Wednesday, February 17, 2010

San Miguel de Allende

I arrived on Tuesday in San Miguel de Allende, which is inland in Mexico, far from the ocean but in mountains. It’s a heritage site, a very old colonial town, and very lovely (though I haven’t seen much of it yet). I am fortunate to be able to stay with a friend for a few days, then housesit for her for the next 10 days while she’s away.

Getting here was a challenge for me. Sam decided to stay in Tulan a bit longer, at least in part to give me an opportunity to visit with my friend without him. The idea of leaving him behind and travelling on my own was intimidating, to say the least, and I wasn’t at all sure I was willing to do it. However, fate being what it is, I followed the path laid out for me. I caught a lift into Tepic from Tulan with a friend, who also put me up for a night and took me to the bank and the bus the next day. I caught a bus to Guadalajara, but got stuck there for a night as I’d missed the last bus to SMA. I will confess that I was already emotional and overwrought and finding out that I was stuck threw me into a tailspin, resulting in the shedding of a few tears in the bathroom. I was lonely, scared and frustrated at my inability to communicate effectively (at least with words).

Despite my fears, everything worked out just fine. A very nice young woman happened to be at one of the bus company counters I approached. I am not entirely clear what her job was, but it appeared to be related to providing comfort and assistance to distraught foreigners. She didn’t speak English, but she did manage to communicate with me despite the language barrier, and while we did not resolve the bus dilemma, I was gently guided to a hotel across the parking lot where they had a restaurant, a bed, hot water (in theory, though I didn’t experience it myself) and an internet connection (of sorts). Though it cost more than I would like to have spent (since I hadn’t anticipated the overnight stop at all), it sure beat sleeping on a hard plastic chair at the bus station. I forced myself to eat a bit, then spent an hour or two online on skype instant messenger with friends who cheered me up no end, allowing me to return to my room in a much more positive frame of mind. I escaped reality briefly by watching “The Truman Show”, happily in English with Spanish subtitles so I could actually understand it.

Lesson learned: my worst fear was realized – I got stuck somewhere without Sam or anyone else I knew, without a capacity to communicate with language – and yet, I emerged from the experience perfectly fine. I got up in the morning, met a very nice gentleman from Victoria at breakfast who paid for my oatmeal and walked with me to get my bus ticket as he was leaving at the same time, got on the bus and had a perfectly pleasant trip to San Miguel. I arrived safely, and though my friend wasn’t home, her neighbours were and they kindly stored my backpack so I could wander through the town a wee bit and find some food (the bus company gave me a pre-packaged sandwich, but even my lowered standards couldn’t allow me to eat it). I found a shop that makes espresso drinks (insert hallelujah chorus here, thank goodness for ex pat communities!) and chocolate croissants and right next to it is a bookstore that provided me my long-desired English-Spanish dictionary and a copy of “El Principito” (the Little Prince). I arrived back home at the same time as my lovely hostess and all worked out swimmingly. Fear, clearly, is a wasted emotion. There is wisdom beyond wisdom in the Buddhist teachings of mindfulness and staying in the present moment – everything is perfect, just the way it is.

I am an incredibly lucky person, for any number of reasons, not least of which is this opportunity to travel, see the world, meet new people and discover new things about myself. But also, and I think more importantly, I am lucky because of the amazing people in my life. I have friends and family who give me support, friendship, guidance, lessons and more love than I could ever have imagined. For someone who has spent the better part of her adult life living with depression, and who spent the vast majority of her childhood believing that she didn’t have many friends, that love is a gift beyond measure.

Part of this journey for me is a lesson in receiving love. In my reality, the reality of depression and feeling friendless, there was never a lot of room for receiving love, because I didn’t feel that I deserved it. I either didn’t believe it was real when it was offered to me, or I subconsciously worked to sabotage it because I knew I didn’t deserve it, and then if the person trying to love me gave up and left, my belief in the inconstancy of love and my own undeservedness (is that a word?) were affirmed.

I have, I believe, a huge capacity to give love. I have no problem outlining the innumerable qualities in others that make them deserving of love, mine or anyone else’s. I can even list the qualities in myself that other people will say makes me deserve love – but believing in that is a whole other story. So in this time and place, I am opening myself to love – to give, to receive, to believe that it’s real and deserved and beautiful.

The magic of technology, in the form of skype, allowed me to have a long talk last night with a beautiful friend at home. Although I knew we had many things in common, I discovered through our talk that we share much more than common political values or a love of art, music, and writing. We talked about love and what it means, and about joy and sadness, and how lucky we are to be able to experience emotions. And in our talk, she gave me two gifts that I will hold onto. One of them was not new to me, I’d heard and read it before in a variety of ways from a variety of people, but there was something about hearing it at that moment that made it feel particularly valuable and hopefully this time, it’ll stick with me:

It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to feel emotions and let them pass through us. We DON’T, however, need to think about them, analyze them, worry at them, become angry at ourselves for feeling them – we can just accept them, feel them, and then let them go. As someone who seems to default to sadness when I hit bumps in the road, these words of wisdom are invaluable to me, and I’m so grateful.

The second gift she gave me was a theory she developed as a child (and I hope it’s ok for me to publish this theory!): emotions are like a box of Crayola crayons. Some people only get the 4 pack, and while you can mix the colours, it takes a lot of work. Others of us, though, get the 96 pack with the built-in sharpener. We have the great fortune to have all the shades imaginable, plus the ones we hadn’t imagined. While this means, as she pointed out, that there are many shades of blue to experience, we also get to go to the other end of the spectrum. I am a 96-pack person. I have been through every shade of blue you could think of, but I also can leave the blue and jump into all the shades of red, orange, green and yellow (which I personally think is a very cheery, sunshiney sort of colour) and what a blessing that is!

I hung up from that phone call feeling incredibly grateful for the love in my life. Knowing that even though I feel far from home at times, that I can’t just drop by to see my friends or my family, that it costs a fortune to phone home (except for skype!), I am not alone. I am connected to everyone who loves me, because they love me no matter where I am, and all I have to do is receive that love and send my own love back to them.

I am so grateful for these gifts. So even though I am a little nervous about this leg of my journey, venturing solo into a new place, I am not alone. I have the ability to make new friends, learn new things and keep my heart open.

Like my night in Guadalajara, last night allowed me to experience the joy in sharing my sadness with friends, and having them receive that sadness and transform it into humour, happiness and love. As long as I open myself to my friends and family, to receiving friendship and love, I can feel the sadness and then let it go, instead of trying to analyze and rationalize it away (which, FYI, does not work). It’s ok to feel sad. But it’s so much better to feel happy!

Because I want to make the most of my time here in San Miguel de Allende, I pushed myself out the door into the rain this afternoon to explore a bit. I didn’t go far, but I did find the mercado (public market) and bought some groceries. Happily, my limited Spanish is sufficient for me to name the foods that I want and understand when I’m given a total cost. Tomorrow, I’ll walk a little further. There’s a lot to see and I plan to see as much as I can and fully experience what SMA has to offer while I’m here. In the meantime, I’m hungry and I have groceries to cook! Buen provecho!