There is powerful, freeing beauty in this world that transcends any travel show or guidebook if we open to it and are ready. Mexico is full of that for me.
Well before the violent troubles of the last decade, I first camped on beaches near Ensenada with my parents, all of us sleeping in a big canvas tent. One summer we drove far south through Mazatlan, Aculpulco and past the glamorous fountains of Guadalajara, which I studied while sick with tourista from the back seat. We devoured bags of fresh pastries from corner Panaderias, lobster purchased on the beach from local fishermen and fresh tortillas made right before my eyes. I always longed to return but life intervened.
Decades later I gasped at my first glimpse of the pyramids of Teotihuacan. There was just a giant snake’s head in stone, broken steps and a bit of sky but something resonated. It was part of an email invitation to visit the place where traditions say, “Man becomes God.”
I knew I had to go but had very little income or freedom to travel. My son was still a toddler and his father was on the road with work. How could I ever swing it? In less than a month the money came in unexpectedly. I felt so grateful and found the courage to make plans. The trip came together – five days on my own in a country where I didn’t speak the language with a group I’d never met – but soon I was on my way.
Teotihuacan lies about 40 miles outside of Mexico City. Upon arrival at the airport I rendezvoused with the group just outside of customs. My first glimpse of the Pyramid of the Sun, was from a van, the pinnacle dodging between roadside trees as we sped towards the Villas Archaeologicos, our home for the week.
Our loose-knit group was led by an elder from the tradition of don Miguel Ruiz, author of the Four Agreements. Victoria Allen led us up the Avenue of the Dead, through simple rituals where we walked or sat in between ancient stone walls on hard earth and cast off “that which no longer served.” The rituals reminded me of something I hadn’t known I missed. My Catholic school days had been very theatrical – full of Latin masses and ceremonies with incense, candles and chanting. I’d missed some of that.
On our last day in Teo we walked purposefully towards the Pyramid of the Sun in focused silence. I kept repeating to myself all the things that I am not and soon added all the things I’d been identifying with: mother, daughter, wife, writer and renounced them as well. There was a shift and instead of emptiness I felt the world expand. There was no me only presence and it swept through the ruins, between the mountains, across the sky. Any sadness, disappointment or lack evaporated. I felt completely present and whole, silent and free. Later I struggled up the Pyramid’s steep, narrow steps to the apex. Butterflies bounced past in the sunlight and my heart soared with them.
I’d experienced a little of what Teo deeply is and has been for centuries. Tourists still scour the place with guidebooks in hand. Touts offer silver bangles and fill the air with the peals from little ceramic whistles. Through it all Teo remains a power center.
I came home feeling strong and clear, so grateful for the opportunity to inhale that rarefied air and be with others open to the same. My life soon turned inside out. Change isn’t always easy but often necessary. I’ve returned half a dozen times to renew and surrender in that sacred, beautiful place.
Mexico will always be dear to my heart and I now know there are power centers across the globe. They can be monasteries or retreat houses, crumbling ruins or a simply a towering forest. In time I’ll find more.
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