Imagine this, you and your roommate have to move in a couple of days, and you’ve been searching for a house for the last few weeks. You live in a place where the standard of living is not nearly the same as where you’re from, so everything you find is, well, a bit gross. Bare bones. Slightly squalor-esque. Then, you get a lead on a place that’s in an area that everybody says is dangerous, AND it’s out of town. It also happens to be located down a bumpy, dirt road that is going to be a bitch everyday on your shockless, beach cruiser bicycle, which is your only mode of transportation. So, before you even walk through the front door of this space, you’re already feeling like it isn’t ideal, but maybe it’ll do. You have to live somewhere, anywhere at this point. So it might just have to do. Upon walking in you take note of the living room, which is about 15 X 20 square feet, with naked, cement walls. A single light bulb dangles from the ceiling, casting harsh light into the dusty crevices of the space. A space that has no windows, not in the sense that most of us are accustomed to anyway. Instead, there are only rectangular holes with vertical bars on them and green mesh covering the openings to keep the bugs out.
How would you feel? Would you turn and run because it isn’t ideal? Or would you find someway to make it work?
The house I’m describing is the house I ended up living in with my roommate, Brett. Brett is another Canadian whom I met at the hostel I stayed at when I first arrived in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Needless to say, the house didn’t make a great first impression. But oddly enough, the impression it left in the end, was lasting. In fact, in the end, after everything was packed up, and I was ready to move, I was left sitting on the bare mattress in my bedroom, sobbing about having to leave. So how did I get to that point? Well, I think it had a lot to do with those simple, bare cement walls. It had to do with what we eventually filled them with, and what we accomplished within them.
One night, after we’d been in the house about a month, Brett somehow ended up with a piece of white chalk in her pocket. “Huh, I wonder if this would work,” she said, taking the chalk out and scribbling ‘Pura Vida’ on the blue frame of the doorway. For anyone that doesn’t know, ‘Pura Vida’ is a Costa Rican expression that they use down here as hello, or goodbye, or just as a general reminder to live the ‘pure life.’
Eventually, that one little phrase led to this…
And a funny thing happened in that house. Well, a lot of things happened in that house. I feel that I experienced the entire broad spectrum of human emotion in that house. I don’t want to speak for Brett, but I think she’d agree that individually, and together, we were both on a mission. A mission towards radical self love, unabashed self-expression and dedicated self-actualization. Did we get there? Eh, I dunno. What I do know is that we tried. And so did a whole bunch of other people who joined us.
Brett and I lived in that house for exactly six months, and in those six months we had a total of seventeen people come to visit us. Some stayed elsewhere, most; however, stayed with us. And as people came and went, signed the wall and left their mark, they all participated somehow. They all added to the experience.
At one point we were six people in that two bedroom shack, myself and Brett, and then two of her friends and two of mine. During that time, since we didn’t have anything more than a few plastic chairs and an old grimy couch for furniture, we decided to all go out for dinner. (In the end we smartened up and just held many a dinner party right there on the floor.)
So there we were at dinner, the six of us, most of us brand new into one another’s lives, sharing a meal as if we were family. Because really we were. Even if some of us never see each other again. For a short while, we were what each other had. I think that’s the most beautiful thing about this travelin’ life. People flock to these “vacation” destinations for so many reasons, but often there is nothing vacating about it. We leave home because we’ve lost houses, jobs, family members, ourselves. And we find people who are in the same boat, nations apart, and we reach out. We keep each other afloat. That’s what makes us family. That’s what makes it real.
“We’re basically running a hostel,” Brett had said, looking around the dinner table that night.
“In that case we need to name the hostel,” I said. “Thoughts anyone?”
A few ideas were tossed around the table until Brett’s friend, Drew, eventually said, “What about The Eh Hole?”
All six Canadians at that table laughed and raised their glasses. And that was that. That night, the writing was on the wall. So then fast forward a few months, to moving day. And suddenly I’m feeling this deep, overwhelming sadness. Brett had left the country a few days prior and I had booked my flight home for the following month. I had finally booked my return trip to Canada, after what will total seventeen months away. And yet, sitting in my empty room I berated myself, “why are you crying over this, you weirdo? You’re Mrs. Non-Attachment!”
Some of you might remember that back in October I wrote an article that was published on Elephant Journal. It was about the importance of non-attachment to material possessions, to the things in our lives that are fleeting anyway. Like houses, for instance. But here’s the thing. I’m starting to realize that I had the whole non-attachment thing all wrong.
Case in point: The Eh Hole. How could I preach non-attachment, but feel so utterly attached to this small shack with a silly name? Well, I think the problem’s in the term ‘non-attachment,’ because it isn’t the right phrasing. In all honesty, I often mistook non-attachment for disinterest. With boyfriends, with friends, with phases of my life, and with places that I had to leave.
After leaving my childhood home nine years ago, I’ve lived in twenty different houses, in ten different towns. Many of which I’ve easily left when the time came. But I think I had such an easy time never looking back because in many of those places, I hadn’t been fully present, connected, or looking within while I was there.
This time was different.
This time I learned that non-attachment doesn’t mean never feeling anything, never connecting intimately, never allowing yourself to get attached in the first place. Quite the opposite, actually. Really what it means is getting attached, and then, when the time comes for things to change, un-attaching as gracefully as possible. It means recognizing when you do become attached, and being able to ask yourself why, what, and who are you so attached to.
Growth doesn’t come from indifference. There’s no beauty in that. Instead, the growth comes from loving something so deeply you couldn’t imagine your life without it. And then letting go anyway, if you have to. Letting go despite your fear, despite that love, despite that pull to remain attached.
Listen, sometimes life sucks. I can guarantee, whoever you are, that at some point you will experience pain, and suffering and loss. People will take things from you, you will be mistreated, and sometimes you’ll have to go at it alone. But if you’re lucky, you might also have some friends you can call family, and a cement wall you can decorate with a couple pieces of colorful chalk.
Oh, and as an aside, we managed to dry erase all of the chalk off the walls in the end. And how great was it to embrace that child-like desire to scribble on everything? I highly recommend putting a chalk wall up for your kid (or yourself!) somewhere in your home. Almost everyone that signed the wall mentioned how therapeutic it was.
Peter Pan and I both recommend you never grow up completely.