So the Great Winter Solstice of 2012 came and went with little more than a sigh, and La Nueva Era (the new era) was celebrated with vigor in New Age circles around the globe (including in spots around Xichén Itzá, a truly fascinating people-watching experience), and much more modestly in the Mayan World.
Wearing my new white hipil, gorgeously embroided by a local Maya woman (and me wondering whether wearing it would even be appropriate) I kicked off the new baktun cycle at a midnight ceremony that was as much Catholic mass as ancient rite, at the ancient Zací cenote (huge sinkhole is the closest translation) in the heart of prehispanic Valladolid, Yucatán. I and the 100 or so other attendees — Mexicans as well as some young European tourists — got to see flowers and Maya wine (balché) being blessed and offered to the cenote, say about 30 Hail Marys, enjoy Maya ceremonial music and dancing, watch three young men take the high dive into the dark cenote, have some Mayan communion (!) and be sprinkled with holy water and have blessed bougainvilleas thrown at my head and into my lap.
I must admit I’m not surprised there was no Big Huge Deal on Friday, but I must also admit I’m slightly disappointed. Much in the way I felt hope and some antisocial excitement on the morning of 9/11/01 when I turned on the TV and saw a major US city in smoke and flames, the part of me that sits on Mount Olympus looking down on mortal humans in judgement, mocking their foibles, hoped some mindblowing disaster would strike to get people to wake up and smell some kind of evolutionary coffee — along the lines of “oh yeah? Well this‘ll teach ya!”
But no such luck, and we are left to face something even more disturbing — ourselves, and the status quo. So many people (myself included on bad days in the last few months) put a lot of stock in something big happening so “things” would start to change. And yet here we are. And I embarked on a long vacation to commune with my Authentic Self, relax, disconnect, and reconnect — things I struggle to do when I’m home. And yet here I am.
Despite what we tell ourselves, and what clever advertising tells us, going away doesn’t change who we are. Not by itself anyway. Like with relationships, we exchange one set of problems for another. For instance, here in southern Mexico I am no longer freezing like I would be at home, but now I’m dealing with sunburn and nasty mosquitoe bites. I no longer have to cook for myself multiple times every day, but I do have to spend more money and find someplace to eat that’s tasty and meets my body’s needs — multiple times every day. Ways that I tend to be anxious or rigid manifest differently when I travel, but they’re still there.
Of course, there is something to be said for a good fit. Also like relationships, there are certain sets of costs and benefits that suit us better than others. Being out of my normal comfort zone to some degree, without the normal list of distractions, I can take time to explore and notice things in a different way than I might back home. I’ve realized for example — after 22 years of traveling! — that my first response to an unfamiliar place is to get oriented and get to know the place physically and geographically as thoroughly and quickly as possible. I’ve realized that some things that used to delight or intrigue me many years ago now annoy or even anger me. In some ways I’m only now getting to know the way I’ve always been, and in other ways I’m changing.
One of those changes is that at some point I became middle aged. I’m now referred to as a señora (Mrs.) much more than I used to be, even though I wear no wedding band and I’m travelling unaccompanied. I’ve only seen one solo female traveler and she was much younger than me. The folks my age are in couples and have children in tow. The adventurous-looking ones are young enough to be my children now and not only are they not interested in me, I’m no longer interested in them!
Not only that, I’ve actually thought more than once that I’m geting too old for this s**t! Parts of traveling are just no longer recreational for me. I’m sort of over the excitement of trying to flag down buses on long highways to get back into town, putting up with those long tedious busrides and dubbed B movies blaring in the dark, carrying my entire luggage on my back, washing my panties and t-shirts in the sink, getting blisters from all the walking, and trying to sleep decently in a new place every couple nights. I’m even having some surprisingly negative thoughts about my Beloved Mexico and shockingly positive ones about USians and foreigners. Places are even starting to look the same!
What the hell is happening to me? Am I bored? Am I growing up? I do seem to be a bit more myself than just my Wise Rugged Diane Fossey/Indiana Jones Lady persona or my Flirtacious Daring Cougar On Vacation persona. But when did I become some boring elitist who just wants to be promenaded around some tropical islands on some ostentatious ecologically disastrous cruise ship, or vegetate on a quiet beach under a crisp white canopy for hours having my drinks and exquisite meals brought to me … and my laundry done and folded, and my massage and whirlpool hottub waiting at the end of the day?
I don’t know, but whether or not it’s true that some kind of broader cosmic/economic/sociopolitical/spiritual Shift is afoot (which I still believe there is, particularly in the U.S.), I definitely feel myself shifting. While I find myself feeling more more confident and secure than ever in strange places, I also feel the profound pain that my mistrust of people and fear costs me back home. I notice the little guilt I feel about a few things I’ve done in my life that didn’t align with my word or intentions. I notice the tremendous shame I feel about things I can’t control — past hurts, traumas, betrayals, and my lifelong challenges with a particular set of psychological health challenges. I wonder why I am so hard on my body — a body that has given so much and generously supported me, like a horse I’ve run hard over mountains and plains for weeks, day and night, with barely enough food and water. A body so many women would love to have, and great DNA to boot, and yet I direct nasty thoughts and shame at my thighs and belly, and tolerate excruciating exercises to try to shape and control them.
And I notice how my DNA affects me in other ways. How I inherited the gift of words, the gift of music, sensitivity and romanticism of my father. How I inherited the resourcefulness and ingenuity of my mother, as well as her sunny smile and ready laugh in public. How I inherited brains, humor and great health from both. How I also inherited the bouts of depression of my father, as well as his narcissism and grandiosity, his isolation, his tendency to go up into his head under stress, and his naivete. And I inherited my mother’s self-doubt, discomfort with her femaleness, resentment, constant doing, ambivalence about people, and sense of not-enoughness.
Wherever I go, there I am. Quitting my toxic job didn’t remove stress or constant work from my life. I am the one not managing my time, maintaining boundaries, saying no, or deciding not to check my iPhone at red lights. Being single and childfree has not isolated me from loss. It does free me from certain kinds of loneliness, but even though I’m better friends with Me Myself and I than I’ve ever been, after a week I’m definitely over the novelty of traveling alone.
It can be an advantage to grow up in a family where you’ve been taught you’re different. I’ve been much more apt to take certain kinds of risks and take certain kinds of stands, especially as a female, than I would had I been taught to fit in and be “normal” (not that I didn’t desperately want to, but just couldn’t seem to). But it also has its price. 42-year-old women don’t typically travel alone, nor have tattoos on their forearms or a nostril piercing. As I try to connect and fit in, while constantly discovering and manifesting Me, I sometimes make choices that marginalize me.
And yet the ability to do such things — much less have the time to ponder and reflect on them — is a result of my tremendous privilege. I have a life — partially by design, partially by circumstance — that affords me more freedom of thought, time, experience and movement than women have ever had. My days are not taken up by the frenetic tasks of routine or necessity — the spouse, the children, the shopping, the cooking, the washing, the cleaning, the organizing or chauffeuring. Or such services provided to other families. Or the ordered, quiet life of a nun/priestess or duty-bound tedium of a royal. I get to think about things most of us don’t think about.
Whether or not I should is perhaps another question. It’s not fun to stare your life in its face, especially as it ages. I’m also aware of a sort of pressure of expectations I tell myself is coming from others. I get to go off on these adventures that others get excited about and experience vicariously through my photos and stories. I therefore feel obliged to have a screamingly fabulous time, or experience some life changing realization. Maybe this would make the trip worth it. Maybe this would make it worth it for others at least, and justify the fact that they can neither go away nor have these realizations. Imagine if Columbus or Marco Polo or Lewis & Clark came back from their epic journeys with a mere shrug and “meh!” to show for their adventures. Not acceptable!
But as I become less of an extremist, I hope to allow some osmosis to occur among the various facets of my life. Instead of mad long bouts of frenzied working punctuated with sparse periods of complete catatonic sloth, perhaps I can enjoy a dose of each every day? Perhaps I can become more realistic about the miracles and joys and struggles and annoyances — of every day no matter where I am and what I’m doing? Maybe I can learn to let my shame go, feel less fear, more vulnerability, more trust, and more joy? Maybe I can learn to love my body and my life, regardless of what it’s doing, facing the reality that the losses will continue to increase and the control will continue to decrease if I allow myself to go gently and gracefully?
Because ultimately al fin de cuentas — in the end — wherever you go, and whenever you go, there you are.
[Epilogue: The above was written on December 22nd, and on December 23rd I spent most of the day with a twenty-year-old discovering an amazing ancient site together, and talking about a variety of subjects. Not only was he delightful, he seemed to be enjoying himself with me as well! More lovely people and animals have been crossing my path in the last two days. There’s nothing like connection — however fleeting — to inject perspective, meaning, hope and contentment into my ongoing dialogue with myself. What’s your experience with this? Do people take us out of our heads in a good way, or are they mere distractions from necessary personal work? 🙂 ]
In lak ech,