Before I went to Tulum, people kept telling me of its magic and amazing, healing energy. I knew I would love it. Why then, did I find myself at the airport, regretting my decision and wishing to stay in New York instead (when the city was, by the way, below freezing)? Why was I still racked with guilt on the ride from the airport to the resort? I realized it’s just an issue I have with it being really really good.
And I’m not the only one. In The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks writes about the epidemic we [as a society in general] have: an Upper Limit Problem. Basically, our tolerance for pain is much higher than our tolerance for happiness. We have a lid on our ability to experience joy, and when we start to hit that limit, we self sabotage in order to go back to the pain or struggle that is more within our comfort zone. The most common ways to snuff out happiness are by worrying, judging, criticizing, or complaining.
So, there I was in Tulum, eating breakfast outside, looking out over the powdery, white sand and sparkling blue water [yeah, poor me], wondering “shouldn’t I be doing something productive?” “Who am I to take a week-long vacation right before Thanksgiving and a month before I leave New York City and my job to go traveling around the world?”
Yet, I knew I hadn’t booked a week-long retreat over my 27th birthday so I could simply do what I always do in nicer weather. Luckily I wasn’t just on any retreat; I was with 23 powerful women, including my mom, on a goddess retreat. We were there on a quest for spirituality, adventure, health, indulgence, and sisterhood. They kept reminding me to let go, dance, jump in the waves, eat another pancake at breakfast, laugh, and be good to myself. The Maya Tulum resort staff helped too with their kindness, hospitality, and generosity. The only one standing in between me and ultimate bliss was…me.
Little by little I started to breathe deeper. Three days in I was skinny dipping. On the fourth day I had one of the best massages of my life, followed by a challenging and beautiful Temazcal sweat lodge ceremony, where I was faced with intense heat, dirt, and cramped darkness. Still, laughter prevailed as we chanted with our shaman and were reborn into the cool night.
And, yet, a little voice kept saying “I don’t deserve this” or “this is too good.” I responded by asking myself: “How much good can I handle?” And then I would take a deep breath.
The breath really was the key. Every morning at yoga, our instructor reminded us to breath. Our sweat lodge shaman said the key to making it through the heat was to breath. As we walked up the steep steps of the Coba ruin pyramid, I just kept breathing (and didn’t look down).
The fifth day was my birthday and probably one of my favorite days. Nine months ago on a New Years retreat in snowy Maine, we took turns sharing what our ideal day would be like. Mine went like this: I wake up with the sun, at my leisure, well rested. I do yoga, meditate, and enjoy fresh food all day. I play on the beach without a worry or care in my mind, alongside people I love. I make delicious food and share it with others, enriching their day. I laugh and socialize over a relaxing dinner. And, yes, that’s exactly how my 27th birthday went in Tulum, from yoga to a raw chocolate demo I led. It was actually more than I could have imagined (waking up to Christmas lights Mom strung inside our bungalow, doing a morning photo shoot with the talented photographer on our retreat, being surprised at dinner with decadent chocolate cake, candles and singing). I ended the evening practically floating to my room, barefoot on the sand path, classical music playing — compliments of the resort’s spa — as if it was the soundtrack to the epic movie of my life.
And then my Upper Limit struck the next morning. I had to leave. I felt miserable all day, the pit in my stomach growing as friend after friend left for the airport, me being the last one to go. It was all ending. But was it really? What did I really love about that week? Yes, the sand, sun, and food was spectacular, but the heart of it all was connection, peace, and love. All of which allowed me to slow down and really breathe. All of which I could take with me wherever I go.
As I was waiting in the airport after a 3-hour delay for my flight back to New York, I used my breath to bring me back to the moment and my gratitude of being alive and safe. And back in New York I met the cold air with happiness and joy at the holiday decorations that were put up while I was gone. Magic everywhere!
In the weeks since being back, I’ve found myself taking deeper breaths than I ever have, breathing into places in my body I never knew I could. Letting my belly expand, letting breath go deep into my root chakra. I realized I haven’t really been fully breathing for years; it’s been mostly shallow and stingy; no wonder I’ve been anxious. So now when I realize I’m worrying, I breathe and it brings me back to the present. When everything really feels like it’s going perfectly, maybe “too good to be true,” I breathe into the goodness rather than sabotaging. Receive it with gratitude. Savor it. The more I do that, the more I remember how life is truly delicious, beautiful, and only as difficult as we make it.
And I am willing to have it get really, really good. Are you?