Kaj & the Universe: Pt. 1

Life in South America was a singular experience. Staying in the same BnB for seven straight weeks in Miraflores was much like setting up a rolling chair in a revolving door in a New York City, catching brief moments with travelers from all over the world, as they adventured to Cusco, and Machu Picchu, and the wilds of the Jungle.

They'd stay a day or so, depart, and then return to my Bnb a final night before flying back home to Madrid, Australia, England, Denmark, Thailand, and Switzerland. The time to connect was brief, and overarching was the reality that we would never see each other again. There were just these few revolutions around the door to learn from each other what we could about life in other corners of the world. The shared culture among nomads embraces this gift of learning from strangers what we didn't know we didn't know...

And there was so much I didn't know.

I’d lived a month in the revolving door when a beautiful Swedish girl entered by way of London. Her name was Kaj, and she was one of those people who possessed the extraordinary ability to take life as it came, with hopeful curiosity for how the moment would unfold. Kaj had a gentle magnetism about her and a bright soul that was impossible not to like. After talking a few minutes, I learned she'd been a contemporary dancer, and was currently working with a coffee distributor. She and I fell into conversation about the best cafés in the district, and I asked her to come along to my favorite café, La Bodega Verde, in an artist district called Barranco.

Soon we were rolling through streets with houses and murals flashing in cobalt blue, purple, turquoise, and the iconic Spanish golden-orange. We parked at the top of the park, above a tunnel painted like the night sky. Across was the Bridge of Wishes, where travelers held their breath and a single dream in their minds while they crossed, hoping some force would look down in kindness and grant their desires. Below the bridge was an alley lined with restaurants on either side, which cut down the hill, towards the ocean.

We chose an umbrellaed table outside the cafe, along the ivy-covered stone walls, and ordered iced lattes, and rose tea, and fell into easy conversation about the nature of our travels. I asked her where all she’d lived in the world, and the list of countries was the length of my arm. I’m not sure she finished naming them because the look of amazement on my face made her stop to laugh.

“How have you managed that?” I asked, bewildered. She was only thirty-five.

Kaj shrugged, “Some countries I visited while I was on tour with the dance company, but there isn’t security in dancing, so when my career was over I had to find other things. I’d started with a country I wanted to live in, then find a company there I wanted to be a part of and keep bugging them till they hired me.” She laughed easily. “They always would, eventually. After that, I started a Yoga program for ex-military, and that gave me flexibility as well. My friends call me lucky, but I believe its more because of manifestation.”

“Is that like vibrational frequencies?”

She tipped her head. “Not exactly. See, I picture whatever it is that I want—a job, or to move to a different country, or a goal, or whatever—and I believe that it will happen, and act as if it is going to happen. And it does.” Kaj grinned, and her eyes smiled.

“So this is part of your spiritual practice?” 

“Yes, I suppose so.” She sipped her rose tea and leaned back to sit in an easy cross-legged position on her chair. 

"Do you also believe in a God?" 

“No,” she replied calmly. “My practice has never centered around the idea of God. But I meditate every day, and I have a mantra.”

“What's your mantra?” I asked, expecting the sort of thing I heard after Yoga sessions—may I be safe, may I be kind, may I be well.

She shifted and smiled mysteriously, “I’ve never said it out loud.”


“Yeah, they aren't meant to be spoken. That’s a Western thing. I got my mantra when I was a little girl in India.”

I didn’t know it worked that way. “So, who…”—I paused, unsure how to phrase my question—“where did you get your mantra?”

“A guru gave it to me. I went with my parents to this little house, and they waited and mediated in the next room over. The guru was very old. We meditated together until my mantra came to him—” she motioned with her hands, “the mantras are seven syllables, variants on ‘Ohm.’ He told it to me a few times, then asked me to say it with him, so we repeated it together over and over again, then he started lowering his voice until it was just me saying it." She unconsciously lowered her voice as well, and I leaned forward.

"He told me to say it softer and softer until I said it only in my mind, and it sank in and became a part of me, and settled here,” She put a hand over her heart. “He told me to visualize it written on a piece of paper, and then to fold it small,” her fingers pressed together, “And put it in a locket in my heart, where only I would ever know it.” Kaj smiled at my rapt expression. “That was the last time I ever spoke it out loud.” 

Such a different world. “Amazing. But, how do you use it if you don’t say it?”

She lifted a knee and draped her arms around it. “It’s all internal. My mom taught me that you can visualize taking it out of the locket and say it in your mind if you need more energy. Or you can use it at night if you have to release energy.”

“And it works?”

“Oh Yeah!”

I wanted one. I shook my head, trying to picture what my life would have been like if I’d been encouraged towards my mystical leanings. “Your childhood could not have been more different than mine.”

She laughed. “Your parents didn’t mediate then?”

I grinned. “Oh no. Their church taught that yoga and meditation was a gateway to demon possession.”

Her eyes widened. “Wow…that’s intense.”

I nodded. “Yeah. The first time I ever heard about yoga or meditation was in a Christian book series on my parent's bookshelf where the villains practiced meditation and yoga. The author shaped these terrifying scenes where ordinary people would turn into bad guys because they breathed too deeply and opened their minds enough for the demons to slip inside. I was nine when I read those books, and it left quite an impression. I couldn't go down the hallway at night for a few years." I stopped to laugh, and she laughed with me. Oh those days..."So no, my parents didn't mediated, and they would have lost it if I tried to meditate when I was a young.”

She smiled with curiosity. “Yeah, my mom only had one rule about meditation—not to do it while I was riding my bike, cause I might get too relaxed and crash.”

We laughed. I wiped the drops from my glass, leaving fingerprints behind. “Do you use mudras when you meditate?”

“Not often," she replied. "For whatever reason, they make me a bit uncomfortable—I’m not sure why, maybe it’s a bit too open for me—but this one I like.” She rested her hand on her knee, palm up, with her thumb connected to her pointer finger, forming a circle. “This represents an energy cycle. Energy you give, cycling back into your body.” With her other hand, she traced the circle. “But see here—the circle the fingers form is imperfect. It reminds the user to practice with humility.”

We sat there for nearly three hours, talking about religion, books we loved, systems, places, growing older, and what we’d learned from past loves. We discussed my life as a writer and the creative challenge of writing novels, and she urged me to keep going. 

The ice was melting in my coffee, and the sun had burned away the clouds when we left to go. As we walked to the car, I realized I felt lighter and more alive than I’d felt since my marriage had crumbled four months earlier—it felt as if there was still unfathomable joy and wonder in store for me, because the Universe had brought me a kindred spirit to show me the way to places I hadn’t yet been.

Little did we know that the Universe had further plans for both of us. That afternoon, Kaj departed for the Amazon for two weeks. We hugged goodbye, and exchanged numbers, making loose plans to catch time again when she stopped back in Lima before flying back to London. I settled back into the rhythms of my life, and continued to meet other travelers and travel myself, wondering from time to time if I’d see Kaj again...

unknowing that in two weeks, she would return from the Jungle with a truth that would ripple through both our lives in ways that neither of us could predict or contain.