For all you people who have aspirations to meditate, or who are already doing it for some time and still find it impossible to tame that monkey mind, I have some good news and some bad news. 

Let’s start with the bad news: after years of meditating, mostly on a daily basis, and often for at least 30 minutes or more, yours truly still has a VERY LOUD MONKEY MIND. Well, I must admit it isn’t too bad in my case, because I do not have a very stressful life, plus I don’t have a partner and a family, which always cause a million worried, stressed or anxious thoughts a minute. My monkey mind does keep going endlessly though, but it is mostly story telling that goes on during my meditation or just a lot of remembering. It is mildly entertaining, so I often just get totally lost in thought. But in all these years of regular practice the moments of true stillness are hardly ever longer than 30 seconds, and few and far between. It took me a while to stop seeing that as a personal failure, and it took me even longer to stop finding it frustrating and unfulfilling. But that monkey does never put a lid on its chatter, EVER. So far the bad news. (Did I just crush all your hopes or motivation to even try and start meditating? Sorry for that, but keep reading…the good news will perk you up).

The good news is that I found a way of working with that monkey mind, and tame it in a different way. I’m happy to share it here. 

I am not a fan of one particular type of meditation, so I switch around between techniques now and then, and one of the things I regularly do is a combination of deep breathing with mantras (not out loud, just in my head) or positive affirmations. When I start such a meditation, I think I got the right phrases ready, but then when I get into it, I keep fiddling with the words for a bit, trying to find the perfect mantra for myself. One day it seemed that no phrase was the right one, so I kept fiddling for quite a while (what do you mean monkey mind in disguise?).

 

Last week I posted a list of 17 things that could be potential deal breakers in your life on a little tropical island. If you started laughing hard at some of my descriptions, you are made for island life. If most of the points made you cringe or gave you the shivers, you may reconsider relocating to a tropical island paradise. 

Today I am giving you the exact same list, but this time I will tell you why most of them are the BEST reasons to come and live on Little Corn Island:

1.The Heat: I love the heat, because I love the sun! I always feel a lot of affinity with the iguanas we have here. They only come out when the sun shines. They first have to warm up, before they can become active. I’m just like that. Inactive in the cold, active in the heat. Although you won’t find me sunbathing on the beach, I always say I was born in the wrong location. In the Netherlands I was often cold, and very miserable in wintertime, when blankets of cold grey dampness do anything but make you feel comfortable or lift your mood. The sun is hidden by that ominous dark layer, sometimes for weeks at a time. The landscape looks grey and brown and dead, without any colour to brighten up your day. Only in my thirties I learned there was a name for my yearly depression: Seasonal Affection Disorder. Living on a little tropical island, seeing the sun almost every day and feeling warm most of the time has totally fixed that problem. Temperatures never drop below 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and are usually up around 25 in the shade (high seventies). The climate forces you to be outside in the fresh air all the time, instead of being locked up in air-conditioned or centrally heated sealed spaces. Having your house all open and being outside all the time also makes the whole island community more welcoming and open. No huddling behind closed curtains to keep the cold out. And thanks to that year-round warmth, Mother nature is always showing herself in her brightest greens and colourful flowers, against the backdrop of turquoise seas and blue skies. Nothing more uplifting for your mood than a dash of bright colour! Oh, and the sweat? Just see it as if you’re working out all the time: a major boost for self esteem and feeling accomplished. 

2. The Rain: OK, I confess, sometimes I have to force myself to love the rain. But imagine the first rains after months of dry hot weather. It is the most refreshing thing ever. I will take rain-showers, literally just standing outside washing myself in the downpour. It’s a most invigorating and super fun experience, and both my skin and hair love it! The rain saves you work, because you don’t have to water all your plants, and you can catch the water running down from the roof to water those that are not exposed, and to wash your laundry. Your clothes just feel and smell different when they have been washed with rainwater. As annoying as rainy season can be, with days of intermittent showers and squalls or 24 hours continuous downpours, we have to be grateful for all that water. It replenishes our aquifer and allows us to live on this little rock. We are totally dependent on the rains for all our daily water use. And after all the heat and sweat and always being outside, sometimes it is nice to be forced by the rains to go inside and do something indoors, without having sweat running down your spine. You have to love the rain!

3. The Wind: ahh, the wind! Here it is called a “sweet breeze”, and what better name for that cooling breeze coming from the sea, to keep you from coming to a full boil around midday. The breeze dries all your laundry in no time, and also keeps the mosquitoes at bay, that’s why you want to live on the windy side of the island. Those of you familiar with Ayurveda will understand when I say that for Vatas the windy season may be a little aggravating, but with the right foods, a thin wrap around your shoulders and some extra stretching it is still ten times better than winter up north.

4. The Transport: oh well, there’s a lot to be said that is not in favour of our transportation system to and from the island. But on all the good days, a ride in that open panga is the best way to come home to our little island. You make friends on the way, see a beautiful sunset over your shoulder, while craning your neck to catch a glimpse of your destination. On an early morning ride out to the Big Island, I meditate under the rays of the sun, not yet too hot, feeling the rhythm of the boat against the waves resonate with my own heart beat. The wind blowing your hair out of your face, the spray from the bow making beautiful shimmering arches. Ahh, I love those panga rides!

5. The Erosion: well, there is nothing to be loved about that. It is horrific and makes us all very sad and scared. Businesses are close to falling into the sea in some places, people are losing part of their properties, the island is getting smaller with every storm. On the opposite side of all that material loss is the impressive power of Mother Nature. You gotta give it to her: maybe we humans are bad to her, but she is a badass herself, throwing right back at us all that we have done wrong. When a good high sea backed by a strong wind washes the sea water over the vegetation into the beach trail, leaving us with ankle deep water full of trash and debris to wade through, I cannot help but think: right on, girl, thanks for rubbing it in. 

6. The Bugs: they are beautiful! At least, quite a few of them. Colourful butterflies, amazing moths, bright red dragonflies, bright green grasshoppers, the most amazing beetles, caterpillars and (tiny) praying mantises, and have you ever taken a good look at a cockroach? It’s actually quite a beautiful creature. So is a tarantula. We have banana spiders here who have a miniature skull face painted on their backs. Ants have intricate ways of communicating and working together, never giving up their tasks. Watching a mosquito from close by, seeing how it lifts its hind legs, is quite interesting. But then you just smack them on the head. Mosquitoes and sand flies offer excellent training in letting go. Letting go of wanting to be in control, because you can’t. Letting go of being annoyed by their high pitched buzz, because you can’t stop them. Letting go of the need to scratch an itchy bite, because you will cause it to get infected (you can stop yourself). Thank you bugs, for providing us with multiple reminders to let go and relax.

7. The Dogs: they are so much fun! Most island dogs run around free, and choose whom they want to hang out with for the day. They may be your best friend for a couple of days, until they run into someone else that all of a sudden becomes their preferred company (probably a better bite from a hamburger). Most dogs have names, and we all know them by their name. So we greet all dogs just like we greet each other. They are an integral part of the island community, are allowed in most restaurants, feature in lots of tourist’s pictures, get their own Facebook pages and are missed by many when they pass away. I’m a cat person, but I love the simplicity of dogs too.

 

8. The Aquifer: Not much to rejoice about an aquifer in itself, but the fact that it is limited makes you very aware of the amount of water that you use every day. Once you become aware of the possibility that the aquifer gets depleted, every drop of water plays a trick on your conscience. You learn to conserve water, recycle it, catch it. It definitely contributes to mindfulness and conscious and creative living!

9. The Trash: another one that is hard to be liked. Trash everywhere. Always washing up more on the beach, from all around the world. Always a stinking, burning pile of household trash somewhere close to you, unless you live smack on the beach, upwind from everyone. Always trash lying around everywhere, since a lack of education has not taught a good part of the local population that trash does not belong in nature. Besides: we have nowhere to go with it. Still, there are good things to be said about trash and little tropical islands: for a lot of us living here and being responsible for our own trash has made us very conscious of it. Some of us have started to shop more consciously, looking for things in bulk, creating less trash. I personally have let go of most processed foods, to avoid trash. So in a way I can thank trash for a healthier diet with mostly whole foods. It also makes us more resourceful, finding creative ways to recycle it, like stuffing soft plastics in cushions for the beach, or reusing PVC-pipes used for pouring cement posts to organise T-shirts in the gift shop. I have made a lot of fun things out of beach trash, and it is my way of not getting totally sad and upset about all that rubbish sitting on the beach. Watching the giant Karma Shack mobile made of beach trash slowly doing its never-ending choreography makes a lot of people feel good. 

10. The Limited Availability of Basic Things: love that one! The lack of choice is so liberating. When you need new shorts, and the store has only two pairs of cotton shorts that are not jeans and full of bling, you don’t mind that one is a size too big, and the other not really a colour that you’d normally wear. You just buy them! When you start to think about it, modern life is a daily struggle of choices, taking up a lot of your time. All day long. A lot of them are choices about stuff that you buy to wear, to use, to eat or drink. On a little tropical island there is not a whole lot to choose from, and it leaves you with lots of time and energy to do other things, or think about other things. The realisation that you won’t die when you don’t get your favourite coffee, your preferred sweet rolls or flip-flops that match your bathing suit, means that you are growing away from a highly materialist life of having, and start to get more into the mode of just being (I even have a pair of non-matching rubber boots). If you can handle the limited availability of basic things, you have passed one of the main rites of passage for life on a tropical island (in my Christmas 2016 post I wrote about ‘being vs having’ as an essential characteristic of island life).

11. Lack of Proper Healthcare: this is an interesting one. When you know there is not really a reliable medical service, you become more resourceful in finding out on your own what could be wrong with you, and then finding natural treatments for it, instead of pharmaceutical remedies that are sometimes not available anyway. But you also let things just take their course more often. When you get sick, well, you just wait till you get better, instead of running to the doctor for some pills. You start to rely less on someone else taking care of your health, and become more responsible yourself.  In all these years on the island I have visited the clinic once. Living a proper stress free island life also makes you less prone to disease. 

12. Lack of Communication: the lack of reliable telephone and internet signals has made me very independent of my phone, and of my need to stay connected with people in other parts of the world. When I can, I will, when I can’t I won’t cry over it. As I write this it is noon, and I just realised that I have forgotten to turn on my phone this morning! (and I am still alive!). When I am in the middle of posting a blog and the internet blacks out, I just go rake the garden or walk along the beach. Having unreliable communication can also be a great excuse to not stay in touch, or not get any work done! I sometimes dream of making our little island a digital detox destination. DDD, I’d love to offer that in the Karma Shack! 

13. Limited things to do: bullshit. I never have enough time to read all the books I want to read, study all the topics I want to study, write all the posts I have in my head, make my garden look perfect, finish all those arts&crafts-projects, and make all those home-cooked goodies that I’d like to eat, just because I am too busy with island-life as it is, and I don’t mean work. Boredom is a choice, and it’s not mine.

14. Temptations: that can be a tough one for some. But it can also be your real challenge. Staying true to your choice to live a life free of addictive substances that are toxic for you in many ways, is a very empowering experience. Especially when you are surrounded by people who are daily users of one for more of them. 

15. The Tourists: Love them or leave the island! So many wonderful people from all over the world come to our little island. And they are all here to have a good time, so as soon as you contribute to that, they are your best friend forever! I have met so many interesting people through my work in the Karma Shack, from submarine engineers to drummers in famous bands, ayurveda specialists and acupuncturists, young families travelling with 3 little kids, and double breast cancer survivor 85-year olds still swimming everyday. A guy that made a living of carving wooden spoons and teaching people how to do that, with a raw vegan chef as his girlfriend, whom he asked to marry here on the island. A woman who teaches yoga to children with special needs. War veterans, relief workers, missionaries. Wonderful musicians share their talents, artists leave their paintings, and many a tourist will spend a couple of hours leaving our beaches cleaner than before. Some of the tourists come back and become part of our community for a few weeks or months every year. These people become our favourite pack-horses to lug special requests from the US and Canada down here for us. Tourists! So grateful they come here!

16. The Local Community: a local island community is always a fun mix of many. Because even the locals come from all over the place, and add to that your mix of foreigners settling here after they have arrived as tourists. Once tourism starts to offer a good amount of jobs you see the local and foreign community mix more and more. Living in a place like this you get to have friends from all over the world. Apart from Nicaraguans both from the island and from the mainland, we have French, Italian, British, Irish, Portuguese, German, Austrian, Swiss, Spanish, Norwegian, Israeli, Argentinian, Australian, Kiwi, US, Canadian, Salvadoran, Colombian and Syrian people living on our little island. To this day I am still the only Dutch resident here, phew! 

The local community provides a never ending course of life-lessons. More than anything you learn that the way they do things in your country, is not the way they do things in any other country, and especially not on your little island. You learn to open your mind to different ways, and accept that things cannot always go your way, simply because you’re not at home. 

17. The confrontation with self: a great point if you’re into personal and spiritual growth! Being in unfamiliar surroundings with a lot of common things missing, out of your comfort zone, not surrounded by your closest family and friends that are always there for you and put up with your quirks or moods when necessary, you get to face yourself in the mirrors that random strangers will hold up for you, not knowing you so well. What you see in that mirror might not be your most favourite you, but then you can start working on it, and grow into a better version of yourself. Enjoy the ride!

So here we have the exact same list that I presented last week as 17 good reasons why you DON’T want to live on a little tropical is
land. Today I turned them around and made them perfect reasons why you DO want to live here. Last week’s list was based on all sorts of fears, keeping us in our comfort zones, today’s list is based on love, challenging us to step out of that comfort zone and learn new things and have different and magical experiences. That is always your choice in life: do I think, speak, act and live from a place of fear based on discomfort, uncertainties and the unknown, or do I live from a place of love, based on a willingness to learn and grow? Take that thought with you when you pack your bag to come and visit us and check out our little island for yourselves!

So there you were: a wreck.

At first sight I had even had thoughts about how we could help you out of your misery in the most humane way by ourselves, since there was no veterinarian on the island, and you looked beyond repair with your snapped spine and dragging hind legs. Karen had the same thoughts, but she also felt that she could at least try and make you feel comfortable and safe, until you perished or would be “destroyed” as she would say. (I found that the most horrible expression ever for putting you down. But then I am not American, and maybe this is a common word for it in the US?)

Anyway.  You did’t get destroyed, nor did you perish….you started to improve….. 

Only later did I come to understand that you are not an ordinary cat with 9 lives. You have probably 58 or more. 

So under Karen’s nursing love and patience, you showed signs of getting better. You started to be able to use your legs again, which was amazing, after the way your spine had been twisted. On your own, without surgery, without pain killers, without physiotherapy, crutches or braces, you just started to use those skinny legs again, bit by bit. It made me wonder why an animal can do that, and we (Western?) humans think we are incapable of it. Then I realised that you can, because you have no other options. You don’t know about doctors and operations and pain killers, and that is why you don’t need them. You either get better and survive, or you die. That is nature in all its simplicity and beauty, God at work. In nature you don’t have prescription drugs that you will have to take every single day, thinking that otherwise you will be sick and suffering for the rest of your life. We humans do that, because we cling on to life, with all our might (which is in fact not so mighty at all), and the pharmaceutical industry makes sure that we believe that we need all their medicine to be able to survive. We cannot deal with discomfort, and most certainly not with the idea that life might be short. We are unwilling to accept life as it comes to us, with disease and injuries, that either heal or not. Basically, with medicine and operations, we are just trying to play God, aren’t we?

Oh well, I got side-tracked here. Back to you, Pumpkins. You slowly managed to stand on your own feet again, and walk, albeit awkwardly. Jumping was still out of the question, and so was sitting. It was funny to see you trying, but literally not being able to bend your knees enough to sit on your haunches. It reminded me of some of my less flexible yoga students (usually guys, sorry, men!), trying to do the Garland Pose or Malasana. Garland Pose is a beautiful name for a wide-footed hip-opening squat where you push your knees outwards with your elbows, while your

hands are folded against each other in a praying gesture in front of your chest. The idea is to have the feet flat on the ground, but with short leg muscles and more than anything with tight hips, you cannot squat very deeply without lifting your heels off the ground. But since most people always want to go as deep as everybody else in yoga class (what do you mean, shutting up that little ego-voice in our heads and just be on our own mats without constantly comparing ourselves with others?), those heels will come off the ground and the not-so-flexible yoga student will be squatting on his toes, which will make him lose the stretch in the hips. But as a cat you don’t have a concept of squatting as deep as everybody else; you have no need to be as good as everybody else. So when your heels started to come off the ground, you just stayed there and didn’t squat any deeper. It looked very awkward, and it probably was, because you never sat for long. It taught me that when I have such a tight student in class I maybe should not make them stay in this pose for too long, because they are most likely feeling very awkward. Bummer, because I love to hang out in Garland Pose forever! So guys, be grateful for Pumpkins teaching me this lesson!

(This story takes place on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. Read part 1 of Pumpkins’ story here)

 

To be continued…. 

 

Living on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua for years now, I have often been told by people that I am ‘living the dream’. It’s funny, but I never dreamed of living on a tropical island, it just happened to me. So I usually tell the person that I am happy to live their dream, but that it never had been mine. In the mean time, I do think I have a pretty good life here, don’t get me wrong.

Living on a tropical island is one of those utopian dreams that many people nurture during their whole lives, but only few will actually manifest it. I think it is typical example of something that you learn to wish for, through advertising. Since it is a pretty difficult dream to fulfil (at least that is the common opinion), it is one of the most longed for and most idealised. Life on a tropical island is usually rated as living in paradise, which, according to some old book, is pretty awesome, if you play by the rules. Well, let me burst your bubble. Life in paradise is less than perfect, or, using a recently learned expression: sometimes even less than stellar. If you can’t let go of the idea of paradise’s perfection I can rephrase it for you: life on a tropical island is not to be compared with living in paradise, since it is far from perfect. Let me give you the list:

  1. The Heat: the tropics are hot! Here we have an average of 26 degrees Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) in the shade, running much higher in the sun, especially when there’s no breeze. Depending on your activity, physical condition and acclimatisation, you may sweat from a few hours a day up to 24/7  year round. Especially doing some work indoors like cooking or cleaning, your clothes will be soaked in no time. You will either have to take multiple showers and change clothes often, which is environmentally unacceptable or you go around sticky and maybe smelly and get used to it. You have to drink tons of water not to get dehydrated. You may get severe sunburn, or a farmer’s tan.
  2. The Rain: it’s not only hot, it’s also very wet in the tropics. Rainy season is officially 8-9 months long. Our Christmas dinner was nearly cancelled due to the pouring rains, and I have declined an invitation to a New Year’s Eve dinner because it would involve slip-sliding through the mud in the dark(we have only limited paved walkways). I am very happy to live on the beach, where I only bring wet sand into my house, but friends who live inland never stop mopping and cleaning their floors and sheets in rainy season, because there is MUD EVERYWHERE! For a good part of the year their utopian dream is to have clean feet:-)
  3. The Wind: being surrounded by seas the winds can be quite extreme on our little island. Hard winds will lash the shore, eroding it, churning up the sea weed and dumping it with all its trash onto the beaches. The wind will whip up the sand from the beach and make it fly at eye level, blinding you and covering all vegetation and your whole house (inside and out) with a fine but sticky layer. The saltiness of the winds will burn your vegetables and flowers on a sunny day, and the multiple almond trees that can produce new leaves within a few days will keep dropping them in your yard, so you are raking all day. Ah, and any winds above 20 knots will cancel passenger transportation. Which gets me to the next point
  4. The Transport: small tropical islands are typically reached in small, open boats. In perfect weather conditions that is a wonderful experience. Alas, usually the weather is far from perfect….the boat ride can be very bumpy, very wet, downright scary or just cancelled. In that case you are stuck. Tourists always say, when they hear about that possibility, that there are worse things than getting stuck on a tropical island. Another utopian bubble to burst: when the boats are cancelled and you get stuck here, the weather sucks, there’s no diving, no snorkelling, no kayaking, no sunbathing, and often no internet-signal too. It’s not that much fun to get stuck here, I tell you. At best you make a lot of new friends sitting for hours on the dock waiting to find out if a boat will go later that day.
  5. The Erosion, another weather-related point: due to climate changes there are higher seas and stronger winds and depending on the wind direction, the currents can carry off tons of sand overnight, leaving your beach front property a size or two smaller. This sometimes continues for a fortnight. The government is not extremely interested in saving foreigner’s properties, so you will have to invest in your own costly shore protection if you want to keep your house from falling in the sea (I have no information about home insurance).
  6. The Bugs: a big one: yes, we have mosquitoes, sand flies, nasty ants, big spiders, wasps, lots of cockroaches and a gazillion termites. Mosquitoes and sandflies give you very itchy bites, which drives some people mad. There are a lot of theories why some people get  bitten so much more than others, but in the end we all get some bites. Mosquito repellent is not a 100% guarantee to stay bite-free, and the poison that you put on your skin to avoid some itchy bites can actually cause cancer and all sorts of other horrible internal damage to your body. Long sleeves and long pants work relatively well, but are hot to wear in this climate. Mosquitoes may give you Dengue, Chikungunya or Zika, none of them very pleasant diseases, but you will survive. Bugs are part of tropical island life. Ants can get annoying too. They may invade your house, get into your delicious coconut bread that you saved as an after-party-snack, or just bite you while you stand around minding your own business. Spiders come in all sorts and sizes, and surprisingly it is one of the smallest ones that bites, while the big tarantulas and wolf spiders don’t really bother us. Still, if you are scared of spiders, you may regularly go through some difficult moments running into them, since you’re living in their territories on our tropical island. And the termites…well, they just eat your house, that’s all.
  7. The Dogs: they are everywhere. They go around without a leash or even a collar. Most of them are friendly, up to a point where they will follow you everywhere, which can get you in trouble when you want to walk into a store or a restaurant or into your own house. They will bark at night, pull over your trash can, and dig gigantic holes in your yard, searching for crabs. Some of them are mean and bite or kill your kitten. They are present in most restaurants, since all foreign restaurant owners have adopted a few dogs. That’s another thing on this island: you cannot avoid having to adopt a couple of dogs. So if dogs are not your favourite pet, don’t come and live here, because they are in your face all the time!!!
  8. The Aquifer: little islands have small aquifers, that usually get replenished just by rain water. Population growth and a few dry years may make your tropical paradise much less inhabitable. Salinization of ground water, contamination with sewage and chemicals, or just downright depletion can all contribute to an unsustainable situation. Do you want to live in a place where they have to ship in your daily water?
  9. Trash: the last one on the long list of “natural” reasons why you may consider not wanting to live on a tropical island. What will you do with your trash? We don’t have a trash pick up system, and there is no central garbage dump. Burning is bad for the atmosphere, and some of the plastic will leach into the soil. Burying will affect the water quality. Unless you are one of those reduce/reuse/recycle experts, you will spend a fortune shipping your trash off the island. 
  10. The Limited Availability of Basic Stuff: the other end of that trash problem: your consumption patterns. There are a whole lot of things you cannot get on a little tropical island, although with the growth of tourism that is definitely improving. Basic foods, yes. But don’t go looking for anything whole-grain or fancy. Limited fresh produce, the rest canned and very expensive (and a lot of trash afterwards!). Forget broccoli, snow peas, mushrooms, sprouts, berries or kiwis. All non-food products are of the cheapest and worst quality and will fall apart or stop functioning in no time, creating a lot of unwanted trash. A few clothes and shoes are available, and a couple of cans of paint and some hardware. Oh, and everything is up to three times more expensive than on the mainland, due to all the transport involved to get it here. Mostly, you have to get everything yourself on the mainland, which involves either a lot of travelling or having a lot of reliable connections in the capital that can organise the shopping for you. You may feel you are living in constant lack, if you try to hold on to consumption patterns that you had before you arrived. 
  11. Lack of proper healthcare/dental care/etc.: a small health centre provides very basic care,  but cannot handle real emergencies that go beyond a few stitches. Then you have to get onto that same open panga (or hire a private one that won’t leave until the gas has been paid) to get off the island and from there on a flight to the capital to get to a good hospital. If you have a condition that may require emergency health assistance you don’t want to live on a little tropical island. Also, if you can’t handle toothaches or walking around with a broken tooth for a few weeks/months until you travel to the mainland, consider another location to settle.
  12. Communications: we have cell phone service and internet too, but it is spotty to say the least, and sometimes it just does not work at all. A few people relying on internet for their work get up at 3am to get the full bandwidth. If you cannot live without 24/7 wifi, a little tropical island may not be your place to dwell.
  13. Limited things to do: small islands offer a limited amount of things to do to fill your days with: swimming, diving, snorkelling, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, yoga, massage and some short hikes, but that is about it. A book or a game, and maybe some gardening around your own house. Ah, of course, I forgot that one: you will be forever working on the maintenance of your property, since the salt air eats up all hardware, paint and even cement. OK, you won’t get bored then. 
  14. Temptations: remote little islands can also be “paradise” in a different way: they usually offer easy access to large amounts of cheap drinks and drugs. The visiting tourists are here to have good time, so they will be partying a lot, and it is easy to join them every night (or day). If you are trying to get away from a life of addictive habits, this particular side of our little paradise may be detrimental for your health and well-being. 
  15. The Tourists: funny, isn’t it: you came here as a tourist, but once you live here for a while, you sometimes wish they would all disappear, with their OFF-smell, their trash, their drunken loudness, and their endless FAQ’s. (FAQ’s: an unexpected downside of living on a little tropical island. I will write about that in another post. If you cannot handle repetitive curious questions, a small touristy island is not your dwelling of choice). When they like the island as much as you do, they might stay and buy a property right next to yours and open a bar there. So far for living in paradise. But they also bring good atmosphere, help out in the community, clean beaches and maybe make your money, so focus on liking them, if you can. Otherwise: don’t come live in paradise, it’s full of tourists!
  16. The Local Community: apart from tourists, your tropical paradise island will be full of two types of very different people living there: locals and foreigners (I refuse to call them ex-pats. I think that is a politically incorrect name. When people from rich countries go and live in a developing country they call themselves expats, but when people from poor countries move into the rich countries, they are called (illegal) immigrants or at best foreigners, but never expats. What is the difference?). The local community has its own way of doing things, organising things, their own set of rules and regulations, habits and traditions. They have no reason to let go of all that, just because you decided to start living on their island. The foreigners already living on the island will give you a false sense of “home”, which might make you believe that things are being (or getting) done in similar ways to what you were used to before you moved to paradise. Burst your bubble: everything is done differently here: from buying land to building a house to organising transport to hiring workers to doing laundry to handling trash or getting married. If you cannot let go of your western ideas of how things should be done, you’re up for a tough time in paradise. 
  17. Self-Confrontation: moving to a small remote island confronts you with yourself in many ways. You thought your life was going to be perfect because you were moving to paradise. But then things turn out anything but perfect. Possibly you will start blaming it on all of the above points: the weather, the bugs, the people, lack of communications, the stuff you are missing…… But what it all boils down to is that you’re having a hard time because you are resisting all sorts of changes in your life, because you cannot let go of certain habits, ideas, comforts and because you want to keep up the idea that life on a tropical island is perfect, because that’s the dream they have been selling you all your life.   

    Let me get this straight: this whole list is not a complaint about how miserable life is on our little island. It’s a reality check. If you already start cringing just reading about these inconveniences,  you better let go of the dream of living a paradisiacal life on a little tropical island. I have written this all with a smile on my face, because I’ve learned to love and deal with all of the above. Next week I will rewrite this list, and show you that it’s not the fault of all the above points that your paradise isn’t so perfect…… 

 

 

There are many perks to living on a remote tropical little island paradise in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Nicaragua, and I bet you can dream up a few: year round warm weather (although not always sunny, as our last Christmas proved by the bucketful), white sandy beaches and turquoise seas (with one lost crocodile that is keeping us from swimming at the moment), a relaxed lifestyle (for most of us) and a hammock (I personally believe I have the best hammock on the island). 

In another post I will write about all that is not so paradisiacal about life on Little Corn Island (and there is plenty), but today I want to focus on just one thing: FAQ’s. Yes, you read that right: Frequently Asked Questions. 

When you settle in a remote place that happens to be a tourist destination, you tend to meet a lot of tourists, especially when you own a business catering to them. And man, are they curious! 

But since they make our money, we have to accommodate them as best as we can, so we have to answer the same questions hundreds of times…and I tell you, that gets quite boring. Sorry, tourist friends, you cannot help it. I believe you are truly interested. But by the 250th time the story of how we got here and how long we have been here gets pretty b-o-r-i-n-g, and but the 500th time I’d rather not answer your questions ever again.

At least that is how I felt for quite a while, a few years ago. At one point I had read some stuff about the personal stories that we tell about ourselves, and how we can get really stuck in them, or attached to them, while we actually have the option to change that story every minute of our conscious life. After reading that, I was even less willing to repeat my ‘island story’ time and again, and I would kindly explain the asker why I didn’t want to answer. I was going through this phase where I really wanted to let go of my story and just be in the moment, not attached to the past.

Well, good luck with that, with all this nosy tourists around. Impossible. 

Then one of them kindly told me off, explaining that she really understood my resistance, but that she was asking the question for the first time. She pointed out that my story could be an inspiration for some people, opening their eyes to change or giving them the courage to finally do what they had been dreaming of for ages, thinking it wasn’t doable. She said that she herself found my story very inspiring. I was humbled. It made me change my attitude towards the FAQ’s.

The funny thing is, that when you live your own life, you’re never as impressed by it as others, who don’t live it. I really don’t think it’s such a big deal that I left my corporate job and after a few years of wandering the world ended up on this little island, where I now have my own yoga and massage studio. I don’t think it is brave to have done all that on my own, because I was never scared. So I don ‘t feel a big urge to talk about it either. But for some people it is brave, because they are scared, or stuck (most likely in their comfort zone). They are the ones that want to hear my story, because they don’t believe they have it in them to do what I have done, while I am convinced that anybody could do it. 

But let’s not argue about can or can’t.

Since that ‘inspiration’-lecture I went back to dutifully telling my story again and again, answering the same questions another few hundred times: at my doorstep (dancing around while the ants are biting their feet), during massages, after yoga class when I can’t get my  students to leave the Karma Shack or when they stop to ask the way….whenever a tourist gets an opportunity, they will fire their FAQ’s. 

I had already been playing with the idea of making a FAQ’s page on my website as a joke, and I will, now that I wrote this blog post. Recently I had another massage client asking me the same questions, but she added to it: “If you don’t mind me asking.” I did mind that day, probably because I was a little tired, after Christmas, but I didn’t want to be rude. Now that I have this blog and website I realized I could create an elegant way out. I told her that I didn’t really mind, but that my talking takes the focus away from the massage; she would get better value for her money paying attention to what my hands and her body are telling her, than listening to my voice telling island stories. I referred her to my website, where she could find all information about the history of the Karma Shack, and explained her my plan to write a FAQ section. She appreciated my excuse and chose to focus on her massage. I had created a writing commitment right there…

You may want to know by now which questions are asked so often…here’s the list. The answers are to be found on the FAQ page of this website. The order is pretty random, apart from the first one. That is definitely The Most Frequently Asked Question!

  1. How long have you been here?
  2. How long have you had this business?
  3. How did you end up here?
  4. Why Little Corn Island?
  5. Are you here for good?
  6. Has it changed a lot since you got here?
  7. Is this weather normal for the time of year?
  8. How often do you go back (to Holland)
  9. Is there a path here that takes us back to the village (walking into the backyard of the Karma Shack)
  10. Do you never get lonely?
  11. What did you do before you got here/back in Holland?
  12. How long does it take you to make one (coconut carving)?

My dutiful answers to these FAQ, asked by so many people, must have given them a bit of an idea of what it takes to go to a little island and settle there. I truly hope I have satisfied their curiosity, taken away their fears to make a change, and inspired them to look at their lives in a different way.

Unwittingly their questions opened my eyes to completely different things. While I was bored with my own story, I got more interested in the patterns that I saw in their questions, leading me to wonder about the psychology of boxed thinking.
Why does everybody ask the same questions? Do we have an innate human need to know certain things, or is it cultural behaviour? Are certain questions age or nation-related? Which questions are asked to confirm their beliefs, and which ones are meant to explore beyond the limits of their comfort zone? How much do people idealise life on a tropical island, and to what measure do they want to see it confirmed as an unattainable goal? 

Just take that first question: how long have you been here? Why is time so important to us humans? Why do we always want to put things on a timeline (Facebook!). Why do we need to know how long it takes to do something or get somewhere, and why does it matter how long I have been here? Apart from the professional world becoming a complete chaos, I sometimes wonder what would happen to us people if we didn’t have time to keep. Wouldn’t that be a liberating idea? Would we lose our minds? I mean, there are still millions of people on this planet that most likely do not have a watch or clock, and they survive, don’t they? 

When you are totally absorbed in a task that you are really passionate about, you completely lose track of time. You are “in the zone” and time loses its importance, its meaning. Time flies when you are having fun, but why?The opposite is true too: when you are bored, time almost grinds to a halt.  

But here we are, programmed to keep track of time, to time everything, to be in time and to beat time, if you are into any kind of racing sports. I’d like to challenge you to hide all your time devices for a day and see what that does to you and the way you go through your day and then report back on it in the comments. If you have an interesting experience I will write about it in another post. 

 

The question about how much the island must have changed since I first got here, is another interesting one. The funny thing is, that nobody will ever ask someone living in Chicago if it has changed much in the last 10 years. Of course it has. But when it is a cute little island everybody wants to know. Why? Do they want to hear that it is still as unspoilt as when I got here in 2005 so that they can say that they had a truly original experience? Or would they rather learn that this little paradise is being ruined, that it has lost its charm, that things are going downhill, thinking they got here just in time, or just too late? Are they maybe trying to gauge if with the rate of development as it is, it might be interesting to invest in property or a business here? 

Isn’t it strange, that everybody wants to know about things having changed, while most people by nature are afraid of change (I will write about this topic more often in the future)? 

Then there is that very personal question, whether I ever get lonely….it’s almost rude, isn’t it? But it is most likely a direct projection of their own fears of being lonely or maybe even their own actual loneliness (they may be standing right next to their partner when they ask the question). The sad thing is, that you don’t have to go to the other end of the world to be lonely. That can happen at home, within your marriage, or with all your family and friends close by. There are many ways to feel disconnected and lonely, and they have nothing to do with physical distance. It is usually this question that I try to answer in the most sincere and honest way, hoping to help this person to find their way out of their own loneliness. My idea of loneliness is this: if you need someone to help you with something (a strong man to help you put up some shelves, a geek that helps you unfreeze your computer, a shoulder to cry on or just a willing ear to listen to your story) and there is nobody available, that’s when you feel lonely. When you are a jack-of-all-trades that has read a lot of self-help books, your lonely moments will be infrequent.

As you can see, all these FAQ’s have in return brought up a lot of questions for me over the years. But I never ask the questioners my questions to find out what’s behind all theirs other than their obvious curiosity. Maybe I should, that would really give the conversation a different twist and make it more interesting for me. But I try to remain polite and don’t want to scare people by confronting them with the psychological and emotional reasons behind their own questions. It might ruin their vacation… I may have to go on a world tour and visit all of them in their home towns and ask them my questions, as that seems to be the way it is done:-)

So I created a special page on this website, to which I can refer them now… (it will be a great way to generate traffic to my website, won’t it:-)). They can find all the answers there. It will save me a ton of time which I can dedicate to writing and gardening, and my massages can be silent and more focused again. Everybody wins!

Any questions?

(I kept the list down to 12 questions just to give you an idea. If your most urgent question is not on the list, you may post it in the comments, and I may even choose to answer it fully and add it to the FAQ-page:-))

 

 

The first time I met you, you were completely broken, severely damaged. Both physically and emotionally, it seemed. When you dragged yourself into that hotel kitchen, you looked more dead than alive, but at the same time you seemed determined to get in there, exposing yourself to all these people you’d never met before. It was probably the last thing you wanted to do in that miserable and vulnerable state you were in, but it was also the last thing that you could do, since you had decided that you didn’t want to die yet.
The amazing thing was, that in all your squalor and brokenness, you still radiated a certain stoic arrogance and fearlessness, as if it was the most common thing to do for a wild cat: scramble into unknown human territory while you were skin over bones with festering puncture wounds and your hindquarters dragging behind you. You were probably scared to death, but at the same time you didn’t care anymore. You were at the end of your rope.

And the moment I saw you, I could feel exactly that: you had surrendered to God, to get help in any way imaginable, and in this case you were imagining that these humans were going to take care of you, even though they had never met you before. I call that Faith with a capital F. And you had it. 

The fact that the girls in the kitchen didn’t throw you out and just let you be there was a first sign that you were right. The fact that Karen, the manager of that place and a friend of mine decided to take care of you proved you right even more. Basically you had asked for help…..and received it! Life can be so simple. It was a brave thing to do, and probably not easy for you at all. ( Like it is for most of us humans. Why do we find it so difficult to ask for help? Is that just because it shows our vulnerability?)

Once you knew you could stay in this safe place, you let your trauma come out, and all of a sudden you were scared of everything. Nobody could come close to you except Karen, every little sound or movement startled you and made you scoot into a corner or under a couch as fast as your malfunctioning legs would let you. You were filthy and smelly , because you would pee yourself since you couldn’t squat properly. Your tomcat pride must have received a big blow by that attack that you had to fight off out there in the bush, but it was still being hurt time and again while you were recovering all these weeks and couldn’t show off your strong and proud tomcat image yet. 

In all your wounded vulnerability you were small, very small. In physical size and weight (when you dragged yourself in you probably weighed less than 4 pounds), but also in your severely damaged ego. There was not much left of it, it seemed. Totally subdued and afraid of everything. You were a total wreck.

 

To be continued…

palm tree fireworksWho didn’t ever make a New Years’ resolution to start running, eat healthier, stop smoking or drinking, cut back on sugar and wheat, meditate, or even just regularly floss your teeth? Right? And how many of us actually kept that resolution and made it into a proper habit for a lifetime? Right, count me in on that failure, more than once!

 

Healthy habits….you hear these words so often, and usually they produce a little pang of guilt in us……We know we should create a few more of them, or we have tried them on and then dropped out of the habit before it stuck.

I will talk about how to start new habits in another post. Here we are just going to look into how we can motivate ourselves to even start and then keep that motivation. The very first steps……

First of all ask yourself how motivated you are to take on this challenge of creating a new habit (yes we are making a big deal of it, because it often seems to be so difficult for people to just do it, so let’s get to the bottom of all its aspects). Your motivation is what it all starts with. 

You do not want to try and create a healthy habit just because everybody else is raving about it (fads blow over, people drop out, and then who is going to motivate you?), because your mom has always said that you should eat your vegetables (your mom probably doesn’t live with you anymore to kick your butt every day) or because Oprah talked about it. These are some of the worst motivators you can come up with, because they are factors outside of yourself. 

You can only create a new habit when you and only you are completely convinced that it is going to make you feel better, physically and mentally. 

ford

 

Without that motivation, it is going to be very hard to create a new habit. So make sure that you know everything about it that there is to know: what exactly will it do to and for your body? Is that what your body really needs? How often do you have to do it for the optimal results? Do you have that much time? How soon will you notice a difference? What possible side-effects or difficulties might you encounter? Are there any contra-indications? How much money will it cost you? Do you need special equipment? Are there certain brands that are better than others? And once you have all these facts clear, there is a couple more questions that you have to ask yourself: 

 

 

How difficult will I find it to start this and do this every day/every week? 

And why? 

 

First and for all you have to win the argument with your lazy ego, that rather stays at home watching tv. Ego doesn’t want to give up its spot in the centre of your comfort zone. Lend your resisting ego a willing ear for a moment, and notice all the arguments against your plan that it comes up with (there will be many!). Maybe you can write the long list on a piece of paper, stare them down for a while in silent battle and then just burn the paper. Or take some time to think about all these arguments, and then give reason a chance to come up not only with a whole bunch of strong counter-arguments in favour of your new habit but also a bunch of simple solutions for all of ego’s major problems with it. Ego’s resistance is just based on a fear of change. And wasn’t it change that you were looking for in the first place? If you still have the feeling that you will fail at starting and keeping up your new habit, you will. The power of thought is so strong, that whatever you think will become a belief that will grow an attitude that produces a behaviour which will be the not-doing of your new habit. So make sure that you change your ego’s mind, convincing it that you will be successful. Then you will.

watch-your-thoughts-lao-tzu-quotes

Now you finally have your motivation in place: you know exactly why you want to create this healthy habit, what you need to implement it, and are convinced that you want to do it and will do it for the rest of your life. It is meant to improve your physical and/or mental well-being. Let us look at that mental and emotional aspect a little closer. What does actually happen to you, when you start to make one small healthy change in your life? 

First of all, there is a boost of confidence and feeling achieved, because hey, you’re keeping a promise to yourself, and you’re keeping up this healthy habit! 

A for effort! 

You may not really notice any physical changes yet, but pat yourself on the shoulder anyway for showing up every day! You worked through the phase of fear and resistance and are doing it! Again: the power of thought!

If you happen to be stuck in a rut in your life, in whichever way, taking this first little step of creating a new habit that is good for you and keeping it up could well become the seed of change for some of the bigger stuff like changing jobs or ending a suffocating relationship. 

Apart from this confidence boost that can get you kickstarted into creating more change, there is a much more subtle, but sometimes even more important emotional effect to keeping up a healthy habit: the message that you are sending to your body, and to your self: ‘I am making time for you and taking care of you, I love you enough to do something that will make you feel better, and I will do this for you every day’. 

Basically you are saying to yourself: ‘I am worthy of love. I LOVE MYSELF’. 

Wow. That is quite the powerful message. I bet there are plenty of you out there that do not really say that to themselves very often. And by becoming aware of this gesture of self-love that you are making every day, your practice gets exponentially more powerful! Loving yourself is where happiness begins.

Once you get into the swing of a healthy habit, the mental impact is just as powerful for your general well-being as the actual lowered blood pressure or the better digestion. That’s what I would call a great motivator! Put that one at the top of your list: “I want to create this healthy habit because I love myself”. Now go make your New Year’s resolution(s), and make them happen. Happy New Year!

 

PS: if you write your New year’s resolutions in the comments below, it will give you some extra accountability-support! (I promised on Facebook that I was going to make this website and start a blog, and I definitely felt more motivated to keep my promise once I had made it public!)

Christmas on Little Corn Island or why I love the life I live

Living on a tiny tropical island in a developing country makes Christmas quite a different experience from what most of you are used to. And that is exactly why I love living the life I live, here on Little Corn Island.

While back home the Christmas buzz starts in some places somewhere in October, working itself into a total frenzy of freaky consumerist energy by mid-December, here on Little Corn Island life goes on as normal, more or less until December 21 or thereabouts. 

Until then nobody has any idea what they will be doing on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, apart from those that have jobs in the restaurants, because they of course will be working. But none of us has made any plans for a Christmas dinner or full-blown Christmas party. No fancy invitations have been sent, no heads broken over 10-course dinners. Island dinners can never be very elaborate anyway, because of the major lack of fancy ingredients to be found in the shops. No-one has been spending a fortune buying gifts and wrapping them, because there is not a whole lot to buy in our handful of general stores, and there is no brain-washing through non-stop advertising that makes you want to buy all that Christmas-stuff. Christmas cards cannot be sent for lack of postal services here, so that one is easy too. Basically, the almost complete absence of forceful marketing publicity makes Christmas on a little island so much more relaxed.

So there wasn’t much Christmas-inspired activity going on here, way into December…..

Then, finally, someone sent out a Facebook group message that there would be a pot luck/BYOB/bring your own plate-dinner on the 25th, and everybody happily RSVP-ed with thumbs up, stickers and other funny comments. It’s going to be quite a crowd of mostly foreigners that have settled or who hibernate on our little island. There is no printed menu, we don’t even know if there will be enough food and drinks, but we don’t worry about it. No dress code either and half of us will appear on flip-flops or crocs, the other half barefoot. Guys will for sure wear their baggy shorts, some of us girls will wear a slightly fancy dress that we have worn already many times to all the other festive occasions, since we all just have one dress like that. Make up is optional. My necklace is made of coconut shell. Oh, and you don’t have to worry about a dinner date to attend the party, you just come with your dish and some booze and the party is on. Until then: relax!

By early December there are usually some minor indications that “the season” is starting. The first sign is always somewhere in November when a salesman starts showing up every Saturday on the freight boat with a load of imported green and red apples and grapes. Prices are inflated. More than a dollar for 1 apple and something like 5 dollars for a pound of grapes. People pay that money, because that’s what you do: you buy expensive imported apples and grapes for Christmas.

Photo credit: The Lighthouse Hostel
                                            Photo credit: The Lighthouse Hostel

The next sign of seasonal activity is on the 2nd Saturday of December when the freight boat delivers a bunch of fire crackers, which of course are all fired that same day. I wonder if there are any left for Christmas or New Year’s? 

A few houses sport a couple of strings of Christmas lights. One house has strung them around just one  low-sitting square window. Somehow the sight of that single red-lit window makes me think of my home-town. I guess I have lived in Amsterdam for too many years 🙂

About two weeks before Christmas the big communal Christmas tree has been set up on the beach. It consists of one cable of neon-coloured Christmas lights spiralling down to the ground from the top of a tall stick. No decorations, and not even a hint of fake “evergreen”, thank god for that. Nothing as sad as a fake evergreen in a tropical country where everything is green forever, but we don’t have spruce, pine or firs here. Sunset gives that tree quite a magical backdrop! No need for decorations there.

In the mean time a few of us (foreign residents) are gearing up for a Christmas tree decoration activity in front of Café Desideri, island style. 

Every year they put up some kind of basic tree (either just a tall stick, or a big dead branch with loads of side branches), and we decorate the whole thing with beach trash. Yours truly is always good for a sackful of colourful beach trash, collected throughout the year. A few days before Christmas we dump that all in front of the restaurant, bring some simple tools to poke holes, a pair of scissors, a roll of string and maybe some glue, and then the fun begins! As soon as two adults start playing with a pile of colourful trash they attract lots of attention. Local children are pulled in by the magnetic force of coloured plastic, automatically associated with toys. Adults are always very curious about what we are doing, and once they understand the idea usually become very supportive of the whole project, appreciating the fact that we recycle trash there. Random strangers join in to help the kids or to create their own decoration; a constantly changing group of adults and kids combine their innate creative talents for several hours making the strangest, funniest, ugliest and prettiest Christmas tree decorations you can imagine.

Christmas tree 2016Anything goes. Combs, flip-flops, tooth brushes, bottle caps, broken USB cables or egg timers, cups, ice cream tubs, and one year even the derrière of a mannequin and a biker’s helmet have made it into our Christmas tree. The result is a very messy, but super-merry Christmas tree, that has no pretensions to be fancy or fashionable, just pure fun. The best part of this whole happening in my opinion is the opportunity for all of us to do something different and to express some creativity, because we don’t get that chance often enough. The absence of prefabricated examples stimulates the children’s imagination, and they start to create from scratch, stringing a few bottle caps together with a tooth brush in between and all of a sudden it’s a doggie! They work together, sharing their ‘trashures’, helping each other to cut string or poke holes. And then one of the littlest ones collects a whole set of bottle caps, lids, some plastic jars and a little spoon and starts cooking up a storm in her little improvised kitchen, and afterwards she puts all the dishes neatly away and wipes of her counter. No need for an expensive fancy toys-‘r-us-stove with a set of matching pots and pans, just some trash and a handful of sand was enough to spark her imagination to create her own complete kitchen. 

As little as she is she joined us in our statement against consumerism, having a great time decorating a tree without spending a dime! 

Another reason why I like our beach-trash-tree is the fact that we can turn something ugly, sad and negative (the dirty beaches, the fact that so many people don’t care and let their trash end up in the sea, the fact that there is so much wastefulness in a world where so many people lack even the most basic things) into a fun event with a, umm, well, kind of pretty result! An alternative Christmas thought, being mindful in many ways. 

Christmas mannequin

A couple of years ago I read an article based on interview with island dwellers about their lives and what they appreciated so much about it. The one thing I remember from that article was someone who mentioned that living on an island so far from everything makes the focus of life shift from ‘having’ to ‘being’. That rang so true for me that I will never forget it. Being instead of having is a major focus point in my life here on the island, and I love it. Our way of celebrating Christmas is a perfect example of that. No pretensions here, no fortunes spent just because everybody else does that too, or because the commercials tell you that you should. Just getting together with a pile of trash, some simple pot luck food, drinks and music and we all have a good time. 

How much of your Christmas experience is about being, and how much of it is about having, about consuming? How much effort and money do you put in the appearances of your home, your food, your clothes for Christmas? What are your main Christmas thoughts? Do you take time to make your own Christmas cards, use your creativity to make decorations and gifts, do you bake your own cookies? Or do you just buy, buy and buy? And even if you get everything store-bought, for lack of time, do you shop locally, buying from small stores, or is your Christmas just filling the pockets of a few big corporations? Do you buy fair trade gifts and decorations, to help alleviate poverty in developing countries? Is your feast mostly locally grown and organic, to support the environment? How’s your balance between preparation time spent running around in a frenzy to get everything perfect, and the actual quality time with your family or friends over Christmas? 

What are your Christmas thoughts? Did you ever stop and think about why you are decorating a chopped-off tree, and why you are buying gifts for all those people? Ever stop to think why there is a pot-bellied Saint riding around in a sleigh through the snow distributing presents around the same time that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus in the Middle East where they have no snow at all? Why does Christmas dinner have to be such a huge meal? Unless we are devout Catholics, there is no real reason to celebrate Christmas, is there, other than that everybody celebrates Christmas, and everybody sends Christmas cards, and everybody buys Christmas gifts? Who are we fooling, other than the little ones with Santa’s fairytale? 

But hear me out, let me not ruin your Christmas. These are just a few thoughts, mostly seeded by my simple life on this little island. I have posted them here hoping to create some more awareness, to help you start thinking about celebrating Christmas in more sustainable and mindful ways, or maybe creating your own mindful celebrations at random moments in the year, just because you can, and not because everybody else is doing it. 

So, let’s have fun, in whichever way you are celebrating this year. Pot luck or 5-course dinner, flip-flops or high heels, may you all have a very Merry Christmas!

 

 

How I got to start this blog….

For my very first blog post I have chosen to do a bit of a free writing exercise and just let the words flow. I have spent a good two months preparing the website, and now I am ready to publish it and start writing and posting the stuff that I am passionate about. That is a lot, so this blog might end up covering a lot of ground over time. From meditation and yoga posts to nutrition, skin care and healthy habits. I will explore the phenomenon “comfort zone” and invite you to check in with yours. There will be posts about fear and what it does to us, about karma and how we can use that as a tool in our lives. I will talk about creative living, trash and doing something different, about patience and compassion, self-love and mindfulness AND I will write with regular intervals about Pumpkins the cat.

 

Pumpkins

It’s all his fault. Blame it on the cat. When he walked into my life and I reluctantly let him stay, so many things happened and fell into place for me that I felt a compelling urge to start writing about it and create this website. I had been playing with several ideas for blogs in the last couple of years, but never got the guts to start one. A case of major laziness and procrastination, of not wanting to get out of my Karma Shack comfort zone (that is 4 blog topics in one sentence). 

 

I love writing, always have. Already as a little kid I would write 8 pages for an essay assignment in the time that other kids barely managed to squeeze out 4 sentences. I used to have pen pals (yes I grew up in an era of snail mail, and it was so much more exciting to come home from school and find a letter on the doormat, than getting non-stop notifications popping up on your phone!). I journaled for years as a teenager (and burned those diaries years later when I found it too embarrassing to even finish reading through them again) and never procrastinated writing a paper for a school assignment. All of my ex-boyfriends would receive one or more long letters after we broke up, in which I would explain exactly how I felt and what I thought about them (I wonder if any one of these guys has kept one?). 

 

alice

My father was an art critic for a major Dutch newspaper, my uncle director of the Royal Library in The Hague (and he co-wrote a Dutch translation of Alice in Wonderland, how awesome is that?), my brother has had his own advertising and publicity agency where he has been doing all the copywriting himself for probably 25 years now. So I guess the writing runs in my blood. And even though I am making  a living as a yoga instructor and body and energy worker right now, it seems that writing has edged itself sideways into my life after all, in a similar way as the cat has. It snuck into my life so subtly that there was no one point where I could say no! And now it has become a heartfelt YES for writing (and for Pumpkins the cat)!

 

I tell you all this, because it is actually quite significant. This blog is the living proof that every now and then you have to open your mind to new and scary things (a cat!, taking a 30-day writing challenge!, starting a blog!), to give your innate passion a chance to come out and express itself.

If I would not have let that cat edge himself into my life I would not have started to contemplate on myself and life in general the way I did when I was observing him and commenting to him (well, to myself, basically) on his process of domestication. His evolution from wild bush cat into loving and loveable house cat seemed to mirror and relate my own process of learning to love myself and be loved.

The longer Pumpkins hang around and the closer he got to me, the more I caught myself thinking that between him and me we had some serious write-worthy material going on…… Then a friend visited. A musician, poet, song-writer and singer. I told him about Pumpkins and about my personal parallel journey. He said: “Girl, you got a book there!”.  And that’s when I knew I wasn’t making things up. It was a story worth writing, and I started the very next morning. Soon I realised that this cat story could consist of a whole series of short chapters, each with their own theme, which is perfect for a blog. And having to keep up a blog would be the ultimate accountability trick to keep me writing and not let the whole project end in a writer’s block or the lame excuse of not having enough time. With a blog, you have an obligation to your readers to show up regularly. Now I cannot avoid writing that book, one blog post at a time. So yes, Grant Peeples, you are another cat-alyst that made me start this blog by telling me I should write that book.

 

A few days after I had decided to write the book, I received an email announcing a 30-day online creative writing challenge. The timing seemed significant and it wasn’t too expensive, so I signed up for ‘Write Yourself Alive’. And boy, did I write myself alive! It was so much fun, at times liberating or very challenging, going deep into myself or just making it all up in the spur of the moment. It was a month of being totally immersed in bringing out my true self, in writing. The connection with other participants was encouraging, and I felt inspired and motivated every day, just by the act of sitting down and writing for a couple of hours. I learned that some creative action every day actually creates inspiration for your whole day, for all the other things you have to do that don’t seem very inspiring, like laundry, shopping and working to pay the bills. Although I have been a creative throughout my life, I had never consciously learned to use creativity as the motivation-tool that it totally is.

So after the cat and my poet-friend, this 30-day writing challenge became the 3rd and decisive cat-alyst to start this blog. Now I had a peer-group that encouraged me and which could hold me accountable, since I wrote on the group-page that I was starting a blog. There was no way back, I was going to be a blogger…

 

Starting a blog involves creating a website, which you can make as simple or as complicated as you want. I had never done such a thing before, and identify myself as a total digital dinosaur. (I always explain how I left the Western world in ‘the last millennium’ which sounds so awesomely ancient. People had just started to use hotmail accounts then, e-commerce had still not really taken off and less than a third of our population had a cell phone (I bought my first one a year ago). Just to give you an idea).

computercrash

I have always nurtured quite a bit of fear for computers and other digital gadgets, because they tend to shut down on me, freeze in my hands or even die when I just look at them (I was glad when I found out a couple of years ago that there is a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, and that I am not a witch again, as I apparently was in a former lifetime). My last computer outlived its one-year warranty by nineteen(!) days before it passed away from one day to the next. Beyond repair.
So yes, the digital world has me somewhat daunted. Which meant that wanting to start a blog/website was quite a bold decision, which definitely got me Out Of My Comfort Zone big time. I googled “How to start a blog”, found a helpful website written for dummies, and got a tip for a web host that has user-friendly templates. They said that creating your website would be as easy as drop-and-drag……..well, kind of, but not completely. Being the writer-formerly-trained-as-designer I will of course not settle for the simple bloggers template. I need more personal input, AND I have a business, that I might as well put on that website now that I am making one. Add to that all the interesting stuff related to the Karma Shack and everything that I learned through it….This should be much more than a cat blog. The project started to take on serious proportions.

Scary digital design for a good-sized website….and I was still not giving up? Wow, where did I find that motivation I hear you ask? I know, I was quite surprised and amazed myself.

 

Of course it went wrong many times, and I got quite intimate with several of the chat help desk assistants of the web host. Most of them are quite patient. Only a couple of them started throwing code at me, which I just whacked back at them immediately. There is going to be no code in my life! Thank you.

At a certain point I had been messing up so much, that I decided to start all over again. Mind you, we’re talking days of work here…. and somehow I was still motivated to keep going. At one point I gave a friend a little preview. She said she was impressed and I realised only at that moment that I was as impressed by myself as she was. Which made me laugh, proud and determined to finish!

 

steep-learning-curve-ahead-1

The learning curve so far has been steeper than your average Nicaraguan volcano hike, and will continue to go up for quite a while longer (note to self: learning as a blog topic). But for now I am just happy that this website is up, and that I am blogging. A new phase in my life has just begun, and I am very excited about it!

 

I hope you will get a little enthusiastic for me as well, that would be very helpful, thank you so much. Some cheering on, some constructive feedback, a little pep talk, some appreciating comments,…you know, the small stuff that makes or breaks a person’s ego and related motivation……Go on, you spent probably about 8 minutes reading all this, you might as well take another two minutes to write a little comment……I dare you to do some creative writing yourselves, it’s very refreshing!