Are you extremely sensitive? Are you one of those people that burst into tears easily, over all sorts of seemingly little things, while people stare at you, telling you that it isn’t that bad or just calling you a crybaby? Do you feel ashamed about being so emotional, and wish you wouldn’t be like that? Well, here you might find some reasons to change your mind about that!

This post is inspired by one of my clients, a young woman who came for a massage in the Karma Shack. I will not divulge her real name, but when she reads this she will immediately recognise her story, without a doubt. Here I’ll call her Kitty, just because she loved Pumpkins, and he loved her, at first sight.

If you ever read the FAQ section on this website, or the blogpost I wrote on the topic of FAQ on Little Corn Island, you know that I try to be silent during massages. But it doesn’t always happen. With some clients there just has to be a conversation, for a variety of reasons that I won’t discuss here because they are not relevant to the story.super-sensitive people cry often

 

Kitty was such a client. The conversation just had to be. We spoke about many things, mostly just light topics. Asked about her job or field of work, she told me she was between jobs, figuring out what she really wanted to do most. At that point we moved on to another topic and didn’t go into the options that she was considering.

Much later during the massage, she burst into tears when she was talking about a few animals she had seen here on the island: a skinny horse, a dying puppy, maybe a cat…. She apologised for her tears and beat herself up for being oversensitive. She said that she could even become upset and cry over the fact that she can cry about anything. Well, once you go down that lane, you’d never stop crying, right?

I stopped her in the middle of her apology and told her that there was nothing wrong with showing emotions and being sensitive. It is a human trait (and right!). Some people are very sensitive, others are unable to show any emotion at all ever, and then there are hundreds of shades from teariness to stoicism in between those two extremes. Then I asked her: who has ever decided that crying over little things is bad? I never had a vote in that, did she? She laughed through her tears. 

Actually, in these times of being numbed out by all the violence and negative news of the media, being sensitive is in my opinion a very positive trait. More people should try and tap into their sensitive side, because it could spark their passion about something. It may make them ask themselves or others some serious questions about the way they live their lives and the way things are going in this world. Maybe they would even stand up for a cause of some sort and make a difference in this world, instead of just passively consuming whatever gets put in front of them on social media and TV. They could start with a sensitivity-rights movement to get things moving a little bit, just like there are a gay-rights movement, and an animal rights movement.

 
Kitty agreed with me that sensitivity is a positive trait in these mind-numbing times. Then she said that she could probably win a contest with her crying.

The next thing that happened was the funniest thing ever.

My mind fired into a major bout of creative imagining, and this is what came out: the marketability of sensitivity. It could be Kitty’s new career. 

First of all she could offer trainings in sensitivity management. Knowing when to tap into it, when to put a lid on it, when to let it show and when to hide behind your hair. This would be for overly sensitive people. 

The other end of the spectrum would be trainings to develop sensitivity. How to stimulate it, how to show it, how to use it in the right moment as an emotional outlet. How to let your sensitivity inspire you into action. Teaching the cold people to be more sensitive.

Both trainings could be made into special retreats, preferably on a small tropical island, like for example Little Corn Island, and should include a couple of sessions in the Karma Shack, always good to get a bit closer to your true self.

Then of course there could be books, a website, a blog, audio-recordings, online-trainings and individual online coaching sessions. I could swear Hay House would love it all! Oh, and of course there would be sensitivity yoga and sensitivity meditation, the latest of the latest.

Sensitivity is the new black.

 

The other end of this new sensitivity hype would be a TV-show: The Sensitivity Contest. Contestants would be exposed to certain cues in different settings, each with a judge on their side, timing the start and finish of the tears running. Cues could be pictures of skinny puppies, a father holding his newborn child, an older couple embracing, or a young woman sitting on her own in a bar. Then the contestant would be told some really good news, or maybe some slightly less happy news, or random world news of all sorts. Also some compliments, a few mild criticisms and different types of music, smells and touch. A small gift or two, a favour done to them…..so many ways to set them off, if I may believe Kitty. The contestants would be exposed to some of these cues in public, for example in the studio in front of an audience, at home in the company of friends and family or at work amidst co-workers. Other cues would be given in an isolated situation, where nobody could see them cry (apart form the camera). There might even be a hidden camera part to this show, to make it reality TV too. The person that cries quickest, longest and most often under all circumstances wins the contest. Of course there can be prizes in subcategories, so that there will be more tears of joy and less of disappointment when it comes to the finals.

I can see some of the major TV-stations wanting to buy this concept to make millions!

Kitty can stop looking for a new job, we just invented her new career. She would be working with what she is really good at, that is being sensitive. She is passionate about it (it makes her cry), so she will be very successful with it! Go for it, Kitty!

I told her that she could take all the credit for this amazingly original idea, I will not ask any royalties or sue her for stealing my idea when she is making the billions. I hereby hand it over to her, to use it to her best ability. I mean, she is the sensitive one, so she has earned this. If it weren’t for her tears during the massage, I would not have come up with this idea.

I did ask her to invite me to all the opening nights of her trainings and retreats and to the presentations of her books and of the prizes she will win with both her books and her TV-show. I will stand in the corner and smile, and I may even  have a little tear in the corner of my eye. I hope she will not forget that afternoon massage in the Karma Shack, when she gets all famous.

I wrote this post to make sure that the idea will not be claimed by anyone else. Whoever reads this and thinks they can get ahead of Kitty in making this idea reality will have to deal with me. Only I know the real identity of Kitty, and any publisher or TV-station that wants to buy this concept will have to check with me if they are dealing with the real Kitty, because otherwise there will be a huge lawsuit. It’s all about Karma, isn’t it?

(this post is published with the consent of Kitty).

 

This episode finds you at your new home. You instantly made the big mistake of flagging your territory inside the house as well. That definitely made you a little less welcome, and my neighbours banned you to the porch for good, but you seemed alright with that anyway. Your legs were getting stronger, and you were venturing into the garden every day, and stayed away a little longer every time. You were slowly getting back to being a proper bush cat, always outside. But you had changed your mind about one thing: it was very convenient that you had a plate of food on that porch waiting for you every day, plus some treats whenever they had some tasty leftovers from their dinner. Life wasn’t too bad for you, a couple of months after you dragged yourself near-dead into that hotel-kitchen. It had been worth the humiliating effort of asking for help. 

Pumpkins the cat gets chased by dogsHaving said that, you got into trouble again. Somehow two dogs got you cornered when you had ventured off the deck. My neighbours caught them in the act of tearing you apart, literally. One had hold of your hind legs, the other of your head, and they were pulling in opposite directions. You “looked three feet long” as my neighbour described it agitatedly after they had bravely rescued you from the bloody chops of these ferocious canines. Result: re-traumatised cat with several puncture wounds and cuts. Where had we seen that before? 

Anyway, back on the porch you licked your wounds, stayed low and just recovered again, like you did before. A little more skittish for a bit, but after a while you were just back to your “normal” self. Did I ever tell you that we have a dog on this island that’s called Trouble? I don’t think she gets into a whole lot of trouble herself, but jeez, that name would fit you well, Pumpkins! 

So after this incident my questions were: how do you get yourself into so much trouble…..do you not see the danger coming because you’re partially blind or deaf or otherwise impaired? Or do you not consider it danger? Did the Creator not fit you out with a healthy sense of danger-assessing abilities, the way they usually come with a complete cat-kit? Do you just have no concept of danger at all? Are you a total dare-devil? Or do you have such a big ego that you think that you can handle everything, and no cat or dog or even two or three dogs can bring you down?  Maybe you are just plain suicidal but not very successful at it? I am not sure what is the answer to these speculations. Let’s keep it on a mixture of all of them. Although, on second thought, if you were suicidal you wouldn’t have dragged yourself into that kitchen. So fair enough, we’ll scratch that option. 

Life goes on even if you're woundedRecently I was reading a book by Wayne Dyer, such a wise man. Illustrating the concept of living in the moment he described how he had once been on a safari where he watched a zebra peacefully grazing and chewing her food. She seemed very graceful and calm, notwithstanding the fact that one of her legs had been chewed off by lions the night before, but she had somehow escaped. Since there was nothing she could do to change the situation of her probable near-death, she just went on with what she would always do in the morning: have breakfast, and then go for a drink at the watering hole. When I read that story, I couldn’t help but think of you, Pumpkins. Even though you are severely damaged at times, you just go on with life, as normal as possible. 

We humans could learn a lesson or two from animals here, couldn’t we? Whenever we get “severely damaged”, we curl up in bed and cry and whine and feel very sorry for ourselves and hope that everybody else also feels very sorry for us, and how are we ever going to get over this misery? Often we need counselling to get over all our traumatic experiences, or store it at cell level in our bodies which then start aching or develop chronic diseases……Right? Well, as the zebra and Pumpkins have been illustrating, there are other ways to deal with trauma…… Just saying.

 

If you missed earlier episodes of Pumpkins’ story, you can read them here.

 

 

 

The Karma Shack blogGratitude is a much used word these days. In this new age of spiritual change that seems to spread slowly but steadily, you hear people talk about gratitude left, right and centre. Every third quote on Facebook seems to be about gratitude. Gratitude is being quoted as the secret to happiness. If you just start being grateful, happiness will find you easily. Is it really that easy? Or is everybody just talking after each other, without really knowing what they are saying? How many of them practice gratitude on a daily basis? Is gratitude becoming a platitude? I’d like to explore that idea here…..

Those of you who have ever been to one of my yoga classes in the Karma Shack know that I always end the session with a little gratitude contemplation. I express amongst other things how extremely grateful I am for everything that the Karma Shack has brought into my life: growth, depth, joy and fulfilment, and the fact that I can share all that with others in my classes and treatments. The first time I said this out loud in class, it was a spontaneous act. As if the thoughts had been put in my head and my mouth just worded them, without much conscious input from yours truly. I had goose bumps and tears in my eyes. Because it sounded so totally true. I felt that gratitude deep inside, in every cell of my body, and it made me very happy. It was real.
I realised that by saying it out loud every day I confirmed that happiness over and over again, and I started adding this little gratitude prayer to the end of each yoga session. Every day it feels true. I am thankful for the Karma Shack in so many ways, and I even believe that that little building keeps handing me more good stuff because I thank it out loud in front of everybody every day.

 

Apart from that daily public expression of gratitude, I do another little private round in the evening, the moment I lay my head on my pillow. I run quietly through my day and name all the things, events and people that I feel grateful for: an inspired yoga session, a pile of clean laundry, a super-satisfied massage client, a hummingbird visiting the Karma Shack garden while I am at work there, a visit with a friend where one cup of tea leads to another and to a very intimate conversation, my cat Pumpkins joining us in a Karma Shack yoga session or sitting on my lap all afternoon while I am writing, a beautiful meal with veggies and herbs from my own garden, the fact that I can go to bed at eight without feeling that I am missing out on anything. Then I fall asleep with a peaceful mind in less than 5 minutes, usually. 

Another cat had gotten air of you, Pumpkins, the new cat on the block, and had started marking its territory outside my house, in the garden, and even on my doorpost and porch bench. That freaked you out. You had to do something. So you actually ventured down the steps into the yard, and spritzed your best scent all over the place. In the mean time I scrubbed the doorpost and the porch bench. It had been another cat 

pumpkins the cat that changed his mindand a challenging situation that had made you brave enough to come out of the house and get back into the big world. Go Pumpkins! We all need a little push now and then to get out of our comfort zone, or out of our funk.

But this other tom cat wouldn’t put up with the unknown invader that was hidden in my house. At night he would come to piss all over the place again, and actually start a fight with you, through the crack under the front door. Growling, scratching and full on screeching was taking place in the middle of the night. Hmmm, not so much fun anymore to take care of you, Pumpkins, since this was costing me my precious sleep. Luckily my neighbours were coming back soon!

A few days after their arrival we transferred you to their house. I thought I was just going to carry you up there, but I had totally overrated our relationship that was barely a week old. Maybe I thought that picking you up was an OK thing to do by then, but you definitely didn’t agree. Ten metres away from my house you put up a fight and I had to let you go. Mission aborted.

 

Pumpkins the cat that changed his mind

So I had to find a box and fix it in such a way that I could put you in and close it in one smooth move, before you would find your way out. Only then we could move you to your new home. You were not pleased at all with that box-manoeuvre. All cats like boxes, but only if they can play with them in their own time. The moment you put them in there when it is not playing time, they are highly offended. As they always are when they are not being treated like the queens and kings they all think they are, you included, my dear damaged Pumpkins.

At your new home you were getting the back room and adjoining porch as your domain. There was a litter box inside, and corners to hide, and during the day the door to the porch was open, so you could be on the balcony, safe from dog attacks, because there was a dense railing all around. You could see the world, and you could squeeze through if you wanted, but no dog could come in and get you, and that was the main goal: keeping you safe from mauling dogs, that had done such terrible damage to your body and to your mind, while you were recovering.

You didn’t start off too friendly with your new caretakers, and they may have been a little impatient for you to become a sweet and cuddly house kitty, who knows. You lashed out at either one of them every once in a while, and bit them several times, so they started calling you psycho kitty, which probably wasn’t helping the situation. When we repeatedly say or hear something, it becomes a belief and then gets confirmed time and again, because we start to manifest more of it. The Universe (or God, if you want to call it that) will always provide us with what we put our energy to. So my neighbours got more unexpected scratches and bites, thanks to the fact that they called you Psycho Kitty. This is my belief. Because after enough time for you to get used to me, you hardly ever lash out to me anymore. And I have never called you psycho kitty. So there you go, theory proven right, right? Life can be so simple.

Missed the first 3 episodes of Pumpkins’ story? You can find them

here.

 

 

Read more about cat behaviour:

 

We’re slowly advancing into your story, probably as slow as you were recovering. 

The cat that changed his mindKaren was going to leave the island and wanted to take you with her, but you were still in no shape to travel. Even though we have learned here on the island that it is easier for a Nicaraguan cat or dog to get into the US than for a Nicaraguan human, for sure no vet would give you a clean bill of health, mandatory to travel. So we looked at other options. My landlord was not particularly fond of cats, so I couldn’t adopt you. I asked my neighbours, who had once told me they were cat people, although they were forever taking care of dogs. They agreed to take you in, when they would arrive on the island for the season. But between Karen’s departure and my neighbour’s arrival was a 10-day gap. So there I came in. Since it was only for 10 days my landlord was willing to give me an OK on having a cat around. You were still so injured it was unlikely that you were really going to go around and make a mess everywhere and get into fights with other cats (we thought…). Under your loud protests we stuck you in a cat carrier and wheelbarrowed you to my house, into strange territory. It must have been another terrifying experience.

 

Once we arrived and let you out, you scooted under the bed, and stayed there for the rest of the day. For the next few days, the far end corner of the bed was where you ensconced yourself. Hardly visible for the outside world, but you could just peek around the corner and keep a lookout through the open door. Then, a couple of days later, you posted yourself on the far corner of the mat that Karen had given me,  it must have smelled familiar, I guess. You still did not want to go outside. The big world had really given you a good scare, apparently, and on top of that you must have felt that your weak legs were a major handicap when it would come to confronting whatever danger was lurking out there. You were happy to use a litter box, since that relieved you from the need to go outside, but your stiff legs that still prevented a proper squat sometimes made you miss the box, so I was mopping every day, sometimes a couple of times a day. My little house smelled of you, Pumpkins, and it was OK. 

The way you were taking your time to recover from your fears AND wounds was an eye-opener for me. You were constantly sitting with your fears balancing on the edge of your confidence, nudging the limits of your comfort zone. Shifting them a little bit every day, moving a little closer to that open door. You weren’t wallowing in you misery and fears, but gave them time to calm down and subside. You weren’t going to be traumatised forever, that wouldn’t work for a bush cat, would it? You had to get back out there, but only when you were ready. In the right time it would happen. An amazing process.The cat that changed his mind

Then you moved to the door mat.

And then trouble came around. 

To be continued….

 

(This story takes place on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. You can read parts 1 and 2 of Pumpkins’ story here)

 

Little Corn Beach Bums

My last post was about trash and why I pick it up. I didn’t include a story about one particular clean-up session, because it has become quite a long story in itself, the prompt for a charity project that I have started for the island. And when I say for the island, I mean literally for the physical island, for Mother Nature. But as a beautiful side effect families will benefit from it too, financially, and babies, physically! It will be a triple win! Before I go into all the details about the project (and you may be able to help as well!), I will tell you how it all started…..

Little Corn Beach BumsOn one of my trash-pick-up outings, I followed a little trail into the bush. I had never walked that little trail, because it doesn’t really go anywhere that I ever need to go. But I was curious…. (well, to be honest, I kind of knew what I was going to find there)….and guess what I found: a big pile of trash. Mostly diapers and plastic bottles. Those bottles made me mad, because they should be in the recycling bins. The diapers made me very sad, because I realised that diapers are the most complicated trash that we have here on the island. For multiple reasons:

  1. we have many babies, and many used diapers as a long-lasting by-product of their sweet presence
  2. the diapers are not organic, so they won’t decompose in nature
  3. they are soaking wet after use, so they cannot be burned
  4. they stink, so you cannot just let them sit in your backyard drying, besides, if you do that, dogs will come by and start eating them
  5. they cannot be recycled, but are full of plastics and other toxic compounds, so even burying is not really an option

 

 

I pick up trash. Not for a living, but just because it’s there. And because I can. Because I want to. Because I have to. Let me explain.

I live on this beautiful tropical island in the Caribbean, Little Corn Island, off the coast of Nicaragua. It’s tiny, so everything (and everybody) is right in your face. You cannot avoid walking past trash, because there are only a few paths that take you around the island. And there is trash everywhere. 

I bet your first thought is: why do people throw their trash around in such a beautiful place? Well, there are many reasons. First of all, this is a developing country, with a lack of funds, logistics and poor education. Basically, here we have no system in place that takes care of our trash the way you are used to have your trash taken care of. All you have to do is put it at the curb, and a truck will come and pick it up. Out of sight, out of mind. You pay for the service, they take care of it. Not here. We have no municipal facility or officer here. We have no roads, no cars, so no garbage trucks. We have no central dump or incinerator. Apart from a handful of recycling bins, we have no general garbage bins along our walkways, because emptying them causes a problem: where to take it? So better not have the bins, head in the sand-strategy. Basically, we’re on our own, when it comes to trash. We DO have trash, lots of it. 

 

A lot of the people living on this island have not grown up with the same concepts about trash in nature as you and I have. It’s a cultural thing: I have learned that trash does not belong in nature, and I have learned why it is bad that it is there. So I know. I cannot walk past trash sitting in nature without feeling bad about it. A lot of the people here have not learned that (yet). And let’s be honest, our developed countries took ages to establish this attitude towards trash. I remember I was tiny, when we had only one black and white channel on TV, seeing a government campaign about taking care of the environment. So it was barely 1970 when they started educating us about the environment in the Netherlands. It took us well into the 90’s before there was a firmly established system of recycling and diminishing our trash, which now has become second nature to most Dutch people. So if a well-developed, rich country with a good education system, municipal services and government campaigns needs a whole generation to get this environmental attitude in place, we cannot expect that a poor country without all that is going to get on top of their trash problem in a couple of years. I let go of that dream a while ago.

Here reality is that a lot of people throw their trash wherever they go. Because they don’t know any better. And because there is no real option to put it anywhere anyway, apart from plastic bottles and aluminium cans that are collected and shipped off the island for recycling. At their own homes they may burn their trash, but when it rains (and this is the tropics), that is not an option either. So then it is the bush. Where the chickens will scratch through it, and neatly distribute it all over the place. Dogs will scrounge and find the edibles (including disposable diapers). So what’s left is plastic, loads of it, and cans, everywhere.

Then I walk by. I see the trash. I used to get angry at the people for throwing it there, even though I didn’t know who had done it, a pretty senseless waste of my emotional energy. When I started to understand the complexity of this problem better I managed to stop blaming them, and I also tried to stop thinking that the local government should do something about it. Because they won’t, because they can’t. The person who throws plastic in nature is guilty of a crime against Mother Earth, and in a way that is a crime against every organism on this planet, which includes me. So that could give me a good reason to be angry and upset. But when I walk by and I see that trash sitting there, KNOWING THAT IT IS HARMFUL TO MOTHER EARTH and then not picking it up, I become as guilty of a crime against nature as that person who threw it there in the first place. I should be mad at myself then too! Once you know, you cannot leave it there, can you? That is the most important reason to pick it up: I do not want to be guilty of leaving it there, passively condoning these crimes against nature, which are also crimes against me. So I pick it up, and take it to the recycling bins. I throw the non-recyclables in there too, that is my silent protest to the municipality  and government for not providing some kind of trash-bins and a system to take care of that street trash.

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……