What Life is Really Like at the Mystical Yoga Farm

Most days at the Mystical Yoga Farm feel like a dream. I feel like I’ve been here for an eternity. I’ve been here for 32 days.

I’m living in a lush roadless forest without a town name. I’m surrounded by the growth of green plants, flowers, vegetables and fruits. Sunlight dances across the lake almost every day. I stare at volcanoes every single day.

Loose leaf tea is served all day along with fresh fruit. Most of the food is cooked in coconut oil. The salad greens are picked fresh from our garden for every meal. A gong is rung when meals are ready. We sing songs to bless the food before we eat. I eat hand rolled freshly made tortillas a few times a week. We om before and after everything. Click to fall in love with life at the farm

Montezuma: Be a light unto yourself

Attitude of Gratitude:

I’m thankful for these objects and people that keep coming into my life at exactly the right moment. I’m thankful that I’ve had full days to do nothing but read. I’m thankful to have the power of both no-thingness and alone-ness. I’m thankful for all the lessons I continue to learn along the way.

One of my first days walking the beach in Montezuma I found a semilla ojo de buey, eye of the bull seed, washed along shore.

semillas

These seeds drift all over the world, getting picked up and tossed around by the ocean’s pull, but are native to the tropics. Sometimes they spend years drifting along. They are good luck charms with healing properties that help develop strength to face change. I read somewhere that,  “When we know we have to deal with something that requires great effort, this seed gives us all the energy we need.” I instantly felt like I was meant to find the semilla ojo de buey.

In my previous post about Montezuma, I wrote about mine and Elizabeth’s conversation about the people who are drawn to Montezuma. At the end of our conversation she said, “And then I wonder if people look at me and think these things. I’m lost, but I’m purposefully lost.”

Montezuma is the perfect place to be purposefully lost.

While in Montezuma I spent full days doing nothing but reading. I spent a lot of time alone contemplating what it means to be purposefully lost, and I found out more about myself.

Afterall part of the reason I also came to Costa Rica was to be purposefully lost. I was drained from constant years of schooling, taking 16 to 20 credits every semester while working two jobs and maintaining internships, scheduling hangout dates with friends between lunch breaks, going from one relationship to the next, and feeling like my life was turning into a never-ending to-do-list. Since being in Costa Rica for the past four months, I’ve definitely learned a lot about slowing down, being comfortable with doing nothing, and finding the courage to be alone, sometimes with only the roar of the ocean drifting into my ears.

After revealing a few things about myself to my roommate Nolita, she told me I needed to speak my truth more. “You are a powerful being when you speak your truth.” But what does that mean exactly? She said that the Universe keeps putting certain patterns into my life so I can realize that they are happening and deal with them. She told me to shift perspective and be in gratitude for things that happened instead of picking them apart. There’s that gratitude, once again showing up in some form of my travels.

Speaking your truth means standing your ground, not giving up, not giving in, and sticking up for what you believe in no matter what.

The next day at Devaya Yoga I picked a card from a deck similar to a Tarot card and it said,

“Growth comes not by fighting with what it wrong, but by loving what is right.”

Instead of looking at a situation and thinking about everything that went wrong, remember what went right. What went wrong antagonizes you. While this can act as a driving force of change for you to be better, you need to also focus on what you know is already true in your heart, what is already right for you. If the reason for why things went wrong has been a similar pattern in your life, then be in gratitude that that pattern presented itself once again, and move forward with what is right. This can also be applied to people and relationships. Learn to love what is right about someone instead of picking apart their flaws. Of course all of this is easier said than done, but another lesson in growth is good for all of us.

03

A few days later at the 03 Institute I picked some Osho Zen Tarot cards. Lately anxiety kicked into my brain as I thought about the future and life post-Costa Rica. The present moment slipped away as my mind constantly wandered to the nonexistent, the future. Before I knew what the Osho Zen Tarot cards were, I picked a card from the top of the deck to look at it. It was completely black and said in white type, “No-thingness.” I thought that was a little weird so I put it back and walked away. Later I shuffled the deck and picked the card, “Alone-ness.” I laughed, showed Nolita and she said, “There’s another one in there that seems bad too,” and showed me “No-thingness.” I couldn’t get away from this card.

No-thingness says, “Relax into the nothingness of not knowing. Treasure each empty moment of the experience. Something sacred is about to be born. The nothing is not just nothing, it is all. It is vibrant with all possibilities. It is potential, absolute potential. It is unmanifest yet, but it contains all. Why in the middle become so worried, anxious, why create such despair? Nothingness to nothingness is the whole journey.”

It’s okay to not know what comes next. In Western culture we are taught the opposite. We are pushed into college straight from high school and then pushed into careers and family life. We often have plans far in advance. We have family and friends who nag us about what we’re doing with our lives. The future looms over us. What we forget to realize is that, it’s okay not to know. It’s okay to let the Universe unfold exactly as it should. It’s okay to not be in control of every little thing that happens to you. It’s okay to let go. Everything, even the nothingness, is part of the experience.

Which goes hand in hand with Alone-ness:

“When there is no significant other in our lives we can either be lonely, or enjoy the freedom that solitude brings. We can either feel isolated and bitter, or celebrate the fact that our vision is strong enough even to survive the powerful human need for the approval of family, friends or colleagues. Take responsibility for the choice you have made. The humble figure in this card glows with a light that emanates from within. Gautam Buddha said, ‘Be a light unto yourself.’ Ultimately each of us must develop within ourselves the capacity to make our way through the darkness without any companions, maps or guides. There is a tremendous difference between loneliness and aloneness. Loneliness is absence of the other. Aloneness is the presence of oneself. Aloneness is very positive. It is a presence, overflowing presence. You are so full of presence that you can fill the whole universe with your presence and there is no need for anybody.”

Remember that being alone is okay. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. Remember that each one of us carries a light inside of us. We can access this light, this power, anytime.

Learn to feel joy in solitude. Learn to know the thoughts that flutter through your mind when no one else is there to influence them. Learn to know how you want to spend the day when the choice is completely up to you. Learn to feel comfortable with nothing but your presence and your breath on your skin. Learn to sit in silence and observe. Then you’ll see how beautiful everything can truly be.

anamaya

Sunrise Sessions and Lessons in Perspective

Attitude of Gratitude:

I´m thankful that my friend at the ranch lent me her computer so I could create this blog post. I´m thankful for the merengue and bachata lessons the ranch workers have been giving me. I´m thankful that my friends just showed me Jamiroquai and now I can´t stop dancing. Read my previous blog post here to learn about my attitude of gratitude.

One of my favorite things about being at the ranch has been waking up daily to hike a steep, narrow incline for about 30 minutes to watch the sunrise along the volcano. Witnessing the first breaths of morning, the first movements of the day. The newborn light in the sky. The chirps of noise. The way these stretches of light and sound slice into the stillness, while remaining tranquil, harmonious. This beginning always fills me with inspiration, with belief that anything is possible, with gratitude for being alive.

Everyday is a beginning, a clean slate. It´s one thing to say this and realize it when you wake up, but it´s another to witness the beauty of it enfolding right before your eyes. This daily dose of sunrise fueled me with invigoration and joy for the rest of the day.

sunrise

Brad, another volunteer who became my sunshine and dear friend at the ranch, and I made hiking the mirador for sunrise part of our daily routine. Sometimes we´d watch in awe and silence. Sometimes we´d greet the day by dancing and drumming new beginning into life.  Other days we´d just talk about travel, society, open-mindedness, and being in love with life.

sunrise

sunrise

One of our favorite trees to watch the sunrise from,

One of our favorite trees to watch the sunrise from.

At the top of the mirador on a clear day you can see Lago Arenal, Volcano Arenal, Cerro Chato, the volcanoes on the other side of the lake, the town of El Castillo and the ranch, nestled within a valley sheltered by mountains. Most of the buildings at the ranch melt into the landscape, hidden by the natural green roofs. You can see the outline of the ranch, a few cars in the reception´s driveway, the Caño Negro Rio.

Not until I was off the ranch, gazing at it from above, did I realize the significance of its location. As I stood on top of the mountain looking at the place I´d been living for the past two weeks, a deep sense of appreciation warmed me. Here I had been living in the middle of nowhere, in a location undetectable by the untrained eye, with volcanoes, forests and bodies of water as my neighbors. And yet I had gotten so accustomed to the routine of buffet meals, walking the same path to la casona, and weeding in the garden that I forgot to appreciate where I was. Even in a beautiful lush ranch, the mundane details managed to sneak into my life and steer me away from what´s important. Looking at the ranch from above, my perspective totally changed. Sometimes you need to leave a place in order to appreciate it.

The ranch from above

The ranch from above covered in shadow

The first time this perspective shift happened to me was my first semester of college, 3,000 miles from home. All the sudden everything I despised about my hometown in New Jersey came rushing back to me in the form of nostalgia. When living at my childhood home post-college, I drove around neighboring towns and entered antique shops I´d never set foot in, shops that had been there my whole life. Sometimes we need a perspective wake-up call to rise to the beauty of every moment, to stop and look around, and to discover what´s already there, right in front of our eyes.

And just for fun, here are Brad and I´s sunrise photos from a pajama sunrise session:

sunrise jump

Greet each day with a smile. And a jump, if possible!

sunrise jumpsunrise jumpsunrise yoga

The day I left Santa Teresa

It was one of those days where you don´t know whether to laugh or cry at the end of it. So I shook my head and did a little bit of both as I thanked the universe for everything that had been happening to me.

“Lord I´ve got to keep on moving,” Bob Marley sung over the speakers at Casa Zen as I was signing my farewell in the hostel´s guestbook. Even though I´d met some wonderful people and learned a lot, Bob Marley reaffirmed what I already knew, it was time to move on. I hugged my friends goodbye and sadness rushed through me. Goodbye. Why did my friend, Adrian, a yoga instructor at Casa Zen, say goodbye as he hugged me? Goodbye was too definite for me. After he left, I realized I should have said ´see you later´ or ´nos vemos.´

To get to La Fortuna from Santa Teresa, I had another long day of travel ahead of me. Buses and ferries and taxis, oh my. I took the 6 a.m. bus outside of Casa Zen to Cobano. There I transferred to the San Jose bus and told the driver I was getting off at San Ramon. Because they oversold the bus I had to stand the whole ride to Paquera, where the ferry was.

When I got off the bus at the pier, I was shocked to see what was in front of me. Adrian, my friend from Casa Zen, was standing there with a huge smile and open arms. “It´s a coincidence,” he said. He happened to be taking the same ferry.

We sat together and talked the whole ride. We spent the first part of the ride making animal noises and the second part of the ride talking about death.

“Are you afraid of death?” He asked me out of nowhere. He told me that all fears stem from a fear of death. To be aware of death is to be aware of life. To live for each moment with the constant knowledge that death can happen at any moment. From that we started talking about attachments and letting go. He said that we´re like monkeys reaching for vines. We grab on to one, use it to help us on our way and then we let go. So we must be attached for a certain amount of time; we cannot be completely unnattached. We are attached to our bodies, and through our bodies we are able to express our minds. Without our bodies, we would just be floating in consciousness. In this way we cannot become deattached.

As I spoke about letting go, Adrian stopped me. “You are referring to letting go in the past tense. We have to let go in the present too. This moment that we´re having already passed.”

He showed me that letting go means letting go of small moments and not just the big moments. Letting go means being able to release every single moment. We agreed how important it is to try to let go of something everyday and then we had to let go of our shared ferry ride. We each went separate ways, but we didn´t say goodbye. We learned to say see you later.

On the next bus ride my mind was still reeling over my conversation with Adrian. I boarded the same bus after the ferry and then got dropped off in San Ramon. From there I had to take a taxi to the next bus station. While I was on my final bus to La Fortuna, a boy with long dreadlocks sat next to me. We found out that where I was going was down the street from where he was going. At the bus station, my ride wasn´t there so without my knowledge Juan phoned Rancho Margot to arrange a ride for me. I was so grateful for his kindness.

After I ate my first meal of the day at a soda, which I was so pleased to find was 500 colones cheaper than anywhere Id been, I walked back to the bus station. A man with gray-tinted facial hair, green eyes, a cowboy hat with feathers attached and a long, thin braid approached me and asked, “Are you coming or going? Let me help you with your bags.”

He lead me around the corner to Red Lava, an information center. He told me he´s on morphine for bone cancer and mentioned the book that´s being written about his life. At Red Lava, a tico teenager with short dreadlocks and lots of friendship bracelets brought my bags upstairs and hid them in a dark corner as he reassured me in perfect English, “Don´t worry, these are incredibly safe.”

Jesus, the cowboy known to the locals as Tomas, asked me if I wanted anything to drink. When I told him I didn´t have money, he said, “Ah some women never change. Come on sweetheart, I´ll buy you something.”

On the way to the supermarket he mentioned the book again and said, “Maybe you´re too young to know about the revolution in Cuba and my father. Did you look at my name on the card? I glanced at the business card he handed me. Jesus Ernesto Guevara. “Che was my father.”

For the rest of the afternoon while I waited for my ride, Che´s so-called son took me around town. He pointed out the best foods and wines to buy and ones not to buy. He picked me flowers and named each one.  He waved at everyone on the street, knew them by name and introduced me to them. Throughout the afternoon he kept making vague references to friends of his like John Lennon and Bob Dylan and referencing dirty jobs he had to do to protect people, jobs like the ones in the movie The Dirty Dozen. He said if I ever needed him, show up in town, mention his name to someone and he´d be there within minutes. When I told him my name he smiled like he knew it all along. “I knew I´d seen those eyes before. My first wife´s name was April. She was both an angel and the devil´s wife.” He said he felt like he was back in the ’70s.

Back at Red Lava I swung in a chair hammock as I continued to wait for my ride. Tomas continued to bring me flowers and he even brought me a baby rabbit. When my ride showed up, Eric, the tico teenager who worked at Red Lava, took off his neckalace that I mentioned I liked and handed it to me. “A present for you. Welcome to La Fortuna.”

When I arrived at Rancho Margot, the first volunteer I met was William. Within five minutes we discovered that he lived on the same floor as my best friend did their first semester of college at University of Nevada Reno.

“There are no such things as coincidences,” he said. No such thing as a coincidence.

Traveling Cultivates Gratitude

After a full day of travel, running right into the ocean is the most refreshing thing.

This is exactly what I did as soon as I arrived in Santa Teresa.

The day before I left Guiones a fellow Solo Bueno-er gave me his japas malas beads, Buddhist prayer beads.japas malas A set normally consists of 108 beads, which symbolize impurities and flaws we as people must overcome. 108 also represents a certain formula that involves the senses, conditions of the heart, time and emotional states. As a repetition of mantras, the beads bring focus into your meditation and prayers. I felt like they also brought certain people into my path. It could have been a mixture of the attitude of gratitude I’ve been cultivating and the angels my Mom said she sent with me, but I never took off those beads while I was in Santa Teresa. You could say they were a bit of a good luck charm.

I’d been in Guiones 12 days, and I was ready to explore the next town. Everytime I asked someone how to get to Santa Teresa, I got a different response. So I walked to the bus stop to catch the 7 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. bus. Like all the unclear answers about the route to Santa Teresa, everyone told me different bus times. “Oh the bus comes at 7. Maybe 7:30, maybe 8,” they’d say. Ticos have a different concept of time.

Before the bus arrived, a man drove by, reversed and asked if I needed a ride to Nicoya, where the bus was going. It was Ariel, a Tico I’d met days before when I spent hours playing with his kids and getting to know his wife at the pool. I instantly accepted his generiosity and was incredibly grateful for the ride and his help at the bus station, where barely anyone spoke English. The route to Santa Teresa was more complicado than I thought. Even though Santa Teresa was on the same peninsula and just south, no buses went directly there.

I was in Nosara and I was headed to Santa Teresa, yet I would have to go to San Jose and then take the ferry back to the Peninsula.

I was in Nosara and I was headed to Santa Teresa, yet I would have to go to San Jose and then take the ferry back to the peninsula.

I´d have to take a 4- to 5-hour bus ride to San Jose, change buses, take a ferry back to the Nicoya Peninsula and take more buses. I was about to board the bus and brace the rides when I heard three backpackers say Santa Teresa. They were also confused about the bus system (there isn´t really any specific bus schedule.) and were trying to find an easier route. The bus was boarding so I got in line and prepared for my long day ahead. One of the backpackers approached me and asked if I wanted to share a shuttle with them instead. So I paid $20 to share a ride to Paquera, the next bus station, and gained three German friends.

The first few nights in Santa Teresa I camped at a hostel on the beach, falling asleep and waking up to the roar of the ocean. I ate casados at traditional Costa Rican sodas with my German friends and other Europeans we picked up along the way. I ended my nights at bonfires on the beach, cheersing pura vida with each Imperial we drank and learning bits and pieces of German.

I loved camping on the beach, but because I didn´t have access to a kitchen or the proper camping cooking gear, I felt like I was wasting money at restaurants for three meals a day. I also didn´t feel completely safe storing my belongings in my tent when I wasn’t there.

I spent the next day exploring and thinking about a hostel-hop. Dehydrated, sweaty and dusty with a growling in my belly I walked into the next restaurant I saw. I was alone at a table meant for a group. A group came in. I offered them my table. They insisted I had lunch with them. It was the owner of a nearby hostel and a few of her guests. I recognized one woman from the bus who I heard say she was going to Casa Zen. Casa Zen. They were all from Casa Zen. I liked them instantly.

After our meal the woman from the bus, Erin, gave me a tour of the hostel. There weren’t any openings at the hostel, but they said to check daily. The next day I took a yoga class at Casa Zen’s open air balcony studio. The girl who first suggested I join them for lunch invited me to share her room since she reserved a room with two beds. I moved in as soon as I could.

Casa Zen is away from the dusty road and close enough to the beach to catch a glimpse of the water sparkle between the trees. When I arrived I saw a surfboard out front with the words, Casa Zen Yoga Hotel.Casa Zen

A yoga hostel. While I was staying at a surf hostel in Guiones, I kept wondering why there wasn’t a yoga hostel around. I shared this thought with a few other people. Here I was standing in front of a place I had envisioned.

My first night at Casa Zen I was serenaded by a Casa Zen regular, a Canadian with shoulder length curly hair. As he sung and strummed his acoustic guitar, people walked by and sung, ‘Welcome to Casa Zen!’

Right from the start, my experience at Casa Zen was welcoming and filled with wonderful people who each helped me along my way.

The Lounge Area

The Lounge Area

All of the benches at Casa Zen were painted.

All of the benches at Casa Zen were painted.

So many wonderful reminders at Casa Zen.

So many wonderful reminders at Casa Zen.

I had some really fun times at Casa Zen. I went to a pre-full moon party at Ranchos Itaúna, a bar right on the beach, danced and lost track of time until my roommate and I went home and couldn’t believe it was 4 in the morning.

The day after the full moon, Nate, the guitar-playing regular at Casa Zen, gave me my first card reading. They weren´t tarot cards, but they were similar. The cards I choose, or I should say the cards that chose me, resonated with me. One card was the High Lord of Gratitude and Service.

This card has arrived to help you find your true purpose today. Feeling gratitude for each moment you experience, and loving what is and what has been, will remind you that every breath you take holds a deep and profound awareness. The presence of this ally lets you know that you are on the correct path of fulfilling your desires. There are no friends or enemies, just teachers along life´s journey.

Since recieving this card, I´m trying to be as grateful as possible about as much as possible. From now on I will begin my blog posts listing things I´m grateful for.

I spent most nights at Casa Zen cooking with friends, having potlucks, playing jenga and playing card games. My group of friends at Casa Zen quickly and easily transformed into my family. I felt like I could open up to them about everything in my life and they welcomed me with  loving hearts and no judgements. They were shoulders to cry on, people who opened their arms when I needed a hug, friends to practice yoga with. We were all kindred spirits.

Ladies beach day

Potluck

card gamesIf I hadn´t met the people I met at Casa Zen, I probably wouldn´t have stayed in Santa Teresa as long as I did. Santa Teresa is basically one long street lined with eateries, hotels, and shops that parallels the beach. It was more expensive than Guiones. Most people there were vacationing and a lot of people were there to party. There were a lot of eateries with full menus in English, often no menus in Spanish. There was a plaza right before Santa Teresa in Playa Carmen, which I was shocked to see. After being in Guiones, I wasn´t expecting so much development, I guess. A plaza!? I couldn´t believe I was looking at a plaza.

I quickly realized that Santa Teresa wasn´t as underdeveloped or lowkey as Guiones. It wasn´t the typical backpackers´town. I saw shirts hanging in the windows of shops that said, ´What happens in Santa Teresa stays in Santa Teresa.´ There weren´t as many people with smiling faces walking down the street as there were in Guiones. But I learned that you can´t compare one place to another. You have to appreciate things for what they are.

I wore my japas malas beads the whole time I was in Santa Teresa. The one time I took them off, while acroyogaing on the beach, I accidentally left them behind. I only had a couple days left in Santa Teresa anyway.

I feel like their presence in my life signified a few things. The japas malas beads were another gift along the way, another act of kindness, another reminder to give, a reminder to be free of things. More importantly the japas malas beads were another reminder to not be afraid to leave pieces of ourselves behind and to share pieces of the journey as much as possible.

How To Heal A Second-Degree Burn

The first part of the blog is the story of how my skin got burned. The second part, “The Healing Process” is where you can find information about healing burns.

Warning: This blog post contains graphic photos of burnt skin.

Update from October 26, 2013: This blog now includes the most recent photo of the burn. It’s a picture from one year and three months later. 

This past summer I got a second-degree burn on my thigh while I was at my favorite music festival. It was horrifying and upsetting as it happened, but I was more concerned with making sure I saw my favorite acts play and being able to dance all night. I was also pretty upset about my maté.

The burn all started with my desire for an early evening pick-me-up. Eager to make some maté (a South American tea known for its energizing properties), I approached boys at a neighboring campsite to boil water. Once I got back to my camp, between juggling my maté gourd, my thermos with an unscrewed on cap and other items that have no significance now, the water in my thermos spilled down my leg. Luckily I was wearing pants. I just changed into silk pants from a sarong. I sprung up, pulled my pants off and saw my skin start to sizzle. At first I was in shock. Then I broke down, crying, “All I wanted was maté.”

At first the burn did not hurt. It stung, but it was not overwhelming painful or unbearable. This continued to be the case throughout the duration of the burn’s life.

My superhero friends leapt into action. One grabbed my hand for support (even though I ended up being the one telling him it would be okay), one poured cool water on the burn and another ran for first aid. Well two ended up running in different directions for first aid. Luckily a woman who happened to be a nurse was camping close by, and she came to my rescue.

Once I found out what time it was (7:45 and my main squeeze, Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited were scheduled for 8) I really started to cry. For months I’d been looking forward to dancing to their show. The camping nurse wrapped gauze around my leg and told me I couldn’t dance for the rest of the festival. Now this only made me cry harder. The burn was the least of my worries.  As soon as she walked away I said, “I’m dancing no matter what.” Hopping on one leg while clutching my thigh, I made it all the way to the main stage.

Once again, I was in luck. The band was running late. As they sound-checked I wobbled to the official first aid tent of the festival. The first-aiders wrapped a new bandage around the burn, and I danced like a wild animal throughout Thomas Mapfumo’s set. I didn’t stop there. I ended up dancing throughout the night, all the way until the sun came up the next day.

I was extremely mindful of my burn throughout the night (and early morning). I can’t even count how many times I went to the first aid tent: between every other song, if not after every song, after every set, etc., etc.

Back at first aid after Thomas’ set, the burn looked much worse than it had originally. The first-aiders determined it was at least a second-degree burn, if not third. They kept calling people over to look at the burn like they had never seen anything like it. More raw skin appeared, more burnt spots surfaced. What started as one spot that looked burnt, now turned into two spots the size of silver dollars with a huge blister underneath. The blister liquid moved up and down. The area of burnt skin just kept growing, revealing itself with each unraveling.

The first-aiders reassured me that even though the burn looked worse as the night went on, it was getting better. It was going to look worse as it got better. Each time we unwrapped the burn I could have sworn it made faces at me. You’ll see in the pictures. The only time the burn didn’t bother me or I forgot it existed was when I danced. So I didn’t stop dancing.

The next day before I left I got the burn re-wrapped again. The first-aiders said they were shocked at how good it looked and that it was already healing very well. It must have been all that dancing and the magic of GrassRoots. I can’t express enough gratitude for the first-aiders, my friends and everyone who helped. Who knows what would have happened if they weren’t there.

The Healing Process

Here's the view of my burn two days after.

Here’s the view of my burn two days after.

Close-up 2 days later

Close-up (Doesn’t it resemble an alien head?)

Once home I researched everything I could about burns. I wanted answers about what to do; I wanted burn advice, remedies. I was disappointed with what I found. I couldn’t find enough detailed or in-depth advice. That’s when I decided I’d track my progress and blog about it. Even though I’ve only gotten one second-degree burn in my life and I’m no expert by any means, I thought this post may be useful to people and could offer some more advice about healing burns. Remember: everyone heals differently. What worked for me may not work for you.

For starters: I found it was best to let my body do what it was doing naturally without me interfering too much. So I didn’t pop the blisters no matter how much the liquid moved. I didn’t pull off the charred skin. I took cold showers for the first week or so because I didn’t want to risk the burn getting any more heat. I kept the burn covered at all times. When I changed the covering (morning and night and random times throughout the day) I let the burn air out for 20 minutes or so. But I did this in the safety of my bedroom without too much movement.

After getting a burn, the most important thing is to make sure it does not get infected. So I applied Bacitraycin Plus with Aloe to the affected area. Bacitracin (one of the key ingredients of Neosporin) is an antibiotic that stops the growth of certain bacteria. Aloe is soothing and known to have healing properties.

Bacitraycin

I asked everyone I knew if they knew the best way to heal burns. Vitamin E came up in most conversations as the number one remedy. So I bought Vitamin E pills and took them orally everyday starting two weeks after the burn. I also opened the capsules and poured the Vitamin E oil on my wound. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E neutralizes the effect of free radicals. When skin is damaged your body can produce free radicals, which damage skin. Free radicals are thieves in the night, stealing electrons from healthy skin cells. Vitamin E is the detective that cleans everything up.

Every time I showed someone the burn they told me to go to the doctor immediately. I wanted to see how long I could experiment with healing myself using natural remedies before the doctor got involved. I knew I was taking care of the burn well enough that it was not infected. I figured the doctor wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t know.

But going to the doctor ended up being a good thing for three reasons:

-They gave me a tetanus shot just to be safe.

-The doctor told me to put lavender oil on the burn.

-They wrote me a prescription for Silvadene Cream, which contains the antimicrobial agent silver sulfadiazine. This is the cream nurses use on burn patients in hospitals. The only way to get it is through a prescription. Silvadene started instantly helping the burn. My prescription didn’t have any refills so I was only able to use the Silvadene cream until it ran out. But I highly recommend this cream if you have a second- or third-degree burn.

My routine for over a month:

Witch Hazel

1. Clean the burn with cool water and sometimes Witch Hazel, which is an astringent, a natural skin tightener. Witch Hazel also contains soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. It didn’t sting, but it was a little tingly.

2. With a towel pat dry as carefully as possible.

3. Use a Q-tip to apply Bacitraycin with Aloe or Silvadene to the affected area. Once the blister was completely drained and the skin wasn’t as raw, I started using the Vitamin E oil on the burn instead of Bacitracin. I also I added a few drops of lavender oil and rubbed the mixture together. Lavender oil can also act as an astringent. Not to mention that the scent alone is very soothing and relaxing. Pads, tape, gauze

4. Cover the burn with one large or two small sterile pads. Wrap the pads with gauze and tape to skin. I tried latex free gauze and gauze that stuck to itself. I liked the gauze that stuck to itself but if I moved a lot, I had to also tape it.

I repeated this process around lunchtime and before bed. During this time I never wore tight-fitting pants or jeans. I wore dresses and long flowing skirts. Tight fabric would irritate the burn. I did not go swimming or exercise (yoga, hiking included) for the rest of the summer.

An Overview of Burn Remedies:

-Silvadene Cream

-Vitamin E: either pills taken orally or oil applied directly to the skin.

-Lavender Oil

-Grapeseed Oil (usually mixed with lavender oil and sometimes coconut oil)

-Bacitraycin with aloe

-The gel from an actual Aloe plant

-Witch Hazel

Materials needed:

-Adhesive Tape: I tried a variety of tapes. ShopRite Brand (ShopRite’s a supermarket) Adhesive Latex-Free Waterproof white tape stung the areas that were taped. It stayed really tight if I was still, but once I moved the tape came undone. Wouldn’t recommend it. Cloth tape stuck to the gauze and ripped the gauze. It didn’t stick that well to my skin either. NexTape moved with my skin and was very stretchy.

-Sterile Pads

-Gauze or a cloth covering

-Q-tips

Something to think about: It got pretty pricey keeping up with all the sterile pads and gauze I needed.

Post-burn, 4 and a half months later:

Four and a half months later

Four and a half months later

The burn has shrunk in size and blends into my skin like sun spots would. You can barely notice it. Most of the burn is a light pink, while the bottom part is slightly redder.

I’m not as diligent as I was in the beginning, but I still apply cream on my burn. I apply whatever is in reach in my bathroom: grapeseed oil, lavender oil, lotion packed with vitamins, scar gel. My leg hasn’t been exposed to the sun yet, but for the rest of my life I’ll make sure the burn has sunscreen on it and is covered.

Post-burn one year and three months later:

Burn year later

Here’s the burn one year and three months later.

For the most part the burn has blended into my skin. The outline of the burn is a slightly different color tone than my skin. Some of the insides are a paler white; some of the insides have merged with my skin tone.

When I get out of the shower I apply Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula with Vitamin E and mix in Lavender Oil. I try to do this whenever possible, but sometimes I miss days. I’m very happy with the way my burn has healed. To me it looks like a birthmark.

Here’s an overview of the burn’s progress.

Please feel free to share your burn stories and burn remedies in the comments section. Have you ever tried any of the remedies I’ve mentioned? What were the results?

Life Lessons I Learned At Burning Man

It’s almost been a year since I wandered to the playa for the first time. With Burning Man right around the corner, I’ve been thinking more and more about my experience there, and I wanted to share some things I learned. While there are plenty of Burning Man guidelines online, this isn’t about the basic necessities to bring, this is about the something more that the playa provides. To everyone venturing to the Burn this year, let yourself let go, be free, set your heart on fire and open yourself up to the wildness of life. To those who can’t make it, remember how beautiful life can be when you let it. Here’s a piece of Burning Man that I hope everyone can carry with them wherever they are.

Burning Man Arrival: Wiping sleep from my eyes, I gazed out the windows of our rented U-haul just past sunrise. After the usual instant confusion of waking up in an unfamiliar place, I kept blinking to try to absorb my surroundings. In the distance, mountains protected every angle. Before us, a barren desert-like space stretched out as far as I could see. Hazy, white dust danced throughout the air making everything still seem like a dream. That’s how the rest of the week would feel. I had arrived at Black Rock City aka Burning Man.

I entered Black Rock City straight off a summer of music festival hopping. I was full from all the new friends and experiences I gathered. Yet I was still slightly heartbroken from graduating college, moving across the country, and leaving a special someone behind in the process. The whole summer had been one big lesson in letting go. Prepared or not, I had no choice but to let the day and journey of Burning Man begin.

Aside from the basic Burning Man lessons like “Leave No Trace” and pack lots of water, Burning Man taught me something more. Something more about myself. About people. About this great big/small world we live in.

And here are the lessons:

-Very early in the week I learned that every place has a balance of good and bad. Not everyone everywhere (not even at Burning Man) will always be welcoming or nice. The light needs the darkness just as much as the darkness needs the light. The world needs the balance to keep going.

-Spending time at Burning Man means learning how to pick and choose anything within sight or arms reach and make it work. In life certain situations, objects, people, breeze, dance, storm right on in. Sometimes you have no other choice but to take what’s around you and create the best situation possible. Don’t go searching for something more. Make the most out of what you have.

-Whether good or bad, people touch your life and give you certain things at certain points in your life. No matter what happens, appreciate it for what it was. I’ve been in so many whirlwind romances that are over as quickly as they began. Mystifying, dizzying, filled with fire but then abrupt endings. So many people will exit and enter your life. People leave. Sometimes they never come back. Appreciate it for what it was and move on.

-Before I got to Burning Man I visioned it to be something like a trading/bartering zone of sorts. I didn’t quite yet understand the meaning of “gift giving.” I made a bunch of Burning Man passports: small notebooks with scattered inspirational quotes, a pen and plenty of free space to let thoughts free flow to handout and give to people I connected with, but I still didn’t quite understand the whole concept of gift giving. Everyday someone (usually a stranger) would put a necklace around my neck or a hat on my head or hand me some sort of knickknack. But as the days went on and the connections between people grew deeper, people were giving me items that were “theirs.” When I’d try to return the items, the owners would tell me to keep them. It was then that I questioned, “What is a material possession anyway, possession of any kind?” If you truly love something, shouldn’t you give it away? If you’ve worn something or used something a gazillion times shouldn’t you want other people to experience that same love and joy?

So then I put flowers in my friends hair, dressed them up in my jewelry, accessorized everyone. I met a man on the dance floor and when I departed I wrapped my favorite headband around his head. “Until I return.” When I returned I realized that I wasn’t getting that headband back and even though it was my favorite headband, it was okay. When I look back on my life, I won’t remember all my accessories and knickknacks. I’ll remember the moments I shared with people, the way people made me feel, the goosebumps a certain moment, place, song gave me. I grasped the concept of gift giving and I let it take me to new levels. I started giving away pieces of myself, building deeper connections with people in my camp, opening up to strangers in ways I normally wouldn’t. Burning Man taught me the true act of giving and what it means to be open and generous. If you open yourself up to others, the universe will open up to you in ways you didn’t think possible.

-One of my favorite sayings written on the temple: I love still. No matter what keep growing, giving, believing, loving.

-Another favorite writing on the temple: As we journey we must remember to remember who we are. And that life is more than who we are.

-As the temple burned, small pieces of wood, paper, memories, swirled above our heads. When someone loves you/when you love someone, they spark a flame in your heart that burns forever. They stay a glow fire-red dancing above us. People we love never truly leave us.

-Burning Man is not a festival but a way of life. An example of what happens when you let people be whoever it is they are or want to be.

-As we waited in the line of cars to leave Black Rock City, I jotted down lingering thoughts in my journal, one last lesson the playa left me with:

I greeted Black Rock City as the sun was rising. Days, hours, lifetimes later we leave, changed people, as the sun rises again. We ride in the opposite direction of the sunshine, leaving behind all of its sweetness. Now we must remember to carry on the joy Burning Man has given us. The ability to be free and childlike, the gift of truly giving, of letting go and forgiving.

From our position in the packed car, we can’t look back. All the colors, beauty and brightness that come with the new day are behind us. We ride forward. To create our own beauty, our own reality. We continue onward.

GrassRoots: 2009

During my second semester of my junior year (around February 2010) I submitted a non-fiction essay about GrassRoots to The Blue Guitar Magazine. The issue’s just been published online. Check out my essay and the other wonderful writing here. My essay’s on pages 50-51.

My essay’s about my GrassRoots experience in 2009. I just got out of a serious relationship, and I was in a really broken place. Going to GrassRoots and being surrounded by so much love helped heal me in so many ways.

In case you don’t venture over to the website, here’s the essay:

Healed by the Beat of the Drum

“To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.

This is power, it is glory on Earth and it is yours for the taking.”

— Agnes De Mille

Waking up in the same pajamas I’ve been wearing the past five days, I have no desire to leave my bed even as the afternoon sun beats down outside my window. My whole world had come to a crashing halt when my boyfriend confessed he’d fallen out of love with me. Even my bedroom in the house I grew up in — surrounded by pictures of friends, bands and art — couldn’t offer any comfort.

I needed to escape the prison of loneliness, so I fled to my favorite music festival: GrassRoots. Held in upstate New York, GrassRoots is a four-day spectacle of partying, camping and listening to bands from all over the world. The eclectic mix of music ranges from Native American folk and Peruvian electronica to rock, bluegrass, soul, reggae and rockabilly. Because the camping is in tight quarters, festival-goers share food, alcohol, blankets and all other belongings. By the end of the festival, neighbors become family, and strangers become lifetime friends.

Noises in the night

Lying in my tent, I can’t fall asleep, even after an exhausting day of dancing and drinking at the festival. Shrieks, screams, howls, drumbeats and laughter erupt from the woods. The noises call to the wind, to the world, to the wild. A rush of electricity buzzes in my brain. One more “I yi yiiiii!” stabs into my ears, and I leap up. I need to join the people creating the noise.

It’s the first night of the festival, and everyone’s welcoming the darkness with music. As I walk barefoot into the woods, a couple greet me: “Hi friend! Happy GrassRoots!” They share the shine of their flashlight as we drift from campsite to campsite.

People I’ve never met smile and hug me when I walk by. They’re eager to share their belongings. “Hey friend, great to see you! Have a glow stick.” “Hi beautiful, would you like any food?” Their kindness is overwhelming.

As we approach the drum circle, I understand why everyone is still awake. A painted naked woman holds a tambourine with one hand and claps her fingers to her mouth with the other. Her knotty hair sways as she sits cross-legged on the dirt. Next to her, a man attacks the bongo drum with his fingers.

Glancing at the crowd, I realize these people are no different than me. They too have work on Monday. The guy dancing naked hollering in the drum circle will be in a suit waiting for the Metro on Monday morning.  They too have jobs in cubicles, work the monotonous 9-5, cook meals and wash laundry. They too could be suffering broken hearts.

But at this instant, none of that matters. For these stolen moments they have a chance to really just be.

The power of music

In the morning the sun pierces my tent. Crawling out, I stretch and change into my rainbow-hued bathing suit top and wrap a blue sarong with bright sunflowers around my waist. I place my favorite hat from when I was 7 on my head: a pink-and-red beaded veil with long white lace that falls down my back. I head to the festival to prepare for the Happiness Day Parade.

At the festival grounds I look for Ryan, the artist who’d painted my body the year before. He’s in the same spot, next to a maple tree outside the Happiness Day Parade headquarters, a barn filled with medieval costumes and capes for anyone to borrow.

Smiling as he sees me, Ryan says, “Come here, you goddess! Let me paint you.”

With a brush, Ryan splashes lines of blue and green across my shoulders and down my arms. He presses a small dish drainer around my forehead and airbrushes pink against the holes. In the middle of my forehead he sticks a silver-colored gem. With an assortment of other kitchen instruments and metal scraps he airbrushes the rest of my upper body and draws a lime green heart under my collar bones.

“Now that you look beautiful, you better get out there and dance like crazy,” Ryan says.

“Oh, I will,” I reply. Thinking, you have no idea.

After the parade I meet up with friends from home, and we’re instantly pulled to the sound of loud bongo drumming. We run right up to the main stage and see four African-American men shining in long, bright blue dresses. It’s the band Samite of Uganda. The frontman Samite wails tribal African songs as the percussion section bloomswith conga drums, bongos and native African madinas and kalimbas.

My body starts to move in ways I can’t even comprehend. My arms propel up and down, left and right. I bend close to the ground, spin on my toes and plunge into the air, all the while swinging and stomping to the beat of the drum. Sweat slides across my face, in between my knees. Paint drips down my forehead. My heart thumps louder and wilder with every beat. The music rattles my senses.

People around us join our circle. We just look at each other—laughing, smiling, twirling into a perpetual state of bliss. The 6-foot-tall man in front of me dances in his huge black top hat and long, sparkly wizard cape. The girl next to him, feathers and flowers in her hair, spins in her bright purple, orange, yellow and blue dress.

On the stage I see Ryan dancing and laughing with his friends. Our eyes meet. He jumps off the stage, shimmies over to me, eyes fiery with excitement, and shouts, “You’re doing it! You’re doing it! You’re getting crazy!” He grabs my hand and pulls me on stage.

As we dance next to the band, euphoria rushes through me. My body no longer belongs to me—some other force takes over.

Nothing matters except that moment. I am infinite.

My wizard friend dances on the other side of the stage. He pulls off his hat, shakes his head and dreadlocks tumble out down to his knees. The crowd roars.

As the music stops, I can’t even breathe. Floating in a trance, I walk off stage and bump into the wizard.

“I saw you dancing up there, getting down!” he says.

“Yeah, I saw you shaking out all your dreads.”

He looks at me, snaps his fingers side to side and starts singing, “Life just keeps getting better. Life just keeps getting better.”

A smile sprouts in my heart and conquers my whole face. All the loneliness from the break-up with my boyfriend disintegrates. Laughing wildly, I join in: “Life just keeps getter better. Life just keeps getting better.”

And even if for a moment, I knew it would.