I felt like I could just as sensibly be communicating by carrier pigeon as I told the guy at the bus terminal shop that I was looking for Emilio’s community and asked if he could kindly tell me how to get there. That was about the sum total of information that I had…that I needed to go see this man in the mountains and I should just ask for him at the bus station and go from there.
“Ah, si, si, la communidad del Milo. Bueno…” and he proceeded to tell me how to walk a few miles down the street and cut through some brush to the dirt road that would lead me there. It would be the first time I was showing up at a stranger’s house, unannounced, expecting to stay for 4 days; I suppose the walking would’ve brought welcomed time to think through my introduction. I opted for a taxi instead, albeit out of character for me, I felt nervous enough about the scenario ahead and didn’t want to start off by getting lost.
The taxi driver also knew exactly where to take me when I asked for la communidad de Milo and we headed out of town center. I sat there thinking about how this was not something I would’ve been bold enough to do a year prior and celebrated that growth and courage for about 2 minutes before the panic really set in. Will they look at me like, “Why are you here?” or worse, will they ask me that? What is my answer? Do they have visitors here often? What do they do? What do I expect? What do I hope? Do I have the Spanish competency to be here and understand?
My dear Canadian friend Carmen, the talented artist who had been inspiring me since I met her in Mendoza, had almost casually dropped in conversation a few weeks prior that she had been up to this community where our friend Jorge used to live to visit a shaman. She said, “You should go. Be prepared to cry for 3 days.” Not usually the type of suggestion that makes me shout “Yippee! Sign me up!” but I have worked with shamans for many years and their wisdom has had a profound impact in my life. I had been hoping to meet a shaman in Argentina to work with as a guide on this whole journey of mine without luck and then here it fell right into my lap as I was making a big decision to move on from Argentina. I thrive on this sort of synchronicity and packed a bag to go.
So here I was, an American girl slowly pulling up in front of the threshold into this community, the crackling gravel sounding my arrival. A beautiful girl with long, dark hair, striking eyes, and the tanned skin of someone who spends more time in nature than not comes out to greet me as if she had been expecting me and knew exactly why I was there, “Bienvenidos” and an exchange of kisses.
She leads me to the first house-like structure and I could see others scattered out in the distance, sprouting up across the land as wild, random, and unique as the wildflowers. Beautifully chaotic. Inside there are three girls sitting around a table brainstorming ideas for lotion infusion combinations. I tell them I like mint/eucalyptus and they agree it is a good combination.
El Milo is at the kitchen counter on the back wall cooking, wearing a white shirt with a hand-painted design on it. He has a neon orange band around his shaggy dark hair, deep dark eyes, and skin that looks as if it has seen a billion suns and garnered the wisdom from each one. He eyes me up and I smile, but am not sure I have the courage yet to look him in the eyes. I mean no disrespect and fear I have done just that. He asks me how I found them and I tell him that I am friends with Jorge. It should have been no surprise that this was met with happy sighs and smiles and more than acceptance as Jorge is one of the kindest, most magnetic people I have met in my life.
I am invited to sit and then the question comes. “Why have you come?” I buy some time as it is my turn to sip the mate that has just been passed to me. Where do I start? How many details do I give? What is the Spanish word for journey? 10 expecting eyes wait for my words. I start to speak and that proves to be enough to let the river of words flow out. I tell them that I am on a journey to change my life and have sold my house, car, and belongings to come to Argentina to wander and discover my passions. I tell them that I am spiritual and like to be with like-minded people and so Jorge and Carmen suggested I come visit them. I tell them that I just learned the word “suggest” yesterday to indicate my level of Spanish proficiency.
The girls nod and smile and I feel I’ve passed a test of sorts and my prize is to be shown to the casita where I will be staying. We walked through rows of sentinel trees, embellished with hand-made prayer flags, passing by talkative, wandering ducks. People hug me along the way as we are introduced and asked me how I am. I give out timid smiles feeling so humbled as I’m warmly guided through this by people who did not even know of my existence 20 minutes ago. We walk in the door of the cute, round yellow structure that has a cloth flag on it proclaiming Solo Luz, Solo Amor, only light, only love. Another girl jumps up and hugs me as if we are sisters who haven’t seen each other in years and for the next 4 days we’ll be known as las rubias, the blonds. In her eyes I realize how intensely alive and glowing all of their eyes and faces have been. I am told that in the afternoons everyone has free time to rest, meditate, create art, whatever their heart desires until we will meet for the evening chanting meditation.
I go outside and sit on the swinging bench that has been decorated with flags and faces out to a spectacular masterpiece of wilderness that seems to glow so much that the sunbeams belong as much to it as the sun itself. My mind reels with ideas for what I can give to this community. I have brought fresh ginger with me to give to them to make tea. What more can I give? Can I write a poem? Can I create something with the few things that I have brought? What talent or passion do I have inside me that I can give? Can I lead a yoga class? Lead a meditation? Cook something? Can I photograph the experience and send them the photos? This has become a familiar feeling, potent longing to have a gift to share with others who have opened themselves to me.
An opportunity to share comes unexpectedly at dinner that night. Following two hours of chanting, meditation, and discussion with the setting of the sun, we gather around long tables to a very simple meal of soup, pickled vegetables, bread, and cured meats and cheese. I am put in the hot seat again, asked questions about my “old life”. What exactly did I leave behind? What am I discovering here? And finally…can you sing? Well, that depends. Physically, technically speaking…yes. I have the ability. But my voice is so bad it’s beyond what is ironic and funny at a karaoke bar to just plain out-of-tune and miserable. But this was not the time for vanity or excuses. I had learned songs in Spanish at the transformation retreat I went to in the Peruvian Amazon last year and how wonderful that I could share that now. And so with all 30 or so members of the community tuned in, I sang.
The next morning, we woke up early to “receive the sun”. This included silent meditation for a couple of hours, as we held presence with the rest of nature around us, patiently waiting for the sun to crest over the mountains and kiss our faces. Each morning was spent this way, followed by a simple breakfast, dream work, and then work around the land…in the fields, with the animals, in the kitchen…we all went off to tend to the activities that keep this self-sustaining community afloat. For me, this was working in the fields cutting the long grasses to be used in the animal coops. I enjoyed being out in the sun, sweating, working with my hands at the side of my new friend Patricia. She asked me, “What do you want?” and I realized it was a gift to answer such profound questions with my basic Spanish. It gave me the opportunity to simplify the complex network of thoughts and emotions and ideas that are always churning inside of me to their essence.
“What do you want?” I want to combine nature, adventure, and transformational practices to help people be their truest selves, to follow their dreams.
“Ok great, what are you doing here?” Learning, witnessing, living simply, practicing presence.
More affirmation came when I was invited by Emilio to go to a sacred valley where the energy is amplified by 360 degrees of mountains holding the space. Others had hinted that I might receive this honor. A small group of us set out in a truck and Emilio took hold of my hand and held it for the entire ride there, telling me I am full of fire. We each laid on a blanket on the ground with our eyes closed while he saluted the seven directions, the seven chakras with words and song. I understood most of it and it was beautiful, but I was also challenged by trying to let go of thoughts and translate at the same time. “Solo luz, solo amor” he said again and again and I focused on the mantra. I was then surrounded by three women who were singing so loudly I could feel the vibration of their voices inside my chest while Emilio stood behind me completing the circle and crying out a blessing that peaked in intensity as I was gently pushed to fall back into his arms. He laid me back down and more energy work was done over me, while two women on either side of me sang sweetly into my ears. I released all thoughts to just be and focused on the flashes of white, orange, and yellow light that were saturating my mind’s eye. After the ceremony, Emilio puts his arm around me and with a comforting squeeze told me to let go and let Spirit guide me.
That evening in the meditation circle he asks if I have anything to share and it is the first time I choose to remain silent, still struck by the intensity of it all. I heard the word “sonrisa” and decided that was the truest response I could give right now, and I offered a big and genuine smile. The group responded in kind, eagerly agreeing with Emilio that I looked lighter and cleaner somehow and so present.
And that was just it. Living simply. Being present. That was the gift that I got from this community. It took a lot of effort to slow down, to graciously accept the space they were giving me to just be, to surrender to that. I came there thinking I had so many questions, seeking so much guidance and discovered that I just need to take some breaths, be still, and open up my awareness to the wisdom that’s already in my soul. This setting really forced me to be vulnerable and watch the stream of thoughts, fears, desires, judgments, questions and answers that unfolded when I did just that.
On my last day there, I expressed all of this to them as I stood at the head of the festive table that begged to be used for Martín’s birthday celebration, adorned throughout the entire morning with flowers, balloons, paintings and the grandest of feasts. I pointed to the paper cranes hanging over the table, telling them that they were little gifts from me as a symbol of health, inspiration, and gratitude*. People from the town had come out for the day, some to celebrate the birthday and others to seek the guidance of their community elder, Emilio. I felt warm and content with the happiness and hope that invited them here and filled with peace as I ended my time there. One by one they each hugged me and smiled and wished me well. Carmen had been right about the tears; they flowed again streaming my emotions inside out.
*Here is an invitation to visit the site of Project Paper Crane, a project that my dear friend Christen and I have started to share stories of gratitude and passion through the gift of paper cranes to people who inspire us in our lives.