Intercultural conflict: Is there a solution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovering the fusion of Christianity and Buddhism

mirror braid

This morning in deep meditation, I discovered a bright, clear landscape in which my understanding of Christianity and Buddhism were reconciled in my mind, for the first time in my life.

My liberating mental reconciliation has inspired me to write this blog today: I want to share what I’ve discovered with my friends and family. I want to know if other people have discovered this, too. Or maybe I’m just crazy from eating too much chocolate and doing too much yoga. Or maybe….

Mom and Dad sitting together copy

If I had to label myself as a “follower” of any religious tradition (which I prefer not to do), I would say, “I am a Christian,” because I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior. But this doesn’t mean that I cannot study and practice Buddhism, too. I have always been very open-minded and willing to try new things. My parents taught me to make my own decisions and were careful not to impose their beliefs onto me or expect me to do things their way (thanks, Mom and Dad!). So, over the course of my life as a Christian, I have experimented and delved deeply into eastern religious traditions, especially Buddhism.

I became a certified yoga teacher and massage therapist in my early 20s, because I found the philosophy and practice of yoga to be helpful for deepening my understanding of God and the universe. I found many wonderful teachers in Massachusetts, where I grew up; and for years after I continued to deepen my studies and practice with various teachers in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and California. It has truly been an amazing journey, and I am grateful to many friends who have joined me along the way. (Thanks, everybody!)

Five years ago I moved to Central America, where I was introduced to shamanism by some wonderful teachers and friends in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. I now own an acre of land and a thatch-roof hut in Belize; where I write, travel, and offer ongoing classes and therapeutic massage. Come on a jungle adventure retreat!

Krista and Jill

My sister Jill and I at home in Massachusetts (never forget the Princess Bride! I love you, Jill!)

My spiritual path has been somewhat… labyrinthine. You could say… meandering. But interesting, too. I was raised Catholic – baptized as a baby, received my first communion, and attended catechism. Then, my parents decided we’d convert to Protestantism, so I was re-baptized at the age of 11. Throughout high school, I went to a Protestant church, joined the youth group, and studied the bible (I kept my grandmother’s leather-bound copy by my bedside and read it before bed each night).

My college boyfriend and I on my graduation day

My college boyfriend and I on my graduation day

As a young adult, I struggled with my religious identity. I had been fond of Protestantism, but I also felt a strong kinship with Catholicism: I was called back to it. So, I attended a Catholic college in Massachusetts and took most of my courses with retired priests and nuns. I don’t know; maybe it was seeing bloody Jesus on a cross in all my lecture halls, or perhaps something else that disturbed me, but I quickly developed a distaste for Catholicism during college, so I experimented with being an atheist for several years. Actually, for many years – until I went to graduate school in New Mexico, where I joined a Zen Buddhist community and began attending monthly meditation retreats in the mountains. I continued to study and practice yoga.

Years later, I met a guru from India who “initiated” me into the yogic tradition by gifting me a Sanskrit spiritual name (“Parama”). Soon after that, I discovered a Tibetan Buddhist master whose teachings and lectures answered (finally!) many of the questions I still struggled with about God, the world, and how to be happy. Over the past decade, I have studied yoga, meditation, and Buddhist philosophy with many different teachers.

Recently I was baptized (again!) in the name of Jesus with a Pentecostal minister in a beautiful river in the deep tropical rainforest of southern Belize, where I currently live. (I am just trying to cover all my bases, to make sure I get to Heaven!) My baptism happened at the juncture of many life-changing events and transitions: career, relationships, finances, and spirituality. I feel a renewed connection to my understanding of Jesus as my Lord, my teacher, my guru, and my savior. Emphasis on Jesus as my guru.

full lotus copy 2I have since been inspired to turn my focus back to studying the bible, with the guidance of experienced missionaries – lifelong Christians – who have dedicated their lives to building churches and teaching bible school classes in Belize and Guatemala. I have deepened my respect for the Christian way of life and the dedication required to truly follow the teachings of Jesus in the bible.

As I discover a fusion of Christianity and Buddhism, I still practice yoga and meditation avidly, every day, twice a day. I regularly read the bible as well as other texts from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I keep a bible by my bedside, as well as every yogini’s bible: a copy of Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” and Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of Yogi”. I find that all of these teachings are not only compatible; they are almost exactly the same, when you strip away language barriers and cultural/historical distinctions. I travel a lot: For the most part, I’ve found that humans are all fundamentally the same on the inside. We all just want to be happy.

IMG_7117 copyMy parents taught me to keep an open mind, to make my own decisions, not to follow somebody else’s rules arbitrarily. I think children understand this: They are not restricted (yet) by rigid thought patterns or strong opinions about how the world should be. Children just want to play together. Similarly, I see no conflict between Christian and Buddhist teachings. I see only beautiful connections. I have had the opportunity to “put it all to the test”: to apply the teachings from both the bible and ancient Buddhist texts into practice in my everyday life. I am convinced that there is no difference between the two traditions.

12072015020 copyA person dedicated to the Buddhist philosophy – a boddhisattva – seeks to perfect herself so that she can help others become enlightened (reach boddhichitta): to see and realize God directly, by having a personal relationship with a living teacher (guru)…. How?… By helping others perfect themselves, by living an ethical life, by deepening one’s meditation, by treating others as oneself, by focusing on helping others…. Sounds familiar, right (you Christians out there)?

Buddhism: a daily, disciplined practice, a way of life

sunrise yoga copyA Christian dedicates herself to evangelism (being a “soulwinner” for Jesus) – helping everybody become one with Christ: to see and realize God directly, by having a personal relationship with Jesus…. How?… By sharing personal testimony, being a living example and inspiration on the spiritual path, by helping others become more “like Christ” by living according to the teachings of Jesus, becoming closer and closer to God, every day. Hmmm…

Christianity: a practical path, a daily discipline, a way of life

Both Christianity and Buddhism are about making a commitment to personal, spiritual growth and helping others do the same by being a living example, an inspiration, a testimony, a guide, and a friend. Like Jesus. Like Buddha.

Thank you to all of my teachers—my friends.

krista photos_0035 copy

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