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Shining Through Uncertainty

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Another day has gone by and thankfully my cold seems to have finally passed. I spent what felt like most of the week sniffling and sneezing, my eyes swollen and my body heavy. There was a solid couple of days I spent in bed, missing out on time with our students, beach time, ziplining and some very awesome service-learning with the local community. The time left alone to my sickness made my brain feel mushy; isolated and underutilized, I felt my insecurities on the rise. My only accomplishment was making my way through the entire third season of Stranger Things.

Yesterday I made it out though, despite still being pretty snotty to help pick up trash in Marbella and sort through recycling with my students, which was actually totally enjoyable. It was hot and sticky, but walking along practicing our Spanish, hanging out with a young girl who lived nearby and being followed by a couple of very eager dogs made us a pretty cool pack. Afterwards we hung out by the pool for a bit and then headed to Playa Negra, getting a good half hour in as the waves plummeted us before the thunder rolled in and we shifted inside to eat some ice cream.

This morning we took a bus ride, two hours long towards the day’s excursion. I stayed awake even though I may have benefited from some extra sleep, listening to music and realizing how little time I get for myself anymore. Cosmic Love by Florence and the Machine played into my headset as I contemplated putting it on repeat as I used to on drawn-out, overnight bus rides when I was traveling through Peru.

I’m often so distracted with the constant stimulation of students and coworkers that I don’t have much time to settle into myself and really access my deeper feelings. But this morning, music blaring in my ears, I finally stepped into the place of self and noticed how much sadness I’ve been carrying. Landscapes blurred by as I stared out the window. Homes made of metal sheets, skinny cows and stray dogs. Chickens and roosters. Ticos and ticas (that’s what you call a local here in Costa Rica).

In my mind’s eye other scenes were playing. My house, my dog, my chickens. My garden. The comfort of my partner. The security of thinking the future was set. The discomfort of thinking that particular future was indeed set even though deep down I was secretly sick about it. Heartbreak. More ideas of what the future would look like. More moments of disappointment when expectations dissipate before coming to fruition. Excitement over connections that felt solid yet revealed only illusions. Projections. Instability. Uncertainty. Newness. Excitement. Sureness. Crumbling. Disappointment. Tears silently slide down my face as I discretely wipe them away from under my sunglasses, sniffling with the gratitude that my recent cold probably deters anyone from thinking anything of it.

I stepped off the bus to a bustling tourist location. Our students lined up as they received their wristbands for tubing, some waiting in lines for the bathroom to change. It takes some time before we’re ushered to two large buses that haul the 50 something of us down into the forest towards the river. We’re given helmets and life jackets, and carry our heavy inner tubes down a beautiful jungle path. I spot the huge, blue morpho butterflies, like the kind tattooed on my right shoulder fluttering by. We each enter into the water that begins to swiftly take us down a narrow, rocky stream. A couple of the local guides splash frigidly cold water at me and I ask them if they have a death wish. They probably don’t understand me, but I’m sure the look on my face is a pretty good indicator of how I’m feeling towards them in that moment.

These rapids feel dangerous to me- each plunge through the rocks and whitewater somehow spurt my tube and I back out which leave me feeling a mixture of outrage and astonishment for this ridiculous activity. In a knee jerk reaction I repeatedly yell out how much I hate this, but I keep finding myself laughing hysterically so it can’t be all that bad. I take in the looming rock faces on either side, the broad-leafed trees and sprawling vines. Sunlight filters through and I make a beat on the sides of my tube, singing a song of gratitude to the moment as dragon flies follow me in approval.

After a delicious brunch we board another bus that takes us to a trailhead where we’re handed towels and begin our decent down to springy bridges and a series of hot pools of slightly sulfuric water. Ceramic containers hold mud and paint brushes. After an initial soak we paint ourselves to get the benefits of a full body mud mask. I let it dry, mostly, before climbing into the cool stream next to me so I can scrub it off. I think to myself how much I love this as I let my whole body drop under the surface, head included, feeling refreshed and revitalized.

It becomes apparent how non-present I’ve been recently… How uncomfortable the present moment can feel. The present moment though, or what I’m wanting to avoid, isn’t really the present moment at all, but rather it’s all the thoughts, confusion and doubts I hold within each moment that make me want to crawl out of my skin. It has nothing to do with what’s going on around me. I’ve been so wrapped up in what the heck I am going to do after this, with not a single damn plan in mind after this chapter, that it’s been taking me away from the beauty and magic that is right here.

This whole year has been helping me to become really comfortable with the unknown. At least, I can see that’s where it’s taking me. Sometimes I actually do feel comfortable in the unknown. Other times, I think back to this last year, or to the last handful of years and all I can think about is what do I have to do to not end up there again. What do I have to do to never return back to that life. To any of those lives. To any of those chapters. What do I need to do to continue to live the life of my dreams because that… Whatever that was… That is not what I want for myself. And this, what I’m doing right now… This feels right. I simultaneously want answers to my future, but am subconsciously terrified of somehow living my way back into the past.

Tonight I sat with my sweet mentor group, the nine of us staggered amidst a series of bunk beds as we check in about how the day went for each of them and they ask me if I will lead them through another meditation. I do, taking them back to the hot springs, breathing into our gratitude, tapping into our bigness. My coworkers later ask if I will lead another meditation for them as well, which I do. I breathe into my own personal gratitude in these moments remembering who I am, what I bring into a space as a leader, allowing these moments to shine brighter than the doubts I’ve been carrying.

What I’m learning, more than ever, is that the future is totally unknown. Even our most well-thought out plans will never be for certain. No matter how much we grasp at what feels safe, no matter how hard we cling to the things and people and situations we love, there is nothing that promises those tomorrows. There is only now. There is only you. Or me. Or us. In this moment. The only way to really know what tomorrow brings is to live our way into it, and to see what is in store for us there.

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