I had the privilege to spend last week on retreat with my teacher, Beryl Bender Birch. This retreat is something I look forward to each year. It’s at a wonderful resort in Costa Rica right on the Pacific Ocean. I was anticipating amazing weather and connecting with other inclusive and inquiring health-minded individuals. Perhaps, most of all, I was looking forward to taking a break from being a teacher and studio owner. To getting to practice yoga and being in the present moment 24/7. Just being a student for a whole week!
Yoga is all about how to get our attention into the present moment. And when everything is rainbows and unicorns, like this retreat was promising to be, it seems so much easier to do! This is one of the things I value most about going on retreat. Time spent practicing being in the present moment when it’s easy helps me stay in present moment when the situation is not as idillic.
Well, I was certainly presented with opportunities to practice being in the present moment, but not because the trip was all rainbows and unicorns. I started the trip with a bang by getting sick literally just as the plane touched down in Costa Rica. I had to bolt to the bathroom and beg the flight attendants to let me in the restroom.
Aboard the shuttle bus to the retreat center, I wasn’t feeling much better. Eventually, I had to ask to stop the bus so I could be sick by the side of the road. Luckily someone sitting next to me realized the shuttle driver needed to hear my request in Spanish. I felt a little weak after that, but overall much better. I started really paying attention to the present moment and everything there was to be grateful for: The offers of tissues and cough drops to soothe my throat from my fellow shuttle riders. The fact that I was in sunny, warm Costa Rica. Most of all, I was appreciating the opportunity to just be sick without having any students to teach or work to do at the studio!
Shortly after arriving at the resort, however, a message came from Beryl saying her flight was delayed and she wouldn’t be there until the next day. Beryl asked me to work with another of her students, Debra, to welcome the group of almost 40 students that evening and then lead meditation and yoga posture classes the next morning. Time to let go of my attachment to how great not teaching would feel and work on getting my attention in the present moment!
I was very grateful and honored that Beryl trusted me to get the retreat going. And leading a group of enthusiastic and dedicated yogis all ready to dive in is definitely a real treat. I still wasn’t feeling all that great, however, so as the evening welcome session approached, I realized that I wasn’t feeling well enough to do anything at all. Especially not welcome people and explain why it was me and Debra, but not Beryl welcoming them!
Debra was, of course, just fine getting started without me and also leading meditation at 6:30am the next day so I was able to have a nice, long sleep. In the morning I felt much better and was able to get up and lead the yoga class after breakfast. It was quite a thrill leading a group of focused and dedicated yogis through practice. I felt revived and, with my teaching done, it was easy to be in the present moment.
We were all happy to welcome Beryl to Costa Rica later that day. To enjoy the privilege of having her lead the group and work her magic and make everyone feel included and welcome. I was delighted to be able to turn the reigns back over to Beryl and to get back to just being a student.
I really couldn’t have picked a better place to recover from whatever was wrong with my stomach. The weather was lovely, the food was great, and it was simply an amazing group of people all gathered together with the intention of being in the moment. We meditated, did pranayama, practiced yoga postures, swam and walked on the beach, listened to the howler monkeys, watched iguanas sitting in the sun, ate healthy vegetarian food, and just enjoyed life. Now that everything was so perfect and I had Beryl reminding me to do it, it was easy to be in the present moment.
Partway into this wonderful week, news of a big storm projected for the Northeast US reached our ears. My airline was looking for people to change flights for no charge. I decided to delay my return to the States and join another member of our group scuba diving the morning after the retreat ended. What could be better? The flight change was free and I had some points on a credit card I could use to reserve a hotel near the dive site. Wow, I thought, I’m going with the flow. This being present in the moment just gets better and better!
The hotel I stayed at near the dive site was spacious and convenient. Unfortunately, my room lacked a functioning safe. I wasn’t sure what to do with my valuables. I ended up choosing to take my computer, noise cancellation headphones, phone, credit card, cash, and passport all with me to the dive site. While we prepared to go out in the boat, I left them in the locked rental car. In retrospect, I can think of lots of better ways to have dealt with this, but I didn’t choose any of those at the time.
We were all standing about 10 feet away from the car talking and getting ready to go. I realized I wanted to leave my pants in the car, so I went back to the car and put them in. I locked the car again and went back to the group. As we started heading out to the boat a few minutes later, I remembered my hat was in the car. I walked back to the car once again.
This time, when I open the door and reached in for my stuff, nothing was there. Confusion set in. It felt impossible to process what was going on. I walked all around the car opening every door, looked in the trunk, dug under the seats, and found nothing. The only thing left in the car, thankfully, were my prescription glasses. In the space of about ten minutes and about ten feet away from where I was standing, a thief robbed us!
I was completely floored. I felt incredibly stupid for leaving my things in the car – especially my passport. I’d like to think that that last time back to the car, I was going to get my passport and phone to keep with me. But I’m not really sure about that. I just wasn’t thinking that morning. I went out to the boat, got in, and shared with everyone what had happened. There didn’t seem to be anything I could do so we all continued with the diving trip.
I remember at this point congratulating myself for how good I was at this being in the present moment stuff. Look at me, I’d just been robbed, but I could still enjoy a diving trip. I could deal with the issue of how I was going to get back home later. What could I do anyway without my phone or any money? I might as well enjoy the diving.
When we got to the dive spot I put my gear on and jumped in and started to go down. In order to dive safely, however, I had to be able to keep my body out of flight or flight response. Once under water, it became obvious I couldn’t do that. I was way too freaked out to safely dive.
Back in the boat again, I was aware that this was another opportunity to practice being in the present moment. Someone took my stuff and there was nothing I could do to change this fact. I knew that, without a passport, I would not be able to get home. I wasn’t in a position to do anything about a new one until we got back to shore.
But knowing I couldn’t do anything about it did not make me feel much better. I felt anxious and upset and I began judging myself for this. Like somehow I should just be feeling grateful to be in this beautiful place and that feeling anxious meant I wasn’t doing a good job of being in the moment.
I had to accept that the way I felt was also part of the present moment.
Once I was able to accept that my feelings of anxiety and fear were part of the present moment, I was able to find some moments of joy. I marveled at a pod of leaping dolphins, a ray jumping up out of the water, a needlefish flying above the water to escape some predator.
Back on shore again, I learned the only way to get a new passport was to drive to the American Embassy in San Jose. Figuring out how I was going to get to San Jose and how much money this was going to cost was definitely not rainbows and unicorns. It was not at all easy to be present in these moments. It was, on the other hand, easy to feel grateful. Grateful for my husband back in the States arranging a hotel in San Jose. And to have a friend willing to drive me several hours to the hotel. And then turn around and drive back for his own flight from Liberia.
The entire drive to San Jose was an opportunity to practice being in the present moment. To allow myself to be upset, scared, and anxious. To practice not adding to the difficulties of the situation with negative self talk.
In the moments where I was able to accept how upset I was, I was also able to find joy. Joy in a beautiful drive through the mountains of Costa Rica with pleasant conversation and music.
Early the next morning, I took a taxi to the American Embassy. While I was waiting for the Embassy to open, my driver, Oscar, returned to tell me where he was parked. He was back again a few minutes later. Oscar was concerned I didn’t have enough money to pay for my new passport and wanted to loan me money. I initially tried to refuse, but he insisted and I realized he might be right. I was so touched by this kindness that I almost completely broke down in tears in front of the Embassy.
As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”: My husband and daughter arranging things at home, the taxi driver loaning me money, my friend loaning me money and driving round trip about ten hours to get me to the embassy, the young woman at Newark airport who trusted me to borrow her phone at 1am in Newark airport. I continue to feel gratitude for all the help I received that got me back to my home in Maine again.
I’m now the proud owner of what must surely be the most unflattering passport photo ever. It will cost a small fortune if I choose to replace my lost electronics. I have a ton of work to do to re-do all my online accounts and bank accounts that we closed. But I am safe. None of my personal information appears to have been successfully stolen. I am back home in Maine now, marveling at the beauty of this moment. The quiet beautiful end of an amazing March snow storm where everything is beautifully covered with clean, white snow. How lucky am I to be in this present moment?
Interested in a retreat that won’t involve getting stuck out of the country? Lydia & I are leading a weekend retreat at Aryaloka in Newmarket, New Hampshire. March 16 – 18, 2018. We’d love to have you join us for a weekend of present moment awareness.