A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post right from my delayed airplane, unsure whether I’ll make it to my connection flight to Apotheosis retreat. The chances were slim. I had slightly over 30 minutes to run across the largest airport in Europe, including border control and possibly other checkpoints on the way.
I made it to the gate just in time, right when the last group of passengers started boarding. My backpack, on the other hand, couldn’t run as fast as I did. When I arrived in San Jose I realised it’s probably still back in Frankfurt, and it might take a while to catch up.
At first, it didn’t bother me at all
I was grateful and excited to see myself in Costa Rica and my luggage back in Frankfurt rather than the other way around. I had an emergency change of clothes in my carry-on, bought other things I needed at the hotel gift shop, and felt prepared to head into the jungle until Monday morning, when my stuff was finally supposed to arrive.
But it didn’t. On Monday morning, I got a text from Lufthansa that my bag has landed and they’ll deliver it around lunch time. I asked them to call the retreat center whenever it’s there, and headed off to all the activities we had planned for the day. Hours passed, it was closer to dinner time, and the staff told me they didn’t get a single call yet. I tried to call the airline back, but they turned off the phone. I was stuck in the jungle, with no shops around, no clothes, and no information on what happened to mine.
I knew I still should be feeling grateful
But I was quite impatient instead. By that time, I really needed some fresh clothes, felt tired from walking in high-cut hiking boots in the tropical heat, and dreamt of jumping into the swimming pool to cool off. If only I had a swimsuit… People offered me clothes, but it felt super awkward to borrow clothes from someone I’d only known since yesterday. Besides, I didn’t want just any clean clothes, I wanted the colorful dresses I packed specially for this occasion. In the end I had to swallow the awkward, accept the gifts, and head into the ceremony wearing what I got from my lovely roommates.
In situations like this, I tend to feel guilty. I knew I had a lot of reasons to be grateful, but felt quite the opposite at the moment. In the past I’d probably start comparing myself with all the people suffering real hardships, think I am an incredibly spoiled and horrible person, then punish myself for this, and possibly even punish myself for punishing myself.
This time however, I came with the intention to let go of self-judgement. And the most important thing Apotheosis taught me is that intention is everything. Instead of going on another runaway guilt trip, like I used to, I experienced a massive shift in perspective. For a short while I got to feel what a hermit in the desert feels, fasting for days on the verge of starvation, while being the happiest person in the world.
The person I saw didn’t perceive hardships as an obstacle
She was looking forward to them. She was genuinely excited to test where her boundaries were, and to push them further and further. She was curious and proactive in looking for the lessons hidden in every difficult situation. She didn’t just accept whatever happened. She actively sought and pursued new challenges, not because she wanted to punish herself or deprive herself of anything, but because she wanted to learn so much more so that she could be of service to others.
She showed me the incredible beauty and wisdom of voluntarily taking a new challenge with the right intention. She spoke, in pictures rather than words, about the incredible tribe of brave warriors committed to learning and growing, not to get anywhere, but because it is fun. Because it’s worth doing for its own sake. Because the skills you learn in the process will help not just you but the entire world.
At that point I couldn’t help but notice.
Who would ever get upset over a bag of clothes, if I can be so much more?
My lost backpack was a problem only for as long as I chose to make it a problem. It wasn’t a problem for the first two days, when I was overflowing with gratitude that I made it to the retreat. Why make it a problem now? I could be pushing the boundaries so much further than this, with curiosity and joy rather than pain and strife. All I had to do was to let go of the problems I had, or rather of what I perceived as a problem.
I realised the person I saw was me all along. A more mature, peaceful, and loving version of me. Someone I am capable of becoming if that’s what I choose.
I heard a voice somewhere in me, asking “Are you ready to leave your pain behind?”.
It doesn’t sound like a question that needs to be answered. Who in their right mind would prefer to keep the pain if they had a choice? But human minds are pretty efficient in clinging to whatever is familiar, even if it doesn’t serve us. Many parts of my identity were built out of pain, hurt, judgement, disappointment, or fear, and I hadn’t let go of them, because it would feel like letting go of myself.
Things someone said or did a long time ago that I still contemplated at the back of my mind. Strong preferences for how things should be, which very often failed to be satisfied. Expectations of how my partner or family should behave and feeling upset when they didn’t. All the self-judgement that intensified a lot since I got better at noticing my own flaws.
I felt in my gut how crazy it was to cling to all that shit.
And so on that night, I let it all go
I chose to no longer identify with the feeling that I’ve been hurt. I chose to no longer identify with the judge who criticized me for the mistakes I’ve made. I chose to no longer identify with resentment when things don’t turn out as planned. I chose that whenever one of these emotions arise, I’ll follow my breath and let go rather than take these emotions as my own and use them as building blocks for who I am.
The next morning everyone asked me if I already got my stuff. Backpack? What backpack? I already forgot that not having it was a problem. It arrived eventually around lunch, but by that time, I was totally fine with wearing whatever I could borrow for the rest of the week. My mind has already moved on, seeking other challenges and the lessons in them.
It is a process, and I know takes time
But I’m already seeing results after just a few weeks. I communicate better, have more patience for people around me, and recover from anger and overwhelm much more easily.
This morning I noticed that the perfume I bought yesterday was not the one I liked in the tester. It was an entirely different scent, way too sweet for me, and it also brought about some unpleasant memories. I was quite upset about it… for some 90 seconds. Then I realized it’s not a problem I want to keep as mine, and moved on. I was surprised myself by how fast it all happened.
Perhaps I should keep this perfume after all, and use it daily. The smell will remind me that most things are simply not worth making a fuss about.