Money can’t buy me self-realization, so why should I pay for yoga?

Baba Hari Dass, master yoga teacher

In our modern, capitalistic society, what we call “yoga” has now become a multimillion dollar industry in which yoga teachers brand themselves, compete with each other and earn money; instead of the real yoga: a sacred, ancient tradition designed to be passed down from a master teacher (guru) to sincere, eager students (disciples) who wish to be self-realized. An authentic wish for self-realization should not be motivated by the desire to earn money, fame or recognition. Yet, we have acquiesced to allow what was once the pure tradition of yoga to be made into something it was never meant to be.

Yoga master Baba Hari Dass during a satsang gathering on Halloween

Yoga was never designed to be made into a brand and offered for sale. The understanding of yoga is meant to be transmitted from teacher to student through a process of surrender and dedicated practice. My yoga guru, Baba Hari Dass, took a lifelong vow of silence and didn’t utter a word for most of his life. Yet, he has trained thousands of students in the ancient tradition of yoga. He is an extraordinary, living example of what yoga is really meant to be: a lifelong practice of requiring sincere focus, fiery dedication and relentless love for self and others.

Today, we see thousands of different brands of yoga invented by modern yoga teachers who have the hubris to think they’re creating something new under the sun. Maybe they are. But that doesn’t make it real yoga. It just makes it yet another product that must be sold and advertised.

This article is not meant to be a criticism of the thousands of yoga teachers who are out there teaching excellent classes and charging money for what they do; actually, the purpose of my writing is to suggest that maybe there might be a different way of learning and teaching yoga — a way that aligns more with the origin of yoga as an ancient tradition.

The modern age of yoga is replete with self-proclaimed experts shamelessly making grandiose marketing claims like “Transform your life!” … I’m not saying there’s no place for marketing. Obviously, there is. For products that need to be sold. I am suggesting that yoga should be taken as a lifestyle and not a product; therefore, it doesn’t need to be sold. Or bought. Yoga is kind of like love: It’s something I practice because I know it improves my qualify of life. It’s not like a pill I can buy over the counter. Yet that’s the way yoga is being treated all over the world today — like a consumable commodity.

If a teacher charges for her yoga class, then it’s probably because the yoga studio owner is charging her for rent. Or, if she’s the yoga studio owner, then she has to pay overhead costs like advertising, employees, insurance, business taxes; not to mention the cost of yoga teacher certification, which can be priced as high as $10,000 in the U.S., depending on the brand of yoga.

One could argue that if you have to pay thousands of dollars to earn a yoga teacher certification (as I once did), then you should be able to charge for your yoga class, especially once you feel confident and can attract a following of students. I think that’s the justification most modern yoga teachers use for why they charge to teach yoga (as I once did): “Hey, I paid for my yoga teacher certification, and I dedicated years of my life to studying yoga…”

Over 15 years ago, I earned my 200-hour yoga teacher certification in the Boston area. I have since taken countless hours of workshops, seminars and classes to hone my craft and learn from many different teachers. In the past, I myself have opened my own yoga studio, charged money for my yoga classes, and Ah, hell, why not? created my own brand of yoga that I call “Parama Yoga Method”. But the truth is, I did not invent anything new that I didn’t learn from my own teachers. Maybe I just changed around some sequences, sketched my own line drawings of some yoga postures and took some nice yoga selfie photos on the beach. Aside from that, I try to keep the ancient yoga tradition alive by doing what my teachers taught me, honoring the sacred lineages, and integrating any of my own realizations into what has always and will always be the one true yoga of self-realization. Only a dedicated practitioner learning from a master teacher can understand this.

Let’s consider for a moment what “yoga” actually means. “Yoga” is the ancient Sanskrit word meaning “union” — union of body, mind and spirit. While I can’t claim to have achieved perfect union of my body, my mind and my spirit, I can say that such a practice is a profoundly spiritual one that has nothing to do with buying and selling. Union of body, mind and spirit probably can’t be bought — or sold, for that matter. Union of body, mind and spirit is probably what the gurus call “self-realization”. Let me reiterate the point I made previously: An authentic wish for self-realization should not be motivated by the need or desire to earn — or spend — money. As one of my teachers once said, “The best things in life are free.”

I would like to see many more free yoga teacher training programs led by master teachers. I would like to see less certification and more authentic practice. I would like to see more eager students sincerely wishing to earn what can only be gained through dedicated practice: self-realization. There’s no price for that. Like the Beatles said, “Money can’t buy me love.”

Come join me for sunrise yoga classes in my riverside bungalow at a charming jungle eco-lodge in southern Belize, where I offer daily classes (for free) in exchange for room and board. Over 5 years ago, I quit my full-time, high-paying job in the U.S. and moved to Central America. I bought an acre of land and built my own off grid homestead. Here, the cost of living is relatively low and I can enjoy a simple lifestyle, albeit without most modern conveniences. Overall, I’ve discovered more resourceful ways to meet my basic needs, thereby giving me more time to practice yoga. I’m not saying this makes me better than anybody else; it just makes me… unique. And different. Unlike most yoga teachers. But who cares?

Click here to buy one of my books on Amazon. It will transform your life! (That was a joke). Buying one of my books will support me as I continue to teach yoga for free. (That wasn’t a joke).






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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Honor your unique gifts, regardless of what others think

bird-singing copyM— writes,

I am feeling very depressed. I recently had surgery and I’m doing okay. However, I feel emptiness and anxiety. I have studied with a medium for 15 years. She recently passed away. I feel I did not progress enough. I need guidance.

Dear M—,

Patterns of behavior have a way of repeating themselves to solidify into a nexus of self-destructive beliefs and concepts that originate from a desire for belonging, approval, and acceptance within a sociocultural context.

We are a collective of angelic beings who protect and guide humanity on a course of evolution that has always and will always continue by the grace of the One Creator in All whose unconditional, loving presence is the prime directive for all life to proceed onward in evolutionary upgrades to higher and higher frequencies of energy.

Avoid negativity, dearest one. Surround yourself with people who support and nurture you in your fullness—people who inspire and uplift you. When you set this mindful intention in your life to be uplifted by your surroundings and the company you keep, you will find that your social circles change: old friends vanish, and new ones appear, seemingly out of nowhere; to help you, to show you something new, to awaken something within you…. Be open and receptive to the blessing of new people coming into your life.


You must try going to new places where you’ve been reluctant to go before, while you’ve been locked into a routine that has become dull and stifling to you. This includes restaurants, music performances, church social events, exercise classes, and cultural events. Be on the lookout for notices about these happenings in your area, and we could also encourage you to consider traveling to a foreign country—Have you considered the islands of Crete?—for rest, renewal, and spiritual connection. Blessings await you there.

As for your previous “studies with a medium”, it is clear that you are a medium, and you must cultivate your special gift. Why are you afraid of it? …because of how others will react? …what they will think? …how the religious authorities would condemn and admonish you?

Ask yourself: Do you want to live your life for someone else, to fulfill other peoples’ standards and expectations, or do you want to live your life fully as who you are, regardless of what the people around you want you to be?

For years you’ve compromised an important and powerful gift that has been given to you by God to help many people. We recognize that mediumship has been vilified and ill reputed. We find this to be a misfortune for humanity. Mediums can serve as tools of God for humanity’s uplifting at this time, a gift that can only be received by highly attuned, sensitive people like yourself—a gift that must be treasured, nurtured, cultivated.

Be brave, dear one—and find the company of friends and places where you can comfortably immerse yourself in a deepening of your studies.

There’s no conflict of interest between being a medium and worshiping God in whatever way you’ve embraced in your life. Ignore the negativity from those who fear that which they do not understand. Trust yourself, and honor yourself.

Consider spending more time watching videos of people who inspire you and whom you admire in your chosen field of study. You seek to progress in your understanding and practice. It appears there will be a special retreat on the Island of Crete where you will discover much in the way of renewed insights, inspiration, and deeper understanding.

Pay more attention to how you communicate with your immediate family members, especially your husband. There are patterns you’ve fallen into that negate your wholeness and beauty. When he speaks to you negatively, try ignoring or deflecting his comments by focusing on the positive. Smile more (even if you have to fake it). The point is this: Avoid engaging him in a downward spiral of negativity that leaves you both feeling drained and discouraged.

An attitude of “I only accept love in my life” might be a good place to start—to hold this intention in your heart and carry it with you throughout your daily activities, including your interactions with close family members.

mother and baby birdThere seems to be ongoing tension and struggle with your oldest son. Is this true? A battle of the wills has been ensuing…. Consider how he could feel that you don’t trust him. He has reached an age where he needs to assert his independence and withdraw from needing you to direct and assist him.

Can you let go more and grant him the opportunity to grow? It’s like a baby bird learning to fly: Momma has to push the baby out of the nest and watch him struggle as he tries to fly. He may not be so good at it, at first. That’s okay. He needs to learn to use his own wings and not depend on yours.

You’ve been an excellent, nurturing mother. We want you to release yourself from believing that you haven’t been good enough. You’ve done everything you can and your love is pure. Trust the love you feel for yourself, your family, for God, from God.

bird flying

Are you singing enough? There was a time when you lifted your voice up to God in heartfelt worship and praise…but not enough lately. Find music you can sing to… Play the music… loudly if you have to… and sing. Sing! Like a bird.

No shame in using your voice for what it is designed to do—express your heart.

We are proud and happy for you in this new growth that you will discover as you bravely try new activities, find new friends, communicate lovingly, and honor your God-given gifts.


Blessings upon you, lovely harbinger of playful, melodious birdsong. Sing! …and soar as high as you want to go!

-End of Life Reading-

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


About the Author


Parama K. Williams, MA, LMT, CYT is a published author with a Master of Arts in Education and fifteen years of international experience as a U.S.-Certified/Licensed Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher. She is an avid practitioner of yoga and meditation.

As the author of Ascended Master Readings, she provides Life Readings to help people find solutions to everyday challenges and to discover their unique life’s mission.

Parama offers therapeutic massage and yoga classes internationally. She currently lives in Central America, where she writes, travels, and offers ongoing classes, workshops, and retreats. 


Contact the author:





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