Dipping in the Natural Pools of Xilitla

After spending an entire week with childhood friends in CDMX who I hadn’t seen in 12 years, I decided it was time to go on another mini adventure before my Mexico trip was over. I weighed cost and time options and settled on the little town of Xilitla in the state of San Luis Potosi. Most known for the surrealist castle built by Sir Edward James with the help and labor of many local Xilitlans in the 50’s, this little town is a wonder of natural, fresh pools and waterfalls.

I couchsurfed with someone who had moved to Xilita five years ago from Mexico City. When I first got off the bus at 7am, I wandered through a barely moving small town, messaged my host and got no response. I decided to settle down on some steps near where his house was supposed to be. I decided to wait one hour and if I still got no response, I would find a hostel nearby. While I was waiting, I noticed that the whole town was built on a really steep hill, so the streets were practically walls in terms of incline. In order to move up without getting exhausted I saw people walking in a zig-zag motion. Almost an hour later Sergio messaged me back, apologizing for not being awake and missing my messages and calls. I made it to his house and crashed for a nap.

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Cascada Comales

In Xilitla I spent most of my time immersed in fresh water pools and under waterfalls. The first waterfall I visited was Cascada Comales. A burst of water in the middle of a forest. I can’t imagine what it felt like for people living in the area 100 years ago to come across such a miracle of fresh water. When I got there, I noticed no one was getting in the water but every hair on my body wanted to under the powerful stream coming down from 25 meters up. An older woman getting under the waterfall in her full clothing encouraged me and I decided to jump in. Eventually everyone around me was getting in and under the water.

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One day I tried going to another popular fresh water pool called Las Pozas but found it to be way too crowded. Deciding to leave and see if I could dip in Cascada Comales again before they closed access to it for the day, I ran into a French girl who was also visiting the town. She told me to join her and her friends at another fresh water spot. I said I could meet up with them later. When I finally got there, no one was there but a friendly dog had followed me down so I decided to walk with her down the fresh water stream and finalled dipped in when it got deep enough. We played fetch and she stayed with me until I made it back to the top.

One night Sergio, my couchsurfing host, invited me to the bar he managed Casa Viejo. I got there to find out that not only was he the manager but also bartender, DJ, and general mood creator. I joined him at the bar and watched him make drinks. A plate of quesadillas and a mojito later, Sergio told me “hey there’s a guy who offered to pay for your account but I said no it’s not necessary cause you’re my friend etc.” I looked at him with arched eyebrows and responded, “I am way over my budget on this trip if he wants to pay for my drinks and food and even flight home let him.”

 

The next day drove us to what he calls his alberca. The images speak for themselves with clear blue and green fresh water that looks like it feels cucumber bath and facial. It’s even more beautiful in person. At one point all the other people left and there was a serene quiet with bird chirps and water dripps. Every time you get out you want to get dip back in again as the water is so inviting and fresh. Most people I spoke to from Mexico City had never heard of Xilitla, but I am glad I decided to go anyway because it is a haven of fresh water pools and nature.

 

 

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Surrealism and Spanish in Mexico

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Surrealism in Conversation

I’m sitting in the back of an Uberpool listening to Omar, the driver, speaking to Marianna, my co-rider. While I’ve gotten used to what words mean literally in Spanish, I’m noticing something else about the way these words move between people in space. The words, simple exchanges of “where would you like to be dropped off?” and “not really sure, if this is what the GPS says then it’s good”, roll between Omar and Marianna in a dance. Their back and forth consists of phrases which don’t have a finality, almost never reaching the point. Marianna makes a joke about not actually knowing which address she put into the Uber app and Omar says something about bothering her with asking in the first place. Yet I had the feeling that they were saying something more which I couldn’t grasp. Even though I understand the literal words, I am left with the feeling, which I often get around speakers of Mexican Spanish, that I am missing something.

Often times when I am sitting around with people who are emphatically in conversation in Spanish, I will eagerly ask my friend “what are you talking about?” because I might have lost the thread or had no idea in the first place. The answer my friend gives me will be something simple, like “he’s just telling me how the avocados he bought for dinner were not ripe”, and I’m left feeling disappointed because I could have sworn they were talking about something more interesting.

I started to realize that the conversations I witnessed but didn’t quite understand felt like more not because of the words but because of the way they are speaking. The way conversations flow among people in Mexico leaves room for something more. People speak in a circular way that surrounds the point, or rather a point since we don’t know which it is, and moves around it instead of heading straight for it. This means that conversations last a lot longer and that there is always the potential for the conversation to become more or to fugue into something else.

It is as if deciding upon a final point is to let the conversation die and the potential of what the connection could be or the meaning of the interaction becomes final. Although I found this confusing at first, it was through conversations with my friend Oscar that I was able to begin to understand the purpose and intelligence of this. I would always be interested in Oscar’s responses to my statements. I asked him several times “Ok, but what does that have to do with what we’re talking about?” Sometimes he would bring it back in a way I had not foreseen at all and other times it did not matter what it had to do with our original point. Not heading straight for the point is about not ascribing meaning to an ever-changing interaction.

Once we decide what the final point is, we do not leave room for interpretation and further understanding. This is important because meaning is highly contextual and ever-changing. If we limit ourselves in what we mean, we limit our understanding of each other as well. I think it is particularly interesting that this limits our access to the subconscious and it’s ever-changing nature or meaning. Without trying to rub in the point too much, the nature of conversation in Mexico feels rather surrealist.

 

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Leonora Carrington’s Sinister Work”

Understanding Surrealism in Art

The work of Leonora Carrington, now on display in the Museo de Arte Moderno in Chapultapec Park, is quite the dive into the surrealist world. Her paintings have no illusion that they are paintings and not real life. As such she uses elements of painting, traces, lines, perspective as parts of her strange esoteric world which does follow any necessary reasoning. By reasoning I mean that there is not necessarily any consistent meaning. Elements you might ignore, such as the shadow of a figure or the smoke wisps or even the faded background become important elements of the paintings as they are contain animals or faces or both.

What I find interesting about her paintings is that they are incredibly inconsistent. So to try and ascribe meaning to it once you think you’ve gotten the hang of the symbolism of one painting or another is useless. Any meaning you ascribe will be inconsistent. This makes you dive into a deeper world closer to real life than any realist painting I have encountered. Most of life and its happenings can be quite inconsistent. Once you think you’ve gotten the hang of what something means, then it will dismorph itself to reveal that it is only the perspective of that moment that gave you that meaning and that the meaning is not there at all. Looking at Leonora’s work, especially with the intention of discovering what it means, is to realize that the primary message is that “there is no answer.”

I find it interesting that Mexican social interactions emulate this in many ways. People speak to each other not as if there is a final answer but that they might get closer to it by interacting. And often the point is the interaction itself and not what is being said in the interaction. 

 

 

Why I’m Grateful to the Oaxaca Sun

 

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Playa Boquilla

04:30 min read

When I was eight years old and we were sitting on that striped Amazigh blanket on the sand, my mother told me about a woman who swam into the ocean, then laid on her back and closed her eyes. The ocean slowly and carefully carried her out into its belly, when she opened her eyes she could not find any piece of earth above the water.

When I was eight years old I wanted to be this woman. Not because I wanted to disappear into the blue but because I knew she had survived. I knew for certain she was alive.

When I was floating in the calm pool-like waters of Playa Boquilla, an obscure beach that took 45 minutes to get to, and a part of my 23 year old self wanted to close my eyes on top the waves and be carried away. Not because I have any particular nihilistic desire but because I wanted to know what it’s like to feel safe enough to keep your eyes closed long enough to be swallowed by the sea.

Sometimes there’s not enough words to describe the fullness of knowing you can take care of yourself. It’s a knowing that you can, finally, trust yourself. Similar to being small in a big ocean, you’re there floating, and no part of you is too big or too strange for the vastness around you. You are being held by a force or being that has been there for a millennia before you and will exist long after your kind die out. So let’s say an ocean opened up inside me on this trip to Mexico (with a brief stint in Costa Rica).

Learning to say no when something doesn’t feel right to leave room for better things has been a lesson on repeat for me on this trip. My first day and a half in the beachtown of Mazunte in the state of Oaxaca was somewhat lonely. I had just left the huge Mexico City where walking around solo and anonymously was the norm. Here in this small beach town, everybody stared and wondered what I was doing here on my own (or at least this is what I imagined). On top of that, not speaking Spanish well enough left me feeling isolated and unable to use my usual charm and wit to find a new friend or two. Let’s just say I really began to appreciate the power of a small talk at that point. I arrived on Thursday and by Friday I was bored enough to see what was going on in Zipolite, the next beach town farther south on the coast line.

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On the way to the Mazunte beach

As I was waiting for a taxi on the road out of town, I decided at the last minute to stick out my thumb and hitchhike since there seemed to be few taxi colectivos going in the direction I wanted. Lo and behold a small dark blue Volkswagen stops and two guys ask where I´m going. When I said Zipolite, they said hop in. I sensed the situation was fine so I got in. We arrived in the next small town of Zipolite and the driver, a man in his late 30´s, told me about a precious little mezcal place right on the beach in Zipolite. I was already bored so I joined them for a taste of mezcal, some with scorpion soaking in it, others with cannabis, and the ones I tried with orange and one with lavender. I wasn’t having that much fun but I was still interacting with someone. Plus this guy was paying for all my drinks. Not that I drink that much. But the conversation got weird when the guy told me that he owned a bunch of hotels in Mexico. And the last straw was when he casually said he was going to visit his friends in Israel next month. I decided it was time to leave and I would rather spend another quiet night wandering solo on the beach than hang out with this clusterfuck of entitlement.

It was at this point in my trip that I was beginning to feel the power in saying “no this is not for me”. This would prove very useful to me later when I arrived in San Jose at Casa and find myself in a not so ideal situation. I left Zipolite to head back to the hostel in Mazunte and call it a night.

This was when I met Rodolfo and Carlos. Two friends who would make the rest of my night and next days extremely playful and adventurous in Mazunte. They had checked in to the hostel that night and just when I had settled into the hammock for a quiet night I thought it might be a good idea to strike up conversation. Rodolfo and Carlos are just as adventurous as I am with a propensity for late night star gazing and philosophical conversations that can just as easily devolve into daredevil shenanigans like skinny dipping in the sea under the moonlight.

It was in Mazunte that I fell in love with Mexico and its people. Mostly, I think I appreciated how much I trusted myself to connect with the right people. Gama and Esther who run the Hostal El Manguito were super generous and friendly, inviting me to join them for dinner or a hike to the natural jacuzzi. It’s this sense of extending companionship with all other human beings around you, with ease and not with forced extroversion, that I love about Mexico.

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Above the natural jacuzzi waters

The point is that I learned how to say no this is not for me, and open space up for possibilities. I did not feel blocked in my need to find another route to what I wanted or needed. I learned that I can take care of myself. Even though I had planned on staying in San Jose, Costa Rica for 3 weeks, I left and switched the course of my entire trip because I felt that I did not need to be there. I honored my intuition and made my way back to Mexico where I had connected with people and felt a lot more at home. I really wanted to be in Mexico as I have had a lifelong crush on this country and culture, but it took a roundabout way for me realize this. I am grateful for the Oaxaca sun for not carrying me away into the ocean and for letting me realize the power of listening to my inner voice, she knows, like the ocean, what I really need and want. 

 

When something goes terribly right in la Ciudad de Mexico

37952187_10156508605118149_8870407127638736896_nOne of the first feelings I have when something goes wrong, I mean really wrong, is embarrassment. Not despair, not worry, not panic. No, it’s “how embarrassing”. How embarrassing to try and do something crazy and then have something go wrong. I can already hear all the comfort zoners adding another reason to their list about why they would never go on a solo trip through Central America and Mexico. The people who warned me about danger are going to be using my story/experience as a cautionary tale for the next young daring femme who wants to go on a solo journey. Too bad for them my experience turned out much more good than bad.

I wish people would understand two things about when something goes wrong. First of all, you’re doing something outside of your comfort zone, if you didn’t have something go wrong did you really ever leave? Secondly, the moment I tell my mother or my sister or friends about my experiences, especially those involving having my debit card getting cloned or my phone stolen, I want them to know that I am proud of these stories because they’re about how I made it through with skill and smarts, they’re about the wonderful people who helped me with the situation, and most importantly about the deep strength I found within myself when I got to realize that the most important thing is that I am alive. You know how often you get to experience that? Isn’t that the reason for leaving your comfort zone in the first place? If you don’t have at least one moment where you develop a Jesus-like appreciation for the fact that, shit I am alive, and there are nice human beings helping me out, and this is the actual best worst case scenario, then what are you really doing.

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So yes, I left my phone in an Uber on my first night out in Mexico City. I went to a salsa night advertised on the couchsurfing app, met someone there from Trinidad and we decided to go to another bar, with Mexican trap music.It wasn’t until an hour or two at this other bar that I realized my phone was nowhere to be found. Did I panic? Yes, I was crying in front of a stranger I had just met. Did I worry? Yes, I thought about how I was going to get around without google maps and google translate. Did I despair? Yes, I was in a random bar at 1am in Mexico City with no phone after the metro had closed. Most of all, though, my initial thoughts were, how did I fail at this so quickly. It wasn’t until the nice stranger whose name is Kevon helped me out immensely, offered to take me to buy a new phone the next morning, and more that I started to realize it was actually going to be ok. I don’t need to be embarrassed. Because as my mom used to say whenever I climbed up a tree too high (yeah I had that kind of childhood), if I got myself into this situation I can get myself out. It ended up even better than that because after finding my Mexican number online I called my phone and someone answered! They told me where to meet them to get my phone. Within 24 hours I was reunited with my phone and still ever more grateful for life.

“How lucky”, some people said when I told them I found it. Before that, some people had said how awful, Mexico City is really dangerous. So I’m wondering am I lucky or could it be that Mexico City also filled with equally as many good people as dangerous people? I’d like to add this story to the list of reasons why, yes, you should visit Mexico City if it’s on your heart. Yes, you should go on a trip by yourself. Yes, you will experience both good and bad. Yes, you will be a stronger person for it.

Finding a Reason to Travel

When I told my sister about my trip to Central America, she commented that it’s funny how we prepare for our trips with the same amount of time as we are going to be traveling.  If we are leaving for a weekend, we take two days to prepare, and if we are leaving for a month, then we take a month to get ready. What about a trip that you feel like you’ve been preparing for your whole life?

When we were five and Mama took us those once-every-four-year-trips to the US to visit her (our) American relatives, I remember getting excited and wanting to go and explore around the airport. My dad sternly told me that it was not even an option and to not forget where I was- some where kids like me should be scared of being so bold? So this adventurous spirit has been welling up in me for a while. Even though I have been lucky to make multiple trips, including moving to the US for a college degree, it’s been through a program of some sort navigating my path in travel. Finally, I get to be my own damn study abroad program.

Two days until I leave for Mexico City and in the same way that dreams still feel like dreams even when they physically or materially manifest themselves, it only hit me that I was actually finally going on a solo trip through Central America when I had to actually let people know I was going to be gone for the month of July. Oddly enough I began to feel frivolous. My flight to Mexico City felt like arranging to meet someone you’ve only spoken to on OKCupid. Leaving for five weeks became a long expanse of time for “vacation” (even though I originally wanted to go for longer). How do I have all that time for a vacation I imagine some people wondered (especially my various employers). Then most of all there is the business of not having some sort of program or project to serve as the reason behind my travel. I began to ask myself a question I’d never thought of before, why am I traveling? But I also did not remember needing to ask this question when traveling solo was still a dream of mine. Why was I asking it now?

While I kept preparing for my trip, I had to make more concrete decisions about how I was going to get around, how I was going to sleep, or eat, and what I was going to do. The question of why kept popping up, hanging out in the back of my mind, like all worms of self-doubt do. I felt like I was doing something more frivolous than real.

Why did I choose Central America and Mexico specifically? I have always had a close or best friend who was Mexican. In Morocco, as a child, I had two good friends who were siblings who were half Mexican and in college my best friend was Mexican and Salvadorean. The similarities and connections between Moroccan and Mexican culture that we discovered with these friends are so strong to me that I have always felt a pull to visit Mexico, as well as Central America. Still this did not seem to be a satisfactory answer to me about why exactly I have to travel and why now.

Mostly the self-doubt came from my five year old self who was chastised for having such silly and dangerous ideas of adventure and exploration. As I was sitting on MARTA on my way home, I thought about the great feeling of transience I get from being on the move. I realized traveling is the reason to travel. Like jazz, it’s not about the perfect melody or end goal but the improvisation of the moment that is so obvious when traveling.

Traveling is a form of meditation. A meditation of knowing only where you are now because you are moving and you can’t be attached to where you were or where you’re going to be. Traveling is not just vacation. I’ll admit I crave the transience like a drug, and find that everything is more beautiful even in my day to day life when I am about to travel. There is movement in travel that brings me a sense of calm I am never able to grasp in the day-to-day routine of living and working. So traveling has always had the beauty of being the process and the end goal. I don’t need a reason or a purpose when traveling, I’m not living up to a standard (except the one  to decolonize travel which I will be writing about next). When I am on the journey, I am exactly where I need to be.

Feeling Small + Getting Lost in L.A.

(5:30 min to read)

My trip to L.A. felt like a lesson in feeling small. Still, even when I got lost, I felt strangely at home. The streets of Santa Monica and Koreatown reminded me of the beach town of Assilah and inner-city of Fes simultaneously. Of course there is a constant contrast and contradiction in moving between L.A.’s neighborhoods. The socioeconomic stratification is different from what I have experienced in other U.S. cities. L.A. has vastly different communities. Although many locals move through seamlessly, there is always the unspoken question of whether you belong in certain areas and spaces. In Santa Monica, for example, due to extensive gentrification, a lot of the time POC are assumed to be visiting for the day or working there as very few actually live there.

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L.A. skyline by Ronald Weaver @rw2productions

On the third day of my trip, I knew I was going to get lost. I was leaving the house of a new friend in a neighborhood I had discovered, and I had a destination in mind: an art show at a brewing warehouse someone invited me to. Still, the city is gigantic and it gobbles you up if you don’t know where you are going. Because it is so spread out, going in the wrong direction can cost you hours. Which is exactly what happened to me. It took two hours to get from an apartment somewhere in Culver City to the warehouse venue somewhere in downtown L.A. (this trip usually takes 45 minutes to an hour). Somehow, I was still going the right way the whole time.

Without internet on my phone, all I had was a static Google maps directions of which bus to get on and where to get off. It took me no time to get on the wrong bus and get off at a different stop. I was at a corner several blocks away from the venue and was met with beautiful rose shops, fragrant and humid, reminding me of the central market back in my home city of Fes in Morocco. After smelling the flowers and following the row of rose shops down the street, I made a few turns and found myself on Skid Row.

Once you get into downtown, it seems hard to get out of, with a grid system that leads right back to the same street you started on. I was officially lost. As I passed an older man in a light blue and white track suit standing on the corner in front of a convenience store something told me to turn around and ask him for help. He knew right away what I needed, and directed me to the bus stop for the 60. He said he came “down here to check on people and help out” but he lived in West Hollywood.

Then Yvette showed up. She had on a blue uniform t-shirt with a circle logo in the corner that read “Help for the Homeless”. Her aura was a commanding one of generosity and humor. She pulled up directions for me on her phone and told me she had once been living out on Skid Row and struggling with drug addiction and now she helps a non-profit to get people off the streets. We got on the same bus and I finally found this hipster art show I was supposed to go to where I found myself in a vastly different environment.

This is when I encountered Ronald Weaver’s photography. The aerial shots he produces of gorgeous, commanding landscapes captured at a direct 90 degree angle 500 feet or so from the ground are stunning. This makes for an image that looks much like observing an ant colony from the 5ft human eye perspective or seeing a snail crawl on pavement. Except you’re looking at people on a huge landscape. These images are captivating because while you may not realize what you are looking at first, in the split instant that you do, your mind does a quick rewind and zoom out to see how tiny we can really be and see ourselves as the small beings that we really are.

 

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Santa Monica Beach by Ronald Weaver @rw2productions

 

Los Angeles is a city that feels like a natural force of creativity and experimentalism and hence on the brink of chaos. It is made of dozens of communities, each of which contain their own culture, and no particular “center”. A city that feels on the brink of chaos also has its own flow. So you can feel small in the wide open expanse of nature and get lost in the bustling chaos of a city that stretches for neighborhoods and neighborhoods. Another part that reminded me of Morocco was the people-centered interactions were significantly common in this big city. 

For an introverted person, this trip was intense because I was trying out the solo traveling thing and I ended up spending a lot of time talking to and meeting people I didn’t know. I found that being lost and feeling small made me a lot more open, vulnerable, and loving towards others. I appreciated others’ kindness and recognized it for the benevolent presence of the loving universe. I believe it is so important to get lost. I don’t believe everyone is ready to get lost, but when you are you will find yourself doing it naturally. The chaos that ensues with getting lost makes you look for a compass, and often that calibrating force is yourself. I was never really lost, I was taking the long way to exactly where I needed to be.

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Santa Monica Pier by Ronald Weaver @rw2productions

When I first got to my friend Miriam’s room in Santa Monica on the outskirts of L.A., I put down my stuff and rushed to the beach. Scrambling through the sand, I sat down on the warm earth, soaking in the sun, and watching the waves. As I closed my eyes… the mountain of worry, stalactite salt mounds of anxiety, dissolved and dissipated at the immense sound of the ocean. Filling the space in between in my ears, there was stillness. I was at the edge of a continent, the ocean before me was big enough, deep enough, blue enough, with enough energy and love than I could ever want or need. Next to its roaring, foaming, never ending, older-than-you-will-ever-be and-still-here-after-you-die, pain-absorbing, waves-crashing self we are all small. To feel as if the universe is big enough to hold me and my contradictions, my complexity, all I have to give and all I have to lose, and still have room for many, many, many more is to feel small, and loved.

The ocean always commands me to be here, now. Whenever I go to the beach with it’s wide open expanse of moving water, always stretching blue sky, and the deep continuous pull of water on sand fills my ears so roundly, my mind quiets and is silent for a while. With the deep sense that there is nowhere else to be, the sound connects me to an infinite source of life and power. It brings salt water to my eyes to know that the ocean remembers me every time* (*nayyirah waheed.)

The importance of feeling small for me comes from the significance of feeling as if I am  part of something bigger than myself. When faced with the power of a natural force, you let go to something bigger than you. We begin to understand how we are not the center of the universe, but a part of it, and knowing that is much more fulfilling. Not to be confused for nihilism, however, feeling small is can make you feel more whole and filled in the sense that the universe is big enough for you, your thoughts, your being, and all of your existence. While much of this trip was spent traveling alone, it was refreshing because I felt connected to the whole of people, of the city, of the beach and the birds, the waves, the sunlight, the natural flow of livings beings. 

Life Lessons at 23

 

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In honor of reaching my twenty third year of life yesterday, I’ve reflected on what this past year has taught me, showed me, affirmed for me, and given to me:

  • Time is a circle, not a line. It moves out from a center, radiating in a wider and wider circle, and this center is with you at all times because it is the present moment. Do you know how blessed we are to be in the present moment, that is to be aware of the center of the universe, to be a manifestation of the universe’s own consciousness, and aware of it in this present moment?
  • Achieving your goals is not necessarily a series of calculated steps and more of a projectile vomiting yourself/work/ideas all  over everyone until something sticks.
  • Manifestation through thoughts is powerful. You can spend as much time manifesting your fears as your dreams, so being positive is part of a powerful algorithm of manifestation.
  • “Behind-the-scenes” is really the main stage, this is where the magic of your life happens, what it looks like is what happens after.
  • What feels right is what should dictate your life, tell you where to go, and what to focus on, not what looks right. What feels right comes from within the self, the quiet space of the heart, not the critical, conscious, judging eye.
  • Love yourself. Love yourself first, last, forever, now, tomorrow, then, after, before, yesterday, when, until, during, still, always , even if, even when, just because, over it, for it, in spite of it, despite, because, right now, on time, slowly, quickly, really, seriously, deeply, righteously, and always, always fearlessly.