Water, Light, Air
A new approach to a meditation hall
MIGRATION: The story behind the meditation Hall
“The bus reeked like a barnyard as I walked to the back; but it was my only way out of the country.” Twenty-four hours before boarding the bus, Miguel had returned to El Salvador from summer camp in Colorado. His wealthy parents had been murdered by government thugs and their property was seized. Fearing for his life, he fled the tiny country, alone.
“That was rock bottom. When you’re fifteen and have to run for your life - alone - that’s messed up.” He planned to return to the US and stay with a cousin. “I had always flown to the US, only peasants rode the bus.”
Hours into the journey, he still hadn’t spoken to anyone. “The pain of loss filled every cell of my body. I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I slowly cracked.” As the sun was setting, tears began to trickle down his face. Without a word, the old woman next to him placed her leathery hand on top of his. “That was the most loving gesture I have ever experienced. She showed me compassion, without saying a word.”
That night, the bus finally crossed Mexico’s southern border, stopping at a filthy gas station. “Three hoodlums came on the bus, harassing people as they walked to the back. When they saw me, the fat one asked me what I was doing. I mumbled something, but my Salvadoran accent gave me away. They hated Salvadorans.” During the confrontation, the bus went silent, even the animals. They yanked him off the bus pulling him into the darkness. “They robbed me; then threw me into the cold mud of a plowed field. I was too weak to get up.” Their laughter faded in the distance as the old bus pulled away.
Miguel was born into a prosperous El Salvadoran family. His father had studied at Dartmouth and owned several plantations. He spent every summer at camp in the US and planned on attending a University there. “My father loved El Salvador but he became increasingly antagonistic towards the military leadership. They were real bastards. You were either in the elite circle or out, there was no in between.” In 1978, his father publically embarrassed the top general. A government squad killed his parents and seized their assets, the week before he came home from camp.
After Miguel was robbed, he spent a couple of months wandering through Mexico, crawling his way north - hungry and lost. “It was awful. No one would help me. I worked odd jobs for change and sometimes I stole to survive, but the loneliness was the worst part.”
One night, he walked to the outskirts of a small town to sleep in a remote wooded area, where it was safer. He slept only after his drowsiness overcame his hunger. In the early morning cold, he felt penetrating warmth bathe over his body. “I was dead asleep, but I heard my grandfather’s voice say, ‘Miguel, follow the Monarchs.’ His voice resonated so deeply, I knew it was my way out.”
As the sun peered over the horizon, Miguel mustered the strength to open his heavy eyes. “I was so tired that I could barely focus, but I saw brilliant orange and black colors. My entire body was covered with Monarch butterflies. Peace filled me.” The Monarchs covered Miguel, the ground, and the trees. Over the next month, he meandered north; following the Monarchs until he was halted by the Rio Grande River; but the Monarchs easily flew on.
Miguel had arrived in the early evening, at a remote section of Mexico’s northern border. “People had warned me about the dangers of crossing the river, but I was a strong swimmer, so I wasn’t worried.” Standing on the bank, the river was deceptively quiet, as the surface glimmered with shades of chocolate and flaming orange from the evening sky.
“I ached, seeing the American shore.” He removed his socks and shoes, then his pants and shirt, placing them inside the black trash bag that held his meager possessions. Standing alone, in grimy underwear on the river bank, he paused; seeing the large expanse of water flowing past him put his difficult journey in focus. This was his final test. His suffering would be for naught, if he didn’t make it across.
He inhaled deeply; then bit down on the bag. Not to be cowardly, he jumped. In a splash, every muscle froze while the current swept him downstream; his nostrils flared for oxygen. “Oh shit! Instantly, I knew I had made a big mistake.”
He battled the river while drifting downstream... 20, 40, 60 yards. Halfway across, he was 100 yards downstream and depleted of energy, when a cold creamy sensation slowed his body to a sticky stop atop a muddy sandbar. Pulling himself from the mire, he surrendered to the river while drifting downstream, inching closer to the northern bank.
Fifteen feet from America, his left foot came to an excruciating stop. Pain shot through his body as the current submerged him. He screamed as his head bobbed to the surface, gasping to fill his lungs. Slowly he sank to feel his ankle. His fingertips felt twisted barbed wire around his foot. Fighting the relentless current, he worked to free his anchored foot. As his lungs burned for air, panic perforated his body. He shot to the surface, releasing the bag to the unforgiving current. His lungs cooled after three deep breaths; then he plunged to unleash himself. His hands traveled up the sharp wire creating a bit of slack in the wire trap. With a gentle tug, he extracted his foot from the thorny noose.
Free, he floated to the shore, pulling himself onto the gritty American soil. Collapsing under the moonlit sky; he was wet and cold, but he didn’t care. He had made it.
At the earliest sign of light he awoke, rolling over, his hand fell into soft focus. A Monarch was perched on his cut fingertip. Warmth filled his body, muting the cold American sand beneath his back, as a new day began.
To see more images of the meditation hall and to learn how Miguel's life has unfolded as an adult go here.