Before the sun rises in the morning, the birds and cicadas sing a symphony at the full volume of their voices. Then, slowly, the sun paints the colors into the trees, leaves, branches, and stone pathways of The Yoga Forest. By this time everyone gathers for a morning meditation.
On our first morning waking up in Guatemala in the Shakti Shala, I found a comfortable, easy seat on a bolster, covered by a blanket to shield my skin from the cool morning air. One of the teachers, Nea, led a guided meditation. Letting our eyelids fall heavy, we tuned in to our breath and the sounds around us; nowhere else to be, no one needing us in that moment. This, in stark contrast to the past four (plus) months of my life as a full-time student and employee, constantly needing to be in multiple places (sometimes at the same time), working on projects for a variety of groups. Instead of the hectic pace that has defined much of the past few years of my life, for the next half hour there was no other responsibility aside from total presence in my own mind.
The meditation slowly guided us through an other-worldly jungle and across a field where our eyes met with those of an animal, unspecified.
In my own meditation, I could see a small, red fox a short distance away. I was not afraid in that moment and our eyes stayed connected, calm for a few moments before Nea guided us back to our bodies, our seats, and the room. That first morning, I thought the fox was a signal to let go of my fearfulness, given that I can be easily scared by animals I don’t know, but looking back at the five days we spent in Guatemala I now think it meant something else.
Foxes are notoriously adaptive and quick to respond because of their acute awareness of their surroundings. They use every sense they have to be present and observant of the world and are informed by what those senses absorb.
After months of stress chemicals flooding my brain, time spent living among to-do lists and seemingly endless efforts to complete and accomplish tasks while often numbing myself to other personal challenges, I could feel the flood waters beginning to recede. For me, the fox was an early nudge to be present in my own body and senses–to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch–places and people around me and allow those experiences to guide me rather than my calendar. In just the short amount of time I was at The Yoga Forest, I became more attuned to myself and connected with the environment and people in a powerful way.
It is an incredible blessing to make your way back to yourself like that. And to remember you are whole as you are, without checking a single thing off any list.
When we are fully present with the people around us, with ourselves, in the world, we are adaptive and informed and fulfilled all at once. I joked before I left that I was going to Guatemala to find my brain again, but in reality I really did need a gentle reminder this week to always keep mindfulness at the center.