As the newest member of our Wisdom and Money staff team, I [Jon] offer some of my “newbie” experiences with the hope that they resonate with both new and old members of the W&M community.

My reflection details Part 1 of a recent cross-cultural money experience that invited me to reflect on how I miss vital aspects of my everyday experiences with money. As you read, I invite you to consider when your own sense of distress impedes your full human experience and ability to notice gifts flowing toward you.

Puerto Vallarta, here we come!

When friends asked if I was excited about our upcoming trip to Mexico last month, they seemed disappointed when I said, “Not really.” I actually experience the push of preparing for international trips as a type of constriction, not an exhilaration..

On the morning of our long awaited departure to Manzanillo, Mexico, my wife Susie asked, “Do you have the pesos?” Living in my COVID-fog-world of no longer using cash, I just assumed we’d use credit cards or could get pesos with debit cards. “No,” I said. Susie was
aghast. So I hurriedly scrounge for pesos. Oh no! I find we had a mere 200 pesos (a grand total of about US $10).

…I thought it would be no big deal to get pesos in Mexico.

Peso-less in Puerto Vallarta

After passing through customs, we emerged as excited tourists about to get a rental car to take in our first all-inclusive overnight experience. But merging into the mask-wearing crowds in languid Puerto Vallarta, I was deliciously disoriented and went into slow motion. As we began to find our way to the rental cars, a man in an unmarked kiosk eagerly directed us to the rental shuttle. In the meantime, he insinuated himself into our bubble of trust and salted his conversation with helpful tidbits such as, “Be sure to have pesos available when you drive down to Manzanillo. The gas attendants will try to cheat you so it’s better to know what you’re paying and what you’re getting.”

That gravel of mistrust lodged itself into my mind like a pebble in my shoe.

Puerto Vallarta sunset from the patio of Le Delice restaurant. Photo by Susie Hokama.

After getting the rental car, we arrived at our hotel with the gusto to get all we could out of our one night all-inclusive hotel stay: not a margarita or meal to miss!

The next morning, I knew that after our staff meeting on Zoom, I had a 5+ hour drive to Manzanillo looming ahead. And we had to find pesos. Despite knowing all that, I still insisted we stay and get one final meal at the hotel.

As we got ready to depart, we passed a guest who told us that the ATM in our hotel was out of pesos; so we strolled over to the adjacent hotel to access their ATM. I had forgotten my debit card at home, so my wife tried hers. Rejected! She tried every conceivable pin we could conjure up and none of them worked. I started to notice a little inner constriction. This is already getting harder, I thought to myself.

I considered getting a cash advance on one of our credit cards but irrationally obsessed about the 5% up front charge on cash advances and the ensuing 24.99% annual interest rate. (In a more grounded moment later that day, I realized that the charge would be only $25 for $500 of pesos and I could pay off the advance immediately through an online bank payment, reducing the interest to pennies).

Jon enjoying his last all-inclusive meal. Photo by Susie Hokama.

Headlight M.I.A. and Highbeams on for a “Dark Night of the Soul”

Many banks, ATMs, phone calls and three hours later, we departed Puerto Vallarta frustrated, pesoless and facing a 5 hour winding and hilly drive ahead into the darkness. Our trip began with several miles of rough cobblestone roads (top speed, 15 mph) and wound through an old part of Puerto Vallarta. When we finally reached the windy two lane highway, we encountered people wandering just feet from our car along with cattle, dogs, and topes (speedbumps), the “suspension-killing wonders that fill a void in law and order.”

As night fell and I turned on my lights, I discovered that our right headlight was burned out. I had felt anxiety about being unable to see the curvy roads ahead and felt chagrined that I was reduced to leaving my high beams on all the time and blinding all on-coming drivers. I did not want to drive with so much light projected ahead, but it was the only way I could see. Little did I know, this burned out headlight would become a symbolic harbinger of something I only saw days later after we attended the Wisdom & Money New Circle retreat. 

Headlight Regained

During the opening session of the New Circle virtual retreat, as we checked in on what was going on for us, both my wife Susie and I got in touch with how our first few pesoless days in Mexico awakened shame in us. At the time of our check-in, I was disconnected from the seething cauldron of thoughts and feelings churning within myself.

So in both my sharing and in my inner monologue, I shined my “high beams” on
the pesoless problem “out there.” Within the confines of my private monologue, I projected my own mistake onto Mexicans (“Why do they still have have to use cash only?”) or repeated the guidance of an outdated-now-foolish pandemic mantra (“I might contract COVID by using cash and coins”). I was disconnected from what I later identified as my stress and fear and vulnerability as my wife and I were in the midst of figuring out what to do.

After the opening check-in session, one member of our circle emailed that he had extensive experience with sending money to Mexico. He offered to help by sending us pesos. Instead of underscoring our self-talk that we ought to feel shame or project blame onto others, he was kind, understanding, and even self-effacing as he identified with our plight. “Few of us are used to traveling anymore”, he said, “let alone traveling internationally.” He could easily imagine himself in our shoes, could identify with, could help and especially wanted to help us get out of our distress.

I gladly accepted his offer!

Our friend went out of his way to wire us money that day and he ushered us into the experience of living in gift! I felt his gift restored my “headlight,” allowed me to begin to get in touch with, feel, and own my distress and shame at my lack of pesos. His gift allowed me to become aware of my present reality of distress and to notice how tight and constricted I had been feeling inside.

Now, all we had to do was go pick up the pesos! With our immediate need met, I knew I could examine my churning cauldron over time. Stay tuned for a surprising conclusion to what happens next in Part 2 of my story of being pesoless in Mexico!

This week, I invite you to consider places where you, too, experience constriction around money: what happens to you at such times? What allows you to soften and open your heart?




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