Go On The Trip!
I was sitting in my therapist’s office about six months before my divorce was final when she asked me in a calm, curious tone of voice “what do you want to do when this is all over, Melanie?” I looked out the window and exhaled a long emotionally exhausted sigh followed by a much longer silent pause. The day she asked me this question I had been going to those art therapy sessions once a week for about five months. By that point I was feeling much stronger emotionally, and ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. I looked back at her and said something that surprised me. “I think I need to leave the country for a while.” I was truly caught off guard by my own answer.
My therapist had a slight grin on her face and proceeded to inquire further with a series of questions that I obviously hadn’t given a single thought to prior to that moment. She asked me where I would go and if I had ever traveled by myself out of the country before? She also wanted to know how a trip like that would benefit me at this time of my life? I had no idea where I would go, I had never traveled outside the country by myself before, but I just felt that I needed to be far away from anything familiar in order to truly transition from my old life into my new one.
Her questions led to an intriguing conversation of possibilities for the next 30 minutes. The more we talked the more I got excited. She finally looked at me and said, “Go on the trip!”
I went home that day and started searching online for possible places. My first Google search was something like ‘Cool places in Mexico for artists’. The first result was San Miguel de Allende, followed by a place called Ajijic (pronounced Ah-he-heek). I had heard of San Miguel de Allende, which is a college town. I tried to picture myself in a college town, but all I could imagine was a bunch of partying going on, and in my head I heard one of those loud cartoon-screeches that sounded like a car coming to a quick stop with burning rubber on the road. Not a good sign.
When I looked up more information on Ajijic my minds eye was lured into the images I saw on the computer. The landscape looked semi-tropical. The buildings were classic Mexico with bold, bright colors, and cobblestone streets that lined the shores of a large picturesque lake – Lake Chapala. I could almost hear the trees blowing in the wind and imagined myself strolling stress-free through the village.
Six months later my divorce was final, and I began making my plans to visit Ajijic located in Jalisco, Mexico. My monkey mind suddenly began to bombard me with all kinds of excuses why I shouldn’t do this.
I can’t afford this.
I don’t need to leave the country to heal and transition.
I can’t afford this.
I don’t need to leave the country to heal and transition.
Mexico isn’t safe.
I have children (who would be with their father while I was gone)
I must be crazy, I don’t know anybody in Mexico and I don’t speak Spanish.
Everyone is going to judge me and think I’m just being selfish.
I had to keep reminding myself about my ‘big why’ for this trip and push out the negative clutter from my head.
I was about to embark on my first solo trip abroad. I had no idea just how life changing this trip was going to be for me.
I first went to Ajijic in January for a short trip, because that’s supposedly when the weather is “perfect” in Ajijic. This initial trip was to simply check the place out. To my delight it was even more beautiful than I imagined. And yes, the weather was quite perfect for casual strolls. But to be honest, I was on a mission to see if Ajijic was a place that I would want to visit for longer than a week. I know this blog series is about ‘midweek getaways’, but sometimes short getaways have a way of becoming much more.
While I was there in January I ended up putting a deposit down on a casita that was going to be vacated at the end of March, because I decided that I wanted to come back to stay for six months. It was a beautiful casita located on a hill that overlooked the lake. It had large windows with plenty of sunlight, a lush garden and a swimming pool shared by the people in the main house.
Ajijic is really just a small village town with an interesting mix of locals and expats (mostly from the United States and Canada). It was just the kind of low-key place that I needed for healing and transitioning.
My ‘Big Why’ for this trip was to heal emotionally and focus on strengthening my body, mind, and spirit. What I discovered is that traveling abroad can be a fast track to such goals.
I became more in tune with my gut feelings – my intuition. Because back home it was easy to fall into autopilot mode, where most of my daily routines were pretty rote. I had to tap into those deeper senses that would guide me in ways I hadn’t paid much attention to before.
Don’t go that way.
This street is safe, Saunter on.
Check out this restaurant or gallery.
Ask that person over there.
Many of the streets in Mexico do not have street signs, so I had to rely a lot more on my internal navigational system, plus I had to become comfortable with asking for help. I didn’t have a vehicle for the first three months while I was there, so I utilized the public transit system, taxis, and even a little hitch hiking (it’s true, but shhhh, don’t tell my kids). I only hitch hiked one time in the middle of the day when I jumped into the back of a pick up truck filled with a family of little children and their abuela (grandmother), who was sitting in a folding chair. I just wanted a quick lift to the next town 3 miles away. The father and mother sitting in the front seat, with sweet friendly smiles from ear to ear, seamed more than happy to help me out.
This trip also helped boost my self-confidence. Up until then I didn’t realize that I could actually do life alone, which is part of the reason I stayed in an unhealthy marriage for so long.
The fact that I could do whatever I wanted to do was mind-blowing. For those six months my schedule was not being dictated by everybody else’s schedule – no husband to answer to, no customers help, no kids to rush around, no church meetings to attend, and no errands to run.
I would sleep in, read a book, paint, go to the local gym, ride my bike, and have a leisurely breakfast, lunch, or dinner at any one of the many restaurants. Which by the way, Ajijic has so many different truly wonderful restaurants with a variety of different cuisines, fabulous dishes, and surprisingly affordable enough to eat out several nights a week.
The people living in Ajijic are some of the kindest people I have ever met in my entire life. I met such an array of different personalities and characters. Many of the locals lived in very humble homes with their entire families including grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, adult children on down to grandchildren. The longer I was there my face became familiar to some of the shop and restaurant owners and I was often invited to join them for dinners or birthday celebrations. Living in Ajijic was like going back in time when the pace of life was much slower with children playing ball in the streets and most people greeting you just in passing on the sidewalk with a friendly Hola!
One of the things that surprised me most about Ajijic was the very active population of retired expats, which were really just of bunch of older hippies – yep throwbacks from the 1960s still being true to their rebel lifestyles. They were party animals! Seriously. I kid you not! The more expats I met the more invitations I received to go dancing, go out to dinner, go to a play or concert, a group tour of art museums in Guadalajara, or whatever! And there was quite the population of expats in their 30s and 40s living there as well (also more hippies). They were the ones who liked staying out all night dancing then hitting the all night taco place at 3 am. Why not?! I had to do it at least once. However, I must say, at age 40 I realized pretty fast that I wasn’t quite the same all-night party animal that I was in my early 20s pre-parenthood! But it was certainly fun for at least the one night (okay, it might have been two or three other times as well).
One of my favorite memories was when some of my new friends encouraged me to have an art show exhibiting all the artwork I created during my time there. I created a pretty large body of work, so I thought it would be a good way to celebrate. They took care of all the marketing, I was featured on the front page of their local newspaper, they helped me hang my artwork on the walls in my casita, they created flyers, sent out invitations, provided the food, beer, wine, and spiked punch, and basically made the whole event come to fruition. It was a great turnout and an absolute blast!
My last month in Mexico was spent with a man named Bill Scholar, who happened to also be in Ajijic to do some healing of his own. His mother, Rachel, had attended my art show and the next day she told her son that he really needed to go see my art before it was taken down. So she contacted me to see if my work was still up and if her son could come see it.
That afternoon Bill came over. When I opened the door a very handsome man around my age was standing there with a giant friendly smile. We had an instant rapport, or maybe it was more like a strong attraction. He came in, viewed my art and had a lot of questions for me about the art. Before I knew it we were sitting in a restaurant and in deep conversation about life and struggle and cancer, because Bill had just recently been diagnosed with stage-4 melanoma cancer.
We hit it off so well that we decided to spend as much time together as possible before I headed back the States. Though we did not have a romantic relationship, it was certainly full of lively adventures, including a memorable Lila Downs concert. That concert inspired us to take a cross-country excursion over to a beautiful colonial city of Patzcuaro, in the state of Michoacán in search of a pair of blue boots like the ones Lila downs was wearing on stage – just because (retail therapy!).
For those of you who may not know, Lila Downs is an American-Mexican singer songwriter. She played the beautiful young woman who sings in the movie ‘Frida’ played by Salma Hayek. ‘Frida’ is one of my all time favorite movies and Lila’s voice is powerful and soulful.
I kid you not, we searched through about a dozen different zapateria (shoe stores), all the while acting like giggling, silly teenagers on a scavenger hunt. After our day of speed shopping we ended up sitting at a table for two at a quaint sidewalk café laughing about our adventure. We said, “oh well, it was fun even though we came up empty handed with no blue boots to show for our efforts!’
We got up from the table and headed back to our car just around the corner. As we turned the corner I glanced into one more zapataria and right there in the window were a beautiful pair of blue boots. We just couldn’t believe it. We were bustin’ a gut when we realized we passed it right at the start when we first walked into the town.
Here’s the cool thing about those blue boots that Bill and I finally found – they have the word “Frida” imprinted in the leather soles on the bottom of the boot, because it happens to be the name of the company that makes the boots. I thought to myself, “Serendipity!” Yes, I bought the boots.
That trip with Bill was the perfect ending to my time in Mexico. We spent many hours sharing stories about our life journeys, all the ups and down, our struggles with being CONTROLLERS, plus all the lessons and blessings we were both trying to learn from that, which was a big part of what brought us both there to Ajijic to heal.
Sometimes we just escaped into silent reminiscing while listening to the lyrics of the music I compiled onto a CD for Bill. That trip helped me gain better insight into the meaning of just BE-ing. We talking honestly about how we wanted to practice more BE-ing and less DO-ing in life, and how being over-DO-ers really did more harm than good.
When I came back to the United States one of the first things I did was set up my art studio and work on a painting in memory of my trip with Bill. The painting is titled, ‘Blue Boots’.
About six months later I received a phone call from Bill’s mother, Rachel, telling me that Bill had died, and he wanted to make sure I knew, because we were planning to take another trip together. I had just finished the painting of Blue Boots and sent a print to Bill’s mother in Mexico.
Meeting Bill and everyone else on that trip was the best medicine for my soul. I learned to laugh again, smile, take chances on new relationships, enjoy life more, and live more fully in the moment. My time in Ajijic was filled with many valuable life lessons, incredibly memorable experiences, and even a few scary moments.
Upon my return back to the United States, I was most definitely not the same person I was when I left, and THAT my friends was the plan. I was now able to show up for my children as the mother they needed me to be, as well as the confidence and gumption to live in alignment with my values.
I’m incredibly grateful my therapist recommended that I GO ON THE TRIP! And I am truly glad I did.
Board Certified Holistic Health Coach, Author, Speaker, Workshop Facilitator, Professional Artist.
Title: Stretch Your Brave, Hack Your Story
Author/pen name: Melanie Banayat
Genre: Self Help
Publisher: Whole Heart Publishing
Date of Publication: April 2015
Number of pages: 185
A key missing component to the typical conventional western medicine doctor visit is your story. You fill out a checklist of symptoms and conditions on a five page health history form and get a short seven minute consult with the doctor who then prescribes a pill for each ill, and you're never asked to tell your story. There are rarely any in-depth inquires about what might have caused the inflammation, symptom, or discomfort in the first place.
It's a blessing to be able to investigate and set a story free. As we grow older we tend to hold on to most of our stories and drag them around like a collection of heavy boulders that fester and manifest into disease.
What the heck does "Stretch Your Brave, Hack Your Story" mean? Well, one of the goals of this book, and the companion workbook, The Common Courage Way, is to challenge you to become a 'hacker.' What is a hacker? In this case, hackers are positive innovators. Hackers are people who challenge and change systems to make them work differently - to make them work better - it's a mindset. Any and every system is open game for being hacked these days - even your health story.
If you have been suffering with chronic diseases of lifestyle for entirely too long, with little to no relief, and no signs of true healing - then you may be stuck in story. Banayat takes you on an exploratory journey through 16 different stories that give you insight into fiery dramas, unexpected traumas, in addition to the everyday struggles with relationships, medications, spirituality, addictions, food intolerances, and chemical imbalances. She even tells her own story of recovery from Rheumatoid Arthritis.
For over thirty years Banayat has used storytelling in her professional fine art career and has graced the pages of this book with images from her original artworks. The artwork sets a beautiful tone for introspection. This book was designed to leave out on your coffee table where you can read one or two stories at a time and ponder the contents. For more information please visit www.MelanieBanayat.com