A Moment of Reflection in Antigua

IMG_0555Antigua is my happy place. The imposing and picturesque volcanoes are alluring. They allow me to appreciate the power of nature, de la tierra. The climate is always moderate, so much so that they call it the land of eternal spring. The people are warm and accepting, always willing to help each other, and you, if you need it. The streets are cobbled and ruins are scattered hauntingly everywhere. People come from all over the world so it feels like an international hub where a café chat can take you on a journey towards deeper understanding. It’s a place of connection. It feels like me – worn, wise, charming, bright, and always open to the possibilities.

And although I only make it here every 6-7 years, it calls out to me at unexpected times almost as if it’s calling me home. This time, I hadn’t planned to come. My fingers just started clicking on the keyboard and before I knew it, less than an hour later, I had booked a flight. I hadn’t even told my family. I hadn’t checked to see if my host family that I typically stay with had space for me (they didn’t). And I didn’t have much money to splurge because my summer classes got dropped. No me importa. As soon as I booked the ticket, there was a settling in my soul. I felt at peace and was ecstatic about the possibility of getting there again, in mere days.

Truly, I just wanted a space to be. That’s it. No big agenda to write the next great American novel. No itinerary to do yoga in San Marcos. I just wanted no-thing. No responsibilities. No distractions. No mierda. I just felt the need to be. Still. To live simply and off the grid. I’m a firm believer in manifesting what I want. I don’t believe in complaining about anything unless I’m willing to change it and I’m well aware that the only one who can bring me back to myself is me, so I did what I needed to do in order to recalibrate. See, I’d had a long, grueling academic year and was exhausted – mind, body, and spirit. The year had been filled with new developments, big and small challenges, relentless grading, several successes, and a little growth. It was a good year, but an emotionally challenging one that often brought me home feeling haggard and disjointed. I was ready to recharge and do for me and me alone, guided by nothing but the moment.

So that night, I packed a tiny overnight suitcase and less than two weeks later, I boarded a plane to paradise. I was greeted at the airport by a handsome and familiar face that had grown up way too soon and he whisked me away to Antigua. The first day, I settled into an AirBnB that I intentionally chose outside of central Antigua because my spirit needed silence. I was running away from noise, the clamor of constant movement, the squeaks of external expectations and the grunts of over-stimulation. And I had finally reached nirvana. The home was a lovely two-floor hideaway complete with a meditation room, garden, koi pond, Guatemalan sauna, mini library, and rooftop deck with unobstructed views of Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. As luck would have it, I even got the entire home to myself for a mere $315 for 14 days. Yes, I had hit the jackpot and I couldn’t wait to bask in the lujo of it all.

The next day, I decided to walk to town (40 minutes away) to re-acclimate myself and grab some groceries. I’d taken a few snapshots and had a few “oh, I remember this street” moments before I decided to go to one of my favorite little spots, Café Condesa. While taking in a modest breakfast of an over easy egg, black beans and a single panqueque in the patio area, I was asked to move inside because it was about to rain. I happily obliged and settled for watching the flitting hummingbirds from a distance. It’s the rainy season (with a forecast of rain each day I was scheduled to be there), so I just figured my luck for the day had run out. I finished eating and stepped outside where there were dozens of people standing under the terrace. As I was stepping into the street, I saw the same sweet face, Leo, who had picked me up from the airport and he told me to stay put because of the “rain.” He told me, “Tinita, look closely.”

I noticed that it was raining something that looked like mud drops. It quickly covered cars as those driving in it tried fruitlessly to clear the sludge from their windshields. He told me it was ash from Fuego. I was in amazement at what I was witnessing and my friend told me that it happens occasionally and that we just needed to wait it out. We were none the wiser. None of us in central Antigua had any idea of the destruction that was occurring at that very moment, as there is no alert system in place for these types of catastrophes. We thought it would be like the other minor eruptions that blew ceniza, arena or polvo all over the place. See, Volcán de Fuego is an active volcano and is one of the beautiful attractions of Antigua. There are 37 volcanoes in Guatemala and three are active at this time (Pacaya which I climbed in 2004 and Santiaguito). I chose a home with a rooftop deck just so that I could see that mesmerizing lava snaking down the side of Fuego in the evenings when all is calm and dark. That wasn’t the scene this time.

News reports later revealed that this was pyroclastic lava spewing hundreds of feet in the air and careening downwards between 30 and 90 miles per hour, demolishing everything in its path. Unwittingly, I’d found myself bearing witness to a catastrophic natural and national disaster that would take many lives and disrupt the lives of many others. What I saw was citizens and tourists taking immediate action once they realized the tragedy at hand. The grocery stores and streets of Antigua were filled with people buying and donating goods to support those in urgent need. Firefighters stood in roadways soliciting donations in between saving lives. Rusted pick-up trucks carried volunteers and supplies to and from the sites of tragedy.

Fortunately, the eruption didn’t have the same tragic impact where I was staying. Outside of lots of clean up, as there was ash everywhere, and the fear of breathing in ash or it getting into our eyes (most wore masks), we were quite safe in Antigua which is about 9-10 miles away from Fuego. Those living in places near the base of Fuego such as Alotenango, El Rodeo, and San Miguel los Lotes were heavily impacted and that’s where the majority of the casualties were. The news reported that Antigua was the place of the destruction because as one of the biggest tourist hubs, it has name recognition. That’s why I got dozens of frantic calls and texts from concerned family and friends asking if I was safe. I was. I still am. I’m not a martyr nor an adrenaline junkie, so if I felt unsafe, I’d leave. And so I remain.

There’s a saying about how life is what happens when you have other plans. My plan was to have an uneventful, insulated time in Antigua, but this event has taught me some valuable lessons.

  • I can’t run away from external stressors. They will find me anyway. So instead of running to an imaginary sanctuary, my focus has to be on developing better emotional responses to my stressors. I feel things and people deeply and this has always been my gift and my curse. I need to work to care while simultaneously detaching, putting down baggage that isn’t mine and managing the baggage that is. And thank you to my dear friend Tory and sage Pema Chödrön who helped me to arrive at this revelation. My sanctuary has to be internal, starting with my mind and spirit, then my fantastic support system of family and friends. I am blessed to have the type of top to bottom support that I do.
  • No matter where I am on God’s green earth, I am connected to community and with that comes responsibility. People checked on me and I them. We worked together to do our part in making things better on the ground. There were no heroes, there was no centering of the self involved. It was about prayer, direct action and service to others, to our global family. We are one.
  • Being sola is still really, really good for me. I’m a loud ass introvert, though most of y’all still don’t believe it and I need time to myself, my thoughts. I love going days without having to talk or exchange energy or explain or silence myself due to the fragility of others or share my space. The quiet time, this alone time, is restorative in a way that cleanses me and makes me feel very much alive and free.
  • Destruction and profound beauty can co-exist. I wanted to get away from the U.S. for awhile. The energy of the nation had me sad, anxious, angry, and spent often. Well, I hopped from one type of destructive setting (under Trump obviously) to a natural disaster. And through it, there was still tremendous beauty, love, light, and joy to be found. This holds true as well in my own home of America, if I allow it. While I fight for justice or fight battles at work, I can take all the time I need to revel in the beauty of life, shifting the energy to be one of love and light simply because I exist. I must tap into my power much more frequently.
  • No place is perfect. Paradise is an illusion. Life is what you make it, no matter where you are or who you are, so make that shit count. Every day. Live.

If you’d like to donate funds to support those impacted by the eruption of Volcán de Fuego, a trusted friend’s partner is coordinating efforts in Antigua. Click the link:

https://www.gofundme.com/guatemalan-relief

A la buena vida, Tina

How to Keep the One You Love

1.) Make sure he/she loves you back. Love needs to be reciprocal and just because you love someone doesn’t mean they are obligated to love you in return. Be honest with yourself and determine whether this person is really deserving of your love or even wants your love. Sometimes we want love so much, that we accept anything shiny that comes into view. Stop chasing those who don’t want you and stop engaging those who aren’t worthy of your precious love. Choose your mate wisely and be sure that the feelings and level of commitment are mutually strong.

2.) Know that he/she doesn’t belong to you like a pet or a toy. If God has ordained it, then it’s meant to be. You can’t control whether someone goes or stays. Don’t be jealous, overbearing and overly concerned about his/her whereabouts and his/her need to be alone at times. Both of you deserve a certain level of independence where you can have guiltless time away from each other. This means you need to trust him/her and his/her intentions. If you don’t, maybe you shouldn’t be in the relationship because distrust causes unnecessary tress and drama.

It’s healthy to have your own lives and interests as well as mutual interests and quality time together. Sometimes we avoid being alone because we aren’t our own best friends first. You have to know, love and enjoy you before you can know, love and enjoy someone else because if you don’t have the former, you will find yourself lost when your partner tries to have his/her own life. A relationship isn’t a melting pot where both people need to lose who they are in order to be together. Positive alone time can help you grow together and appreciate the time that you do have.

3.) Be happy in your own right. An unhappy person will eventually make his or her partner unhappy and the relationship will fail. Happiness in self is a prerequisite for happiness in a relationship. Do you know how much of a gift you are to this earth? Are you manifesting your destiny? Are you love personified? Do you know that happiness is your birthright and that only you can claim it for yourself? We have choices and some of us choose to be miserable, to complain incessantly, to feel we aren’t worthy of true love, to believe that we can’t have the things we desire most, and to believe that we can’t be genuinely happy. Well, that’s poppycock.

It’s all about saying yes to the best outcomes of our lives and about how we positively deal with the many challenges that will come our way. Circumstances can be crummy at times and we can still make a choice to be happy and thankful for the things we do have. Being happy by any means necessary literally changes your whole vibration. Happy people attract good energy and everyone wants to be around one with positive energy – including the one you love. That actually makes you more attractive. The more you work on yourself and fulfilling your passions, the more powerful, loving energy emanates from you. If you have someone who is secure and is on the same path, this is a huge turn-on and will make him or her love you even more – the beauty they see in you being your best, most fulfilled and loving self.

Catching Up to Our Dreams

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It’s time to live our life “like it’s golden.” I have a personal abundance challenge going and I want you aboard this happiness train. This is how it goes. We put our wildest, most wonderful goals and dreams into the universe and we simply say “Yes! And So It Is!” We talk about these dreams to whoever will listen. In order for the law of yes to work, we have to place our dreams firmly and brazenly into the ether. Say it! Write it. Dance it! Draw it. Meditate and pray on it. Sing it! Visualize it. It is there waiting to happen.

Next, we create a plan of action. No goal can be securely planted and enacted without the seeds of preparation and good old-fashioned thinking it out. Write possible ways to achieve your dreams and who can help you get there. After the planning, we must fully accept that it can, will and is happening in our lives. Right now. You have placed energy there, so the seedling of thought is growing into a wild, bountiful forest of actualization. Finally, we allow the universe to work its magic with the simple power of YES. The universe is here to support all of us. You have to release some control and let things unfold. Your job isn’t to worry about how exactly it will happen. Instead, accept that it is happening and move aside to let God, the ancestors, your angels, and the universe to rally around you and lift you towards your dreams.

It sounds frilly, but it’s real. I firmly know that all the things that have come into my life were because I’ve been bold enough to say “Yes” despite my fear and the universe supported me. I have healed past trauma, traveled to at least 10 countries (mostly alone and without wealth), become an author, learned to walk without a limp, found a beautiful love, family and friends who nurture my growth, gotten every job I have ever interviewed for, found a spiritual home of a bunch of wonderful, happy folks who think as I do (Bodhi Spiritual Center), and have been deliriously happy since I realized that I had a choice to choose happiness. Some call it dumb luck or being “favored”. I am no more special than you are. We are all special. We are one. We are all favored. The universe doesn’t play favorites. There is enough abundance for us all. There is no lack except for the lack we create.

How many things have you set your mind to doing and it got done? How many times have you thought of something or someone and they materialized before you? Surely, it has occurred often because the same principle is at work. The problem is that some of us are terrified of thinking big because it means being vulnerable and revealing our true heart’s desire. We are our only inhibitors, and it’s time to get out of our own way.

This is what we must remove for any of our dreams and grand goals to occur: Get rid of the word and thought “no” as it relates to your dreams. No is rooted in doubt, fear, and negativity. I’d say that these emotions are all big, scary monsters that defeat us, but that’s not the truth. They can never defeat us unless we allow it. The truth is these are all little punk emotions –doubt, fear and negativity – that are afraid of your greatness. Like all punks, you’ve got to push them aside, tell them to shut up and move on with the business of being the “YOU” that you were put on this earth to be.

Saying “no” is the surest and fast way to NOT get what you want. Example:

Your heart says: “I want to be a world traveler, get my MBA and climb Volcano Pacaya.”

Your fear, doubt and negativity say: “No, I can’t.” And so it is. Your wish has been fulfilled. See how easy that was?

It’s simple. The longer you tell yourself “no”, the longer you will stay disconnected from your happiness and the source of your true power. Say “Yes!” Claim your personal, God-given power. Accept only Yes. We are not here to suffer and struggle and lament about what we coulda, woulda and shoulda done. We are here to walk our beautiful journeys, be our best selves, be happy, and be successful at whatever it is that we are meant to do. So let’s synergize, believe, plan, and actualize. Now.

I’ll kick us off and then I want you to publicly and brazenly claim what is yours as well!

My Dreams Right Now:

1. I will continue to travel the world and connect with all of the other beautiful people on this earth.

2. I have my own successful, arts-based business that brings me financial abundance, allows me to continue helping others, and fills my spirit with joy.

3. I live in a neighborhood that is filled to the brim with resources and makes me feel happy, supported and safe.

4. I easily save enough money for my child to attend the college of her choice.

5. I will remain with the love of my life for the next ten lifetimes or even better.

6. I dance as much as I smile.

7. I have all the time that I need to write and act. Both bring me financial wealth as well as happiness.

8. My first young adult novel is published this year.

9. I see and revel in nature in the form of mountains, trees or large, beautiful bodies of water often.

YES. And so it is. (Breathe it in.)

Notice that I didn’t say what I want in the future. I said what I want and have RIGHT NOW because I’ve just planted that seed and I trust the universe to do its work in helping me to actualize these goals. Now, it’s your turn. You can post it here at my site, as your FB post for the day, tweet it, place it on your dream board, or write it in your journal. Where doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take the time to put it in the universe. That starts the chain reaction. I wish you nothing but abundance, fulfillment and joy. Tag. You’re it! What is it that you want? What are your dreams?

Weary Bones and New Ways

New Hair for New Ways

Okay, another year has gone by with a few steps back and several leaps forward for me. Once again, I met Mr. December feeling tired, strained, lethargic, and stressed from the inside out. I had weird pimples, boils, dry hair, a sore throat, back pain, a funky attitude, and a runny nose to accompany how I felt. Was it a bad year? No. It was probably one of the most exciting, productive, and eventful of my life, but even good stress can be stressful and problematic on the body, mind and spirit, if we’re not careful. My spirit has been low lately and I know it has more to do with what I’m not doing than what I’m doing. Let’s recap.

This year, I completed my fourth year of teaching high school (after a big career change) which I continue and love, though it is much more difficult with the budget cuts and high demands. I spent the summer learning Spanish in Central America with my family and it was fantastic and a dream come true. I published my first book, Let’s Get This Straight, with COLAGE. (Yes, I still need you to buy a copy. Then gift another.) I started putting money aside for me FIRST from each check before paying bills. It’s starting to look something like a real savings account. What a concept. (Suze Orman told me this about five years ago and I still didn’t listen.) I cut the perm off of my hair and am all “naptural” for the third time since college. It feels awesome and liberating. I’ve run/walked two 5ks since October. And for the first time in about ten years, I did not gain my usual 10-20 winter pounds. I can proudly say that I’m still at my summer weight due to keeping up some semblance of a workout regimen and gulping down only two measly slices of sweet potato pie this entire holiday season! THAT took more dedication than all of the rest combined. Now those are all of the wonderful things accomplished, but here’s what I didn’t do – I didn’t stop to breathe. Literally. I didn’t listen when my body begged for rest. I kept working. I kept writing. I kept parenting. I kept hustling. I kept it moving. I kept it moving without pause because that’s what mothers do. That’s what worker bees do. That’s what wives do. That’s what high achievers do. That’s what hard-headed people do. That’s what successful, driven people do. Right? Yes, and then they crash and burn. And I did.

By Dec 1st, I felt lifeless, aimless, moody, and selfish for not wanting to do a thing. Nothing. I wanted to sleep. I felt lazy because I had no desire to cook for my family or write a sentence. A sane person would have taken a sick day back in October, but like all insane people, I saved them for when my child got sick and when I had a media obligation for the book – leaving me sick as SOON as my winter break hit on December 17th. Great. That pissed me off because I was wasting good rest time on being sick. I was feeling so down in the dumps that I actually Googled signs of depression (my first step before calling the therapist) and took three on-line depression quizzes and they all said, “No, you’re not depressed, asshole. You’re tired.” Since I like it when computers talk dirty to me, I smiled and then took my ass to sleep.

I slept for 12 hours straight. The past few days, I have gone to bed early, awaken late, taken my vitamins, drank water (which I forgot existed), called family to shoot the breeze, ran to the library and stocked up on book about my latest passion – astronomy/moon cycles & it’s relationship to the feminine, and watched some Netflix movies from my cue. Then, as if on cue, my best friend a.k.a my hubby gave me TWO spa gift certificates and has been cooking consistently or ordering out since our winter break began. He even taught our 8yr old to cook a couple more meals outside of PB&J and cold turkey. I’m going walking today right after my midday nap. Then I’ll cook an ultra light dinner and rest some more. Am I feeling better and more energized? Definitely. Am I cured? Hell nawl. If I’m not careful, I will repeat the same tomfoolery next year. It boils down to self-care. Haven’t we heard this term for years? Women don’t take care of themselves. And we clearly know how because we take care of everyone else. We know all of the reasons we don’t take care of ourselves from excuses and martyrdom to lack of self love and downright stupidity. Regardless of your reason, join me in my de-stressing and self-care crusade. It’s time to unhinge the nails and jump off the cross. Here’s my New Year’s gift to you:

Top 10 Ways to De-Stress and Be Healthy (and not be a dope in 2011)

1. Take Care of Yourself – You don’t have to put yourself first every time, but every fourth time wouldn’t be so bad. Write a list of things you absolutely love to do (or would like to do if you had a chance) – both simple and great. Make sure that it’s not all material because that isn’t true happiness anyway. Once a week (or more if you’re daring), do something on this list, without fail. One of the first things on that list that should occur over and over again better be TIME, young lady. Time to paint your toenails. Time to read. Time to nap. Time to pray and meditate. Time to exercise. Time to dance. Time to sit down in comfort and with remote in hand. Time to make pralines. Time to call a friend. Time to give thanks and take it all in.

2. Say Good-Bye to Stressful People – Drop the negative friends and family members like you drop that butt in your Flirty Girls Fitness class. If you feel drained, stressed or like a negative ball of light after talking to that certain person, stop picking up the phone so much. Adopted stress is a silly, but real source of stress. We allow others to share their stress and make it our stress. One should share flowers, tomatoes, good sex tips, and money, not baggage and eternally bad times. I’m an honest, cold turkey sort of girl, so telling them what the challenge is in the relationship, setting boundaries and agreeing to part if we can’t agree to those boundaries is my way. It’s turned out both bad and good, so beware with this method. If you’re an Elvis, “don’t be cruel” sort of gal, then reframe negative conversations and be the positive charge. That every fifth Sunday when you do answer the call, text or email, don’t be the “uh huh, uh huh” person who only listens to the drama. Speak. Say what you want them to know and string in positive messages and then get the hell out of the conversation before it turns stressful. “Girl, it’s been great talking to you, bye!”

3. Don’t Struggle for the Struggle – Many of us bleeding hearts, non-profiteer types, love the idea of healing the world. We fight, shout and kick hard. We don’t admit it, but we love the martyrdom of the struggle. We think it’s kickass. We know we’re fierce and doing the real work. We work passionately for those issues we care about and we advocate fearlessly on behalf of the voiceless and powerless. However, we render ourselves powerless when we allow the perpetual struggle to wash over our lives. You can be part of the struggle without the constant mental and physical struggle you put yourself through. You need boundaries. You need safe, comforting, me-time space or you will burn out and have nothing left to give to those you are so passionate about. My father in law, Baba Koleoso, told me that you will end up bitter because you will realize that even with your life’s work and tireless commitment, the struggle will still be there. His life is a testament to that statement. Take time to refresh, recharge and live the fun life you’re also meant to have. Fight the struggle without becoming the struggle.

4. Keep it Simple, Sista – We have become much too complicated. Too cerebral. Too highfalutin. Bring it down a zillion watts and chill the hell out. One of the nicest days I had in this dizzying fall/winter season was taking a five mile walk in the drizzling snow along the lake. It was quiet and peaceful. It was walking meditation and too beautiful an experience for me to be cold. Don’t worry about the small stuff or the stuff that didn’t get done today. The work will always be there. Don’t put on any make-up and barely comb your hair. Just be you in your simple splendor. If you throw a party, let it be about the people, not the pomp. If you’re thinking of an outing with your child, go cheap and meaningful – like a walk downtown looking at architecture or winter stargazing or sketching pictures of each other for that barren hallway of yours. Even if hysterically ugly, it’ll make you smile every time you glance at it.

5. Stop When You Need To – We do not listen to ourselves – to our minds, our bodies, nor our spirits. We know when to stop, but we keep going. For what? Tell me. Wait, I don’t want to hear your excuses. I have my own. Life is not a race. Life is not meant to be torture. And don’t get too big-headed. Life will go on without you. (No, not as good, but it will.) So stop and just be. There’s something powerful and restorative in just being, just taking a step away from everything. I don’t care if you stop once each morning or ten minutes during lunch or an hour on the weekends, but you need to stop and rest. Stop and breathe. Stop and smile. We burn out because we take too long to realize that we are on fire. Start listening to yourself or that lovely person in your life who reminds you to be kind to YOU. It is fine to be passionate and goal-oriented, but the smart person knows that it’s not about how fast it’s done, but that it’s done well. There is an Ashanti proverb that reads, “The moon moves slowly, but it crosses the town.” We are the moon, going through life’s cycles, complete and willing to shine our light, but within our time. Know when to stop, keep it simple, release the struggle, and take care of yourself. We need the moon like the universe needs you – give it to them, but on your own terms and in your own time. Remain brilliant, but slow it down. Love and caress your spirit like you love the world. Rest and replenish so that you can carry on with your critically important work. This post is dedicated to a lovely word: BALANCE. We can do it, just like we do everything else. Ashe!

And I thought there would be ten things, but I’m learning when to stop, so we will leave it at five and the world will go on and I will go take my afternoon nap and you will do something just as self-nurturing and wonderful for yourself. Happy Holidays!