I wanted to thank you deeply for welcoming me in your jungle sanctuary called Intercambiamos near Puerto Jimenez during my stay in Costa Rica. I am so thrilled about your projects and ideas, I can’t wait for more people to learn here about your path, your vision and your philosophy.
On t’écoute 🙂
Who are you?
I have a kind of crazy story. I was working in New York as a lawyer, and the first vacation I took from that stressful environment was to Colombia, where I spent some time in the jungle of Chocó, right on the pacific ocean with whales and jaguars. It was completely random, to the extent that anything is random, we just found the place on AirBnB. But it was run by these two queer very spiritual women who had learned to live very intimately with the land, and it only took three days there before something in my body clicked into place.
For the two years before that, I’d had recurring yeast infections. I went to all sorts of doctors and tried all sorts of things, and I was nervous about the jungle part of the trip because it’s very moist and we’d be eating lots of tropical sweet fruits—all things that yeast love. But this click happened, and they stopped completely. It was like a switch was flipped in my body, being around those women in that environment, and changes were needed now.
What was the turning point that decided you to quit your job ?
As the trip was coming to an end this internal voice kept saying to me “quit your job; do it now.” And I was not a quit your job kind of person.
I was a finish college and law school early kind of person, have a job lined up way in advance kind of person.
But being in that environment I felt embarrassed to have the job I had: I didn’t like it, it didn’t suit me, it dulled me rather than made me come alive. And there, surrounded by all this life, it no longer made sense. And so this voice said quit, and though I’d never dream of doing something like that, the voice was so warm, so sure, so trustworthy…that I flew back to NYC on a Sunday and couldn’t even wait til work the next day to call my boss and give him my two week’s notice.
What did you do after that ?
I was on this new plane of existence I didn’t understand. Something that felt so grounded leading me off the only path I knew. I felt healthier, happier, more bright, my friends looked at me differently, and none of us knew what was going on. I’d spend my time taking walks, trying to hear more of this voice. I loved the idea of having guidance that felt so true and warm and comforting. I’d take long walks with no destination in mind, trying to turn off the part of my brain that “directs” and let my body just choose where to turn when it got to each corner. I was building the muscle of a new type of listening. My mind, of course, was still freaking out not having a job, and not having a particularly logical answer for why. I kept applying and interviewing, and then my gut kept insisting I turn them down. And it felt monumentally important to listen.
What was your biggest discovery ?
After a while of wandering and learning to operate with this new voice, I asked for help in figuring out what was next. I went to someone I trusted who seemed to have their spirituality more or less figured out, and whose words and actions resonated with me. We sat down to do a full reading, and they told me that voice I’d been hearing was my ancestors. That they’d been trying to get in touch with me for a long time but I guess I hadn’t been in a quiet enough place to listen. That I come from a long lineage of healers, that the in-person passing down of our tradition got cut off during the Holocaust, that they want me to pick up the thread and keep going. That there are a plethora of spiritual gifts and practices they want to teach me about.
Oh god. Half of me was like “this is the end of my life, I’ve gone insane, I’ll never be able to speak to anyone ever again, how could I possibly tell my friends about this?”
And the other half, in my gut, was just a deep “yes.” Yes. True.
I went back and forth between those two, the head and the gut, for a long time as I tried to figure this all out. It was all terrifying. Diving off a cliff into an arena my culture barely has words for. I took it very seriously and devoted myself to this study. I researched and read and met as many people as I could who were on similar paths, who had had similar experiences, but most of all, I just lay down on the floor, every day, and practiced this skill of connecting. Of communicating with ancestors, of visiting their stories and memories and histories, of letting myself be guided and taught by something non-physical.
How did you start this project ?
Eventually after enough practice and study, I felt ready to do the healing work I was learning as a practice, but living in New York City, “practice” meant “business”. And that felt entirely wrong. I took these gifts very seriously and I had no interest in making them into a business. I understood the contexts in which my ancestors practiced—as a role in a small community.
That’s what I wanted. To be a village healer.
To work with people I knew, where I could know their families and their environment and context, and have others in the community play their roles, and make sure I have enough vegetables. It seemed so simple and so obvious. I had always dreamed and talked about communal living, but in New York it’s so hard. To organize a group and work through the geography and financing and timing is tough. My friends and I had talked about it casually for years but everyone was getting older and more settled into their routines, and for me it was becoming urgent.
I started this project in Costa Rica to create the environment I needed to share my gifts in. And I come from a strong activist background where we say “no one is free until everyone’s free” so I picked a place that has enough space for many others to realize what they need too. And many people have come here, and given that space and freedom, have added in their ideas of liberation. One started our whole food and gardening system, some have said they want to reduce waste, others have said having regular silent days are important to them. And the space has grown and morphed to be the container it’s needed to be for the people in it.
What is Intercambiamos?
Intercambiamos means we exchange, and I also like to think it means that together, we change. We do change together.
The idea was that if everyone can operate from a place of abundance—abundance of creativity, of desire, of an energy that’s more limitless than the way we conceive of money or commodities, then a community has more than enough to sustain itself. I went through this process of tapping into what flows through me naturally, what is naturally wanting to be expressed, and when I operate from that place I have a lot to give.
I wanted to create an environment where people could shed some of the external obligation, some of the “should” and really find those flows of energy where they can tap into their gifts. Experiment with how they like to exist in community, what they like to give and receive, how they like to spend their time, what catches their attention. A space to develop that, and transition from scarcity and obligation into choice and generosity. And from there, we have a booming, community economy.
Intercambiamos – Collage by Emer Mckeon
What does « learning from landscapes » mean to you –now that you live in the jungle?
No part of this has been easy. I started with basically no practical knowledge of how to live on a farm, how to build, how to fix leaks, how to grow food, not even how to deal with the gossip of a small town. The whole process has been learning through doing, and the biggest teacher has been the Earth itself. Even if I had studied for a long time in other environments, nothing replaces the process of getting to know a particular piece of the Earth. It is a process of relationship-building, and it is slow. You can’t enter with an attitude of extraction: “what can you do for me.” You have to sit down at the table, naked, authentic, and show up. And if you don’t come honestly or earnestly, the Earth will throw you back from the table and give you the lessons you need to try again. It’s a process of listening, and learning how to work collaboratively. Learning how to understand languages that aren’t yours.
Plants speak, trees speak, water speaks. It’s about committing to the relationships and being open to a future that’s totally different that you could have possibly planned.
If you want to follow Allison’s adventures and thoughts, you can subscribe to her very hilarious and personal email-diary : firstname.lastname@example.org
-My article : « 4 lessons of permaculture in the jungle »
-My article : « Cooking in the garden of Eden »
-My article : « One month without internet, fridge or cellphone »
(Interview translated to French by Olympe Rabaté)