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  • Writer's pictureDr. Susan Beesley


Updated: Jan 9, 2023

My family and I spent July 2021-July 2022 in South America. We packed up, put on hold our Alaskan lives, and spent the year living in Cuenca, Ecuador. It was a wild ride with extreme ups and downs. At times we researched ways to extend our temporary residency visas to permanent ones so that we could stay forever, and other times we considered leaving early, eager to return to the comfort of our language and home.

For me, the time was a gift, a necessary pause in my career to focus on my family, adventures and learning. I dove in to mindfulness studies and creative projects. I planned and took (sometimes dragged) my family all over Ecuador on various outings. I picked up a daily journal practice as part of The Artist’s Way. One long weekend, we went on a horse-packing trip to a mountain called El Altar. It was once one of the largest peaks in the Andes but erupted and left a cirque of smaller peaks around a turquoise lake strangely called Laguna Amarilla (yellow lake). My kids are good hikers, but this destination is at 13,000+ feet and notoriously muddy, so we arranged to go in on horseback.

From my journal:

It’s early and I’ve been up for hours. We awoke at 5am in our hostel in Riobamba, boarded a tiny school bus with our camping equipment, and drove through the dark and foggy hills through Penipe to a tiny village called Releche, where we ate a not so good breakfast and are now waiting for the horses. We will load our bags and selves and then ride for about four hours up to 13,500ft to the Laguna Amarilla, at the base of El Altar.

Sitting here on a cold concrete step while we wait, the boys are practicing their parkour twist jumps, and I just saw a hummingbird whose tail is twice the length of its body! It is a nice day, and I am hopeful that this climate holds. The verdant hills everywhere with impossibly steep slopes, plowed and cultivated to the top, never cease to amaze me. Even more amazing is that people cultivate them with hand farming tools. No oxen or heavy machinery.

Where are the horses? Are they coming? Did they get the day wrong? I really hope my kids can maintain their good will to hang in there today. We need to get this show on the road to make it through.

But why am I impatient? My anxious energy is not going to help the horses arrive any faster, nor will it make me or those around me feel good. So stop and just try to enjoy the green hills and the cold concrete step beneath me, right? Okay. I’ve been thinking a lot about the self and the lack of inherent existence of the self. Now, here I am, on their cold concrete step, waiting for the horses and having this experience. Now I am asking myself, “Who is having all of these thoughts and experiences?”

My body experiencing sensations and my mind thinking…..always thinking. I find myself trying to identify these thoughts and sensations with some sort of core that I call me or mine, but it’s like chasing rainbows. The closer I get, the more elusive it becomes. I experience the magical display of light and colors, but once I try to grab it and hold on….poof, it’s gone.

Our guide, Cesar, tells me the horses will be here once I am finished with my writing. But I don’t hear any clippity clops yet. Why am I constantly feeling so worried that…….the horses won’t come or the clouds will move in? Maybe it’s because I organized this outing and I feel responsible for its success? Or maybe I am always walking on eggshells around Jack, wondering if he will hang in there with a good attitude or flip a switch and sabotage the day? And even in my approach to him, I am pulled between engaging with empathy and withdrawing to shield myself from what feels like a targeted attack. I am working on the former, as I know that connecting with love and compassion is the only way, especially in the difficult moments. And I know in my heart that what feels like a targeted attack is not personal, even though my pride tells me it is. I’m learning (slowly) to respond rather than react.

These are big topics and I am getting cold on this concrete step waiting for the horses. But I feel calm now and open to what the day has to offer. The sky is bright and the hills are awake. Looking down the road, I glimpse between eucalyptus trees what I think is a line of horses. I hear the clippity clop. Here come the horses. Wish us luck!

I wanted to share this entry because it has stuck with me. These themes of presence, struggling with expectations and impatience, grappling with the self, and leaning compassionately into difficulty come up in my daily life. These topics are not easy, but they are worth the struggle.

As far as our outing went, this was just the beginning. I’m not going to go into the part where the guide didn’t bring a camp stove or a lighter, or the part where my daughter got bucked off a horse, almost got stomped, and we sent the horses on their way and walked out on our own. That story will have to come in a later blog entry.

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