An extraodinary period of our life comes to an end, and a new one begins

I was staring out the airplane window as we landed in Mexico City at night. Karen and I knew this would be our last trip for a while, and we each felt quite mixed about it. We both knew we’d be staying put in one place a month from now — as put as it gets for us, at least. A period of unknown length, with less time to commit to service and practice. But when we left Toronto in mid-2017 we knew this time was coming for us. We live an incredible life. Always somewhere different. We own little and owe nothing. We can live anywhere. We’re free. But that will be changing soon.

A beautiful sunrise out our plane window. We’re on the way home to another new start.

In October we’d be in Vancouver, looking for jobs and for a small apartment to throw a mattress into. The trick will be living as though we’re leaving, even though we’re staying for quite a while. Like running with a robin’s egg in your fist: being present and committed to life while not rooting too deeply or getting too attached.

It will be a huge transition. We’re pretty good at facing change. Afterall, it’s the only thing in life one can depend on. Everything always changes. When your life is waking up every few weeks in a different country, a new language, new currency, new food, you either find a routine in it, or live in perpetual anxiety. We’ve become very skilled at finding stability when all the things around us continually change.

And yet, the big transition-type of change is still a little frightening. What will happen to us? Will we find jobs? Where will we live? Will we like Vancouver? More importantly, will Vancouver like us? All of it was sort of hanging over this final trip. It made it difficult to keep expectations for this journey even. We live by a very simple faith. That if you keep your volition right, things will follow in good order. This doesn’t mean we believe the “Universe” will give us what we want or that things will always be pleasant. But generally, we believe that if your intentions are right, your actions will beget (mostly) positive effects. We left our life in Toronto to serve the needs of other people, people we don’t know. And we did it all at our own expense. The effect has been spectacular. We’ve never been busier. And we’ve never been freer or happier.

But with all of the future whatifs hanging over us, we landed in Mexico City with a little trepidation. But we needn’t have worried. Landing in Mexico was like coming home. When we arrived in La Condesa and stepped into the tiny Art Deco apartment we love, just 90 minutes after touching down at the airport, we both had the feeling this would be a wonderful way to end this extraordinary period of our life. And maybe it would also be a great beginning to new chapter.

When we agreed to conduct another course in Mexico, we built in some extra time to visit with our friends, Jorge and Julie. This time, they wanted to bring along their two daughters, Ali and Isa. It was one of the most enjoyable weeks we’ve had in a very long time. Given how we spend most of our weeks these days, that is saying a lot. Relaxed and comfortable, fascinating and fun, spending time with them was like being with family.

Because we gushed so hysterically over the tamales we found at a tamale shop in Roma, Jorge, Julie and the girls wanted to try them. We decided to have a nice brunch at their rented house next to our place. Karen, Jorge and I walked to Dona Emi’s very early one morning to guarantee we’d be first in line.  When we got home, we all feasted!

The best tamales in CDMX.
Dona Emi’s tamale stock for the day.
Tamale breakfast with friends.

Many years ago, as a child visiting my grandparents in Mexico City, I remember going to a very colourful place, alive with birds and flowers, with hundreds of boats and Mariachi players. This was Xochimilcho. We all decided to spend a day there having lunch floating down the flower-lined canals of the area named for its abundant flowers. We even hired a mariachi band to play our favourites, including Mexico Lindo – a love song to the beauty of Mexico.

Crowds of boats at Xochimilco.
Crowds of boats at Xochimilco.
Julie at the girls.
Our driver for the day navigating out of the boat jam.
A sombrero seller heads out for the day.
The photographer becomes the subject…
A family out for the day making friends with the ducks.
Mother and daughter.
Xochimilco is famous for its flowers.

Every day we spent with our friends, we did something interesting. The highlight for me was returning to Central de Abasto. We wrote about this astonishing market in a previous post. It’s the largest fresh market in the world. And it’s not a tourist trap. Amazing. If you want to experience this place, we recommend you go soon. It won’t be long before the tourists discover how cool this place is. Then they’ll ruin it.

Central de Abasto merchants selling flor (zucchini flowers).
Obradores help each other take a heavy load down hill.
An obrador poses for a photo!
Central de Abasto. The world’s largest fresh market.
A man watches a dog trot by in Condesa, Mexico City.
Fresh chicken stall at Abasto.
Pineapples and melons.
A family cleans the thorns from fresh nopales.
A small vegetable market stall.
Loving our tacos al pastor.
The whole (extended) family.

Sometimes you meet people who feel very familiar, like an old friend or family member you’ve haven’t seen in a long time. You share a quiet and unspoken bond.  We were getting ice cream at a favourite place of theirs – Tepoznieves. A very young boy followed us in to the store. He was typical of the many thousands of poor children who wander the streets of Mexico City selling small items, in this case he was selling pencils or pens. He might have been around eight or nine. He pitched each of us on his wares until Julie and Jorge each very politely smiled and told him we didn’t need any pencils. He gave up on the pencils but turned his attention instead to ice cream. With his face pressed up against the glass, he stared at the dozens of different flavours as we each made our choices sizes, some with a single scoop, others with three scoops, a mix of exotic flavours… I watched all of this and just felt terrible. I looked at our friends’ daughters and thought about my own niece and nephew. They had very different lives than this child. I struggled with the thought of what to do. Should I offer to buy him an ice cream? I don’t speak Spanish. I didn’t want to make a clumsy show of awkward charity, “don’t be Barbie Saviour,” I told myself. “Or the Ken version?” I stepped outside the shop. This stop wasn’t our treat and I decided it was best to just walk away. Best for whom, I didn’t know exactly.

I chatted to Julie and Isa about something I can’t remember when I saw the boy leaving the store. He had put away his little can of pencils. Instead he was using both hands to hold on to a large cup piled high with three scoops of ice cream. He was very obviously happy in that moment. Of course I didn’t know, but Jorge had already (and quietly) arranged for him to choose whatever he wanted. It’s in the moments like this that you know exactly why someone is your friend.

We had a week with these special friends until we had to say goodbye. We hope to see them next year, maybe in Vancouver.

Julie and Jorge.
Sometimes you know exactly why someone is your friend.
Xochimilco selfie.
Isa taking a break at UNAM.
Feeding squirrels in Chapultepec.
Te amo (I love you).
Lunch at Hosteria de Santo Domingo.
Independence Day delicacy, chiles de nogado.
Lunch at Hosteria de Santo Domingo in Centro.

We spent a few more days on our own in Mexico City. We wandered La Condesa and relaxed before heading up into the mountains outside of Mexico City to spend the Indepence Day holiday in Valle de Bravo. This scenic little town is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos, a series of towns and villages throughout the country that have natural beauty and cultural, historical, and artistic significance. The best thing about Valle de Bravo? While it’s very popular with tourists, but almost none of them are not Mexican. Plus it’s just 30 minutes away from Dhamma Makaranda, Mexico’s Vipassana centre. Perfect.

Flags adorn the streets of Valle de Bravo for Independence Day celebrations.
We had lots (and lots) of rain in Valle de Bravo. A woman waits out the storm.
Street tacos (al pastor) in Valle de Bravo.
A pony waiting for rides in the park outside of Valle de Bravo.

We’ve been traveling and conducting 10-day meditation retreats almost continuously since 2017. People often think such retreats are a kind of yoga spa or relaxation ranch. But anyone who has ever attempted to complete such a course knows it can rank among some of the most difficult experiences they’ve ever had. Not many people are any good at sitting quietly with themselves. Often, they don’t like what they see; all the parts of ourselves we edit out for the consumption of others can’t be hidden away from our own awareness. And that makes the course very difficult.

The meditation hall of Dhamma Makaranda.

A friend of ours once said, “troubled people can be troubling.” So sometimes these courses can be a challenge. You are supporting and helping people at their most vulnerable. There are bound to be bumps along the way. I don’t know what it says about the 80 or so students who sat with us in Mexico for ten days in September, but as the last retreat we’ll conduct for a while, it was a serene and beautiful course – among the smoothest we’ve ever conducted. And such a lovely way to end our time on the road. We arrived in Canada at the beginning of October and we’ve spent our time looking for jobs and a place to hang a spatula. We’ve also been spending time with friends and family and enjoying the natural beauty of Vancouver and the welcome opportunities for exercise, the one thing we have really missed in all our travels. We’ll do another post soon.

Fall in Vancouver.

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