Clarity Through Contrast

My family and I have been traveling between our old life and new. I feel as if I am in the eye of the storm, watching the world spin around me and observing which aspects of me persist. The contrast between these two worlds seems extreme. Its interesting observe each with fresh eyes as I compare and contrast these two cultures against each other. This epoch in my life seems to be one of observation and consideration.

I keep circling back to the idea that I’m over winning approval, external success and hesitation fueled by fear. Looking forward to the second half of my life, I’m asking questions like, “What songs remain that I need to sing?” Each lifetime provides specific opportunities, talents, and limitations. Our lives have a special flavor that’s unique in each incarnation. I’ve spent the first half of my life figuring out what my flavor is. What are my gifts and strengths? I have also spent it overcoming crushing insecurity and self doubt. I’ve been blessed with an incredibly rich and varied life. When reflecting on the past four decades, its as if I have been several people, each with completely different existences. There have been so many times that, out of desperation to seek the ultimate life experience, I have swallowed fear and leapt into the unknown. I have lost and regained fortunes, challenged friendships and relationships, and had times wasn’t sure if I was going to come back from the brink with my crazy endeavors. I have lived in everything from palaces to tents. I have traveled all over the world. I have had at least five different careers. But all of it has deepened my sense of who I am and what I stand for. All of the experiences have washed away the “What if’s?” and clarified the incredible nostalgia of being alive. I have realized that in our deepest essence we are much more than social or financial power, intellect, fame or success. At our core, each of us is a being of love.

So the question comes forth (once we get past survival mode), if life isn’t about financial success, or power or prestige, what is it? It is, when all is said and done, the mark we leave on this world, is how we make others feel. Did we leave it better than before we came?  It seems the most obvious one that remains, is the question, given the course that remains, how do I maximize my service to the world? Where do I find the most peace, harmony and bliss? How do I show up and make each person I encounter feel enriched by the interaction?

Going back to the States has been calling to us for a few reasons. My husband’s father has had a few health scares. At over 80 years old, he is getting increasingly frail. And my parents desperately want their grandchildren near. We also have many friends and a house that’s close to everything, great neighbors, and seems absolutely luxurious compared to Costa Rica’s quaint and minimal architecture. I cant tell you how nice it is to have a dishwasher and food disposal, hot showers, an electric clothes dryer. Most of all, I love the ability to flush toilet paper rather than the disgusting necessity (due to poor plumbing) of throwing used toilet paper into a garbage can next to the toilet. I can get used to a lot of things, but I dont think I’ll ever be ok with that one.

I feel very split, wavering between these two worlds and pondering each. Today (and this changes daily) I might choose to live between both worlds and enjoy the diversity in each. But choices like this demand life energy and commitment. In addition, I’m if running two households thousands of miles apart is the best use of my life energy? Sometimes letting go, rather than holding on is the answer. My little Cancerian heart tends to cling to everything with crab-claw tenacity, whether it best serves me or not. And I wonder if we are stretched between these two worlds, does it limit us from being available to explore new ones?

Life in our jungle home is incredibly tranquil and serene. Long days stretch out before me, where I have time to reflect and connect. There is time for creativity and meditation. I have had several days where I have a stretch of unstructured time and I think, hmmm…what do I want to do right now? This is an incredibly rare luxury I haven’t experienced for years. But that gift also comes with a caveat. This also allows ample time for neurotic thoughts to percolate up from the depths of my psyche. I entertain myself by doing lunatic acrobatics within my emotional landscape when I don’t have enough intellectual stimulation to sink my teeth into. The weather is ideal, we have a beautiful community and the Tico culture has many aspects I admire…a focus on family connection and playfulness.

I love seeing my therapy clients and it is a strong calling that is a win-win, it enriches my life and others. My intention is to create something with my therapy practice where I both expand locally helping people in my community, while also creating psychology retreats and local therapy clinics. However, the culture and pace is so slow and nonlinear, I’m not certain quite how to pull it off in a way that feels sustainable and enduring. There has been a steep learning curve with Spanish and culture shock, that I cant quite see around the corner as to how I will create this vision.

In Costa Rica there has been a 2% inflation increase this year, as the economy tries to keep in step with the States. This has driven the price up of food and gas. Labor is still extremely cheap. We have a nanny and maid who we pay $3 an hour, but we walk to the feria and hitch hike to save on gas. Food is more expensive than the States. And gas is as well, but labor is cheap. But then these low labor prices, the Ticos are really stressed. Now in the States, you might see rioting or civil unrest, because we are a culture that prizes individualism and materialism. But the Ticos have a strong cultural narrative of cooperation and learning to live without. This tempers the financial stress. However, we are hearing stories of petty theft being on the rise, drug money and other unsavory activities that make the country seems in flux, more unstable and less palatable.

But then the States has its own set of drawbacks. American life feels more polluted, more stressful, less friendly, and in a different way, less stable. News coming into Costa RIca about the States makes it look like a crazy circus. I feel a deep grief about how my country has changed completely from my childhood. When I am in the States, I look around and see the neuroticism in every face I encounter. Americans are not smiling and playful, but feel worn and tense. People are fat, divorced, working more hours for less money, not having time to spend with their kids. The entire system feels like an amusement park ride. You get in your little cart and drive on the well-worn tracks of predictability. You give your life to a car and mortgage payment. You put your kids in day care for their first years, and hope you can spend time with them that summer between high school and college. You go to your cubicle for 10 hours a day and pray that someday, you can retire with medical insurance and a little bit of savings so you can nurse the cancer you got from years of stress, whiffing gas fumes while you sat on traffic, and fast food. And all this is perpetuated by the myth of the American Dream. Commercial television like MTV Cribs perpetuate the myth that anyone can make it, so no one really looks at the dead-end path clearly because they’re under the hypnosis of mass media. It appears that many of us keep hoping the good old days will come back and perpetuate the denial about how much things have changed.

And I am also very much aware that this may all be a rationalization. America is still pretty safe and there are pockets of nature and beauty.

On the surface, with all the shiny cars, smooth roads and colorful, plastic doo-dads, the States have a seductive familiarity for me. As I write and reflect, it seems that time and reflection will clarify which path to choose. I can’t help but wonder how my family’s and my life will turn out going in either direction, or perhaps a new one we havent even discovered yet. For this luxurious moment, I will savor observation and consideration.

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