Battling fears: I unsheathe my sword and fight

I’ve never fought in a real war, but I imagine that if I were a warrior in battle, I wouldn’t want to back down just because I felt suddenly stricken with fear. I imagine that fear would act as a driving force to propel me to stand tall and fight with all the courage I could muster.

I’m a woman, and I don’t fight in real wars, yet my battlefield spreads before me far and wide. I fight battles every day of my life, as I imagine most people do. Inner and outer battles. Especially women.

As women, we live in a patriarchal society dominated by men who enjoy far more privileges than we do: Men can get paid more in their jobs; men can walk around shirtless on a hot day; men can get us pregnant in one second and then abandon us for life with only a financial burden to carry; men can take a piss standing up; men can go walking alone at night with far fewer risks of bodily harm than we can; et cetera, et cetera.

It’s tough to be a woman in a proverbial “man’s world”.

It’s even tougher to be a strong-willed, stubborn, “manly” woman in a man’s world. And I’m not referring to a manly appearance.

Many people tell me I’m more like a man than a woman, in terms of how I behave and show up in the world. I stand up for myself and insist on getting paid well in my job. I take my shirt off on hot days (whenever there are no cops around to arrest me). I have a man’s libido and would much prefer to have male anatomy than the complicated, intricate female reproductive organs. (No, I don’t want a sex change. I make the most of being a woman). I piss on the grass. Sometimes standing up. (Who cares? I live in the jungle). I go walking at night alone. Because I live alone.

Generally, I tend to stir things up wherever I go, because I challenge myself. I take calculated risks. I therefore challenge the people around me. Because I’m different. I’m open to new experiences, people and places. Nobody can figure out which category to fit me into. I don’t fit into anyone’s mold. I’m an anomaly. I prefer solitude and remote places surrounded by nature. As Aristotle quoted, I must be a wild beast.

A friend of mine once told me that “I have to wear the pants” because I have no husband. I suppose that’s true, but not because I have no husband. I wear pants because it’s practical and more comfortable. Especially as a farmer.

I own an acre of land in a rural area of southern Belize where I’m growing a small vegetable garden and gradually building my own off-grid, thatch roof bungalow. I’ve joined the “tiny house” movement, but I’m doing it south of the border on my own land, and I’m doing it all with my own hard-earned money, not with a bank loan. I’m not financed by an investor or cashing in any retirement check, like most American and Canadian expats living in Central America. I came here in my mid-thirties and over the past five years, I’ve successfully managed to diversify my many talents and skills, thereby cobbling together a decent income to support myself.

The last time I visited my grandmother, she said, “What happened to you? You used to be so sweet.”

I had flown back up to the States to visit my family for a few weeks. It was the last time I ever saw my grandmother before she died months later. She was 93 years old. I hadn’t seen her in almost five years. I’d been living, traveling and working in Central America, and it was too difficult for me to save enough money for airfare to visit family.

I didn’t know what to say. I agreed with her. I wasn’t as sweet as I used to be when I was growing up as a privileged, upper middle-class white girl. I chuckled at my grandmother’s comment, thinking that old people don’t mince their words because they don’t care about offending people anymore. They’ve been through it all, and they know they’re going to die soon.

“I’m still sweet,” I told her. “I just don’t show it as much.”

I’d masked my sweetness for much the same reason old people tend to stop acting nice. Facing death has a way of making you more honest with yourself and others. Because there’s no time left to make up stories that simply aren’t true.

Over the course of my life, I’ve faced my own death on numerous occasions. In the past year, I’ve accepted that I could die any day, at any moment. Most recently, I’ve committed to a one-year vow of celibacy, during which I intend to practice yoga and meditate daily on my imminent death. Because I want to be ready for that moment. I don’t want to die with any regrets. I want to live fully every day until I die. And I’m willing to die for what I believe in. I’m preparing to die, living the way I want to live.

At the time, I didn’t know how to explain to my grandmother that living as a single woman in a Third World country had made me grown a tough skin. I’d acquired a rough exterior to hide and protect a vulnerable, young woman with a tender beating heart still very much alive on the inside, despite having defied death on numerous occasions.

I would like to think I have a choice in life, but I’m not convinced that this is the case. I’m not certain that I really have a “free will” in anything I do. I would side with quantum physicists whose research indicates that everything is interconnected and therefore inextricably intertwined. The “vibration” of what I think about today immediately affects how my life will be in one… five… ten years.

I’m really not in control, so I might as well give up trying and just enjoy living. It is each moment that matters. Right here, right now. How I react to the goings on is my constant “Lord and savior”…. I am redeemed by how I live in the moment, because (as the latest scientific research points out), everything is right here. Right now.

I don’t think life is complicated. I think it’s simple. Just be. See. Do. Everything I need is always right here. Right now. I am empowered by everything. Every situation. Every interaction. Each moment is salvation. The eternal promise of reality.

While I muse existentially, I co-exist with other humans, animals and plants that originate in a country that is still mostly foreign to me. I live in Belize, a tiny country with more biodiversity—and cultural diversity—than most places its size on Earth. A tropical country with coastline along the Caribbean Sea, Belize is a hot cauldron and crucible for strong-willed women like me who want to take on the challenge of living close to the earth, sweating profusely from sunrise to sunset, and hacking away at relentless jungle habitat with a sharpened machete.

When I harvest food from my garden or walk around outside in the tropical jungle where I live, I generally stick to the tried-and-true way of the local people: I carry a sharpened machete, which is essentially a big, long knife with a hilt and a blade that I have to sharpen every couple weeks, otherwise the blade rusts and gets dull. Last year during my travels I purchased a leather sheath, a scabbard with embossed letters that say “Guatemala” to encase my machete, a gleaming metal sword that I use for a variety of purposes here in the tropics, including self-defense.

When I’m not working on my house and garden, I am teaching yoga classes in a riverside bungalow at a charming eco-lodge nestled deep in the jungle. This morning I had the privilege of teaching yoga to a family of four, including two young boys who showed up with eager, smiling faces at sunrise, ready for their yoga lesson. I happily spread out five mats and one of the boys announced, “I brought my dad. He’s never done yoga. But I told him it’s awesome and he had to try it.”

I guided them through an hour-long journey through the jungle, where we wriggled like snakes in the grass, gathered fruits and flowers into our imaginary baskets, roared like howler monkeys, flew like a little tourist hopper airplane, and fought in battle like warriors armed with a sword.

I imagined I was holding my machete as I modeled “Warrior Pose”, a yoga posture in which the two legs separate into a standing lunge with the front knee bent and the back leg strong and straight.

“Feel your legs holding you up, strong and stable on the earth,” I said to the family. I tailored my delivery for the young boys. “You’re a brave warrior going into battle. Make sure you have your feet firm on the ground, so nobody can knock you over.”

I made some suggestions for proper body alignment and mechanics. I offered hands-on adjustments to legs, hips and arms.

“Are you breathing?” I asked them.

I heard them breathe. They all started to sweat. It was only 7:15 AM, yet the tropical heat and humidity had already set in. “Welcome to hot yoga in the jungle!” I said.

I raised my arms straight overhead as my legs stretched and held me in a stable lunge position.

“Hold your sword firm and point it with focused intention at the sky,” I said. “We’re getting ready to lunge forward and strike with our sword.”

The boys smiled. They were really into it. I think they had transformed the yoga bungalow into a raging battlefield with enemies surrounding us.

I pitched myself forward onto my front foot, now balancing on one leg. I held my back leg up high and straight with my toes pointed, and I extended my two arms in front with my hands together.

“Hold your sword tight. Don’t drop it. Point your sword in front of you. Don’t lose your balance!”

The boys giggled and teetered on one leg as they stretched their arms out in front of them.

Dad sweated and took deep breaths. He actually seemed to be enjoying himself, in spite of his obvious reluctance when he’d entered the room, groggy, holding a cup of coffee. Mom was busying herself snapping photos to post later on Instagram. She appeared to be enjoying the class, too. As long as her two boys were happy and entertained, Momma was happy.

We practiced “Warrior III” posture on the other side. As we all struggled to balance on one leg and hold our arms out straight at the same time, it struck me that this was one of those pivotal moments in the life of a yoga teacher where I could sneak in a little bit of yoga philosophy into my class. I lunged at the opportunity.

“Sometimes life is a balance challenge. When life presents us with a lot of things at once, we have to try to stay balanced. We have to stand strong. We can’t back down. We have to hold ourselves up firm and strong, with our feet firmly planted to the earth.”

In that moment, I heard myself talking and realized I was lecturing to myself. I just happened to be sharing the room with four other eager students, including two young boys. Apparently, I needed the reminder.

“A warrior in battle must hold his head up high and be ready to strike with his sword at any moment. Are you ready? Are you breathing?”

The youngest boy, ten years old, nodded and smiled. He was ready.

During the final few minutes of class, I encouraged the boys to pretend they were frozen popsicles getting a deep freeze in a dark, cool freezer. “Imagine what color you are. Let’s breathe in all the colors of the rainbow.” We started with red and ended with violet. The youngest boy said that green tasted sour like a lime.

Refreshing. (“Ya put da lime in da coconut…”)

After the hour-long class, Dad said, wiping the sweat from his forehead, “That felt really good.” Mom’s smile beamed from ear to ear. She had accomplished what she’d imagined to be an impossible mission: She got her two kids and husband up out of bed first thing in the morning to practice yoga together. To exercise. While on vacation. To take deep breaths. To laugh. To make animal noises in the jungle.

I love my job. I love what I do. I love being alive. I love myself.

Most of the time, I try to emulate the dog I’m caring for, an adult German shepherd named Tucker. He loves me unconditionally. Tucker is a faithful and loyal companion. He looks, listens and notices with zeal what’s surrounding him. Dogs just want the good things in life: companionship, a back scratch, good food, a cool place to relax, and water. It ain’t complicated. Life’s simple… when you’re a dog.

Life is simple, slow and rich here in the tropical jungle. It teems with life. I am learning to co-exist with everything the jungle has to offer. Even so, it isn’t easy. I come from a very different culture and climate. It’s a good thing I have a dog to remind me of the simple joys in life and my yoga practice to keep me strong.

Like our classic hero Dorothy on her yellow brick road, I’m not “in Kansas” anymore. When Dorothy ventured away from home, she was forced to face terrifying people, places and situations. She learned to summon her inner strength and to stand up for herself. In the end, she realized that her true home was inside of her all along…. As a kid, I played the lead part of Dorothy in my sixth-grade musical. I sang a solo rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and got a standing ovation. I’m still Dorothy. Like Dorothy, I now live in a foreign country, and I’m a sweet, single woman. As Dorothy learned, being “sweet” and “nice” doesn’t always work very well. Sometimes, it’s necessary to behave more like a manly warrior. Strong. Self-assured. Stubborn and determined.

Like the epic story of Arjuna on the battlefield in the ancient Vedic scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, I must go into battle and fight without being attached to the results. I must go into battle without trying to be in control, because the reality is that I’m not in control of the show. I must don my armor, pull out my sword from my scabbard and defend myself and my right to live. That’s the role I’m acting out, for now.

I’m prepared to die. After all, what’ve I got to lose? My life? Do I “own” my life?

I accept that my life can be taken away from me at any moment. Every day, I practice for the moment of my death, because I’ve been preparing for it my whole life. My body—a suit of skin and bones—is just my costume. My life is a dress rehearsal for the moment of my death. Like a courageous warrior firmly rooted to the earth, I’m strong. I’ll fight to the end and I’ll end up somewhere over the rainbow. I’m ready.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’ve learned from old people about life, death and love

parama-and-patti-at-hearthstoneOld people often say that getting old’s a bitch. At the age of forty, I barely know.

Sensei Harvey Daiho Hilbert, a retired PhD professor at New Mexico State University and abbot of the local Las Cruces Zen Center, was one of my teachers in my early years of voracious study of Buddhist philosophy and avid meditation practice. When I went on a three-day silent retreat led by Sensei Harvey in the mountains of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, I did yoga postures on the scenic balcony atop the meditation temple. Sensei commented, “When you’re seventy, I want you to come back here and do yoga on the porch.”

Years later, I still haven’t forgotten his comment. I took it to heart. I’ve used that idea as a rocket fuel to propel me further into the space of my daily yoga and meditation practice.

I would like to think that I could live to be seventy; and if I do, I would like to think that I will still be dancing and doing yoga.

Geshe Michael, founder of the progressive, tuition-free Diamond Mountain University in Bowie, Arizona and one of my favorite teachers of Buddhism, talks a lot about death. He says that we should think about our death on a daily basis, because it makes us happier people.

(Say, what? Thinking about my own death is supposed to make me happier?)

At first I didn’t believe it.

But then, all kinds of crappy things started happening in my life … all at once: My grandma died; I was told I might have cervical cancer; I got a hemorrhoid; I almost got murdered; I had to move twice; I twisted my knee; I broke up with the most gorgeous, amazing man I’ve ever met after he told me he didn’t love me….

All of this crappy stuff happened all at the same time; like, within the span of a few months. It was a living hell. I almost killed myself over it.

I think I could have killed myself, were it not for a few kind-hearted doctors I consulted and were it not for my having listened to Geshe Michael’s dharma talks about death meditation: “Don’t pretend you’re not gonna die someday. Just be honest with yourself. Pretend that today could be your last day.”

After all that crappy stuff happened, I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I knew I could die any day, at any time.

Maybe if I knew that at a younger age, I’d be an even happier person than I already am. But maybe not. I don’t know.

I’d like to think that I’m about halfway through my lifespan. Maybe I have a few more years to go before I’m actually at that point. For all intents and purposes, let’s just say that at forty, I’m halfway to my death, but that’s just according to statistics on the average modern human lifespan. In making this assumption, I fail to consider a whole host of factors which are completely out of my control.

Let’s consider all the factors that could cause me to die unexpectedly, any day or at any moment:

 

(1) I live in the tropics of Belize, Central America. I could contract and die of dengue or Zika or malaria … or all three combined.

(2) Every day I go swimming in an emerald green river in the jungle. I could get eaten by a crocodile.

(3) One my favorite geeky scientist friends predicts that climate change (melting glaciers, anyone?) could lead to near-term extinction of the human race. Like, within the next decade. Bummer. Human extinction includes me. (Damn it).

(4) Not only do I live in the tropics, but I also happen to live in a jungle with a lot of wild animals (jaguars and venomous snakes included). Any one of them could bite me or eat me… any day, at any time. This could cause my unexpected, unplanned death.

(5) I could get run over by a bus. That could happen pretty much anywhere.

Reading this list back to myself makes me laugh out loud (lol)…. It’s somehow funny to think about all the ways I could die. Yet I’ve spent most of my rather enjoyable, uber-privileged young adulthood in a state of ignorant denial that I could die on any given day, at any given time.

Sorry to point out, dear reader (Hey, thanks for reading!): You could die too. On any given day, at any given time. But how often do we really allow ourselves to seriously think about that undeniable fact of life? (That fact that we all have to die, I mean).

Let me remind myself, just in case I forget: Someday, I’m going to die. That day could be today. At any time.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve already died hundreds of times in my life. I suppose, in a way, I have. I’ve experienced innumerable losses, as most people have. And each loss is like a mini-death.

Let’s consider all the ways I’ve died already:

(1) I’ve quit too many jobs to keep count. Loss of a job is like a death. It causes loss of money in the wallet, relationships, status, respect, and lots of other things that lead to grief, sadness and possibly depression and suicidal ideation;

(2) I’ve gone through three or four divorces and probably dozens of break-ups. (I can’t keep track.) Losing a beloved partner, for any reason, definitely feels like what I imagine dying could feel like;

(3) I’ve moved in and out of dozens of funky apartments and even a few tents. Once I took up residence in the trunk of my own car, not because I was too poor to afford my own place (I had a fulltime job with a decent salary), but just because I wanted to see if I could live in my trunk for a week. It turns out that I could. Living in the trunk of my car was like dying, because I killed my need for a bigger apartment.

By the way, I’m not mentally ill or retarded. I just like living life on the edge and taking risks. Calculated ones.

(4) I have almost been deliberately killed by other members of my own species for reasons that are not worth mentioning here. If you’re curious, you’ll have to wait for my novel to be published. Novels are good for telling stories about almost being killed. Stephen King does it all the time and makes a killing off his books…. so, I assume people like to read about death.

 

What was my point in making a list of all the ways I’ve died already?… Oh, yeah. To point out that death is a part of life. Life and death always go together, like eating beans and farting.

Older people are generally less apologetic about basic bodily functions and the fact that their teeth have fallen out. They seem to be more honest than younger people. I suppose there’s a reason for that. Experience and wisdom seem to go together, like old age and dentures.

Talking with older people has helped me learn a thing or two about life and how to live more fully while I still have the chance. I used to try having deep conversations with my grandmother, but I could never seem to get beyond superficialities. I guess some people just don’t really like to go deeper than what’s visible to the human eye. That’s okay. Grandma’s dead now. I loved her. She was a kind, generous woman. And she baked the best oatmeal cookies.

Some older people are actually capable of accepting the fact that they are going to die soon instead of denying it or complaining about it incessantly. Some older people are actually willing to engage me in an honest discussion about what it’s like to get old. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few of them and enjoying meaningful conversations about a wide range of interesting topics like marriage, jobs, finances, illness, diet, adult diapers, and dentures.

I assume that people who are older than I am might be pleased to offer me advice about how to avoid making the same mistakes they did.

Recently I had the honor of meeting one such refreshingly forthright older gentleman whom I’ll call Gary. I saw him sitting alone in a rocking chair looking rather sullen and somewhat lonely. He was on vacation with his wife at the eco-lodge in southern Belize where I live and work as a Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher.

Gary was part of a tour group that had left that morning to go on an excursion into the jungle. He thought that the trip would have been too physically challenging for him, so he’d opted to stay at the hotel and spend the morning sitting in the rocking chair by himself.

As an ardent student of life, I’m compelled to seek and find teachers in everyone I talk to and in pretty much every situation, not excluding this crotchety old dude in the rocking chair. I approached him and asked with the utmost sincerity how he was doing.

My genuine concern for his wellbeing was met with a sullen expression and a mumbled, gruff reply. He kept his head down, staring into the dim glow of his tablet device. Apparently, he was busy reading something, so I turned and walked away, pretending I had somewhere else to go, feeling somewhat spurned and justified in not wanting to talk to him ever again.

But then I remembered the wisdom of always trying to find the teacher in every situation. Despite logic and reason, I returned to the man’s side, reached out my hand to gently touch his shoulder, looked straight into his eyes, smiled and asked him, “Sir, is there anything I can do for you?”

I was prepared for any one of several possible responses: He could have spat on me or yelled at me to leave him alone. But he didn’t. He slowly shut off the hand-held device, took a deep breath and looked up at me. His pondered his words carefully before he spoke in a deliberate, calm manner:

“Well, thank you for asking, young lady,” he said. His face softened. He went on to explain that he was in severe pain from nerve damage to his spine.

I could have said, “Oh, I’m sorry,” or “I understand,” or any one of several possible responses, but I didn’t. Instead, I opted to invest some of my precious, valuable time listening to this old dude in a rocking chair.

There were hundreds of other things I could’ve opted to do instead; like do laundry, go swimming in the river, write my novel, eat chocolate, or wash my hair. Instead, I spent an hour chatting with Gary. He told me he was seventy years old. I told him he had thirty years on me, so I should probably listen to him for a while.

He laughed. I guess he thought I was funny.

We never even bothered to ask each other’s names until after we’d talked for an hour and realized neither one of us had ever asked.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to get old or be in constant pain,” I told him. “But I’d like to know what it’s like, for you.”

“It sucks,” he said. “You lose things. All the time. Your friends start to die. You get sick. You can’t do as many things as you used to be able to do.”

I listened. I didn’t say much. Again, I’d deemed that he was the wiser one of the two of us.

He wore a collared, button-down blue paisley shirt and tan shorts. He had a full head of white hair, wore wire-rimmed glasses and appeared to be in good physical shape, with a slim waist, athletic legs and smooth, tanned skin. He didn’t move while he talked, maybe because moving caused him pain, or he was content to simply stay still. I suspect both could have been true for him.

A former university professor with a PhD in molecular biology, he was well-read, articulate, thoughtful and intelligent. He and his wife traveled the world together.

“One thing I’ve learned about getting old is that you lose your concepts about what is true. You realize you don’t know anything.”

I smiled. I wanted to hear more, so I kept my mouth shut and listened.

Gary rocked the chair slightly and continued, “I was trained as a scientist. I used the scientific method. I’m a show-me kind of guy.”

He looked off for a moment. His speech was frequently filled by brief moments of pregnant pauses during which he’d look up toward the ceiling, ponder and collect his thoughts before he’d reply in an articulate manner.

Unlike the entertaining stimulation of a YouTube video, listening to Gary required some degree of patience on my part. I was willing to give it a try. I determined that listening to Gary was better or at least as good as the best YouTube videos I’ve ever come across. Unlike most online media, at least Gary was willing to be honest with me.

“I can’t prove there’s a God using the scientific method,” he said, looking up and going quiet again for what seemed like an eternity. Finally he mused, “Faith is beyond science.”

Then Gary turned to me and asked, “Is there a God?”

I followed Gary’s lead. I stayed quiet for what seemed like an eternity while Gary waited patiently for my reply.

Then, I said, “I don’t know.”

Gary laughed. Apparently, he thought I was funny.

“Well, I don’t know either,” he offered. “But I try to meditate a little every day,” he said.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn this about Gary. It was the last thing I expected, since my first glance at him had given me the impression that he was a crotchety, old man better left alone. I was glad to learn how wrong I’d been in judging him so superficially.

I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t need to tell him that I too meditated every day. I wanted to learn what he had to say about it first.

“I learned to meditate with a mantra. The mantra is meaningless. It focuses my attention away from the other thoughts, like the argument I had with my wife, that I have to mow the lawn, that I have to go walk the dog,” he said.

I listened. He continued, “I don’t know what happens or what to call it, but sometimes when I meditate, I get to a place where I lose all thoughts.”

Gary had completely sucked me into some kind of vortex. I suddenly felt like I had entered an alternate reality in which Gary was the only thing that existed in the entire universe.

Maybe he was. At that moment, anyway, and only for me.

“I used to be an avid runner,” Gary said. “I ran sixty miles every week. I wouldn’t listen to music. I would listen to my thoughts.”

He looked me straight in the eyes and asked in his deliberate tone, “Do you have a goal when you meditate?”

I gave myself ample time to pause for reflection before I responded that I didn’t think it was helpful to meditate with a goal in mind, because, I said, I’m probably not focused on meditation if I’m busy thinking about a goal.

Gary laughed again. I realized that he really did think I was funny.

Then I realized that I was genuinely enjoying our conversation. It was the first time in weeks that I actually wanted to spend time talking with someone for more than five minutes.

Gary said, “I try to think about what I am about to do before I do something or say something.

“I try to analyze my motivations for what I am about to do before I react. In my experience,” he said, “I find that it helps me avoid saying or doing something hurtful to myself or another person.”

Then, he said, “Am I boring you?”

“Well, yes, maybe a little bit,” I admitted to him.

He laughed. I laughed too. We laughed together.

“I like to talk,” he said.

“I like to listen,” I said.

“I think you would be a good meditation teacher,” I told him. Then I corrected myself and said, “I think you are a good meditation teacher. I’ve learned a lot just by sitting here and listening to you. I think I can honestly say that I love you,” I told him.

He chuckled and his face softened even more. He paused for reflection, looking skyward.

“I don’t know what love is,” he said. “Is it hormonal? I don’t know. I mean, I know I love my wife. I could explain to you why I love her, but if I did, I would only be telling you about character traits and behavior.”

Then Gary shared that he had been divorced twice before. He said that he has learned not to share his opinions all the time, because he’s noticed that opinions usually start arguments.

“I’ve learned to be comfortable with the idea that I don’t know anything,” Gary said.

Later that day, as I reflected on my conversation with Gary, I thought about how most of the time, we humans seem to prefer believing that we know something. Somehow I am supposed to feel more comfortable with the idea that I know how something works or that I’m in control of whatever is going on.

When I went to visit a few old people in a nursing home last year, I noticed that many of the old people had lost control of their bowels. They required regular diaper changes. Yet, most of them still had fully functioning intellectual abilities. They could talk to me while knowing that they smelled like piss, but it didn’t matter because they knew they were going to die soon anyway. A lot of things seem to become unimportant in the face of death. And a lot of things seem to become more important.

I played piano for an old lady at a nursing home where I volunteered last year. I knew that I wasn’t the best piano player, but it didn’t matter, because she knew she was going to die, so she could fully enjoy my company and the fact that I was there, playing the piano, even if I wasn’t all that good at it.

Age seventy seemed to be the theme of the day I met Gary, the old dude in the rocking chair. Later that night, I facilitated a singing circle and African dance class accompanied by live drumming by my friend and neighbor Emmeth Young. We had mostly older people dancing with us. One of the most enthusiastic dancers happened to be a woman who was celebrating her seventieth birthday that very night.

When the staff of the eco-lodge served her a birthday cake, she cried. I don’t know if they were tears of joy or sadness or a little of both. I think she liked the cake.

I think age helps. I think getting old means going through a lot of loss, which I think facilitates acceptance of one’s death.

I think about death every day. I would like to think it helps me be a happier person.

I don’t know.

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!

 

Scorpion Pose: The “don’t fuck with me” yoga pose

img_4060Since I live in the tropical jungle of Belize, Central America in the company of many men and scorpions of various colors and sizes, I remember to include the “Scorpion Pose” in my yoga practice.

Scorpion Pose is the master “don’t fuck with me” pose: It has a distinct quality of self-empowerment and focused intention that reminds me to assume an intimidating, protective posture when necessary, as it often is in life (off the mat), especially here in the jungle…

Don’t mess with me, or I’ll strike back. So don’t even think about trying to knock me off my center. Even when I’m upside down, I hold myself strongly, firmly and closely to the earth, stable, and I will rise above anyone and anything that would try to take away my life force.

Fortunately, in my five years living in the tropics, I’ve never been stung by a scorpion or killed by a large feline like the spotted jaguar, though I do come across live scorpions on an almost daily basis. I hear from my friends that being stung is a painful experience, as I would expect, for such a gruesome looking creature.

scorpionOne morning, I woke up to find a large, black scorpion in my bed inches from my nose. I know I’m not like most girls because I didn’t emit an ear-piercing scream like I would expect most girls to do. Instead, I did the practical thing: I swiftly killed the scorpion, before it could sting me. The common household method for dealing with such situations is to grab a nearby machete (long sword-like knife carried around by farmers like me), slice off the end of its tail, and squash the now defenseless creature beneath your shoe. I’ve done this countless times, fortunately, without feeling the sting.

Luckily for me, I’ve also managed to assume the Scorpion Pose countless times. I hope I can continue to practice this pose for many years, as I hear it has anti-aging benefits. Maybe if I practice it enough, I’ll become immortal. And then nobody can ever fuck with me ever, ever again: The power and proof of a good, solid yoga practice.

Vrishchikasana (Sanskrit for “Scorpion Pose”) is an inverted pose and an advanced yoga asana that should only be practiced after mastering the classic headstand (Sirsasana) — which could take years — but it’s never too late to start. In the final position, Vrischikasana resembles the scorpion with its tail lifted upwards, ready to strike.

Vrishchikasana gives all the benefits of the inverted asanas like Sirsasana. It reverses the effect of gravity on the body:

  • Increases the flow of blood to the head and brain
  • Nourishes the pituitary glands and improves the health of all the endocrine glands
  • Alleviates piles and varicose veins
  • Tones the reproductive organs
  • Stretches and loosens the muscles of the back and spine
  • Strengthens the arms
  • Sends out a telepathic message to the world: “Don’t fuck with me” (which is good for yoga girls in the jungle)

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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!

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.

Discovering the fusion of Christianity and Buddhism

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

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

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

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

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

Krista and Jill

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

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

My college boyfriend and I on my graduation day

My college boyfriend and I on my graduation day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to all of my teachers—my friends.

krista photos_0035 copy