Battling fears: I unsheathe my sword and fight

I’ve never fought in a real war, but I imagine that if I were a warrior in battle, I wouldn’t want to back down just because I felt suddenly stricken with fear. I imagine that fear would act as a driving force to propel me to stand tall and fight with all the courage I could muster.

I’m a woman, and I don’t fight in real wars, yet my battlefield spreads before me far and wide. I fight battles every day of my life, as I imagine most people do. Inner and outer battles. Especially women.

As women, we live in a patriarchal society dominated by men who enjoy far more privileges than we do: Men can get paid more in their jobs; men can walk around shirtless on a hot day; men can get us pregnant in one second and then abandon us for life with only a financial burden to carry; men can take a piss standing up; men can go walking alone at night with far fewer risks of bodily harm than we can; et cetera, et cetera.

It’s tough to be a woman in a proverbial “man’s world”.

It’s even tougher to be a strong-willed, stubborn, “manly” woman in a man’s world. And I’m not referring to a manly appearance.

Many people tell me I’m more like a man than a woman, in terms of how I behave and show up in the world. I stand up for myself and insist on getting paid well in my job. I take my shirt off on hot days (whenever there are no cops around to arrest me). I have a man’s libido and would much prefer to have male anatomy than the complicated, intricate female reproductive organs. (No, I don’t want a sex change. I make the most of being a woman). I piss on the grass. Sometimes standing up. (Who cares? I live in the jungle). I go walking at night alone. Because I live alone.

Generally, I tend to stir things up wherever I go, because I challenge myself. I take calculated risks. I therefore challenge the people around me. Because I’m different. I’m open to new experiences, people and places. Nobody can figure out which category to fit me into. I don’t fit into anyone’s mold. I’m an anomaly. I prefer solitude and remote places surrounded by nature. As Aristotle quoted, I must be a wild beast.

A friend of mine once told me that “I have to wear the pants” because I have no husband. I suppose that’s true, but not because I have no husband. I wear pants because it’s practical and more comfortable. Especially as a farmer.

I own an acre of land in a rural area of southern Belize where I’m growing a small vegetable garden and gradually building my own off-grid, thatch roof bungalow. I’ve joined the “tiny house” movement, but I’m doing it south of the border on my own land, and I’m doing it all with my own hard-earned money, not with a bank loan. I’m not financed by an investor or cashing in any retirement check, like most American and Canadian expats living in Central America. I came here in my mid-thirties and over the past five years, I’ve successfully managed to diversify my many talents and skills, thereby cobbling together a decent income to support myself.

The last time I visited my grandmother, she said, “What happened to you? You used to be so sweet.”

I had flown back up to the States to visit my family for a few weeks. It was the last time I ever saw my grandmother before she died months later. She was 93 years old. I hadn’t seen her in almost five years. I’d been living, traveling and working in Central America, and it was too difficult for me to save enough money for airfare to visit family.

I didn’t know what to say. I agreed with her. I wasn’t as sweet as I used to be when I was growing up as a privileged, upper middle-class white girl. I chuckled at my grandmother’s comment, thinking that old people don’t mince their words because they don’t care about offending people anymore. They’ve been through it all, and they know they’re going to die soon.

“I’m still sweet,” I told her. “I just don’t show it as much.”

I’d masked my sweetness for much the same reason old people tend to stop acting nice. Facing death has a way of making you more honest with yourself and others. Because there’s no time left to make up stories that simply aren’t true.

Over the course of my life, I’ve faced my own death on numerous occasions. In the past year, I’ve accepted that I could die any day, at any moment. Most recently, I’ve committed to a one-year vow of celibacy, during which I intend to practice yoga and meditate daily on my imminent death. Because I want to be ready for that moment. I don’t want to die with any regrets. I want to live fully every day until I die. And I’m willing to die for what I believe in. I’m preparing to die, living the way I want to live.

At the time, I didn’t know how to explain to my grandmother that living as a single woman in a Third World country had made me grown a tough skin. I’d acquired a rough exterior to hide and protect a vulnerable, young woman with a tender beating heart still very much alive on the inside, despite having defied death on numerous occasions.

I would like to think I have a choice in life, but I’m not convinced that this is the case. I’m not certain that I really have a “free will” in anything I do. I would side with quantum physicists whose research indicates that everything is interconnected and therefore inextricably intertwined. The “vibration” of what I think about today immediately affects how my life will be in one… five… ten years.

I’m really not in control, so I might as well give up trying and just enjoy living. It is each moment that matters. Right here, right now. How I react to the goings on is my constant “Lord and savior”…. I am redeemed by how I live in the moment, because (as the latest scientific research points out), everything is right here. Right now.

I don’t think life is complicated. I think it’s simple. Just be. See. Do. Everything I need is always right here. Right now. I am empowered by everything. Every situation. Every interaction. Each moment is salvation. The eternal promise of reality.

While I muse existentially, I co-exist with other humans, animals and plants that originate in a country that is still mostly foreign to me. I live in Belize, a tiny country with more biodiversity—and cultural diversity—than most places its size on Earth. A tropical country with coastline along the Caribbean Sea, Belize is a hot cauldron and crucible for strong-willed women like me who want to take on the challenge of living close to the earth, sweating profusely from sunrise to sunset, and hacking away at relentless jungle habitat with a sharpened machete.

When I harvest food from my garden or walk around outside in the tropical jungle where I live, I generally stick to the tried-and-true way of the local people: I carry a sharpened machete, which is essentially a big, long knife with a hilt and a blade that I have to sharpen every couple weeks, otherwise the blade rusts and gets dull. Last year during my travels I purchased a leather sheath, a scabbard with embossed letters that say “Guatemala” to encase my machete, a gleaming metal sword that I use for a variety of purposes here in the tropics, including self-defense.

When I’m not working on my house and garden, I am teaching yoga classes in a riverside bungalow at a charming eco-lodge nestled deep in the jungle. This morning I had the privilege of teaching yoga to a family of four, including two young boys who showed up with eager, smiling faces at sunrise, ready for their yoga lesson. I happily spread out five mats and one of the boys announced, “I brought my dad. He’s never done yoga. But I told him it’s awesome and he had to try it.”

I guided them through an hour-long journey through the jungle, where we wriggled like snakes in the grass, gathered fruits and flowers into our imaginary baskets, roared like howler monkeys, flew like a little tourist hopper airplane, and fought in battle like warriors armed with a sword.

I imagined I was holding my machete as I modeled “Warrior Pose”, a yoga posture in which the two legs separate into a standing lunge with the front knee bent and the back leg strong and straight.

“Feel your legs holding you up, strong and stable on the earth,” I said to the family. I tailored my delivery for the young boys. “You’re a brave warrior going into battle. Make sure you have your feet firm on the ground, so nobody can knock you over.”

I made some suggestions for proper body alignment and mechanics. I offered hands-on adjustments to legs, hips and arms.

“Are you breathing?” I asked them.

I heard them breathe. They all started to sweat. It was only 7:15 AM, yet the tropical heat and humidity had already set in. “Welcome to hot yoga in the jungle!” I said.

I raised my arms straight overhead as my legs stretched and held me in a stable lunge position.

“Hold your sword firm and point it with focused intention at the sky,” I said. “We’re getting ready to lunge forward and strike with our sword.”

The boys smiled. They were really into it. I think they had transformed the yoga bungalow into a raging battlefield with enemies surrounding us.

I pitched myself forward onto my front foot, now balancing on one leg. I held my back leg up high and straight with my toes pointed, and I extended my two arms in front with my hands together.

“Hold your sword tight. Don’t drop it. Point your sword in front of you. Don’t lose your balance!”

The boys giggled and teetered on one leg as they stretched their arms out in front of them.

Dad sweated and took deep breaths. He actually seemed to be enjoying himself, in spite of his obvious reluctance when he’d entered the room, groggy, holding a cup of coffee. Mom was busying herself snapping photos to post later on Instagram. She appeared to be enjoying the class, too. As long as her two boys were happy and entertained, Momma was happy.

We practiced “Warrior III” posture on the other side. As we all struggled to balance on one leg and hold our arms out straight at the same time, it struck me that this was one of those pivotal moments in the life of a yoga teacher where I could sneak in a little bit of yoga philosophy into my class. I lunged at the opportunity.

“Sometimes life is a balance challenge. When life presents us with a lot of things at once, we have to try to stay balanced. We have to stand strong. We can’t back down. We have to hold ourselves up firm and strong, with our feet firmly planted to the earth.”

In that moment, I heard myself talking and realized I was lecturing to myself. I just happened to be sharing the room with four other eager students, including two young boys. Apparently, I needed the reminder.

“A warrior in battle must hold his head up high and be ready to strike with his sword at any moment. Are you ready? Are you breathing?”

The youngest boy, ten years old, nodded and smiled. He was ready.

During the final few minutes of class, I encouraged the boys to pretend they were frozen popsicles getting a deep freeze in a dark, cool freezer. “Imagine what color you are. Let’s breathe in all the colors of the rainbow.” We started with red and ended with violet. The youngest boy said that green tasted sour like a lime.

Refreshing. (“Ya put da lime in da coconut…”)

After the hour-long class, Dad said, wiping the sweat from his forehead, “That felt really good.” Mom’s smile beamed from ear to ear. She had accomplished what she’d imagined to be an impossible mission: She got her two kids and husband up out of bed first thing in the morning to practice yoga together. To exercise. While on vacation. To take deep breaths. To laugh. To make animal noises in the jungle.

I love my job. I love what I do. I love being alive. I love myself.

Most of the time, I try to emulate the dog I’m caring for, an adult German shepherd named Tucker. He loves me unconditionally. Tucker is a faithful and loyal companion. He looks, listens and notices with zeal what’s surrounding him. Dogs just want the good things in life: companionship, a back scratch, good food, a cool place to relax, and water. It ain’t complicated. Life’s simple… when you’re a dog.

Life is simple, slow and rich here in the tropical jungle. It teems with life. I am learning to co-exist with everything the jungle has to offer. Even so, it isn’t easy. I come from a very different culture and climate. It’s a good thing I have a dog to remind me of the simple joys in life and my yoga practice to keep me strong.

Like our classic hero Dorothy on her yellow brick road, I’m not “in Kansas” anymore. When Dorothy ventured away from home, she was forced to face terrifying people, places and situations. She learned to summon her inner strength and to stand up for herself. In the end, she realized that her true home was inside of her all along…. As a kid, I played the lead part of Dorothy in my sixth-grade musical. I sang a solo rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and got a standing ovation. I’m still Dorothy. Like Dorothy, I now live in a foreign country, and I’m a sweet, single woman. As Dorothy learned, being “sweet” and “nice” doesn’t always work very well. Sometimes, it’s necessary to behave more like a manly warrior. Strong. Self-assured. Stubborn and determined.

Like the epic story of Arjuna on the battlefield in the ancient Vedic scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, I must go into battle and fight without being attached to the results. I must go into battle without trying to be in control, because the reality is that I’m not in control of the show. I must don my armor, pull out my sword from my scabbard and defend myself and my right to live. That’s the role I’m acting out, for now.

I’m prepared to die. After all, what’ve I got to lose? My life? Do I “own” my life?

I accept that my life can be taken away from me at any moment. Every day, I practice for the moment of my death, because I’ve been preparing for it my whole life. My body—a suit of skin and bones—is just my costume. My life is a dress rehearsal for the moment of my death. Like a courageous warrior firmly rooted to the earth, I’m strong. I’ll fight to the end and I’ll end up somewhere over the rainbow. I’m ready.

Goodbye to people and places I’ve loved

Since moving to Central America over five years ago, I’ve voluntarily and happily accepted many different roles for which I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to volunteer: Over the past five years, I’ve been an English teacher, yoga teacher, dish washer, house sitter, dog walker, among other volunteer positions for which I’ve gladly stepped up to the plate.

I spend most of my days surrounded by people who are from a different cultural background. They are not my blood family, but, given my circumstances, I now consider them my family. Humans are animals, after all, and since I’m human, I default to wanting the safety and comfort of other humans around me. Kind of like monkeys, I imagine. We don’t really like to be alone for very long.

Now that I am living in Belize, a tiny country with rudimentary infrastructure, I no longer enjoy the privilege of being surrounded by modern conveniences like Walmart, McDonald’s and strip malls replete with fast food chains and trash cans. People burn their trash where I live. Or bury it. Literally. I’m in a very different part of the world now, where most people get by fairly well on $10 or less per day. Seriously.

In the past five years since I’ve moved here, I’ve grown to appreciate having and doing less. I’ve actually grown to appreciate it. I no longer crave McDonald’s fries. I no longer miss going to movie theaters. I no longer search for the nearest trash can, because I know it probably won’t be there. I’ve learned to be more responsible and accountable to myself. That includes my trash.

I’ve learned to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient. Kind of like Thoreau, I suppose. I am from Massachusetts originally, where the transcendentalists first penned their missives on self-reliance while living sort of like I am now, in a remote area surrounded by nature and few humans.

Here in Belize, I’ve benefited from having a lot of time to myself to reflect on what’s important to me. I’ve had the privilege of being surrounded by pristine nature, virtually untouched by human hands, and therefore in a natural state of balance, for now. I’d like to think that by living close to nature in a balanced state, I too am becoming more balanced. I’d like to think that I can better weigh what I need versus what I want. I’d like to think that I am better at discerning what’s good for me versus what’s not so good for me. But time will tell whether or not that’s the case.

One among many things I’ve given up by moving to Central America is the convenience of hopping in a car and visiting friends and family. I live simply and frugally. Currently, I use public transportation. I can no longer indulge in the habit of spending time with people out of some kind of obligation to fulfill my duty as a sister, a daughter, a friend from college, or whatever. I don’t have that privilege anymore, because I’ve given it up in exchange for being where my heart calls me to be, to do what my heart calls me to do, out of some kind of obligation to fulfill my duty to live a life of service to humanity. Because it seems like a good idea, to me.

As a single woman at forty years of age, I’ve made a deliberate choice to remain free of children and to therefore slough off the obligation I see most women my age beholden to; namely, suckling and raising a miniature version (or multiple versions) of themselves. I don’t think this makes me better or more intelligent than other women; it just gives me more freedom: I have more time, money, energy and other resources that I can dedicate to other endeavors.

Since I’ve voluntarily become a self-proclaimed “nun” with no religious affiliation in my last days on this earth, I figure now would be a good time to say goodbye to the people and places I’ve loved. Because I might never get another chance. I might die today, at any moment, at any time. You could too, for that matter.

There’s not only therapeutic value in saying goodbye; there’s some kind of liberation gained from expressing gratitude for stuff and memories, identifying what I like about the person and generally attempting to bring some closure to what might otherwise be an incomplete relationship where a lot could be left unsaid.

I don’t want to die leaving a bunch of stuff unsaid. I’d rather go out with a clear conscience and a sense of inner peace that I’ve said what I needed to say to the people who matter most.

First, I’ll make a list of all the people and places I’d like to say goodbye to, in the order they spontaneously come to mind…. Then, I can launch into writing letters to each person and place, which I’ll do anonymously, since anonymity matters to people who think they have stuff to hide from the world.

Dear —

I miss your oatmeal cookies. I miss the way you would stand at the door and smile and wave goodbye when I drove away. I miss being a kid and looking forward to sleepovers and talking about what we’d make for breakfast the next day while snuggling in bed.

Thank you for always encouraging me. You gave me strength to keep on going. I always knew you loved me. I always knew you were proud of me. I’m sorry that maybe I didn’t become the successful doctor or whatever you thought I was capable of becoming. I probably could have gone on to have a more lucrative profession, but I doubt that would have made me any happier. I understand your desire to see me become the best you thought I could be.

Dear —

What happened? I guess I was hoping we could at least be friends, but I suppose we both screwed that up, didn’t we, with our self-destructive tendency to give more to others than what is healthy for us. I know we met at the right time, because we were both ready to start the arduous healing process of coming to terms with the pattern of trying to be the savior for everybody but ourselves.

I miss everything about you. Your voice. How you only said the most important things that needed to be said. Your poetry. Your music. I wanted to see more of your smile. Maybe I never will. I guess I wanted to save you, too. But now I know you can only do that for yourself. And I can only do that for myself. So I’m doing it, damn it. With or without you.

I really fell for you, hard and fast. I think you lured me in: You showed up out of nowhere offering me everything I ever dreamed of, I had a taste of all of it, then Poof! you were gone. Like a dragon with a secret den of hidden jewels. Now you live in my dreams.

I suppose it makes sense to apologize for the pain. I can’t say for sure who’s responsible for the pain. I think we both are. But I don’t ever expect you to say you’re sorry to me. I guess there’s really nothing to forgive. I guess there’s really nothing more to say.

Dear —

I’m sorry I didn’t play with you more often. I’m sorry I kicked you out of my room and ignored you when I should have spent more time with you. I don’t know what the hell was wrong with me. If there is anything I regret most in my life, it’s definitely that.

Some of the best memories I have are with you. Watching MTV in the basement to escape the hot days of summer. Playing Nintendo. Watching “The Princess Bride” over and over again until we could recite all the lines from memory. Riding bicycles down the street and back again. Eating popsicles. I always wanted the red ones and you the purple ones. Good thing.

It kind of sucks that we live so far away from each other now. Of all my friends and family, you are the one I can tell pretty much anything to and I know you will listen and understand because you’ve been through it, too. You know what it’s like to live in a foreign country and to be scared every day for your life that you could die or be killed. You know what it feels like to be far away from everything and everyone familiar.

I’m thankful that I can get on Facebook anytime and vent about whatever is going on, and since you live with your cell phone at your hip and it chimes whenever you get a message, I know you will be there to answer me in an emergency or whatever. Nobody else can do that for me.

I would like to think I was a good — to you. But I know mostly I wasn’t. I feel bad that I wasn’t. I hope you can forgive me. I feel bad that we probably won’t spend much time together ever again, because we live so far away from each other and it’s hard to get together. I feel sad about that. But at least we got to grow up and learn how to survive together. At least we have that in common, and that’s kind of a big deal.

Dear —

You were great while you lasted. I got the most I could out of you, like an excellent education, good dental care and access to the best hospitals and universities in the world. I will miss going into your art museums, theaters and labyrinthine libraries stocked full with books that smell like the earth: dirt and mildew and sweet raindrops.

I’m pissed that you wrested most of my hard-earned money from my pocket with your usurious economic system and service to a small percentage of ruling elite whose agenda is planetary destruction. How could you let that happen?

It was unfair that even though I worked fulltime and paid my taxes and student loans on time every month, I still could only dream of owning land and a house. I mean, what kind of f*@#ed up system you have, to obligate everyone to work their asses off at jobs they mostly hate, to never have time for themselves or their families, leaving them just enough money and time to take a shit in their tiny apartments and go to the drive-through for fast food because they don’t have time or money to cook a decent meal. Plus, all the food’s adulterated. How could you?

I left you because you betrayed me. You insulted me. You abused me. I’m glad I left you when I had the chance, before our relationship got even crazier. I truly don’t miss you since you’ve been gone. All I miss are a few good hiking trails and a few good men I left behind there. For all I care, you can go away forever, and the world would be better off.

Dear —

Bummer that you had to crash and burn because some idiot forgot to put out his campfire. Glad it wasn’t me. Back when we had our love affair, I fantasized about making a campfire and sleeping all night against your chest, well-endowed with the magnificence of a thousand redwood trees, now charred and abandoned. Especially you—the tall, handsome one I loved to embrace.

I’m sorry I abandoned you. I left you alone but I never forgot about you. I can still close my eyes and smell you. Feel you. Imagine myself on top of you. You were my favorite place in the whole wide world. I doubt that will ever change. Thank you for giving me solace and solitude when I needed it most.

Why I’m practicing celibacy for one year

I’m going through divorce. Again. The “again” part is the main reason why I’m taking a break from relationships—and sex—for a while. For a year.

Either I haven’t been making good decisions about my partners, or there is something inherently flawed in my character. Judging from how my intimate relationships have gone over the past decade (starting out with raging, fiery passion and gradually petering out to a dying ember), the latter is most likely the case: There’s something in me that’s gone awry, and I’m the only one who can fix it. I suppose it’s about time I try to fix myself, before it’s too late.

I’m not mentally handicapped, and no professional has declared me to be mentally ill. Even so, I admit that I have my issues, as I suppose we all do. For one, I admit that I’ve been somewhat confused in the arena of relationships: how to make relationships work; how to have healthy relationships; how to avoid the most common pitfalls; et cetera, et cetera…. It appears I keep falling face first into the deepest ditches, in spite of being reasonably intelligent and accomplished in other aspects of my life.

Over the years, when it comes to relationships, I’ve gotten some good advice from friends and some not-so-good advice from so-called friends. All the advice has been pretty much useless. Because humans do what they want to do, no matter what. We always seem to find a way to fulfill our appetites for whatever it is we think we need: food, sex, money, cars, … faster, bigger, better … more, more, more…. While this formula might provide some instant gratification or at least some short-term satisfaction, look where it’s gotten us, hmmm?

I once attended a sacred ceremony led by an indigenous Mayan elder I met in the mountains of southern Mexico. He held the bowl of copal incense in his hands and gazed thoughtfully at the smoke as it curled up toward the sky, carrying our prayers. “The best things in life are free,” he said, and then he told a story about how his ancestors lived—and thrived—before we started slapping price tags and bar codes on everything.

One thing I’ve learned is that people are stupid. That includes me. We only believe what we want to believe. We only see what we want to see. We only hear what we want to hear. Et cetera, et cetera. I suppose that’s why we benefit from attempting to refine our intellect by reading books, writing poetry and doing crossword puzzles. Humans without lofty pursuits default to behaving like monkeys. I repeat: That includes me.

For what it’s worth, I’ve made a commitment to myself to practice celibacy for one year. This means I’m currently in a “state of abstaining from marriage and sexual relations”… for one year. I think I need at least that much time just to get used to the idea.

For most of my adult life, I’ve had an impressively diverse range of experience in terms of partnership and everything that comes along with it, including sex. I live for experiences.

Every experience enriches me, builds my character, teaches me something and changes me. That’s why I travel and work in different places with different people. That’s why I change my environment frequently. I seek experiences, and these have included experimentation with sex and drugs. Wait… sex is a drug. For me, it has been somewhat of an addiction.

Recently, I’ve summoned the inner strength to be honest enough with myself to recognize my addiction and to make a more concerted effort to slay the dragon, lest it kill me first.

I’m multi-talented, multi-variegated and multi-layered, somewhat like Neapolitan ice cream. When you take a bite, you can never be sure what flavor you’ll get. I would like to blend my flavors into something more … consistent. When it comes to food, consistency matters. When it comes to partners, consistency matters. It makes for better relationships. Less complicated ones, anyway.

 

Why I’m Practicing Celibacy

I like challenges. Throughout my life, I’ve enjoyed taking on more than I thought I could. I graduated valedictorian of my class in both high school and college. I like to challenge myself to improve, to excel, and to grow in ways that matter.

I’m practicing celibacy for one year, because so far, I’ve never been able to remain celibate for more than a few months. I’ve tried it before, but as I mentioned in a previous blog post, I was too swayed by my thirty-something-year-old hormones and too dismayed by loneliness.

I think I’ve reached a point in my life when I’m ready for this challenge. It’s a realistic one for me to take on, so I’m willing to make the commitment to myself.

A skilled astrologer once analyzed my natal chart (a visual display of how the planets aligned on the day and hour of my birth). He placed the chart on the table, removed his spectacles and looked quizzically at me until I felt uncomfortable.

“What?” I asked him.

He cleared his throat. He was a gray-haired, somewhat gruff man. “I feel sorry for you,” he said.

“Why?” I asked him.

He proceeded to explain that I am a “quintuple Scorpio”, which apparently means that there are five planets in the sign of Scorpio on my chart.

“What’s that mean?” I asked him.

Again, he said, “I feel sorry for you.”

He continued with his explanation. I listened carefully and took scrupulous notes on the subject. At the time, I didn’t really believe in astrology, nor did I know much about it, but since that day, I’ve done some research to see if other sources corroborate with what the astrologer told me.

Indeed, I agree with the no-nonsense astrologer. I feel sorry for myself and anybody else who’s a quintuple Scorpio. Life is cursed with an incessant drive to dig oneself as deeply into as many caves and holes and ditches as possible, just to find what’s buried underneath the layers. And just for the thrill of it. My five planets in Scorpio compel me to seek thrills and to therefore experience the passion and cascade of emotions that come along with thrill-seeking.

A person with five planets in Scorpio is likely to be intensely passionate and inclined toward excessive sexual activity due to a raging libido, a high degree of creativity and intuition, and a desire and ability to connect deeply on many levels with self and others. Along with all of this comes a tremendous capacity for healing. Because we go deep.

Check.

Yep. That describes me.

I think it’s worthwhile to at least try to transcend astrology and, for that matter, any other “-ism” or “-ology” that would otherwise limit myself to behaving a certain way.

I’m practicing celibacy because it challenges me to go against what my biological tendency would have me do (namely, f*ck like a bonobo). I’m attempting to do the opposite (namely, sublimate my biological urges). To use a monkey-like analogy, it’s kind of like ignoring an itch instead of scratching.

I believe a geeky scientist friend of mine whose research has convinced me that the human species doesn’t have very long left to enjoy living on this planet, because we’ve screwed it up enough for Mother Earth to start shaking us off like parasitic fleas. Whether or not my scientist friend’s hypothesis is correct, I could realistically die any day, at any moment. I don’t want to die full of regrets. Now is the time to start making amends, forgiving myself and others, and generally trying to be the best person I can possibly be.

I regret some of the choices I’ve made in the arena of my sexual relationship with life. My choices haven’t all been the most empowering or wise. Taking a break from sex will give me time to reflect and forgive myself for being stupid. I’ve hurt some people in ways I regret.

I hereby dedicate my year of celibacy to making amends with the people I’ve hurt, with a solemn wish for healing and empowerment on all levels (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) for all of us.

 

Why I’m Not Practicing Celibacy

I’m not choosing celibacy because anyone is telling me to do it, or because I’m following some kind of religious dogma. I’m practicing celibacy because my spirit is calling me to do it, because I know it is good for me.

I’m not practicing a one-year vow of celibacy because it will please my Momma or because it will “please God”: I don’t even know what that means….

Although I consider myself a Christian, I don’t believe in the dogma. I believe in Jesus Christ as my guru, my teacher, someone whose life and teachings are worth aspiring to (what we know of Jesus’ life, anyway).

I believe that Jesus mastered the art of yoga and as a fully self-realized individual, he was imbued with miraculous healing powers and fully empowered by the universe (“God”) to do what the bible says he did, which probably should include a lot of stuff that has since been cast aside and/or adulterated by religious authorities whose vested interests were more sociopolitical than spiritual.

Suffice it to say that I don’t give a damn about religion. I’m interested in living an authentic life in alignment with my highest potential as a spiritual being temporarily stuck in a human body.

 

Why I Think Celibacy is a Worth My Effort

Since I’ve moved to Central America and traveled extensively in Mexico, Guatemala, and most recently, Belize, I’ve had the privilege of learning a thing or two from indigenous people who’ve studied traditional healing for their entire lives.

A friend of mine who carries the wisdom of healing with plants is a Mayan elder whose native tongue is Kek’chi. We often sit together in my riverside bungalow in the tropical jungle and talk about a lot of things, because we are both interested in spirituality (whatever that means).

Exactly one year ago, we had a conversation that has impacted me deeply but it wasn’t until now that I could take his advice seriously.

“If you want to learn how to use prayers for healing,” he said, “You will really have to concentrate. You will have to be celibate, at least for a while,” he told me.

At first, I resisted the idea. Something in me rebelled. “Why?” I asked him.

“You will need to gather all your inner power. Your strength. It will take a lot of concentration. You need all the strength you can get.”

I listened carefully.

“Once you start learning, if you engage in sexual relations with another person, you could hurt yourself. You could hurt that person. You don’t want to do that.”

Yet, that’s precisely what I went ahead and did, regrettably. More than once. I didn’t listen to my teacher. Like a monkey, I only heard what I wanted to hear.

I rebelled. I defaulted to my shadow self (my quintuple Scorpio nature?) and did what I thought was okay at the time. Inevitably, there were consequences. Unpleasant ones. I’ve since healed, but I can’t say the same for the other people involved. I can only hope and pray that they learned something too.

Some people say there are no mistakes, only learning opportunities. If that’s true, then over the past year, I’ve learned a lot. At least, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot.

I’m grateful.

At this time in my life, living alone as a single woman in a third world country, the benefits of celibacy appear to far outweigh the benefits of playing the field. Consider my list of pros and cons:

PRO celibacy

PRO sex CON celibacy CON sex
health feels good loneliness risk of STDs
increased energy fear of being alone risk of pregnancy
safety risk of rape
better relationships negative reputation

hurt feelings

From a purely logical perspective, it appears most wise for me to be celibate, at least for now. I figure one year will give me enough time to not only get used to the idea, but maybe to learn to like it. At first, medicine might taste bitter, but over time, it might start to taste sweet. Who knows? I might be dead by the end of my one-year vow of celibacy. In that case, hopefully I will have died with a clear conscience and a more integrated sense of self. All in all, I think it’s worth my effort.

If I live beyond my one-year vow, hopefully I will have learned something about myself. I think I’m ready to learn something new, but first, I have to be willing to try something new.

 

 

 

Love is all that matters: Why I offer therapeutic massage and yoga

Originally from the U.S., I left my successful teaching career five years ago to purchase an acre of fertile land and build an off-grid homestead in a rural area of southern Belize, Central America, where I currently live and work. As a published author, I am an active blogger: I regularly reflect and write about my experiences, particularly focusing on themes related to international travel, sustainable tourism, living off-grid, homesteading, health, wellness and spirituality. You can read more about my personal story here.

About my educational background: I hold a Master of Arts in Education with a minor in Counseling Psychology from New Mexico State University. I also hold a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Spanish and Multidisciplinary Studies and a minor in Health Care Administration from Stonehill College in Massachusetts. I am fluent in English and Spanish and have taught adults and children of all ages in a variety of settings in five countries for the past 20 years.

As my friend Guy has expressed in his recent blog post, there appears to be some interest in exploring the emotional aspect of how we as a collective humanity can support one another to process the at-once devastating, sobering and drastic life-changing predicament from which none of us can be exempt. In the end, what at else is left to celebrate, enjoy and live fully, but love? Love for each other … love for the dying planet … love for the species with whom we’ve shared this earth … love for ourselves.

For those of us who may be receiving this message for the first time or find ourselves in the early stages of coming to terms with our inevitable death, we must necessarily undergo a deep inner process of discovery, where we may experience a cascade of emotional reactions, ranging from shock to denial to fear to depression to what some may call “spiritual enlightenment,” which, as Adyashanti says, “Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth…. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true”…. Through this process, we learn to be more honest, more real, and to live more fully today; because we understand, realize and accept that there may not be many more tomorrows left. The message of near-term human extinction can serve as an urgent wake-up call to embrace each moment, to live fully in the now and to awaken to our deepest yearnings, to inspire us to be the most excellent person we can possibly be.

For the past 10 years, in both my group workshops and my private therapeutic sessions, I endeavor to provide a safe, nurturing space in which my clients can open up to “feeling” their emotions on a psychosomatic level; where physical movement, therapeutic massage, breathing and music can become pathways to accessing our emotions, recognizing how we feel in response to the information, which then can open up a door to acceptance and, through mutual support, taking meaningful action in a way that is authentic for each one of us. And taking action will be different for each individual.

As a highly skilled therapist trained in a variety of modalities, I am honored to help individuals explore their unique “life mission” using a variety of tools and techniques to access the inner self, courageously exploring the important questions that we may have found many reasons to avoid or deflect, like “What do I love to do?… Who am I?… Why am I alive?… How can I live my life fully and passionately?”

As a dynamic educator and experienced workshop facilitator, I am a U.S.-Licensed/Certified Massage Therapist (License #MT-15237 from the state of Arizona, expiration November 2017) and Certified Yoga Teacher specializing in Thai Yoga Massage. I have completed over 1,000 hours of formal training in a variety of therapeutic modalities, including Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Craniosacral Therapy, Pre- and Postnatal Massage, Hot Stone Massage, and Chair Massage.

For the past five years, I have lived and worked in Belize, Mexico, and Guatemala, where I have taught hundreds of classes and facilitated a variety of workshops on health and wellness; including yoga, live music, guided meditation, and therapeutic massage. Currently, I am the Manager of the Wellness Center and Spa at Cotton Tree Lodge, an ecolodge nestled deep in the tropical jungle of southern Belize, where I offer my services as a Certified Massage Therapist and daily yoga classes beside a pristine, emerald green river.

When I’m not busy working with clients at the ecolodge, I am cultivating a garden and building my thatch roof hut on an off-grid homestead located on the outskirts of the nearest town. As a single woman at forty years of age, I am blessed to be in robust health while I have made a conscious, deliberate choice to maintain this unconventional lifestyle of living as simply and frugally as possible in a third world country, where I can enjoy the privilege of owning my own land and growing my own food. As a full-time special education teacher in private and public schools for over a decade in the U.S., I could only dream of living with such freedom and simplicity.

As a published author, I have written over a dozen books (available here on Amazon). Two of these bestselling books describe “The Star Method” — a technique of therapeutic touch that I developed after publishing an article about stress management for educators in a peer-reviewed journal for my Master’s degree thesis. These books have been on the bestseller list in “Experimental Methods in Education” since their publication in 2015. The other books I’ve published include two poetry collections as well as a series of books featuring a unique form of personal coaching that I have offered to hundreds of clients to help them discover their life’s mission, passion and goals.

I have a contact list numbering over a thousand, including clients who have taken my yoga classes, workshops, and/or received my therapeutic services. I am dedicated to providing the highest quality service to my clients, as can be seen from the “Testimonials” page on my blog.

I’d like to include an excerpt from my most recent workshop in Belize, featuring live drumming to accompany yoga and dancing, where our motto is “Unwind, unplug and connect inward”:

In a capitalistic system that emphasizes productivity over personal integrity and authenticity, we can easily forget to value ourselves for just being alive — for simply breathing. We tend to focus instead on externally motivated goals that may not align with our true heart’s desires and dreams.

Together we will nurture, support and encourage each other to ask questions, reflect and “feel” what it is like to “just be”….

In this workshop, explore what you really want in your life, for you… What is true for you at this time in your life? What makes your heart burst with passion and excitement? What are the fears and limitations that hold you back from taking a leap into the unknown — into something new and exciting in your life?

Unwind, unplug and connect inward.

Now is the time to live fully and love passionately. I believe that as we collectively experience the drastic changes now upon us, we can all feel it and know it deep inside: Love is all that matters.

Parama K. Williams is a published author with a Master of Arts in Education and fifteen years of international experience as a U.S. Licensed, Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher. Five years ago, she left her career in the U.S. to purchase an acre of fertile land in Belize, Central America, where she currently lives in an off-grid, thatch roof hut. She offers yoga classes, therapeutic massage and retreats internationally.

Check out my latest published books here.

A personal reflection: grieving losses, letting go and loving self

Over two years ago, I separated from my beloved husband of five years while we were living in a remote, mountainous region in southern Mexico. Devastated and suddenly left to travel alone in a notoriously dangerous country, I was faced with terrifying choices, all of which I knew would be painful, no matter which choice I made: stay put in Central America and continue what we’d started (building a tiny house on an acre of land), commit suicide, find a rebound relationship so I wouldn’t have to be alone, or return to the U.S. (the country of my birth)…. Although I thought at the time that I had a choice, I really didn’t.

The universe had its own way of making my path clear, and I had the sense enough to follow the path laid out before me, kind of like Dorothy following the yellow brick road.

A few months before my husband left me, I had arranged to facilitate an intensive, month-long workshop at a local healing center for a group of 15 people who were from Mexico; therefore, I would lead the workshop in Spanish. The workshop, “21-Day Personal Yoga Challenge” gave everyone the opportunity to attend 21 days of daily morning meditation followed by a rigorous yoga practice while maintaining a personal journal with reflections and insights and to keep track of personal goals.

At the end of the 21 days, we would climb up to the top of the nearest mountain, where we would participate in an intensive, day-long workshop with live music that concluded with a special ceremony in which we would “let go” of whatever we were ready to let go of.

I was apparently ready to let go of my marriage of five years.

When I turned to friends and asked for advice about what I should do: Should I stay or should I go? … The most commonly suggested solution to my situation was to pack my bags, forget about my unconventional life south of the border and go live with my family back up in the states. I spent many days hiking by myself, crying out to the birds and the trees, asking the universe, “What do you want me to do?”

Thankfully, the right path was clearly revealed by reality, and I “chose” to stay put, to continue what I’d started and to follow through on my offer to facilitate the workshop. Despite being devastated. Despite being all alone for the first time in seven years. Despite having limited resources.

One thing I learned about myself through this experience is that I have tremendous inner strength, willpower and capacity to overcome challenges. I suppose that’s why it was appropriate for me to lead a workshop entitled “21-Day Personal Challenge” … The timing, at least in my own life, couldn’t have been more perfect.

Instead of spending my days crying, moping around, pining for my long-lost partner and generally feeling sorry for myself, I was called to meaningful service and invited to step up to the plate, to access my own strength and assist others in discovering their own inner strength.

I am proud of everyone who participated: All 15 of us, plus myself, courageously completed our 21-day challenge. I fulfilled my role as a facilitator, showing up on time every morning to guide, to share, and to lead … despite all the odds against my success. I think I learned more from everyone else than they learned from me. I can confidently say that all of us let go of something significant that had been holding us back from moving forward meaningfully in our lives. I know I certainly did.

The timing of this blog entry couldn’t be more perfect. As I am faced with a similar set of challenges at this time in my life, now living in a remote area of southern Belize, I must make some difficult decisions. I have access to more resources now than I did when I lived in Mexico, but the loneliness and isolation are still palpable and sometimes debilitating. I long for the companionship of a loving partner.

Even so, I question whether or not a partner is what is best for me at this time. I am building my house. I am writing my novel. I am working and earning my own money. I am taking care of a wonderful dog who relies on me for food, water and companionship. For the most part, I enjoy myself and my alone time immensely. I ask myself and reflect, Why do I think I need a partner?

Aristotle said, “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” I would put myself in the category of wild beast. After all, I live in a tropical jungle and awaken every day to the resounding, guttural call of howler monkeys.

When I was feeling most devastated while living alone in Chiapas, Mexico, I consulted with a psychotherapist who became a dear friend and confidant during my year-long residency there. She is a talented painter, humanitarian and overall a delightful, generous woman who is well-loved and respected in the community. Beside the door to her psychotherapy office hangs a picture she painted with the caption, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”

At the time, suddenly abandoned by my partner and feeling the pain of our separation, reading this message on a weekly basis filled me with renewed strength to forge ahead. To know that I am whole. I am complete. I am strong. Maybe I don’t need a man to be okay.

Maybe it’s okay for me to be alone for a while. For a long while. While I finish my novel. While I earn money and support myself. While I build my house. While I have a wonderful dog to take on long walks.

There was a time in the past when I attempted to practice celibacy, but I was too swayed by my raging 30-something-year-old hormones and dismayed by loneliness to persevere in doing so.

Now might be a good time to reconsider the option of being celibate for a while. After all, engaging in sexual relations with people who are not committed partners only seems to complicate my life, lead to hurt feelings, and put myself at risk for diseases that I otherwise wouldn’t be exposing myself to. The benefits of self-imposed celibacy appear to far outweigh the fleeting pleasure of an occasional orgasm culled from a one-night stand or a weekend fling.

Perhaps now might be an appropriate time in my life to experiment with being celibate— and following through on it—instead of experimenting with sex and all its thrills and consequences.

At forty years of age, I may be single, available, attractive and in robust health, but what I want even more than sex is a companion who loves me for who I am and wants to share a life with me. I’m not interested in compromising what I really want. Despite being lonely. Despite all the odds against finding a suitable mate (besides a howler monkey) while living in a remote tropical jungle.

I’m not living in a third world country to enjoy some kind of vacation or to have an easy life. Every day is downright challenging and at times frightening. Every day I’ve got to pull myself up by my bootstraps, grab a machete and go foraging in the jungle for whatever I would like to eat. Yes, I have friends and neighbors who help me, but at the end of the day, I’m alone out here, braving a world that’s foreign to me, unfamiliar and always dangerous. It’s a path I’m consciously choosing because I see no better alternative, at least not right now.

I don’t like to socialize because it usually involves spending money, listening to bad music and tolerating conversations I’d rather not participate in. I prefer the company of like-minded weirdos who are a rare breed in this world. I prefer to fly my freak flag high and deal with the reality of having a few quality friends who can join me in what I most love to do.

I’m not interested in a dull, conventional life. There are plenty of other people living mediocre lives and wishing they could do something more interesting. I think I have the strength and tenacity to try something unprecedented. I think I’ve proven that to myself time and time again. I’ve no doubt that I have the willpower and determination.

I hereby declare to myself that I am practicing one year of celibacy as of the date of this publication. Who knows? We might all be dead by then, anyway…. What better way to go out of this world than blazing my own trail of impassioned determination and conviction?

Besides, disciplining myself to want less from others and to expect more from myself seems like a good idea, to me.

I’m making the declaration of my one-year vow of celibacy publicly in this blog for the same reason that couples get married in a public ceremony: I want witnesses. I know at times it won’t be easy. I can look back at this publication and remind myself. I hereby hold myself accountable, knowing that I’ve failed before.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” ―Albert Einstein

Before I was married, during my marriage and during the two years since our separation, I’ve experienced enough sexual pleasure to last a lifetime. Many lifetimes. Like Eve in her garden of bliss, I continue to gather the succulent fruits from what my partners and I have sown together.

And, like Eve with her garden, I’ve been a playful nymph. I’ve tried everything. Believe me. All the positions. They’re overrated. Regardless of where some of my talents lie, I know that much deeper, longer-lasting satisfaction and fulfillment can be derived from other pursuits.

I will do what my spirit calls me to do. I will go where my heart calls me to go. I will live fully, in alignment with my highest potential. Regardless of the naysayers who think I may be incapable of reaching my lofty or otherwise worldly goals. I’ve learned it’s not worth worrying what other people think about me. Worrying about pleasing anyone other than myself has never gotten me anywhere I want to go. Besides, I consider everyone my teacher: this includes the people I am most challenged by.

I’m interested in living unconventionally. These days, it’s more unconventional to not have sex than to have sex, at least in the Americas. I’ve made a deliberate, conscious choice not to be a breeder in this lifetime, thereby placing me in the vast minority as a single woman at age forty. I’ve chosen this path for many reasons, one of which is to have time and freedom to travel, among other things.

When all is said and done, what I want most is to live a life of service—first and foremost, to myself—and what naturally follows is that I can truly be of service to others.

At this time, serving myself means asserting that my private parts are not open for business. They’re private. I don’t really need anyone else’s anatomy rubbing against mine to be okay with who I am. What I really want is loving companionship. My mind and my heart are open to share. Open to explore. Open to love.

I hereby declare to the universe my intention to love myself. To be happy. To smile every day. To dance. To sing. To live my life fully every day. And so it is. Thank you.