12. Breakthrough

Launching My Breakthrough Experience In South America

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”

 Anaïs Nin 

Some of us think nothing of leaving comfortable and predictable lives, hopping on planes and trains, heading out to new destinations and into adventures without much thought. Curiously, others of us hope that “one day I am gonna…” will turn into a reality for us once we think we are ready, when all the perfect conditions have aligned—that is, until we have the “life is now” wake-up moment.

Plants and trees must have just the right conditions in which to grow buds and blossom: cold then warm temperatures, darkness then hours of sunshine, first less nutrition, then more. Blooming, one of Nature’s most beautiful and sought-after moments, actually comes from the lack of certain conditions or elements — the stress of plants not having what they need.

And those in the fields of human behaviour and motivation apply the same wisdom to us. We generally make changes or shifts only when life becomes uncomfortable, unbearable, and unimaginable in its current state—that is, when current conditions are such that our systems are shocked into change. Such is our story, the hero’s reluctant journey—to go without certainty and security, to move out from behind our comfortable lives into the unknown toward adventures and new awakenings, cultivating clarity and courage as we go.

Mine is such a story, one which many of us have begun to hear more often—it starts with the diagnosis of cancer, the awareness of just how precious and precarious life is in this human body, and answering life’s wakeup call of “if not now, when?”

After all, a cancer diagnosis, a 5-year life expectancy, a seriously dramatic and painful surgery, recovery, and possible relapse have all the components of great stress. It was a shock point forcing me to move to a higher order, to make major changes and shifts in thinking, feeling, and being. Cancer begs the question: just how alive am I willing to be?

I answered with a type of expansive claustrophobia, a desire to shed all the things constraining me, which compelled me to divest myself of a lifetime of worldly goods—a car and house, a thriving pastoral counselling practice, beloved family and friends, and a town worthy of being its own destination—and take the hand of my exquisite partner, Joanna, strap on a backpack, and head toward distant and unknown places I had never been—Central and South America.

With the fragile surgery sites and the underbelly softness that death awareness can bring, we landed in Nicaragua eager for new life, redemption, and—more than anything else—transformation. We swam in the miraculous waters of the 23,000-year old volcanic crater lake Laguna de Apoyo, watched exotic birds, ate fresh fruit and vegetables, and slept within a natural circadian rhythm—up with the light and the coolness of morning and then resting in the heat of day and when the stars appeared.

We spent several weeks in and about Nicaragua soaking in the ease of joy and laughter of its people who, by all counts, might not have been so inclined to be kind to us North Americans since Nicaragua has not been treated kindly by the U.S. It was only the elemental stress of heat and drought that encouraged us on to Costa Rica.

The mountains of Costa Rica lavished us with the green lushness that comes with rain and lots of it. We swam, hiked, birded, looked for sloths and monkeys, and generally gawked our way around the beautiful country breathing in pura vida with its spirit of simplicity and generosity. Healing and the re-building of physical and emotional strength continued although not always so easily nor elegantly—many of our hikes which had been described as easy to moderate were more often very difficult and dangerously laborious. It became a sometimes not so funny joke that Joanna could not carry me out so I had better deal and keep walking—which I did.

We stayed on our journey, remembering to love, to laugh, to forgive ourselves and our bodies as we travelled through Panama and then into Ecuador, where we would spend two months before returning to the United States.

It was Ecuador that ultimately called us to slow down more fully in order to receive the gifts of restoration and transformation, to plant ourselves in Cuenca’s rich culture, to experience the universe’s longevity while in the valley of Vilcabamba with its protective yin and yang Mondango Mountain which locals say resembles both a woman and man lying down in different directions sharing the same head.

While hiking the eight-mile perimeter of Cuicocha Crater Lake near Cotacachi—starting off in fog and rain with zero visibility on a single tract—the unfolding journey or growth cycle became evident. Seeing nothing, seeing only what was directly in front of me, looking back and seeing how far we had come, looking forward with clarity, sometimes looking at the trail behind and beyond and feeling as though we had travelled virtually nowhere, resting and refuelling, and yet after a time completing the full circle of the lake. The cyclical reduction and reemergence of internal and external conditions perfect for growth.

And as is true of journeys with no absolute beginning and ending, only the unfolding and blossoming, with reinterpretation and reframing, this story began with a response to stress; in my case, cancer. My story of blooming continues to emerge with different meanings leading to new beginnings, new journeys—like deciding to move to Cuenca. Breathing in, breathing out…

How have you answered life’s wake-up calls?  From where have you travelled and blossomed?  What new buds are forming these days?


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