Somehow, it has been a year. A year since we left the jungle and moved back home.
These last 12 months have been a journey of reconciliation – of trying to preserve the person I became in Costa Rica while living in an environment that isn’t always conducive to mindfulness and quiet. Of trying to embrace the very best things about my U.S. life, and still hold on to the best things about my pura vida one.
I don’t remember which of my friends said this, half-teasing, but there’s truth to it. “Now that you’ve lived in another country, you’ve ruined two good places. Neither can ever be perfect for you anymore.”
Nosara was a glorious but also a challenging place to live, with the heat and dust and water shortages and flat tires. There are so many things I enjoy about being back in the U.S. – big things like family, and smaller things like fast internet and Target. But the U.S. doesn’t seem quite right anymore, either. Too busy, too bustling, too hectic.
We’ve made a lot of changes in our lives since returning home. One of the biggest differences – we decided we didn’t want to live in the city anymore. After spending our days surrounded by trees and jungle, we felt claustrophobic back in town. I wanted to look out my window and see green. I wanted to step outside at night and see stars.
So we decided not to move back into our city home, and we bought a place on Skidaway Island, about 20 minutes outside of Savannah. It’s no wild Costa Rica – it’s a fancy-pants gated golf community for goodness sake. BUT, the house we chose is full of windows and skylights looking onto green trees and puffs of white clouds in blue skies.
There are 40 miles of walking trails through forest or alongside marsh where you can get lost in nature (and I do). There are no monkeys, but there are alligators and deer and eagles and herons and foxes, and at night the crickets and frogs make a blanket of sound, and you can see the stars. All while enjoying luxuries like air conditioning and reliable running water.
And yet, we aren’t totally satisfied. We spend a lot of our time in the car commuting to school, church, meetings, music lessons, etc. We are too busy for things like yoga and meditation. It’s harder to get together with friends here because everyone else is busy too. We’re making an effort not to be so over-scheduled, but the reality is that life in the US is demanding, and we demand much of ourselves.
So Lee and I began planting reminders all around us, tokens that recall us to our journey in Costa Rica – both the literal journey and the spiritual one.
On the bricks of our fireplace hangs a brightly colored wooden whale bearing the words “pura vida.” He’s reminding us to slow down, let go, and practice contentment.
On the mantle sits a painting of a kiskadee, the bird that shrilled so loudly outside our Nosara home. Next to the kiskadee is a bottle of black sand from Playa Azul. Camille’s bed is covered with a new jungle-themed comforter, and brightly colored lizards decorate her walls like the real house geckos did in Costa Rica. They’re reminding us to appreciate nature.
And yesterday, I did something surprising. Something very un-Ginger-like. I got my first tattoo.
I know, right?
I’ve long thought tattoos were interesting, but never felt the need to permanently brand myself with anything in particular. And there’s that phobia of needles.
Eighteen months ago, when I told my psychiatrist I might get a tattoo, he initially advised against it. But when I outlined my idea, he paused.
“Yeah, you can get that tattoo,” he relented.
But first, maybe I should explain why I was talking to a psychiatrist about tattoos.
Early 2015 was a tough time for me. Like a bolt of lightening, I was suddenly struck by powerful feelings of anxiety. I sought help from a therapist and my doctor, and eventually a psychiatrist. As I came to discover, a change in medication was probably to blame for my sudden onset of anxiety. We worked on my medication, but it was like the episode had unlocked something in me that had always lurked beneath the surface – an obsession with personal perfection and a terrible fear that I was doing it all wrong. That catastrophe waited around every corner.
In the midst of all this, the opportunity arose to spend a year in Costa Rica. I was terrified the change would worsen my anxiety, and we almost decided not to go because of it. But as it turns out, the journey was exactly what I needed.
Later, I joked with my psychiatrist that he should recommend all of his anxious, OCD patients be dropped in Nosara for a year. I removed myself from the stress of the first world, and woke up every morning to see the ocean and hear the monkeys. I was surrounded by people who were very connected with their spiritual selves, and who would meet me on the beach in the morning to teach me how to meditate.
In Costa Rica, I began to practice yoga and mindfulness, soaking up the words of my yoga teachers like a thirsty sponge. “The only thing that matters right now is what is happening today – in this moment – between the four corners of your yoga mat. It doesn’t matter what your neighbor is doing. It doesn’t matter if you could do this pose yesterday and not today, or if you’ll be able to do it tomorrow. All that matters is that you connect your movement to your breath. Just breathe.”
And I found that I could breathe. I could be quiet and I could be still.
I had a session with a shamanic healer in Sámara who, after having a quiet conversation with the energy field around my body, declared that I was too concerned with the future. That I needed to let go and practice contentment. That I couldn’t possibly control what was going to happen next so I had to stop trying so damn hard.
How did he know? I don’t know. But he was right. And slowly, I began to let go.
On one of our visa runs back home, I had a follow up appointment with my psychiatrist. While I was sitting in the waiting room, I thumbed through a copy of Psychology Today and was bowled over by the cover article, “It’s Not All About You!”
You should read it. Really. Just click on that link.
But in case you didn’t, let me summarize. In the vastness of our universe, you’re not such a big deal.
Isn’t that wonderful!?
How liberating it is to realize that every little thing I do – every thought I think – isn’t so important after all! I don’t have to be perfect because this world is big and it’s not all about me.
The article goes on to say that one of the keys to unlocking this truth is “awe.” Whether through the institutions of religion, or the study of science, or literature or nature – when we are wonderstruck we are pulled out of our self-absorption by realizing we’re connected to something much, much bigger.
Nature is a great catalyst. Looking a tree, you can be reminded it was there long before you were born, and will likely stand long after you’re gone. When the sea stretches in front of you, you understand better your place in the universe. As the article says, “We look at the stars and think, ‘My problems are so trivial compared to the majesty of the night sky.’”
I believe Nosara was a healing salve to my spirit – a removal from a hectic and busy life; being surrounded by people who were very connected to each other, nature, and the spiritual world; learning the centering power of yoga and meditation; and being constantly awestruck by nature.
Of course my issues are still part of me, but I have new tools to help me live in the moment, like meditation, yoga, and the therapy of nature.
So back to that tattoo.
I had a friend draw up the inspiration for it when we were still living in Costa Rica. I wanted a sloth. One of the reasons we first visited Costa Rica back in 2013 was to go to the Sloth Sanctuary. And then later, during our year living there, the sloth came to represent a literal “slowing down.” Not being lazy, but not being so frantic and rushed all the time. A sloth does everything mindfully and deliberately.
I didn’t want the sloth to be cartoonish or comical – I wanted it to be beautiful. And I wanted it decorated with mandala-type stylings, symbols that represent the universe and cosmos and bring to mind yoga and meditation.
And my friend added a lovely touch – she did many of the elements in groups of threes. Three petals, three lines, three curlicues – representing my family of three and the journey we took together.
Now that we’re back in the U.S., it’s not always easy to hang on to all that the sloth represents to me. I am and will always be a work in progress. But I finally felt ready to brand myself – to give myself a visual mantra. When I look at my sloth tattoo, I want to remember to slow down. To practice mindfulness. To be content. To look on the world around me with wonder.
I want to remember “Pura Vida” wherever I am. And I don’t ever want to forget.