The Gifts of Lake Atitlan

My day to day life tends to have me feeling like I am rushing off to my next destination, whether it’s to CrossFit or work or to a doctor’s appointment or to meet up with a friend. I always feel like there is somewhere I am supposed to be. I do not know if it is a societal standard or my own self- inflicted standard, but it is as if I am supposed to fill every waking minute with something. (FOMO  anyone?) I will have moments of being at home, just relaxing on a Saturday with a nagging sense like I need to get off my couch and be out and about (even if every fiber of my being just wants to unwind and do NOTHING).

Recently, being on a retreat at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, I was able to really slow down and disengage from most of the world, without guilt I might add.  Two of the biggest lessons that this trip affirmed for me are:

  1. It is life’s simplest pleasures that matter the most.
  2. I have the ability within myself to find happiness and contentment.

By not getting much of a signal on my phone at the lake (I will thank the portal for that!), it really allowed me to enjoy my surroundings and get lost in the moment. Some of my most treasured memories are the moments where I truly appreciated nature. Being immersed in it gave me such a constant feeling of gratification. I appreciated the simplicity of being able to just lay out on the dock, listening to the water rustling and swooshing around me  which magically managed to silence my typically very busy, obsessive brain. To be able to wake up for a sunrise boat ride was happiness a thousand times over. To be able to witness the lake, the mountains and the volcanoes come to life before my very own eyes was indescribable. To watch the sky change from black to a radiant blue with pops of yellow, orange, and pink is something that is forever engrained in my mind.

sunrise.jpg

When you remove all the noise and distractions from the world, you appreciate what is around you allowing yourself to truly be lost in those moments. It definitely helped me be more centered, and I came to understand something important about myself.  At my core, I really do not require much nor am I very fancy. (I will put this disclaimer in: I do not mean to say that I would turn down the finer things in life. I do drive a Lexus and I did buy myself diamond stud earrings… once). I just mean when I reflect on the moments when I feel the most at peace, they have very little, if anything, to do with materialism.

Being in nature is known to have a calming effect on people, so it is no wonder that I fell in love with Guatemala. There were no TVs nor was everyone on their phones 24/7. It was the perfect environment to really unwind and disconnect.  I used much of my free time reading (I had to feed my Outlander addiction).  I  wrote in my journal quite a bit, reflecting on all the unique things I experienced, like the Cacao Ceremony, my reading with a Shaman  and the Mayan Fire Ceremony. I did not walk away from these events but rather adopted them into my being. They gave me so many opportunities to really think about myself and my intentions in life. It gifted me the knowing that there is plenty that comes from within me to bring me happiness without having to rely on much.

For a few of us who were on the retreat, we keep saying that we have not left Guatemala. In our own ways, we each took something with us when we waved good-bye to that gorgeous sapphire lake. I am eternally grateful to Lake Atitlan for enabling me to slow down and regain a sort of calmness and contentment that I have not felt in a long time.

 

3 Lessons Volcan San Pedro Taught Me

I recently got back from one of the most amazing trips I have ever taken. I knew Guatemala would be beautiful and energizing but I underestimated just how much I would fall in love with it. Staying on Lake Atitlan, I was in a constant state of awe of not just the lake but the mountains and volcanoes all around me. Words cannot even begin to do justice to the pure beauty of it all. One of the other women on the same retreat as me, Sara, has a bucket list that includes hiking a volcano. If there ever was to be the perfect opportunity to do so, it was there, on Volcan San Pedro. She invited me to join her, and after much agonizing over whether I should, I decided to go for it. Sara has a contagious positive quality about her, and so between that, the universe nudging me to go, the magic of the portal and every other sign I was receiving, I knew this was an opportunity not to be missed. (More about the portal and the magic of the lake to come in a later blog).

I consider myself to be respectfully strong and in shape but I am by no means an experienced hiker.  I had no delusions that hiking 10,000 feet up (and of course back down) San Pedro would be easy.  It was a slow spiral trail that went up, up, up, up and up some more, with virtually no flat spots (which meant we had to create our own places to stop, rest and catch our breath). When we hiked down, about 10 minutes in, it began to rain. I am talking torrential downpour for the entire way down.

On a good day, the hike down would have been challenging enough, but when you add rain to the mix, it makes for an extremely steep descend of trekking through mud, slush and newly formed streams of water and over the most slippery rocks and terrain imaginable. Sara and I each nearly wiped out on our butts at least 12 times each. I am amazed that we managed to steady ourselves and stay safe every time. Miraculously our guide, David, only slipped once. Show-off!

The best way I can describe the experience is that I hated practically every minute of the hike. My muscles were sore, my body was fatigued and my brain just would not accept that no matter how many hours I hiked, I still had hours more to go. Yet, once I finished the hike, I realized how much I absolutely loved the experience for so many reasons. That day and that beloved volcano taught me so much.

  1. Being on such a massive natural piece of this earth for an entire day is simply humbling. It made me realize that there are so many things in this world bigger than I am. Than we are. In a world where we get so caught up in our routines and the same surroundings, it is easy to forget that we are really just little peons in the bigger scheme of things (important peons I should add but peons nonetheless). Enjoying the simplicity of just being part of a bigger universe is beautiful in and of itself.

 

  1. Not every choice in life is going to be pleasant. It won’t always be things like do I go to the pool or the beach today? Do I buy a Lexus or BMW? Do I want to vacation in Europe or Asia?  These are all what I liked to refer to as #highclassproblems. There are times, unlike those, where we have two pretty shitty options in front of us and we have to pick the one that may suck just slightly less.When it started to rain on the hike, David had us go under some trees to take cover. After a few minutes, it really wasn’t giving us shelter. At all.  We asked David how long we would be standing there and he said probably an hour. HELLLLL to the no! I was not about to spend an hour standing and waiting helplessly for the rain to possibly clear. (It rained every day in Guatemala I had been there, and given that this particular day that we decided to hike a volcano it started to rain about 2 hours earlier than normal, I was not so optimistic that it would pass anytime soon).Sara and I suggested that since we were getting soaked anyways, could we keep moving? And so we did. It was not easy or fun to be hiking down in rain but the alternative of waiting seemed riskier to us. The more it rained, the worse the terrain would get. The more it rained, the more soaked, tired and cranky we would get waiting. So we made a choice that was by no means pleasant but seemed favorable to being completely helpless to the weather. When we did make it to the bottom, we were extremely relieved with the choice we made.

 

  1. Attitude is everything. Seems obvious right but how often do we forget the significance that our attitude towards something impacts the experience? David has hiked San Pedro about once a week for the last 4 years. That means we were roughly his 190th guided tour. When we said asked him if this was the worst hike he ever had done, he said yes. He also agreed to my eloquent statement of “This is some crazy shit, isn’t it, David?” A little sense of humor in life doesn’t hurt.Yes, Sara and I did ask a dozen times “how much longer?” but aside from that, we kept our spirits up. We cracked stupid jokes the entire way down and in between balancing ourselves with our walking sticks and balancing ourselves on the same rocks we were trying not to curse; we focused on just getting to know each other better. Being stressed, snippy and negative would not have gotten us down any faster or any safer.As aforementioned, that while it was not a pleasant hike, I attribute feeling so accomplished and proud to the modest fact that we kept our attitude positive. I even joked at one point that there better be a rainbow when we get down and sure enough, there really was! It was a sweet reward and I believe the universe’s way of rewarding us for powering through a harrowing day (and for not be whining divas while doing so).

It’s ironic to me that I had to climb a volcano to get myself grounded. I went into it thinking it was just something I should do for the sake of the experience (and for the amazing photo opportunities). I left San Pedro feeling Zen and calm, which if you know me are not two words you would typically associate with my personality. I still feel like that since I have returned to real life. That day was really all about perspective. I believe it goes to show that sometimes you have to step outside of your typical world in order to be reminded of how you want to govern the one life you are given.