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.

What I’ve learned from old people about life, death and love

parama-and-patti-at-hearthstoneOld people often say that getting old’s a bitch. At the age of forty, I barely know.

Sensei Harvey Daiho Hilbert, a retired PhD professor at New Mexico State University and abbot of the local Las Cruces Zen Center, was one of my teachers in my early years of voracious study of Buddhist philosophy and avid meditation practice. When I went on a three-day silent retreat led by Sensei Harvey in the mountains of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, I did yoga postures on the scenic balcony atop the meditation temple. Sensei commented, “When you’re seventy, I want you to come back here and do yoga on the porch.”

Years later, I still haven’t forgotten his comment. I took it to heart. I’ve used that idea as a rocket fuel to propel me further into the space of my daily yoga and meditation practice.

I would like to think that I could live to be seventy; and if I do, I would like to think that I will still be dancing and doing yoga.

Geshe Michael, founder of the progressive, tuition-free Diamond Mountain University in Bowie, Arizona and one of my favorite teachers of Buddhism, talks a lot about death. He says that we should think about our death on a daily basis, because it makes us happier people.

(Say, what? Thinking about my own death is supposed to make me happier?)

At first I didn’t believe it.

But then, all kinds of crappy things started happening in my life … all at once: My grandma died; I was told I might have cervical cancer; I got a hemorrhoid; I almost got murdered; I had to move twice; I twisted my knee; I broke up with the most gorgeous, amazing man I’ve ever met after he told me he didn’t love me….

All of this crappy stuff happened all at the same time; like, within the span of a few months. It was a living hell. I almost killed myself over it.

I think I could have killed myself, were it not for a few kind-hearted doctors I consulted and were it not for my having listened to Geshe Michael’s dharma talks about death meditation: “Don’t pretend you’re not gonna die someday. Just be honest with yourself. Pretend that today could be your last day.”

After all that crappy stuff happened, I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I knew I could die any day, at any time.

Maybe if I knew that at a younger age, I’d be an even happier person than I already am. But maybe not. I don’t know.

I’d like to think that I’m about halfway through my lifespan. Maybe I have a few more years to go before I’m actually at that point. For all intents and purposes, let’s just say that at forty, I’m halfway to my death, but that’s just according to statistics on the average modern human lifespan. In making this assumption, I fail to consider a whole host of factors which are completely out of my control.

Let’s consider all the factors that could cause me to die unexpectedly, any day or at any moment:

 

(1) I live in the tropics of Belize, Central America. I could contract and die of dengue or Zika or malaria … or all three combined.

(2) Every day I go swimming in an emerald green river in the jungle. I could get eaten by a crocodile.

(3) One my favorite geeky scientist friends predicts that climate change (melting glaciers, anyone?) could lead to near-term extinction of the human race. Like, within the next decade. Bummer. Human extinction includes me. (Damn it).

(4) Not only do I live in the tropics, but I also happen to live in a jungle with a lot of wild animals (jaguars and venomous snakes included). Any one of them could bite me or eat me… any day, at any time. This could cause my unexpected, unplanned death.

(5) I could get run over by a bus. That could happen pretty much anywhere.

Reading this list back to myself makes me laugh out loud (lol)…. It’s somehow funny to think about all the ways I could die. Yet I’ve spent most of my rather enjoyable, uber-privileged young adulthood in a state of ignorant denial that I could die on any given day, at any given time.

Sorry to point out, dear reader (Hey, thanks for reading!): You could die too. On any given day, at any given time. But how often do we really allow ourselves to seriously think about that undeniable fact of life? (That fact that we all have to die, I mean).

Let me remind myself, just in case I forget: Someday, I’m going to die. That day could be today. At any time.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve already died hundreds of times in my life. I suppose, in a way, I have. I’ve experienced innumerable losses, as most people have. And each loss is like a mini-death.

Let’s consider all the ways I’ve died already:

(1) I’ve quit too many jobs to keep count. Loss of a job is like a death. It causes loss of money in the wallet, relationships, status, respect, and lots of other things that lead to grief, sadness and possibly depression and suicidal ideation;

(2) I’ve gone through three or four divorces and probably dozens of break-ups. (I can’t keep track.) Losing a beloved partner, for any reason, definitely feels like what I imagine dying could feel like;

(3) I’ve moved in and out of dozens of funky apartments and even a few tents. Once I took up residence in the trunk of my own car, not because I was too poor to afford my own place (I had a fulltime job with a decent salary), but just because I wanted to see if I could live in my trunk for a week. It turns out that I could. Living in the trunk of my car was like dying, because I killed my need for a bigger apartment.

By the way, I’m not mentally ill or retarded. I just like living life on the edge and taking risks. Calculated ones.

(4) I have almost been deliberately killed by other members of my own species for reasons that are not worth mentioning here. If you’re curious, you’ll have to wait for my novel to be published. Novels are good for telling stories about almost being killed. Stephen King does it all the time and makes a killing off his books…. so, I assume people like to read about death.

 

What was my point in making a list of all the ways I’ve died already?… Oh, yeah. To point out that death is a part of life. Life and death always go together, like eating beans and farting.

Older people are generally less apologetic about basic bodily functions and the fact that their teeth have fallen out. They seem to be more honest than younger people. I suppose there’s a reason for that. Experience and wisdom seem to go together, like old age and dentures.

Talking with older people has helped me learn a thing or two about life and how to live more fully while I still have the chance. I used to try having deep conversations with my grandmother, but I could never seem to get beyond superficialities. I guess some people just don’t really like to go deeper than what’s visible to the human eye. That’s okay. Grandma’s dead now. I loved her. She was a kind, generous woman. And she baked the best oatmeal cookies.

Some older people are actually capable of accepting the fact that they are going to die soon instead of denying it or complaining about it incessantly. Some older people are actually willing to engage me in an honest discussion about what it’s like to get old. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few of them and enjoying meaningful conversations about a wide range of interesting topics like marriage, jobs, finances, illness, diet, adult diapers, and dentures.

I assume that people who are older than I am might be pleased to offer me advice about how to avoid making the same mistakes they did.

Recently I had the honor of meeting one such refreshingly forthright older gentleman whom I’ll call Gary. I saw him sitting alone in a rocking chair looking rather sullen and somewhat lonely. He was on vacation with his wife at the eco-lodge in southern Belize where I live and work as a Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher.

Gary was part of a tour group that had left that morning to go on an excursion into the jungle. He thought that the trip would have been too physically challenging for him, so he’d opted to stay at the hotel and spend the morning sitting in the rocking chair by himself.

As an ardent student of life, I’m compelled to seek and find teachers in everyone I talk to and in pretty much every situation, not excluding this crotchety old dude in the rocking chair. I approached him and asked with the utmost sincerity how he was doing.

My genuine concern for his wellbeing was met with a sullen expression and a mumbled, gruff reply. He kept his head down, staring into the dim glow of his tablet device. Apparently, he was busy reading something, so I turned and walked away, pretending I had somewhere else to go, feeling somewhat spurned and justified in not wanting to talk to him ever again.

But then I remembered the wisdom of always trying to find the teacher in every situation. Despite logic and reason, I returned to the man’s side, reached out my hand to gently touch his shoulder, looked straight into his eyes, smiled and asked him, “Sir, is there anything I can do for you?”

I was prepared for any one of several possible responses: He could have spat on me or yelled at me to leave him alone. But he didn’t. He slowly shut off the hand-held device, took a deep breath and looked up at me. His pondered his words carefully before he spoke in a deliberate, calm manner:

“Well, thank you for asking, young lady,” he said. His face softened. He went on to explain that he was in severe pain from nerve damage to his spine.

I could have said, “Oh, I’m sorry,” or “I understand,” or any one of several possible responses, but I didn’t. Instead, I opted to invest some of my precious, valuable time listening to this old dude in a rocking chair.

There were hundreds of other things I could’ve opted to do instead; like do laundry, go swimming in the river, write my novel, eat chocolate, or wash my hair. Instead, I spent an hour chatting with Gary. He told me he was seventy years old. I told him he had thirty years on me, so I should probably listen to him for a while.

He laughed. I guess he thought I was funny.

We never even bothered to ask each other’s names until after we’d talked for an hour and realized neither one of us had ever asked.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to get old or be in constant pain,” I told him. “But I’d like to know what it’s like, for you.”

“It sucks,” he said. “You lose things. All the time. Your friends start to die. You get sick. You can’t do as many things as you used to be able to do.”

I listened. I didn’t say much. Again, I’d deemed that he was the wiser one of the two of us.

He wore a collared, button-down blue paisley shirt and tan shorts. He had a full head of white hair, wore wire-rimmed glasses and appeared to be in good physical shape, with a slim waist, athletic legs and smooth, tanned skin. He didn’t move while he talked, maybe because moving caused him pain, or he was content to simply stay still. I suspect both could have been true for him.

A former university professor with a PhD in molecular biology, he was well-read, articulate, thoughtful and intelligent. He and his wife traveled the world together.

“One thing I’ve learned about getting old is that you lose your concepts about what is true. You realize you don’t know anything.”

I smiled. I wanted to hear more, so I kept my mouth shut and listened.

Gary rocked the chair slightly and continued, “I was trained as a scientist. I used the scientific method. I’m a show-me kind of guy.”

He looked off for a moment. His speech was frequently filled by brief moments of pregnant pauses during which he’d look up toward the ceiling, ponder and collect his thoughts before he’d reply in an articulate manner.

Unlike the entertaining stimulation of a YouTube video, listening to Gary required some degree of patience on my part. I was willing to give it a try. I determined that listening to Gary was better or at least as good as the best YouTube videos I’ve ever come across. Unlike most online media, at least Gary was willing to be honest with me.

“I can’t prove there’s a God using the scientific method,” he said, looking up and going quiet again for what seemed like an eternity. Finally he mused, “Faith is beyond science.”

Then Gary turned to me and asked, “Is there a God?”

I followed Gary’s lead. I stayed quiet for what seemed like an eternity while Gary waited patiently for my reply.

Then, I said, “I don’t know.”

Gary laughed. Apparently, he thought I was funny.

“Well, I don’t know either,” he offered. “But I try to meditate a little every day,” he said.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn this about Gary. It was the last thing I expected, since my first glance at him had given me the impression that he was a crotchety, old man better left alone. I was glad to learn how wrong I’d been in judging him so superficially.

I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t need to tell him that I too meditated every day. I wanted to learn what he had to say about it first.

“I learned to meditate with a mantra. The mantra is meaningless. It focuses my attention away from the other thoughts, like the argument I had with my wife, that I have to mow the lawn, that I have to go walk the dog,” he said.

I listened. He continued, “I don’t know what happens or what to call it, but sometimes when I meditate, I get to a place where I lose all thoughts.”

Gary had completely sucked me into some kind of vortex. I suddenly felt like I had entered an alternate reality in which Gary was the only thing that existed in the entire universe.

Maybe he was. At that moment, anyway, and only for me.

“I used to be an avid runner,” Gary said. “I ran sixty miles every week. I wouldn’t listen to music. I would listen to my thoughts.”

He looked me straight in the eyes and asked in his deliberate tone, “Do you have a goal when you meditate?”

I gave myself ample time to pause for reflection before I responded that I didn’t think it was helpful to meditate with a goal in mind, because, I said, I’m probably not focused on meditation if I’m busy thinking about a goal.

Gary laughed again. I realized that he really did think I was funny.

Then I realized that I was genuinely enjoying our conversation. It was the first time in weeks that I actually wanted to spend time talking with someone for more than five minutes.

Gary said, “I try to think about what I am about to do before I do something or say something.

“I try to analyze my motivations for what I am about to do before I react. In my experience,” he said, “I find that it helps me avoid saying or doing something hurtful to myself or another person.”

Then, he said, “Am I boring you?”

“Well, yes, maybe a little bit,” I admitted to him.

He laughed. I laughed too. We laughed together.

“I like to talk,” he said.

“I like to listen,” I said.

“I think you would be a good meditation teacher,” I told him. Then I corrected myself and said, “I think you are a good meditation teacher. I’ve learned a lot just by sitting here and listening to you. I think I can honestly say that I love you,” I told him.

He chuckled and his face softened even more. He paused for reflection, looking skyward.

“I don’t know what love is,” he said. “Is it hormonal? I don’t know. I mean, I know I love my wife. I could explain to you why I love her, but if I did, I would only be telling you about character traits and behavior.”

Then Gary shared that he had been divorced twice before. He said that he has learned not to share his opinions all the time, because he’s noticed that opinions usually start arguments.

“I’ve learned to be comfortable with the idea that I don’t know anything,” Gary said.

Later that day, as I reflected on my conversation with Gary, I thought about how most of the time, we humans seem to prefer believing that we know something. Somehow I am supposed to feel more comfortable with the idea that I know how something works or that I’m in control of whatever is going on.

When I went to visit a few old people in a nursing home last year, I noticed that many of the old people had lost control of their bowels. They required regular diaper changes. Yet, most of them still had fully functioning intellectual abilities. They could talk to me while knowing that they smelled like piss, but it didn’t matter because they knew they were going to die soon anyway. A lot of things seem to become unimportant in the face of death. And a lot of things seem to become more important.

I played piano for an old lady at a nursing home where I volunteered last year. I knew that I wasn’t the best piano player, but it didn’t matter, because she knew she was going to die, so she could fully enjoy my company and the fact that I was there, playing the piano, even if I wasn’t all that good at it.

Age seventy seemed to be the theme of the day I met Gary, the old dude in the rocking chair. Later that night, I facilitated a singing circle and African dance class accompanied by live drumming by my friend and neighbor Emmeth Young. We had mostly older people dancing with us. One of the most enthusiastic dancers happened to be a woman who was celebrating her seventieth birthday that very night.

When the staff of the eco-lodge served her a birthday cake, she cried. I don’t know if they were tears of joy or sadness or a little of both. I think she liked the cake.

I think age helps. I think getting old means going through a lot of loss, which I think facilitates acceptance of one’s death.

I think about death every day. I would like to think it helps me be a happier person.

I don’t know.

Ram of God

ram's horn copy
Ram’s horn

gifted to me

by the ocean

I sound my trumpet call

 

As a tropical storm

delivers thunder

the voice of God declares

I am sovereign

 

Victorious

over death

dignified

in God’s love

 

Virile

with procreative vigor

and aggressive savagery

in my coitus with the earth

She

Parama in triangle pose at Chincultik

I’ve stared my own death

in the face

many times

abused

raped

nearly killed

Did I deserve it?

 

Men 

afraid

of the goddess

can only 

possess her

vilify her

violate her

 

Jesus

He could not have been a woman

because then we’d say

“She deserved to die”

The bible would list all the reasons

why She deserved to suffer

for our sins

 

Finding peace after the loss of a family member

V— requests a Life Reading, seeking guidance and insights to many questions about personal wellness, marriage, spirituality, and life’s purpose:

birdMy son passed away last year. I’ve had some deep insights into my spirituality and some real indicators to our connectedness to the other side of the veil—an awakening, perhaps.

Why am I so unbelievably exhausted and unmotivated? The exhaustion seems to be getting much worse. Medical tests show that everything is normal. How do I fix this?

I have since had shamanism presented to me numerous times, although I have resisted. I am having trouble finding help on this new path. I feel like I am adrift.

Is this the path meant for me? Will I find a mentor?

And why can’t I seem to find my spirit guides? … Or, have I found them, and I just don’t know it?

I see so many images when I meditate, but I can’t seem to make sense of them all. Even when I’m not meditating; for example, just closing my eyes during emotional moments, I still see images. (I swear, I’m not crazy!)

What am I supposed to do with my life? How do I make my time here on earth meaningful? What’s my purpose, and how do I find the energy to pursue it?

How do I find joy in life again? Everything that’s going on in the world seems too overwhelming. So many bad things are happening…. I sometimes feel nauseous hearing about it on TV or social media, to the point where I’ve stopped watching the news…. I’m seriously considering shutting down my Facebook account. It’s really sickening and heartbreaking—all this hate in the world.

My husband is…. a difficult person. Although, I’m sure I’m difficult too. Am I being selfish when I think about leaving him, or should I just suck it up and try harder? Is this relationship my life lesson in patience and compassion? Is it more honorable to stay together?

In the past, I was intuitive and good at seeing the big picture, but now, I can’t see the forest for all the trees. I used to be really confident and grounded when I was younger, but now, I just feel so off kilter.

What is happening to me?

Life Reading by Parama

wolfYour son’s death has left a void in your external world, but you still feel him on the inner plane. Connections can never be lost.

“Daddy, Mommy,” your son says, “I know you miss me, but I had to leave. It was my time to go. Some people get a whole lifetime—I only got twelve years. I learned what I needed to learn, and you taught me well. I know you wanted to save me, but it was my time to go.

“Please let me go. I want to move on, too. But I can’t, because you are holding on so tight to your guilt – wishing you could have saved me.

“Let me fly! I want to fly. When you look up and see a bird with its wings outstretched, hovering above you, you’ll know it’s a sign from my spirit, having united with the Almighty One God.

“Remember me, but let me go—let me fly—let me be free and live forever in your hearts. Mommy, Daddy—one day we will reunite. I know, because the angels tell me so. And we will be happy together, forever with God.

“Take down my bedroom, my play toys, the favorite truck of mine that always makes you cry, and please, for my sake, give it away to a charity so that some other child can play the way I once did. This will please me, bring me joy, and help set our spirits free.

“Please… I want to see you happy again. I want to see you play together the way you used to play with me.

“You can’t make me come back, but you can be happy now. You have each other, and that’s a gift from God. I’ll never forget you, … ever, ever.”

The spirit of the wolf walks with you and protects you. The wolf is a fierce guardian of what you hold dear. Ask for protection and guidance from God, and then close your eyes, listen, and pay attention. A wolf—a guardian spirit gifted to you from God—is a fearless, loyal, dedicated provider and protector for you, especially as you consider bringing another child into your family. You will know when you are ready.

An unhealthy substance addiction has sapped you of energy and consumed your creativity. Seek support to free yourself from these chains. Ask God to help you…. Cry out if you must.

Have you let yourself cry over the loss of your son?

Find a loving, supportive friend from your local community whom you trust. You’ve known this person a long time, and she has great wisdom and a deep understanding of who you are. Ask her to listen to you talk about your substance addiction. Receive her unconditional love and support. Rely on her whenever you feel tempted to indulge.

Drowning out the pain cannot make it go away. Denial can only amplify your pain, until it consumes you—all of you. Will you let this happen? You don’t want to feel your pain, so you have found a way to justify your addiction, as if you were entitled to indulge in self-destructive behaviors.

This is extremely taxing to your nervous system, throws your hormones off balance, and exhausts you.

The time has come to fervently—Start now—seek healthy outlets to vent your emotions, which you’ve managed with great effort to stuff deep inside of yourself.

Using your chosen art medium, capture the images you see in meditation or when your eyes are closed. Give the images your own expression: Give them a voice, a shape, and free them from being trapped inside of you.

A new dance can only begin when you’re willing—and ready—to let go of whatever’s holding you back, get up, and embrace your dance partner.

people-dancing-silhouette-icon-25When you first met your partner, you used to dance, play, and explore together. You’ve stopped taking the time to enjoy being together.

Ask God to renew and rebuild your life. Regenerate yourself and your relationship through God’s love and your love for each other. You can do this. What seems to be “difficult” about your relationship will transform as you express yourself more and more.

Unburden yourself from guilt.

Rely on trustworthy friends to help you. Don’t expect your partner to fulfill your needs for support. It’s too much right now. If you build a solid support network for yourself outside of your primary partnership, then over time, you will find that your marriage improves, your perceptions change, and you will be able to enjoy life together, as you once did.

Be patient in your relationship, and do your fair share. You’ve both been struggling, so do not add more burden by expecting the other person to save you from your pain. You must do this work for yourself, in your own heart, with the help of God and your trusted support network.

Have you and your partner considered building a new house or an addition to your house? This could be helpful for you to do together: a collaborative project, creating something new together.

dust-devil-vs-tall-bike-burning-man-2010Consider a vacation getaway with your partner soon. This will help you find new perspectives, as well as giving you needed time alone together. You’ve been vying for many peoples’ attention in personal and professional matters, leaving you little energy to focus on each other’s needs.

Don’t let other people compete for your attention: You must choose where and to whom you will give your attention. Start with yourself and God.

You have done well to maintain professionalism and commendable performance at work. Continue to apply yourself in your craft, for your work serves as an outlet for your creativity—a means by which you can reconnect with your joy … You must ask for this…. You must make the necessary adjustments in your work routines, schedules, and workspace to allow for uncensored, raw, unlimited self-expression.

You’ve been holding back too much, denying yourself the opportunity to unleash your passion in your life, because you fear rejection or judgment from others. Ask yourself, “Is this worth it? What do I gain by giving into my fears that others will judge me?”

bikeA new bicycle awaits you and needs repair. Start there. Design the bike according to your own specifications and paint it however you desire. Let the bike be a metaphor for your own body…. Build yourself a new body, a renewal in the spirit of God’s love, in self-love.

Love yourself as God loves you, and do not deny yourself the blessing of joy and lightheartedness! When is the last time you had a cathartic belly laugh with friends over some hilarious joke, a story… a movie? Seek out the opportunity to laugh more! Watch funny YouTube videos if you must—anything to get your body convulsing in fits of laughter!

Whether alone or with trusted friends, your laughter will bring you to tears…. will lead you to anger… will open the door for forgiveness… and will, finally, give you peace.

By the time you parade your new, decked-out bicycle through the streets of your summertime celebration, you will be ready to meet a special person who will become a teacher and mentor for your spiritual path.

Look out for signposts pointing the way.

Of course, you will know when you have met your teacher, who will appear at first to be a “nobody” (almost invisible), but as soon as you engage in a conversation, his words will speak to your heart. You will feel refreshed in his company, enlivened by his energy, and inspired by his example.

Life has many twists and turns. One thing leads to another. Nothing is ever lost—not even the people who’ve come into our lives for some time, then gone away.

We are all precious pearls on the same string, coiling and spiraling itself through space, keeping us eternally connected through the unconditional, divine, perfect love of our One Creator, the One God who knows all. Trust in this always.

-End of Life Reading-

I wish you blessings on your life’s journey. Thank you for writing. —Parama

At any moment, you could be staring death in the face. The dance of life is your dress rehearsal for that moment.

owl's face

Recently diagnosed with cancer, a friend of mine (a man in his late 50’s) requested a Life Reading as he undergoes a spiritual transformation. He is currently making some important decisions that directly impact his family and his lifestyle. The following symbols appeared to Parama in this Life Reading:

  • Close-up to an owl’s face
  • Cross-section of a citrus fruit with clairaudient message, “Eat citrus.”
  • View of a forest canopy, as if lying on a lush, forest floor at base of a tall tree, looking straight up at the tree
  • Still image of the classical “dancing Shiva nataraja,” with the prominent feature of the image being the act of dancing and how Shiva is holding up his foot

The following is a letter I wrote to my friend about these symbols, their meaning, and how this information can be applied in everyday life:

You are now experiencing a major transition in which you must face death directly. The image of the owl’s face appears as very intense and confrontational, not in a threatening way, but in a way that you cannot avoid or ignore. At this time in your life, you are facing your own death.

The image of a sliced citrus fruit and the accompanying message indicates that there may be some health benefit for you to eat citrus at this time. It could also be a symbol of enjoying the fruits of your labor, of seeds that you planted long ago or even recently, which are now showing up in their fullness in your life.

Be mindful of the blessings that come to you, and realize that they are the result of how you’ve lived your life thus far. If you wish to continue enjoying such blessings, then focus on planting more of these seeds in the time you have left on this earth.

Looking up at a tall tree as you lie on a lush forest floor indicates that you would do well to find repose and perhaps a retreat in nature. To connect with nature at this time would be very healing and rejuvenating for you (symbolized by the lush greenness of this natural setting). It will also help you view life from a broad and uplifting perspective (symbolized by “looking up to the heavens”).

The image of a dancing Shiva nataraja signifies that you are now embodying the fullness of your spiritual understanding of reality and ultimate truth. A fully empowered being, Shiva is dancing to remind us of how reality itself is but a dance, a divine play of illusion through which we must all move in order to realize ultimate truth. This indicates that as you face your death, you are being presented with an opportunity to “be in the dance” and gain profound spiritual wisdom.

Consider researching the significance of the “dancing Shiva nataraja” in order to gain a deeper understanding, according to the classical Vedas (scriptures). You may wish to consider how you can share your wisdom with others. Now is the time.

Blessings to you on your life’s journey. Thank you for writing. –Parama