Yesterday, as I sat in the Puerta Vallarta airport watching the glowing, happy, tan American touristos walk to their gates, I started to feel very thankful that a place like this exists. Where pale, over-worked, disgruntled Americans can go to find their happy. Whatever their particular happy might be.
My happy was living in a treehouse, in a jungle, on the ocean, in Mexico, doing yoga.
After three and a half months of living in Europe and stuffing my face with scones and soda bread and croissants and the like, I knew I would need a reboot afterwards. Actually, my yoga teacher knew. A friend and I affectionately call him “Our Lord” because he sees and knows all. Our Lord said to me last December, before I left San Francisco for my little eat, pray, love adventure, that I should go to do my cooking in Ireland and then meet him in Mexico in April. Then, and only then, would we would figure out my future. Until that time, I was instructed to just enjoy my trip, enjoy every day, and live in the present. So I did. And when the time came, I left Ireland headed back west by way of France, England, Italy and New York — and then into a plane, a car and a boat to the treehouse in the jungle in Mexico.
Our Lord was one of the reasons I moved to San Francisco, stumbling into his yoga class at Equinox on a Friday afternoon during my business trip assessing if the city could be my new home. I walked out dazed and confused — and happy. So, two and a half years later, in the city that did become my home, when I was anything but happy, I listened to him and decided to met him in Mexico to figure out my future. Our Lord has a powerful way of bringing kick-ass people together, but I honestly didn’t even think about that when I booked my plane ticket from my cottage in Ireland. I thought about sun, and sand, and warmth, and kick-ass guacamole — and the paradise that is this almost-untouched area of the western coast of Mexico. But it was this group of 15 kick-ass yogis who came to the jungle to find their own happy that helped me find mine.
Our Lord rarely calls students by their real names — sometimes I think this is because he forgets their real names and sometimes it’s just him being his quirky self. Although I must have seen some of these nicknamed faces before at yoga classes in SF, they were all strangers to me when we jumped off the boat (quite literally, as there was no dock for our private part of the jungle, and some of us were quite stellar at the technique of entering and exiting the boat without any spectacle). In a Breakfast Club end credits sort of way, we were all different, but in many ways we are all the same. There was “Mama” and “Joshua Tree” and “Teetee” and “The Bob and The Jennifer” and “The Womens” and all the rest of us… In love, healing from love, looking for love, it didn’t matter on the yoga mats in the tree house. And once again I found myself in a place of no judgment and no competition — just love, integrity and respect.
I listened to Our Lord and didn’t think about my plan for what’s next while I was cooking and eating my way around Europe. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to avoid it forever, though, and realized how inevitable it was when the customs control officer in Dublin said to me: “So you just learned to cook, now what?” in a surprisingly genuine tone. And I told him with the biggest smile and shrug I could muster after sleeping only two hours the night before (darn pub, darn Guinness), “I have no idea! So I’m going home to figure it out.”
It’s no secret that I love to bake cakes. And tarts. And now I can even get really into taking a giant saw to a lamb. But the future could entail many things… More writing, more baking, more hands-on work with kids. Not surprisingly, almost everyone in the jungle asked me what’s next. And as usual, I rattled off my list of options so far and crazy ideas and a million places I still want to travel to. But unlike the usual supportive nods and kind words and occasional “you must be fucking crazy” looks in response, this group was different.
The look on “Joshua Tree’s” face when I told him about my dream of starting a kids’ cooking school was like that of a child at an amusement park looking up at all the rides with awe. Coupled with an emphatic, “You HAVE to do this.” It made me smile to my core. “The Bob and The Jennifer” immediately started listing personal contacts in Mexico minutes after meeting me and telling them I want to learn to cook Mexican cuisine in territory. “Mama,” in her beautiful Australian accent, said to me at the water cooler after class one day, “I can’t wait to see what’s next for you, I know it’s going to be great.” And “Arturo My Man” came to my mat on the morning of our last class and looked sincerely into my eyes. He took my hand and said, “You have everything you need on your plate to be full. Your future will be wonderful.” (I quite appreciated the metaphor, even if unintentional.)
Among other famous phrases he has coined, Our Lord is known to say “Welcome Home” at least five times each class. Our mat is home. Yoga is home. And for someone who doesn’t really know where her home is these days (or more accurately, these past few years), it’s a pretty powerful sentiment. (His other favorite saying of mine is “oh my gawwwd” and one would be surprised at how much more enjoyable it is to say and to hear when you stretch out the word God to three syllables.) But perhaps the most appropriate Lordism is, “Courage is everything, man. Be brave, my friend, be brave.” Somehow on this trip I managed to be brave enough to chant by myself to the group, swim in my underwear in the ocean at night, and tell total strangers all about my hopes and dreams without blinking an eye.
Just love, integrity and respect
So now what? I’m going to buy some brilliantly-red California strawberries at the farmer’s market and bake some crazy shit with them. I’m going to find my baking prodigy, Alice, and invite her over to make a giant cake covered in sprinkles with me. I’m going to read a lot of books that I never had time to read before. I’m going to study the map of Mexico. And I’m going to do a lot of yoga with Our Lord.
When the customs control officer in San Francisco said to me, “Welcome home,” I just smiled this time and simply said, “Thank you.” No shoulder shrugs, no ramblings, just happy. And a little bit of extra courage, too, thanks to my kick-ass new jungle yogis and their kick-ass hearts.