My Holiday Wish: Costa Rica in a Condo

"Spiritual Enlightenment in a Red Bag"

One quote I've committed to memory is "As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler," by Henry David Thoreau. With the holidays approaching, it's hard to escape the complexities and overconsumption of the season -- the overconsumption of time and money, not to mention calories!

A dear friend and I once found ourselves with virtually no money to spend on Christmas gifts for each other. That was the year we started the Red Bag Ritual. Linda presented me with some homemade treats in a simple red bag tied with raffia. Later that week I returned the bag to her, filled with some goods from my own kitchen. For the past six years, Linda and I have exchanged that bag back and forth for birthdays, congratulatory celebrations, Christmas, you name it. Linda now lives in Michigan, where I will soon be mailing the now almost unrecognizable bag, held together with staples and tape. Although we now have the money for more expensive gifts, this bag always serves to remind us of the beauty of simplicity and honesty in keeping our souls alive.

This year, I found myself in a spiritual drought, brought about by complexities in my own life. As I commisserated with Linda via e-mail, she wrote back that she had an early Christmas gift for me. She told me to look in the Red Bag which was now being stored in my closet. She told me there was a phone number of a man she wanted me to call for spiritual inspiration.

Several weeks later, after I mustered up enough courage, I met Linda's sage at a local Starbucks. I learned that Mark has been living in the rain forests of Costa Rica for the past six years. An acupuncturist by trade, he has served others as chef, taxi driver, tour guide, mechanic, and village doctor and healer. Mark lives my dream life -- a life of simplicity and honesty. What I gathered from our conversation was that he owns very few possessions: a hammock, some German knives, and a fancy espresso maker. And when asked what he learned from his time in the jungle, he responded, "If I die now, I'll know what's what."

As far as honest living, one of the typical questions he is often asked is, "Aren't you afraid? Afraid of all the insects, the snakes, the tropical diseases?" His response is, "Aren't you afraid? Afraid of the pollution, the politics, the drunk drivers? At least in the jungle when you see a snake, you know that it's a snake, and you know that it wasn't seeking you out with the intent to hurt you. Although you may find yourself sharing a space with a snake, you can choose to leave that space. In life outside the jungle, you can't always recognize snakes so readily. Sometimes in the suburbs, snakes can appear as the best friend you've invited into your innermost sanctuary."

Over the next two hours, I listened to Mark tell me stories about living a life in cooperation with others, yet a life that was authentically his. He spoke of his gratitude for being provided for by a Higher Power, and how he treasures truly observing and absorbing that which is around him.

As a result, I reflected on my own life and how I could carry out some of these virtues in my condo in Southern California. (After all, you don't have to live in the jungle to achieve simplicity and honesty.) During this holiday season, my wish is that we all learn to spend more time in solitude, examining our lives, listening to the cravings of our soul, and returning to the simplicity and honesty that will keep our souls alive.

I'm going to get the Red Bag ready for Linda now. This year I'm enclosing the following quote -- and a gift certificate to Starbucks (perhaps a Higher Power will provide the sage?).

"To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Wishing you a year of simplicity and honesty wherever you live.

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