A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my apartment bedroom in Buenos Aires, Argentina, putting the final touches on the rest of my summer. It was mid-May, final exams were near, and it was about time to leave for my next journey: working at a permaculture farm and horse ranch in the Sacred Valley of Peru. I would be working there for eight weeks as a volunteer and apprentice, learning about local cooking, methods of permaculture, healthy eating, how to run a locally-sourced business in the booming tourist-industry of Peru, sustainable living, and the importance of physical outdoor-work. As with all of my new projects, I was ready to meet the experience with an open mind and heart. I knew for certain it was going to be demanding work, based on accounts from past volunteers and the extensive list of rules I received from the owner, but I was eager for the challenge. Trying times lead to significant personal growth, and I consciously strive to seek out and actively pursue such opportunities.
But things didn’t pan out quite as smoothly as I expected. Over the course of the past two weeks since I began my volunteer project, I have indeed learned a great deal. However, it is a result of recognizing improper treatment, and having the courage and self-love to actually leave an unhealthy environment. I felt as though I was being treated with extreme disrespect, my ideas (and the ideas of the other volunteers) were dismissed faster than they could even be brought up, I couldn’t shake this constant state of anxiety, I was terrified of making mistakes or asking questions for fear of being ridiculed or kicked out, and I felt like the only way I could survive there was through total self-submission and suppression of my inner light. I strive to meet challenges with openness, and one of my life-guiding mottos is to finish what I start, but the treatment I was experiencing was just absolutely unacceptable. And so for the sake of my soul and my sanity, I left.
In a matter of nine days, I have found a new and exciting project to pursue, a loving home-stay, a reawakened desire to learn about this unique and vibrant culture that exists in the Sacred Valley, and a fiery curiosity to fuel the pursuit of my passions through active, self-inspired work. I will now be working as a volunteer and apprentice to a spiritual life-guide from Mexico who is opening her healing retreat center here in the Sacred Valley – Arkana Spiritual Center del Valle Sagrado. The center focuses on deep holistic healing through ceremony, communion with nature, and sacred plant medicines. Chandra and I met the night before I left my position at the ranch. I had been invited to a re-birth ceremony in honor of the new moon that she was leading. Within half an hour of speaking with one another, I learned all about her project and expressed my sincere interest in becoming her apprentice. She accepted my desire to volunteer with bright eyes and open arms, and in a matter of thirty minutes, I had found a new project for the summer. Somehow, and almost cosmically, just the next day I found an inexpensive (and gorgeous) homestay to live in until mid-August. I have just started living with a beautiful single mother named Rachel, and her 4-year old daughter, Aanka. Already I feel 1000x more “right” than I ever did while at the ranch.
And so, over the course of this volatile and unexpected past week-and-a-half, I have learned several important things …
- Let go of the insane (yes, insane) desire to try and control the future and plan everything perfectly. No new experience will EVER go according to your pre-held expectations and plans. Instead of trying to create a rigid and inflexible scheme for your future and becoming upset when it doesn’t go according to that plan (which will inevitably happen…), realize that life is full of uncertainty. And uncertainty is perfectly normal. We don’t need to stress about the uncertain, because there is truly nothing in our power that we can do to affect the levels of uncertainty in our lives. We have absolutely zero control in making life more certain. So the best we can do, is prepare for what we can, and just roll with the punches.
- Meet new experiences with openness, willingness, and energy, but never tolerate bad treatment. It’s one thing to feel uncomfortable in a new environment, surrounded by new individuals, new duties, a new sense of purpose (or lack thereof), a new cultural/lingual context, a new way of life. This is expected, and surely we’ve all felt this sort of newbie apprehension before; in the first few days of college, a new job, a new class. But it is an entirely different beast to feel uncomfortable as a result of mistreatment. Everyone deserves to be listened to, to be respected as a capable adult, to receive basic support/services without being threatened, to feel happy, to feel free, to feel like themselves. We must always maintain an open-mind, but also we must be vigilant to not confuse markedly negative energy for a mere difficult transition.
- Dive into waves of change/hardship instead of resisting them; see what messages these waves might bring, what lessons. It’s very easy to see a wave of great change headed your way, a wave that will effectively “ruin” the grand scheme you had perfectly laid out, and to try and resist the inevitable. We become very attached to the castles we build in our heads, and when something threatens this elaborate and precise vision, we lash out. We fight back. We don’t want change. We like what we’ve created and we don’t want anything messing with it. But as I noted before, nothing nothing nothing in life will ever align with the visions and expectations of our over-active minds. In order to continue on our individual paths of self-growth, we must dive into these waves of change, perceive the vital life-messages that they bring, and emerge on the other side with lessons-learned and a newfound vigor to keep fighting the good fight. Over time you will notice that these tsunami-sized waves become less world shattering, and will feel instead like gentle little ripples that kiss your toes on the shore.
- Be open/observant enough to notice when opportunities find your path. Opportunities for continued growth are all around us. Every single person that we meet has a message for us, and likewise, we have a message for these people as well. When an opportunity comes along that seems “too perfect,” “too coincidental,” or “too good to be true,” grab it. This is, of course, easier said than done. For some inexplicable reason, it can be really scary to say, “yes” sometimes. But just as waves of change become less and less shocking, so too does the prospect of saying, “yes” to new experiences. Noticing when these opportunities stumble their way into our path or fall into our lap and having the courage to say “yes,” will lead you to beautiful and unexpected places. Already I am living the truth of this, and indeed, it feels too perfect to be true.