The sound of her breathing crashed against the sound of each wave rolling in. Her hooves clapped against the rim of ocean foam that led each wave to the sand. Like lace, her hooves tore through it. Her grey mane bounced against the powerful muscles of her neck. When she walked, a spray of salt water came up over my legs and the stirrups. I held her back behind the group of other horses to be alone with her and the ocean. I was not alone like I usually am looking out across the ocean. I was with her, endlessness in front of us. The infinite ocean was cold and deep and timeless. But we were merged as if united in facing it. Her large heartbeat beneath my calves granted her body warmth that fed me. My heart found an identical rhythm with hers. I felt the same feeling I fell in love with when I was young. The feeling when your body and the horse’s body become one body. It is the closest I have ever felt to companionship and safety.
This week, I got to scratch something off of my bucket list… Riding a horse on a beach. I have been a complete horse fanatic since I was 2 years old. I also learned to ride at 2 years old. I had a horse the whole time I was growing up. In the rural west of the United States, your horse stays in the back yard and so I would walk out back, get on (usually bareback) and ride off into the mountains for hours alone. It is one of the most heartbreaking sacrifices I have had to make for living the life I have now with my “mission” so to speak. I travel too much and don’t have enough time to dedicate to the lifestyle that is owning horses. One day, I will return to it again. But the one thing I had never done, which every horse lover must do before they die is to ride a horse on a beach. It was even better than I thought it was going to be. I was in pure heaven with not one negative thought for 2 hours straight. For 2 hours, I was feeling safe and perfectly happy to be on earth.
We were so busy setting up Philia here in Costa Rica that we didn’t get any chance to explore any of Costa Rica until this last week. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about this country is that despite its tiny size, you can drive 5 minutes and be in a totally different environment. Every place feels different. And hidden among them all are little gems. Sanctuaries that are so beautiful, they don’t seem real. This country is more beautiful than a picture could ever portray.
Moving to a foreign country (like Costa Rica) is a war internally in the beginning. It follows the natural course of any relationship. To begin with, you’re in the ‘honeymoon phase’. Everything you are focused on is positive… The things that made you move there to begin with. Then you enter the ‘individuation phase’. You start to encounter things that you fear, things that make you feel like you don’t belong there at all. At this point, you start to compare all the negative things about the new with all the positive things about the old. You get homesick. There is a war between the part of you that hates it and the part of you that loves it. If you get beyond this phase, eventually a secure relationship emerges. The war within subsides. You find ways to harmonize with the things that you clashed with and one day it begins to feel like home.
Any kind of contrast you can experience, brings with it incredible clarity. I am so clear on what I love and don’t love about each country because of being able to experience so many contrasting experiences both traveling and living abroad. One thing that I have been thinking a lot about on this trip is the role of government. In Costa Rica the government is not palpable at all. The freedom that is experienced here as a result is something akin to a friendly version of the wild west. There is no sense of external social control. And the Costa Rican people have a very laid back attitude towards the dangers that most governments seek to prevent. Places that would be illegal to go because of risk in the US are lucky to come with a warning sign here. The country slogan “Pura Vida” actually reflects this way of being. You can use the saying as a greeting and as a way to say goodbye. You can use it when you are remarking about the beauty of a place. But it is commonly used here when things go wrong. For example, if your car breaks down or if the electricity goes out. “Pura Vida” is a way of saying “shit happens”. And this allowing state of being is central to the culture here. I remember asking a tour guide if they had ever had serious accidents at a particular waterfall site and his answer was, “if it’s your day to die, it’s your day to die… Pura Vida”.
You can see people speeding at 70 miles an hour past police officers. You will see them standing on street corners chatting with huge smiles on their faces. Police officers here are like everyone’s local friend. At first, coming from America, this lackadaisical way of living and governing made me feel really unsafe. But recently a whole new way of feeling has come over me. The government officials, including police officers, are supposed to be there for the wellbeing of the citizens. Their salaries are paid for by the taxes of the citizens themselves. It is an enormous amount of trust in fact that the people of society are placing in people who hold these positions. And the reality is that in many places, places like America, there is a rift between the government and the people. In America, as much as we may not want to admit to it, government officials and police officers are not our friends. We fear them. As an American, I grew up fearing the police and thinking that was just normal. It wasn’t until I began traveling to places like Costa Rica that it really dawned on me how dysfunctional that is. If the people in a country fear their own police and fear the people in their own government, that is a huge problem. It means the country has the perfect recipe for military state, oligarchy or totalitarian dictatorship. Now, I regard this as being one of the most functional aspects of Costa Rica. Something that I wish it could share with the rest of the world.
I encountered an unfortunate pattern this week after I posted the videos and pictures from this week of touring… A wave of people who were super angry and feeling betrayed to see those pictures. Pictures where I was enjoying myself when so many people on earth are suffering.
When we are in pain or suffering the lack of something, it hurts to see someone who is happy and who has what we lack. There is nothing wrong with this. What is wrong with this is that we don’t want to admit that we are in pain about it or admit to why we are in pain about it. So we believe it is the person who is happy or who has what we want that is causing our pain. There were messages like “This post is an illustration of what is wrong in this world. If spiritual teachers would actually take care of the people facing tragedy and hardship instead of taking part in shallow pleasures, the world would be a much better place.” Or “Considering you’re always concerned with everyone’s feelings, I don’t understand why you choose to ride horses”. Or “Does Teal do anything besides photo-shoots?” These comments all boiled down to one theme: You’re doing something bad and wrong by enjoying yourself like this. There was an underlying assumption that by enjoying myself in these ways, I was causing suffering in the world.
This slew of anger made me think. Being in my position now, many doors to novel experiences are open to me. Those experiences are the ones that people see on social media, not the downsides to being in my position. They do not see the price I pay for it until they, themselves try to be in the same position. They do not see the moments when I am suffering. One day I might do a blog specifically about these downsides. But this reaction people had highlighted a collective human issue. The issue is: You can’t win. If you’re unhappy, you’re shamed for being unhappy and not being able to feel good. When you feel good, you’re shamed for feeling good because of how many people are not feeling good. People project the way they think you SHOULD be living and the things you should and shouldn’t be doing onto each other and it puts everyone in a position to never win.
Think about this: No one except the people who live with me have any idea of what my ACTUAL day looks like. If I wanted to mislead you, I could do that easily. I could choose to only post the pictures of myself at a soup kitchen feeding homeless people. Or pictures of me hugging all the people whose jobs and families depend on me. Or pictures of myself only meditating and doing yoga. I could paint only the picture I know people want to see. This is what most of my own colleagues do. But then, I wouldn’t win because people would say I’m completely egocentric for doing that. I could only have one of two motives for doing that. 1. Being so desperate for other people to see me as a good person narcissistically that I have to show the world what a spiritual and philanthropic person I am. 2. Trying to get people to follow my example and do the same thing. The reality is that most people in the public eye simply do it for good PR.
This issue we have as people goes beyond deliberate misleading as well. People on Facebook for example don’t necessarily deliberately mislead each other. It’s just that when you’re suffering and when you’re fighting to the degree that it seems like the marriage is over and when you’re puking your guts up or when the baby is screaming in the middle of the night, it isn’t the time that anyone films each other or takes pictures. Those aren’t the pictures you’ll see in anyone’s photo albums. But they exist in every person’s life. And honestly if you were suffering like that and someone grabbed a camera to film it, it would feel bad. It would feel as if instead of being supported, they are making a spectacle of you. But when we are in pain, these photo albums make it seem like everyone else is in heaven and we are alone in hell. When we don’t have the capacity to face our own pain, we make it about them being bad. When we don’t have enough money to feel free and secure and abundant, we make the wealthy person a horrible person for having the luxury they have in their life. When we feel like we need rescue in some way from some pain, we make the person who is enjoying himself or herself a horrible person for being self centered. We make them the reason that we can’t have what we want so badly. This state is powerless. This state holds us apart from being able to create what we want out of this life.
When we are not in someone’s shoes, we assume things. We assume things that are often entirely inaccurate. You are not in someone’s shoes (perspective) deep enough until you realize that you would make the exact same decisions that they are making. You are not far enough in someone’s shoes until the judgment you had towards them dissolves. It is the decision that someone’s perspective is wrong or bad that makes us incapable of stepping into their shoes. Our ego will not let us do it for fear of becoming wrong or bad ourselves.
It is time to become aware of the vulnerability in ourselves that is being triggered by other people. The personal pain behind the anger and protection mechanisms aimed towards other people. We do not need to be ashamed of this pain. This pain is the one that has been needing our care and attention. We need to take a serious look at the fact that we make it so there are social consequences when we feel bad and social consequences when we feel good. We need to take a look at the guilt and shame we have as well as the guilt that we impose on others surrounding enjoyment. Especially enjoyment that requires financial abundance. We need to get that the pictures we see on social media capture 1/1000th of a person’s life. It’s much easier to assume than it is to ask a question. This is especially true when we are triggered by something and therefore closed in defense. A question requires openness. It is much easier to decide that someone is a bad person than it is to really look through our pain at our own vulnerability. Looking through our own pain for our vulnerability requires great courage.
Today, I invite you to face your guilt and shame around enjoyment. If you were really enjoying yourself to the highest degree possible, why would that be wrong and bad?