The magic of San Miguel

My partner and I made our first trip to San Miguel de Allende (SMA), Mexico, in February 2014, to visit close friends; writers who had connected with SMA through its international writers’ conference.

It did not take us long to see why they had fallen in love with the place. We returned the following year, doubling our stay to two weeks. The next year, I returned for three weeks, by which time I was completely hooked. In 2017 and 2018, we spent a month in SMA, renting our own house and hosting friends who came for a week or two. As you read this, we are en route for a six-week stay.

“I’m not that kind of person”

Before going to SMA, I thought I knew a lot of things about myself: I am not the kind of person who “goes south” in the winter. Nor am the kind of person who spends time in a community riddled with gringo ex pats. I have had a firm “never return” policy about my travels: with so many interesting and beautiful places to explore, why would I make more than a single trip to any one of them?

But the magic of SMA made me change my understanding of myself. It also helped me come to some amount of peace with the discomfort I was feeling about my considerable privilege; privilege that few others have and without which I would certainly not be able to spend part of each winter in such a beautiful spot.

Turning points in life

This sixth, and longest, trip comes at a time when my life is complicated. My ageing parents have both suffered recent medical crises: a broken hip for my 90-year-old father and further confusion and memory loss for my 89-year-old mother who has dementia. I know that by going away for this long, there is every possibility I will return to find both of them further diminished. I also know that my absence puts more work on the shoulders of my siblings, two of whom already carry more than their share of the load.

As the daughter side of who I am is changing its nature, so are the mother and grandmother parts of me evolving: my youngest child is almost 41, and my oldest grandson is about to finish high school.

My work life is in a state of flux. With a provincial government that seems disinterested in addressing gender-based violence (and other important social justice issues) and a federal government that is gearing up for a fall election, funding for the work I have done for the past few decades is in a precarious state. The passion I have for my work remains undiminished, but I do tire of the constant travel as well as the never-ending search for funding.

I have been on a conscious journey this year to try to rationalize my work, keeping that which inspires and nurtures (and financially supports) me and sloughing off that which causes too much wear and tear on my soul or body.

Creating the space for change

Even though I am not one for portentous signs, a few have presented themselves to me recently that cannot be denied and, for the first time in my life, I am trying to pay attention to them.

A week after I decided to give up one piece of work because the trauma it creates in me had become unmanageable, I received an offer for new work that will stimulate me (without the trauma), that I can do from my own office (in Canada or in SMA) and that will reimburse me well for my time.

As I began saying “no,” to some of the many requests for my time that cross my desk, my daughter presented me with a gold-glitter-filled snow globe. Once the glitter settles, the word NOPE appears. It now sits on my desk where I can’t miss either its beauty or its message.

After a little more than a year receiving reiki, I have attended a weekend reiki training retreat so I can explore this form of healing more deeply.

During my time in San Miguel, I will work. But I will also walk and go to the market every day. I am going to try tai chi. I will try to use this privileged time to connect and reconnect with the many social justice endeavours on offer in this eclectic community.

There is something about the magic of San Miguel that, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, creates a space so the light can get in. That space does not get created for me in the same way in Canada, so I am going to take full advantage of it for the six weeks I have the good fortune to spend in its company.

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