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Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter: March 2008

Dear Readers,
I was appalled, appalled!, to find it cold and snowy in Boston on March 28th when I returned from Oaxaca State. Of course, that's perfectly normal but after two months in Mexico a lot of things were surprising to me. But I'll save my stories of "reverse culture shock" for the next newsletter. After I wrote my last newsletter in Puerto Escondido:

I needed to take it easy and it's very easy to party in Puerto (especially if you hang out with people from the Mayflower Hostel), so that's what I did! Every other day I also lounged on the beautiful beach of Carrizalillo: a peaceful inlet with gentle waves just a few minutes away from downtown Puerto.

Then I entered a very different world when I visited a shaman in a mountain town called San Jose del Pacifico between the Pacific coast and Oaxaca City, known for it's psychedelic mushrooms (they weren't in season while I was there) and breathtaking mountains and valleys (boy, were they in season).

Then I chilled in Oaxaca: hung out with friends, listened to great live music in the Zocalo (town square) and ate delicious tamales before flying out from there catching a brief, amazing glimpse of the Monte Alban pyramids and ruins on top of a mountain overlooking Oaxaca City.

By the way, "tamales" have nothing to do with "Hot Tamale candies"! They're actually made of corn with a texture like a heavy cake. They're wrapped in corn husks to keep them warm and normally with just chicken inside. But the ones that drew crowds sold on a corner near the Oaxaca Zocalo had all sorts of fillings, including chicken with "mole": a rich, spice filled chocolate sauce! Besides being really cheap (5 or 10 pesos) it was comfort food for me: when I wanted to have something that felt like home cooking I got tamales.

But before Oaxaca, I was in the mountain town of San Jose del Pacifico where there was of course a festival going on. One of my favorite things about Mexico is that there are always festivals going on or political protests or something! But mid-March is actually a very exciting time because they have Semana Santa: a whole week or more of festivities for Easter. There was music and people dancing with puppets twice as tall as them!

I went to see Macario Cimas, the shaman of Aztec descent with strong Western and Eastern influence, three times, three mornings in a row each time doing "temazcal": Mexico's version of the sacred sweat lodge where you hunch inside of a small enclosure over the dirt and sit around very hot rocks as someone pours water (in this case flavored with cinnamon) on to them producing powerful waves of steam that cover you and fill your lungs. Each day I went was more intense than the day before.

It was on the second day in the sweat lodge I saw this image in my mind of a phoenix emerging, only it wasn't the fiery BURST you'd imagine: the phoenix was in a shell with one shoulder of one wing out. To be honest, I didn't think much of this at the time but it's taken on more and more meaning for me as I look back on it.

First, a phoenix represents rebirth and transformation. As well as being for cleansing and purification, sweat lodges can also symbolize a mother's womb from which you emerge and are reborn. Easter and the spring equinox are also about rebirth of course. But like I said, this phoenix was taking its time being reborn! Of course, that's what happens naturally: sometimes we imagine animals breaking through their shells instantly but chickens, for example, take hours and hours to hatch.

After all, it must be exhausting and probably pretty scary too (the egg may be chicken about becoming a chicken!): they're using muscles they've never really used and entering a world they're never really known. Honestly, that egg has been its home, its very identity and it's been warm and comfortable; it hasn't had to do anything except grow. Only now it's grown so much that it's too big to stay in that shell.

Actually the meaning that most recently came to me was: there's no turning back! To put it positively: the phoenix is exactly where it wants to be and can't go wrong now because of how much it has grown and how hard it's worked to push through its shell and become a phoenix. Now it is so tightly wedged into the opening it created, no matter what movements it makes, that shell is going to crack and break: even if it tries to go back in. Sometimes after working really hard to get somewhere we get scared and might be tempted to turn back and change our minds. But because of the steps it's taken in the past, the direction it's been going, no matter what steps this phoenix takes now are going to result in it emerging from its shell as a glorious phoenix! It's a wonderful, wonderful situation to be in.

And I'd like to end on that note, but at the same time, all change can be scary: even good changes. My last week or so in Mexico I was feeling really anxious, feeling a lot of pressure all around me, not really knowing why. And it's often been like that since I've been back. It comes and it goes but that anxiety is there sometimes and it's not fun when it is.

But in the end maybe it doesn't matter if you're afraid. Maybe it's just whether or not you let yourself change, even if it's slowly and reluctantly, be reborn, and then soar and shine your light on the world, regardless of fear.

That's just it: I'm just starting to feel like I can really shine my light and share my gifts with the world, which is what it's all about. I hope you, dear readers, are all shining your light in whatever way you can! There are so many beautiful people with so many gifts in this world. I'm thankful for the ones I met in Mexico and the ones around me here at home.

Yours,
Eli


(Check-out the Northeast Unschooling Conference's site where I'll be speaking on Memorial Day Weekend: www.northeastunschoolingconference.com)