Hard work, painful lessons, and perseverance
By Andres Aguila
The dream started at age 19 shortly after I experienced what I call my first spiritual awakening. No – not a dream to be a horse…the dream to live off the land and to reach out to others, specifically young people, to help them find their own purpose and calling in life. Having chosen many dark and destructive paths in my own quest for self-realization, I became conscious that I had a message of hope to share with others, which could perhaps assist people in avoiding some of the unnecessary pitfalls I had fallen in. Still being very young, I had much work to do and much discipline to learn. I went back to university to get a degree in social work, began working with youth in a variety of settings, from a boys home for troubled youth, to churches, to theatrical productions, and other forms of the arts. Finally, after more than 15 years of the vision bubbling up, I set out to Costa Rica and bought a farm. OK, it wasn’t really that simple…there are a couple of books worth of experiences, pain, mistakes, triumphs, arrogance, humility, love, disappointment, and searching before actually landing on a farm.
After spending nearly two years in a particular region in the tropical Central American country, I felt like the time had come to actually purchase land. I hitchhiked up in to a mountain valley that had sparked my interest after a couple of visits. Having learned Spanish fluently, I asked the old farmer who offered me a ride, if he knew of any farms for sale in the area for a low price. “Yes, I know of one that I used to live on as a kid. They are selling it very cheap. I can take you there right now.” So we went. Fortunately I had a lot of experience in the U.S. in fixing up old dumpy homes, so I didn’t fear upon seeing the abandoned farmhouse. The land measured at about 13 acres, had year round spring water, virgin rainforests on two sides, some mature fruit trees, and was off the beaten path, but within a short walk to a road with bus service.
I struck a deal for the purchase, and had also bought a 4×4 vehicle. There were rights to widen the trail, but it had never been done. We could drive the vehicle up a road to a spot, park, and then walk about a kilometer (half mile) through coffee fields, pasture, and beautiful rainforest on terrain that was more or less level or down hill. This worked out fine until I lost the entirety of my investment during a U.S. economic hick-up, and became what is commonly referred to in some circles as “broke as a joke.” The car motor blew out, and even though a friend loaned us some money, the mechanic took so long to get to it that we began to learn and to live the lifestyle of not having a car.
Being only 36 years old, my back could handle the large loads of groceries and supplies up the mountain – I became a horse. The trail up the front of the farm zigged and zagged to host about 20 to 40 minutes of fun. The students who were coming for the internship program usually came with zeal and strength to carry big loads. After nearly two years without the vehicle, we realized we could get along fine without it, and traded it away for some farm animals…including two horses.
Patience is something I have been consciously working to attain for many years…and I seem to constantly be presented with opportunities to practice it. (I think the official term for that learning journey is “life.”) The guy I traded with had the cow and the 15 chickens right away and was to deliver the 2 horses, 2 goats, and 3 sheep within a month or so. Well, he wasn’t able to do so. So after several months of waiting he finally gave me a motorcycle instead of the animals. The bike had cattle and horses airbrush painted on the tank. The motorcycle was pretty much worthless to us and so it sat. By this time in my homesteading adventure, my body had begun to let me know – through pain and soreness – that it was just about finished being a horse. In fact, after two years of hauling up insane amounts of cargo for my 135-pound body, the pains and aches got to the point that I realized I must make a serious change or I could be doing long-term damage to the vehicle that carries my spirit. My wife had already gotten to the point that extreme pain in her back would not allow her to carry much more than a hand bag and a couple dozen eggs up.
Like a dove to Noah, some friends offered us their horse in trade for some chickens. Really, they were sort of giving us the horse to help us out, and wanted us to help them get started with some chickens. And of course now having chickens for almost a year, we were pretty much experts. We had increased our flock of 30 or so by at least 4 or 5 babies that had survived our dogs, the record rains of the previous rainy season, and us accidentally killing them by stepping on them, or even throwing a shovelful of dirt. (OK, not exactly experts.) Bosque (Pronounced Bos-K) was her name. It means “forest” in Spanish. A beautiful, 15 year-old, brown mare with a long black mane and tail, who had been retired, and not ridden for 6 years. My life changed immediately. My body thanked me, and I thanked Bosque. After having to unload and reload the cargo saddle on the side of a steep and narrow trail a couple times, I soon learned how to properly load a horse. Though she was stubborn (lazy) at times, she became an instant best friend to my 10 year-old son, Talin and to me. He bonded with her in a very profound way, and we trusted her to take him on journeys alone. Taurin, our 7 year-old, would climb on her like a jungle gym as she stood and ate. I had no idea how wonderful of a companion a horse could be. She was like a big puppy dog, but quiet at night…well, except the times she got out of the stable and ended up chomping grass right outside our bedroom.
We had been chopping down the coffee fields to allow pasture to grow, and along with carrying a sack of weeds from the gardens everyday, we had plenty of food for her while we continued to clear out more coffee and plant more sugar cane. Friday evening came and it was time for Talin to put her in for the night. We had been pasturing her in a field with the goats and as I milked Mona Lisa, I called to Talin and told him we could just tie her in the shelter with the goats so she would be closer to the pasture in the morning. Since we were still working to define our horse trails, it made sense to rest the temporary trail after the rain we had. He brought her down to me and I tied her to a post. This is one of those moments in life that I could analyze and replay a million times. The multiple variations on what I “could have done differently” could surely haunt me if I would let them. I decided to give her just a bit of rope so that she could eat a lush little patch of imperial grass.
The next morning was Saturday, the day of rest, my day to sleep in. My wife and I split our sleep-in days, usually she would sleep in on Friday and me on Saturday. I was in the midst of a dream that I was walking with the friend who gave us the horse and that I had foolishly gotten on a bus when I did not need to. The theme and feeling of the dream was regret for foolishness. My sudden and rude awakening came to my wife’s screaming my name, “Andres…Andres…Bosque is not moving, she is laying down, and I think she might be dead. The foolishness and regret in my dream was manifesting in this reality.
“Oh no…Oh no…” I yelled in denial and remorse as I barreled down the hill to find her lying where I had tied her. I immediately grabbed the machete and cut the rope. Her body was still warm and yet lifeless. “Get up Bosque, get up girl…come on, get up…!” The life essence had departed and there laid only the shell of this good friend. Now Talin had also come down the hill and we wailed together. Our bodies folded over the body of our dear companion. Screams. Moans. Tears. Tensing of every muscle. Regret. Sorrow. Guilt. Shame. We had instantly entered a deep mourning as the reality became clear that our pal would not be getting up ever again. Her help and her companionship had come to an end after only two months of knowing her. “No!!!…No!!!…No!!!…,” I yelled in vain.
“I am so sorry buddy…I am so sorry…” I cried out to Talin. “Please forgive me…oh please forgive me for killing our friend…I didn’t know…I didn’t mean to.”
I thought of some neighbors who had recently experienced the same thing…and ultimately had even been a warning that I obviously did not heed. They had tied a slipknot, and the terrain had been steep. I tied a firm knot and the terrain was relatively flat so I thought it was safe. I never did figure out how she had fallen or strangled. The rope was not tangled and the knot was secure. Some details must just not be meant to know. The pain was the consuming detail of the day.
Without much time to wait, I needed to bury this massive animal before flies and vultures learned of my foolish mistake. Although the boys usually pitch in quite a lot with the farm work, I decided not to ask them for assistance. There were no students on the farm at the time, and my wife was still recovering from the back pain due to having been a horse herself. Tears and sweat fell to the already moist earth that day for hours as I plunged deeper. The choice of burial location had been easy…down hill from where she laid. As the sun blazed, so did my mind with questions. “Why had this happened? What is the deeper meaning and lesson here? How could I act so foolishly? Now what do we do?” I questioned the whole cycle of life and death. Why was it that as I cried and mourned the death of a horse, I felt no sadness while I killed countless earthworms, bugs, and grass while digging?
We had no money and were operating on a budget that left us with about $20 to go to town with each week. Our product sales at the farmers market gave us just enough to buy groceries each week. Reality kicked in. “I am a horse again.”
After several hours, once I felt the grave was large enough, I called my wife for assistance to pull the body in. Surprisingly I was able to move her by myself, but had Zahrah pull the tail right at the last heave, as I yanked from inside the tomb. My loving partner embraced me, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are forgiven. Let it go.” The blessing of that truth rang true to the core of my soul. My belief in God, and in the forgiveness through Christ rang loud that day, as I remembered that forgiving myself was also part of the package in this amazing mystery of faith and of life.
I volunteered to go to the market the next week, instead of my wife who usually goes, so that I could also take care of the business of getting rid of the motorcycle. I met with a man who wanted the bike and who said he had some horses he would trade for it. Though the price seemed high on the horses, I told him I would consider it. I slept nearly the entire hour-long bus journey back to our valley. Upon waking, it hit me again…Bosque is dead and I am the horse again. Sitting at our bus stop, with 5 backpacks full of supplies and only little Taurin, age 7, to help me, I held back tears as my thoughts shuffled to figure out even how to get the stuff to the neighbor’s house for temporary storage. Hiking up the hill, depression and hopelessness sang me their sad songs, while bitterness and anger chimed in. My combat technique worked, as I began to say out loud, things I was thankful for. “I am thankful for these strong legs. I am thankful for these boots. I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful for the kids. I am thankful to live in this paradise. I am thankful for this farm. I am thankful for your grace, God…” I kept stating things until I neared the house. Gratitude is good medicine.
After discussing it with the family, we decided to make the trade for the horses. A week later the man showed up down the mountain with 3 beautiful horses. One of the horses looked strikingly similar to Bosque. Talin looked at me and said, “Dad, right when I touched this horse, I felt like half of me came back.” My heart swelled with joy to hear those words. The journey went up and down and wound around, but finally, we received the completion of our trade for our 4×4 and settled in with our new companions…who of course brought their own set of challenges…
My period of mourning lasted a total of about a week, and manifest as sadness, stressful tension, and crabbiness. I thank God for the grace, patience, and wisdom of my wife who helped me through it. This experience also helped me to search my past and into the disappointments of loss of relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. I believe that part of the journey in this life is to learn to let go of guilt and shame for any and all past failures or mistakes. Though I certainly still do not have the answers to the mystery of life and death, I have become a bit more accepting of the cycle and of the fact that at this point, I am smack dab in the middle of it. I will keep pressing on toward the finish line.
Andres and his wife, Zahrah facilitate internships, empowerment counseling, and natural healing on a beautiful organic farm in Costa Rica. For more information about Awakening Soul; the vision of living in community; and for free downloads of Awakening Soul music, books, and other articles, visit:
www.Awakening-Soul.org also find us on facebook or email - 1AwakeningSoul@gmail.com_