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© Sylvia Benito, 2014
17th of January

Vertical Guidance


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One of the beautiful things about keeping a blog is that by its very nature, over time, a blog must change. When I first started writing here, I wrote mainly about food and only peripherally about the lives I was feeding. But the sweet tsunami of change came into my life, swiftly rising its tide, cleaning away all the foundation beneath me.

I surrendered. I had no choice.

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I watched as my life went from one in which I regularly prepared feasts, beautiful food for large tables of family and friends, to one in which I barely cook at all.

I know one day, I willl cook again. But in the meantime, I can not rush the process of falling apart and coming back together. I can not write here about food, unless I am going to write about all the organic take out places in town. Or that night I gave my sons a can of Campbell Chicken Noodle soup for dinner. That is pretty much ground zero on the journey to culinary hell.

My equipment is dormant on my kitchen shelves, archaeological remnants of a rather privileged and arrogant life; a siphon; nitrogen canister; a sous vide machine; a full set of French cooking pots. My knives.

But there is a delicious vulnerability in life when things dissolve.
In my experience, it is important in a moment like this to not try to fix or repair or hide or pretend that things are fine.

Because the invitation that is present, always, every time life falls apart, is an invitation to deeper self love. If you skip over the chaos too quickly, you miss all those morsels of love waiting for you to chow down.
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Last week, I was blessed to spend a few hours in the presence of Kurt Johnson, a friend, a teacher, and an inspirational figure to me on the spiritual path. He and I talked about vertical guidance, which is essentially a term that throws a wider net than the word, “prayer”, but is energetically on par.

Kurt is an extraordinary mirror of love, an awakened man of epic proportion. In his company, my heart deepened immediately into profound silence, which by the way, is not separate from the truest essence of love. We hung out in the bar of the Royalton Hotel, but we could have been on a mountain in India for all the silence that radiated from our hearts.

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Kurt reminded me of the importance in the moments when everything falls apart to not turn back towards our familiar habits of mind or ways of being, but to reach deeper into the vertical guidance that is always present. Call it by any name you like, or call it by no name at all- there is a high consciousness that is present everywhere, in all times, in all places, that guides us towards our truest path.

And this brings me back to love, to the love of our selves but also the love with another. I think that lovers are a form of vertical guidance. Some more than others, which is why the term “soulmate” exists. It is ludicrous to say that there is only one soulmate in a lifetime, because that is like saying there is only one opportunity to grow in a lifetime. I have not met many, but certainly a few- people who drew me into the deepest part of myself swiftly and surely, like a fast river carrying a leaf. Some soulmates are friends, some are teachers, some are lovers, and some are all three at once.

I met one such soulmate a few months ago, right when everything in my life was really falling apart. We only met a few times in person, and then we did not meet again. But he has stayed in my heart all this time, like a prayer. I do not know why, but I trust it. It’s absolutely important to trust those big energies that come our way, especially when we don’t understand them. They are the big teachers in life, the really juicy good ones.

Last week he came to me in a dream. In the dream, I was very sparkly. I was fancy, and smart, and elegant and all those lovely things my ego has cultivated over time. I was talking a lot, just chattering away, and he was absolutely still. He was not interested in any of the things I was saying. I was like a magpie with a piece of shiny foil. And then he very simply pointed silently to my heart. I knew right then why he has come as a soulmate at this time, why he has become a sort of vertical guidance.

He is my reminder to be still. And in that stillness is love.

When things fall apart, as they do, as they must- it is not time to clang together the cooking pots and invite over a cluster of friends. It is not time keep busy with chattering things. It is a time to dissolve.

And what a sweet dissolution it is.

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24th of December

Mother Mary


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I am writing this to you from the edge of the Nosara jungle in my beautiful room at Blue Spirit.
Just outside my door are a tribe of howler monkeys having a nap. Their small black bodies drape over the tree branches in deep rest; at five this morning they were eating their breakfast and earning their name… howlers… as they woke me and the rest of the yogis who are staying in these rooms from our slumber.
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They are not afraid of me, sitting nearly below them as they sleep. All hunting is illegal in Costa Rica, and there is no standing army. They have one of the most aggressive campaigns towards carbon neutrality of any developed nation, high literacy and an excellent educational system. It is my fourth trip here, and I fall more in love with it each time. Nosara, where I am now, is my most favorite part of the country. Gathered here are some of the worlds’ most talented teachers, healers, thinkers- and of course, the sweetest surf.

There is a palpable power in this jungle and ocean that is profoundly feminine.
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Yesterday, I was gifted a healing session with a woman who is a true elder, a crone in the local community. As we worked together in a meditation, I felt a deep connection to my femininity. It is perhaps not something I give much value to in my ordinary life. I give more value to my mind.

My spiritual path has been one of non-duality, and as such, I have also tended to give little attention to the feminine since feminine/masculine dichotomies are dual and relative ones. I gave more value to what was absolute.

And yet, all of my most profound awakening experienced have been utterly infused by the energy of the goddess. Even though I did not think about the goddess as a concept, or keep altars to her, or anything of the sort. Surprisingly, my deepest dives into awakened consciousness have invariably brought me into the heart of the goddess and the feminine face of being awake.
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My work with this wise, beautiful crone was no different. She initiated me into the wisdom of the crone, the feminine face of awakening, the longer, more patient, more compassionate time space continuum that the grandmother inhabits.

There is profound wisdom in the feminine. And from that embodied awakening, is stillness.
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So as we move towards Christmas eve, let us invoke the compassion and heart of Mother Mary, as well as the clear consciousness of Christ.

What your family wants are not more presents. There is a certain manic quality to the holiday as defined by consumerism. What your family wants is presence.

We can invoke this presence by falling into the symbolic nativity story of the birth of light, the birth of consciousness which was embodied by Christ- and which is the same consciousness as taught by many other spiritual beings in other traditions as well. Let us remember the essence of these teachings, not as codified and institutionalized, but as freshly transmitted teachings of unity and peace.

And let us also fall into the soft splendor of Mary, who is the westernized face of the goddess, not separate from any of the other faces of the feminine that are revered in the world; Tara, Kali, Durga, and on.

The feminine awaits deep meeting in all of us, whether we are male or female. She is waiting for you, too. In meeting her, you will meet the true grace of Christmas.

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22nd of December

Solstice


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I did something today I have never done before. Fifteen minutes into my yoga practice, I fell asleep. I tend to live in full throttle; I am a thinker, a type A, a doer. My yoga practice reflects that tendency; it is driven and very physical. Yet today, I released a shoulder stand five beats too early, came into corpse pose, and for the rest of the class did not get back up.

As in, for the next hour.

I fell deeply asleep, and in my sleep I dreamt.

Solstice. Solstice moved me out of the doing of my mind and into the being of my body.

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I woke up from my sleep and went to surf. I surfed in a most feminine way. I didn’t try to dominate or succeed. I simply met the beauty of the ocean in her winter splendor.

This retreat is led by Shiva Rea, a teacher who brings much tenderness into her yoga practice. Her practice is not one of forcing but allowing, not of thinking but of opening. Her invitation to us this week has been to simply return nourishment and rest (or, ojas in Ayurveda) to the body, so it did not even phase her that I slept through her entire class.

Our afternoon practice was on the beach at sunset. Shiva led us in several rounds of sun salutations as we watched night fall over the horizon. We prayed for world peace and personal peace. A wild dog came and sat at Shiva’s feet as we prayed. Then we all ran into the ocean in the dimming light and played absolutely like children, body surfing and singing and hugging each other in the tide.

A bonfire was lit for us as we all walked out of the ocean. Shiva asked us to find a piece of driftwood that represented something we wanted to shed on this solstice eve. My piece was rather large, I confess. We offered to the fire all these things we were ready to let go of. I did not even need find the words to describe what I was ready to release. My mind was not in charge today. Only knowing. The entire past year of my life, one full solar cycle, a year which turned my life upside down and showed me my humanity in a way that I had never been shown before. This. To the fire.

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I am grateful to this year; I am more real, and my heart is more open.
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The openness of the broken heart. Even though I did not see the script that was awaiting me, I would not have written it any other way.
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I sat by the fire and watched my piece of wood burn, and as it turned to cinder I felt the space it left behind. In that empty space began to rush in the invitation of what is new- the sense of a greater accountability in my life, a greater responsibility to truth and correspondent action. And of course, sweetness. Sweetness to my children and those in my heart, and those who have yet to come in.

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Beautiful Shiva! Thank you.

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21st of December

Sun


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As I moved one day deeper into retreat and one day closer to the solstice, the words of Hafiz repeated in my mind:

Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

Today, after our morning and afternoon yoga practice, I went to surf. I seem to have little need for words right now, little to talk about, but much to move through my body. Giving myself to the ocean is the perfect medicine for moving within.

I had a sweet fiberglass board, freshly waxed, and the tide was perfect. As soon as I started paddling out, I stopped short of the “outside” and decided to surf the smaller breaks. No need to be cocky. And actually, I was a bit scared. The break always looks bigger to me when I am right up against it. As soon as the waves were large enough to give me a hard spin while diving under, I called it quits and turned my board around to face the shore. It was a good day in the water, the sun low in the horizon spilling radiance.

In Ireland there is an ancient temple called Newgrange, which is 5000 years old. This temple is built underneath a mound of earth and is dark on all days of the year except solstice, when for seventeen minutes the sun aligns perfectly with a window and floods the inner chamber with light. I did not talk much today, or think much either. I simply moved my body, moving from the old to the new, from the outer to the inner, as if I were moving through the tunnel at Newgrange preparing for the return of the light.

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20th of December

Night


IMG_2097I return here, to this space, and to my voice as a writer, after a long spell of silence.

I write to you from the edge of the jungle in the blue zone of Costa Rica. My room is in the thick of green canopy, lush with the fragrance of ozone and buzzing with birds, crickets, and howler monkeys. This is earth as it was meant to be, as it once was. The ocean is close enough for me to hear tonight as I write, the crashing of waves just barely audible over the crazy racket of night animals.

I am here with nearly 100 yogis who have come to celebrate the solstice with Shiva Rea, one of the visionary teachers of our time. We are gathered to practice together. We will bring our prayers, breath, humanity, and intentions onto our mats from the early dawn until the late night for the days to come.

Retreat. We are often caught in the busy of the holidays without having the equilibrium balance of retreat. But if we reflect on the deeper currents of this season, solstice is the root of what we are celebrating. Both Christmas and New Year fall just about at solstice, and this is no mistake. Many biblical scholars say that it is likely that Jesus was not actually born on the 25th of December; based on historical research it is more probable that his birth was in the autumn.

Early church leaders tied his birth intentionally to winter solstice and the festival of Saturnalia, or return of Saturn, because the prevailing culture of paganism at that time would have resonated with Jesus symbolically representing the return of light on earth at the darkest time of year.

Today we tend to celebrate the light and love returning to our hearts and the planet (Christmas) or the beginning of the new year and the resolutions we make without tending to the other piece of this spiritual puzzle- solstice.

Solstice is the forgotten child of the season. As a culture, we do not like to dive into the dark and we have lost familiarity with ritual. But solstice has much to offer us in the renewal of our hearts as we move towards the light of Christmas.

To move into the darkness we follow the breath into stillness, and quiet the mind. The invitation of this time of year is to shed the husk of the personality and the chatter and superficiality- to return into the dark, to the quiet soul.

Will you join me? Do you also need to take time in stillness? To unclench? To cry? To grieve? To let go? To surrender? I know, I know. I’m in retreat. I get to really dive in. But can you dive in just a little bit? Can you move consciously into the dark and allow the fertile ground of the long nights press upon you what it is to become wise?

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12th of August

Kentucky Kingdom


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I spent the month of July in Kentucky, living on wooded land that skirts the edges of the Hardscuffle fields along the Ohio River. I lived with my two boys in a big, rambling historic home made of sequoia and filled with ghosts.

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I slept in the bed of that family’s mother. She is no longer alive, but her life continues to be lived through the stories people here tell. I lived amongst her photos and her dishes. I marveled at her collection of cocktail glasses. I brushed my hair at her vanity. I dreamt on her pillows. I sat in her gardens amongst ghosts and mosquitos. It was a home that was at once happy and complicated and thick with stories that held shadow and light.

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It was a good place to heal. In fact, the daughter of the family, who had gifted me with the home for the month, told me as much. “This house heals,” she said. And she was right.

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I have lived a mostly transient life; I have called New York, Miami, Paris, San Francisco and Buenos Aires home. But I have lived in Kentucky twice, and for some mysterious reason, it is the place that most feels like home. This trip was my way to root and ground and gift to my sons that feeling of home.

When I go home to Kentucky, I walk amongst people that know my name. I am surrounded by people I love, and their land. I do not feel like an accidental tourist. I feel like a part of a place.

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Every day people told me the stories of my summer house and the furniture that filled it. People told me stories about the very bed I slept in.

These stories stretched past my generation, past the generation before me, and often past the one before that. An oral history that stretched into a time of black and white photos and silent pictures.

In return for their stories, people asked me to tell them mine. How were my sons? What had happened over the year that I had been gone? In telling my story, it became part of the larger fabric of the place and its people. Like a great quilt that is woven from the spoken word, my story is the story of that place now.

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Anonymity is nice sometimes. Now that I am back in Florida, it’s sweet to ride alongside the turquoise ocean with the top down. Here, I am infused with sun, mixed into a multi colored international community. It’s sexy in Miami. I speak Spanish on Brickell, dabble in French with a tourist who is lost. I eat sushi at a buzzing hot eatery that has hosted a team of chefs from Cuba to show off their prowess with fish. Nobody really knows my name. I blend into the scenery, another long legged dark horse.

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It’s nice, but I miss accountability. As I move through middle age, I grow into an appreciation of what it means to live an accountable life. When people question the fact that in smaller cities everybody is in each other’s business, my response is, maybe that is ok. Perhaps we are meant to live in ways where our actions have consequences, where our words leave a trail. Who are you? Not just on social media, where you might be very cute and perfect, but who are you really? Do you contribute to the community in any meaningful way? Do you treat people well? Do you lend a hand?

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Are you a good person?

I do believe that in this day of big cities and social media, that question might be harder and harder to answer. Being a good person is relatively irrelevant in a world where nobody really knows your name.

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If you can treat a woman with disrespect, but there are thirty more waiting to meet you on Tinder, what does it really matter what you just did to her?
But if you treat a woman with disrespect in a community that knows your name, you will be held accountable.

Narcissists do not like small towns.

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At the end of this blessed month, I was unexpectedly invited to spend some time in the presence of Wendell Berry, a Kentucky author and philosopher who has for years been a personal hero. Since his writings touch often on the loss of community in America, it felt like a fitting punctuation mark at the end of a month of living inside a good one.

I cannot truly capture the magic of this man, who has spent his entire life speaking to the meaning of community and the agrarian society. It would be impossible. While he spoke, I recorded his words. More than once, he talked for ten or fifteen consecutive minutes and every word he said was noteworthy.

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One story he told continues to stand out in my mind from that day. He talked about what it means to be a good neighbor. He remembered growing up in a time when the corner store was owned by a man who knew him. And so, if the price of an item was marked “$10.00”, when Mr. Berry wanted to buy it, the man would say, “To you, the price is $8.00.”

Because in a community, truly everyone has given something to the communal pot, and so they all deserve a break. This is the missing ingredient in so many people’s lives in America today.

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A community discount.

What does it mean to be a good neighbor? Do you even know the person who lives next door? Do you know the people in your town? Do you contribute? Would you merit a discount if you walked into the corner store?

And that, my friends, is the essential question. Do you know the tribe to which you belong? Or do you live essentially alone, between malls and fast food, television series and social media?

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In this day that so much comes to us so easily, in such an affluent and mobile society, have we forsaken that which sustains us in the deepest way? Have we forsaken community?

I haven’t. I am not sure the world of tomorrow will be the world of Wendell Berry. I am not quite sure we can ever return to the Eden that he knows. But there is a new generation coming right up behind him, a generation that holds his words as prophecy. We are co-creating together what the prophecy might look like today. We are more broken than his world was; we live with a broken environment, community, marriages, health- but we have not given up on the essential parts of his vision which are to respect the ties that bind us and know when and and how to come home.

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I know home. Do you?

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23rd of April

Earth Day


IMG_4177Just over a year ago, I had the opportunity to meet Patrick Holden. He spoke about the interconnectivity of the health of our soils and our inner biome, the digestive tract. It was the first time I heard anyone articulate the thread between the two systems, but it instantly made sense to me. Healthy soils, healthy guts. Soils that are depleted are unable to grow plants resistant to pests or nutritionally rich- and digestive tracts that are overwhelmed by chemicals and antibiotics are unable to process nutrients properly from food.

Since that day, I have been increasingly seeing media coverage on this topic and now, on this Earth Day, it feels like it is everywhere. The New Yorker recently published an extensive article on the phenomena of fecal implants and how they help people who suffer from autoimmune diseases, and NPR just today wrote about a tribe in Ecuador that has never taken antibiotics and has 50% more flora in their guts than a typical American- and far less digestive sensitivities.

This answers, in part, a question that plagued me when I first returned from Paris. Why were so many more children in the US sensitive to gluten? It is barely a blip on the radar in France, but gluten free is everywhere in this country. Most likely this is due to a combination of factors. One is that the wheat planted in France is never GMO wheat (it’s illegal) and the soils, in general, are healthier due to less use of pesticides.
Could the quality of wheat used in France be a factor in its digestibility?

Secondly, antibiotics are prescribed less to both animals and young children.

Could the health of our intestinal flora be a factor? Are some of the gut microbes that are adapted to feed off gluten reduced by antibiotic use to such an extent that digesting it becomes difficult? Instead of cutting out gluten, should we be adding bacteria to our guts?

Lastly, I never saw hand sanitizer in France, and I observed a much higher tolerance in general for “dirt”. In this country, we steam, sanitize, and bleach the heck out of our houses and clothes. Some of the microbes that are beneficial in our gut come from contact with dirt. Are we letting our children play enough in the mud? Are we cleaning away good bacteria?

(I will be spending a month on a farm this summer, and I’m going to encourage my kids to get as dirty as possible!)

There are no easy answers, but certainly this is a movement that is going to change the way we think about the health of our planet and our bodies. The chemicals we use to kill things have their place (the tribe that was studied in Ecuador has a very high infant mortality rate, so not all dirt is good dirt) but there is a balance that is missing. Our soils are too stripped, our digestive tracts too clean, and we are paying the price in increased allergies, sensitivities, and autoimmune disorders.

If you want to shift your own biome, there are two things you can immediately try at home. The first is to buy organic whenever you can possibly afford to. I always say if you buy less food, and waste none of it, you can afford more organic food. Buying organic not only protects your inner biome by introducing less chemicals to it- it also protects the outer biome by supporting farmers who care more about soil conservation than traditional agribusiness does.

The second thing is even easier. Eat more fermented foods! It’s so simple to make a homemade fermented vegetable. My favorites are carrots, cauliflower, and cabbage. Below is a delicious recipe to try at home, as well as a link to Patrick Holden’s writing on this subject. His writing is far more eloquent and scientifically sound than my own; I highly recommend you read what he has to say.

Enjoy!

http://sustainablefoodtrust.org/articles/soil-stomach-plant/

Lacto-Fermented Mixed Pickles

Serves 8
3 tablespoons sea salt, pickling salt, or kosher salt (see Recipe Notes)
1 quart water (see Recipe Notes)
1 cup small cauliflower florets
1 cup carrot chunks or slices
1 cup red bell pepper chunks or slices
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1-2 grape leaves (optional, to help keep pickles crisp)

Combine salt and water in a measuring cup and stir until the salt is dissolved. (You can heat the water first to make the salt easier to dissolve, but it’s not necessary. Let it come to room temperature before making the pickles.)

Place the remaining ingredients in a very clean, large jar (a half-gallon mason jar works well). Pour the salt water over the vegetables, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jar. If necessary, add more water to cover the vegetables. (Optionally, place a small bowl or jar on top of the vegetables to hold them under the brine.)

Cover the jar tightly and let it stand at room temperature. About once a day, open the jar to taste the pickles and release gases produced during fermentation. If any mold or scum has formed on the top, simply skim it off. (If using a jar fitted with an airlock, you don’t need to “burp” it; just open occasionally to taste.)

When pickles taste to your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. They will continue to ferment very slowly, but cold storage will largely halt fermentation. As a fermented food, these pickles will last for quite some time, at least a month or longer.

Recipe Notes
Salt: Use salt that is free of iodine and/or anti-caking agents, which can inhibit fermentation.
Water: Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation, so use spring, distilled, or filtered water if you can. It is also recommended to rinse the vegetables in un-chlorinated water rather than tap water.

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17th of April

Surf’s Up


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I went surfing last week, in the wilds of Costa Rica. I was with a group of friends, in a place so off the grid and beautiful that I am afraid to say its name out loud.

Traveling with a group is often challenging, especially with kids. Egos bump, kids get hungry and tired, it can be hard to find a rhythm that matches for everyone all at once. And yet, we did it- thirteen of us found our way together, squeezed into two cars, one ATV, and four beautiful houses.

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Ego is something I have been thinking of often, especially as it relates to blind spots. I’ve been going through my own personal upheavals in life, getting tossed around a bit. I think this might be what is called the “midlife crisis”. One must look fully at what has been built by your younger hands to see if the foundation and scaffolding will hold up what is to be built in the second half of life. I’m shoring my foundation up and in some places, tearing it down.

Through it all, I try to see where I am blind.

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When life hands us the big questions, we need a big teacher. For me, that is the ocean itself. Yes, I have other teachers, human ones, but there is an immensity inside of me that can only be met by the force of the current and tides. I am a late starter as a surfer; in a world where people say that a late start is 20, I am a midlife beginner. I do not expect to ever be very good, but this does not stop me from getting on my board.

Costa Rica is heaven for surfers. The coastline were we stayed consists of miles of unspoiled beaches, raw and pure. The surf is warm and exceedingly generous with perfect waves. There is a single dirt road, pockmarked and washed out, a tiny town, and lots and lots of surfers.
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I never wanted to get out of the water- I would, eventually, because of all those hungry and cranky children- but for me, I could surf those waves all day long. On the third day, our stunningly beautiful French surf instructor told me I should go out and surf the bigger waves in the lineup.

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But the break was big.
I was terrified. And so I did what any terrified girl would do- I got my friend Amy to join me. She’s a great sport and said yes. The next day, we met Audrey at sunset and after a short briefing, we paddled out.

Can I just say that we had no idea what we were in for? Amy and I are not in bad shape, but paddling through those bigger waves was the most difficult physical activity I have ever done in my life. Besides giving birth. As each wave approached, I would suss it out to see if I thought I could paddle over it or not. But since we were so close to the shore, they were breaking before they hit us and paddling over the huge whitewash seemed impossible- and so I would dive underneath them, letting my board go behind me. The wave would carry the board towards shore, snapping at my ankle leash and dragging me a few feet before I could pull it back to me. This happened maybe fifteen or twenty times. I was panting for breath each time I got back on my board. Soon, we were far enough out to paddle over waves that were rising but not breaking. But when one suddenly broke, I dove underneath it and let my board go- just in time to see as I went under that another female surfer had caught the wave and was literally about to surf right on top of me. When I came back up, she was yelling at me, “Get out of the middle!”

Excuse me, the middle? The middle of what exactly?

This is when Amy bailed.

I turned around and looked at her going, and thought, “Am I crazy to do this?”

What was bringing me out there to “surf with the big boys”? Was it my humility, my willingness to be a beginner in the middle of life? Or was it my ego, wanting to prove that I am cool and full of adventure?

Or was it a little of both?

In any case, Audrey was yelling at me in French, “Come on, Sylvia, you can do this!”

So I paddled on. There really are not words for what it is to be schooled by the ocean. Drowning comes to mind.

But I did it, I paddled deeper and deeper into the unknown.

When I finally paddled out and was sitting in the lineup, I entered a profound sense of calm. The lineup is really a cool place to be. Surfers eyed me from their boards, obviously aware that a beginner was in their midst. I sat on my board like they did and watched the setting sun. The ocean was calm, rising and falling like an undulating pond.

I made it out to the lineup and it felt really, really good.

Then Audrey told me she was going to surf the next wave and bring Amy back with her.

“Stay right here,” she told me.

“Sure,” I responded. It would be nice to enjoy the peace after that epic paddle.

Perhaps five minutes after she surfed out, the tide shifted and suddenly I was no longer in the lineup. I was in the direct line of monster waves that were breaking right on top of me. Cut forward to another fifteen waves, another fifteen dives under, another fifteen snaps of the ankle leash. Cut forward to me saying, “Really, ocean? This? This is what you are going to give me today?”

Yes, that is what she gave me. On this day, in this moment in my life, this is what I get. Big waves, and the feeling that I might not survive. It is bigger than my ego, bigger than my defenses, bigger than the mechanisms I use to get by.

And that is why I love surfing. Because I love getting beat up, getting tossed, shifted, unmoored- and surrendering to the force of something greater than I am. I am not sure where the tides of life are bringing me, but I pray to surrender. I pray to keep my eyes open and breathe.

I pray to pop back up again once the wave has passed.

When is the last time you let some big waves toss you around?

When Amy met me back in the lineup, I can truly say we were authentically “slap happy”.

We laughed and laughed, lifted up by the utter insanity of the force. Amy was first to surf, brave girl that she is, and I followed after. Of course, we wiped out, but honestly it was nothing compared to the battle of the paddle. Audrey told me to paddle out again and I did, catching a second wave just in time to see Audrey catch one right behind me. I wiped out just in time to see her carve the most elegant, powerful line in a wave just a few feet away. When she told me to paddle out again for the third time, it was the first moment in my life that I truly felt like I wanted to get out of the water. But Audrey has balls. She is a beautiful little French mother who surfs like a dragon. And so I listened.

Thanks to Audrey, I caught my third, final wave of the day.

Look, I am pretty sure Billabong is not calling me anytime soon for a sponsorship, unless they are starting a klutzy grandma marketing campaign. Even so, I love to surf.

I will keep surfing, even if it means chasing storms here in flat Florida.

I will keep surfing the big waves of my life, even if it means opening to my blind spots, my vulnerabilities, my imperfections.

You know the best part of this story?

The surfers all told me later that the “monster” waves I surfed that afternoon were-

Exceptionally small. For Costa Rica.

A great day for beginners.
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Calamocha Lodge is the most beautiful place to stay.
Yoga with Cristina Kalyani Paes (exceptional!)
Surf with Audrey and Lolo in Santa Teresa on Playa Hermosa

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10th of March

Big City


Ever since I left Kentucky, my voice, this space, has lost its compass. Yes, I confess; I am an easy sell with the weather here in South Florida. I feel downright guilty telling friends that while they are braving snowy and sneezy Marches- I am in sandals and sweating. There is nothing I don’t love about an ocean that is mid-70’s in the winter and a sun that seems to never die. I haven’t gotten sick once since moving here; a stark contrast to my flu ridden winters of yesteryear.

And yet. This place is a big city, a sprawling never ending metropolis of strangers that stretches from the Keys to Jupiter. There is a price to be paid for the sun.

Many of us who call Florida home leave in the summer months. The sun that nurtures us during the darkest days of the year becomes an unbearable companion in the high heat of July.

For me, that means going back home to Kentucky. When I moved here I refused to say I was moving- I simply said, “I am going to winter in Florida.”

It’s a mystery for me, again and again, on why I love Kentucky so. I am well travelled; I have lived and visited the world over. But this place, this little petri dish of awesomeness, seems to me to be one of the most beautiful and brazen experiments of “just right” sized communities in America. You see, it’s a city that is just big enough for all of the good stuff- culture, food, music, fun- and small enough so that you still look around you every time you enter a coffee shop…. just to see who you know.

And that- more than anything else- more than any place I go- nourishes me. That, more than anything else, is something I want to give my sons. The creation of true community is a choice- a decision- made by residents and their elected leaders. To not grow too much, to not sprawl out in never-ending mcmansion hells. A place where people know your name and expect you to show up. Yes, perhaps it can be a pain to live in a place where people know your personal business or constantly ask you to contribute. But what a worthy pain it is to be asked to contribute to the common good instead of just your own personal joys.

For me, that place is Louisville. And even though I have so many, many places to go on Earth- I choose to return again to this very tiny, tender, beautiful place that I already know.

I always feel that the city of Louisville gives me much, much more than I can ever give it back.

I share with you an episode from “Music Makes a City”, a very lovely series on the rebirth of the Louisville Orchestra. Teddy Abrams is an inspiration and a love.

A bientôt ma cherie ville!

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28th of February

When Words are Not Enough


I live on a tiny street of only five homes. We don’t know our neighbors well, since we moved here just a few months ago, but we do know them. This week, one of them took his own life.

He took his life on a piece of open lawn that we all have access to, adjacent to a wide and beautiful intracoastal waterway.

I first learned of his passing in the early morning hours as police cars lined our street. I immediately remembered our last conversation.

I had no sense of his suffering just one week prior to his death, that last time we talked. We were walking together and talking about our love of green juice. He was drinking a green juice that I often drink.

This green juice was a thread between us.
“The greener the better,” I said, and he smiled.

When I learned that he had passed away, this exchange was the first thing that came to mind. I realized how tender, mixed up, and precious this human life is. Nobody drinks bitter, ginger infused, spicy and sour green juice for pleasure. No. Green juice is a harbinger of health, a statement of hope and self care.

Why was he drinking a green juice just days before he would die?

I cannot ever know the answer to this question and yet the question did not cease to turn in my mind.

Words are simply not enough. I can not offer his widow condolences that will suffice, nor can I write something that makes sense of his choice.

All I could do is walk to the very place where he died, that patch of green grass. It was night, and the soft Florida breeze was blowing. I could only hear the sound of a sail flapping, the intracoastal was perfectly dark. I offered little sparks of love to light his soul up to the heavens where he most surely wanted to go. I do so hope he made it all the way up there.

When I told this green juice story to another neighbor on our street, a salty and spunky retiree, he said, “That, my dear, is why I stay away from those juices and stick to the bourbon.”

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© Sylvia Benito, 2014