Monthly Archives

February 2018

Beautiful Practice Ground: The Secret to Training Your Mind

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By Leo Babauta

I’ve been diving deeper into training the mind when it meets difficulty, stress, the urge to procrastinate, anger, pain, uncertainty, discomfort.

And here’s the secret I’ve learned: what most people take to be bad news is actually the good news.

Let’s take the example of Greg … he wants to start meditating, so he commits himself to the daily habit of meditating for 10 minutes every morning. Wonderful!

And he does a great job at first, meditating for more than a month without fail. He’s feeling pretty good about himself.

Then he has to go on a trip, and he’s so busy that he misses a couple days of meditation. When he returns home, his mom comes to visit and he doesn’t seem to have time to meditate now.

What’s Greg’s reaction? He feels bad for missing mediation, breaking his streak, falling apart because of travel and a visitor. He starts doubting whether he can stick to the habit, feels guilty, doesn’t even want to think about the meditation habit. When he wakes up, he goes on his phone to distract himself from what he’s not doing.

Bad news for Greg, right? Actually, this moment is good news.

In this moment, he has entered his beautiful practice ground.

This is good news.

This idea of a Beautiful Practice Ground is something I’ve developed over working with thousands of people on habits and mindfulness … let’s take a look at what it is, why it’s good news, and how to work with it.

What is the Beautiful Practice Ground?

When Greg’s meditation habit fell off, he responded with self-criticism, guilt, self-doubt, avoidance and distraction. This might seem like bad news — who wants to respond like that?

But actually, it’s good news: we’ve learned something extremely important. This way of reacting is actually Greg’s habitual way of responding to difficulty. He has conditioned himself to respond this way to similar difficult situations, to failures small and large, probably since childhood.

This habitual way of responding to difficulty is actually what’s standing in his way.

Training the mind to respond differently in this exact kind of situation is probably the most important training Greg could do.

If he can retrain his habitual reaction, he’ll eliminate most of his difficulties. Instead of falling apart and avoiding when he misses a habit, he’ll just start again. With gratitude. When he hits upon other difficulties, with training he can just figure out a way to deal with it, and not fall apart and start avoiding things.

So it’s very, very good news that he has noticed his difficulty, his habitual response to difficulty, uncertainty, discomfort.

This very moment, when he’s avoiding and feeling bad and running to distractions … this moment is his Beautiful Practice Ground.

This is where he wants to be. In the middle of this habitual response, he can pause. He can notice what’s going on. He can practice a different response. He can start to retrain his mind by opening up other possibilities.

Come to regard your difficulties in life as good news. See the moment of your failures, complaining mind, distractedness, anger, frustration … as your Beautiful Practice Ground.

Common Beautiful Practice Grounds

The ways in which we habitually respond to difficulty are varied, but there are some pretty common ones … I’ll list some here so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about:

  • Becoming annoyed by the behavior of others, and spinning a story of resentment in your head.
  • Procrastinating when you have a difficult task.
  • Putting off the moment of starting a habit like meditation, exercise or writing.
  • Feeling bad about yourself when you fail to live up to your expectations.
  • Resenting others when they fail to meet your expectations.
  • Giving in to urges and temptations and then rationalizing them, criticizing yourself, or avoiding even thinking about it.
  • Getting upset when things don’t go the way you want them to go, lashing out at others or stewing in resentment.

In other words, all of our most difficult situations are our Beautiful Practice Grounds!

How to Work with Your Beautiful Practice Ground

We can start to regard these difficulties as good news. As places to practice that are filled with compassion, love, and opportunity for growth.

When you notice yourself having difficulty — someone is frustrating you, you are disappointed in yourself, you’re procrastinating on a hard task or habit you’re trying to form, you’re feeling resentful or criticizing yourself — start to recognize this as your Beautiful Practice Ground. And see it as a wonderful opportunity to practice.

Now pause. Stop here in this Beautiful Practice Ground and just notice what it’s like. Notice the sensations here, the quality of the experience. Notice how you feel, and welcome whatever you feel and notice, as you would welcome a good friend into your home.

Notice what your habitual reaction is … do you want to avoid thinking about this? Do you want to run to distraction? Do you want to make a list, do an Internet search for answers, or otherwise get control? Do you want to lash out in anger, criticize, spin around a story of resentment?

Notice that you don’t need to actually do your habitual reaction. You can create a sense of space so that you have mindfulness, choice, openness.

See if you can find curiosity in the middle of this space. What is it like to just sit in this Beautiful Practice Ground?

See if you can take a different action, create a fresh response, act out of love and compassion.

This is the work in the Beautiful Practice Ground. It’s good news that you have this practice ground, and the opportunity to train in the middle of it. Once you begin to do this, the entire world can shift.

A Practice For When You Find Yourself Annoyed by Other People

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By Leo Babauta

It’s a common thing to be frequently annoyed by other people — added to our regular interactions with family, friends and coworkers are the online habits of people on various social media, and they can all irritate the hell out of us.

What can we do when other people are being annoying, frustrating, inconsiderate, irritating, even aggravating?

Well, assuming we’re not in real danger and we don’t need to take action to protect ourselves … often the best practice is an internal shift rather than trying to change the other person’s behavior.

That suggestion in itself can be frustrating for some — why should we have to change our own behavior when it’s the other person who is being aggravating?

That’s because with one simple shift, you can be happy with any person. But if you try to change every other person, you’re just going to be miserable.

This is illustrated by a metaphor from legendary Buddhist teacher Shantideva:

Where would there be leather enough to cover the entire world? With just the leather of my sandals, it is as if the whole world were covered. Likewise, I am unable to restrain external phenomena, but I shall restrain my own mind. What need is there to restrain anything else?

In this metaphor, imagine that the surface of the Earth were covered in shards of glass or some other sharp surface … you could try to find a covering for the whole world, so that you could walk in comfort … but you’d never be able to do it. Instead, just cover your own feet, and you can walk around just fine.

This is the idea of shifting your own mindset, so that you can deal with irritating people.

Let’s look at a practice to work on that shift.

A Simple Practice

Whenever you find yourself irritated by how someone else is behaving … first notice that your mind starts to create a story of resentment about them. It’s about how they always act in this irritating way, or why do they have to be that way, or why are they so inconsiderate, etc.

This story isn’t helpful. It makes you unhappy, it worsens your relationship with others, it makes you a person you probably don’t want to be.

So the practice is to drop that story, and instead try this:

  1. Recognize that you don’t like the way the person is behaving. You are not happy with your current experience. In this way, you are rejecting this part of reality, rejecting a part of life. Consider opening up to all of life, without rejecting.
  2. Reflect on a river that flows downstream … imagine wishing it would flow upstream. It would just bring you unhappiness to wish that the river were different than it were. Now imagine that this other person is the river. Wishing they were different just brings unhappiness.
  3. See them as they are and open your heart to them, just as they are. See them as a suffering human being, with flaws and habitual ways of acting that can be irritating, but are actually very human. How can you love humanity just as it is?

Open up to all of life, without rejecting. Accept the river as it is. See the suffering human being in front of you, and love them fiercely, as they are.

See how it shifts you. And see how it opens you up to connecting to your fellow human beings, and the vast experience of life, just as it is.

One Simple Shift to Turn Life Into an Adventure

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By Leo Babauta

When I was young, I would run barefoot through the jungles of Guam, being chased by bad guys, imagining I was on an Indiana Jones-style adventure.

The world was filled with possibility, excitement, discovery, exploration, and a delicious sense of danger and the unknown lurking in the darkness. It was fun, play, and curiosity.

Adulthood and the responsibilities of family and work all did their best to beat out this sense of adventure, and create a sense of routine and discipline in me.

But I’ve always still become lit up by a sense of adventure.

One of the best discoveries I’ve made is that my entire life can be a huge adventure.

And it can be done with one simple shift: embrace the thrill of not-knowing.

Let’s take a look at a couple examples …

The Adventure of Your Commute

So you’re driving to work in the morning. Ho hum, boring, you’ve done it a few thousand times, no one likes traffic. So maybe you try to make productive use of it by listening to an audiobook or making calls, squeezing use out of this boring time.

But what if, instead, you made it into an adventure? What if you looked for the excitement of things you didn’t know about the drive?

For example, you might drive a new way, exploring side roads. You might explore mindfulness practices on each drive, seeing what you can learn as you drive. You might use the time for contemplation and invention, seeing what you could create during the enforced silence of the drive.

The Adventure of Your Work Day

We tend to just start each work day as if it were another day, launching into messages and quick tasks, meetings and calls, busywork and distraction.

But each day is a blank canvas, waiting for a splash of colorful paint! Each day is an opportunity to be seized, a life lesson waiting to be learned, full of possibility and the unknown!

What if you could ask questions throughout the day, not knowing the answer but excited to find out more?

What if, instead of running from the uncertainty of difficult projects, you could embrace the not-knowing of those tough tasks and savor the deliciousness of what might emerge from them?

For example, writing a book chapter for me might cause me to want to procrastinate, because I don’t know what to write or how people might perceive me once I publish the writing. But instead of running from that uncertainty, I can say, “I have no idea what to write — how can I play around with it and see what might happen?” Or “I have no idea what people might think of this … let’s find out!”

The dangers lurking in the darkness are then turned into thrill of potential discovery.

The fear is then excitement, wonder, a chase and a beautiful battle.

Seizing Every Moment, with Joy

One of my best friends, Scott Dinsmore, died a couple years ago on Mt. Kilimanjaro, heartbreakingly toppled in the prime of his life during one of his many adventures.

Perhaps the thing I loved most about Scott, other than his hugely generous heart, was his sense of profound adventure in everything he did. The two of us would go on a 2-hour run together through the hills of the Bay Area, with huge smiles on our faces and joy at being able to witness the incredible beauty of life with a fellow adventurer.

Everything we did together was filled with possibility and excitement. We ate bagels and drank beers with joy, because it was lifefilled, heartlifting, wonderinducing.

We ran to the top of a mountain to see the fire on sky, and our hearts would weep at the beauty. We would talk about our businesses not with a sense of frustration but of wondering what we could create. We would order everything on the menu because who knew what delights hid behind each menu listing?

This is the sweetness that can be found in each moment, if only we have the audacity to seek, to be curious, to explore.

The joy of adventure is right in front of us, if only we have the temerity to notice. If only we have the courage to savor and appreciate, once we have noticed.

Powerful Courageousness: Practices to Expand Yourself & Your Gift

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By Leo Babauta

Imagine a woman who has a powerful gift to give to the world, a song to sing that will lift others up … but she only lets herself give that gift when the sun is shining and she’s happy and the moon is in perfect alignment with Jupiter.

The world would be robbed of her song. Her narrow range of when she’s willing to offer her gift would be a devastating loss to those she serves.

Imagine a man who serves everyone around him deeply, so powerfully that they are all filled with their own sense of purpose. But he only does this when he is in the right mood, when he’s not distracted by online articles, when he’s not tired or lonely, when he’s not criticized by those around him and when his house and office are perfectly clean.

Those he fills with a sense of their own purpose would be less filled. Those he gives his love to would be deprived, because he has such a narrow range of when he’s willing to push himself to offer his gift to others.

This is how most of us live our lives. Shrinking from the challenge of focusing on our purpose-filled work, because we’re tired or sad or anxious or stressed, because we’re allowing ourselves to be distracted and pulled in thousands of directions.

This is our failing, and it’s our opportunity for growth.

When you are “not feeling it,” and are procrastinating on focusing on your purpose … this is a time to notice how you feel, notice that you’re shrinking away because you aren’t in the perfect mood … and then expand yourself.

You expand by:

  • Opening up your heart in the middle of pain or stress, and allowing yourself to fully feel. Don’t shrink away, but find the courage to be incredibly present with whatever you’re feeling.
  • Feeling love for your experience, for whatever is causing you stress or pain, and not rejecting it. Seeing it as your teacher, your beautiful practice ground.
  • Reminding yourself of the gift you need to offer the world. Reminding yourself of your purpose. Bringing your open heart to that work.
  • Pushing yourself into the discomfort of focusing on that purpose, even if you are feeling sad or hurt or frustrated or distracted. Pushing yourself into the discomfort of saying no to all the distractions and busywork, and just doing what you need to do to offer your gift.

This is your challenge, in every moment. Expand your range by not needing conditions to be perfect. Not needing everything to be in order. Not needing to have all your messages responded to, all your inboxes and social media checked, all your articles read, all your crumbs swept up, before you dive into your purpose.

Expand your range by not allowing yourself to shrink. It’s like putting yourself in arctic conditions, in desert conditions, and practicing your art despite the unhappiness.

In fact, you use the unhappiness and chaos to offer your gift. You take that stress and pain, and you turn it into love. That brilliance is a part of your gift.

Let’s look at some specific practices for expanding your range of conditions so that you are no longer robbing the world of what you have to offer.

Practices to Expand Yourself

Once a day (to start with), create a space for practicing. Set yourself some purpose-filled work to do. Then try these practices:

  1. Notice what you’re feeling. Are you tired, stressed, frustrated, angry, sad, lonely, distracted, hurt, anxious? Then fully feel it. Forget about everything else in the world and just be fully present with whatever you’re feeling. Not the narrative in your head about what you’re feeling, but the actual physical feeling in your chest, stomach, head.
  2. Open your heart to that feeling. Love it. Don’t reject it, wish it would go away, try to get rid of it. Just freakin’ love it. And love its cause: the work stressing you out, the person who criticized you, the unhappy situation in your life. Love it as if it were the most beautiful thing on Earth. Which it is.
  3. Open your heart in the middle of this discomfort, and then take the first step in doing your work. Do the first small action, the tiniest movement, in the middle of these arctic conditions. See it as training for your heart. Courage training. Hold your heart open as you do it, keeping in mind who you’re serving.
  4. Love even fiercer as you do the next small step. Don’t let your people down. Imagine that you would die for them, do anything to serve them, and that you hold them powerfully in your heart.

Repeat these practices every day. See your range grow. See your gift grow out into the world, unhindered by life’s impediments. Sing your song powerfully and courageously, lifting up every soul around you. Then bow in gratitude to your practice.

How I Created Great Rituals in January

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By Leo Babauta

In the month of January, I created a handful of incredible rituals, and they’ve been changing my life.

The rituals are meant to support my focuses for 2018:

  1. Meditation & mindfulness
  2. Diet & fitness
  3. My mission (work focus)
  4. My relationship
  5. Creating a regular yoga practice

I have to say, I did a great job on all of these focuses in January, thanks to my rituals!

In this article, I’ll share what helped me create those rituals.

Where I Started Out

It’s important to understand that none of these were completely new rituals — I have had some of them for a long time, but have been inconsistent with them. I wasn’t starting from scratch.

For example, I’ve been meditating for a dozen years, but I have stretches of zero meditation for weeks every year, and I am not as consistent as I’d like.

I’ve practiced yoga off and on for awhile now (more in 2017 than ever before, thanks to my sister) … but never regularly for more than a month.

My work is a pretty consistent practice, but I wanted to refine my focus sessions in the morning.

I’ve been working on my relationship for years, but I wanted to give it more focus this year.

My diet and exercise have been much better than average for years, so I’m not starting from scratch here either … but I wanted to really improve my eating (it’s gotten lax in the last year or two) and get a bit more consistent with exercise.

I don’t recommend starting five rituals in a month, if you’re starting any of them from scratch. Only do this many if you are already established with them.

And if you’re used to changing habits and creating accountability. If not, focus on one or two per month.

The Rituals I Created

These are not all as solid as rock, but they’re becoming much more so:

  1. Morning meditation, first thing in the morning.
  2. Focus session for work, soon after meditation.
  3. Read Getting the Love You Want with my wife, and do praise practice with her, as we have a cup of coffee.
  4. Don’t eat until noon, just eat two large meals with a medium-sized snack. Bascially, I just have a couple of planned meals that are super healthy, and don’t eat much else.
  5. Run with wife 3x a week (she reminds me), and work out in the late afternoon 3x a week. So I’m usually doing one or the other every day.
  6. Yoga in the evening (usually with my 11-year-old daughter).

The eating hasn’t been 100%, but I’m OK with how it’s gone so far. The others have been fairly solid.

What I Did That Worked

With those important points established, let’s look at what really helped me create these rituals:

  1. Start small. I started morning meditation with just 5 minutes a morning. Now I’m up to 20 minutes most mornings (except for travel). Yoga was just a few sun salutations to start with, and I’m only slowly increasing by adding a pose every few days or so. The healthy eating was a couple small changes each week.
  2. Stop buying into my excuses. My mind is very good at coming up with rationalizations to put off the rituals. I decided that I have to stop listening to those rationalizations, and instead just take it for granted that I’m going to do the ritual, no matter how I feel. I’m not perfect with this, but I made big strides.
  3. Create powerful accountability. I am part of a couple of accountability groups in my Sea Change Program (one of them is a program-wide Facebook group), I’m doing eating accountability with my 24-year-old daughter, and I have a dashboard designed to hold me accountable. That’s multiple accountability efforts, to help me stay on track, which is frankly a lot of work. It’s working well!
  4. Reminders up the wazoo. I have reminders in my calendar, to-do program, paper notebook, habit app, and more. My wife reminds me. My daughter reminds me. The more things I can do to not forget, the better. After awhile, I don’t really need the reminders, but they’re really important for the first 2-3 weeks.
  5. Daily tracking. I use my Habit Zen app to track my habits each day, and the rituals dashboard does the same thing. I sometimes have to check in later, like when I’m traveling. Tracking just helps reinforce the rituals.
  6. Weekly reviews to constantly improve: This is one of the most important things I did. Each week, I review how it went. It just has to be a few sentences, and it should be honest but also acknowledge my successes, not just my failures. Then I share it with one of the accountability groups/partners I mentioned above. This helps me to get better each week, and I really think I did get better each week, for the most part. The review deepens my learning and helps me adjust.
  7. Do some of them with others. I meditate alone, but as I mentioned, I’ve been doing yoga with my daughter, running and relationship work with my wife, and I get the kids involved in my diet (tell them what I’m doing, ask them to help me cook, etc.). It really helps to have a partner — it’s always one of the best ways to keep something on track for me.
  8. Focus on the joy of the ritual. This is something a lot of people overlook. They focus on getting the habit done, which makes it feel like a chore. Instead, I recommend trying to be present and really focus on how the act of doing the ritual feels, what about it brings you joy, how it’s a gift. This shifts the ritual completely.

In the end, I wasn’t perfect, and I still am not. But I am really enjoying these rituals, and I encourage you to figure out what one or two rituals you can create this month, and how you might use some of these ideas.

And then fall in love with the ritual, each time you’re doing it.

To Find Your Deeper Purpose, Listen

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By Leo Babauta

I’ve found that if we can create a connection between our daily actions and our deeper purpose in life, then each day will be incredibly fulfilling.

Unfortunately most people haven’t found their “deeper purpose” in life, and many don’t even believe they have one. That’s OK, but if you’re one of those who would like to create a more fulfilling life, I have one word of advice for you.

Listen.

OK, I’ll have a few more words to add to that!

The way that I found my deeper purpose (and I’m still refining it every day) is by listening to what’s in my heart, as corny as that might sound. I listened to what I felt most deeply, what moved me, what made me feel shaky but in awe of life.

To listen, I had to stop letting myself be distracted. I had to create space to listen: shut off the Internet and all devices, not watch TV, get away from everything else, even for a little bit. I had to create silence and stillness, so that listening was even possible.

If you create this space, this silence … notice what you feel. It won’t be obvious what it means at first, but after listening for awhile, you’ll notice what you yearn for. What gives you joy, a sense of adventure, a sense of play. What creates pain and the wish to salve that pain. What you are afraid of, what fills you with doubt, what makes you want to run.

Eventually you’ll get an inkling: “Oh, I really love working with kids!” You won’t know what that means, but you’ll have a direction, and you’ll start to explore it. You’ll find a way to work with kids, and after awhile, if you keep listening, you’ll discover the parts of working with kids that moves you the most. You’ll hone in on that. You’ll refine, listen some more, and strip away the fat of that purpose, until it gets to its essence. You’ll find your gift to offer to the world.

And each step along the way, you’ll be walking the path of that purpose, exploring and discovering how to best offer your gift.

A Few Stories of Others Without a Purpose

Many people either know they haven’t found their purpose but don’t even start looking … or they have it in front of them but don’t recognize it, and don’t connect to it.

I’ve been working with people on this and here are a few examples … maybe you’ll connect with one of them.

  1. One woman is a family lawyer and she says she doesn’t have a “deeper purpose” in life, she just stays really busy doing her work, helping her clients, which she does enjoy. As I worked with her, it became clear that she was serving these clients in a powerful way. When they were facing the hardest times in their lives, she was there for them, guiding them when they felt lost. She stood for them when they were on their knees and had no hope. She made them feel safe when the world around them was collapsing. She had a powerful purpose, but she didn’t know how to see it. What she needed to do was ask herself what gift she was giving in the world (or ask friends who might see it better). Then feel deeply connected to that gift.
  2. I worked with a man who was a manager at a very busy service operation — he managed a large team and stayed busy from start to finish each day, putting out fires and keeping the team on track. He didn’t feel that there was a deeper purpose there. As we talked, it became clear that he was an incredibly competent leader, keeping his team motivated, staying fully focused in the middle of chaos, keeping a huge machine running so that others might relax, and doing it all with energy and a smile. This was a huge gift he was giving to each team member, to the people they served. Again, he needed to see this gift, and let himself connect to it and be moved by it.
  3. Another man felt he was a cog in a machine, on a team that didn’t do anything very worthwhile in the world. But this man showed up every day with a huge smile on his face, bringing energy and love and joy in every room he entered. He was very competent, constantly serving those around him. I told him to start looking for another job, but he should also recognize that no matter where he is, he bring his gift of energy, service, happiness and a brilliant smile to everyone he meets and works with. He still had some searching to do, but he should recognize and appreciate his gift.
  4. Another woman worked in finance, and honestly didn’t enjoy the work. She wanted to start her own company, create something beautiful in the world. She was excited to start out on this new adventure, but also filled with doubt and uncertainty about how to do it. I urged her to do it, as soon as she was able, because I was confident that she’d bring her energy and sense of adventurousness to the new venture. And she had a gift just waiting to be offered to the world.

Those are just a handful of examples, but the common threads are that 1) most people don’t recognize their own gift, and might need help from friends to see it, and 2) once you recognize that gift, you need to either find a way to offer it to the world, or if you’re already giving that gift, connect deeply with it on a daily basis so that you can be fulfilled by offering it.

My Purpose-Filled Journey

I started my current journey about a dozen years ago, in a dark place in my life, not feeling fulfilled, not happy with who I was, not knowing how to get out of my rut.

I started by just creating one change in my life (quitting smoking), which finally stuck after failing seven times, after I decided to pour my whole being into that one change. Then one change at a time, I started changing my whole life, pouring myself into each habit change.

Eventually, I was in a very different place in my life, and I started Zen Habits. I found that my gift was to share how I changed my life, and help others change theirs. Offer the inspiration of my story, the usefulness of the details of my change, and my compassion to others who were struggling in the same way.

Discovering this purpose was powerfully moving for me. I was energized, and poured myself into it.

A few years later, I discovered that I needed to help people find compassion for themselves. They were struggling with harshness and self-criticism. So I shifted, exploring self-compassion for myself and a way to share that with others. I went deeper into mindfulness and love. This was incredibly fulfilling.

Recently I’ve discovered the joy of working with people in person, and I’ve been discovering a new layer of my purpose, refining it even further. Now I’ve learned, by continually listening to my heart, that I want to:

  • Lead people on a life-changing journey of greater simplicity and focus, purpose-filled work, mindfulness and whole-hearted connection.
  • Help people dive into uncertainty and discomfort with joy, instead of running from it, letting themselves be moved by their purpose.
  • Help people reconnect to a sense of wholeness, and let go of what causes them pain and struggle.

This is my deeper purpose at the moment, according to what resonates inside of me. This is what I’m moved to do, my gift as I understand it.

Create Space for Your Purpose, & Work with Me

I invite you to work with me in my Sea Change Program each month … or go deeper into mindfulness on a retreat that I’m holding in early May …

In this 5-day, 4-night retreat, we will:

  • meditate every morning
  • do yoga (if you like)
  • dive deep into mindfulness with daily workshop sessions
  • have time to reflect & contemplate our lives on the beautiful beaches of Tulum
  • visit Chichen Itza, see the Coba Ruins, swim in the hidden Cenotes
  • eat some amazing food
  • and connect with other like minded adventurers

The retreat will be led by me (May 2 – May 6, 2018) and is limited to 12 participants — there are only a few spots left.

Get more info and book a spot here.

I hope you’ll join me — I’m looking forward to playing and going deep together!