“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” — Rumi
One year ago I moved to Panama on a whim. When Mom fell and fractured her hip, I immediately flew from San Francisco to Panama to be with her. While visiting for two weeks I received what I now refer to as *a calling* guiding me to move here. I was kind of shocked to consider this relocation since, at the time, I didn’t even like it here. Panama paled in comparison to San Francisco; it’s wasn’t nearly as beautiful, interesting, technologically sophisticated nor socially progressive.
But, as they say, no one leaves a great relationship. For all of the amazing things living in San Francisco provided me, the City and I were not getting along well. I wasn’t doing work I loved, I wasn’t being emotionally supported by my friends and family the way I wanted to be supported and I led an overly-independent, mostly single and often lonely life.
So after giving it just 2 weeks of thought, I packed up my California condo and brought Billy and The Maven with me to Panama. If I’d taken more time to think about it, I would not have moved. I didn’t have much of a plan, my Spanish was terrible and I would have to live with my parents. The transition was fierce.
So, yeah, I went from living alone to practically never being alone at home. Dad doesn’t get out much and there’s always someone here to help take care of him. I’d wake up in the morning and immediately have to talk to someone. Why are they talking to me? What are they saying? Is this really important before I’ve had my coffee?
I went from being surrounded by college friends, city friends and people my age at work to not having any friends at all. I socialized for months with family friends and people Mom introduced me to until I made new friends on my own. I accepted every invitation. I eagerly gathered numbers in WhatsApp. Every acquaintance was a possible BFF.
I also went from being overly scheduled to being able to fully control my time. Over the past year in Panama I’ve taken time to get settled — get a driver’s license, buy a car, get lost, find my way, register for health insurance, unpack, etc. — and to give myself a break from the hectic life I had created for myself. Back in the Bay each day was a long day due to work and commuting. Morning planning included tricky arithmetic as I tried to maximize efficiency in my personal life versus work requirements of me at work:
24 hours minus at least 9 hours sitting at a desk minus 1 hour for exercise minus 1 hour to get clean, dress and eat breakfast minus 2 hours for commuting minus 1 hour for dinner minus 7 hours of sleep =
an unsatisfying way to live
Undoubtedly, the best part of my new experience is that I lead a more fulfilling and intentional life. Surprisingly, my intent stems not only from a desire to create my Ideal Life but also from necessity. You see, it’s much harder for me to be a leaf-in-the-wind when I don’t like where the wind blows. Here I’m forced to figure out what I really want because the default kind of sucks. Things other people love to do or love about living here don’t really interest me. Not to sound like a snob, but chances are I’ve seen them done better or had a better experience doing that same thing somewhere else. I’ve bathed on beautiful beaches. I’ve partied at awesome street fairs. I’ve lived in and visited amazing cities filled with the best art and culture. Lots of things really are better over there.
But the incredible part of my intentional life experiment is that it’s actually working. About a year ago, I wrote a lengthy description of what my Ideal Life would look like. I remember feeling weird writing it, like who am I to declare to the Universe what I want? What makes me think I can actually have it? I mean, if it were this simple, why wouldn’t everyone do it? Don’t be silly, Laura, this won’t work.
Today I not only love reading my description but willingly share parts of it with others. Frequently I catch myself saying things like “My dream is to…” which I was way too embarrassed or scared to articulate before. And although I’m not yet doing exactly what I want to be doing, I’m certainly getting there. Here is a list of qualities I’m working to incorporate into my days:
Billy goes to work with me
I do not sit at a desk for 8+ hours each day
My days include doing more than one thing — I have several lines of works or projects
I work from home or office that is nearby
I have time for myself each day
My work and lifestyle allow me to be fully self-expressed
My work is location-independent and provides with me flexibility to travel
I work with people I like/ability to choose who I work with
I am respected in my community and have a positive impact
I enjoy sunshine and fresh air each day
I donate 5% of my earnings
The other amazing thing about my life is that I am opening to love. You know how I said I didn’t feel supported in SF? Well now I understand that being perfectly supported means being open to a deep level of love and support. Today I have more support than I could ever imagine simply because I choose to accept a level of support that has my greater good at heart. If abundance is being aware of and receiving what has already been provided, then I truly have an abundance of support in my life.
As I write this I’m nursing a slight cold. Mom and her scooter enter my room. “Laura, I have your honey and lime. And Naya is making you chicken soup.” Because I’ve already decided to juice for the day, the thought of eating chicken leads me to say something along the lines of, “No, I don’t want it. And don’t do me any favors.” Really, Laura?
You see, as much as want to be supported my ego still fiercely resists it. Yeah, I know, it sucks to be me. It also sometimes sucks for the people around me. A couple of weeks ago I met an amazing person at a party. We proceed to go on 4 dates in one week and one week later — since it was going so well, I suppose — I practically ruined everything one night for no reason. Crap. What am I doing? Why am I creating separation? While my change of location has created a real shift in my life, my complete transformation cannot occur until I change as well.
So that’s really what I’m up to, folks — self-discovery and transformation. Like it or not and whether I was ready for it or not, Panama is my crash course in creation and love acceptance. Not bad lessons to learn so I’m grateful to be in this ride.
Like many of you, I have been filled with a lot of sadness over the past few days due to the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre. Since I’m visiting the United States, I’m present to the conversations here, most of them about much-needed gun control, how to cope with grief, and questions about why this happened, who is to blame.
One topic that we don’t discuss enough is mental illness. As someone who has suffered from depression in the past, I have felt the stigma of disease, of feeling embarrassed or shamed to ask for help, even after I was courageous enough to admit that I needed it.
Here is one mother’s story about living with and loving a son with mental illness. I am grateful for her transparency and hope her words, along with current events, spur further dialogue here.
I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother: It’s Time to Talk About Mental Illness
Friday’s horrific national tragedy—the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut—has ignited a new discussion on violence in America. In kitchens and coffee shops across the country, we tearfully debate the many faces of violence in America: gun culture, media violence, lack of mental health services, overt and covert wars abroad, religion, politics and the way we raise our children. Liza Long, a writer based in Boise, says it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.
“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”
“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”
“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.
That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.
At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.
Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.
The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”
“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”
His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”
That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.
“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”
“You know where we are going,” I replied.
“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”
I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”
Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.
The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork—“Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”
At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.
For days, my son insisted that I was lying—that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”
By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.
On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”
And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.
When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”
I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.
No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.
(Originally published at The Anarchist Soccer Mom.)
Dad always said, “Do what you love and money will follow.” More of a spiritual man than a religious one, Dad held deep faith in the universe and one’s own ability to be both self-fulfilled and financially successful.
From day to day, I’m not sure Dad understands what I’m doing here, that I live with him and Mom in Panama. Some days I enter the room and he asks, “How did you get here?” as if I just arrived from a long trip. Other days he asks me about school and when I will finish even though I completed my education over 10 years ago.
If I could, if I thought he would understand, I would summon up the courage to explain that I’m here to do what I love, that I’m finally taking his advice to heart by following my own heart. It’s not an easy road trying to figure out what ignites me and what I desire. And, of course, many days I’m filled with fear and doubt about whether this experiment, this enterprise, will work — if the money will indeed follow, if I’ll be able to permanently escape a traditional career path in exchange for one of my own creation, if I will be able to do work I love and earn a living simultaneously.
Some days I struggle to keep the faith that seemed to come so easily to Dad. Videos like this one are great reminders of what he knew to be true.
So fun! I wrote an article called A Born Again Panamanian and did English translation work for a new, stylish women’s magazine here in Panamá called Des Ubicadas. Here is a pic of my family, the magazine cover and article text.
A Born Again Panamanian
They say everything happens for a reason. What started as an accident turned into an opportunity to embrace change and create something new.
At 91 years old, Dad doesn’t leave the house often. Yesterday he woke up early and announced he was ready to go home. Sometimes this happens; he gets confused and doesn’t understand he is already home. Perfect time to take him out for a spin. I drive as Mom changes the dial to her favorite lite jazz station. I don’t know which I dislike more, lite jazz or salsa, but I’m having to adjust to both — and plenty of other new things — now that I live in Panama.
Even though I’d visited several times since my parents relocated to Panama 6 years ago, I had never considered moving away from California, my sister and friends, or even the United States. My parents left Panama when I was 2 years old so that my mother could pursue her dream of becoming a medical doctor. She was successful and fulfilled, in huge part to Dad’s relentless support and motivation. My sister Michelle and I enjoyed a comfortable and safe childhood growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. We both went to excellent universities and completed post-graduate programs. For 38 years, I led an incredibly blessed life abroad.
When mom fell and fractured her hip in April, I immediately flew here to be with her. Coincidentally, I was looking for looking for work at the time since I had just completed a one-year contract as an attorney at Google. Yes, working at Google was interesting, but eventually my experience became the same as with every other corporate job I’d ever had — totally boring. Plus, due to the long commute, every day was a long day. I was in the rat race and wanted out badly. So I finally gave myself permission to create my ideal life. I would only consider work that appealed to me. I would stop doing what I think I “should” do and start doing what I wanted to do.
Interestingly, I returned to Panama for the same reason my parents left it — to follow their hearts and create a better life for themselves and our family. I’ve returned to create a better life for myself, one filled with family and healthy interdependence rather than over-independence, stiff competition and stress. One could say I returned to the place I was born to be born again. I appreciate Panama now more than I ever have before because it offers me new opportunities, a chance for new ways of being. I’m getting to the know the culture I was never a part of before. My Spanish is improving tremendously. Together my mother and I are building a business. At the same time, I’m exploring my interests in foreign exchange investing, writing and teaching. My transition is taking place slowly but surely; Mom’s lite jazz bothers me less and less. All in all, it’s a good life.
Read more about Laura’s life in Panama at http://www.panamaguy.wordpress.com.
My friend Stefanie Nagorka and I just published a book! The Kindred Spirit Companion Workbook is a companion to Kindred Spirit by Matthew and Terces Engelhart. It is intended to provide readers the opportunity discuss and explore the ideas in Kindred Spirit with a partner, friend, relative or co-worker through the use of 42 daily exercises.
Below is the forward I wrote for the book. Special thanks for my sister Mariana for helping us with graphic design.
In 2010, I began a journey I did not plan to take. I registered for a workshop in San Francisco, cleared my entire calendar for the weekend and showed up for class solely based on a website blurb and title. I didn’t know what I would learn in a class called Sacred Commerce offered by Cafe Gratitude leaders Terces and Matthew Engelhart but needless to say I was intrigued. At the time, I was newly involved with a women’s entrepreneur group and sought ideas to share with that community. Sacred Commerce seemed like something I might be able to add to my toolbox. Little did I know the course would open my heart and mind to the idea of unconditional love as a means of acceptance, trust and respect in the workplace.
I loved the course teachings so much that I bought the Sacred Commerce book, read it entirely immediately and shared it — through lots of tears — with friends Johanna Nilsson and Starla Sireno. I also immediately registered for the Engelhart’s next course — Kindred Spirit. That course was equally amazing and continued to promote unconditional love as a medicine to heal wounds, mend relationships and accept what is.
After the second course, I took the third — Abounding River. That course focuses on abundance and creation and incorporates a special log book through which readers can engage in a 42-day practice of abundance, generosity, gratitude, and self-awareness. Committed to completing the workbook, I raised my hand at the end of the Abounding River course and requested a partner.
That’s when Stefanie entered my life.
Stefanie and I had met previously, albeit briefly, when we took the Kindred Spirit workshop together several months earlier. I didn’t know anything about her other than her occupation (art teacher) and geographic location (East Coast); if you had asked me what state, I could not have told you. But the fact that I didn’t know her didn’t matter; she was willing to commit to completing the workbook with me and that was all I needed.
Engaging in the Abounding River Logbook with Stefanie was an amazing experience. When we started, Stefanie was still visiting the Bay Area for the summer. By the time we ended, she had returned to her New Jersey home. Over the 42 days, we shared frustrations, acknowledgements, challenges and dreams. We had such a great experience working together that we gave the workbook another go-round and continued to meet on the phone for another 42 days!
Once we completed the workbook twice, we started to write our own scripts in the style of Abounding River. At first our scripts related to the themes in the book, but after a few weeks, we began to create scripts that resonated with things that were going on in our lives, issues we wanted to work through personally.
And then Kindred Spirit was released. Immediately we started to read and re-read the book and create our own scripts based on its content.
This Companion is a compilation of our love and commitment to the ideas and points of views expressed in Kindred Spirit.
It is a compilation of a friendship with Stefanie based on trust and mutual admiration.
It is also compilation of deep personal knowing that I have, and have always had, an abundance of unconditional love in my life. I am lucky to have a great role model of love, service and gratitude in my mother Cynthia Guy. All of my life I have been totally inspired by my mother. And the more I learn about what it takes to *be love* the more I admire her. Among other things, she is a natural-born leader and instinctively possesses so many of the qualities I am just now able to put into words as an adult.
I am called to love as a way to carry out her legacy and to hold space for unconditional love in our world.
I am committed to sharing Kindred Spirit with as many people as possible because I know as I love, others will love as well.
You are loved,
This morning Mom took a shower all by herself. This is the first time since May when she fell and fractured her hip in the same bathroom that she’s been able to do that. For this I happily acknowledged her with a high-five. “The only thing,” she realized, “is that I didn’t have my helpers there to scratch my back.” Indeed, doing something alone mutually excludes doing it with support. So today I’m reminded that the cliche is true — that there is a bright side to everything even if it just means having someone to scratch your back. Luckily for Mom I had an unused 3-foot long exfoliating hydro towel that’s perfect for that task. Bright sides all around.