The Magic of Awe and Wonder

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It’s hard to be depressed and anxious when you’re in awe and wonder and wonder is a verb as well as a noun. Not much surprises me anymore but I’m often in a state of amazement. I used to be surprised by the learning curves in life that came along which didn’t fit into my beliefs at the time. My reaction early on began to lose its punch as I accumulated more life experiences… good and bad. I became jaded to what I often saw play out on a basic, fallible human level. My surprise gradually became indifference as my idealism lost touch with the reality of what human nature and the world around me was actually capable of.

It’s at this point of wearing down the psyche that so many find themselves in a state of depression and anxiety, the two culprits at the core of almost every mental health issue we face from PTSD, OCD, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia to name a few. The national U.S. statistics claim 34 % of the general population suffers from these two problems but I’m hard-pressed given my own observations, to believe the actual number isn’t much higher. There’s a lot still hidden in the closet because so many suffer in silence.

A multitude of factors exist which contribute to our angst and feeling of hopelessness. A growing number of people are coming to the realization that our food sources play a much bigger role than we ever imagined. We can’t “re-design” Nature and not expect consequences. It’s simply cause and effect after all. We also can’t pollute and ravage our environment without biting the hand that feeds us, gives us air to breathe and provides the water we drink.

Throw in government corruption, the economy, the dark side of the pharmaceutical industry, etc. on top of it as well and it can be overwhelming for anyone. With all these factors looming menacingly over us, it’s not hard to understand why it’s easy to lose sight of an even more expansive picture. Complacency and indifference are protective mechanisms that don’t solve anything. They only allow it all to continue as the status quo.

There are also genetic predispositions many of us may have to these states of lower vibration and yet even this has a much broader picture attached to it which may very well be rooted in our ancestors. Issues they may have had can roll down through the generations unless they’re recognized and addressed accordingly.

It’s difficult to live down here among all these factors in our everyday lives and not become more than a witness to it all but great beauty also exists among the darkness. It’s easy to forget this is the much smaller picture compared to all that’s truly out there. At one point in my life years ago, I began to see the vision of what my future could look like in this regard. I had witnessed many of my own extended family members, not to mention friends and acquaintances struggle and succumb to the pain of serious depression and anxiety and all that entails and there were times I felt myself beginning to slide down that same, slippery slope.

Whether by my innate nature and my own purpose here or not, I was able to grow into a higher, wider picture of things and I’m convinced that’s what saved me. My curiosity was my vehicle for hope and of escape. Stepping outside our comfort zones creates a lot of fear in people. In reality, they’re nothing more than boxes and they come in all sizes. They also become limitations when we aren’t willing to push ourselves beyond them.

The only way to gain clarity in a situation is to shift our perspective to “empower” ourselves to view it from a bigger picture. EVERYTHING is connected in some way so “when we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” Staying stuck is a human condition but there’s actually a MUCH richer part of each of us that is more expansive and aware than many people realize. Just because our linear brains may not remember this doesn’t mean that inner wisdom doesn’t exist but we have to get curious enough to be willing to look for it. It’s always been confoundingly hard to wrap my mind around the boredom of having no curiosity about life and oneself. Where does the wonderment of our childhood go? It was there at one time.

INTENT and DESIRE are the first stepping stones to waking that part of ourselves up. This is precisely what people refer to as an “Awakening”… a “Spiritual Awakening”. Our thoughts have much more power than many realize. Taking our curiosity beyond our everyday lives and looking out into the world surrounding that… the Natural World… the Cosmos… and inward as well to the science of our own bodies is a good place to begin. These are the places of true magic where miracles take place all the time. It just doesn’t look like a rabbit being pulled out of a hat. It looks more like a rabbit hole into a place of wonder and awe and I’m here to tell you, it’s more real than one can initially imagine. The good news is its open to anyone who seeks it with sincerity.

Part of the amazement is that the Universe in its vast wisdom, uses synchronicity to guide us. We just have to have the courage and desire to pay attention to the signs and to trust our own instincts. They’re our gift and our personal radar and the more we use them, the stronger they become. It extends far beyond our linear intellect into our hearts and our gut instincts, where the real wisdom lies beyond the knowledge. It begins with baby-steps… “light-bulb moments” that flow in with a trickle and gradually become a river of awareness and perceptive magic

Children are born with natural sense of awe and wonder. One great way to open ourselves up is to simply sit and watch children play or better yet… play with them. Because they have more recently been exposed to what lies beyond here, they’re more in touch than adults with what’s actually possible. They don’t know things “can’t be done” and therefore, they approach life with open-minded enthusiasm and joy. Never underestimate the profundity of simplicity.

Tribal, indigenous cultures live in ways that also often don’t think in terms of what modern culture considers “impossible” either. Up through time, we still carry that same cellular wisdom but we have to tap back into it. It’s in our DNA.

Our sentient Natural World is our other profound teacher. Spend time with it. Closely observe it… the trees… the water… the wildlife… the earth beneath your feet and all the life teaming within and without it… microcosm/ macrocosm. It’s creativity at its best and the finite way our ecology is set up to work in concert is both humbling and profound. The good news is its right at our fingertips. All we have to do is pay attention!

 We all came here with natural imaginations and creative energy which gradually grew weaker as more tough life experiences come along. We have to push beyond ourselves and our rigid beliefs to “re-member” and re-embrace that and open up to the possibilities which have always existed and are just waiting to be discovered. That has never changed.

                                        Get Curious… Wonder… Remember…

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The Shamanic Dimension of Mental Health… A Personal Story

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Shamanism is a natural state for me and it’s within this framework that I carry a passion and purpose to help bring a new perspective to the growing issue of mental health in this country and around the world, particularly in modern societies. There’s a growing “hunger” in many for re-connection to something beyond us. In every sense of the word, there’s a profound Awakening taking place.

A shaman understands that what humankind perceives as “invisible”… that which we cannot see with our eyes or touch with our physical bodies… actually holds the wisdom of the ancestors and the Universe. Tragically our modern, technical, fast-paced society has created a true disconnect with our indigenous roots. As we’ve gained prosperity through technology and material wealth, we’ve sunk into a state of poverty regarding our connection to our roots. The end result has left us trying to navigate our lives in an uncertain world without rudders or tracking systems. No wonder people feel mentally unstable!

What many of us experience in our physical world is but a small fraction of the reality of what really exists but we’ve been systematically trained since birth to  believe on a linear level the world can only be a certain way. Concepts which carry us outside the box and beyond our comfort zones often mess with our sense of order and safety. The belief systems which have been drilled into us all our lives cause us to create our own personal prisons of thought but there’s a deep longing for a missed connection whether we’re conscious of it or not. This is why so many in growing numbers are being drawn to shamanism in general.

There are many experiences in the spiritual and psychic realms that mimic or overlap the current traditional standards of mental health. Our societal challenge is to expand our knowledge and understanding in order to address the needs of everyone at their core and to become aware of a much wider and richer picture.

Although shamanic energy has always deeply resonated with me for as long as I can remember, about 15 years ago I began to have dimensional experiences   which confused, amazed and terrified me. It was outside my realm of personal experience and perspective and it took years to fully comprehend what  happened and why. It takes time to process.

I eventually came to understand it had been part of an initiation into a type of shamanism many are still unfamiliar with. I’ve noticed an increasing amount of information on this beginning to show up on the internet however.  Ahhh… the information highway! It begins as a trickle and eventually becomes a river.

This of course was a process… not an event… and I was led on paths that have intersected with shaman of many types and in many cultures as well as prolific teachers, mentors and other healers who each showed up at the right time and played their own part in giving me critical information, support, understanding and compassion. There are really no words to adequately describe the gratitude I feel towards every one of them.

It was often a very lonely and isolating process peppered with large, stinging doses of judgment from many who couldn’t understand something so far out of their own experiential realm. Curiously, this also included many in my field of work. This is the same kind of deep, emotional pain those who suffer with mental health issues experience. They’re labeled by a flawed system of diagnosis and limited understanding. As difficult as it is to be thrust into an experience they’re already having difficulty understanding and often find frightening, the burden becomes that much more difficult when they’re then ostracized, mistreated and judged by others. This only exacerbates the problem and causes more emotional damage.

This particular story is one I’m willing to share with the intention of helping others understand the possibilities that exist beyond this “reality” most people have come to mistakenly embrace as truth. Also, for all those who have had similar experiences but have been reluctant to talk about them, I want them to know they’re not alone.

Several years ago I began to have a recurring dream. I would be standing and screaming at something I couldn’t see. It wasn’t coming through my mouth but rather my solar plexus (the third chakra)… the region in the middle of our bodies. Instead of a “voice” however, it sounded and felt like the blast of a powerful hurricane obliterating everything in its path. Although I couldn’t see my own image, I was very aware that I was the source of it. It was full of a lot of fear, anger and power.

This went on for a few months…restlessly haunting my sleep every few nights before another layer gradually infused itself onto the situation. I began to have a nagging feeling I was going to have to give my life up for what I believed I would need to do in my life. I wasn’t sure what that even referred to but it began as a quick, passing thought and gradually became a nagging obsession of sorts.

Then one day as I sat doing energy work with a small group of fellow healers, strangely feeling more like an observer than a participant, I heard myself make the comment, “I’m going to have to die for my work here.” I got some understandably strange looks, especially considering it had nothing to do with the conversation at hand but nobody was more caught off guard than I was! I responded with surprise, “I have no idea where that came from!”

That instance would be the beginning of an ominous, growing feeling related to losing my life in some way because of something I was involved in… maybe speaking out regarding some large injustice? I didn’t know… I began to refer to it as a “soul ache” because I had no other words to describe the experience I was having. It was incredibly painful because I didn’t know where to turn for help. I knew it wasn’t a physical or mental issue but much more a spiritual one. It continually grew in proportion and all the while the dream kept repeating itself.

I finally reached my breaking point during a week-long trip to New York City with my family. There I was surrounded by concrete in every direction and feeling a strong need instead to be with the healing, soothing energy of Nature. Central Park didn’t cut it!  In fact, to call it a longing would have been more accurate. The crowded center of a bustling city of that size became almost unbearable. Although the energy in large crowds has never been one of my favorite things, I had been there on numerous occasions in the past and really enjoyed myself but this time was different.

The dreams amped up with a vengeance and left me waking up each morning with a horrific feeling that my energy…. my life essence… was literally… slowly… systematically…. draining out of me, leaving in its place a growing emptiness and a sense of some type of death. I would wake up each morning and sit in my bed rocking back and forth and crying with a deep feeling of desperation and hopelessness I’d never known. The hardest part was hiding it from my family. I didn’t want to spoil a trip they were so excited about and I knew this wasn’t something they could even begin to understand. I knew instinctively it had a shamanic link to it and whatever I did to address it would need to be done with the help of another shamanic healer.

During that trip I also began to notice dimensional shifts as well. I would walk across the street to Starbucks each morning from my hotel and each time I would reach for the door handle, my hand would jam into the glass door instead as I missed my intended target by a few inches on either side… It was as if the dimensions were off somehow and weren’t lining up.

Upon arriving home and in a state of desperation, I immediately called a Lakota-trained shaman, Rebecca Singer, whom I had done some work with in the past and had great respect for. After describing my experiences to her, we made plans for me to drive the 4 1/2 hours to her home for a ceremony. I proactively rented a hotel room for the night because I knew I would be in an altered state when I was done.

Full of anticipation and relief, I laid down on the table in her healing room… an assistant standing at my feet to ground me while another sat in the corner with a drum. Drums and rattles are often used as tools to assist in ceremonies and healing rituals to help break up energy and support the participants in traveling out of their bodies into other dimensions. Rebecca painted me from my jawline down to my armpits with a red ochre paint and then began to chant and shake her rattle as her assistant began beating the drum.

That was the last I remember being aware of anything in that room. I immediately found myself sitting on top of a horse… a pinto to be exact. I couldn’t “see” myself but knew I was a young, Native American male. My face was painted with traditional war paint in red, white and black. I was looking out at what lay before me and screaming… the same scream from my dreams… but this time it was coming from my mouth. I felt the same feelings I’d experienced in my recurring dream… anger… fear… a sense of power. I instinctively knew that I was preparing myself to ride into a battle that would claim my life. I knew I was putting myself in a trance-like state to be able to mentally and emotionally accept the inevitable.

The next thing I remembered, as Rebecca leaned down close to my ear, I heard and FELT her speak… ”Georgia, you are NOT a male warrior in this lifetime. You do NOT have to sacrifice your life. You are a Mother-Bear Warrior and you’re here this time for the children.” In the physics of energy work, speaking from a place of true, correct power can affect profound change. I felt her words resonate through the core of my body to a very deep place. To this day, it’s difficult for me to tell this story without feeling the emotion rise in my throat.

Upon completion of the ceremony, as I opened my eyes I was puzzled to see a wide-eyed look of surprise on the faces of everyone there. The rattle had broken into many pieces and lay scattered all over the floor. I never heard any of it. Rebecca’s only comment was that she and I had ridden into battle together against a very dark being from my past (a past life) and obliterated it. We’d also done it in record time considering this ceremony typically takes about an hour and a half and we were done in 45 minutes. It’s amazing what concerted energy from two warriors can do!

That night I had a powerful dream in which a white wolf showed up with information that was very comforting and validating for me. From that time on, my recurring dream stopped and I felt a healing and freedom from that entire experience there are truly no words to adequately describe. It was finally over.

I know beyond a doubt that there was no other way to deal with this particular situation except through the use of shamanic energy. This was a shamanic experience and sometimes one must fight fire with fire. I also know that without that help I would have died. My sense is that it wouldn’t have manifested in my physical body but more in my psyche and probably would have looked like a comatose state I would have eventually sunk completely into… never to return to consciousness again in this life. There are many ways to die.

I know there are often experiences out there which don’t fit into the standard context of mental health diagnosis. I have come to understand through this and many other experiences, just how little so many people are aware of regarding what exists in a much wider, universal picture. There’s a great deal to be learned and the best place to start is by re-connecting back to the Natural World and our indigenous roots where the ancient wisdom lies. We have forgotten what we once knew.

The world is also not black and white but rather many shades of gray and many people experience spiritual or shamanic “awakenings” which closely mimic psychosis related to schizophrenia and bi-polar. Great harm can be done to a person’s psyche by intervening in the experience with doses of mind-numbing drugs and yet this is the most common current treatment in this type of situation.

Our food sources, the toxins in our environment, many of the commonly prescribed medications and vaccinations… the destruction of our Natural Resources, the hand the literally feeds us… ALL play a critical part in our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health and they’re all connected and affect each other. We have to treat the WHOLE person.

We as individuals and as a collective society need to become aware of the part Big Pharma and conglomerates like Monsanto play in making vast amounts of money at the expense of our health on all levels and even our demise. If not us… then who? It’s an inside job and our leadership lies within our relationship to Spirit and the indigenous wisdom of our Ancestors.

Our societal and professional communities must shift and expand in their perspectives and treatment of mental health issues to be able to see the reality of the boundless possibilities that truly exist.

Get curious… Remember…

Framing Mental Health Within the Shamanic Experience

????????????????????????????????????????My education on this concept initially came from my own personal experiences and then began to expand further as I worked with shamen in other cultures and heard other people’s stories. This was a journey on which I was half led and half thrust into and I can assure you… it wasn’t for the faint of heart!
I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity about life from a very young age and as those around me went about their own lives and experiences each day, I spent much of my time with my nose pressed up against the window of the universe, looking to see what else was out there. I’ve now come to believe I was simply answering the call of my own DNA and my cellular memory in an awakening to who I authentically am and my purpose here which culminated from many lifetimes as a shaman before this one.

I’ve always had gifts beyond the ordinary senses (many people do) but in 2000 as I began my formal training in earnest in the field of energy healing, something else began to develop for me as well. From my studies and some experiential travels which included natural healing concepts in numerous ancient and distant societies… Native American… Tibetan… Japanese… Mayan… African… Huichol… Peruvian… Mongolian… Australian Aboriginal… I noticed numerous common threads from each one.

All had a higher awareness and wisdom expressed through their own specific cultures and yet they very similar in their effect even though there had been no contact between these tribal communities during that initial period. They were able to access information beyond their ordinary realities from a collective source. They were also rooted in their own version of shamanism which by its very definition, is practiced with a very strong connection to the Natural World as well as through accessing realities which exist beyond this one.

When I first learned about shamanism about 38 years ago, it woke something up in me… a passion and deep “knowing” I’d never had before and which has only expanded through the years. I began to feel like the puzzle piece that had just found the puzzle I fit in. I was “home”. What was also fascinating was the more deeply I felt connected to this way of “being”, the more I began to have experiences well outside what most consider normal, including other healers.

Normal is nothing more than a choice on the dial of a washing machine… especially for me! With each increasing experience I found myself in which took me farther and farther out of my realm of reference, I was forced to look for the explanations and solutions myself but also very thankfully, with an array of support from a small circle of friends and healers who “got” it.

At the base of my formal study in this field is physics. I’m a person who has a very hard time accepting something without understanding the “why” and “how” of it but I’ve always been an “open-minded skeptic”. I came to understand that every single thing is connected… spiritually… mentally… emotionally… physically… and physics is the vehicle it all rides on. This also includes shamanism.

What does this all have to do with the subject of mental health you may be wondering? Belief systems are very powerful… enough so to cause a psychotic break from (a) reality when we’re exposed to something too far outside our immediate comprehension. I have worked with many people… particularly young adults… who possess some astounding gifts of “sight” beyond the usual.

I recognize them energetically often before they even open their mouths to speak. Although they have different, unique talents and individual personalities, there’s also a commonality among them as well. They’re very bright… creative… empathic… compassionate… intuitive… independent thinkers and old souls who have more often than not been diagnosed with multiple mental health labels. Many have been drugged and sent through the mental health system to no avail but there’s a glaring aspect of mental health support missing for those who are actually experiencing things the “system” can’t explain.

Insurance companies don’t recognize this either and so even the professional who may have knowledge of this type of experience, can’t get insurance to pay for any treatment without giving the issue an existing diagnosis even when it’s not correct. WE need a call for change in how we react to, diagnose and treat people who may very well be going through much more of a spiritual awakening and much less of a brain malfunction. It can create poor self-esteem, fear, terror and a heaping amount of anxiety… that seed at the root of many if not all of the mental health issues.

I developed PTSD directly caused by my shamanic experiences and a few psychotic episodes until I learned how to stop them. It took a number of years and a dogged determination to learn to first step beyond the fear, overcome it, gain the clarity to understand what and why it was happening, learn to protect myself on an energetic level, step fully into my position and power as a shamanic healer and finally to assist, support and empower others.

There’s always a much wider, universal view of things… We do ourselves an injustice not to be aware and willing to look beyond the initial judgments from ourselves and others about what may not be understood and to go further to the truth of what actually is. Everyone benefits from compassion and support. It’s not about necessarily agreeing or understanding but simply stepping back from the judgment and lack of kindness that seems to creep forward when we can’t wrap our own perspectives around something. We truly don’t know what we don’t know until we learn it and we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.

There is a growing interest in shamanism. It’s referenced in the media everywhere. Classes, workshops and books are popping up in growing numbers. I personally consider it disrespectful to take a course and consider oneself a shaman. Shamanism is passed down verbally and experientially from shaman to apprentice or through a near-death experience or some similar, extreme action. Shamanic energy is recognized by those who also feel a strong tie to it as I did. WE “recognize” it in each other. There are specific reasons for that. It can be utilized by everyone though in ways which benefit our own personal growth as well as that of the collective.

Our planet has been harmed greatly and as mankind has continued to destroy the hand that literally feeds it, we’ve come to a point where we’re awakening and yearning for wholeness again in increasing numbers. That equates at the most basic level, back to our connection with our Earth and ALL life… that basic wisdom that the ancients knew so well.

Get Curious … Remember …

There Are Reasons and There Are Excuses…

Whenever I hear someone say… “Yes… but…” I automatically realize that person has no intention of changing their mind on that particular subject. From that point on, the wall goes up & the open-minded listening ceases to exist.

At the end of the day, every single one of us has the power to be our own jail-keeper… or not. Even a prisoner in shackles has the ability to choose his attitude & our thoughts absolutely create our realities. I remember times in my own life as a still-dependent kid when I was (op)pressed at such a level that I would say to myself… “You may be able to control what I do & where I go but you will NEVER control my thoughts! Nobody can take that from me.” Survival…

Every moment we have choices and the cause & effect of those choices puts us squarely where we find ourselves at any given time. This is by a much bigger design and unless we can sincerely own our own stuff, we remain stuck in an endless cycle of dysfunction. The requirement for breaking free is insisting our egos take a backseat.

There will always be reasons for everything & as inconvenient & untidy as it can sometimes be, there’s often more than one for any given issue. Humans tend to prefer neat, tidy, black & white packages but the world we live in is a spectrum of shades of gray… always. This is where the realist & the idealist part ways. In the end though, it’s a lot less stress to lean toward being realistic because we can waste a lot of valuable time sitting there staring at a rock and wishing it was a flower. Sadly, some people waste a lifetime that way.

The definition of a “reason” is a judgment of what is right, practical or possible; in essence, common sense. An “excuse” is defined as a release from a duty; an attempt to lesson blame. I’ve always found the TRUTH lies somewhere in the middle each time which requires us to first look at our part in it, own it, learn from it & then let go of the rest. The ONLY thing we really have control over is ourselves. It is & always will be an inside job!

 

                                                                             

                                                                                            GET CURIOUS… REMEMBER…

We First Have to Recognize Who We Aren’t In the Process of Discovering Who We Really Are

Face painted like earth

We’re birthed into this world as perfect beings coming into our bodies & respective lives to learn the lessons we’ve chosen to learn in order to continue our personal & spiritual growth. Upon our arrival, a “veil” covers our memories of where we just came from & who we truly are.

We then become human “works-in-progress” & embark on our individual studies at the “University of Life” whether we know it or not. The tough part is by our very nature, we don’t learn when things are easy & going splendidly.

When life becomes hard however, it tends to humble us & we’re better able to look beyond our egos & go within ourselves. We often develop a sense of longing for a connection to something much bigger than we are. The greater the pain, the bigger the lesson & some of us seem to think we need to learn things the hard way (just another limiting belief).

Universal God/ Goddess energy is very real & with it comes a great amount of Wisdom. Knowledge feeds our brains as we learn on a linear level but Wisdom must be earned by experience… much harder & but also infinitely more rewarding. The key is learning to be aware enough to recognize it when it crosses our paths. We have to learn to live in a more conscious way.

It’s easy to unconsciously accept what we’re told as innocent children growing up… by our parents & families… our extended community… our peers we want to fit in with. At those young ages, our survival depends on others. We gradually begin to believe our illnesses, issues, habits, belief systems, etc. are all simply part of who we are. In actuality though, nothing could be further from the Truth! They’re nothing more than lessons put in front of us to teach us something. Once the lesson is learned, it’s no longer necessary to have it in our lives & as a healer, I routinely see “miracles” occur. It’s about getting to the CAUSE… not trying to put a band-aid on the symptom.

To recognize & get beyond this, we each have to get curious enough to seek our own, individual truths. As well-meaning as others in our lives may have been, nobody has the right to decide another person’s path for them… NO ONE! Divine Free Will is our own gift & it exists for a reason.

When you take time to concertedly ponder it, just how often do you find yourself “tucking in” what you say or do to avoid making waves in an effort to keep the peace? Or maybe you fear being judged, ridiculed or shamed? Do you ever feel you’re being loved “in spite” of who you are… not “because” of who you are? These types of things are precisely the “in-authentic” issues that not only feel awful but also aren’t serving us in a Higher Way.

How do we break free of these limitations? PERCEPTION is the first place to begin. If 10 people stood in the same place at the same time & had the same experience, all 10 of them could & would likely have 10 different opinions & descriptions. Each of them would be basing their thinking on their own, individual, past experiences which formed the way they see the world they live in.

Soooo… reality is actually only a personal matter & another person’s opinion is just that… THEIR opinion… not the last word! It takes courage & effort to look honestly at ourselves & learn to recognize what doesn’t feel good or positive about ourselves. Those things either aren’t authentically us or they’re things we need to look at & change. Either way, it’s something we have to do to grow & expand. If it isn’t good for us, it ultimately isn’t good for anyone or anything else either.

I’ve learned that TRUE Freedom is an inside job. We can’t control what’s coming at us on an on-going, daily basis. The key is learning to control how we react to it & not giving our Power away to someone else’s idea of what we should or shouldn’t be.

There’s no greater joy than living our own lives in a sincere way that feeds us on deeper levels & by surrounding ourselves with situations & people who see, love & value us for who we are. At the core of every human being is the innate need to be valued for taking up space in this world & to be part of a bigger “community” of Love & Support. It’s what gives us our humanity, joy & compassion & without it, we become disabled in sharing our gifts, talents & Wisdom with others.

                                           GET CURIOUS… REMEMBER…

Experiencing Life Through the Perspective of Another

 

On my second trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica with a humanitarian, dental, non-profit organization called Great Shape/ 1000 Smiles, I again found myself working in a remote, jungle community called Walkerswood at the local school… in fact, the only school. It was a series of small, run-down, dirt-floored buildings joined together by sidewalks, metal bars in the glassless windows & surrounded by a rough-shod playground.

The kids, who ranged in age from 5 through 17, were more than curious as we hauled in box after box of dental equipment & chairs. They couldn’t wrap their minds around our odd ways either, whether it was petting or talking to the myriad of poor, starving dogs everywhere or wincing at the sight of bug-covered food that they would eat without a second thought… bugs & all.

Although the principal & staff cared greatly for these children, they were very strict about manners, obedience & the effort they put into their studies. I was even asked to speak at their monthly PTA meeting! The parents initially had a difficult time believing we would actually volunteer to take  time away from our own jobs & families & pay our own airfare to come there & not want something in return. Their own survival had always depended on having to hold so tightly onto anything they could get.

It was also an expectation throughout the community that if someone’s child was caught misbehaving, whichever neighbor happened to see them could take it upon themselves to mete out punishment which often included hitting them… the old “spare the rod… spoil the child” mentality.

The second day there, I met a teenage girl, Dana… 15 years old… who lived nearby. Her developmentally disabled brother attended the school & although she was no longer a student there herself, she could often be found helping with him or just hanging around. Her mother was a local healer… a very spiritual, church-going woman who was well-liked & respected in the community.

As we struck up a conversation, I asked why she wasn’t in school. She had attended previously & had actually been a very good student. At some point though, she’d come down with an auto-immune disorder which slowly robbed her of her ability to function. Often exhausted, she would ask the teacher to be excused. Her mother, being very concerned, had taken her to various local healers with no luck. She was finally able to get a clear diagnosis from a medical center some distance away.

Unfortunately because of the culture there & a lack of understanding, that explanation wasn’t well-received by the school staff. Assuming she was just being lazy, her teachers became so hard on her she eventually dropped out of altogether. Fortunately by the time we met, her symptoms had begun to go into remission & her strength & energy were slowly returning.

Since we were short-handed, this seemed like an ideal opportunity to have her work with us as a team member & build her self-esteem at the same time… a win-win! She seemed to have a natural aptitude for dentistry & before long she was performing a number of tasks quite well. The change in her demeanor was palatable & it did my heart good to see her confidence in herself grow.

Each year as our trip came to an end & we prepared to go back home, there was always a dinner back at the hotel to say “thank-you” to everyone who had participated & give them a chance to say their good-byes to so many they had developed strong bonds with. Everyone shared how much it had meant to them to really be able to help but they also felt they’d received so much more in return.

Our team invited Dana to come spend the night at the hotel in my room so she could attend the dinner & with her mother’s permission, she excitedly agreed. I knew this would be a great experience for her but I had no idea what an adventure it would be as well… for both of us…

She arrived carrying a change of clothes and an old, ragged towel in a paper bag. I explained it wasn’t necessary for her to bring her own towel as the hotel supplied them for their guests. I then told her to go ahead & feel free to take the first shower. She headed into the bathroom as my roommate & I took that time to kick back after a long, hot day.

About 20 minutes later, out she walked… tears in her eyes… red blotches all over her skin. Surprised & concerned, I asked her what was wrong. “I tried to stay under the spout” she said “but the water was just SO hot, I couldn’t stand it anymore!” To my dismay, I realized she had never been in a shower with hot & cold running water before.  I thought about how naïve I’d been not to realize that. Most Jamaicans shower in rainwater they trap in vats on their roofs. It’s a tropical climate so water heaters aren’t used, even though there are days I’m sure it’s chilly. They simply can’t afford the electricity or plumbing.

I apologetically explained the situation to her & helped her get ready for dinner, all the while trying to ease her extreme nervousness.  By the time we got to dinner & seated ourselves, the poor thing looked like she was going to pass out!

As our dinners were served, I noticed one of the Jamaican waiters standing by the wall near our table, quietly & quickly came over to her, placed her napkin in her lap for her & showed her the silverware. Once again, I realized she had never been to a restaurant… never experienced the nuances of having her glass filled with water or ordering from a menu. Again, I felt like I’d failed her in not being aware enough of the circumstances she came from. No wonder she was so anxious!

There are many people who live in the U.S. who also go without these things as well but even more Jamaicans do. So many of us in this country are so blessed to have enough to eat, a place to sleep, a chance for an education, clothing, charitable organizations who are available to make up the difference & opportunities for some type of dental & medical care should an emergency arise at least. We can’t know what we haven’t yet learned & sometimes it’s easy to forget to appreciate what we haven’t had to go without.

Gratitude is our gift to ourselves & to the collective because if we can’t see our own reasons to be grateful, we’re not near as likely to be there to support & empower others.

                                                 GET CURIOUS… REMEMBER…