“Nobody knows the time; art, music, fire.”
Sitting around a massive bonfire at the oceanside, beneath a sky dotted thickly with stars, listening to a reggae jam on a single acoustic guitar seems as close to paradise as I can imagine. But a dream to be sure, yet there I was in that exact scene. Reggae-guitarist, crashing waves, and warm cervezas included. Actually, it was Guaro Casique and warm Fresca — a brutal cocktail we dubbed Birthday Cake on account of the occasion. It was pura vida in every sense of the phrase.
Pura vida. It’s the way of life in Costa Rica, synonymous with greetings, goodbyes, appreciation, and positivity. What does it mean? As I came to learn over my eight too-short days in the country, it means absolute, pure, unadulterated life. It was something I took to heart during my time in Costa Rica, and something I hope to carry with me forever.
When I look at this ink (aside: holy smokes, this is forever), I’m reminded of the lessons pura vida taught me. Maybe it was the breathtaking landscape, the hakuna matata mindset of the locals, or the fact that I felt, for the first time that I can remember, free enough to be entirely immersed in the experience of where I was and who I was with. Whatever the reason, I drank those lessons deep and I will forever be grateful to all of the people – travellers and ticos – for showing me that absolute, pure, unadulterated life. On one night in particular, sprawled out in the hammocks after having sat out on the beach watching the storm clatter and flash over the Pacific horizon, I talked with two of my travel companions about these things. We didn’t categorize them as anything more than the things we think about in the deepest recesses of ourselves, but to hear the exact thoughts and fears that I often have myself being voiced by a relative stranger who lives an entirely different life in an entirely different corner of the globe is reassuring on an entirely different level. What was at the basis of our musings? Things that I’ve often preached yet always struggled to maintain practice of, though the goal of my impulsive tattoo decision is to remind myself of these mantras at every waking moment of my every day.
Don’t ever take a moment for granted; each one is unique and will not repeat.
Always do what you love. There’s no sense in doing otherwise.
Better yourself to be the person who you want to be. Nothing is as fulfilling.
Life will work out if you open yourself to opportunity and positivity.
We have a choice in how we react to everything;
that choice has consequences that reach far beyond the moment.
Energy is palpable. Your energy affects the energy around you.
There’s no sense in letting the little things bother you.
Fear is not the end.
It was during our snorkelling trip, at one point on the far side of the island, I looked up from my deadman’s float to see that I’d strayed from the group and almost run into our guide. He asked if I was enjoying the activity. I told him I was. He asked if I’d ever done this before. I told him I hadn’t — first time. Hell, the day before had been my first time in the ocean; this trip my first vacation abroad, really. What he said next was so matter-of-fact that it took me aback: “You’re not afraid of anything.” All I could do was shake my head and take a moment to stare up at the endless blue above us, if only you knew.
The funny thing is, I’m afraid of everything. Heights and creepy-crawlies. Love, loss, and commitment. Of new experiences and the unknown, of making the wrong decisions and of catastrophic failure. I’m even afraid of talking to new people, but there I was floating along in an entirely foreign place striking up conversations with strangers next to me and saying yes to every opportunity that offered itself up before me. These things are so far outside of my comfort zone that even thinking about them raises my heart rate, but I did them anyway and without inhibition. Because while I’m afraid of new experiences, I’m far more afraid of the regret I might feel if I let them pass me by.
On our very last day in Costa Rica, when we hiked to the top of Montezuma Falls, I revised my earlier decision to jump from the top of the second tier into the pool below after having a bird’s-eye look at just how high that leap was from. One person from our group made the jump and as exhilarated as that made me, I wiped my hands of it and walked away. Fear is one thing; danger is another. What was I afraid of? Hitting the water wrong, not jumping out far enough, slipping at the top — all fears that doubted my own abilities at their very root. Deep down, I knew I could make that leap. All I had to do was commit to it. Sounds easy, right?
An article I once read in Surfer magazine on the subject of facing your fears has always stuck with me, and I’ve been recalling it often lately. In it, the author simplifies the brain by dividing it into two parts: the rocket scientist and the lizard. The rocket scientist, or frontal cortex, is the part that puts us at the top of the pyramid and has allowed us to accomplish all the things that we human beings have accomplished in the past ten thousand years. The lizard, by contrast, is the ancient amygdala that controls our instincts and emotions. When the going gets uneasy, the lizard kicks into gear and pumps out the adrenaline and cortisol that elevates you into fight or flight and grabs the steering wheel from the rocket scientist. Because that nerd can’t hack it as well as a hundred million years of heightened intuition. The super fast response time of the lizard is what triggers the rocket scientist into worrying, and it’s why we second guess ourselves even when we know that, logically, we are capable of something. The good news is that you can get around this. You can train the modern part of your brain to simply ignore the lizard as it sends out the danger alarm, or you can practice letting your rocket scientist reason with its ancient counterpart and let it be known that, “yeah, you’re afraid and I get that, but I’m going to launch myself off this fifty foot cliff anyway so you’d best hitch up those panties.”
Back to the top of Montezuma falls, I started to hem and haw, pacing back and forth along the rocks atop the falls and trying to have a reasonable conversation with my fear. Just do it. It’s scary. You can do it. But what if? What if what? What if I fail? Okay, so don’t jump. But you know I want to jump. Look, if you’re looking for someone to talk you out of this you’re barking up the wrong tree. It’ll suck if I die. It’ll suck more if you regret taking the chance. I know. So do it.
Because as intimidating as the height was, and as scared as the prospect of flying from it made me, I was far more afraid of walking away and wondering what if. And let me tell you, when I plunged into that water after leaping from the cliffs above, my heart pulled a total Dr. Seuss and felt as though it swelled to three times its normal size. I surfaced with my arms raised in total triumph to the cheers of my new friends above (who, let me add at absolutely no disservice to them, did not jump) and the satisfaction of my own actions. To say that the waterfall jump was a big deal to me would be an understatement. It reaffirmed a lot of what I wanted to accomplish on my trip to Costa Rica: be open, be positive, be opportunistic. Say yes. Try new things. Don’t be afraid. To jump off of those falls on my very last day in the country was like the cherry on top of an inimitable experience that not only taught me a lot about what I could, should, and want to do and be, but that I’m entirely capable of doing those things.
The last thing I wrote in my Costa Rican journal — I’ve always had terrible diary commitment — came after that night of personal introspection among my new friends during hammock time. I took down those lessons above and I wrote that, “I want to hold pura vida in my heart and soul. I want to take this with me forever. I want to look back upon this as the moment my life really, truly changed.”
So, did it? Did my life change? I suppose only time will tell, but I honestly believe that my time in Costa Rica flipped an internal switch. An “I Can Do It” switch that’s given me the hunger for more, the fuel to find it, and the confidence that, yeah, I can do it. There’s no need to be afraid, no need to squander opportunity. Live with no regrets to your absolute fullest because that’s where your energy comes from and that energy has the power to change life around you.