The power of imagination makes us infinite.” ~ John Muir
This past year has been by far one of the most challenging, stressful and unmoored years of my life. Like in my daily open ocean swims, I have felt tossed around, in over my head, a tiny thing in a vast sea of change, just keeping my head down, doing my best to keep moving forward.
As a part of my healing process, I have decided to do something that I had resisted for a very long time, but that I now trust as being the perfect thing in the perfect moment. But let me back up just a bit.
When I first arrived in this tiny town thirteen years ago, I didn’t speak any Spanish, or have any grasp on local culture. I spent all of my time studying the language, making connections, putting myself out there to begin to establish roots. I built a tiny studio in my backyard, and mostly just used it for myself, although my neighbors, who would become “my kids,” often came to practice with me. Over time, I began offering simple movement sessions to some of the local adults as well, sometimes in my studio, sometimes on the cement floor of their restaurant. During that time, I would talk a bit about how I could help people with things like depression and anxiety, existential crises and trauma recovery. In the beginning, the main answer I got from locals was, “Oh Molly, that is so American. We don’t have depression here – we are happy as we are.” I accepted that at face value.
But over time, there were more and more people who would quietly come to me and ask, “So can you really help with depression? Can you really help with my feelings of loneliness and stuck-ness? Can you help my back pain?” And I would invite them over to my little backyard studio, where more often than not, they would immediately begin to cry and talk about all the same issues that we all, as human beings, face – loneliness, abandonment, financial stress, unsatisfying relationships, death of friends or family members. My Spanish stretched and stumbled, but we seemed to make connections that they would reflect were helpful and healing.
Later, as I began to offer private retreats here, I would also ask local friends and neighbors who I knew were experiencing chronic pain if they would be willing to let me and my students work on them to practice. They were open and appreciative, and would ask for us to come back again and again – most had never experienced anything like gentle Thai yoga, or even the dedicated care we can give to someone when we connect with their suffering and know we have a gift to offer.
For whatever reason (I know, we all have our stuff), I was never much interested in teaching yoga to the Canadian or US community here – the tourists and visitors and snowbirds – I believed that would be a distraction to my primary focus of being available to my local friends. But, I did from time to time, and of course made lots of sweet connections that way too.
About a year and a half ago, I wanted to return to my primary focus of supporting the local community and began an all in Spanish mindfulness group. At first, I asked my non-local friends to not come because I knew that my local community, if they came even once and were met with a bunch of white people speaking English, would not return and I wanted it to be for them. The group gelled and grew over time to now, where there are some foreigners, mostly locals, and a community of people who share a sense of connectedness and tranquility by coming together. My greatest joy in this group has been to receive folks who have scarcely been outside of this little town, but who take a risk to join us doing something they have no idea about and that they have never done before. Hearing them say that they feel less alone makes my heart soar.
It was only in the past week, that thinking about some of my own challenges here and reflecting on some issues I have seen come up over and over for the foreigners, especially feelings of isolation, that I decided to advertise a group for depression called “The Sun Doesn’t Always Shine in Paradise,” turning on its head the narrative that everyone should just be happy because they live in a sunny place. Depression, isolation, being human itself, doesn’t care where you live. We will all experience all it is to be human, no matter the weather. The response to this group was immediate and strong. I had one woman contact me from a town a few beaches over saying, “I can’t wait until November for the group to start, I need help now.” I invited her up to my little backyard sanctuary and we began the process of addressing isolation that comes from a deep interior loneliness.
Every human activity can be put at the service of the divine and of love. We should all exercise our gift to build community. ~
So back to “what am I building?” I never wanted to be that white girl who comes down to this little town and opens a “yoga studio.” I”m not interested in that. I didn’t want to create something that would only serve people who look like me, or who already have the knowledge and experience of these tools, or who have at their disposal many options for support. I wanted to create a beautiful space for community, for this community, for the people who have welcomed and cared for and uplifted me in my darkest hours, a place that would be curative in and of itself, as people tell me about my backyard studio, as people always said about Samarya. And, after the death of my sister, the community I had taken the time to establish and cultivate held me up, gave me hugs, brought me gifts and told me they would always be there for me. I wanted to be there for them too, in a bigger, more intentional way. I really needed a focus.
So I took the plunge. I had been squirreling money away, thinking I would invest in some piece of property somewhere and just hold on to it until I figured out what to do with my life. Then I realized, this is what I want to do with my life – it always has been: to be in solidarity with people, to offer whatever gifts and tools I can to reduce suffering, to be a voice for equality and to doing everything I could to even the playing field of access and feelings of essential worthiness. I found a tiny piece of land and my neighbor helped me to buy it. I asked another long time local friend if he would help me to build this new space – this new Samarya – with the little remaining money I had. When he looked at my plans and then gave me his first estimate, I was crest fallen. There was no way I could afford it. But he just looked at me in the eyes and said, “I will help you Molly. We need this.” He suggested that I start first with just a large, light filled room where people could begin to gather. I asked him if he could at least build little meditation niches where people could sit quietly and undisturbed, transported away from whatever was causing their hearts and minds to experience separation. My mindfulness group wrote tiny blessings and the builders cemented them into the walls.
Every day I go over to the building, bring juice or water or cut up fruit to the workers and talk about what we are creating. It has been profoundly encouraging to see their response, their honoring and intentionality in helping me to create the space. It’s moving slowly, organically, and perfectly.
I keep playing with names – and I keep coming back to Samarya. It is an extension of this community, this ethos, this heart that we have been co-creating for almost two decades now. A place where everyone belongs and no one will ever be turned away for lack of funds. A place that – at its heart – is about love and belonging.
The loftier the building, the deeper must the foundation be laid. ~ Thomas a Kempis
I’m leaving on Wednesday to teach in the states for six weeks, and to be with my beloved nephew on the anniversary of his mother’s death. I don’t know if the roof will be on yet, or how many skylights we will end up using, or if they will excavate the ground to prepare for flooring, but I know that the energy that is already being stoked will continue to swirl and gain momentum, like the torrential rains we have been getting in these last few days. I want you to be a part of this. I want us all to be a part of this – a community built on shared humanity, a place for any of us to feel more connected and less alone.
Ask me about it when you see me. Ask me how you can support it. Ask when you can come visit and participate in its continued organic evolution. Samarya. We are all in this together.