In Buddhism, letting go of attachments is one of the three prerequisites to enlightenment. The other two are the eradication of ego and suffering. Letting go is easier for me than for others. It has always been how I live my life. As for suffering, it's a state of mind, and I have a choice. Even when I was in chronic pain, I could choose whether to suffer or live my life despite it. And as far as ego goes, I don't think I'll be eradicating mine anytime soon and thus enlightenment is probably not in my near future.
This last blog in my four decades of residing in Costa Rica series is about the importance of being able to let go especially when living in this country.
Being president of a nonprofit in Costa Rica was becoming a source of great distress for me. An artistic personality and the running of a bureaucratic organization can be a nightmare. I was miserable, which affected my relationships with the other board members.
Even as a child, I never really played well with others. And forget sports; I never felt the need to compete with individuals or groups and was a lousy team player. I've never experienced feelings of loneliness and preferred to do most things independently. Opinions of others don't affect me, and I always rely on my own inner sense of right and wrong and act accordingly.
Although I tried to be different in the Association, I eventually realized sometimes a leopard simply can’t change its spots. My favorite way of explaining my relationships to others is, "I don't need people; I chose them."
But in a nonprofit, you do need people, and you need to work as a team. I eventually decided this wasn't my nature, and I needed to let it go. There were a lot of hard feelings over my decision, and finally, Maria took over the presidency. Although I remain a founding member, I no longer actively participate in the Association.
The Association continues to move forward, focusing on several diverse programs for helping the elderly. I’m proud to have designed some of those programs and happy they are continuing. I switched my attention more fully to the rural dementia education and Indigenous Elder Support, primarily funding the trips out of my own pocket.
Unfortunately, the US Alama Foundation had gone under during the pandemic, unable to continue financially. Hence, both the Association and I no longer had their support and were left on our own. However, I will always be eternally grateful for their support which got us through those early pandemic shutdowns, and sad they didn’t continue operating.
Now that I’d let go of my attachment to nonprofits, I began taking trips down south to the Terraba Indigenous to continue providing elder support and dementia education. Because of the pandemic and prohibition of group meetings, I had to temporarily let go of the dementia education, and I continued with the elder support. Thanks to the help from many generous individuals, I have been able to improve the situation of several families caring for their elderly in poverty situations.
Isn't making a better world just about helping one person at a time? At least, this is how I justified my new direction. I visited the families and pinpointed a specific need, usually some medical equipment that would make caring for their loved ones easier. I photographed them and presented their story on Facebook and received so much response it surprised me. Through generous donations of the cost of the supplies, I continued helping the elderly and their families.
Again, never satisfied with the present, I felt I needed to expand this project. However, again I'd need a nonprofit if I was to apply for a grant or receive funding. A friend suggested I contact Amigos de Costa Rica. This US-based nonprofit managed tax-deductible donations for over 100 grassroots projects in Costa Rica. They suggested I apply with SOMOS, which is based in Uvita and is one of their recipients. Their mission is the management of donations for projects like mine; they accepted my proposal. But after discussing their regulations it seemed like again, I might be repeating a mistake and was hesitant to possibly box myself in again. So, at least for now, I've decided to wait until the pandemic passes to decide. I’ve lost my passion for big projects and presently feel very content with just helping individuals when the need arises.
Sometimes we just need to follow our happiness because loving what you do is what's really important. My last two trips to the Indigenous territories were financed out of pocket and unfortunately, the traveling is presently too expensive for me to continue. So, I set up a system on the previous trip where Oldemar, one of the Indigenous in Terraba, became my contact. He helps with finding the families in need and sending me the info. I then get the help funded by generous people, buy the food or medical supplies and send them by bus to Buenas Aires. There I've coordinated with another person to transport the items to Terraba. Oldemar then delivers the items to the families. At least for now, this is as much as I'm comfortable doing, and it’s working well.
In the meantime, I continue to create art and pet sit to augment my minimal pension. I didn't pay into the system; as an artist, I resided on the fringe of the society, plus I've lived over half my life outside the US. So, unlike many retirees in Costa Rica, this senior continues to work. I'm ok with this, and I always seem to live comfortably.
After all, isn’t security simply an illusion?
People can lose their family home or their jobs unexpectedly. They become ill, have accidents, become disabled, or worse, get dementia. Nothing is truly permanent, and the future is unpredictable. After all, no one imagined the entire world would shut down because of a pandemic.
The only certainty we have in life is what we have at this moment. I'm a writer, but I find it difficult to concentrate on reading books because of ADD. So, I recently started listening to audiobooks while working on my art. I'm presently listening to Ekhart Tolle's Power of Now. It has helped me appreciate what I have in my present and find gratefulness for all of it.
I've never wanted to own anything more than a vehicle, and there's always enough coming in to pay my living expenses, and miraculously my car keeps running. I've got food and a beautiful cottage at the Art Colony where I always wanted to live. Although I walk with a limp, at 74, my health is pretty good, and doctors are always amazed I'm not on any medications. Whenever I was in need, human angels would always come to my rescue. I know I've still got work to do on myself to become a more conscious person, and at least at this moment, writing these words, I feel I'm getting a little closer.
As I reflect on these writings about my last four decades living in Central America, I’m aware that life is really just a growth experience. Sometimes it's easy, and other times challenging. But when we transform our challenges into creating a better life for ourselves and others, we become more conscious individuals. Mistakes and challenges are just detours, not destinations, and although I've had many fiascos and taken a lot of wrong turns, I have no regrets. I’ve had to confront my demons, make amends when possible, and move on trying to do it better next time. Our challenges force us to change. If everything in life was just peachy all the time, why would we do anything different or become better versions of ourselves?
It's all just part of the process called life.
This is my last blog for the Pura Vida Connections, and I appreciate all of you who have read these posts and sent such encouraging comments. Many have suggested I write a book about my life in Costa Rica. These blogs are condensed versions of just pieces of my experiences. I would like to include more in a book; so I'm considering it.
I'd like to again thank everyone, past and present, who has so generously helped me along the way in my life. I am always eternally grateful.