An Ode to San Miguel de Allende

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San Miguel de Allende, MX | 2017

I woke this morning at five-thirty, tossing and turning a bit before reaching for my phone and perusing Instagram. It’s dark out here in San Miguel, though amber lights can be seen in the distance, twinkling against the black backdrop of the early morning sky. It’s quiet, yet sound breaks through as though sneaking around, tiptoeing through the dark. There’s the faint bark of a dog in the distance, and roosters crowing—the sounds of meditation.

Time is ticking forward. I see the day stretching through the black sky, yet the twinkling presence of amber lights in the distance remain. Life is amazing that way. No matter what is happening around us, we can choose to sit in the present with ourselves. This is why we meditate: to be here now in the presence of ourselves. We return again and again to the cushion in order to come back to now.

The sound of church bells overshadows the barking. The tintinnabulation is bold, haunting the sky as though carrying a message: The time is now. They ring, one after the other, as if following the leader to different corners of the town. Each church with its own distinct sound the way familiar voices can be pulled from crowds. Something about the echo brings me closer to wakefulness as I sit, legs crossed seeking intimacy with my own vibration. To sit is a practice. To wake up is a responsibility.

The birds are awake and chirp outside my kitchen window, gathered in that one large tree they return to every evening—a ritual of communing. Their wings flap with such fervor that I have paused more than once, looking and listening, waiting for them to take flight, yet they seek to go nowhere. Their contentment a reminder that all already is, and that when we turn within we find the place where peace resides and the longing ceases.

A group of dogs on the street just behind mine—neighbors to each other—have taken to howling nearly in sync with the birds. After four months of living here in Mexico, I am still edged by the cacophony, yet continue to practice breathing through the sound. Life is a practice, and we practice at our peak when disrupted or interrupted or edged by that which pierces us. Death has a way of doing that, of bringing us inside the mantra of practice. May their needs be met. May peace be restored. That’s what I say when I feel my thoughts following the interruption of dogs seemingly set off by everything and nothing at all. Why follow anything in a direction you do not wish to go when the going doesn’t make it better? It’s better to go within, and I’ve found that the practice of going within creates the opening I need to allow air in through the cracks transforming most everything. This is why I sit.

Sitting provides us with the room and space within to find the breath—in addition to following it—in order to breathe. When we sit or lie or walk or kneel, and take in the in-breath, it is often wrought with the residue of thought and grime, and expectations and disappointments from the day, things we need to sanitize. Yet when we hold the breath long enough to feel the dis-ease, we transform that energy so that when we exhale the in-breath, releasing it into the out-breath, we are a bit lighter, freer. Breathing leads us to The Middle Way, and here in the sound-noise of San Miguel, between the dogs and the shocking jolt of fuegos artificiales—fireworks—I am breathing more deeply, more profoundly, and with more compassion than ever before.

I see it all as a part of the journey: the sounds, the unexpected nature of existence, the surprises, the magic, the language I lean in to understand while simultaneously resisting. Everything points me toward within and charges me with the responsibility to practice, and when I have practiced, to practice again, and to continue until I accept and allow the nature of being inside the rises and falls, samsara and nirvana, and the barking and the bells.

The howling has stopped, the chirping continues, and the twinkling amber lights in the distance appearing now as faint embers, slowly losing their flame to daylight. This is San Miguel in all of its beauty and lawlessness, and I am here, often amazed by the journey and other times at a loss for words as rules do not exist and yet order is maintained at the highest level, a neighbor to joy.

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