Saturday, February 20, 2010

Joy Without Borders. The Mexico Diaries: Part 2

I am a people watcher. I love just observing the way people interact with each other. But there is something extra delightful about observing that interaction when you cannot speak the language. And this is something that I was able to experience in Mexico. I had to rely less on the obvious which of course are actual words and more on expressions, body language and voice tone.

One particular day, I was able to just swim in the ocean alone without being involved in a conversation of my own. My sweetie was off kayaking and I was left to just be present with my surroundings. There was a happy group of Spanish speaking young adults cheerfully preparing to take a group photo. They all had their arms swung around the shoulders of the friend beside them, the girl taking the photo giving instruction and motioning for them to squeeze together.

To my left a little girl in an inner tube squealed as her father pulled her slowly through the soft waves. He spoke calmly and lovingly to her in French and the little girl laughed in delight.

A young woman in a bikini was beginning to enter the ocean. Her boyfriend coaxing her in Russian to come out into the water. She, on tip toes, shoulders hunched high, trying to keep the ocean water from hitting her belly too soon. Of course as soon as she got close enough, he began to splash her with abandon causing her to screech at him but still laughing. Encouraged by this, he then quickly went to her and gave her a full body hug and drug her shoulder deep into the water, rewarding him with more screeches of protest.

Are any of these profound experiences? No. And that's the part that struck me. There are few people that could have watched these interactions and not felt a sense of understanding. We know how it feels to be in those situations. We don't need to know anything about those people. We don't need to understand the language. But simply, we do know what it's like to pose for a group photo with friends.

We often get very caught up in the politics and religion of the world. We feel the need to protect what we believe is exclusively ours and condemn those that don't think the way we do. The idea of us against them. I do realize there are people that are out to hurt, out for power and control and we do need to be careful. But there are so many more who just want to live life and experience simple, everyday joys.

When you are able to go to a place and watch people from several countries all swimming together, speaking their own languages, having fun, it's really apparent how much we are the same. There were no boundaries. No upset. Just joy. If language didn't exist. These people would not look any different from anyone you'd see in your own town.

It's really refreshing after going through the airport checkpoints, the pat-downs and reading all of the travel horror stories to know that the whole world isn't made up of people looking to take advantage of you, steal what you have, or control the way you live your life. Those people exist. Yes, that is true. But there is the other percent. And that's the one I will keep my eyes on. The ones that speak to what I hold dear, friendship, family, and happiness.

There is something very comforting about knowing that, no matter where you are from in the world, you can count on some things easily transcending borders. Friends will always be joyfully posing for group photos, fathers will be entertaining their children, and of course, there will never be a shortage of young men, willing to splash young girls just to hear them scream.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Extreme Baby Steps. The Mexico Diaries: Part 1

Those of you that know me know that I'm terrified...of everything. Those of you that don't know me, trust me, I am. I just returned yesterday from the Mayan Riviera, Mexico, my first trip outside the U.S. that required a passport. That was itself a challenge. My sweetie's youngest sister was having a destination wedding and although apprehensive about breaching a comfort zone, I signed on for the trip. Luckily I already had a passport. A product of my "liberated single girl" to do list two years ago. I set an intention before I left that I would meet only friendly, kind people and that is exactly what I met. Everyone I encountered throughout the entire week was absolutely lovely, helpful, and kind.

My sweetie is an active, adventurous type. I am the exact opposite of that. So when we looked into going on an excursion and his eyes lit up upon seeing a brochure for "Tulum Extreme" I instantly felt an overwhelming sense of dread. This excursion included a tour of Tulum ruins, snorkeling in a cave, zip lining and rappelling. Guillermo, the Apple Tours representative, quickly attempted to alleviate my fears. He told us a warm and funny story about the time he took his sister on this same excursion. He explained that she too was terrified of heights, of bugs, of the jungle. She sounded like my kind of girl. I offered to go have a beer with her instead but no such luck. According to Guillermo, upon arrival and after some initial upset at her brother, she made it through and managed to enjoy herself. Upon hearing this convincing story, not wanting to be a party pooper, and maybe most importantly, hoping this compromise would earn me plenty of unopposed beach sitting time, I reluctantly agreed.

The next morning, seven of us load into a van and head for "adventure." Included on this trip were new friends that we met from the wedding, Mike and Judy and my sweetie's, soon to be new nephew, nine year old Noah. I spent the whole 45-minute trip to the jungle visualizing white protective light around me, trying to meditate myself into an acceptable state. Our amazingly gifted guide of Mayan descent, Limbert, or lovingly referred to by friends as "Cricket," kept everything very upbeat with his knowledge and fantastic sense of humor.

We arrived, put on harnesses, and went over to the rappelling tower for instruction. Cricket gave us a quick demonstration of how to rappel on a wall that was approximately ten feet off the ground. In a nutshell, you have to lower yourself, rear-end first over the side backwards until you get into a "V" shape with your feet still on the edge. You then take one step down at a time, resulting in both feet on each step, for a total of three steps down. Then you take your feet off and rappel down. I'm thinking, ok, I'll give that a try. It was then that Cricket said, "Ok everyone. Let's go!" and began climbing the stairs toward the top of a 50-60 foot tower overlooking the jungle. I thought I was going to vomit.

Did I mention that I'm TERRIFIED of heights? It took all my effort to merely climb the stairs to the top of the tower but eventually I managed to make it. It was an open view on all sides with a wooden railing almost all the way around. There were periodic gusts of strong wind and I stood firmly in the middle of the platform. Noah mentioned that I didn't look so good. It was at this point I started to hyperventilate and burst into tears. My sweetie hugged me and told me I didn't have to do it and soon left to take his turn. I stood there in a full-on panic as I watched four of my six tour companions, one by one, disappear cautiously over the edge. Then it was my turn. Cricket smiled broadly and held out his hand. I took a step forward, tears streaming down my face, and accepted it.

Without any fanfare, he casually clipped my harness to the rappelling equipment. He spoke to me in the soothing voice of the most patient parent, telling me that it was all going to be fine. I was gripping the ropes with all my strength as he placed my hands on them where they needed to be, s-l-o-w-l-y turning me around backwards toward the edge, calmly speaking encouragingly the whole time. I shut my eyes, exhaled, and decided to stop fighting and fully trust Cricket. With my eyes shut, I could not see how high I was. I was simply somewhere in space. Listening to Cricket's voice I simply allowed myself to be guided. Cricket said, "Ok Stacy, step backward one inch." One inch. I thought for a moment. OK, I can do that. I took a step backward. Left foot back. One inch. "Ok, two more inches." I gingerly slide the right foot back. Two inches. "Ok, slide your hands down the rope two inches." Two inches...done. "Ok, hands down the rope, two more inches." Two more. I felt myself begin to incline, locked knees, knowing at this moment, I had leaned out backwards over the edge. Keeping my eyes shut, I did as Cricket instructed, one to two inches at a time. "One foot down on the first step...second foot down on the first step...One foot down on the next step...second foot down on the next step. Give yourself a little rope..." Before I knew it, I was rear first in a "V" hanging off the edge of the tower. Finally, Cricket told me to let go with my legs. I did with great caution and finally I was hanging in the air! I then lowered myself slowly to the ground. Death grip on the ropes. But I made it! I was extremely grateful to Cricket for his patience and kindness. I had reached the ground and I was beaming. I was so proud.

Throughout the day, I conquered many fears, including heading into a dark cave, calf deep in water while ducking under stalactites, but nothing compared to what I had already overcome. My sweetie, remarked that he was terrified during the first part of the rappelling and couldn't believe I did it. He joked that I would have never done it for him saying it was only because Cricket was so charming.

And he was right. But not solely because Cricket was charming. Cricket understood the vital importance of the often disparaged baby step. In the most literal of translations. One measurable inch at a time, Cricket managed to get a terrified, 37 year old, crying, hyperventilating woman to step backwards over the edge of a sixty-foot drop. Caring enough to guide a complete stranger from another country to find the strength within.

I learned many things that day. The most important. Baby steps count. Of course I knew that in theory. But after experiencing it in a very literal, tangible way, I could FEEL it. Although very small, they can be very scary too. I now have a very physically translatable sensation of what it means to take a baby step. I can recall its true power the next time I am quick to judge myself while moving toward a goal.

Another was reinforcement of a belief. Be open to show love and compassion for a stranger. You may be the conduit that liberates them from a deep fear. A feat all others may have failed to achieve. This is the third time in my life this has proven itself.

The third. Sometimes the only thing to do is close your eyes, exhale, and let go. Follow the guidance that feels right and stop fighting. The more I fought the guidance that I knew in my heart I could trust, the harder and scarier the journey became. Once I rested in the peace that the guidance was safe, benevolent, and only had my best interest, the journey was easy. The path became smooth and eventually both feet landed safely and firmly on the earth. The destination celebrated with six others who had just practiced the same faith and gained a new sense of trust in the Universe. The result...pure joy.

Did I go again? No way.
But I am ok with that. I tried it and that feels amazing. Not to mention it earned me a well-deserved day of undivided beach sitting. In addition, a brave adventurer such as myself, may have been treated to one or two piƱa coladas. Hey, never underestimate tasty rewards. They have their own power too. ¡Salud!