Pura Vida is the national motto of Costa Rica, and locals use the phrase gratuitously: to greet one another, to end conversations, to ask questions and to confirm answers…
In English, Pura Vida translates most literally to Pure Life. Not many people know this (shoot, I sometimes forget myself), but I’ve visited Costa Rica once before. I was 17 years old, and it was for a high school trip for a Spanish class I was taking at the time. I traveled with a dozen or so 16/17/18-year-olds, and we were accompanied by three adult-teacher chaperones. During that trip, experiencing Pura Vida meant getting silly and dancing in the center aisle of our charter bus, trotting (and the occasional accidental galloping) across open fields on horseback, and staying up late playing card games and watching tv shows in Spanish.
But now, eleven years later, returning to Costa Rica for a seven day solo trip, Pura Vida has come to take on a significantly different meaning. Below is a slightly redacted version of a journal session I had on September 9, 2021 which speaks to my newfound revelation:
“Spending time in Costa Rica during their rainy season has got me thinking about a lot. There’s so much both-and in the land of Pura Vida. There’s warm and sunny mornings, muggy afternoons, and rainy nights. Sometimes it’s just raining all day, with thunder and lightning, and it gets so dark at around 5PM that it might as well be midnight. But what really gets me are the clouds. Como se dice en Español: los nubes.
The clouds here flow in and out, in and out…Sometimes it’s just pure fog for nearly an hour, but in the blink of an eye, it all disappears and you can see the beauty of the trees and luscious green mountains.
There’s something about living in the midst of the fog and yet believing and knowing there is still beauty behind the clouds. There’s something about the Truth that the clouds and the rainstorms haven’t destroyed the beauty and the awe, they’ve merely obscured those things.
And also: THE FOG IS REAL. You sincerely cannot see a thing, and depending on how long the fog and clouds last and how long the thunderstorms persist, it can be tempting to not believe anything else exists beyond those things…
It can really feel like that in life and with God these days. During some seasons, it can feel like I’m receiving blow after blow. There have been what feel like years-long seasons of life where work is objectively terrible and toxic, when relationships with friends and family are all over the place, when the people I’ve called home for years move away, when my local spiritual community no longer feels like an authentic fit to who I am becoming…all these things compounded on one another make it very very hard to remember that the green and rolling hills of Divine and Infinite Love exist.
Looking out in front of me, I can intellectually know the beautiful rainforest still exists, full of life and wonder, beauty and sustenance, and yet, that’s not what I see. All I see before me is fog and the haziness of hurt and loss.
I begin to wonder: How do I hold onto faith–not in the intellectually-knowing/reasoning sense of the word faith, but in the I-truly-believe-in-the-truth-of-the-trees-behind-the-clouds type of faith?
When I think about what it means to truly-believe-in-the-truth-of-the-trees-behind-the-clouds here in Monteverde, Costa Rica, it has meant training my ear to listen for the birds to remind me of life found in the trees behind the fog. It has meant taking time to sit silently and intentionally with the fog, allowing myself to catch glimpses of the faint outlines of mountains through the haze. And when none of those things are accessible, when the rain is too loud and the clouds are truly too thick to make out anything, it has meant asking myself: When was the last time I remember seeing/feeling/experiencing God/Divine Love in my life? What did it sound like? Feel like? Look like? Taste like?
I try to remember and recall those Truths, and I try to tell myself that the rain and the clouds don’t signify God has left me or abandoned me, nor that God doesn’t love me. The clouds and the lightning and the thunder signify that life is hard right now and my tears and fears make sense. Because asking where God is, is not the same as believing that God has forsaken me. I can both believe God is there AND still wonder about God’s exact whereabouts in my life. Both things can be true, because if I truly believed God had abandoned me, I wouldn’t be asking where God was.
And when I recall the reality that things haven’t always been this way, I find hope that this might mean things won’t always stay this way, and then I find myself inclined to sing. As I remember and visualize the green mountains of my past, I sing and cry out to God as a way to tell God I am expecting Them to meet me with faithfulness, love, kindness, and protection. And as I sing, I can sometimes begin to see distant forms of mountain tops way far out; I can sometimes hear the birds in the midst of the downpour through FaceTimes with friends and a cup of Earl Grey tea with honey and unexpected care packages from college friends. Dinners and game nights with people who make me smile and feel loved become both the reminder and reality of the mountains teeming with life, nourishment, and beauty that exist even in the midst of the darkest of fogs and most damaging of lightning storms.
This, for me, is Pura Vida. Life in its purest form. An unending and embodied experience of the both-and.
And so, to the country of beaches and rainforests, thank you. To the country of blinding fog and glorious sunsets, thank you. And to the country that helped remind me that just because the clouds are thicc and the rain is down-pouring, those things haven’t stopped the green hills from existing in all of their beauty and glory, un millón de gracias.
Querida Costa Rica: Gracias por la comida rica, las playas bonitas, los amigos nuevos, y las memorias increíbles. Nos vemos ❤