We are currently two of three guests at a vegan yoga retreat center just outside of Corozal, Belize. Last night, Niss, the Canadian owner of the retreat center, invited us to join her in a full moon ceremony. To prepare ourselves, she had instructed us to journal each morning and night. In the journals she provided, we were to write a gratitude list each morning and evening to help raise our vibrations. In addition, a list of things that no longer served us: our purge list.
By 6:30pm, the sun had retired her duties to the moon, trusting that in place, the moon’s fullness would light the tropical flatlands surrounding the resort. She was right. As Josh and I anxiously ascended the spiral staircase to the yoga deck, journals in hand and wonder at heart, it was as though the sky was shining a giant flashlight down on us.
We sat in a circle, just four of us present. We drank cacao—brewed as the mayan gods had brewed and sipped as they had sipped. A heart opener, Niss informed us. The taste was bitter, but just sweet enough to cut the trace of cayenne sprinkled in.
We shared our purge lists, one by one burning the pages in the fire in the center. We watched what no longer served us engulf quickly in flames, then sink, lifeless, in the water bowl beside them.
Afterwards, Niss invited us to share what we hoped to manifest this year. Even though this was not tradition for a full moon ceremony, she said, she liked to offer it just for fun.
Josh and I stumbled to put words to our dreams. Tumbled over the language of what we wanted, unable to find specificity or concreteness in our abstractive futures. I said something vague like, “deep connection with others,” and to the same effect Josh threw in, “creativity” and “playfulness.” Niss asked us point-blank, “yeah, but what do you want?”
It hadn’t occurred to me—and maybe to Josh either—that manifesting is as simple as saying what you want out loud. The word “manifest” stirs up such mystical and abstract imagery for me. In turn, I feel like what I want to manifest must omit equally mysterious connotations. But when I think of the last thing I manifested, it wasn’t something enigmatic like “spiritual rejuvenation” or “love and harmony.” It was absolutely concrete: “Josh and I are going to ride our motorcycle to South America in 2019.”
There is nothing cryptic about that. Hell, there’s a date attached to it! Josh said to me on countless occasions over the years that he wanted to ride his motorcycle to South America. He didn’t know it then, but he was manifesting. He was putting his dream out there. Off paper, out of his head, and into the world. I absorbed it. I remembered.
In 2017 when Josh and I got married, I said in my vows that I would ride with him to South America. I said it out loud. In front of 150 people: my family, my friends, and to the man I love most in this world: everyone I knew that could hold me accountable. I didn’t realize it then, but I too, was manifesting.
The energy that catapulted us to truly manifest this idea—this thing we both had said out loud, that we had told friends and loved ones we would someday do—the energy that catapulted us was the belief that we had no other time to do it but now. I had just left my graduate school program, and with my goals and plans washed away, there was no better time to go than that moment. Josh was unhappy in his career, afraid he would never get out and discover his true passion: there was no other time to leave than that moment. We had a little bit of money saved up, but not enough to buy a house back home and be with our friends and family. In truth, we had nothing to lose.
It was then we attached a date to our dream. We started telling people that in January of 2019, we were riding our motorcycle to South America. Suddenly, there was a deadline to actually do this thing we had only ever fantasized about. We had to save money. We had to buy gear. We had to research countries and roads and border crossings. We had to soothe our parents’ worry and tell our friends repeatedly that “yes, yes we are really doing this.”
People had such mixed feelings about our trip. “You guys are crazy.” “I wish I had done that when I was your age!” “Omg, it’s so dangerous though! Don’t you watch the news?” “I wish I had the balls.” The funny thing is, we didn’t care what other people thought. The ball was already rolling, we had already decided, and we didn’t know it then, but the universe had picked up what we were putting down, and the manifestation had begun. We couldn’t have interrupted that flow of energy if we tried, and we would be damned if we let anyone else get in the way.
So when Niss asked us what I actually wanted, I froze. I don’t know, I thought. This is the first time in my life where my whole future is so uncertain. I don’t even know what city we’re riding to tomorrow. We just haven’t planned that far. I’ve always had something to look ahead to: a paper due in school, a vacation from work, a wedding, this trip. Something. But now, the most we plan ahead is what our next meal will be and what hotel we’re staying in tomorrow.
Immediately, Niss started throwing ideas our way. “You could travel and teach something as you go!” “What about van-life? Or an RV! That could be amazing.” “How about three months at a time in one place, then you go home?” I felt myself nodding and smiling, but not really loving anything she was saying. I didn’t want to live in an RV. I don’t really know what I would teach, and though I loved teaching years ago I’m not sure I feel it’s my time to do that again. What do I want?
I looked at Josh, something I often do when I’m hoping he has an answer for my uncertainty. He looked at me like he usually does, likely thinking, Rach I know just as much as you. I thought about our life. Our future. Our family. Our home. I miss it. I miss being able to see my parents on the weekends. I miss getting a beer with my brother and laughing so hard my head hurts. I miss girl’s night out and clean Pacific air and trips to Vancouver to see my cousins.
But god do I love to travel.
I love waking up with the sun. I love sleeping in because I have nowhere to be. I love eating when I’m hungry instead of at clocked lunch hour. I love falling asleep at 7:30pm because we rode in the heat all day and I’m exhausted. I love that I get to exercise my creative muscles, taking so many photographs that my arms hurt from holding the camera to my face all day. I love sharing our experiences with people back home. Transporting them here with stories, so that they too can feel the heat of the Belizean sun or taste the tangy ripeness of a starfruit plucked straight from the tree. And oh, how I love to write. I love putting words together to create an image of what I’m thinking. I love using those images to weave stories together, creating a tapestry—a map of all the experiences I’ve had that I hope never to forget.
So what do I want? If I love what we are doing, but my heart misses my home, how do I reconcile that? How do I have both?
I asked myself that question last night as Niss spun ideas. I lost myself in my own thoughts about what I wanted to manifest this year. Eventually, Niss’s voice grew louder and her face came back into focus, and I realized I had missed her last string of new ideas. Coming to, I let myself say out loud what I was thinking.
“I just had a thought. I do know what I want. I want a house in Seattle that is home base for me and Josh. We’re there often, but when we aren’t we rent it on Airbnb. The rest of the time, we travel, and I write. A lot. And take photos. I just have this belief that I can’t have both.” Niss looked at me, completely astounded. I instantly regretted sharing so much, wishing I could “unsend” the words that had so foolishly spilled from my mouth. Surely she was about to tell me that my dream was too lofty, too pretentious, too selfish. Instead, she leaned forward, as if she was about to share with me the secrets of the universe: some powerful full moon prophecy that I was about to be lucky enough to receive.
“Rachel. You can have anything you want.”
I laughed a little, not sure if she was serious at first, but also unnerved by how much I believed her. A habitual guilt rose up inside me, attempting to thrash the new information from solidifying as belief. That’s selfish, it whispered. You’re privileged, it reminded. How dare you believe you can have anything, when so many cannot.
Anslee, the fourth person in our circle last night, had been quietly observing our interaction. Gently, she lifted her chin and furrowed her brow, as if inquisitively pondering my situation. “I once had a client who had been trying to get pregnant for 2 years. In our first session together, I discovered that in her past life, she had died in childbirth. We had to work through the subconscious belief that childbirth would ultimately lead to her death. Three days after our third session, she called me. She was pregnant.”
Her story, one that at another time in my life I would have classified as “completely woo-woo,” hit me. The human body is absolutely amazing. Our entire physiological system is designed to keep us alive. We are built for survival. Our brain communicates to our body if we are unsafe, and our body responds: fight, flight, freeze. If our brain believes we are in danger, it will do anything in its power to protect us. If this woman’s brain believed pregnancy would lead to death, isn’t it feasible it would tell her body to do anything it could to avoid pregnancy?
I let this sink in. I’ve been in therapy. I went to graduate school to become a therapist. I did behavioral and cognitive therapy with clients for six months in community mental health. I know about how our beliefs get in the way of our happiness, of us being productive, of us behaving in a socially acceptable manner. But I had never let this concept sink so deeply as to see it at such a fundamental, human, biological level: When my brain believes something, it will create or stop energy to manifest that belief.
If I want to go after what I want, I have to let go of the beliefs that stand in my way. I have to let go of the belief that I can’t have whatever I want. I have to let go of the belief that it matters what other people think of my life. When Josh and I said we were riding our motorcycle to South America, we believed we could, and we didn’t give two shits if someone else thought it was outlandish or impossible. And look at where we are. We are in Belize, after three months of riding our motorcycle through Mexico. I can count on one hand how many times I had ridden on the back of the motorcycle before we left. We spoke ten words of Spanish, were vegans heading into meat and dairy territory, and hadn’t the slightest idea what cities we wanted to visit. But here we are.
The truth is, I do know what I want. Sitting here, writing this, I looked to my left where Josh is sitting neatly in a hammock reading his book. I wanted to say it out loud to him, to make it real before I put it on the page. “Josh. In 2020, we’re going to buy a house. In Seattle. And we’re going to keep traveling.” Gingerly, and without moving a muscle, he looked at me and said, “Rach. In 2020, we’re going to buy a house. In Seattle. And we’re going to keep traveling.