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.