an amazing view of the mountains,” and “Isn’t this meditation dance party fun” and “I’m so glad I have friends like Merja and Brian to help me out through this.”

My heart has not been crushed. The Cacao Master has been instrumental in putting it back together, but the greater community of San Marcos has all helped me, a little by a little bit. And I’m loving it here, and it’s one of those places you never want to leave – and when you see those who haven’t, you know why.