Todos Santos, Mexico
I walk into the bedroom of the house we are currently caring for, home of a tri-lingual Blue Heeler (Spanish, English and French), a sleek savvy young cat, and a beautiful tiny white kitten with gray tipped ears and tail, blue eyes and huge attitude.
We only recently settled in yet now everything from the closet is on the bed, drawers are open, shirts and pants turned inside out, backpacks rifled through.
No. Sergio is looking for something.
This is a somewhat frequent occurrence. This time, his friend gave him 3000 pesos - about $150 - to take a computer in for repair. Sergio can’t remember where he put the money. It was almost 2 weeks ago and he’s just now remembering that he received the money, because today is the day to go pick up the computer.
Sergio does not have great short term memory, and he doesn’t do well with lots of details in general. It is not just a symptom of getting older. He has been like this his whole life.
His long term memory is pretty good. We were at a beach once and he recognized someone he met in the US years ago. He remembers almost every restaurant we’ve ever been to, but ask him where are the keys, what he did in town this morning, what time it is, or the name of anyone he just met, and he won’t know.
One thing that drew me to him in the first place was his radical way of living in the Now. He lived month to month for about 10 years in the US. He doesn’t like to be alone and he spent very little time in the room he rented with a family. He was always out and about.
He made enough money as a landscaper to pay his rent, send money to his sons, buy food, and spend his free time with his Danza group or the theater group where he was an actor, or in many other community activities.
He saved enough to go to Burning Man twice and take a month off to run with a group from Oregon to LA, but other than that his future planning was limited.
I now see his preference for the Now wasn’t some new age revelation, like it was for me (thank you Ekhart Tolle). For him it is partly a survival tactic built up over decades of realizing that future planning requires keeping track of details, and he’s not good at that. I don’t know if he has ADHD or something else.
I have some theories about how this happened. His nutrition was likely hit and miss as a child. He never had much stability or routine growing up - after his grandmother passed away when he was 5, he moved a lot with his dad, staying with different family members. Even after his dad remarried, Sergio never had his own “space” other than a box for his few things. He didn’t have his own bed until he was in his 20s, when he and his girlfriend moved in together.
He is a very physical, active, social man. He is intelligent but doesn’t learn from mindless repetition and words on a page. In today’s parlance, he likely has a “different learning style”. There was not (and as far as I know still is not) any slice and dice in the rote delivery of public education in Mexico, no enriched curriculum for children like Sergio when he was in school.
He was one of millions of little boys who could not sit still, talked too much in class and craved attention from the girl sitting in front of him. His school performance suffered. Notes were sent home.
Sergio’s father, Luis, finished middle school. He was a chauffer most of his life, and he wanted more for Sergio. He saw the value of education.
Sergio’s grades were a sore point for both of them - Luis thought Sergio simply wasn’t trying. Sergio, who craved his father’s approval more than anything, didn’t know how to improve. My heart aches when I think of how trapped Sergio must have felt, to be trying, failing and not know how to fix it.
There were some rough homework supervision sessions when he was younger. As the years passed, his father’s struggle with alcohol did not improve and Sergio avoided going home until late most evenings.
I didn’t know all of this about Sergio before we adopted this nomadic lifestyle. It wouldn’t have stopped me even if I had, as I don’t believe your past should dictate your lifestyle any more than your possessions should.
But it might have made me be a little more proactive about helping organize us both.
I think of my childhood, and that of most people I know - the gift to have a routine baked into our days, being nagged to clean up our room or make our bed. Arguing over who’s turn it is to set the table for the dinner that shows up every night. To have our own desk, our own bed, our own cubby and a closet to anchor our external world.
I lean on that perspective to help me understand what is going on today, as I look at the jumble of clothes on the bed.
I have never felt sorry for Sergio, pity is a dubious gift, it assumes too much, it is a bit self-serving and not empowering for the other person. But I do have compassion for him.
About a year before I met him, I had been asking the Universe to help me become more compassionate. My own life has been easy, and that has made me open, trusting and generous.
But when you don’t have much real struggle, you may have a hard time understanding the choices or actions of others who have struggled. It may surprise you, but full time travel, when you still have to work to pay your bills, is not easy, so I was drawn to the challenge of that as a way to sharpen my dull edges, too.
Before, I was often impatient with others, and myself, and I knew that becoming more compassionate was the key to growing patience. I believe part of the reason Sergio is in my life is to be a teacher in this sense. His stories, and the people and stories I am able to access just from being with him, are my compassion-building boot camp.
As I stand here looking at the room turned upside down, I am not thinking such enlightened thoughts, not at first. My reflex is to want to be annoyed. Another chaotic search? Another expensive loss?
I reach inside for the sarcastic comment, and I am surprised and happy to find that it is not there. In fact, the negative emotion is not there. I am not annoyed.
I look at his face and I feel, well, compassion for him. He is not yelling or frantic. In fact, he has a disconnected, worried expression, one that I’ve seen before. Probably a survival mode developed after long experience of looking for things that don’t materialize, knowing something took place but not being able to remember the details.
Mexicans can be very blunt with each other, and after years of criticism by family and friends in exactly moments such as this, he doesn’t want to meet my eye. I can only imagine the tape that has started playing in his mind. “Ai cabron, otra vez? Que estabas pensando? Eres tonto amigo.”
His face looks, well, kind of crumpled. He’s going through the motions and has no real expectation of finding the money.
So I think about diving in to help, and then something says,
No, not yet. Chiki needs to be walked.
I say to Sergio,
I’m going to walk la perra and I’ll help you when I get back, OK?
He nods. I take Chiki for her walk, and the calm of the desert expands to meet what is going on inside of me.
We return. The money is still missing. Now, he is beginning to look in places where it has no chance of being, because why would it turn up in my winter clothes suitcase when it has been over 90 degrees since we got here?
Stop, come with me.
I take his hand. We go outside. No matter what the problem is, going outside always helps, especially for him. He sits on the bench in the front porch. We have a plant with the flowers Hawaiians use to make leis. The flowers smell amazing.
Close your eyes.
Try not to think about anything for a couple minutes, just focus on the sounds around you.
The dog panting, the birds, the cicadas, the truck in the distance.
I put the flower under his nose, his face relaxes a bit. After a minute or so I start asking him to visualize when he got the money. You may know the technique - first you picture surrounding details, and then you zero in on thing you are trying to remember. He remembers the room but not much else. I don’t push him, I just accept it.
I can tell that the memory simply isn’t there, or we are pushing up against a broken synapse and he simply can’t access it.
Or can he? Watch what happens next.
I say, “OK, I will go look with fresh ojos” - even though looking is one of my least favorite activities. It is one of the many reasons I don’t want a bunch of random stuff ever again. I still misplace things, but the less you have, the less time you have to spend looking.
The logic of this escapes Sergio, who still hauls twice as much on car trips as we need. Thus the pile of stuff on the bed.
We go back to the room and now I’m wondering where to start. All the sudden he pauses, takes a pair of jeans down from the shelf. He has already checked them but this time he checks the smaller square pocket in the front pocket.
And guess what. He finds the money.
He looks almost stunned, like, what just happened?
Yay baby, that’s awesome!
We celebrate for a minute. I’m so happy for him, I feel like we have made a mighty dent in an old dark pattern.
I go off to take a shower. He comes to the doorway, he’s holding the flower and he says,
You know, I think this flower helped me.
Yes, I think so too.
The next morning as I’m making the bed, I see the flower in some water on his side table.
The situations in our lives are not random occurrences. Many spiritual teachers say that everyone and every moment holds a potential lesson.
Picture the alternate scenario - Sergio looking for something. I arrive and reflexively step into the role of annoyed critic, scolding him, grudgingly agreeing into “help” him look, bringing my own judgmental energy to the whole scene, tossing stuff around, sighing.
Would we have found the money? Maybe, but I don’t think he would have been led to recheck those jeans. I think he would have shut down further.
Much more important than the money, even if we found it, what would have been his emotional take-away? What would I have reinforced in him by bringing impatient irritation in to dance with his stress and worry?
In taking a moment to go outside, connect with the present moment, and then prod gently on the memories of the transaction, I was looking for the literal “Oh yes! I remember now” moment. A key learning for me was, when it didn’t come, I tuned into him, and rather than push for him to try “harder” to remember, I let it go.
So it goes with our life - we are usually looking for a specific, literal outcome. When it doesn’t come, do we let it go and return to our path without negativity - i.e. closing down?
Because look at what happened - something did bubble up for Sergio, an inkling about those jeans that he had already checked.
This is how creativity works, too - we have to trust enough to take breaks, even sometimes at the most irrational moments, and then stay open to what comes up. We expect the answer (or inspiration) will come walking in the front door wearing a sensible blue skirt, and she actually blows in through the sunny window in the next room, in a hot pink sundress.
So that is our Sunday story. If you are considering traveling full time, I hope this list will make traveling with a partner more fun and / or handling different cultures easier:
Check your reflexes
Step back and take a break if something is not working
Check in with nature and the Now
Return to your path with positivity
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