As the plane was taxing off the runway, I started to become filled with a sense of dread. And that dread became more intense as the jet picked up speed. Finally, we were off the ground, hurtling through the air toward Cancun. I was filled with mourning. I was leaving the country for only a week to one of the most beautiful places in the world. I was leaving behind cold and rain in Atlanta, Georgia, toward the sunny paradise that is Isla Mujeres, Mexico. But all I could think of was, I am no longer touching the same earth that my daughter is walking on.
I was going to Isla Mujeres to finish my 500-hour-level teacher training with my teachers. They live and teach there full time. This was my chance for a real vacation, the one I had been dreaming of ever since I had my daughter almost two years ago. I was so excited. But this was also scary for me. I had never traveled internationally alone before, and I had only left the country once before this time. I don’t know a lot of Spanish — only what I could remember from the Spanish classes I took in high school, which was 15 years ago. I had gotten myself so worked up about how I was going to manage getting from the airport in Cancun to the ferry to Isla Mujeres. Would I get lost? Would I be able to communicate? Even though my beloved teachers had reassured me time and time again that all would be fine, it was difficult for me to affirm that within myself.
I was met outside the airport with the beautiful smile of Christell, a student of Lorrie and Lal. I was overjoyed that this was a woman and friend of my teachers, instead of a random male taxi driver. We got acquainted with one another on the bus ride to the main bus terminal in Cancun. Then she hailed a taxi, and together we made our way to the Ultramar port for the ferry. There we met another student of Lorrie and Lal’s, and then they left me to wait for the next ferry. The weather was glorious. The water was clear and blueish-green. I finally felt like smiling. I had one more hurdle to cross, and that was boarding the ferry and being greeted with Lorrie’s shining face.
I remembered something that Lorrie had told me a few months ago, during the first half of my advanced teacher training. She said that when she and Lal had traveled to India a few years ago, she said she was completely overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells and absolute vastness that are India. She latched herself onto Lal and begged him not to let her go. When I saw Lorrie, I told her that that’s how I felt. Everything seemed different here, even the birds looked and sounded different. I didn’t want to let her or Lal out of my sight, for fear of losing my balance on this shaky ground. Plus, I was already consumed with home sickness. How on earth could my daughter survive a week without me? I wondered.
When we got to the palapa at Hotel Na Balam, I gave Lal a huge hug, for it had been almost three years since I had last seen him, and then Lorrie showed me to their room, so I could shower and rest from my long trip. It felt wonderful to get freshened up, but I was eager to be back in their presence and get to work. When I walked back to the palapa, I saw the yoga teacher training students hard at work. Seeing them mentally transported me back to 2009 in Athens, Georgia, where I had undergone my first teacher training. They were learning deep, yogic breathing, and they were having difficultly teaching it simply. (It is easy to over teach or over-explain it. Use as few words as possible.) Yes! I remember that! These students were only four days into their training, and many came up to me, asking, “Will I really be ready to teach once this is over? Did you feel prepared?”
The easy answer is: yes, you will feel prepared. Will you know everything you need to know? If your mind is totally open and receptive, then you will know more than enough. Empty your cup and allow it to be filled. If you resist, then you will learn nothing. But there is always room for more knowledge. That’s why, I think, being a yoga teacher is a lifelong journey. There’s always more room to learn. And there is always this quote to dwell on: “An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of theory.”
Anyway, that night I settled into my one-bedroom apartment, located three blocks away from where the other students were staying. Keep in mind that where I stayed was not part of any resort: this was pure Mexico. I was a block away from the Caribbean Sea. We had morning meditation every morning at 6 a.m. I loved walking there in the darkness. It was completely safe to walk the streets of Isla Mujeres, counter to the bad rep that Mexico seems to generate.
The day I arrived was a Thursday. By Sunday, our day off, I was a wreck. I was having horrible cramps from my menstrual period that had arrived that morning, and I was in the depths of homesick despair. I had been asking my husband to e-mail me photos of our daughter, who was doing marvelously with her visiting grandparents and great-aunt and great-uncle. But I did some remarkable things that day. I rode the bus back to my apartment by myself. I found the local pharmacy by myself. This was a huge achievement for me, as I had previously depended on the kindness of other students and my teachers to guide me in the proper direction. Here, I was learning to stand on my own two feet, on more solid ground. As I napped on and off that afternoon, I awoke to the sounds outside: scooters buzzing up and down the street, a man on a bullhorn announcing the arrival of fresh produce on his truck, the strange Mexican birds (which, in retrospect were not very strange, but they really did sound different!) and kids playing in the street. I went to sleep early that night. I woke up Monday morning at 5:30, feeling absolutely renewed. With two more days left in this trip, I finally felt ready to truly enjoy myself. I had underwent a small rebirth.
While in Isla Mujeres, I taught three (or was it four?) classes at the palapa at Hotel Na Balam. The classes were the biggest ones I have probably ever taught. I was amazed at the size of their classes. Lorrie and Lal have people come in from all over the world to practice with them, and they especially love to reach out and teach the local Mexican population. I loved helping to teach the teachers-in-training, and I hope that I can be a part of future teacher trainings of Vastu Yoga. I felt that through teaching new teachers, I deepened my own knowledge. That excites me, because I’ve always thought of myself as a teacher, in one way or another. Maybe that’s just me being the oldest child of three. Ha!
The food in Isla Mujeres was amazing! The place I would recommend to anyone is Cafe Hildalgo, run by the fabulous French-trained, Italian-raised Patty. Everyone on the island was so friendly. And I couldn’t force myself to even try to haggle with the street vendors. These people work so hard for so little money, I figured that I could probably afford overpaying for a little trinket or two for my family.
There was also paddleboarding and snorkling opportunities, of which I did not take advantage. Next time, I say; next time I’ll do that, when I return.
By the time I felt in the groove of things, it was time to go home. A cab driver picked me up at 6 a.m. to take me to the ferry. We talked in very short English terms about our families. When I mentioned my daughter, I told the cab driver, “I miss her.” I nearly choked on my own tears. The deep emotion surprised me. I had managed to maintain my homesickness well in the previous two days, but now that the time was near to see her again, they roared back to life.
At the port, there was a large group of older women from Minnesota waiting with me. They were all chit-chatting about the fun adventures they’d had on the island and how much they would miss it. Isla Mujeres means “Island of Women” in Spanish; you would be amazed to see just how freely women can live in this place. It is so safe and inviting. I sat there smiling, pleased at all that I had accomplished and learned while here for such a short time. I was also incredibly sad that I was leaving my teachers and my new yoga friends behind. I don’t know when I’ll see them again.
Somehow, I managed to navigate my way through the Cancun airport by myself, despite being dropped off at the wrong terminal (my fault, not the cab driver’s). I had to connect in Mexico City, which was huge! Since I was by myself, I found the experience so mentally challenging, especially since I was pretty sure the waiter at the restaurant I ate at spoke very little (if any) English. I managed to get by with many por favors, holas, buenos tardeses, and graciases as possible. Next time, I really need to boost my Spanish and try a little harder.
When we landed in Atlanta, I experienced a euphoria that I haven’t felt in a long time. I called my husband, excitedly telling him and my daughter that I was finally back in the States. I was *so happy* to be back in the same country as my family.
As I laid my head down on the pillow of my friends’ house in Atlanta that night, before I drove the rest of the way back to Charleston, my head was swimming from the day’s travels. I had found it so odd to hear everyone speaking English when I got back. It was quite a mind trip to readjust to America.
So what have I learned from my weeklong, child-free adventure to paradise? That it’s all about emptying your cup, and letting new knowledge in. Otherwise, you learn nothing. And I had to go through all that homesick muck. I had to experience that. It’s natural to be attached to your child. But through this trip, I had to also learn new boundaries. My child has been at my side almost every day since her birth. Now that she is getting older, and I am getting wiser, it’s time for us to learn to be two separate beings.
When I got back to my house, and the great-aunt and great-uncle left, my daughter was still napping. The house was quiet and I was alone when she woke up. I slowly crept into her room when I heard her talking to herself. And behind that pacifier was the biggest smile I had ever seen on her face, and she started to giggle. I don’t know how in the world I kept my tears in. Maybe a few escaped. But that hug was probably the sweetest, most wonderful one that she and I have ever shared.