Rewind back to 2008: I was climbing the career advancement ladder, had recently earned my Master’s degree in education, had semi-successfully completed my parenting obligations, was optimistically anticipating an empty nest, and by most accounts had achieved outward success; however, my inner turmoil caused mayhem resulting in a daily feeling like I was drowning.
After being married at 18, having 3 children by the time I was 25 . . . being consumed by the life I was given was an understatement. At 38 years old, going through my second divorce and already immersed in another relationship, I was barely treading water. Daily I forced myself to put on a brave, happy face, muscled through the day, met everyone’s expectations and needs (even at my own expense), dropped into bed exhausted, and command myself to get out of bed the next morning and do it all over again. Until one day after being inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey in Eat, Pray, Love, I decided I needed to save myself; I needed to reconnect with my soul; I needed to figure out how to breathe again.
Having never EVER practiced yoga in my life, I registered for an 8-day yoga retreat in the wilds of Costa Rica. Did I mention that since I had my first child at age 16, I had NEVER been alone in my life and certainly never traveled alone? Did I mention that I moved seamlessly from one co-dependent relationship to the next? Did I mention that I was known as someone who was analytical, dependable, and predictable? Regardless, within a month, I was off to a country I had never visited, to partake in a practice of which I had no knowledge, to begin a quest of whose depths I could not fathom.
Upon arriving in that foreign land that my family incorrectly deemed a third-world country, I commenced on a shuttle van adventure over unpaved roads that included traversing a few river crossings, careening a steep slope perched on the peak of a deep ravine, and unsuccessfully attempting to avoid seemingly bottomless potholes; three hours later, I arrived at the remote mountaintop yoga commune. Exhausted but full of excitement, I carried my 2 mega-sized suitcases (looking around and wondering: why did everyone else have just backpacks?) down 451 stone stairs to the grove where I would find a primitive wooden hut that would be my home for the next week. No telephone, no bathroom, no air-conditioning, and nothing more than a flimsy screen for a window, I promptly turned around, walked back up 451 stone stairs, lugging the 2 aforementioned massive suitcases and flung myself upon the reception desk putting forth my best effort to make my native, Spanish-speaking host understand that I was not a seasoned traveler. I was not the camping type. I was not a hippie (pointing to my rolling luggage, clearly I was not of the backpack class). I was not an extreme adventurist. I was ill-equipped. I was misinformed. I was severely unprepared to spend the next week alone in Costa Rica. Simply stated, “I could not sleep in a jungle hut!”
As you probably guessed: they were fully booked! I was informed there were no alternative accommodations. Having surveyed the lobby surroundings, at that moment I seriously considered threatening to sleep on the small wooden chair next to the reception desk – at least I would be in the safety of staff’s presence; however, my host promptly informed me that reception was closing for the night and suggested that perhaps the next day I would make a friend who might let me bunk with them in one of the less primitive lodge rooms. Realizing I was probably less safe in the open-air lobby than in my hut (which at least had walls), I trudged back down the 451 stone steps (dragging my 2 massive suitcases; finally understanding the wisdom of those backpack travelers) on each step willing myself to keep going; I had after all been employing that same technique to make it through the past 38 years of the life I so desperately desired to leave behind in Lancaster County, PA. Hence, arriving in the grove that housed the tents and huts, I barricaded myself in my hut for the night (thankful for not having chosen the tent option!).
This was merely the beginning of the lessons I would learn that week. Lessons that helped me understand how I had become so lost, uncover who I was designed to be, and through my fear, weakness, and vulnerability, discover the woman I wanted to be when I reintegrated back to the life (for the time being) I still needed to participate in back in the states.
Although the next day, I gave yoga a valiant attempt, I soon yielded to my inner voice pleading for surrender and bowed out of the session. I climbed down the mountain, walked onto the deserted beach, and ventured into the unknown. This is how I spent the next 7 days –walking the Pacific coastline in solitude, emptying my mind. For the first time in my life, my type-A personality and inner critic was mute. In the beauty and peacefulness of Costa Rica, I found the courage to ask myself one question – what is the one thing in my life that would make me really happy? And, by some divine miracle, I was able to formulate an answer – I wanted to live on a beach. Oddly, suddenly I felt that for the first time in my life, I allowed a completely selfish desire and goal to consume me, and I felt a total peace about my answer and my decision. Having always had done everything in life fast, I was fortunate that I experienced such a transformation in 8 short days; I left Costa Rica vowing that I would never again merely tread water to keep afloat. I had found my soul and I promised myself I would honor it.
Within a month, I quit my job, sold most of my belongings, gave notice to my boyfriend and family (who all thought I had lost my mind in Costa Rica) and moved to the Jersey Shore. It certainly was no Costa Rica, but it was a coast, and it was my coast! I continually reflect back to my experiences from those 8 days in Costa Rica, knowing that it truly saved my life, my sanity, my spirit. I strive to honor the lessons learned and those I still need to learn, but I now know when I ask myself, “Staci, what do you want for your life,” I have the courage, the experience, and the right to answer myself!
That inaugural trip to Costa Rica was the first of what would become many – a progression of discovery quests to prepare for what would ultimately be the more accurate response to my “I want to live on a beach” answer to self – I want to live in Costa Rica on a beach.
In this space “PuraVidaQuest” I will share my journey (both physical and spiritual) to the land of “pure living”. It is my hope that by authentically sharing my deepest thoughts, plans, and struggles, you’ll be amused, inspired, or at least entertained along the way.
Your comments and questions are appreciated, so I look forward to meeting you and hearing from you, my new friends.