Ethnic “white privilege”: Maybe we are the “poor” people

Can you…

Weave your own clothes?…Build your own house in a day from materials straight out of your own back yard?… Cultivate your own field of corn, rice and beans?… Build your own canoe from the trunk of a tree?

Well… Can you?

I bet that if you’re a privileged, white person from one of the “First World” nations, you probably answered “no” to most or all of these questions.

You might be thinking, “Who can do all these things?”

The indigenous people of Central America can. They’ve been doing it for centuries, and they will continue to pass these skills onto their future generations, unless their habitat and natural resources are destroyed due to the insane agenda of my country of birth (the U.S.), among other First World nations who are hell-bent on exploiting the natural resources of the world as fast as possible.

Unlike most of my fellow Americans, I was willing to admit that my life of privilege in the U.S. meant that I agreed to consume more than I needed as well as fund wars every time I paid my taxes. In my mid-thirties, I abandoned my life of privilege in exchange for a humbler, simpler life. I packed my bags, quit my job, donated most of my belongings to a charity, and came to southern Belize, Central America … sight unseen.

I’m not mentally handicapped or mentally ill, as many of my friends and family have insisted I must be (“Why would you quit your job?”… “You ruined your career” … “You must be crazy”…). I’ve already reflected and written about this here.

I exchanged my career, my cushy job, my new car, my proximity to family and Walmart and fancy movie theaters for the life I’m now living, which is much more sane than the life I would be living, had I stayed in my country of birth and continued serving the ruling elite in their agenda of planetary destruction. I chose to live a principled life instead of the privileged life I was handed by virtue of my birth and heritage.

Within a year of moving to Belize, I’d purchased an acre of fertile land on the outskirts of a small town where I found other counter-cultural ex-pats who shared my values: We’d left behind our lives of privilege in the First World to learn how to grow our own food, live off the grid in simple, thatch-roof houses, and attempt to acculturate in a Third World country.

Over the past five years, I’ve wanted to give up many times. But I made friends with the locals and learned from them. I improved my Spanish fluency to the point where I could joke around with the locals and haggle in the street markets. I learned how to be more resourceful and get by with less.

I’m glad I persisted, though I often feel uncomfortable and inconvenienced—sometimes terrified—every day. But I’m definitely not bored. In spite of the obvious challenges of living as a white woman in a Third World country, I choose to live a life based on principle instead of a life of privilege.

I now have my own small, thatch-roof hut with no electricity or municipal services. I now have a small garden of fruits and vegetables. I can now say that I prefer to live south of the border than in my country of birth.

I still have a lot to learn.

When I lived in the U.S., I used to think that I should come down here and “help” the poor people. In my blind state of privilege and hubris, I thought I had something valuable to offer. Then I actually came down here, to the Third World, and I gradually realized that instead of trying to “help” the indigenous people, what I actually needed to do was learn from them. After all, I’d been pushing pencils my entire life as an academic seated at a desk in air-conditioned rooms. I hadn’t gotten my hands dirty, hauled buckets of water, or any of the other forms of manual labor that are part of the fabric of life here.

I’d hammered a nail into a piece of wood … mmmm, maybe once?… Suffice it to say: I had a lot to learn. I had the sense enough to get over my pride and get humble enough to learn from the indigenous people.

Locals with whom I’ve had the pleasure to become friends have kindly and patiently taught me a lot of skills I otherwise wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t come down here and been willing to learn: how to plant rice, how to sharpen a machete, how to build a thatch roof, how to milk a cow, how to cultivate coconut trees, etc., etc…. The skills I’ve learned over the course of five years have enriched my life to the point where I no longer consider the local people to be “poor”; on the contrary, I now consider people in privileged, First World nations to be the poor ones, while the indigenous people are rich beyond our understanding.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend from the U.S. She told me that she had to put her mother, age 89, in a nursing home, because everybody in her family was too busy with their jobs to take care of her.

“That’s unheard of down here,” I told her. “Nursing homes don’t exist in Central America, unless they’re funded and built by Americans who value such a thing. The people down here don’t understand the concept of putting their elders in a nursing home.”

She said, “I can understand why you like living down there.”

I replied, “It’s a saner culture.”

Here, old people live in multi-generational homes, usually in one room where everybody sleeps beside each other, wakes up together, cooks together, eats together, and celebrates … together.

The fact is that vast majority of people in the world live on less than 10 dollars a day in a state of what we would call “poverty”, but when you look at it from a certain standpoint, maybe we privileged white people from the First World are the “poor” ones.

It’s a Faustian bargain: We white people live a life of privilege in the First World in exchange for living in a rat race where we barely have time to talk to each other. If it’s hot outside, we close ourselves off from nature in air-conditioned rooms and complain about the heat whenever we have to walk to our fancy cars. We spend more time on our fancy tablets and smart phones than we do talking to our kids and our elders. We eat poor quality fast food, get sick and don’t have time to exercise. We bury ourselves in debt until we die and get buried in fancy cemeteries. We rely on specialists instead of learning how to do basic skills ourselves.

On and on and on… We privileged people are an abomination: We’re indulgent and spoiled without even realizing it. We’ve sold our souls to the devil, and the devil would have us believe that we are the best. That we have it all.

In a desperate, vain attempt to assuage our deep-seated guilt, we take trips to foreign countries and make donations to good causes. Sorry Charlie, but that’s not enough. It was never enough and will never be enough.

A friend of mine, a reluctant messiah of a message that no one wants to hear, points out in his incisive writings that we should have dismantled the whole rat race and stopped being hamster cogs in the giant wheel a long time ago. But in our selfishness and denial of reality, we failed to do so. We settled for a life of privilege in exchange for destroying our own planet. To deny it is to ignore the undeniable facts.

From an economic standpoint, Third World countries are poor because of the disparity created by First World domination and appropriation of resources. In a saner arrangement, we’d all have enough, and we’d all be living like the indigenous people of the Third World: getting by on less than 10 dollars a day, building our own houses, healing our bodies with medicine from the plants we cultivate in our own back yards.

I don’t know where we privileged white people get off thinking that we can come down to Third World countries and redeem ourselves by leaving stuff behind as donations and then returning to our jobs, our big houses, our big cars….

I suppose I can have compassion for the hubris of white people who think they need to “help” the poor, indigenous people. I’m guilty of it, too. I came to Belize, Central America over five years ago with the same pompous attitude. I was born and bred in a culture of privilege where I never had to pick up a broom or pull weeds out of the garden or get my hands dirty, unless I was playing in a sand box in my school playground. I understand the mentality of trying to help people who are less privileged than me. Yet, I no longer participate in it. Instead, I left my life of privilege behind and chose to live and work with the indigenous people, gradually developing appreciation, respect and admiration.

Here, indigenous people learn how to survive without industrial inputs before they learn to walk. Meanwhile, we privileged white people show up in Third World countries in large tour groups, in shiny vans with shiny, new suitcases and shiny, new shoes, determined to save the world with a few donations of shiny, new “stuff” that we assume the villagers need.

An indigenous wisdom keeper once shared a story with me from her childhood. She remembered how a bunch of volunteers from the U.S. showed up in her ancestral village in Honduras with a truckload of shoes for all the children. It was a custom in her village for the indigenous people to walk around barefoot, because they believe that our feet are our “soul”: When we walk barefoot, we stay connected to the earth.

After the white people had dropped off the shoes and left the village, all the people gathered, threw the shoes into a large pile and set it on fire. My friend recalled with a smile how she stood there beside her mother, watching the shoes burn for hours.

Reality check: The villagers have been getting by just fine without these shiny, new things for centuries, and they’ll keep getting by, with or without us.

If one is willing to slow down and examine what lies at the root of our predicament, as I do daily in quiet, seated meditation, I can clearly see that fear is the primary motivation. We privileged, white people are afraid that we are not good enough. That we don’t have enough. We believe we are not enough. So, we desperately build more… faster, better, bigger, more … more … more…. on and on and on.

It’s a culture of insanity rooted in a culturally inherited inferiority complex that would have us assert our dominance over nature and other less developed nations, thereby proving to ourselves that we are better. Bigger. Faster. More.

Fear is, ultimately, like a raging river fed by rivulets of comparing oneself to others. Fear motivates all kinds of insane, disordered behavior and activities designed to deceive oneself into becoming better or more than what we thought we were before.

What if I’m enough, right now, just as I am? What if I don’t have to race like a rat in a maze designed to keep me confused and busy? What if I can slow down and enjoy my life?

What if I accept that I have enough… I am enough…. There is enough… for everybody?

If I am willing to accept reality as it is, without the overlay of my culturally inherited inferiority complex and concomitant disordered behavior and thinking, then I might start living more like the indigenous people of the Third world. Getting by with less. Being satisfied with less. Living well with the natural resources that surround me. Without needing to assert my dominance over nature, other humans, or other species.

Please, do yourself and the world a favor. Don’t go on a weeklong excursion to a foreign country in the Third World thinking that you can drop off a load of toothbrushes and parasite medicine and then return to the U.S. feeling good about yourself. The indigenous people are likely to forget about the toothbrushes, and the parasites will be back in two months, anyway. Besides, the herbs and plants in their gardens can do a much better job of getting rid of parasites than your medicine. Like I mentioned already, they’ve been getting by just fine for centuries with or without us sticking our long, European noses into their simple, humble lives.

We privileged white people assume that we are helping indigenous people with handouts, when our charity might actually be harmful, or at the very least, unnecessary….. Consider for a moment that indigenous people know how to do most everything themselves, while we rely on paid specialists and laborers to do most everything for us: mow our lawns, build our houses, take care of our animals, grow our food. If you’re a white person living in a First World country, when’s the last time you did any of that yourself without complaining or paying somebody to do it for you?

I’d suggest you try what you might consider impossible, or at least, more challenging: Stay here for longer than a week. Get to know the people. Live with them. Get your hands dirty learning from them instead of just leaving your money behind and getting on a plane to get back to your job, your big house, your mortgage payments, etc, etc….

Stop thinking you’re not good enough, and look inside of yourself to realize that you already have enough. Stop acquiescing to the agenda of people who would have you believe that you need the next best product… faster, better, bigger… more.

I am enough.

I have everything I need, right here, right now.

I don’t need to go looking outside of myself.

I enjoy my life.

Intercultural conflict: Is there a solution?

First and foremost, I am writing this essay for myself, because I wish to muse and reflect on relevant topics that I otherwise might have no opportunity to discuss openly with anyone willing or available to listen. I would like to thank those who take the time to read this essay and I would like to implore my readers to please not take my essay as a complaint, a criticism or a request for intervention on anyone’s part, as I would prefer that said intervention be motivated by a source other than me. Again, I am writing this to share my thoughts and nothing more. I welcome input, ideas or feedback in response.

To some extent, I am writing this essay for a secondary purpose. I would like to open an honest dialogue about intercultural conflict, because I think it’s a topic worth considering for people who live and work in a culturally diverse setting.

I’ve been traveling and working in many different places in Central America for the past five years. By choice, I’ve lived as a single woman in a variety of places under vastly different conditions; ranging from a dirt floor, tin roof hut in an isolated village to a high-rent apartment in the center of Guatemala City to shared housing with a family in their home in southern Mexico. Mostly, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity and privilege to be a part of different cultures that are not my own, and I’ve been fortunate to make many friends along the way.

I often find myself quipping to people I meet, “Yep, been there; done that.” I’ve been exposed to not only the joys of getting to know many pleasant, kind people, but I’ve also experienced the other end of the spectrum: I’ve received my share of hostility from local people who care not to invite a foreign “white girl” into their communities for their own personal and/or sociopolitical reasons.

I have grown accustomed to dealing with and being the brunt of other peoples’ hostility and, at worst, outright rejection due to the inevitable fact that I am from a different culture and therefore not accepted with open arms by local people. By choosing to live and work in a foreign country, I willingly expose myself to discrimination, ironically, because a white woman becomes a minority when living in a country where the majority are not white. While I may be more privileged than the local people in many ways, I do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as a local person with citizenship, social security, the ability to open a bank account without hassle, etc, etc…. No matter how hard I try to acculturate, I will always be perceived and treated as an outsider.

While this can be a lonely and sometimes terrifying position to be in, I am willing to courageously forge ahead knowing that I have enough friends who care and enough stubbornness and determination to continue doing what I’ve come here to do: work, save money, publish my novel and build my house. Unlike Peace Corps volunteers, however, I am here on my own dime, of my own accord, without being held accountable or beneath the protection of a volunteer organization. I fly no one’s banner but my own, and I realize that I do so with considerable risk.

Since November 2015, I’ve been living and working at a charming eco-lodge nestled deep in the tropical jungle where staff members come from a variety of cultural backgrounds in a country notorious for its cultural diversity, despite its relatively small size and population. Co-workers include native Mayan people, Creole people, as well as volunteers who come from the United States (myself included in the latter category). I would like to believe that cultural background is irrelevant and we can “all get along”, but in the Third World, the laws and company policies which protect “equal rights” and “non-discrimination” are not actively enforced or even observed in general.

Here in Central America, I’ve observed that “anything goes,” as long as you can either get away with it or pretend it’s not a problem. To my own chagrin, I seem to be incapable of pretending that injustices, whether petty or monumental, are not a problem. Like the snowball effect, the small injustices tend to turn into the big ones. And when injustice becomes a big problem, people are bound to get hurt in one way or another.

Consider me the self-sacrificial whistle-blower who is willing to take a stand for injustice. I know that doing so implies that I will inevitably have to face the music, which is rarely pleasant. For one, I’m often accused of deliberately inciting drama. Maybe so. Or I simply call attention to what already exists and would otherwise remain under the surface. Over the course of my life, I notice that I often play a role of holding people–including myself–accountable to their actions. Believe me, it’s not an enjoyable role to play, but since I voluntarily live a life of service, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Based on my personal and professional observations as a licensed therapist and teacher at my workplace, there is a significant amount of hostility and disrespect present among staff members. The three cultures working daily in close contact with one another (Maya, Creole and white Americans) tend to form cliques and therefore “stick together” and gang up on the underprivileged minority who is outnumbered. In my case, as a volunteer foreigner, the outnumbered person happens to be me.

Unless I stand up for myself and assert my rights to food, a safe place to live, and other basic privileges of life, these privileges are often threatened to be taken away or, at the very least, made more difficult by people who are afflicted with any one or all of the following: (1) jealousy; (2) resentment due to one person earning more money than another; (3) hostility due to cultural differences and misunderstanding; etc, etc. As a white woman from the United States, it is an undeniable fact that I incite jealousy, hostility and resentment just by being who I am: I earn more money than the local people, I can get better jobs, I can go back any time to my uber-privileged country of birth, and I simply don’t fit into anyone’s cultural norms. Arguably, it is understandable why people would want to “beat up” on someone like me: I am, apparently, an easy target.

It appears that I will continue to be a target, unless and until I stand up for myself, roar like a lioness, and/or beat my hairy chest amidst my fellow beasts in the jungle.

There is considerable infighting amongst the ethnically diverse people I am privileged to know and work alongside. I am not writing this essay to condone or become a proponent of said infighting. On the contrary, this essay is my humble attempt to curtail what I sadly observe. On a daily basis, I notice jealousy, backbiting and vengeful behaviors that are sometimes subtle and sometimes overt. While many of these behaviors go unnoticed or ignored, I am writing this essay to call attention to what has become a significant enough issue to interfere with normal working operations, at least behind the scenes. On the surface, anyone visiting my place of work would probably feel welcome, well taken care of, and treated to a great time … thanks to the hard-working staff and our earnest attempts to do the best job possible.

For the purpose of this essay, I find it unnecessary and even counterproductive to qualify the specific scenarios, interactions and situations in which the aforementioned interpersonal and/or intercultural dramas play themselves out. Not only have there been too many for me to number or keep track of, but I am not sufficiently interested enough to remember them and much less to record them here. For the most part, I do not bother to discuss when such interactions take place, in the interest of “keeping the peace”: I am, after all, here as a volunteer foreigner and therefore outnumbered by far.

It can only be helpful and considerate for those who agree with me to stand up and assert our rights as human beings sharing the same space, where we all live and work. I assume it’s true that we all wish to live and work in a place that offers basic conditions of comfort and safety: (1) access to healthy food; (2) a safe place to live and work without sexual harassment; (3) a decent community of people who look out for each other’s best interests. It would appear, based on my observations and my experience living and working in Central America for the past five years, that the above three basic conditions of comfort and safety are not always present, and when they are not, it is countercultural and therefore problematic for me to insist that these basic conditions are provided with fairness and respect to all of us, regardless of cultural background or ethnicity.

I’d like to end my musings with a question for reflection: Is there a solution to intercultural conflict and misunderstanding between people of different cultural backgrounds? If you, dear reader, have a solution in mind, please leave your comments below.

The late Bob Marley had his own thoughts on the topic, inspired by his own personal views and beliefs. Let’s consider what he had to say:

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.

 

 

 

Meditation in Lotus Pose for health and wellness

img_4231I value meditation on a daily basis as a form of contemplative practice to start and end my day. At 4:00 AM I sit in Lotus Pose (Sanskritपद्मासन, or Padmasana) and meditate for at least a half hour, then I fall back asleep until just before sunrise, when I get up to practice a vigorous, dynamic sequence of yoga postures (asanas).

At night, just before falling asleep, I again take Padmasana and meditate until I feel too sleepy to continue, then I lay back and drift off into a typically deep, refreshing sleep for the entire night. For about the past five years, this has been my preferred routine for personal health and wellness.

Padmasana is a cross-legged pose originating in meditative practices of ancient India, in which the feet are placed on the opposing thighs. It is an established asana, commonly used for meditation. The asana is said to resemble a lotus, to encourage breathing proper to associated meditative practice, and to foster physical stability.

img_4064Traditional texts say that Padmasana destroys all disease and awakens kundalini, the vital energy at the base of the spine.

Benefits of Padmasana:

  • Calms the brain
  • Stimulates the pelvis, spine, abdomen, and bladder
  • Stretches the ankles and knees
  • Eases menstrual discomfort and sciatica
  • Consistent practice of this pose throughout pregnancy is said to help ease childbirth

Important note about Padmasana:

Padmasana pose is the ideal sitting asana for meditation, but it’s not for everybody. Experienced students can use it as a seat for their daily pranayama or meditation, but beginners may need to use other suitable positions. In the beginning, only hold the pose for a few seconds and quickly release. Gradually add a few seconds each week to your pose until you can sit comfortably for a minute or so. Ideally you should work with a teacher to monitor your progress.

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 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 her latest published books here.

Ablaze: A personal story of igniting my heart aflame

cover-tinted red

My second poetry collection, Ablaze, sheds an honest light on my raging desire and passion to consummate the dream that beckoned me to abandon my home and blaze a new trail here in Central America, amongst rural villagers in isolated tropical jungles, amidst a backdrop of ancient cultures enriched by traditional customs for which I have deep respect. Having been forged in the fire of my heart’s desire, I am now faced with the opportunity to make choices that could determine the course of my life for many years.

Parama sitting on couchThe flames are burning bright, and I cannot escape the heat.

Five years ago, before I first arrived in Belize, Central America (a tiny country just south of Mexico), I was living and working as a schoolteacher in the U.S., when I had a vivid dream in which my Buddhist master teacher, Geshe Michael, appeared to me and told me that it was time for me to leave my home country, that it was okay to go… “The same thing happened to me,” he declared in the dream, while I extended my hand to touch a slow-motion panorama of tropical plants, flowers, and coconuts….

When I woke up, I recalled the dream as if it had really happened, and I was emboldened: I resigned from my job, booked a plane ticket, and packed my bags. Waiting in the airport, I earnestly prayed and (heard God?) tell me, “You will almost die down there. But you will be saved. I am with you.” … While this may seem crazy to my readers, perhaps it is worth mentioning that I seem to be endowed with a gift of clairvoyance, whatever that means. I honestly can’t explain it, at least not scientifically. I don’t know whether to consider it a blessing or a quirky talent that comes from a rare genetic mutation… or both.

bird of paradise flowerForewarned by the somewhat alarming message that my life would be endangered, I forged ahead nonetheless, bolstered by the support of the man who was then my husband, mutually inspired by our shared vision to purchase a small parcel of fertile land in a rural area where we would build a small-scale permaculture farm and develop a vocational education center for the benefit of our local community.

In the U.S., I had established over ten years of a successful career in special education as a consultant in public and private schools; in addition to earning certification and practicing professionally as a Licensed Massage Therapist and yoga teacher. I earned a Master of Arts in Education and gained a wide range of experience working with children and adults who were diagnosed with developmental and learning disabilities. I enjoyed working in the field of education, but I felt deep dissatisfaction with what I deemed to be a restrictive, top-down model that limited my creativity and freedom to design my own curriculum.

Parama w studentsI became disillusioned with the public school system in the U.S. and envisioned an innovative approach that involved outdoor, experiential education on an organic farm. I wrote and published my first two books that became bestsellers in experimental methods in education. When my husband suggested that we move to Central America and purchase land for our own school, I was forced to choose: Do I stay with what is familiar, or do I take the risk of trying something completely new? . . .

I chose to leave behind the security and convenience of my comfortable, middle-class life in the U.S. I took my innovative ideas with me on the road – south of the border. As I was about to expose myself to an entirely new life in a foreign country, I felt a high degree of anxiety mixed with a deep inner conviction that I was doing the right thing, and everything would work out, somehow, eventually….

Parama hugging tree at Palenque copy

We arrived in Punta Gorda, a small agricultural and fishing town in Southern Belize, Central America, surrounded by Mayan villages and ancient cultural ruins. Instead of falling into the typical tourist routes, we … blazed our own trail. We immediately focused on establishing community liaisons and connecting with local people who were living the way we had envisioned: off-grid with minimal resource consumption and growing food on their own land.

Parama harvesting bamboo copyFinanced by our own meager savings, my partner and I knew that we needed to secure an ongoing income to support ourselves. We discovered that we could work locally as English teachers, earning a small but adequate salary. We traveled and found temporary work assignments in Guatemala, where we lived and volunteered on an organic farm while simultaneously purchasing one acre of our own land in Punta Gorda, Belize, beside other neighbors who shared our passion.

At that time, I did not expect that I would soon end up alone, following through on our project, after my partner became too ill to continue living in Central America. After many months of trying the best I could to help him recover, I determined that he required specialized therapy which was unavailable in Central America – impoverished, third-world countries with limited infrastructure and resources. He refused to seek adequate treatment and suddenly left me while we were living in the mountainous region of Chiapas, the southernmost district of Mexico.

sunset at Kiki's copy

Heartbroken, devastated and discouraged, I almost returned to the U.S. and my previous career as a schoolteacher. Instead, I chose to make Central America my new home and community. I resolved that I would continue what we’d started, because I did not want to let anything derail me from realizing my dreams….

Parama at KikimundoNow a young, single woman in a somewhat dire situation, I had unintentionally become a “woman at risk” and found myself desperately seeking a means to support myself while living in the third world, where job opportunities are limited and rarely offer any benefits beyond a small wage.

My persistence allowed me to support myself by establishing friendships within my local community as well as creating my own work opportunities wherever I traveled, looking for safety and security while still recovering from the loss of my partner’s companionship.

I discovered the importance of resourcefulness in order to survive as a single woman in Central America. Looking back, I realize how much courage and persistence it took for me at the time to continue seeking and finding opportunities, and now I can honestly claim that I am grateful to my beloved former partner for leaving me with no choice but to dig deep within myself to find my inner strength (Thank you!)…. While I wrote and published a series of books, I worked in many different communities as a massage therapist, yoga instructor, English teacher, and house-sitter. I lived for periods of time with host families in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. This proved to be an extremely challenging opportunity to grow and learn while immersing myself in the various cultural traditions of Central America.

door colorful copyEven though I do have the privilege of a broad educational background and qualifications, I learned first-hand what it must be like for local women who have little or no formal education to become caught in a “cycle of poverty”, to be taken advantage of, and, unfortunately, to be abused. Although I could speak fluent Spanish and interact with the locals in the marketplace and at work, I experienced many incidences in which local men, seeing that I was vulnerable and traveling alone, tried to take advantage of me in different ways.

I gained a deeper understanding for how “at-risk women” find themselves in precarious situations where they are endangered and oppressed. In spite of many dangers and challenges, I persisted and continued to pursue my dreams, relying on my own skills, faith, as well as the help and support of caring friends, near and far.

Parama crouching at pyramid copyYears later, I am proud to have stayed true to my own heart, despite countless moments in which I just wanted to give up. Now, I want to believe that I am “living my dream”…. Yet, something feels incomplete, like there is some surprise waiting right around the corner for me, if I could only muster the courage to be vulnerable and open my heart, even as it still heals from the pain of my past….

Since I arrived in Central America five years ago, I’ve been an intrepid solo traveler, exploring and living alone in many different places in Belize, Mexico, and Guatemala. I’ve learned a lot about myself and discovered my own inner strength….

Like the “locals”, I have worked hard and saved up enough money to recently break ground on the construction of my new home – an off-grid, thatch roof hut (in process!) – on my one acre of land in southern Belize, where I would like to expand my infrastructure and… eventually… open an innovative school and community center for the locals.

Parama's house

For many years I have persistently held the intention for The Farm School project in Central America to help women achieve their dreams and goals, whether they are single, have intact families, or are struggling, single mothers. The Farm School is a vocational, experiential training center that promotes health and wellness within the local community, especially for women, while supporting them to become more self-sufficient by learning practical skills.

Butterflies training copy

My heart burns with raging passion to create something that has never been done before. I hold fast to my vision to help at-risk women in need of support, encouragement, and opportunities to make their own dreams come true. Yet, I perceive that I have arrived at a crossroads. My vision may need to take shape in a different form, for now…. I wait and wonder and marvel at the mystery of the fire.

sunrise in AntiguaFive years later, after countless adventures, meeting new and interesting people along the way, nearly dying at the hands of those who would wish to do me harm, I have survived many dangers, overcome personal challenges, and learned what it means to be a warrior dedicated to a mission that can only come from touching the flames of burning passion within one’s heart, enlivened and inspired every day to keep blazing the trail….

Fire must be fed to stay alive. The strength of the flame is derived from a dynamic interplay of elements. Passion can be recognized and shared between two people who are uncontrollably drawn toward one another in a mutual desire to burn in the conflagration of hearts united and ignited. The flames burn and rage, transforming the landscape of the heart, regenerating the soil, making it fertile ground for new growth.

Please click here to download my second poetry collection, Ablaze

Whatever I give, I get back a thousandfold.

A sketch gifted to me by Luez, El Salvadorian art professor, visiting and teaching in Guatemala City, September 2012

One morning I decided to meditate on offering objects of beauty to people and to the Earth. The very next day, I was sitting in a restaurant and noticed a man across from me who was making a pencil sketch on his place mat. He kept looking over at me, and I realized that he was using me as a model for his sketch. After I finished my meal, I walked over to the man, and he introduced himself as a visiting art professor from El Salvador. I commented on how beautiful his sketch turned out. It was the face of a young woman who resembled me in some ways, but many of her facial features looked much different from mine.

He then offered to give me the sketch as a gift, and at first I was hesitant to accept. It seemed like such a generous gift, considering that it took him at least an hour to complete the drawing. But I decided that not accepting it might offend him, so I smiled and accepted his gift with gratitude. I hung the sketch near my altar, and every time I see it, I am reminded that the intelligent universe always reciprocates.

Whatever I give, I get back a thousandfold. It is the law of the universe. Whatever I give to others, the universe always gives back to me.