Inner Journey: Living Happily Ever After in Costa Rica?
Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
We all experience life’s challenges. Often the inner ones, stemming from our own thoughts and perceptions are the hardest to overcome. We’d like to believe they would all fade away as the warm sun seeps into our bones to replace the northern winter chill and we take in our first full deep breath of the pungent jungle Jasmine. Yes, that’s the ticket! Immersed in the clear sparkling waters, we’ll be cleansed and renewed. Like a born-again baptism our “sins” will be washed away by the ocean waves: sins of the “old life,” sins of stress and fear, sins of confusion, uncertainty, loneliness… We are convinced that paradise awaiting assures our salvation. Filled with hope and childlike optimism we shake off our nagging concerns, like a wet dog, and head south.
Truly nature does have a healing effect and surrounded by its beauty, the problems of the past seem distant. But life is life and wherever you go – here, there or all the way to Jabip – there you are. There you are with all the thoughts, feelings and experiences that have taken a lifetime to make you who you are at this moment. You can’t get away from it. If you are like me, you ask for inner peace and a higher consciousness. What you get are lessons – hard, tough lessons in patience and creativity; lessons in letting go and yet holding on to hope.
I arrived in Costa Rica; eyes wide with innocent wonder. I playfully perceived the mundane with great interest. The old man in the street, the lady in stilettos, people shopping, noisy traffic – it was all so delightfully intriguing to me. This was the place where my dreams would come true. Concurrently, I was nervous and scared; afraid to make a mistake, not quite knowing how things were done around here. I soon saw that Costa Rica is no more of a dream world than anywhere else, as I met with all kinds of obstacles and calamities. I had to push through my fears and beyond the limitation of my own thinking. I had to look inside, rethink and reinvent myself more than once, in order to create a life that actually works. Ultimately, it was the challenge that made me dig down deep, to determine the true strength of my desire to be here.
When presented with each new situation I was obliged to look at the possible result of my success or failure. If success meant staying and failure meant going back, I had to succeed. I did not want to go back. That staunch determination gave me the energy to move forward, accepting life’s lessons. But this hasn’t been easy for me. It seems as soon as I get one figured out the next one arises and just like the last one, I fight it tooth and nail. I should know better; take it easy; tranquillo and all that. I know it will all work out in the end – but is there ever an end in sight? Sometimes it seems so far away.
Still I have had some degree of success. My issues are the same as almost everybody else: financial security, health security, emotional security. I’ve almost got the first two beat. The third seems to be a life’s work in progress.
First financial: In the past three years I’ve gone from artist / sign painter to English teacher to writer / tour guide, with a short stint as horsewoman in between. I’ve worked toward my dreams, ascribing to the panglossian idea: “follow your bliss and the money will come,” even when I was not sure what those dreams were.
My original plan to provide for myself in Costa Rica, was to do art work. I’d been doing that all my life. But this was to be my new life. Not long after arrival I discovered doing art work contradicted that vision because it required seeking jobs where the pay was pennies and the location was not to my liking. The money and development to support my kind of work was on the Pacific side, but I liked the Caribbean. And to be honest, I was burnt out on painting for pay.
Next came teaching English. I approached the idea with all out enthusiasm, studied very hard to become certified and acquired many equally enthusiastic students. But keeping up that enthusiasm became a tedious task. My characteristic “got to do it right” attitude, which sometimes hurts more than it helps, compelled me to countless hours doing lesson plans and preparing for class. This was the winter we got more rain than the Caribbean side has seen in twenty six years. Flooding and random circumstance reduced my class size and hence, my income. Teaching English was an immeasurably beneficial experience for me. It allowed me into the lives and culture of the locals, granting friendship and respect in the community. But as a way to make a living, it was just too hard.
The equestrian endeavor did not work out so well, either. But that is mostly because it was somebody else’s dream. A guiding client of mine came back to the Caribbean to open a horseback riding business. I was ecstatic! I’ve been in love with horses all my life. I was the nine year old who read every horse book she could get her hands on and pretended her bicycle was a horse. I never had one of my own. I was offered the chance to work with horses every day, using the skills I’d learned living in Montana. So I did. I put my other work hold, went out to the stables every day for two months and worked without pay. The owner assured me of a paying job, once the business got going but soon It was apparent: that would not happen for a long time, if at all. You see, mistakes were made every step of the way and I worried about each one of them. I had no control, no say in the decisions and it was difficult and stressful for me to watch one bad choice after another. I lay awake at night worrying about the horses. The investment of my time and my heart took it’s toll. My “Pura Vida – it will all work out” attitude went right out the window and anxiety moved in. I had to step back and rethink my life again.
All along I’ve been writing. It’s a passion and ability grown from circumstance in my new life. I write about what happens – good and bad, big and small. I made a road trip across the country and had a car breakdown in the middle of nowhere and I wrote about it. I’ve been robbed, lost in San Jose and drove home with goats in the car (not all on the same day) and took a tour of a coffee plantation, creating a photo journalist’s story of the event. I thrive on sharing my experience. I wrote a book recounting my first two years in Costa Rica and I am confident that in time, it will pay off. My writing has paid off financially in the form of another job which grew from it – my guide service. People find me on the internet daily, asking questions and seeking advice about their own venture into the tropics. I realized I could be of great help by sharing what I’ve learned. I am pleased to report that these two avenues of enterprise are blossoming.
What all this has taught me is not to worry about money. I no longer get nervous when my account gets low because every single time I have needed anything, the money has come. When my car broke down I paid for the repairs. When I needed a root canal I was able to have it done. There has never been a need unmet and now I finally know that there never will be. That is financial security.
Next on the list is health security. I come from a culture where people purchase their illusion of security from mega corporations. I am morally opposed to this, yet sometimes I wonder if I am doing the right thing. Should I be back in the States working nine to five so I can afford to pay for health insurance? NOT! I opt for health assurance instead taking responsibility for my self through a healthy diet and exercise. But there’s more to it than that. I found from my involvement with the horse business and then more recently with issues regarding my twenty one year old daughter, that I am not immune to stress, even here in the land of Pura Vida. In the last few months I seemed to have one ailment after another, including dengue (although it may have been the mildest case on record). Finally, after much introspection and some disciplined health practices, I am feeling my happy, healthy self again. Whew, that was close! Yet my beliefs are confirmed. As long as I take care of myself my body will take care itself. That is health security.
Emotional security, now that seems to be the hardest to achieve and yet it is essential to the attainment of the other forms of security. I raised two kids alone. I’ve always been independent. Yet I held fast to the fantasy of a life’s partner. Surely I would find one in Costa Rica, the land of my dreams. Three years have gone by without even an obscure possibility, so I’ve tossed that one by the wayside. Still family and friends are important to me. I was delighted when my daughter chose such a fine young man and decided to live right near by. I began to feel a part of their lives, getting to know and enjoy her boyfriend’s sweet family. Until now: I have recently been extrapolated from my daughter’s life! It seems she needs her space – away from me. Every mistake I ever made in raising her has come back to make her mad at me. Believe me, I don’t need to hear it. Fortunately I have friends my age, with daughters of their own. Their assurance that this is absolutely normal has helped to ease the pain. Again I live another lesson in letting go.
I let go of what I think I want and something way better materializes before me. I let go of the familiar and something much more interesting occurs. I let go of the horses yet I know they will come galloping back into my life again in an unexpected way. I let go of my little girl – with pain and heartbreak I force myself to let go. This one is harder.The only way I can do it is to believe she will come back to me of her own will, perhaps with her own babe in arms. She’ll be back.
The other day my landlord told me I would not be allowed to do my laundry here any more. A year ago that would have bothered me. But today – no. “When one door closes another door opens,” is my mantra of the moment and has proven to be true. Opportunities abound; all I need to do is pay attention. The biggest kind of letting go needed to be happy is releasing our expectations of exactly what life will be like. Oh, I’m all for dreaming. I spent seven months dreaming of Costa Rica while I prepared to move here. Many of the pictures in my head actually did come into focus after I arrived: the kind, friendly people; magnificent jungles, stunning beaches and time to get to know it all. Those dreams came true. As for the others – a big happy family, a lifetime companion, a successful writing career, lots of money and even the house with the infinity pool overlooking the ocean – I’ll keep them in my back pocket and love my life just the way it is right now. I’ll let them go, but I’ll never lose hope.