Discovering a nest of baby mice in my yoga mat

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When you visit southern Belize for vacation, or in my case, when you come here to live and thrive, you join the lives of jungle animals and plants in this lush, vibrant habitat — where biodiversity can be seen, felt and heard every day by anyone lucky enough to come in contact with it. Close encounters with species that make this jungle paradise their home are common experiences for guests and residents of the Toledo district of southern Belize.

Five years ago I left my career in the U.S. to move to Central America and purchase an acre of land in tropical Belize (a tiny country just south of Mexico with coastline along the Caribbean Sea), where I’ve launched myself into the adventure of a lifetime building my own off grid home with the company and help of my neighbors and friends, many of whom are also ex-pats like me who share the common dream of living unconventionally and sustainably in a place where we can grow our own food year-round amidst fertile soils and a pleasant, laid back culture of beautifully diverse animals, including the people.

house-from-inside-copyWhether it’s a blue morpho butterfly fluttering from tree to tree, a turtle slowly making its way across your path, or a fuzzy tarantula lumbering across the walkway, I am thrilled and fascinated every day to see and interact with teeming jungle life. I think the local Mayan villagers, who are my friends and neighbors, agree that Belize is unique for its pristine, intact natural resources.

We lucky residents of Belize are accustomed to finding enormous spiders, rodents of unusual size and frighteningly large insects taking up residence in our thatch roof homes made of wood from trees harvested locally and sustainably. Forget about hermetically sealing your home in layers of toxic paint, sheetrock and wallpaper: Here in the tropics, the houses are made of natural materials that can breathe, which means here we let the air in and by default, the animals and insects often find their way inside and share space with us. I can personally attest to this common, everyday occurrence, as I am currently in the process of building a 16 X 16 foot thatch roof hut in the middle of second-growth rainforest on the edge of a mangrove creek.

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Yesterday morning I awoke to find a gargantuan spider inches from my face. The day before, I absentmindedly pulled on my leather cowgirl boots without first shaking them out, only to discover that a spider of similarly gigantic proportions had found a comfortable haven in the dark coolness of my boot, and luckily I spared her life by feeling her wriggling against my foot, swiftly removing the boot and sending her on her hopefully merry way.

Back to the spider in my bed… Since I’ve lived here for five years now, I was unfazed. (I’ve had stranger bedfellows, namely a scorpion inches from my nose)…. I greeted my eight-legged arachnid brethren with a hearty “Good morning!” and calmly proceeded to corral him into a jar, which I then sealed and carried outside, where I promptly freed this exquisite creature to continue living. Why should I kill a spider? He eats insects that could bite me. I am thankful for the intricate web of life that naturally stays in perfect balance (well… if it weren’t for the cumulative detrimental impact of humans on the natural world, but that’s another story)….

Parama hugging tree at Palenque copyAs the Manager of the Spa and Wellness Center at Cotton Tree Lodge, an eco-lodge located deep in the jungle of southern Belize, I offer therapeutic massage and unique spa services in a thatch roof spa overlooking an emerald green river as well as daily morning sunrise yoga in a charming riverside gazebo decorated with the large carved wooden faces of the Mayan ancestors, in honor of Belize’s history as an empire of the Maya heartland. While you’re visiting, you can visit the nearby Mayan temples and ruins, which I highly recommend: Here in Belize, there’s little regulation or restriction on how close you can get to the actual stones and sacred sites. Here, you can immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of the land, the people, and the thousands of other species that share a home in the rainforest.

img_0907At 6:00 AM this morning, a pleasantly warm and refreshing breeze beckoned me to my yoga mat, and just as I entered my riverside yoga studio, I heard intermittent squeaking noises emerging from … somewhere. I searched the room and discovered that the sound was coming from a wicker basket that holds my yoga mats. When I opened the cover of the basket, out popped a rather large and frightened gray mouse with round, black beady eyes and a look of terror. She leapt out from the basket, pounced to the floor and ran away faster than my eye could see, disappearing from sight.

img_0906I can imagine how reluctant Momma Mouse was at that moment to have abandoned her brood in order to save her own life: I peered into the basket to discover the family she’d left behind. There were three newborn baby mice nestled in a mound of shredded material–some of which consisted of yoga mat bits–at the bottom of the basket. Upon closer inspection, I surmised that Momma Mouse must have spent hours diligently nibbling away at not only my yoga mats, but also the basket itself, to construct a plush and comfortable nest for her babies.

I could have let myself fall into a state of upset at the inconvenient loss of a precious yoga mat, not to mention the urgent clean-up job left to my hands, but that would not have been very yogic-like, nor could I blame Momma Mouse. I would have done the same thing if given the opportunity. I had been out of town and away from my yoga studio for four days, giving her a perfect chance to find an ideal birthing place and nest for her new family in a quiet, undisturbed place. What momma wouldn’t want that?

In anticipation of the imminent arrival of humans wanting to take my yoga class, I quickly set to work on the important task of removing the tiny bodies of three terrified baby mice from my yoga mat basket, all the while wondering where Momma Mouse had run off to, and if she would ever return to retrieve her now very vulnerable babies. I thought about the plethora of predatory snakes and vultures surrounding us, eager to find such tasty morsels for breakfast. I contemplated whether it would be compassionate (and therefore yogic-like) for me to kill them with a fatal blow beneath a heavy object, but I instantly opted to spare their lives, assuming that their mother would run back to them and carry them off to another safe nest as soon as possible. It was my hope and morning yoga intention, anyway, to give three baby rodents a chance to live.

img_0905So, I carried the yoga mat basket outside the yoga studio, tilted it on its side, and carefully reached in to extract the three squealing creatures one by one between my fingers. Their hearts were beating rapidly, their eyes still unopened, a thin layer of gray fuzz just forming over their bodies. I put the nest their mother had made for them on the ground beneath the nearest walkway (out of the sight of hungry birds) and tenderly deposited each one of them in hopes that Momma Mouse would run to their rescue as soon as I was out of the way.

My heart sank when I realized at that moment that there may have been a better way for me to have extracted the babies: Maybe I should not have handled them in my bare fingers. I remembered the time my father found a nest of baby robins that had fallen from our oak tree in a quaint New England suburb, where I was born and raised. He had donned gloves and attempted to return the nest to the tallest branch, informing me that if he touched the nest with his bare hands, the mother bird would reject her babies because of the human scent left behind.

img_0913I wondered if the baby mice would be abandoned by Momma Mouse for the same reason and berated myself for impulsively lifting their tender, fuzzy bodies in my fingers. I could have used a tool or a large leaf … but maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference. The jungle can be harsh, life isn’t fair, and babies don’t always get to grow up to become adults. Many obstacles can be found along the way. Most of them fatal.

Being a yoga teacher, I found myself softly chanting a mantra, not only to soothe the baby mice, but to honor and appreciate the precious gift of life, its vulnerability, the opportunity I have to be alive, here, right now…. I breathed deeply and listened to the baby mice squealing, imploring their mother to come for them….

I did my hour-long yoga practice, occasionally stepping outside to see if the babies had been rescued. They squealed softly the entire time, their desperate cries an ambient background noise for my morning yoga and meditation routine, which took on a new dimension in the context of this life-or-death situation: I was steadily reminded that everything is temporary, including my body and my life upon this Earth… that I can be deeply thankful for being alive in this moment, to be breathing, because it can all be taken away at any instant.

img_0910Deep breaths. Deep belly breaths….

As usual, I ended my yoga routine with several minutes of seated, silent meditation. When I opened my eyes, I looked down and noticed a tiny lady-bug-like insect with a polka-dotted exoskeleton sitting at my feet, as if waiting to speak with me.

I spontaneously composed a poem:

 

I was born into this world tender and vulnerable

Every day of my life, yearning for the same things:

to eat, to be clothed, to be soothed, to belong

to be well fed and taken care of

to know someone is there to hold me and keep me safe

to make a soft nest and be close to the warm body of another;

To love.

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***

Parama K. Williams is a published author with a Master of Arts in Education and fifteen years of international experience as a U.S. Licensed, Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher. Five years ago, she left her career in the U.S. to purchase an acre of fertile land in Belize, Central America, where she currently lives in an off grid, thatch roof hut. She offers yoga classes, therapeutic massage and retreats internationally.

Check out her latest published books here.

Join Parama on the next wellness retreat (March 11th, 2017) on a white sand beach overlooking the Caribbean Sea in tropical Belize!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moringa marries a banana in Belize

beach blissMy friends and family know I’ve always been a finicky eater. My mom told me that when I was little, I annoyed her because I used to play with my food… a lot.

What’s wrong with playing with your food?

Isn’t food meant to be fun?

Well, nothing’s changed. I still play with my food… a lot. I like to experiment. I like to invent my own meals. It still annoys people. (“What are you making?”)

I’ve been house sitting at my friends’ beachside bungalow in Belize, a tiny country just south of Mexico with white sand beaches, tropical jungles, waterfalls, caves, monkeys, … and … more beaches. I normally prefer to howl with the monkeys in the jungle while painting my face with streaks of mud, but for the next few months it looks like I’m beach-bound, here beside the Caribbean Sea. (I know, I’m so bummed out, right?)

So, this morning, a little bird flew into the window of my bungalow with a tweet (a message, folks) and told me to write about what I’m having for breakfast.

First, I had to finish my daily morning yoga routine.

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Get your bliss on, baby.

Then, I made my way into the kitchen to inspect the cupboards and see what I could whip up. I found ….

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Well, … I’ve tried over a hundred times to eat all these tantalizing, commercialized cakes, pies, and doughnuts from the grocery store, but my body rebels, no matter how much I want it to cooperate with my taste buds’ flights of fancy. One bite of anything that contains wheat will send my digestive system into disarray. It gets ugly.

I engorged myself on wheat products my entire childhood, growing up in an Italian family where my Nonna and Papi (Italian grandparents) always made delicious home cooked meals (Grazie!) with plenty of pasta, fresh-baked bread, cookies, and more … pasta. (“Don’t you want more pasta? … Here, have some more!”) So, like most Americans, I acquiesced to the family’s mealtime traditions… until I discovered in my adult years that I was, like most Americans, allergic to gluten.

Yes, that most dastardly, nefarious ingredient. Gluten – it’s in all wheat products. It’s evil, I tell you, … evil.

I’ve joined the growing ranks of the health-conscious “gluten free” army, and we’re rising up, folks … Look out, we’re adamant and unyielding, and we’re proud of it.

So, … Lucky Charms? Not for breakfast. Maybe in my dreams. Well, maybe … in another life … if, say, i’m really super stressed out and don’t have any time to make anything because that person keeps instant messaging and i have to answer and i just want to numb out because of that stupid thing that stupid person said and i just can’t relax so i’m going to sit and have some cereal…..

I eat to live; I don’t live to eat. (Well, … okay, the one exception would be chocolate: If there’s chocolate anywhere near me, I have to eat it. It’s an obsession.) I exercise my body every day, so I exercise my right to healthy, conscious (shall we say, intuitive?) eating.

I found a ripe banana.

The gates of heaven opened up, beams of radiant, white light poured out into the room, and I was renewed in the spirit! (Well, sort of) .… My point is, I did not succumb to the temptation of filling my gut with things that would make me feel yucky for the rest of the day. I waited until I had found something nourishing — something that I could have picked off a tree with my own hands, which I can actually do down here in tropical Belize.

Banana trees grow everywhere in Belize! I even have one in my own backyard, and I can eat from it year-round. (Now that’s what you call “food security”….)

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With a banana in hand, I was ready to start inventing! Let the experiment begin!

I wondered, What other fresh, healthy foods could be happily married to a banana? Then, I thought about all the moringa leaves drying on that tray downstairs in my bungalow.

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These are the actual seeds I extracted from the pod (heart-shaped seeds, awww!) and the twigs that came from a moringa tree in our neighbor’s front yard here in Belize.

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Then, I heard the banana crying out for a companion to join him in a blissful bowl of raw food deliciousness. Poor, lonely fella. So I hurried downstairs to retrieve some moringa for him.

Yes, our neighbor “Junior” – quite a dude. A tall, strapping, native Belizean dude. Years ago he planted some moringa seeds in the dirt with his own hands and left it to grow into a tall tree, which he can shimmy up for anyone who asks him to get some fresh moringa. (Isn’t that great? It’s local; it’s organic!)

Moringa, known as the Miracle Plant, has become quite a fad in America’s health food movement. If you live in the US, you won’t be lucky enough to find it in your backyard, like me (hee, hee). You mostly find it in health food stores, all violently ground up into a powder and sold as capsules, but I prefer the real thing, because I can get the real thing!

Moringa trees are tropical, so I can grow them in my very own backyard (lucky me!)…. All I needed was to ask Junior to give me some of the seeds from his tree!

You can either plant the moringa seed (well, if you’re lucky enough to live in the tropics, like me – hee, hee) or you can eat one or two seeds fresh out of the pod. But be forewarned – the seeds are bitter, and they have a powerful detoxifying effect, which I had the privilege to experience first-hand.

I typically like to fast from food once a week. Recently, I decided to fast all day and then pop two fresh moringa seeds. Within a few hours I was … well, in the cathartic throes of detox. All the toxins came out, and I’ll just leave it at that. Spare ya the details.

The take-home for you, dear reader (Hey, thanks for reading!) is that after my detoxification, I felt like a superhero, because moringa, after all, is considered a super food and will go down in the foodie halls of fame as one of the most powerful, health-enhancing plants.

moringa-oleifera-powder2Native to India, the moringa tree has been planted in other tropical countries all over the world, including my home sweet home, Belize! While many things found in nature can have one or two health benefits, moringa has many. India’s ancient tradition of Ayurvedic medicine cites over 300 diseases that can be treated with the leaves of the moringa tree. Recent scientific research has proven that moringa is a powerhouse of nutritional value (You might even start feeling like the goddess in this picture if you eat lots of moringa).

Moringa leaf is an excellent source of nutrition and a natural energy booster. Moringa is also soothing, as it helps lower blood pressure and acts as a sleep aid. Moringa’s detoxifying effect may come from its ability to purify water: Moringa is a coagulant, attaching itself to harmful material and bacteria.

The other day, I was biting the fresh moringa leaves straight off a twig that Junior had plucked from his moringa tree. My friend noticed me and asked, bewildered, “Why are you eating sticks?”

I whinnied in reply.

Back to my lonely banana. He’s such a demanding chap. I have left him waiting for waaaay too long (sorry, dear, but first I had to come to Belize to find you).

Now that I had my moringa super food, all I had to do was add the filler ingredients – the glue to hold it all together. A newly married couple needs to celebrate with entertainment and gaiety! Let’s party!

I brought down the organic oat flour and steel-cut oats. I broke out the fresh, locally sourced, organic coconut oil, and I popped open the bottle of honey (in my mouth – oooh, baby!) … and….

Hmmmm. 

Still missing something….

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A cat? (awww) …

A bird! A plane! …

No, …. Sea salt, of course! We’re at the beach, remember? The waves of the Caribbean Sea are crashing (hear them?) outside the kitchen window to shore, and the salty sea winds are blowing my hair all over my face. [I wrap my long, unruly hair under a green shawl – green to match the moringa.]

And, let’s face it, after waiting this long: No marriage can go unconsummated. Let’s be sure to add a dash of spice to our after party with a few generous sprinkles of … cinnamon!

First, I invited everyone at the wedding party to get to know each other with some ice breakers (the banana had previously been frozen, unable to express himself fully, reluctant to warm up), but after those icebreakers and some casual fun and games, everyone was really having fun! I introduced the ravishing bride and her groom (the moringa goddess and her banana), and they danced together beautifully. Then, everyone wanted to get in on the dance.

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Drumbeat, please…. [Live drummers enliven the place with native rhythms].

By then, it was time to get real close together and start sweating (oooh, that can be so messy and embarrassing, but in the end it’s always worth it, to let loose)…. So, I used a fork to mash all the ingredients together.

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Here is what all these naughty ingredients looked like when I had everyone partying together and relishing in newlywed merriment:

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Rather have the Lucky Charms? (Believe me, I understand). Health food is … well, let’s say, an acquired taste. (You can add cacao powder, which I would have done in a heartbeat, but I was all out because I ravenously consume all cacao products in my midst).

Notice the white sand beach in the background (We just had to have the wedding in Belize; I mean, where else can a lonely banana find his moringa goddess? And this goddess, my dear readers, having suffered for so long, loved and respected the banana, and she had earned her white dress.)

I went for it, folks…. Banana moringa bliss on the beach.

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And how did I feel after tasting the first bite of naturally wedded, tropical splendor?

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Hmmmm, maybe I should let my hair down for this one….

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Divine….

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Like a goddess

Emerging from the sea

Holding a trident

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Early in the morning, when the sea is calm, I like to swim in the Caribbean. Yesterday I came out holding this three-pronged stick—a trident. 

My spiritual teacher Geshe Michael said, “Always try your best to treat everyone kindly. No exceptions. It could be the most annoying person you’ve ever met. It doesn’t matter. Everyone has something to teach you. You never know when you’re talking to an angel.”

(Look, mom, I’m an angel! Sorry I annoyed you by always playing with my food.)

And finally, some inspiration for you to play, too! 

For business success, be a shining example of your mission and vision

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In this Life Reading, a client asked the following questions: 

I was in an abusive marriage and left my marital home. A few years later I got divorced. My eldest son, who is now an adult, still holds this against me. His anger at me is now causing problems in his own marriage. He and his wife are currently separated.

Is there any chance of them getting back together? I started a travel company a few years ago organizing tours to India, but it is not going well. I feel blocked at every attempt I make to progress. There is always something that comes up to block my success.

Could you give me some guidance, please? I am not employed and have no other source of income, so my life has been very stressful. I do have a very good man in my life; however, I don’t like being a burden to him, and right now, we survive on his income only. It has been difficult!

Parama received the following information for this Life Reading:

  • a large desk
  • sunlight streaming into your room
  • computer equipment
  • a red wall hanging
  • a vacation with your son
  • reorganizing your office space and getting rid of clutter
  • candlelight and fire, especially within a ceremonial context

The block you have been experiencing in your business venture is related to unresolved shame and guilt that is leftover from your previous abusive relationship. You would benefit from taking more time to meditate – Is there a tiger skin rug or some kind of special rug you can spread on the floor for your meditation time?

By meditating more regularly, you will be able to connect with what this “shame” and “guilt” means to you. Be honest with yourself: reflect on how guilt and shame are still operating in your life today, especially in the context of your business. Have you been denying yourself something out of a sense of guilt? Do you feel that you are undeserving? In your meditation, pray and ask for help to clear the energy of guilt and shame from your life.

Give yourself time to feel into where these emotions may be coming from, and recognize the origin. Realize that you do not have to hold onto these negative energies, and you don’t have to be limited by them. Identify the mission and vision of your business. Then, ask yourself, “Am I a living example of the mission and vision of my business?” In other words, are you living your life in a way that would inspire your would-be customers to seek out your services? If not, then enlist the help of a trusted friend to identify ways that you can start to exemplify your company’s mission and vision. This is important for the success of your business.

It seems that you have been feeling a lack of inspiration in your life in general, and dwelling too much on the past, on what could-have-been, or should-have-been. This is blocking your creativity. Use your meditation to work on releasing this blockage, pray and ask for assistance, and affirm that you are free from guilt and shame.

Affirm that you are a living, breathing example of inspiration for your customers! Is there some kind of creative art that you have been reluctant to do, for some reason? Let this creative expression find its way into your business. Feel the inspiration of your own creativity as it enhances and ignites sparks of life and light into your business activity.

You would benefit from a larger workspace – a desk – for spreading out brochures and organizing papers that seem to have become disorganized. You might consider reorganizing your office space and clearing away unnecessary clutter. Toss old papers that you have no use for anymore. It is important for you to keep your private/personal life separate from your work life as much as possible. This means that you should organize and store work-related papers, files, and materials in a separate room from your personal things. This will help you stay focused, keep your mental thoughts clear, and maintain organization.

Keeping your work life separate from your personal life will also help your current relationship: When you are with your partner at home, try not to discuss your business activities. Stay focused on the everyday, ordinary, enjoyable aspects of life at home with your loving partner. Appreciate the “little things” about the life that you share.

Consider entering into a business partnership with a trusted friend who can help you boost your web marketing. A business partner will take pressure off your romantic partner, because you will have someone else to talk to and strategize about your business.

Take your business to the next level with an upgrade in computer equipment. You and your friend will be able to do this together, but alone, you seem to be lacking certain needed skills in the area of online marketing and promotion of your services.

Eat more fresh fruits. You will benefit from letting more sunlight into your home and exposing your skin to sunlight more often. This will energize you and spark your creativity.

Have you been yearning to take a trip somewhere? Invite your son to accompany you on this special trip. Take the time off from work and other obligations to go on this trip, and be sure to spend quality time alone with your son. It seems that he is dealing with unresolved anger towards you because he has not been able to express it to you or anyone else constructively. Be prepared to engage your son in somewhat emotionally trying dialogues about your past and how your decisions affected him when he was young.

Give him all the time he needs to be honest with you, even if his words are painful for you to hear. Be open and honest with him about your own process – Have you had the opportunity to talk with your son about how the abuse affected you when you were married to your previous partner? Take time to explain to your son how you took his safety and wellness into consideration when you decided to divorce your ex-husband.

Be patient with your son; it may take some time for him to forgive you. Do not pressure him with your own expectations or desires for his life. You must be honest with him about how you feel, but he must make his own decisions.

There is a bold, red-colored wall hanging or decoration that you could gift to your son. Ask him to place it somewhere in his home – on the wall or on a table – where he will see it daily. The color red will help him externalize and express his anger appropriately and constructively.

Consider the benefits of candlelight and fire in your life, especially within a ceremonial context. Look to your community for how and where to do this.

-End of reading-

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