I’ve travelled quite a bit (gratefully), and I know that one resort experience in a beautiful place can easily meld itself into another resort experience at another beautiful place. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was seeking connections. Real, authentic connections. Connections to people, to places, to myself, to my loved ones. I wanted to learn, I wanted to experience. But, not to simply tick off a box on a bucket list, but to grow as a person. Much to my surprise, the more I learned about different cultures, people, yoga and meditation, the more I needed it to fulfill my soul. The more I knew I needed to follow the path…The more I had to learn.
I was sitting at my desk in Canada at a wonderful, well-paying job, great boss, cool team, excellent perks….but I was tense….I was stressed…and I didn’t know why. I closet smoked for years, and when I gave up smoking…I replaced it with more exercise, more drinks after work…. What void was I trying to fill?
I started googling ‘yoga retreats’ for that upcoming weekend. I had to get out of dodge for a few days to reconnect. I’d now been in this retreat habit (yes….some called it escapism….) for years and it seemed to be the only thing that could set me back on the straight and narrow.
It recharged my batteries and I always came back feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world! Enter Coco (aka...Christine).
I found one in Cuba….hmmmm….memories of ham and cheese sandwiches came back to me…gross. Then I read on. Mhai Yoga retreats were run in a villa outside of Havana with a real Cuban chef, organic food, a Cuban yogi, and it was unexplored territory for many tourists….hmmmmm…I liked what I saw.
My boss said it was too busy a time for me to take the full week, but that if I promised to be back in to time to present at a board meeting on the Wednesday night… I could go for four days. I’ll never forget my email with Mhai Founder Christine (aka…. Coco)…. ‘Is it okay if I come for only a few days?’ She immediately responded ‘Some retreat is better than no retreat’….’ Oh, hellloooooo VISA.
So I spent a ridiculous amount of money on the flight and I was on my way to Havana the next day.
I ended up at a B&B recommended by Coco in the suburb of Havana because I arrived so late. The 1950s chevy broke down, I didn’t speak Spanish (shame on me!), we couldn’t find the place, the driver kept picking up hitch-hikers (which I now understand is common practice and very safe in Cuba) and I thought for a quick moment that maybe I was going to be mugged and killed.
Not so….I spent the night with a Cuban family and practiced yoga with a Cuban yoga teacher who wore jeans and practiced on cardboard the next morning. She didn’t seem to notice my new lulu lemon’s and brand new mat, and just wanted me to have a good practice. I fell in love with the Cuban people immediately. This was real Cuba.
Here I was….money, ‘things’, freedom….but stress and a deep emptiness (that I never knew was there). Cubans had nothing, but had more to give than anyone I had ever met - a smile, a hug, a kind word, and kind eyes. Loyalty, family, honesty, hard work, and laughter…oh the laughter...
My four days at Mhai Yoga retreat opened my eyes to an entire new world. Who knew that these four days in 2013 would result in life long friendships, a mentor (Eduardo Pimmentel), an inspirational friend and retreat partner (Christine ‘Coco’ Dahdouh’) and a new way to see the world. I learned how to live in the present. Mr. Tolle has been preaching this concept for years…but finally, I understood.
Anything is possible, at any time in your life.
There are always peaks and valleys (as my late father used to say), but when I’m in a valley, I remember how truly connected we all are and how beautiful a simple, connected life can be. It helps.
Namaste to my fellow seekers,