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Mindfulness in Manizales, Colombia

Lessons Learned From Attempted Robberies, Graduation Parties, and Letting Go of Love 

If you’re anything like me, staying mindful sounds easy when you read it in a book. Of course you’ll slow down and take a deep breath when faced with a challenge. What else would you do? 

Well, the “what else” commonly involves panicking, ruminating, and watching your mind get out of control. When things get tough, staying mindful can be challenging. 

I’ve faced many such challenges over the last eight months. After selling all my furniture, quitting my job, and stuffing my life into a backpack, I’ve been living in Latin America since March. Most of my time has been in my new adopted home of Manizales, Colombia. 

In this article, I’ll bring you into a few of my more unusual Colombian experiences. I faced difficulties, but each hurdle came with a valuable lesson. 

March 15, 2019: The Colombian Graduation Party

colombian graduation

My very first Colombian Graduation

On my second full day in Colombia, I found myself at a graphic design student’s graduation. Specifically, I was one of three guests at the ceremony. Even more specifically, I was seated directly between the other two guests: the girl’s divorced parents. 

I was rather nervous. Sweating with impressive consistency, I attempted to make conversation. Back in March, my Spanish was pretty lackluster. Filled with anxiety, I didn’t know what to do. 

But then, all of a sudden, I realized everything was going to be ok. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I took a deep breath, and I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I got my sweating under control (though that may have been because someone finally opened the doors to the auditorium…it was quite hot). 

Often, we find ourselves in situations where we’re afraid of how we’ll appear to other people. One way to calm ourselves down is to realize everyone else is human, just like us. They’re unlikely to judge us, condemn us, or even notice if we’ve made a mistake. By taking a step back and realizing it’s all going to be ok, it usually is. 

July 12, 2019: The Broken Computer 

mindfulness in manizales

My Spanish replacement computer

After spending a couple of weeks visiting family in the United States, I was back in Colombia. During my time back home, I had bought a new laptop. I was very pleased with this laptop—that is, until it broke on my third day back. 

I’m a writer. That’s how I make my money. No writing, no income. Unfortunately, I now had no way to put words on the page. My initial reaction was to spend a few hours running around like a chicken with its head cut off. 

What am I going to do? How could the computer break so soon? Why is this happening to me? 

I was planning on being in South America for another four months, so this was quite the problem. I created nightmare scenarios about how clients would fire me and how I wouldn’t get a new computer quickly enough. 

You know what happened? I walked back into my apartment and realized there was a desktop computer I could use. It was sitting right there. I had even used it before. How could I forget? 

When we’re in a state of panic, we’re often blind to obvious solutions. We spend so much time worrying about the problem that we can’t find the easy fix, even when it’s sitting right in front of us. 

Since then, I bought a $200 laptop that I use when I travel. Neither the apartment’s desktop nor my new laptop is an impressive machine. Plus, both computers have Spanish keyboards (it took me days to find the apostrophe key). Nevertheless, the world kept turning. I kept writing, and now I have a story. 

It’s natural to let the mind race when you encounter a challenge, but try to take a moment and calmly evaluate the situation. It will all work out eventually. It always does. 

July 31, 2019: The Attempted Robbery 

manizales, colombia

The scene of the crime

I was on my way back from a concert when I felt the man jump on my back. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised. I was told never to walk by the soccer stadium after a match, but I thought I could make it home. 

Walking through a red sea of Cali supporters, I felt uneasy. Eventually, my fears came true. While one man was one my back, another stuck his hand down my pocket. My phone pocket. Bad news. 

I managed to push them both off me and directed a stern “No!” at them. It was the best warning I could muster. I promptly speed-walked away until I found some policemen to use as cover. After about a minute, I continued my power-walking back to my apartment. Luckily, the prospective thieves came away emptyhanded. 

When I got back to my apartment, I reflected. I wasn’t angry at all. Why wasn’t I upset? It was strange. 

After a few minutes, I started to feel compassion for the attempted robbers. Perhaps they needed money to feed their families. Maybe they wanted to look cool in front of their friends. Regardless of the reason, I realized they wouldn’t have tried to steal from me if they were happy and secure. 

When others try to do us harm, it’s usually because they’re in a bad place. Instead of vilifying them, try to see things from their perspective. When you try to understand their side of the story, you realize they aren’t terrible people. They’re trying their best, just like you and me. 

Today: Saying Goodbye 

nature in colombia

The country that stole my heart

As I write this in November, I can’t help but look back on these experiences with warm nostalgia. My time in Colombia has taught me more than my formal education ever did. After months of meeting new people, speaking Spanish, and attending yoga classes where I was the only man, I’ve grown to love this country. 

For a variety of reasons, I’m leaving Colombia in a week. As a side note, none of the reasons have to do with Colombia itself—this country is filled with magic and warmth. 

While I’m excited for the next chapter in my life, a big part of me will miss this place. The small buses that cost $0.70 and don’t have actual stops. The lush green hills that surround the city. The amazing friends I’ll remember forever. 

But this is all part of the process. If we cling to the things we love without ever moving on, we’ll never be happy. All good things must come to an end. 

And so, at this very moment, Colombia is teaching me my last lesson. With everything being impermanent, we must be grateful for every moment. Gaze out your window. Smell the flowers. Smile at a stranger. I’ll always look back at this experience with a warm glow of love. Gracias, Colombia. Te quiero. 


Michael Bjorn Huseby is a freelance writer specializing in health, wellness, and travel. He loves practicing yoga, writing music, and attempting to speak foreign languages. If you want to learn more, visit bjorn2write.com

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