As I write this from my home, on a secluded mountain in Spain, I still get excited when I get to use my own spatula and simply sit on my own couch.
From the comfort of home, I can’t help but look back into the heart of what proved to be one of the greatest triggers for facing my mind I have ever experienced: being trapped in a tiny beach town for months, with no flights out, all while COVID-19 ramped up all around the world.
My sense is there are thousands of humans in 2020 facing all types of internal demons that have come up from all the pandemic-related stress. Our collective sense of safety, freedom, and protection has been swept us off our feet, and it is bound to bring up to the surface our relationship with those things.
When facing big life stress, there are two ways to look at it. One that can defeat us, and another way that can propel us into connecting with our true power within. For me, my goal has always been option two, even though at times it might appear more challenging and uncomfortable than I’m ready for.
My big, locked-down COVID-19 nightmare all began with these few words: “Let’s go to San Agustinillo.”
That was my brilliant suggestion after our airline sent an email canceling our flight out of Mexico back to our home in Spain for the first time.
While staying for three nights in a five star-resort where our wedding was supposed to be held, in Playacar, Mexico, my fiancé and I had little information on what was actually happening with the COVID-19 crisis overseas, and with which to base our last-minute decision, leading to one of the craziest experiences of our lives.
Neither of us had ever been to that tiny town on the Oaxacan coast. I came to Zipolite 15 years ago, when I was searching for the meaning of life, and all I found was a Scotsman to travel with for a few months. This time, I was returning with another Scotsman—my Scotsman and now future husband—to the unknown land where everyone told us we would be safest, where the pandemic probably wouldn’t touch us. They were not entirely right.
With only our intuition as a guide, we arrived in early March to this little piece of paradise. Only about 300 people live in San Agustinillo. It was a lovely, laid-back, quiet beach where the heat knocked us down for the first few days in our rustic Airbnb Rapunzel apartment by the sea. For the first time in my existence—and believe me, I’ve been to many beaches—the waves were so loud they hurt my heart.
The owner of this place, an angel, took us in and we had morning chipotiles in her downstairs restaurant. Italy was already in lockdown and somewhere around that time, the country we actually reside in, Spain, started to show signs of shutting doors. The possibility of us heading back by April seventh was looking slimmer.
And what did we care? Not so much. Arrogantly, I believed we weren’t going to be affected at all in this small, beachside paradise.
Who knows if it was divine faith or my own anxiety reflected in the outside world, but the ocean sound was too much for me, and we had to move. We negotiated a price in another wonderful hotel in a calmer bay, but there were still a lot of reservations, meaning it would be an unstable stay. Little did we know our flight was going to be cancelled two more times. The prospects of getting out of Mexico anytime soon seemed slimmer and slimmer.
One morning, I was woken up by the manager outside my bedroom window. The entire town was shutting down—nobody was allowed in, nobody was allowed out.
Fifteen years of meditation from my training as an Ishaya monk were desperately trying to prepare me for this moment, but to no avail. No one in, no one out. Jesus H. Christ, my worst nightmare manifesting in front of my eyes, in the scenario of my perfect dreams. No one can say I don’t create masterful events! This might mean nothing for you, but for me who always chokes at the slightest sign of entrapment—claustrophobia I think they call it—this meant absolute meltdown. Hundreds of thoughts flew by my awareness. What do you know? It turns out being a monk doesn’t give you a free, immediate pass to perpetual bliss.
Although my rational mind understood that we were being locked up to protect our health, this meant nothing to my emotionally shattered, panic-attack ridden self.
Anxiety crept into every cell in my body. The feeling was similar to when my mother passed away, or when I went through devastating breakups. Grief. Despair at the unknown. Defeat.
My rebel soul was screaming while I kept hearing of the new living conditions: no walking on the beach, no swimming, no going to the bigger nearby towns to shop for food, no pharmacies, and don’t make me laugh about hospitals—they didn’t exist there. And, unlike in other countries where at least they kept the liquor stores open, no alcohol sales either. Word on the street was no airports were going to be operating either, and even if they were open, good luck trying to get by all the blockades installed in all the towns. And did I mention that as a tourist you had zero voice there?
So, we were stuck. And, after the initial shock of the situation and in the midst of what appeared to be never-ending panic in my body, I realized once again the only relief was going to be found within.
I have committed my life to waking up, to transcending any limiting thought. To find the stillness within and make it more important than any flying monkey of emotion. What if this whole situation was created for me to finally transcend the last train of thought that shakes me? What if this wasn’t a cosmic mistake, but actually the universe pushing me to a higher level I never thought I could reach? Even though, suddenly, Spain seemed less limiting and my hometown more inviting, what if I was creating this whole scenario so I could transcend the idea that anything on the outside has the power to strip me from my freedom?
With that as a goal and moving toward what I wanted, the thoughts started to lose strength. I stopped jumping at them and having a full-body reaction to the entrapment. It was what it was. Surrendering to things as they were brought a whole different level of freedom I didn’t know before. No, it didn’t mean I’d put my head down. It meant I valued my inner freedom way more than the external one.
I discovered the magic of resting my attention beyond the sense of time and space.
It was only when I realized we’d been in Groundhog Day for weeks and possibly had more weeks to come that I encountered a problem. It was only when my thoughts wandered in space that the grass seemed greener somewhere else. When I rested in the here and now, when I surrendered everything to the moment, there was no problem. There was only perfection.
We hadn’t left in weeks. Lockdown had been extended indefinitely. Every day, I got to look at one of creation’s biggest gifts, the ocean, and I was not allowed to touch it. It itched in my soul. Every day, we didn’t know if the fish guy or the chicken guy or the meat guy would be allowed in. Our packages were always with a question mark, and we could only hope they made it there. No, I didn’t think our house arrest was completely necessary. Yes, I did believe sunshine, fresh air, and the ocean could do good for a population that was not only protecting themselves from this virus but also losing their only income, and I didn’t get why they couldn’t have it.
But I also saw how more and more people were waking up because of this crisis. Craving for a different reality. Some of them were looking into the world, researching for a deeper truth, maybe for the first time in years stepping away from entertainment and into information. Some of them, desperately trying to find the right inside door that could lead them to a quiet mind. Peace beyond chaos.
Luckily, I’ve known that door for years. Its infallible. It takes contrast, sometimes, to want to walk it, but the silent presence never leaves your side if you pay attention to it.
I felt blessed, because I knew that true freedom was closer than our next breath. Because I knew true peace will never be dependent on any external circumstance. Getting closer to that truth strengthened my ability to let go of the dark thoughts. My body stopped responding to them. As the rules of that town keep strengthening, so did my one-pointed awareness to the space beyond thought.
Find the truth within.