Learning Yoga with Locusts

Fri 28th Feb 2014

Before I started this website, I read all about spirituality and found that I agreed so much with the teachings that it would be hypercritical of me not to give it a go (for spirituality teaches that we must not just understand but also do).

In order to make a real commitment to self-compassion, I first of all stopped smoking since there really is little better that a smoker can do as an initial action of self-compassion than to stop smoking.

I then chose a form of volunteering that interested me because charity is a way to directly experience your Higher Self and to connect with the end goal of being compassionate to the Self – to become a spiritual volunteer.

Then I started trying out new experiences like camping and cycling around Mexico, but in Colombia I focused on those things most out of my comfort zone; for facing our fears is when we learn the most about our Self. So I started with deep sea diving and tackling my fear of sharks (or any creature lurking in the deep below ready to eat me up).

Facing this fear took me to the ocean, but also afterwards to streams and rivers, and I found my Self connecting profoundly with a love of water.

Water is life - without it nothing lives and nothing grows. Rivers, streams and the sea taught me that spirituality is life forever flowing, and that to be a spiritual being, we need to completely ‘let go and go with the flow’

In order to do this we need to focus on the moment now and forget about the concept of time. We listen to our Self and do what we want to do for as long as we want to do it, and then flow along with the universe until it brings us to our next possible choices – always listening to our intuitive spirit and always doing the things that are most compassionate for our Self.

I came to Minca to just relax, meditate, and reflect on all this for a few days. I didn’t know that Minca was also going to introduce me to more fear facing, kamikaze locusts, body swellings, homesickness and yoga!

Minca is a unique place consisting of a small collection of houses and large fincas (land or plots) surrounded by beautiful Colombian jungle high up in sacred indigenous mountains called the Sierra Nevada (yes, they have the same name as the ones in my spiritual home, Granada in Spain) where snow can be seen on the peaks and pine trees grow at the highest altitude found anywhere worldwide.

That is not all. Minca has more than 260 species of bird, numerous small organic coffee farms, and an endless supply of marijuana and mosquitos. That is quite a lot for a village of just 600 people. But I haven’t even begun to mention the chichara yet!

Chichara is the Spanish word for a type of tree grass-hopper that, apparently, do not even have a name in English or German. The closest word in English is cicada (see-kay-da) which is the family that chichara are from. Locusts are apparently also a subfamily of cicada, and one can see why.

Chichara come out in a massive swarm of thousands in February/March time, and hang around in the trees for a couple of months until the rain comes. They do not devour everything like locusts, but they do eat sap from the trees and then pee it down on unsuspecting bystanders who assume that it must be about to rain – except that it never does.

Chichara are quite harmless but very noisy! They stretch their bums out to produce an extremely large metallic siren noise that echoes across the jungle all day and then is amplified to ear piercing levels at night when they all come out to say hello!

They have a hard exoskeleton that feels to the touch like plastic. They are also pretty big creatures that could easily be mistaken to be a plastic toy if you just found one lying around. And they do lie around. Well, actually they first fly kamikaze-style into the nearest object, then they fall to the ground, and then they lie motionless upside-down for a long while. I’m not sure if they stun themselves or just play dead, but you touch one and it makes a little siren noise and then flies away.

That is if they can, because when they land upside-down (which is quite often) it takes a lot of leg-wriggling before they can turn themselves over again. I cannot decide if they are Planet Earth’s creature with the smallest brain or, with their huge exoskeleton and eyes wide apart, they just can’t see what they are doing. Either way, chichara are highly amusing creatures.

Walking back to my tent at night time was a new ‘face the fear’ experience that I had not planned but had to deal with while in Minca. The chicara are flying around everywhere in the dark of night, and then there are monkeys, huge spiders, snakes, frogs, smelly skunks and many other jungle folk out there too. In order to get back to the finca where I was staying for the first two nights from Mon 24th to Wed 26th Feb, I had to walk through the middle of the jungle on an upward dirt path with no street lighting in complete darkness.

I have always been a little bit afraid of who is out there in the dark, but as with most things we fear, it is almost completely irrational. Thanks to watching horror films like The Ring, I get the idea of a ghostly figure standing there looking at me from the darkness, my imagination becomes overactive, and I freak myself out.

I know this is silly, and it is this effect that horror films has on us that is the reason why I no longer choose to watch them. I like my head filled with happy thoughts :-)

Walking back the first night was when my imagination got me and I could feel myself slowly starting to get scared. I deliberately walked back to the finca by night the second night too just to do it again, and I was fine that time. Camping is a great way to fight this irrational fear of the dark head on (through ‘flooding’) because there are often situations when you need to go out in the dark with just a little light to guide you ‘Blair Witch Project style’ LOL

Those first two nights at the first finca, with all the marijuana being smoked around me and after already feeling disconnected with everyone around me getting drunk at Costeño Beach, got me to thinking about the topic ‘spirituality and drugs’.

When I was teaching in Austria, I once worked with a ‘hippy’ girl who was dressed in all the right clothes and had all the right lingo and mannerisms of a stereotypical hippy. She repeatedly made a point of letting everyone else know how hippy she was and one day said that drugs are good for us.

At that point she just annoyed me. In my opinion, this girl was being exactly what society says a person who is not following society’s rules should be. She was following a fashion, and that is just self-righteous and not actually hippy at all. I replied that drugs are not good for you, and she said “oh you don’t know man. Have you ever used drugs to free your mind?”

I replied that I had tried several drugs and been drunk and stoned more times than I can remember, and I have had some great times drunk and stoned and high on other drugs too, but that does not mean that they are good for you.

This is just a fact. Alcohol makes us lose co-ordination and the ability to think clearly and rationally; marijuana on the other hand makes us lazy and forgetful. How do I know this to be true? Through first hand experience.

Of course she might have had a point if she had been talking about a cup of tea or glass of red wine, for example, which are claimed to have health benefits – but she was trying to justify the regular consumption of marijuana – and the fact is that the regular consumption of anything that is not good for us is not being compassionate to our Self. From the perspective of spirituality, drugs are a big ‘no no’!

But why? Well, we are taught in our society that it is the external that will make us happy, but the point is to be happy inside our Self without the need for something external (eg. a beer or joint or hot cup of tea or coffee) to make us feel happy. In other words, happiness is a solution within, not outside, our Self.

Furthermore, according to spirituality all our suffering comes from looking to the external to make us happy - either because we desire for something that we do not have (craving) or we wish that we would not have to have something that we do or will have (aversion) instead of just being happy with our Self right now.

The use of any intoxicants (caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, etc) can develop a craving for more and even an aversion to that craving (‘I wish I didn’t keep drinking so much when I go out’). This is not far from becoming addicted which is when you totally lose control of your own Self because an outside agent now has control over you. Intoxicants therefore cause everyone to lose their mental balance on some level and this generates agitation in the mind.

In order to become completely happy, it follows that we must eliminate all our suffering, and we do this through wholesome moral practice (sīla) – this means abstaining from all actions, all words, and all deeds that harm our Self or anyone/thing else.

It makes sense that we cannot be involved in actions that will reinforce the very mental habits we are seeking to eradicate. Spirituality is about fully understanding and listening to the best of you - your Higher Self. This is done through introspection, by listening to your intuitive spirit, which requires nurturing a very calm mind that is free from agitation.

By drinking just one glass of wine and then trying to meditate, we find that the mind is now too agitated to focus on the reality within. Some Buddhists even stay away from onions and garlic because of the way that they affect clear thought.

But perhaps this is all too extreme? The problem that I have is with the overuse, or abuse, of a drug. For example, it is absolutely true that the over-consumption of anything is not good for us, but it is also true that a smoke of marijuana can greatly relieve aches and pains and has long been used to treat arthritis, while a glass of red wine and a cup of caffeinated tea or coffee also have health benefits.

Perhaps the answer can be found in yoga!

On Wed 26th Feb I moved my tent to another finca called ‘finca la semilla’ to learn the basics of yoga after a chance meeting with Ana Maria who teaches yoga and along with her husband, Giuseppe, plans to run an ‘escuela de autoconocimiento’ (a school of self-awareness or self-knowledge) - like an ashram retreat but without the religion.

During the 3 days I spent at their finca, I was given very healthy vegetarian food, and I learnt some meditation and reiki techniques in addition to a wonderful course of yoga, and all in a tranquil setting surrounded by beautiful nature. I felt like the Karate Kid being trained by Mr Miyagi (in the 1984 classic of course).

The first wisdom that Ana Maria shared was that spirituality is nothing more than ‘coherencia’ (coherence) - namely when what you think, what you say, what you feel and what you do are all flowing together completely in tune.

If we think that McDonald’s is junk food, and we say that McDonald’s is junk food, and we even feel bad after eating a McDonald’s menu, then it is pure madness and absolutely not flowing in tune with the self to then go out and eat a McDonald’s. 

That word ‘flow’ again, and not coincidentally. Everything is energy and yoga is about being in tune and balance with that energy by listening to your body and what it needs. When your back aches, you do exercises to release blocked energy. If your stomach aches, you do exercises that work the stomach area. Your body tells you when it needs to do more exercise and when it needs to rest, or when it needs to wake up or to sleep. It is important not just to listen to your body when you do yoga, but at all times.

Ana Maria went on to emphasise that in yoga, but also in anything that anyone chooses to do, the energy flows harmoniously with a wholesome ‘proposito’ (purpose or intention) - your proposito decides if your actions have a compassionate intention for your Self and for others or not.

For example, someone might choose to be a volunteer because they want to experience giving and receiving with an exchange of kindness rather than an exchange of money – that is very wholesome and a very good proposito. Another person might be offering to help out just to have somewhere to sleep for free – that is very selfish and not a good proposito.

Therefore, anything that we do can be good or bad for us depending on the proposito and whether or not we are remaining balanced – and that includes taking drugs.

In order to get my head around this and form a final opinion on the place where drug consumption falls with regard to wholesome action, self-compassion and complete happiness (and also to escape the mosquitoes and the jungle for a bit!), I am now heading off to the city of Barranquilla to immerse my Self in the festivities of the world’s second biggest carnival after Rio to see how the Colombian’s deal with drug consumption, wholesome action, self-compassion and complete happiness when they are celebrating at their best. 

Be inspired ♥


  1. Ana Maria la semillaThursday, 10 April, 2014

    I enjoy too much read this article, it is very funny and deep at the same time, i feel happy to know that you can understand and connect with the most important topics that share together at La Semilla
    I send you the best energy and all the inconditional love that live in me, almazos Ana.Maria

  2. Hola Ana Maria! Gracias por el mensaje y me alegra que te gusto tanto leer mi post sobre mi tiempo en minca y en la finca contigo!

    Tambien he recibido tu email y lo contestare cuando tenga mas tiempo para contestar bien. Ahora estoy en Salento y viajo en la dirrecion a Ecuador.

    Un dia voy a organizar 'links' de los sitios donde he estado y aprendido cosas importantes. Te aviso cuando, pq por supuesto tu finca va a estar ahi tambien!

    Abrazos a ti y Giuseppe !!!