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.

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Radical reform: Why I quit my teaching job in the U.S.

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Over the course of my adventurous and unconventional life of self-imposed nonconformity, I’ve been able to discipline myself rather well, at least in terms of my diet and exercise routines. I suppose it’s something I learned from my industrious, multi-talented father, who completed every project he ever started and got up before sunrise every day without an alarm, like clockwork, to read the newspaper and start his workday as a geeky computer engineer.

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I was born into the privilege of hearty New England stock and raised in an upper middle-class Boston suburb where I was given an excellent education, graduating as valedictorian of my high school class and again four years later as valedictorian of my college class. For my krista-and-shawn-copyvaledictory speech, I braided my hair in corn rows, dressed in a traditional African style gown and quoted the transcendentalists, urging my classmates to live a life of nonconformity. Both my parents and my grandmother taught me to not only refine my intellect, but to also be conscientious of my diet and to take good care of my physical body.

My grandmother collected innumerable glossy magazines with color images of slim women eating salads and promoting the latest diet trend. She kept scrupulous recipes of everything she cooked in a categorized file system with notes about nutrition content and caloric intake. Grandma frequently baked oatmeal cookies and bran muffins and brought them to our house when she visited. She’d point out the merits of her specialty baked goods: “I didn’t use much sugar. Too much sugar’s not healthy for you, you know.”

Years later, when she was too old to live by herself, she would move into my parents’ house in Florida and keep up her healthy diet routine. When I visited for what I suspected would be the last time, she said, holding her salad bowl and munching, “See, Jen, I still eat my salad every day.”

“That’s good, Grandma,” I humored her.

She said, “When I went to see the doctor, he told me I must be doing something right. To keep doing whatever I’m doing.” She chuckled.

krista-nmsu-student-copyAs an educator, I assumed that teaching my students about how to keep their bodies healthy with a thoughtful diet should be an integral part of their education. Luckily, as an educator in a private school, I was granted enough freedom by a relatively progressive administration to start a small organic garden in large plastic tubs I obtained from a farmer friend who donated the materials to help me get started.

In the classroom I would share a little something from my own snack bag, like raisins or trail mix or fresh fruit. Apparently I had this freedom before the time when kids were stricken with rampant nut allergies. I attempted to make a positive influence on my students’ lives in the same way my parents and grandmother had on mine. Sharing healthy food and commenting about healthy diets.

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.

I 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 published two books that instantly became bestsellers in “Experimental Methods in Education”—a good sign that I have the support of people I’ve never met but, nonetheless, they must share my radical ideas about education.

Absenteeism due to sickness—a cold, sore throat, flu, stomach issues—was all-too-common over the course of my years as a schoolteacher. It seemed to worsen as the years went by. I noticed the same ill fate of my colleagues, who seemed to suffer from carrying too much weight, lethargy, fatigue and general malaise. It appeared to me that physical sickness and the concomitant complaints about said sickness were part of the everyday fabric of the school day, an obvious problem that was rarely addressed in ways that would make a significant difference.

When I proposed to the director that we start every day with physical fitness that included exercises, breathing and maybe a few minutes of silent meditation, I was given a cordial smile, told thank you, yes, but we already have PE, and besides there are more important things to talk about at the beginning of the school day. Morning meeting consisted of boring talks where the kids sat in a huge group, fidgeting and listening reluctantly to two men, the director and assistant principal, set the tone for the day by reinforcing the rules and generally reminding everyone who was in charge. And, oh, by the way, your tiny physical body in need of movement can wait till after lunch to move around in any satisfactory way. Until then, stay still and listen to the boring lecture.

If I had been in charge of the school, things would have been a lot different. A lot of things. But the differences I wanted to see were forced into under-valued, under-paid, after-school offerings to a small percentage of the student body who were corralled into taking my yoga classes because they didn’t want to play other competitive sports. I would have preferred to make yoga a daily part of the school day for both my students and my colleagues.

Years later, teaching full-time as a special educator at a similar private school in California, I would propose similar ideas to an even more progressive administration. But still, there were more important, pressing matters, like stuffing mostly useless information into the kids’ heads.

Never mind the scientific literature indicating that kids’ brains and circadian rhythms are wired in a such a way where academic, rote learning doesn’t come naturally to them until well after mid-morning. The healthiest, most natural thing for young bodies to be doing is what agrarian families in a homesteading situation would do at the start of the day: take care of the animals, work in the fields, shovel dirt and poop, haul heavy things, get dirty…. Yet, in our schools—places where we are supposed to be teaching people basic skills—we seemed to be ignoring the things that mattered most and forcing our kids to be dutiful, unthinking automatons following arbitrary rules that they would prefer not to follow, if my observations were at all accurate. It seemed like the kids were always breaking the rules, anyway. So, why were the adults so determined to enforce rules instead of giving the kids an opportunity to discipline themselves?

In my opinion, self-discipline can only be taught by example. It can’t be forced on anyone. People need to discipline themselves of their own accord. It’s not my job to dumb anyone down with rules and useless information that they will soon forget as soon as the exam is over. But it is my job to take care of myself and be the best person I can be, which might have some kind of positive influence on the people around me.

Parama w students

Although my ideas for radical reform of the education system failed to take root in the country of my birth, I haven’t given up on my ideas, yet. I doubt I ever will.

Parama w guitarists at ComitanI quit my last teaching job at a public school in the U.S. over five years ago, gave up the comforts and conveniences of my privileged lifestyle, and took my innovative ideas with me south of the border to the tiny country of Belize, where I purchased an acre of fertile land and started building an off-grid homestead in the company of like-minded neighbors.

I published a series of books in 2014 that have been on Amazon’s bestseller list in “Experimental Methods in Education” since their publication date, indicating to me that people seem to support my ideas for radical reform of methods in education. You can check out my books here, and if you would like to visit me in Belize and participate in an interactive workshop where we explore these ideas, you can find out more and register for our next workshop here.

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Ablaze: A personal story of igniting my heart aflame

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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….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Radical reform: How and why I created The STAR Method

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I vividly remember the day one of my first-grade students, a boy diagnosed with childhood depression, came into my classroom with a sullen expression and announced, “I hate school.”

I empathized with his feelings.

After a decade of teaching in a variety of settings, I had realized that schools were highly stressful places. Outcomes that were measurable by filling in bubbles and marking checkboxes seemed to be paramount to everyone’s health and happiness.

I had learned, with a sense of despair, that the education system was failing our children.

As a full-time special education classroom teacher and consultant in public and private schools across the US, I have taught in a variety of settings to students of all ages who are diagnosed with moderate to severe developmental disabilities and learning disabilities; including autism, dyslexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). I hold a Master of Arts in Education with a specialization in Special Education. My jobs in Special Education have been demanding and, at times, exhausting.

One of the most notable features of participating in the education system was the high degree of stress that I observed in my colleagues and students. Teachers came to work frazzled, fatigued, and bogged down with endless paperwork. Students exhibited stress, anxiety, frequently came down with colds and other sicknesses, and held negative attitudes towards learning in general.

I developed my own routine for staying healthy, fit, and energized while holding down a challenging full-time job. By the time I started working in Special Education, I had already become a Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher. I continued to study and practice a variety of holistic modalities and techniques extensively. I was determined to use the tools I had learned to maintain my own health and wellness and manage job-related stress.

I would wake up by 4:00 AM every morning before school to do my morning exercises: meditation, yoga, deep breathing, jogging, swimming…. By the time I arrived to work at 7:45 AM, I had sweated my butt off, expanded my lung capacity, and found my inner peace for the day.

As I personally witnessed how my students were detrimentally impacted by high levels of stress, I started to use proven, therapeutic techniques with them in the classroom. As a Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher, I found practical ways to integrate my background in health and healing into my teaching curriculum. To help my students relax and concentrate better, I taught them simple breathing exercises and physical movements that were proven to improve academic performance. I offered yoga classes to my colleagues after school in the multipurpose room. I received encouraging, positive feedback and support from my school administration.

The STAR Method began to take shape as I applied practical stress management techniques in my own classroom and leveraged my Master’s degree studies to dig deeper into the current research. I discovered very little educational policy and scholarly research to support stress management training for teachers. Yet, my own anecdotal experience in the schools clearly indicated that job-related stress was a problem for teachers and administrators. The STAR Method was born out of what I consider to be a largely ignored aspect of educational policy: Our schools should not be stressful places.

Teachers are required to manage their students’ behavior through approved behavioral interventions and techniques, but are students learning how to manage their own behavior? Are teachers being trained to effectively manage their own stress, so that our children are spending most of their day with peaceful, calm, balanced, healthy adults who can mentor them properly?

With the expert guidance of my graduate degree advisor and co-author, I published my first article about The STAR Method in 2006 in a peer-reviewed online journal, Teaching Exceptional Children, entitled “Stress Management for Special Educators: The Self-Administered Tool for Awareness and Relaxation (STAR). I originally published The STAR Method as a program to help schoolteachers manage stress, prevent job burnout, and increase self-awareness of the impact of stress in their professional lives.

I used The STAR Method in my classroom and offered training workshops to other teachers and professionals within the education system. I endeavored to share the tools and techniques of The STAR Method on a regular basis with my students and colleagues. During this time, I became enthralled with the idea that all schools should have quiet rooms for meditation and ample, clutter-free spaces in which students and teachers could learn stress management techniques, like yoga and therapeutic touch.

But I knew that this wasn’t enough.

There was something missing.

For years, I couldn’t figure out the missing piece; regardless, I kept on trying to help.

One of my jobs was in a public school as a specialist for preschool children with multiple disabilities, including autism. Many of my students exhibited severe behavioral problems; for example, when they were upset, they would frequently hit, scratch, and bite themselves or other students. As a Special Education Teacher, my school district required me be certified in “Physical Restraint Training” so that I could learn how to properly restrain my behaviorally challenged students before they injured themselves or someone else.

At the time, it seemed like a good idea to me: I wanted to be sure that my students were safe in my classroom. But on the first day of training, I was horrified.

I learned that these techniques were adapted from those used in psychiatric wards and high-security prisons.

In the most severe cases, I would be required to follow an exact procedure that involved me and at least one other fully grown adult holding my preschoolers’ tiny bodies face-down on the floor with their hands restrained behind their backs. As stated in the training manual, I would be required to hold my students in this position for as long as it took to calm them down.

I thought to myself, “Holding a child face-down on the ground and pinning their hands behind their backs is supposed to calm them down?”

To me, it seemed like a humiliating, disempowering, brutal, and potentially harmful thing to do to any child, especially to a tiny preschooler. I later learned from further research that “Physical Restraint Training” is currently required by law for schools nationwide as an approved method of behavior intervention.

The instructor of the training session that I attended was a portly, middle-aged man who had used the restraint technique numerous times on emotionally disturbed high school boys. I approached him and asked, “So, let me get this straight. You’re telling me that I am supposed to flip my preschool kids onto their faces, pin them to the ground—the same exact way you do with your fully grown, adult students—and the goal of this technique is to calm them down?”

He replied curtly, “Yep.”

I excused myself from the training session and made a phone call to the supervisor of the Special Education Department in my school district.

“I don’t agree with this approach,” I said, “I refuse to treat my students this way, under any circumstances.”

“But—you are required to be certified in ‘Physical Restraint Training’. You have to comply with this district’s policies,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“If you don’t complete the training, then you will be held personally liable for any injuries that happen in your classroom…. This school district will not be held responsible,” my supervisor told me.

This was the galvanizing moment: I realized that our education system had failed our children.

I realized that the modern-day education system was frantically busy trying to force round pegs (our kids) into square holes.

The next day, I signed my resignation letter and quit my teaching job.

I had reached a point of no return. I was unwilling to compromise my integrity in order to keep my foot in the door of a stable job that required me to harm children. I emancipated myself and walked off the plantation. I was completely checking out of what I now believe to be a failed system. I walked away and started investing my time and energy into something new and different. But I wasn’t giving up: I was preparing to follow a higher calling.

I radically transformed my life over the course of the next few years. I used The STAR Method every day and recorded notes in my journals about how the exercises were impacting my life. I expanded my vision for The STAR Method to include more tools and techniques. I practiced, developed, and refined a series of physical exercises and meditation exercises to include in The STAR Method.

I designed and completed a wellness retreat in which I maintained a vow of silence for one year. During this retreat, I meditated daily. I reflected on my halcyon days as a graduate student and first-year teacher, when my naive optimism led me to believe that modern-day schools were places where children could go to learn how to be healthy, happy, peaceful, and self-empowered.

One day, I had an epiphany.

I realized that I couldn’t change a failed system from within the failed system.

I realized that I had to create an entirely new system: A radical reform.

The STAR Method that you now hold in your hands is the first instantiation of this new system. I have since written and published my vision for a holistic, experiential learning environment called The Farm School, located in a rural setting where children can learn how to be healthy and thrive in a self-sustaining community.

I moved to Central America, where I write, teach, travel, and offer seminars.

I am fascinated by the potential for a cultural revolution. By “revolution,” I am not referring to a violent one with torches and mobs of angry people. What I am proposing is a peaceful, quiet revolution—a subtle, yet powerful one—enacted from within our own hearts and minds.

A transformation from within must find its expression in the outer world.

Indeed, I believe that a cultural revolution is imminent. I believe that we are ready for something radically new.

I believe that radical reform is the only thing that can change the course of humanity, now standing at a crossroads between two radically different worldviews.

Now, I wonder: Which path will you choose?

The STAR Method: How to Heal Using Therapeutic Touch is now available on Amazon. Click here to download the ebook onto your Kindle reader.

Healing the past by focusing on the present

youth-summit-lg (1)In this Life Reading, a client asked the following question:  My partner and I are currently separated. What does the future hold for me?

Parama received the following information for this Life Reading: Since you sent this request for a Life Reading, you have come to grips with many aspects of your previous relationship. You have struggled with the pain of realizing how you compromised your integrity, wellbeing and happiness while maintaining an unhealthy relationship that drained you of energy and resources.

Now that you’ve realized this, you wonder how you can have a good, healthy relationship. Do not be hard on yourself for what happened with your previous partner. A new relationship is imminent for you, as you are now doing the hard work of reconciling your past and opening your heart to a new partner.

Nothing has been lost. The lessons you learned will serve you as you forge ahead with a new love relationship, informed by the failures and successes of your previous partnership. The focus now should be on yourself and how you can achieve the highest state of contentment, wellbeing, and integrity for yourself.

Reconcile the pain of the past not through regret and shame, but by focusing your life force energy on the present – on making the present be the best and most fulfilling it can be.

Let’s start with your job: Are you feeling stifled, stuck, dissatisfied? Consider a career change. This will require a bold step for you – taking action that you’ve been avoiding, since your energy was consumed by your previous relationship. Now that you have aligned your energy to focus on yourself, you are ready to take the step of finding fulfillment in your professional life.

You seek a greater degree of self-expression, creativity, and application of your keen, exacting intelligence, which your current job does not offer you. This has led to an overall lack of self-esteem, as you have been forced by the nature of your job to follow a set of inane, uninteresting procedures that go against your personal beliefs and convictions about how the same results could be obtained through a much more efficient, less time-consuming, and more conscious way. The overall feeling of boredom, lack of initiative, and discontentedness you’ve been struggling with comes largely from the dynamic that arises daily in your job, where you are obliged to sacrifice your intelligence in exchange for following strict procedures.

Be assured that your unique gifts, talents and abilities are destined to find their expression in a much more fulfilling professional position. You must be prepared to enroll in a series of courses to qualify you for the work that you’ve always wanted to do, but heretofore have been unable to apply enough focus and willpower to achieve.

You can and will succeed in the career of your choice. Now is a good time to take the necessary steps to becoming better qualified professionally. Be cautious about giving notice at your current job too early. The financial security it offers you will serve you as you invest in your continuing education. The drudgery you’ve been feeling about your job will be replaced by a sense of excitement and anticipation as you attend classes and refocus your attention on doing something that you really want to do.

Your career aspirations were inspired during your childhood by an adult mentor in your life whom you admired. Recall this person, and if you can get in contact, you are encouraged to ask for advice and insight. Mostly, it will help you to remember the qualities and achievements that you admired about this person. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What inspired me about this person?
  • Why did I admire him or her?
  • What do I have in common with this person?

Can I now see myself being in the same role, and accomplishing similar things as this individual? Why? What do I have to do to achieve this?

Your new partnership will emerge as you take the next steps, as you will be finding yourself in the company of new people in environments where you would not otherwise go, were it not for your newfound focus on self-improvement and personal fulfillment.

Consider a new, trendy wardrobe that will help you “feel” more a part of your new circle of social connections and professional colleagues. Let your wardrobe be an external expression of your new career focus and success. Clothing can be a powerful manner of self-expression and reveals the way one wishes to “show up” in the world.

A lot of hard work awaits you, especially over the course of the next year. You will succeed. Whenever you feel discouraged, you should turn to a loving family member who supports you emotionally and can offer useful advice and encouragement.

There may come a point where you feel that you have fully “moved on” from your previous partner, but this person will not. You may be pressured to re-enter into the relationship. Be well advised that this would be an unnecessary distraction for you, and it would require you to shift your focus to such a degree, that you may be taken off course from your truly desired goals and aspirations.

You will have to be strong and overcome the obstacle of denying yourself what you want in order to provide for someone else. As a new identity emerges for you, the people you’ve been close to (including your former partner) will expect you to keep showing up the way you had before. It will take inner strength and determination to forge ahead with your new plans and goals. Write them down. Hang them up on a wall where you can see them every day. Do not let yourself be distracted or pressured into giving up on yourself.

It will serve you well to establish a new network of friends as you begin to make some changes in your life. Choose people your age and gender who are focused on similar goals. Spend free time with them and get to know them. Your new social circle will become increasingly important to you as you come closer and closer to achieving your lifelong dream.

Remember: let the focus shift from your past to your present, where all the potential for happiness and success can be found, waiting for you to realize.

-End of Life Reading-

I wish you blessings of happiness, success and fulfillment. Thank you for writing. —Parama