Call me crazy (I don’t care): I consider it a compliment

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” —Krishnamurti

I’m not mentally handicapped and no one has declared me to be mentally ill, though I’ve been evaluated by licensed professionals. My accolades, among other accomplishments of merit, would indicate that I’m highly intelligent: I was valedictorian of both my high school and college class, which means that I graduated with the highest academic achievements of my classes and delivered the valedictory speech at my graduation ceremonies. I’ve written and published over a dozen books.

I’d like to think that my intelligence would port over into all aspects of my life, including relationships, but history would demonstrate that I’ve fallen short in that area. I suppose that’s one reason I’m still alive: I have more opportunities to learn and grow, at least in terms of relationships. But then, I know a lot of smart people who are challenged in relating well to others, probably because our brains have the capacity to entertain, ponder and originate far more ideas, concepts and theories than most other people. For those of us whose minds are firing at the speed of light, we typically don’t relate well to others.

Consider the bell curve. For those on the far end of the spectrum, we are fewer in number. We prefer to spend time alone. We tend to isolate ourselves. We are geniuses. Prodigies. Anomalies.

Like autistic people, we can’t help but express—sometimes nonverbally—what we are actually seeing, thinking and feeling. Everyday social interactions become uninteresting and difficult, because most people can’t seem to get beyond superficialities. We tend to relate better to animals and nature.

As a highly intelligent woman who speaks her mind and follows her heart, I’ve been accused of being “crazy” on numerous occasions by people who are not worthy of mention here. I take no offense, because I know that the designation “crazy” bears no real meaning: “Crazy” is a label that is often slapped onto people, especially women, whose ideas, behavior and/or actions stray from the norm. Again, consider the bell curve. For women on the far end of the spectrum, we are fewer in number. We end up alone because there are fewer men who make suitable matches, and we prefer not to compromise. Our standards are … higher than most.

When a woman is considered to be “crazy”, it is most likely due to the fact that she challenges and therefore compels others to question reality. She is courageous enough to examine her assumptions, therefore inciting others to do the same. Willingness to look more profoundly and honestly at oneself and the world inevitably makes one more accountable to self and others. Women, in general, possess the uncanny ability to intuitively “know” things that are beyond the purview of most men. It’s something we do because we nurture life. We are in tune with the cycles of nature.

Women understand the cycles of life more naturally than men, while men often try to control and dominate the natural cycles. Women know this isn’t possible, so we gracefully and graciously stand aside while the men run around asserting themselves, to no effect. Look where it’s gotten us.

When a woman is labelled “crazy”, it’s probably because she doesn’t accept things the way they are…. She probably misbehaves and gets called a “bad girl”… She doesn’t politely say “yes” and follow directions like an automaton. She is probably stubborn, strong-willed and unwilling to accept the status quo. A lot of people probably don’t like her. In the past, she was burned at the stake, whereas in modern times, she gets unfriended on Facebook and smeared on social media.

I know, because I am one of these women. I don’t know whether or not I’d prefer not to be one of these women.

In a patriarchal society marked by gender inequality, men seem to assume that they are in control and pretend to dominate nature. When outspoken women like me take a stand—regardless of how eloquent or compelling our verbal expression—it’s common for us highly intelligent women to be labelled “crazy”, especially those of us who are change-makers: Our words and actions challenge the sociopolitical norms. Women who catalyze change in a patriarchal society will inevitably be vilified, ostracized or, at worst, killed by the sociopathic patriarchy.

It’s been happening for centuries. Consider the Middle Ages. The Salem witchcraft trials. The classic novel, The Scarlet Letter. Women who push the envelope often end up pushed overboard, burned at the stake, or sliced into pieces and buried.

Like the elephant tied to a rope on a stake, perhaps we women have gotten so used to it that we don’t realize we have the strength to break free. For some of us, we’ve given up. We’ve stopped making waves. We’ve gone into hiding. We probably cry a lot. We’re probably accused of being “overly emotional”…. Here, I’d like to reiterate the masterful Krishnamurti’s incisive observation on this topic:

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Do I need to convince my readers how and why our society has become profoundly sick? I think not. I surmise that the latest news media can make the case convincingly enough without further commentary. This, incidentally, is why I live the way I do.

I practice “non-participation”, at least politically speaking. I don’t bother keeping up with the news. I make my own news. Every day.

I believe that I make a powerful statement by living the way I do and being who I am.

Since I am living within a profoundly sick society replete with sociopaths all over the world, I realize and accept that I could die any day, at any moment. I could be intentionally or inadvertently killed by a wild animal or, more likely, a member of my own species.

I am proud to be “overly emotional”…. I make a sincere effort to cry and wail as often as possible: Not only is it cathartic, but I believe that it is spiritually uplifting and therefore necessary for anyone who wishes to be honest with themselves about who they are, especially living within a profoundly sick society. Most people can’t handle a woman wailing. It’s easier to simply call her “crazy”… when in actuality, she is the sanest one of all for shedding heartfelt tears.

We women have good reasons to cry and wail. We need to. We ought to. We must express our heartfelt emotion and not suppress our emotion. Perhaps this would serve men, too, but in order to do so, men would need to overcome significant social constructs that limit men from being openly vulnerable and emotionally expressive. Here, I digress.

Proverbially speaking, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m honest with myself and therefore I make it possible for other people to be honest with me and maybe with themselves too.

It appears to be my role to hold myself and others accountable to their actions—actions that they otherwise wouldn’t be accountable to, were it not for their happenstance interactions with me. Consider my history: I have played a pivotal role in landing five men in jail and having two men reported to the local police and/or FBI for their unlawful activities. Over the course of my life, I’ve noticed that when people get close to me, whether physically or emotionally, I catalyze some kind of transformation for them, whether it be physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual. I suppose it has something to do with my role as what could be called a “healer”: I fervently hold a clear intention, which I put out to the universe in prayer every morning, to be of utmost service to my fellow humans and to myself.

I remind myself of the female protagonist in Terry Goodkind’s fantasy novel, Wizard’s First Rule. “The Confessor” is the woman from whom anyone can receive redemption by revealing and confessing their most egregious sins. I don’t claim to be a “confessor”, though my history would demonstrate that I’ve played a similar role in the lives of people too numerous to keep count. When I interact with people to any significant degree, I always manage to be some sort of influence in making them accountable to themselves and to the world. I’d like to think this means that I hold myself accountable, but I’m not certain. I think I’m still learning.

An experienced Mayan astrologer once explained to me that my day and time of birth designates me as “Toj”, which means that I am instrumental in rebalancing what would otherwise remain imbalanced. This implies that wherever I show up, everyone’s dirty laundry is bound to come to the surface, be scrubbed clean and aired out. Including my own transgressions. It’s not an easy or envious job, and it’s certainly not glamorous.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that I seem to have no choice in the matter. I catalyze transformation, wherever I go, no matter how hard I try not to. It just … happens. It makes for challenging relationships. It’s an unpopular role. Who wants to hang out with the lady who makes you confess your most embarrassing sins? It’s a lonely job, but I suppose somebody’s got to do it. Apparently, somewhere along the way, I volunteered for the job. Since it appears I have no choice in the matter, I might as well make the most of it.

My friend, a fellow therapist, once described her perception of me thus: “You are challenging. You bring stuff up.”

What I assume she meant by this comment is that I have a way of bringing hidden “stuff” to the surface to be looked at. Examined. Questioned. Transformed into something different. I incite change. I know others who seem to do the same, though we are few in number, and we’re not sought out for Saturday night parties. After all, we’re… challenging.

I’m proud of who I am, but, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s not an easy job. I need breaks, which is why I prefer solitude and remote places surrounded by nature. In isolation, I can turn my shit-stirring penchant inward and focus on myself. But in due time, I need other people to act as my mirror. After all, they’re all me, anyway. Where do I end and you begin? If I can see it in you, then I must have it somewhere inside of myself. Ultimately, I’m responsible for myself, which implies that I am responsible for everything I experience, including whatever I observe in others.

I once related these insights to a dear friend of mine who is the author of a historical romance in which the goddess-like female protagonist is imbued with superhuman powers of intuition, beauty, and far-reaching influence.

“I keep sending guys to court and putting them in jail,” I told him, expressing my dismay.

He replied, tongue-in-cheek, “Callin’ court, Queenie?” referring to what he perceives as my “larger-than-self” role as an empowered woman, holding men accountable to their actions within an otherwise imbalanced, patriarchal society. The Confessor.

It’s no wonder that many men—and women who side with them—would prefer to call me “crazy”: It’s easier to invalidate the person who is holding up the mirror than it is to take a good, long, honest look. I know, because I’m guilty of it, too. I confess. And I don’t need a priest to make my confession. I confess of my own accord, within my own heart, which I believe is precisely what “The Confessor” character symbolizes: She is the goddess within all of us; the unconditionally loving female who listens, nurtures and loves us, no matter what. We all need a good dose of her medicine on a daily basis.

I suppose I am capable of offering this kind of medicine, to the extent I’m empowered to do so, with specific people under specific circumstances. I’ve put out my proverbial shingle to wit, and it appears that the universe colludes to support me in my intention to be available as a catalyst for peoples’ inner and outer transformation. My client testimonials speak for themselves.

I don’t say this to boast; on the contrary, I point this out as a testament to my own courageous journey, which has taken me deep down into my own rabbit hole, through countless wormholes, up into nameless galaxies, and back down again, where I must integrate all I’ve learned along the way. And I keep learning.

Call me crazy; I don’t care. I consider it a compliment. In a society gone terribly awry, I am proud to be an anomaly.

In addition to holding a Master of Arts in Education, I am a Licensed, Certified Massage Therapist with over 1,000 hours of formal training and years of experience. Over the past twenty years of my professional practice, I have seen thousands of clients, most of whom I’ve had the privilege to impact in a significant way beyond the physical. As soon as I placed my hands on one client’s shoulders, she sighed and remarked, “My God, you have such a healing touch. Where does that come from? What is that?”

I appreciated her forthright, sincere feedback.

Without thinking, my first reply was, “Well, I don’t know. If I knew, I don’t think I’d be able to do whatever it is you’re feeling.”

A hollow reed. An empty vessel. I’m just a channel.

I prefer to stay out of my own way. I just… show up and breathe. I just… am who I am, like it or not.

 

On a daily basis, starting with my 4:00 AM meditation, I attempt to examine, observe and empower myself through personal, transformational practices that I believe have served to engender a tremendous amount of inner strength and willpower. The long-term effect is that my influence on the world seems to be… impactful.

I conscientiously and deliberately swim against the stream. I do so because I don’t want to be well adjusted to a society that I believe has gone terribly awry. For me, my spiritual life is purposeful. Practical. Powerful. In my case, a lifesaver.

I consider myself a strong-willed, successful, highly intelligent woman who’s accomplished mostly everything I want to in this lifetime, except for publishing my novel and living in a house of my own, the latter of which appears to be imminent, once I nail together a ladder to climb upstairs into my bedroom loft.

My curriculum vitae attest to the fact that I’m highly intelligent. Even so, in the past twenty years of my adult life, I’ve been accused of not only being crazy, but being mentally ill and generally being ostracized because of how I think differently than most people, and I seem to have the capacity to strongly influence the people around me on an energetic and spiritual level, thereby challenging myself and others.

I’ve given up on being well liked. I’m okay with not fitting in anywhere. I seem to fit in more with the howler monkeys in the tropical jungle than with most humans. I realize that it comes with the territory. I’ve grown to be comfortable with solitude. I’ve actually grown to love and appreciate myself far more than I used to. I accept my role as a change agent. I own my power and I wield it as responsibly as possible. I’ve failed in the past, but hopefully I’ve learned.

I courageously ask myself, “Who am I” and “Why am I here?” as often as possible. I believe that these questions are becoming especially relevant and urgent, not only for myself, but for humanity as a whole: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I here to do, and why?

It appears most people would prefer not to ask these uncomfortable questions; at the very least, most people avoid or deflect them with any one of the myriad distractions available in our modern society.

As for society, I suppose you could say I’ve dropped out. I’ve become somewhat of a recluse, though I still welcome the opportunity to engage with people, as long as they are prepared for the highly probable outcome that something significant will change as a result of our interaction. It’s my honor to play this role.

I’m proud of who I am.

Call me crazy; I don’t care. I consider it a compliment.

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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.

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

krista-with-monkey-copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the U.S., I had established over ten years of a successful career in special education as a consultant in public and private schools; in addition to earning certification and practicing professionally as a Licensed Massage Therapist and yoga teacher. I earned a Master of Arts in Education and gained a wide range of experience working with children and adults who were diagnosed with developmental and learning disabilities. I enjoyed working in the field of education, but I felt deep dissatisfaction with what I deemed to be a restrictive, top-down model that limited my creativity and freedom to design my own curriculum.

I became disillusioned with the public school system in the U.S. and envisioned an innovative approach that involved outdoor, experiential education on an organic farm. I published two books that instantly became bestsellers in “Experimental Methods in Education”—a good sign that I have the support of people I’ve never met but, nonetheless, they must share my radical ideas about education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boat Pose: “Whatever floats your boat!”

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Tally ho, yogis and yoginis! Don’t we all love how a good Boat Pose (Navasana) feels from head …. to buttocks … to toes? What’s not to love about Boat Pose? Arr! Come on, let’s get stronger abs!

img_7832Boats have been a significant part of my life for the past five years, since I left the U.S. and moved to Belize, a tropical country just south of Mexico. I can hop on a motorboat and arrive at the northeastern shoreline of Guatemala in 45 minutes, after a pleasurable trip across warm Caribbean waters and occasional sightings of enormous, brown manta rays leaping into the air.

With easy access to ideal conditions for sailing on crystal blue waters, I’ve been invited to be a crew member on many memorable nautical adventures: I’ve driven a 40-foot sailboat up a winding river, swabbed the deck (while sipping piña colada), pulled up anchor (albeit with vociferous complaints about the weight of said anchor), driven a tugboat in tropical waters, and made passionate love on said tugboat….

I savor the freedom of being on an actual boat: the sensation of buoyancy, surveying a clear, expansive horizon of sea; the excitement of dolphin sightings, the rocking of the waves, and the pleasure of a good captain who knows how to expertly handle both the boat and me, the latter of which requires … special skill.

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As one experienced captain pointed out, “When you’re on a boat, your body is always working.” While on boats, I’ve experienced this to be true: The muscles must constantly adjust to the persistent rolling to and fro, back and forth of the boat; especially the abdominal, lower back and leg muscles — which is why every good sailor girl should regularly practice Boat Pose.

Here’s how this butt-balancing posture can benefit you:

  • Strengthens the abdomen, hip flexors, and spine
  • Stimulates the kidneys, thyroid, prostate glands and intestines
  • Relieves stress (now, who doesn’t need that?)
  • Improves digestion

Parama w clay body wrap 2I currently offer daily sunrise yoga classes at Cotton Tree Lodge, an ecolodge nestled deep in the rainforest of southern Belize alongside a magnificent, emerald green river. For centuries, this area has been home to the Mayan people, who live in off grid, thatch roof huts in tiny villages, where nearby ancient Mayan ruins can be explored. This is a remote, isolated area: I imagine there still remain many ruins deep in the jungle that have not yet been discovered.

I’m a spoiled yogini. I can’t imagine going back to teach or practice yoga in a climate-controlled yoga studio enclosed within four walls. Here, I practice yoga outside, surrounded by some of the purest, most pristine nature left in the world.

Suffice it to say that I am blessed to practice and teach yoga in a magical place, beside one of the last remaining rivers on the entire planet that has not been polluted by industrial inputs. Here, the Mayan people live simply and self-sufficiently. I have had the privilege to become friends with the local Mayans, whom I find to be hard-working people with strong will, tremendous patience, endurance and a mischievous sense of humor.

Living in the jungle has a way of teaching you to be patient and to honor the rhythms of nature: Here in the rainforest, nature will take over and kick your ass if you’re not … capable and willing to work in harmony with the land, the fertile soil, the animals, and the lush plant life. Not to mention harmonizing with the spirits who protect the land, but that’s another topic, perhaps worthy of a separate blog entry….

This morning I encouraged and guided my students to courageously hold Boat Pose for five full breaths, intentionally eliciting giggles when I exclaimed, “Whatever floats yer boat!”

For anyone who’s done Boat Pose, you know how it gives your abs a good, steady burn and makes your hip flexors work hard. But it’s so worth it…. You never know when an actual boat will show up in your life, at which time you’ll be better prepared for the adventure after having practiced your Boat Pose.

canoe-floatingThe unexpected arrival of a boat into my life is precisely what transpired after this morning’s yoga class: I was sitting at my desk overlooking the Moho River, when in the corner of my eye I spotted a large floating object that I thought at first must be a log* …. I stood up, got a closer look and realized it was actually a wooden canoe floating upside down, drifting slowly downstream, as if being delivered straight to my door. (Thanks, spirits of the river and the land!)

I dashed outside and called for Mr. Bo, my coworker and foreman at Cotton Tree Lodge. I found him knee-deep in mud beside the river, tending to the motorboat that we use to take guests out on snorkeling adventures — just a half-hour ride down the Moho River to where it meets the Caribbean, where crystal clear waters of offshore island cayes can be explored to your heart’s content. (Yes, I am reminded that I live and practice yoga daily in a veritable paradise. Thank you).

“Mr. Bo!” I said, catching my breath, “There’s a canoe coming our way! Will you help me get it out of the water onto shore?”

mr-bo-martin-lasso-canoeBeing the helpful, cooperative Mayan elder that he is, Mr. Bo immediately jumped to action: He retrieved a long rope, ran to meet the canoe just as it was passing by, waded through the water and lassoed it so that he could haul it up (with help from Martin, a fisherman who happened to be passing by in his own canoe) onto the nearby embankment while I stood by and watched, cheering the boys on.

Again, I’m such a spoiled yogini. I have a whole crew of able-bodied men who do all the dirty work for me. I have to make a concerted effort to go out into “the bush”, as we call the jungle here, put on my boots and sweat while I swing a machete. The Mayan men–and women, for that matter–are much better at manual labor than I’ll probably ever be, though I do at least make the effort to learn basic survival skills.

img_0930When I’m not busy offering therapeutic massage and spa services here at the riverside Wellness Center and Spa at Cotton Tree Lodge, I am building my own off-grid, 16×16 foot thatch roof hut and cultivating a small garden on an acre of fertile land on the outskirts of the closest town. I had been picturing how cool it would be to make a couch out of a dugout canoe and put it in my living room, like the one we have in the main lodge here at the resort.

Well, my wish for a canoe couch came true. Within hours after this morning’s yoga class, the Moho River gifted me my very own handmade dugout canoe … and all it took was me holding Boat Pose for 5 focused, meditative breaths, and –bing!– there was my very own boat!

village-boy-in-cayucoLike all dedicated yoga practitioners, we must sometimes practice the art of “letting go” and “detachment” … Later that afternoon, two village boys paddled their canoe to shore and stopped to inspect mine, now drying out in the sun. I greeted them and asked if the canoe belonged to them.

“Yes,” they said, “We came to get it for our father.”

My heart sank (pun intended). “There goes my canoe couch,” I thought. I practiced deep yogic breaths and resolved in my mind to … let go.

I thought to myself, “If you love it, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s meant for you.”

This maxim proved to be true for me today. After inspecting the sides and bottom of what I thought was my very own wooden dory, the boys abandoned it and headed back home, telling me that my boat was leaking from too many holes. In the end, it would make a perfect … couch.

village-boys-inspect-cayuco“Why do you want this dory?” Mr. Bo asked me. “It’s no good. You can’t use it for anything” (an astute observation from a self-sufficient, practical man of the jungle).

“I want you to deliver it in your truck to my house!” I replied. “It will make a great bench!”

My friend and coworker Mr. Jose Bo, a well-respected, lifelong resident of nearby San Felipe village, laughed at my proposed idea of turning the now useless canoe into anything other than a vehicle for doing work.

Then, he launched into what I thought was an interesting story, which I was careful to catch (again, puns intended)….

“I used to haul 200 bags of rice in my dory down the Moho River from the village of Boom Creek all the way to Punta Gorda town three times a week to sell rice at the market,” he told me.

“Each bag of rice weighed 100 pounds.”

Wow, that’s one sturdy dugout canoe!

I was impressed and interested in Mr. Bo’s story, so I asked him to tell me more (keeping his native Kekchi Maya dialect intact in his quotes)….

“I learned to be a dory maker when I was 20 years old. The full story, I make 40 feet in length and 4 feet wide. It took me one month to carve the dory with five guys to help me.”

Skilled at the art of canoe-making, Mr. Bo has taught his five sons how to make their own canoes from the logs of local hardwood trees (namely, Santa Maria and emery).

“It was my belief that if I could somehow pass this skill to the younger generation, they could also practice dory making.”

“Today, it is a tradition of Maya transportation for farmers to cross the rivers to work on their farms. We still use dories to haul materials from the jungle that we use to build our houses.”

Now, that’s what I call sustainable living with a minimal carbon footprint.

[A side note: We have a lot to learn from the indigenous people, if we privileged elites can get over our hubris long enough to let them teach us, instead of the other way around.]

The nearest town of Punta Gorda used to be a tiny, remote fishing village accessible only by a dirt road, until a highway was built within the past two decades. Three days a week, Punta Gorda hosts a bustling market where local farmers can sell fresh food grown and harvested from their own land; including rice, corn, beans, and plantains, as well as a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Before there was a dirt road connecting the surrounding villages to the marketplace in Punta Gorda, farmers like Mr. Bo traveled via dugout canoes via the Moho River and Caribbean Sea.

The market, which is still active to this day in Punta Gorda town, was one of the most compelling reasons why my used-to-be-husband and I chose to buy an acre of land and settle here 5 years ago, until he left me to revert back to a more civilized living arrangement (that’s another story).

Years later, I’m still thriving as a single woman, living as frugally and simply as possible, paying skilled workers like Mr. Bo to help me build my off-grid homestead and plant cash crops like coconut, cacao, and bananas. One day, I might be selling my organic produce in the local Punta Gorda market. I’ve gone from a successful, lucrative career in the U.S. to a much simpler, more enjoyable life in a third world country where I can own land and grow my own food: the culmination of my dream to be self-sufficient and walk lightly upon the earth. Living my yoga.

Mr. Bo continued to share more details about the art of canoe-making: “We used many different tools to build our dories: axe, adge and drill bit.

“The adge is used to fall the tree. The drill is used to maintain the thickness of the dory. You have to drill the dory carefully so it keeps the same thickness all around.”

“Do you still grow rice in Santa Ana village?” I asked Mr. Bo.

“Oh, yes, I’m still a rice farmer, along with many other villagers” he said. He paused to think about the details, then continued, “Land clearing starts in the month of February. That is slash and burn. The planting time is May 15th before the rain, and then the rice will be harvested in the month of September.

“We have to flog the rice and then bag it. You have to make sure it’s not too moist so you can get a good price.”

I asked him, “Do you notice climate changes in recent years? How is that affecting your rice yields?”

“Oh, yes,” he replied. “The climate changes are causing us to get a high yield sometimes and sometimes a low yield. There is a time when we get hurricane or flooding. It damages the crops. This year, we are getting a lot more rain than last year. A lot. It is flooding the crops. That will make us get less grain this year.”

For now, the Moho River area is virtually untouched and unadulterated by the impact of human civilization. Maybe I can help keep things in balance by practicing my butt-balancing Boat Pose regularly beside the river, deeply meditating on gratitude for the life I’ve been given. After all, if we can’t stop runaway climate change, as the science indicates, then at least we can practice yoga postures to get stronger abs and to stay calm, which makes for better, longer-lasting lovemaking and resilience in general.

Don’t miss the boat: Live fully! Laugh often! Love all of it (even the ab burn). After all, love makes life worth living.

I’m in love and always will be….

Thanks to Boat Pose and other core body strengthening yoga postures, I will surrender and go down (peacefully) with this ship.

*For readers who care (hey, thanks for reading!): There is both legal and illegal logging going on regularly in the Moho River area, for which the local Mayan people lament. When I brought up the topic of nearby logging in the jungle to my friend Mr. Jose Bo, a well-respected, lifelong resident of nearby San Felipe village, he commented, “Oh, we are so sad about that going on. It’s too much. They are cutting down all the old trees — the trees that our kids will need to build their houses. Soon there will be none left.” (Now, this is another topic, about which I probably won’t get the chance to write a blog entry. I don’t want to rock the boat too much).

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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) with live drumming, yoga and dance on a white sand beach overlooking the Caribbean Sea in tropical Belize!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guided meditation for the new year

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img_4233In this morning’s yoga class, I led my students in a guided meditation for the new year.

Studies show that a regular practice of quiet meditation provides many benefits. Check out this article with some fun infographics about what will happen to your body and mind if you start meditating today…. Try it and see for yourself!

Join me daily at 7:00 AM at beautiful Cotton Tree Lodge in southern Belize for an hour-long class — before your jungle adventure begins!

At the end of every yoga class I teach, I invite my students to join me in a guided (or sometimes silent) meditation to bring closure to our practice, to integrate the benefits of the active poses, and to end with internal reflection.

meditation-om-2Meditation is ideally practiced in a seated posture that allows the chest to be open and the spine long. As a certified yoga teacher for the past twenty years, I include seated meditation in all of my classes, because according to the ancient yoga classics, it is one of the eight “limbs” of the complete yoga system, which is comprised of eight branches.

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Sit with your spine tall and straight in your preferred meditation posture:

  • Easy cross-legged pose (Sukhasana)
  • Half lotus pose (Ardha Padmasana)
  • Full lotus (Padmasana)

Lengthen your breath. Try to breathe deep into your belly and exhale fully. Do this a few times.

Focus your mind on the sensation of your breathing. Notice the inhale and exhale, the sensation of the air as it passes through your nostrils, the expansion in your chest and belly as your diaphragm moves. Let yourself be fascinated with the mechanics of your breathing.

Reflect on the past year. Let your mind review 2016 in a movie-like sequence. Maybe images will appear in your mind’s eye. Maybe feelings. Sensations. Whatever arises, let it come up as you think about the past year.

Notice what is there.

Now imagine that you can gather all of these experiences–the people, the places–into a bundle. Imagine wrapping it all up in a golden-colored wrapping paper and surrounding the bundle in pure, white light. Really see it glowing in bright light.

Now imagine that you can physically place the bundle in a special place. Make it a specific place, whether real or imagined, where you know it will be safe, valued, protected. See it there.

In your mind’s eye see a passageway–it could be some kind of doorway or an opening–and see it opening for you. You can walk through the passageway into the new year.

Walk through and notice what is on the other side, in the new year 2017. You might see images, or feel sensations, emotions, peoples’ faces, maybe specific places. Whatever you perceive, just let it be there for you.

Now send a radiant beam of white light straight from your heart into the new year 2017. Imagine that this light is surrounding and blessing the people and places you will experience. Keep sending this light into the new year.

Take a few deep breaths. Feel your body from head to toe. When you are ready, open your eyes.

How do you feel?

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. Join her on the upcoming wellness retreat in tropical Belize!

 

Meditation in Lotus Pose for health and wellness

img_4231I value meditation on a daily basis as a form of contemplative practice to start and end my day. At 4:00 AM I sit in Lotus Pose (Sanskritपद्मासन, or Padmasana) and meditate for at least a half hour, then I fall back asleep until just before sunrise, when I get up to practice a vigorous, dynamic sequence of yoga postures (asanas).

At night, just before falling asleep, I again take Padmasana and meditate until I feel too sleepy to continue, then I lay back and drift off into a typically deep, refreshing sleep for the entire night. For about the past five years, this has been my preferred routine for personal health and wellness.

Padmasana is a cross-legged pose originating in meditative practices of ancient India, in which the feet are placed on the opposing thighs. It is an established asana, commonly used for meditation. The asana is said to resemble a lotus, to encourage breathing proper to associated meditative practice, and to foster physical stability.

img_4064Traditional texts say that Padmasana destroys all disease and awakens kundalini, the vital energy at the base of the spine.

Benefits of Padmasana:

  • Calms the brain
  • Stimulates the pelvis, spine, abdomen, and bladder
  • Stretches the ankles and knees
  • Eases menstrual discomfort and sciatica
  • Consistent practice of this pose throughout pregnancy is said to help ease childbirth

Important note about Padmasana:

Padmasana pose is the ideal sitting asana for meditation, but it’s not for everybody. Experienced students can use it as a seat for their daily pranayama or meditation, but beginners may need to use other suitable positions. In the beginning, only hold the pose for a few seconds and quickly release. Gradually add a few seconds each week to your pose until you can sit comfortably for a minute or so. Ideally you should work with a teacher to monitor your progress.

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 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.