When Living the Dream isn't enough!
A memorial was held at my daughter's school to honor the short life of one of her schoolmates, a fourteen-year-old boy named Marc El Wafi, who was shot in the head while defending his friends. The memorial described a child who sounded like a living angel. Friends and teachers shared their stories about his acts of kindness, his wonderful sense of humor, and his jovial spirit.
In just eight months at the school, he had touched their hearts deeply and made an imprint that would last a lifetime.
After the shooting, I began to question our recent move to the Dominican Republic where this terrible tragedy took place. This was a move that my husband and I had envisioned for many years.
It had taken a lot of hard work and effort to finally realize the dream of living in what I thought would be paradise. I’d naively assumed that once our vision became a reality, life would be perfect; vacation bliss a permanent mindset.
I had an inner knowing that this was what I was meant to do. The time was now. No more wishing or dreaming. This was going to be my new reality. It seemed like the Universe was conspiring to make this work for me. So it is no wonder that I naively imagined life would be perfect…
The fantasy soon faded as the viciousness of this crime forced me to recognize the polarities of Dominican Republic. Everyone was talking about this senseless act and adding their own incidences they had either experienced or heard about; robberies at gunpoint, misconduct by the police, medical mistreatment and others.
My perspective on my new country was rapidly shifting from positive to negative. This new reality was hitting me like an oncoming train. The six-month honeymoon with my new home was now over. My dark feelings were self-perpetuating, and what’s worse, I didn't know how to stop them. It was a downward spiral, as each negative thought attached to the next negative thought like links on a chain. The more links, the heavier the chain and before I knew it, I was a prisoner, captive of my own feelings.
For weeks afterwards, I tried to live life normally, telling myself that everything would be okay, but the confusion and doubt would inevitably return.
I decided that I needed to clear my head, so I took a walk along the beach to town, hoping the change of scenery would lift my spirits. It was a beautiful, sparkling day. The ocean was calm; without the wind swept waves it looked especially green and luminous. The sun was powerful overhead making the sand burn beneath my feet. As I walked, I breathed in the incredible beauty of Dominican Republic and reminded myself of the reasons I had moved here -- the sun, the sand, the ocean, the fresh air, the mountains, the friendliness of the Dominican people, and the relaxed, unhurried lifestyle. By the time I arrived in town, my spirits had lifted.
But it didn’t take long for the storm clouds to return.
Once again, I was witnessing the painful contrasts of this place: Many of the local children were walking around under the hot sun with shoeshine boxes under their arms, hoping to make some money so their families could eat. I reflected on how difficult it must be to make a living as a shoeshine boy when most people wear sandals or flip-flops. I thought: What choices do these children have? Many are born in absolute poverty with no hope of an education or any chance for a better life.
I saw men carrying heavy boxes full of clothes, belts, wallets, and trinkets, hoping to entice the touristas with their wares. But many of the tourists ignored them, and some were downright rude. A big expensive SUV rolled by, its passengers impeccably dressed in designer clothes, a chauffeur at the wheel.
I was finally ready to ask myself the questions that I had been afraid to, unsure if I wanted to hear the answers, now demanded recognition:
How can a highly sensitive person like myself be happy in a place like this? Should I go back to Canada and pretend that this suffering does not exist, that the tragedies of Marc El Wafi and others aren't real because I am too far away to be touched by them? If I stay, can I handle it?
I had always prided myself on my ability to make good choices and I thought this was one of them. A lifelong quest for the secrets of happiness; the years of studying and reading about attaining goals, human behavior, spirituality and psychology, had helped prepare me for this moment. And yet, I still did not have an answer.
I decided to sit at one of the beachside cafés and ponder the question. It occurred to me that a book I had recently purchased called Practicing the Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, was in my bag. I took it out and flipped through the pages, hoping it would give me a clue. I came upon this passage:
“Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life. The only place where you can experience the flow of life is the Now, so to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation. It is to relinquish inner resistance to what is."
A surge of profound insight rushed through me.
In the five minutes it took to read and absorb that passage, I had an instant awakening. It was miraculously clear to me:
“Accept the flow of life.” These people and situations were exactly the way they were supposed to be; my resistance to them was only causing pain and suffering for myself and those close to me. I needed to surrender to what was, and to what is, moment by moment.
For years I had vacillated between living in the past and the future. For me, the present was simply not present! It was merely a stepping-stone for the future. Intuitively, I knew Tolle was right, that living in the moment was the answer.
I’d tried using sheer discipline and perseverance to achieve this goal, but it would only work temporarily. Now all at once I had a knowing that this time was different. This time, the pain had been too great. I had to change my outlook in order to be happy -- here or anywhere. There was no other way. I was finally ready to embrace this higher level of awareness.
Now when I see the poverty and hear of the tragedies, I do my best not to resist. I do what I can to help, and accept what I can’t.
I now understand that it is necessary to find the balance between the joys and sorrows of life. Regardless of where you live, tragedies and sadness are part of life, and inescapable. It is how you choose to perceive these situations that creates your reality.
Some people (as I did) think that acceptance and surrender are weak. Rolling over and letting life treat you like a doormat. On the contrary; acceptance and surrender are the keys to happiness. Our pain comes from resisting. We still need goals and dreams and the drive to take the actions necessary to move forward. At the same time, we can accept what life throws at us along the way.