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The view from mid-way up that sacred mountain, el Yunque. In the far distance you can see the ocean, next to which we were staying. photo: sareliz anuszkiewicz

Last month my husband an I took a two week vacation, and fully one week of it was spiritual retreat. It was phenomenal; full of healing, insight, rest, rejuvenation and raising the bar on our Spiritual A-game. To be clear, it wasn’t a planned spiritual retreat, but with hindsight I’m not sure what else it could have been. We did, after all, invite our mutual Spiritual Director , Melissa Roberts, along to join us. And when we three get together, spiritual growth just happens.

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First ever shadowbox collage. Personal favorite of various elements: metal pirate ship. photo: sareliz anuszkiewicz

And just today I finished the shadowbox collage that is our constant visual reminder. Some of what went in was from our trip, and some of what went in just serves as a sharp reminder. And yes, the background is the coffee bean bag from this past year’s Starbucks Anniversary Blend. Because of reasons. Having to do with mermaids. And yes, there is a metal pirate ship (it just so happens to be the Black Pearl) that I made. Because of similar, yet different reasons. Having to do with a pirate. And in case you were curious, yes, Caribbean sand dollars are mindbogglingly fragile. Ask me how many I’ve broken. No, don’t. I’ve lost count.

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Thanks to my aunt & uncle, we stayed on this private beach. Which, in case you were curious, was glorious. photo: sareliz anuszkiewicz

There were walks on the private beach we were on, nearly every day. We hiked partway up the old paths of the mountain sacred to the Taino people (who I also discovered were some of my ancestors – which makes sense, Grandma Lily coming from Cuba and all) which also happens to now be National Forest, and the only tropical rain forest in the US Forestry system. At one point we meditated as we sat in the surf on the beach at eleven at night, just because we could, just because we at least wouldn’t get sunburn at that hour, and just because maybe it was time to let some stuff go and the ocean likes to help.

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One of the many paths we walked in the rain forest. As they were up the mountain, many of them were at a thirty degree angle. photo: sareliz anuszkiewicz

And we ate magnificently. Like, whoa. At one point Meli declared that she wanted to eat plantains every day, so that really upped our game: suddenly, we were eating plantains daily, and usually prepared about four different ways, if we could get them. :) There were daily fruit-vegetable juices, ripe mangoes everywhere, homemade oatmeal for breakfast, and I whipped out some recipes that my mother learned from her mother-in-law, and so on Sunday there, was, in fact, my childhood Sunday dinner: chicken and yellow rice, with salad and sweet plantains. Because, and pardon me here for my own cultural bias, it just does not get better than that, people. [Note: Meli diligently wrote down the recipe and the technique and then went back and made it for her family – and her mother reported that it was one of the finest meals she’d ever had.]

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Streams, waterfalls, pools… everywhere. And nary an animal that wants to eat you. Which was awesome. photo: sareliz anuszkiewicz

We went on nighttime runs in the car, just to listen to the coqui. We waited patiently for the feral cats to stop sunning themselves in the middle of the driveway so we could pass. We marveled at a pack of genuine wild dogs, complete with alpha dog in the lead. As some people play the game punch buggy in the car, we did the same, but with wild horses. Because we could. I was the only one to be able to spot the elusive, endemic, and endangered Puerto Rican Parrot, as well as a mongoose. One morning we had a picnic breakfast in the middle of the rain forest. We formed the Lesser Appreciation Society of the Greater Antillean Grackle, and yes, there is a theme song. We drove through Old San Juan, which was stunningly beautiful. And the fact that the streets are obviously the same size as they were in the 1500’s only added to the charm and adventure of the city. One morning we saw a flock of terns hunting directly over a pod of dolphins and two orcas. No one had a close encounter with the shark we saw a football field away while we were frolicking in the deeper water off shore. I nearly stepped on a crab the size of my hand – but refrained at the last moment when he made himself quite known to me. There might have been a brief moment of screaming. I cannot clearly recall. There was coconut water straight from the coconut and amazing food at roadside stands.

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One of the trails starts out so steeply the CCC built actual stairs. To which we were intensely grateful, 85 years later. photo: sareliz anuszkiewicz

And then, of course, there was all of the internal work, which while intensely private to each one of us, was done in spades. Old pains were released. New ways of being were embraced. And because each of us, deep in our bones, really wants to change for the better, it happened as easily as breathing and just about as often.

What about you? When you take time away, does it refresh you? Are you intentional about letting go of the old shit, if only just to make room for the new and awesome ways of being that you want to embrace?