Guest post by Jacqueline Sheehan
Ten years ago, I arrived by water taxi from Panajachel and stepped onto the dock of Villa Sumaya to be part of a writing and yoga retreat.
My mother had just died a few months before, I was still reeling from working with survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and I was trying to finish a novel. My job as a psychologist at a college counseling center had grown stale.
Correction: I had grown stale.
Full disclosure: To say that I was hollowed out was an understatement.
I wanted to do yoga, lots and lots of yoga, and scribble in my notebook until something shifted. And that is what I did. I also received hours of bodywork from the skilled group of people chosen by owner, Wendy. The yoga was not the ordinary studio yoga that I was accustomed to, even though I had practiced yoga since college and taught yoga at retreats. Yoga took place in The Tiger Temple, facing the lake.
Every morning I arrived early to sit in meditation as I watched a great blue heron soar low over the lake. Later, the huge temple vibrated with our Oms and laughter. But the temple vibrated with something else; it was the strumming heartbeat of Villa Sumaya, Lake Atitlan, and the Mayan people who have lived in the highlands for so long. Something started to shift, although it would not fully manifest for months.
Here was a sanctuary along the shores of Lake Atitlan that was so far removed from my daily life that I had to go through a reality check. Was it truly okay to nap in my hammock mid-day? Could the food really be this fantastic for every single meal? (Yes!) Are the stars actually this bright at night? Would I ever have as much courage as the delightful expats who had created new lives around the lake? Did Wendy really just tell me to post a sticky note on my bathroom mirror at home that said, “Good morning, Powerful Goddess!”?
I put the finishing touches on my novel. It was my second and I assumed it would sell as tepidly as the first. And then somehow, I got the message that if Wendy could manifest her creative, spiritual genius in the form of Villa Sumaya, if the Mayan people could survive an oppressive history, if that great blue heron could swoop over the lake every morning with such hope, if the local Shaman could insist that I would return to the Mayan Highlands, then I could chose to do the one thing I had always dreamt of.
When I returned to my job, I handed in my resignation. That book that I finished? Lost & Found became a New York Times Bestseller and sold over half a million copies.
I have just published my fifth novel, The Center of the World, and I owe such gratitude to Villa Sumaya and the Mayan people. The novel is set partly along the shores of Lake Atitlan in 1990, and in Massachusetts 2003.
Here is what Lori Nelson Spielman, Bestselling author of The Life List had to say: “THE CENTER OF THE WORLD is an epic story of war and peace, love and fear, family and friendship. Writing with honesty and grace, Jacqueline Sheehan examines to what length we would go to protect those we love, reminding us that sometimes secrets must be unraveled before our hearts can mend. In turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, it is the perfect book club selection—intelligent, thought provoking, and utterly captivating.”
I’ll return once again to Villa Sumaya to lead a writing retreat with Patricia Lee Lewis, along with yoga teacher Jane Mortifee, January 28 to February 4, 2017. Come and write with us, stretch open the places that have gone stale, allow dreams to unfold that may seem impossible, and soak in the vibe of Lake Atitlan.