Learning How to Love Chocolate (continued)

The first part of this story is about my realization that chocolate really isn’t so bad. For as long as I can remember I didn’t like chocolate. But things are starting to change. Read Part 1 here.

The second cacao ceremony was a complete heart-opener.

Before the ceremony started, I was having a great day at the Mystical Yoga Farm, the spiritual community in Guatemala where I spent the winter. I woke up and stayed in bed to write myself a love poem (read that here). Then I fasted for the ceremony. Fasting is supposed to intensify the experience.

Cacao, or chocolate before it’s processed, has been used ceremonially for centuries in Latin America.

Continue reading

Learning How to Love Chocolate

I have a confession to make: I don’t really like chocolate. This single taste preference has excluded me from many crucial bonding moments with other females. I’ve never devoured away my pain in a pint of chocolate ice cream or bought a chocolate bar when it’s that time of the month. I’ve never spontaneously bought a chocolate bar in the grocery store line or willingly chose chocolate cake at a birthday party. When I’ve received chocolate for various holidays, I’ve always given it away.

I’ve felt like this about chocolate for as long as I can remember. So when people have offered me some, I’ve politely declined. But recently I’ve learned that chocolate isn’t just one set thing. Chocolate comes in all different shapes and sizes. I’ve learned that even though I don’t like chocolate, I love cacao.

Cacao, chocolate before it’s processed, originates in Latin America. In its purest form chocolate is not sweet; it’s bitter. In the United States and Europe chocolate is inundated with milk and sugar, and most often, the ceremonial aspect of cacao is forgotten about. Until I went to Central America I had no idea that people used cacao as a plant-based medicine in ceremonies. Until I went to Central America I had no idea that chocolate is a plant, that chocolate grows on trees. Continue reading

I release so I can recieve

I manifested a sexy man to make out with at Envision Festival. But he ended up being a jerk. Then I learned to be more specific in what I ask the Universe for.

Let’s just call him “dream body.” That’s what I told my friends, “I met my dream body.” As soon as I saw him I knew Continue reading

The Death and Evolution of My First Love or My Changing Perspective on Music Festivals

***This post has been published in a slightly different version at elephant journal! Read the article here.

There’s something you need to know about me: I love music festivals. I love folk, world, bluegrass, indie rock, psychedelic dance, weekend-long, week-long, camping, non-camping, you-name-it music festivals. But recently this love felt different. I attended one of my favorite music festivals and didn’t feel the all-encompassing, “oh my goodness my life is altered,” riding on the waves of bliss kind of love and pure joy that I usually feel. Instead Envision Festival left me feeling jaded, sad and heartbroken in ways that I couldn’t quite understand.

Envision Festival is a four day camping, music, yoga, art and movement festival in the Costa Rican jungle alongside a beach. Over the past few years there’s been an emergence in music festivals that are centered on conscious community and transformation, Envision included. Throughout the day at Envision there are multiple yoga classes, permaculture discussions and healing workshops. At night and through the sunrise hours there’s live music (mostly electronic).

I love music festivals because of moments like this: a group hug at Random Rab's sunrise set.

I love music festivals because of moments like this: a group hug at Random Rab’s sunrise set.

This year I went to Envision straight from living at the Mystical Yoga Farm, an intentional yoga community in Guatemala. It was my first time leaving the lake and leaving the farm for more than 24 hours. It was also my first time in a long time being around thousands of intoxicated people.

Many magic moments happened at Envision. Nahko and Medicine for the People’s set fueled me with energy for days. Ayla Nereo inspired me to not waste time in following my heart. Suzanne Sterling’s yoga class brought me to my knees in prayer, love and tears.

Suzanne Sterling's class. Photo courtesy of Envision.

Losing ourselves to ecstatic dance in Suzanne Sterling’s class. Photo courtesy of Envision.

Running into the ocean naked revitalized and invigorated me. I made connections with people who helped me to see with clarity. I connected with my tribe of festival friends from around the world. I overheard a toddler call to their friend over and over, “I love you so much. Bye. I love you so much. Bye.” These words echoed throughout the night.

Many beautiful things happened. But I didn’t feel cradled in community. I didn’t feel supported. I connected with people when I needed, but those were mostly fleeting connections. I was slightly overwhelmed by all that was going on. I saw the warped connections that occur once it gets dark and people start taking too many drugs. Especially since I’ve been living at a drug and alcohol free community, I felt ultra-heightened to these bizarre hours of the night and day when shit just gets weird.

I didn’t feel jaded because of my personal experience (more on that in a different blog post), but overall something seemed missing. I came to realize that what I really felt was a lack in overall intention. The Envision program reads, “Together we are here to celebrate our spirits, heal our bodies and minds, and revitalize our souls…” Yes, I do think Envision provides a space for that, but it also provides a space for people to partake in and possibly abuse drugs and alcohol. Depending on the music festival, drug and alcohol use are going to occur, but I think there can be a stronger balance with drug use and wellness. Even though there were yoga classes and there was a healing area, I’d like to see a greater space devoted to wellness and connection at these types of events.

After Envision I spontaneously landed at Tribal Alliance Retreat, a visionary leadership immersion in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. Once Tribal Alliance was in full swing I realized why Envision left me jaded and upset.

At its core Tribal Alliance was a journey into the heart of community, sacred celebration, regenerative culture, rites of passage, empowerment, and embodying the vision of a new Earth. All this and more at an alcohol-free event with limited participant space and three vegetarian meals daily led to an intimate, inspirational gathering. At Tribal Alliance people were united in their intentions to be vulnerable, to go deeper, to build and maintain lasting connections and to remain centered on ultimate wellness and love. Focused on the more engaging, learning, grounding aspects of community, Tribal Alliance bridged the gap between music festival culture and tangible aspects of health, wellness and permaculture.

Where music festivals provide a plethora of options to partake in at all times, Tribal Alliance provided one workshop at a time. Where music festivals provide multiple stages with multiple musicians playing at once, Tribal Alliance provided one stage with one band playing at a time; there were no overlapping sets. Where music festivals provide a space to be pulled in a million directions, Tribal Alliance provided a space to be grounded and to be a part of community.

Another important aspect to Tribal Alliance: the food. The event included three vegetarian meals a day, and we all ate together. Eating with others and connecting over a meal is a beautiful bonding experience. I love being able to share the joy and fortune of food with others. There was live music every night, but it ended at 1 a.m. It was easier to rest when I didn’t have to worry about missing any late night music or have the remnants of late night partyers stomp through the campground.

Meal time at Tribal Alliance

Meal time at Tribal Alliance

I still think there’s a place and need for music festivals and I always will, but my personal needs are changing. As my life becomes more focused on health and wellness, I find myself questioning how nourishment fits into being at a four day party without getting the best rest or eating properly. As I become more myself, my values are changing. I value getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, looking people in the eyes, mindfully eating, learning who people really are, practicing yoga daily, connecting to people without the influence of drugs or alcohol and carrying an awareness while remaining grounded.

The more immersed I am in community, the more I realize how important a support group is. The more time I dedicate to yoga and health, the better I feel in every way. I want to live life as intentionally and mindfully as possible without fogging my perspective with drugs or alcohol. But at the same time, I love live music. I love dancing all night until past sunrise. I love the magic that can only occur at music festivals. How does all this balance? Where does it fit? At Tribal Alliance I felt the balance. I experienced how nourishing, healthy transformational events are possible.

Right after Envision I realized I was slightly heartbroken because at Envision a piece of myself died, a piece of myself who I’ve been for years, a piece of myself that was so intertwined with my identity. At Tribal Alliance I realized it didn’t die; it evolved.

So will I always be in love with music festivals? I can’t say for sure, but I know I’ll always love them in a special way. They’ve shaped my life tremendously. I’m constantly growing more into the person I want to be, more into the person I am. I’m recognizing what I really want out of life and how events like Tribal Alliance combine my interests in the most positive, meaningful way. I want to bring concepts and ideas from events like Tribal Alliance into music festival culture. I want to attend and be a part of events where ultimate wellness involving mind, body, spirit, land and community is the root.

This is my last blog post under the name ‘aprilsfestivals.’ I’m keeping the blog, but I’m ready to make the official transition to Smile and Be Free. Smile and Be Free represents the evolution of my love of music festivals and my ideas on life.

What are your thoughts on this emergence of “transformational” music festivals? Where do healing, yoga and permaculture fit into music festivals? How can we foster lasting positive change at these events? How do you remain present, grounded and mindful at music festivals when the chaos spins all around you?

Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you very much.

Feeling the spirit of love and friendship all around at the Mystical Yoga Farm, I decided to indulge this Valentine’s Day. As I was growing up I enjoyed having a special someone be my Valentine. This year I’ve decided that that special someone is me.

Leela, a lovely Karma Yogi who inspires me every day, led a poetry and yoga workshop last week. It was my day off so I missed the workshop, but Leela gave me the prompt: write an ecstatic love poem to yourself. Be as mushy and loving as possible. Read Leela’s gorgeous love poem at her blog Zen BootCamp.

Love and acceptance are broader themes to personal subjects I’m working on constantly. Loving myself is an important part of that process. Happy Valentine’s Day to the people I love very much, including myself. Please share your self-love poems in the comments section. Click to read my poem and be swept away in self-love

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

Smile You’re in the Caribbean

That was the first rule at my hostel on the Caribbean side. As I explored the town, I continued to see this mantra everywhere.

Attitude of Gratitude:

I’m thankful that despite what everyone said, I explored the Carribbean side. I’m thankful for the wonderful community of people I met in Playa Chiquita and that community exists. I’m thankful for spiders.

The first night I arrived on the Caribbean side calypso music breezed through the windows of the cultural center in downtown Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. (The locals drop the de Talamanca and refer to it as Puerto Viejo. There’s another Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí.) Musicians wearing brightly colored sarongs swayed in the front of the room as people served traditional Caribbean food in the back. I arrived just in time for Gran Feria Cultural: Casa De La Cultura,  an Afro-Caribbean culture festival. As I danced to the calypso rhythms at the free event, I knew I was going to like it in Puerto Viejo. Back at my hostel they were hosting mud wrestling. There was already plenty to smile about.

I started my Costa Rican journey on the Pacific side and most people I met said the Caribbean side was nothing much, to put it nicely. I feel like some people in the States are also like that, always thinking their side of the coast is better. When I got to the Caribbean side and explored Puerto Viejo and every beach south, I realized that no one knew what they were talking about. Regardless of what people say about a place, you can never judge it until you’ve been there yourself. Until you experience something yourself, you never really know. Each day in the Caribbean side I found something new to love.

The Caribbean side pulses with life.

So many of these beauties everywhere

So many of these beauties everywhere

Bright blue morpho butterflies flutter right past your face sometimes. Neon orb-weaver spiders weave webs all through the jungle and between the power lines of the road.  Some say that the Caribbean side lacks a dry season. It rained most days I was there, but most of the rain poured during the night. In turn, lush green vegetation swallows you up. Leaves of trees seem to reach out and cling to you.

Caribbean trees

The Caribbean side is a mixture of all different types of people and cultures that includes indigenous tribes like Cabecar and Bribri Indians. Artisans sell jewerly and clothing all along the road, which adds to the vibrant colors you see everywhere.

Bob Marley music can always be heard somewhere. The jungle path pushes right up to the beach in Puerto Viejo and Cocles. There are restaurants in Puerto Viejo for every price range with a wide list of options from typical sodas to Thai and Italian.

In Puerto Viejo, there’s always something to do. There’s a farmers market on Saturday mornings. Lazy Mon hosts an open mic night on Sundays. Tasty Waves has trivia nights on Tuesdays. OM Yoga has a community class on Wednesdays. Jessy Chick performs at EZ Times on Wednesdays. There are tons of shops with really cute clothing and great souviners.

My favorite store in town is Luluberlu. It’s on one of the side roads and is a must-go-to if you’re in town. Just look at all these colorful things:

Luluberlu

Luluberlu

Luluberlu

When you talk to most backpackers about Puerto Viejo, they’ll suggest the hostel Rocking J’s. Most people I talked to didn’t really know anything else. But there are plenty more options. I knew Rocking J’s was a party hostel, primarily targeted at the 16- to 21-year-old crowd. I don’t mind partying every once in awhile, but I didn’t want to be living in the party. Rocking J’s is a great place to visit though. They have tons of beautiful mosaics.

Good VibesLife's so good

A guy I met at the bus station in Nicoya told me to go to a place called La Ruka instead. The name stuck with me as I traveled throughout Costa Rica. I ended up spending 16 days at La Ruka, my longest stay since volunteering at the ranch. When driving from the center of town, La Ruka is on the right, just before Rocking J’s. The couple that runs the hostel were extremely welcoming and accommodating. It’s one of those hostels where the other guests become your family. By foot, it’s around 5- to 10- minutes from the center of town.

One of the main differences of Puerto Viejo than most of the other places I’ve visited in Costa Rica is the paved road. The paved road added a whole new dimension to things. For one, people drove much faster than on the rocky, dusty roads.

Puerto Viejo is a bit seedier and rougher than most places I’ve been in Costa Rica. There are many places where you don’t want to walk or ride your bike at night regardless if you’re alone or not. Danni, the co-runner of La Ruka, told me, “When you walk at night be confident, and shine your light out.” I think this roughness is part of the reason Puerto Viejo gets a bad reputation. It’s not like people are murdering people in the streets. It’s mainly petty crime like people stealing your belongings. I’ve heard of worse things happening in Santa Teresa.

Like when traveling anywhere else, if you go out at night, be sensible. Don’t walk alone in the dark. Don’t carry anything valuable on you. And most importantly, shine your light out.

In Puerto Viejo people will openly offer you marijuana. More people ask, “Do you smoke?” in Puerto Viejo than any other place I’ve been in Costa Rica. I can see people being put off by that, but it’s as simple as saying, “No, gracias,” and walking away. The locals also have a favorite go-to line, “Hey girl, where you from?” It’s like they memorized that English question and nothing else.

While Puerto Viejo is nice for going out, the true gems of the Caribbean lie south of Puerto Viejo. I think another reason people dismiss the Caribbean side is because they get to Puerto Viejo and stop there. Keep going. Always keep exploring. The small beach towns past the main town are the heart of the Caribbean side.

After Puerto Viejo there’s Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva and Manzanillo. I loved the jungle feel of the places along the main road.

A cafe along the road

A cafe

The town's welcome sign

The town’s welcome sign

You never know when you'll need a little jungle love.

You never know when you’ll need a little jungle love.

cafe

Outdoor dining in the Caribbean

My suggestions as always: rent a bicycle and explore. The day I rode south of PV, I really started to fall in love. I felt like each passing sight and sign was written for me, especially in Playa Chiquita. I’m pretty sure I could stay there forever.

“Chocolate tours, vegan and vegetarian food, kundalini yoga, save the forest, and plant trees,” are just a few of the signs  I rode past.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, we pulled into the beach Punta Uva.

Punta Uva Punta Uva

This instantly became my favorite beach in Costa Rica.

And this ledge on Punta Uva’s beach instantly became my favorite place to practice yoga and one of my favorite places in the world.

Yoga Punta Uva

In Playa Chiquita my favorite place is La Botantica Organica, a vegetarian, vegan and raw foods cafe with a store that offers all kinds of sustainable, eco-friendly, and local products. While I was in Puerto Viejo they hosted a community movie night and community art showcase night.

At La Botantica Organica I met happy, healthy people who were facilitaing community in every sense of the word. I was so tempted to never leave so I could grow in community with them. But now I know I have a Puerto Viejo family I can always go back to.