To Move to Central America, or Not?

peterchristopher's picture

So, you are thinking of living in Central America?

Five years ago, at Sky Meadow in Vermont, I met someone who became an important influences in my life, Miles Sherts. I was one of the students at the first meditation course he offered, and it was my first mediation course. He handed out several sheets of paper before we started the weekend of meditation, including some words of advice he had written for us. I still have those sheets of paper, with a short description of Buddhism alongside Miles's personal statement. Miles wrote: "As we begin to experience ourselves and the world through direct observation with calm focused awareness, we become free of conditional habits which have kept us limited and caused us to suffer... I encourage you to bring yourself to retreat as if it were your last chance to find what you have been seeking so long and hard. I invite you to trust for a moment this process laid out by Gotama Buddha and risk setting aside your doubts and fears. You may become something new in the process."

If you come here hoping to keep your old assumptions intact and have a pleasant experience, it probably won't work. Most people, a month or a few years after arriving in Central America, reflect that it seems like a disaster zone, especially compared to a utopian dream. This place may seem too hot, too cold, too windy, too dusty, too wet, too dry, with too many insects, too many thieves living nearby, etc, etc. Oneself may seem too slow, too stupid, too poor at speaking Spanish, too ugly, too bad at cooking, etc, etc. Everything outside and/or oneself may seem worthless.

But perhaps what we experience (making those judgments about the place and oneself) is only the way our mind often behaves, and not the only way the mind can behave.

I can image that there are some people who already have achieved enough clarity that when they arrive here, that their frustrations will not be great. Yet, experience suggests they are a lucky few.

As Miles wrote, "I create and hold a container for you to explore the nature of your own mind, and realize your own truth. I believe this will set you free, and it is for this that you have always longed." Sounds appetizing, huh? In my experience it didn't work out so nice in practice. That meditation retreat "container" seemed more like a hell-ball. Miles created that by making us sit for hours and hours and hours until our bodies ached. I don't think I was the only one who wanted to slide out to the parking lot and sneak out in my little car. But for whatever reason, no matter how much I wanted to leave, no matter how much I hurt, I didn't leave. Neither did anyone else. (Thank you, Miles, for offering the challenge and the support that appealed to us and supported us.)

When you move to a new place (or do anything new I suppose), Miles won't be there intentionally creating a container for you. Maybe the experience, if you take on the challenge, can provide the same reward. You can come to contact the demon you have been running from and have a chance to dance with it, become its lover instead of running in what seems like another direction.

On the other hand, maybe you don't need to come to Central America to have that experience, to be a happier and better you. Perhaps you could find a group of people who are open to growth in your local community. Or maybe sitting there in your chair, you could realize that any frustration that arises, is just the work of your mind. Maybe no other people are required. You could save some money and resources by just staying at home. The story goes that the Buddha ultimately found what he was seeking when he went off to the woods and meditated alone; he didn't find it in another country or at a retreat with other people.

But if you're like us, and for some unknowable reason your heart tells you that Central America may be your home now, you might have to come anyway.

I'll rewrite one of the quotes from Miles in a way that makes more sense to me in this context here: "Maybe you can bring yourself indefinitely to Central America as your chance you have earned for yourself to find what you have been seeking so long and hard. I invite you to trust for a moment the process that follows naturally when you trust yourself, when you pursue your instinct to live your dreams, and when you stick with your dreams beyond the inevitable escape desires you encounter to run on to the next thing. You may become something new in the process."



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