Becoming Uncivilized

animals of costa rica

I grew up in the shiny years of American life. Cut my teeth on James Dean movies, the Mouseketeers and a boat load of pie in the sky thinking. I was there when the indoor shopping mall was a concept that would define Americans. I was there when I Love Lucy started being broadcast in color and the fable of Cinderella started dictating the entire value system for girls growing into women. Consumerism, telecommunications, fast food, stress and Starbucks became a definition for living the American dream.

And, admittedly, I went after the picket fence, higher education, financial success and bought the whole nine yards of civilized American life, hook line and sinker. But what I did not know when I became one of the sheep, following the herd, was this: There are profound tradeoffs for having a platinum Visa. Following the norm, the subliminal and not so subtle dictates of a society means that you do not follow other things, namely; intuition, spiritual values, living in the rhythm of nature and following the heart. The two value systems are like oil and water.

But I hear you say: “That’s not true at all! You can rack up credit card debt, climb the ladder of success, shop till you drop and watch reality TV till your eyeballs fall out but you still can be living a passionate, joyful, stress-free and creative spiritual life”. Not.

And although I opted out of the normal American life decades ago, downsized, chose art over money, valued my spiritual beliefs over collective thinking, I still had no idea what tradeoffs my soul was really making to live inside of a culture that is so mesmerizing.   I had no idea what an illusion it all is.

When I came to Costa Rica I arrived as an observer. An observer of a culture not my own. An observer of nature and how subservient to the natural environment we all are. But what I did not know is how the constant presence of nature and beauty can change how you vibrate, think, feel and act. In the USA I was cut off from my natural rhythm, I was a late to sleep and late to rise person, jolting myself into a day with coffee. I was bombarded 24/7 by cell phone towers, electromagnetic overload, unnatural light, traffic, stress and the power coursing through city life left me sleepless all too often. Take all that out of my equation here in a third world country and what’s left is…space. Energetic space. Room for the heart to breath.

So the observer in me watched people living an unhurried life, eat large meals in the morning, take naps in the afternoon. Indigenous people here are never, ever in a hurry and where I am on the Pacific coast there are no traffic lights and simply no traffic. You have to go to bed with sundown and get up at sunrise. Nature gives you no choice. The animals are all living their true nature. Just watch the iguana, the parrot, the cicadas, monkey or jaguar to know that they are true to what makes them unique. Simplicity is Costa Rica. A downsized, small footprint is all there is room for in the jungle and if you listen, watch, feel and smell the reality all around there is no choice but to adapt, flow and merge with the pace and the values inherent in the natural environment.

So people ask why I am still here in Costa Rica, why I stay, why there is nothing about the civilized world I miss (except ice cream). My answer is that living a more uncivilized life has returned me to myself.

sloth

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Tic-Toc Tico

slow

I have been in Costa Rica for one month and time has evaporated, but my ongoing dewy body has not. When time slips away and you forget what day of the week it is, Costa Ricans call it Tico time, Tico, the name for all the people who are Costa Rican. And I am not Costa Rican, so Tico time is a new concept. I know about Island Time from living in Hawaii; that slow lingering pace that comes from being drunk on the smell of Plumeria. But Tico time is all about “manana, manana and manana”.

For me, it seems to be about putting off till tomorrow what you need done today, but it really amounts to a deeply ingrained feeling that nothing at all is urgent; not leaky pipes, broken air conditioners or in my case, having an order in for internet to be installed filed on April 8 and finally being up and running as of just last week. Tico time is when no one gets the job done till they feel like doing it. “We will be out tomorrow, we have the order I promise you and we will be there” was the mantra for over six weeks.

So this is what I have learned from Tico time: Don’t be an ugly American and intimidate anyone or you will get nothing. And, don’t bribe anyone either (which is a customary expectation for some I am finding out) since word will get around that you use money to get what you want. So, why bother worrying since it doesn’t make anything happen any faster? Get used to standing in line or sitting and waiting for your number to be called if you want to pay the electric bill, for lets say maybe four hours. And most of all, simply do not make plans that you are not willing to adjust, more than once. And let’s not even start talking about people getting anywhere on time for just about anything.

So patience, breathing, laughing, waiting and rejoicing when the air conditioner finally works is a daily prayer. Fifty percent of my day is going to be taken up with things I never spent more than a couple of hours on in the States. But with all the aggravation,  I am learning to appreciate everything that comes with Tico time. There is an upside. I walk slower. I don’t hurry or check my watch ever. I cannot afford to get rattled or scowl or complain or get frustrated. So none of that is part of Tico time. As a result of waiting, and trying to be patient, I simply learn to make do, take in what is going on around me, slow down, do with less, be happy with more, and I am more content all the way around. I think the majority of the world who do not live in first world industrialized countries live this way all of the time.

It is a steep un-learning curve here in Costa Rica. For every miracle and flower, rare bird and magnificent thunderous storm there are trade offs. But the trade offs are things I really have come to understand are not really anything essential about life. I can in fact do without an internet signal…the world does not stop revolving and I can simply go down the hill to the Paradiso Café and meet new people, practice my Spanish and use their internet while sipping Costa Rican coffee as the roosters peck around the table. I can do without packaged food, unless I would like to pay $8 for a small container of almond milk. I can do without Pandora and I can do without electricity when there is a storm.   In fact I can do without a whole lot of things that when living in the States I thought were essential.

But what I get to live without is surprisingly liberating:

  • No traffic of any kind and no rush hour. There is nowhere to rush.
  • Movie Theaters. I read old-fashioned books on my Nook.
  • Electro-magnetic bombardment of my body and soul. None here. No wires.
  • Sleepless nights. Without the EM’s, I sleep like a baby.
  • Pollution both chemical and noise. Now that said the cicadas are deafening.
  • Accumulation of things not needed. It is all about simplicity here.
  • Shopping, more shopping and shopping Malls. Need I say more?
  • Road Rage. But let’s talk about the two lane back roads where you pass down the MIDDLE of an unmarked highway.
  • Cops, rarely see them.
  • Speed limits not sure I even know what it is here.
  • Strip Malls thank god.

What I get to live with has become more than wonderful:

  • Unparalleled beauty out my front door
  • Wild and powerful weather every day
  • The sound of the ocean tides coming in and roaring out
  • Kind smiling people most of the time
  • Mother Nature at her finest and in Technicolor
  • Giant papayas for a dollar
  • Coconuts with straws for a buck
  • Fresh everything, and I mean chickens killed at 8am and cooked by 5pm if you eat chicken
  • No clothes, bare feet, living in the water.
  • Fabulous skin from the humidity.
  • Deserted beaches
  • Going to bed at 8:30pm and parrots rousing me at 5am, not so gently
  • Living inside of natures rhythm from sunrise to sunset
  • Being fully present in my body at all times. Having to watch every step I take
  • Learning to live with the Jungle. The Jungle is alive and has rules.
  • Animals, animals and more animals. Have not met a sloth yet but they are everywhere
  • Fruit falling off trees into my lap while I am walking the dog: Starfruit, Mango, Banana and Coconuts
  • Fresh fish, fresh coffee, clean food everywhere.
  • My list here is far longer, but you get the picture.

It has taken me my entire life to allow myself to leap into a new way of living that is not “American” at it’s core ( I will be writing about the extensive ex-pat community later). I have finally given myself the opportunity to learn a new language, to pare down everything I thought I needed in life and make room for what is essential; Sun, surf and the pulsating organism that is a jungle. The jungle is prana, it is the life force of Costa Rica. It is the breath of life and like Eden, it is pure and balanced. I think I didn’t really know that my life in the American fast lane was far too hard for me to achieve balance and equanimity. Peace is much more available here in the rainforest that is Costa Rica.

So, I am ready to tell some tales that will make you laugh and hopefully encourage you to take off your shoes and step out of your life for a while. There is a new you outside your box just waiting for a chance to explore our beautiful world which will simply …rewire you and help you to remember who you are.

sloth