Reflections on Tulum – Letting Your Soul Shine

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico is a wild place. Its inhabitants each have their own unique reasons for living there or visiting, but I find – in my seven total weeks spent there – they fall into three distinct categories.

First, you have the locals, the working class. Families and individuals who are native to Tulum, or have come from other parts of Mexico to pursue work opportunities. They often work long hours with few days off, and sometimes hold down multiple jobs or hustles to make ends meet.

Not that this is irregular to most parts of Mexico, but the cost of living in Tulum can rival that of some smaller US cities, even on a modest lifestyle, so working for two different employers in a single day is common to supplement a primary source of income.

The next group is the party crowd – those that are there to be seen, often in the fashion of being Instagrammed on the beach. The group that feels the rules don’t apply. We’re talking world travelers who have come for egotistic reasons; either of self-promotion or to get their rocks off in a drug-induced frenzy. They are often looking for an escape; from realities that are hard to come to terms with, or from recent unpleasant or traumatic experiences. 

Finally, you have those who are there for actual healing; there to make a difference. Either in their own lives or in the community. They aren’t there to cope through temporary relief of their emotional baggage with party drugs; but rather to carve out the life they envision, often through servicing others. This group is comprised of spiritual healers, artists, and others with a marketable skill they can use to barter to support themselves, and benefit others. 

I find myself in this latter category. Though crafting my marketable skillset is a constant work in progress, my aim is to give back to the local community and foreigners there for self-improvement. It took me a long time to find “my calling”, but I always knew that helping others is one of the few things that gave me a sense of purpose. 

In Tulum, I sense there is a bit of animosity between the natives and those travelers there for self-serving purposes. Those that take without giving anything back in return, and often times contribute to unrest in pursuit of their selfish habits.

My intention was to curb the stereotype/belief among some locals that travelers are narcissists that are only there to party, who often put on airs. I put this into practice in simple terms by greeting most locals I met with a kind hello and “smiling with the eyes,” and on a deeper level by giving back through initiating healing practices in the form of free Qigong instruction for guests at the hostel where I was staying.

My aim was to eventually start teaching classes for the locals – the vast majority of whom have never had been exposed to the concept of breath practice or self-healing – rather than the international travelers there, but for various reasons, I didn’t end up hanging around long-term. 

After two and a half weeks, I departed Tulum, and landed in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, after two bus rides and a brief stopover in Villahermosa, Tabasco, on Mexico’s gulf side. In my brief experience in Villahermosa, the people were extremely agreeable, so long as you were willing to open yourself up to them. 

Though San Cristobal also has a prominent tourism industry and expat community, I didn’t sense the tensions I had experienced in Tulum. Maybe it was the lack of posturing by the tourists or their general temperament and openness to the culture that prevented this hostility, but whatever the case, different cultural groups were able to coexist *more* harmoniously from what I witnessed.

I think it was the intentions of the travelers that set the two locales apart. People, in general, were more hospitable, and often quick to wish other restaurant patrons around them a “buen provecho” (the Mexican equivalent of bon apetite, and so much more) in passing. 

I thought the people of San Crístobal were the most hospitable I had encountered; that is, until I got to Oaxaca. After an overnight bus ride – one complete with several identification checkpoint stops, and one engine failure, where we proceeded to transfer to another bus destined for Oaxaca city—we arrived at the state’s capital.  

It took me almost no time at all to fall under the spell of the enchanting city and its people, as they came off as extremely outgoing and agreeable, even more so than in other cities I had been to in Mexico. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t rough patches– outlier encounters that can leave you feeling a bit uneasy, and may even cause you to question your life as a vagabond. But this type of experience can (and often does) occur in any metropolitan area, obviously – to residents of Chicago, New York or LA, for example – even in the US.

However, the particular experience you have may be unique to or at least more typical of a specific country or continent. For example, It would be atypical for a white boy to be shaken down by the police in hopes of them finding (or planting) drugs, in order to extort the “perputrator” for a couple hundred pesos, as had happened to me personally, in Oaxaca, or to an acquaintance of mine in Bogotá.

For an African-American in inner-city Chicago, on the other hand, this experience stateside may not be so foreign. At this point in the post, I would like to check my white privilege.

However, the aptitude to take control of your emotions in situations like these is worth its weight in gold, and can pay dividends. One personality trait that translates universally – and can benefit you in many contexts or countries – is having a thick skin, and the ability to brush off unpleasant experiences.

I discovered the benefit of this quality while living in Chicago, and its power is something that I still carry with me to this day. The ability to free yourself (your mind) from past impressions – which ultimately lead to beliefs – is one of the best ways to start each day anew; and along with that fresh start, how to best radiate positivity and openness.  

Regardless, what I’ve found is that only you as an individual have the power to decide how much energy you will allocate in regards to playing into negative energy. And what I mean by that is that we each have the ability – through our beliefs, decisions and actions – to determine the trajectory of our own experiences. Our expectations often dictate the outcome of our experience. 

I know that staying out all night partying – drinking and doing cocaine or MDMA until the early hours – will leave me feeling lethargic and introverted the following day, and those feelings can be easily perceived by others. Body language is something that translates, regardless of if you want it to or not. 

For example, I had basically been bed-ridden for nine days with a serious case of Salmonella poisoning while staying in San Cristobal. Upon investigating and learning that rest was one of the best things I could do to aid my recovery, I made a point of only leaving the hostel one or two times each day, at most – just to get some soup or electrolyte drink, or just a bit of fresh air.  And when I did, I didn’t feel or – from what I can only assume – look myself. I could tell passersby were quick to pick up on this, as I noticed they tended to shy away from eye contact more than they typically would. 

It was a very unpleasant experience, and I was eager to do what I needed to remove myself from the circumstance. Though I wasn’t actively engaging in egotistic acts that subdued my well-being, I still felt I needed to take personal responsibility in order to bolster (both my physical and mental) health, and thus improve my demeanor and others’ perception of me.

In my view, it really almost always comes back to being a matter of personal responsibility and holding yourself accountable, which is often easier said than done in this era where playing the victim game is so en vogue. 

I am a staunch proponent of living life to the fullest, and the best way I’ve found to do that is to take measures to vitalize my health and well-being to the fullest. Getting eight hours or more of sleep each night, exercising, limiting caffeine consumption to one cup of coffee and one green tea per day, and removing alcohol from the equation entirely are a few examples I’ve found to really boost my spirits.  

Another way to “live life to the fullest” is to position yourself to best take advantage of opportunities when they arise. The aforementioned strategies are the best way I’ve found to feel close to 100 percent at all times, but this isn’t a cure-all.

What works for me very well may not work for everyone else; each person is unique, and their circumstances may dictate a different combination of strategies.

However, these measures are generally universally beneficial to the well-being of most, and even if they aren’t applicable for a particular individual, that person can find what works by holding themself accountable and taking the initiative to discover what is. 

I’ve also found that conducting yourself with righteousness is an excellent way to resonate with others. Being genuine with statements and actions has served me well in regards to others’ perception of myself.

When you display confidence in your endeavors, others are much less likely to scoff and ridicule you. Seemingly, you resonate with them better on an interpersonal level, and as a byproduct, judgment seems to be difficult to occur.

Additionally, this technique helps curb the feeling of agitation or tension I spoke of earlier that arises when you are feeling strung out, and are forced into a social setting. Just remembering to conduct yourself righteously – but always in a friendly, unassuming manner – calms any anxiety and allows your composure to remain intact. 


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