One day last fall, I was strolling down the beach in the small Pacific costal town of Tamarindo, Costa Rica. It was a spectacular day. The sky was a bright robin’s egg blue. Lush green jungles plunged dramatically to meet expansive sandy shores. Surfers laughed as they lounged lazily in the sun or straddled their boards, waiting for the perfect wave. All-in-all, it was a perfectly idyllic morning. And I almost missed it.
For the majority of my walk along the beach, my gaze was down. I was lost in thought, wrestling with decisions on Nomaditudes programming for spring 2021. Social media strategies rolled around in my head, as well as online advertising campaigns and plans to approach potential education partners. After an hour engaged in mental gymnastics, my mind was fatigued. My stomach was tight. There was a furrow in my brow. Here I was, in what is arguably one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on the planet, and I might as well have been sitting at a desk in a cubicle.
And in that moment, I raised my chin… just one inch… and a whole new world opened up. The experience of raising my chin a single inch was transformative. In addition to seeing the natural beauty around me, I met the eyes of other beach strollers who were feeling appreciation for this beautiful day. Their gratitude was contagious!
My brow un-furrowed. My stomach un-clenched. I took a breath, drawing ocean air deep into my lungs, and with it came the scent of flowering trees that I didn’t even realize were there! My attention turned to colorful birds darting in and out of the trees. I noticed pelicans flying just above the top of the waves, rising up, then diving to catch fish. Fishing boats bobbed just off shore, fishermen calling to each other. A howler monkey bellowed nearby.
In an instant, I felt energized and alive. Connected. Grateful. Worthy. In the days and months that followed, I asked myself what else I’d been missing by looking down. As I walked through the streets of other communities throughout Costa Rica and later Mexico, I realized that many Latin Americans make eye contact when they pass strangers. They offer sincere, heart-felt greetings to others in their community. These verbal and non-verbal greetings are available to tourists as well. But like me, many foreigners look at the ground instead of making eye contact.
This month in Costa Rica, I’m actively practicing the art of walking meditation. My days start at 5:00am with breathing exercises and 20 minutes of traditional meditation. Then I take the show on the road.
Walking out the door, I take a deep breath, noticing the delicate scent of the fresh morning breeze, the feel of air on my skin, flowing in and out of my lungs. My ears tune to the frequency of leaves rustling, birds, roosters, howler monkeys, and sand crunching beneath my sandals. As I round the corner to the beach, my eyes drink in the sight of early morning pink-tinged light kissing the tips of the waves, the newly formed wave patterns in the sand at the water’s edge, dogs romping in the surf in an expression pure delight at life’s freedom and simplicity.
Then I shift my attention to the patterns and the space between the patterns, taking stock of the changes in the surface of the water, the movement of clouds, the colors of the sand. I greet my fellow early morning beach-goers.
At a remote edge of the beach, I lay on my back in the sand, still in shadow, waiting for the sun to rise over the hill. I watch the birds high above, illuminated by sunlight. Bright green parrots and their less common yellow cousins elicit a special wave of delight as they virtually glow in the sun. Little dragonflies dart just above, so close I can almost touch them.
And as I relax my mind and allow the full blueness of the sky to fill my entire field of vision, it’s as if the universe whispers her secrets: You are loved. You are blessed. Your timing is perfect. And everything is exactly as it is supposed to be.
By lifting my chin just one inch, my soul travels a million miles.