Top 5 Things I’ve Learned in 5 Years in Guatemala

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{Read the full version here.}

1. I am sensitive and resilient.

In my three long years in Guate (a.k.a. Guatemala City), I was never robbed at gunpoint, as many of my friends were, but I was lied to, judged, cheated, rear-ended, side-swiped, overruled, manipulated, hated, loved, used, ignored and more. I experienced homesickness, loneliness, anxiety, listlessness, confusion, rejection, grief and frustration. And yet, no matter what, I kept sitting, kept stretching, kept breathing, kept going.

2. We are all running and seeking.

I had the duty and privilege of working with some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest people in the capital city. I was surrounded by a large and lively community of fellow foreigners and teachers. Although at times I struggled to find compassion for our rich, often “spoiled” student body, through my experience as a high school academic counselor of sorts, I saw that the rich kids suffer, too. Many had bodyguards, mansions and helicopters but no nurturing from their parents, no compassion, no self-love.

I experienced the first Noble Truth of the dharma firsthand in a deeper way than ever before. Everybody—the rich and the poor and the middle class—is running away from suffering and pursuing happiness. Though our circumstances vary widely, we all experience pain and bliss, attachment and aversion. We all want to be happy.

3. It’s cool to be alone and single.

It wasn’t cool, in my mind, to be single in Austin in my twenties, watching with envy as my friends and acquaintances coupled off, married and started families. I was always striving for true love, lacking meaningful romance and settling for what I could get.

For my first year Guatemala, I had no exes, no friends-with-benefits, no personal history whatsoever. I basked in solitude. I got to do whatever, whenever I wanted, aside from going to work at a country-club of a school every weekday from 7:30 to 3:00 sharp. I read for pleasure, wrote professionally, practiced solo yoga and meditated more than ever before. It was nothing short of brilliant.

4. A broken heart can be transformational—if we let it be.

A few months into my life abroad, I came home for Christmas and had my heart broken twice—by a guy I’d convinced myself I loved and belonged with, and by one of my best girlfriends who ejected me from her life. Those experiences were painful and not transformational at the time. I felt angry, wronged, judged, stupid, dejected.

A year and a half into my time in Guatemala, my sweet dog, Lucy, my constant companion for nine years, died suddenly from a tragic, accidental fall from my friends’ penthouse apartment. My heart was shocked open, broken, devastated. Yet even from the first night without her, I could feel Lucy’s loyalty and love permeating my being. Even now, if I focus on it, I still can.

5. The right doors will swing open at the right time; it is our choice which to walk through.

My third year in Guate was a struggle. I wanted out. I was dreaming of a life at the lake yet too scared and financially unstable to take the plunge. I stayed and struggled every damn day, attempting to teach unruly 8th graders who denounced mindfulness, stressing over when and where to make my next big move.

Then, within the span of a few months, I met the man who became my life partner, got pregnant with my precious daughter, moved from the city to the magical Lake Atitlan and started a new job at a splendid little place called Life School.

I discovered that time trumps money and a high quality of life is way more important than having a big salary and health insurance. For me, that means being surrounded by nature and like-minded souls. It means trusting in the natural unfolding of life. It means having faith in change, embracing the unknown, loving the diversity and oneness of my own self and all beings, simultaneously.

Gracias, Guatemala! Te quiero mucho. (Translation: I love you very much.)

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