Before I came to Costa Rica I was in a position in my life where I felt comfortable, so much so that my everyday emotions felt stagnant and my overall disposition complacent. Each day ebbed and flowed in a manner that made sense: get up, go to class, go to yoga, come home and do homework, sleep, and start over. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t happy, because I was. My future was predictable and I felt at ease to know what was coming just around the bend.
But the principles of this predictable UMich life do not translate beyond borders into the land of the unknown. It was soon apparent, as I boarded the second plane to San José that the comfort I had been so used to dissipated as we traversed the blue waters 10,000 feet beneath us. My old fears of flying resurfaced, and I was soon confronted with turbulence that vibrated my bones and rattled within me an anxiety that I thought for sure I had shook from my last trip abroad. Here I was flying across the ocean in a gigantic chunk of metal, entirely paralyzed with fear, and I felt more vulnerable than I have felt in so long.
Through breath and focus and the support of Sarah sitting beside me, we landed safely in San José. But the hardship was not yet over. Life never fails to throw another curveball just when you think you are about to break, as if to say “I know that was hard, but you are capable of facing that which is even more difficult.” And life, that’s exactly what it did. My stomach feeling sickly from an afternoon of measly sustenance, if you could call it that, of pretzels and peanut butter, we rounded the corner to get in line for registration on our jumper plane to realize that there wasn’t much there. It was at this moment that I realized my privilege, my safe and comfortable lifestyle. The ominous clouds of rain lingered above me, igniting another one of my greatest fears combined with my anxiety of flying: storms. We entered the Sansa “terminal” which was no more than a shed with little seating, a “cafeteria” that resembled a dilapidated convenience store of no more than 10 square feet, and a runway of tiny airplanes. I realized that my transportation would be no more than a flying SUV. I was horrified and sick to my stomach. What have I gotten myself into? I wanted to be home. I wanted to be safe.
Just as the world has a funny way of pushing you beyond your boundaries, it also has a way of rewarding you for exhibiting the utmost of bravery. There up in the Costa Rican sky in our magic school bus style plane, I witnessed the most beautiful scenes of nature that I have ever seen in my life. The mountains gave way to sparkling blue waters, and the sun shone bright into the front window as if we were entering the heavens themselves. And then, the magic truly began. I looked over my shoulder to the left side window and saw a perfectly arched rainbow. My jaw nearly dropped. Then, I turned to the right and saw the continuum of this very rainbow, forming a 360 ring of color surrounding our itty bitty plane. For a minute, my breath returned. I had struggled through the morning, dragging my feet with me with tremendous effort into a land of complete fear. Right here and now, the universe was letting me know that I was alright, that I was so much stronger than I thought I was, and that I still have so much more to learn and experience.
This time, I wanted to cry, but not because of the mounting stress and anxiety, but because I was so grateful for the transformation that had occurred in just a few hours. The plane then emerged from the rainbow orb and sank lower and lower from the sky into, not an airport, but a narrow runway giving way to vibrant jungle. I climbed out of the plane, and for the first time that day, I felt at peace.
We loaded our belongings, including my winter coat that I foolishly thought I might need in the tropics, into the bus-like cab and headed to our hostel for the night. If I thought that the bit of turbulence that we faced in the flight was rough, this was a whole other terrain. But this time my eyes were filled with wonder and my heart bursting with a new excitement for this vibrant new environment in which I found myself.
A bumpy 30 minute taxi ride later, I piled out of the van with the rest of my yogi crew at our hostel, Dos Monos. Not 5 minutes after we walked into the reception room, we found out that our reservations were made for the wrong night, and thus Sarah and I would have to stay in the North location in two separate rooms. Just when you think you gain your footing, a deeply innate worry quakes beneath your feet and undermines everything you’ve built up. Rebuilding, however, is where the remarkable growth begins. The muscles must break down in order to rebuild into a self that is profoundly stronger and resilient. So that night I stayed in a hostel room in a foreign country where I spoke not a lick of spanish outside of “no hablo espanol” and made it through the night alive, albeit a bit rattled.
Throughout the rest of the week, the days didn’t get easier, but instead I become stronger.
As Kara sagely told us in our early morning yoga practice during one of our first days on the trip, “what you resist, persists,” and the fears of the past will only gain power the longer one sets them aside. So I learned to embrace feelings of fear. I surfed despite my deep seated fear of being tackled by crashing waves, I rock-climbed steep terrain that I thought would be the end of me, and I jumped off a cliff in Montezuma with the support of my yogi friends cheering me on deep below. Finally, I let the waves wash over me, I let my body shake with terror, let myself feel the fear instead of running away.
This retreat was my moment, my moment to rip the bonds of fear and delve into the world of the unknown. This was, as Sarah has taught me, my moment to break down in order to build up. And I think at the end of the day, my new foundations have allowed me to stand a little taller, and a whole lot braver. Thank you Costa Rica. You have allowed me to realize my Pura Vida.