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My (R)evolution, part 16

Photo by Dimi Katsavaris on Unsplash

The revolution in Nicaragua is becoming uglier every day. By now there are more than 450 people killed by police and government-supported violence. Many people have disappeared. Doctors and nurses who help people that got wounded in the violence are now called terrorists by the government, and risk prosecution.

Hundreds of people flee the country every week, and neighbouring Costa Rica already has a camp set up with more than 20.000 refugees.

Nicaragua’s economy is plummeting: tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs or have had to close their businesses.

So have I.

For 13 years a beautiful little island off the coast of Nicaragua was my home.

The revolution gave me no other choice than to leave. Only the privilege of carrying a European passport has allowed me to walk away from that horrible situation, at the cost of leaving my business, my tiny house, most of my belongings and a good chunk of my heart behind in that little paradise. Leaving friends that couldn’t leave was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve packed my life into two bags and bought a cheap one-way ticket to the US where I could crash at a friend’s house.

That was the end of my life in paradise.

No way back, basically. The last revolution in Nicaragua took 28 years. I can’t wait for that, I got more things to do in my life.

Being zapped out of my comfortable life, uncertainty has now taken on a life of its own for me.

To sum it up: I don’t know where I will live next or how I will make a living any time soon. (I keep having this vision of a pilot being catapulted out of their fighter jet by an ejection seat when it is about to crash. They have no idea where they will land).

Or, as a sharp-witted 16-year old nailed it: “You’re basically a homeless refugee, you just don’t look it.” Uhh, thanks for rubbing it in, kiddo, but I guess you’re kind of right. (Just don’t tell Trump, please.)

Miserable story, right?

Revolutions are ugly and miserable in many ways. They take us out of our comfort zone, big time.

But as Donald Neale Walsch said:

“Life starts outside of our comfort zone.”

Okay, Donald, bring it on. Time for a new chapter, hey?

But hold on, I’m not ready for that yet.

The Universe is always conspiring to teach us lessons, so of course while I’m working on this story (and on being totally out of my comfort zone semi-permanently) a friend of mine starts a reading group on Pema Chödrön’s “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change”. I decide to read along, it seems a timely topic for me.

One of the things Pema explains in this book is the notion of fixed identity or ‘ego-clinging’. By grappling to hold on to certain beliefs about ourselves and about the world and how it (and we) should be, “we try to put solid ground under our feet in an ever-shifting world”, Chödrön describes.

This is exactly what we do when we try to retreat into our comfort zone, back into that cocoon of everything we know so well (or think we know so well) about ourselves and the world: we try to hold on to our fixed identity.

When we get catapulted out of our established life by sheer circumstances, like a revolution, the loss of a loved one or an accident, the change can be so complete, that our former comfort zone has been annihilated. We cannot even try to retreat back into it, because it doesn’t exist anymore.

Basically, when we get pushed out of our comfort zone, our ego gets questioned, which challenges our core beliefs about our own identity. It’s our threatened ego that causes the all-consuming emotions.

When I was ejected out of my life on Little Corn Island, my whole identity of the utterly relaxed and totally-in-control-of-her-life owner of a successful massage and yoga studio in a gorgeous paradise-like setting — the whole “living-the-dream” theme — fell away.

No longer am I in control of my life, circumstances are now completely in control of me. No longer am I the person always helping people who need healing and support. Now I’ve become the very one that needs to heal and seek support instead.

When “you feel as if your whole world is crumbling […] actually it’s your fixed identity that’s crumbling”, Pema teaches, “Ego-clinging is our means of denial.”

So, when I was feeling consumed by fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, grief and confusion all at the same time while I was packing those two bags and flying to the US, that was all just my ego expressing its anxiety over losing its fixed identity?

My paradise-life Ego has some nuts to crack here.

Instead of suppressing these emotions or pushing them away, Chödrön teaches us to embrace them as signals of our ungroundedness, and lean into this state of uncertainty. A major practice of surrendering to what is.

Okay, I’m leaning now. Can’t say that’s comfortable, though.

This revolution and the effects it has had on my life, without doubt, are the most uncomfortable challenge I’ve met in a long time.

Thanks to Pema I now understand that it’s the loss of identity that I need to grieve.

I let myself cry a bit more. Loss needs to be celebrated with tears. So do identity-crises.

Then I decide to do a bold thing. Instead of just leaning into the discomfort and all its related emotions, I opt for the cold turkey method.

I am going to push all limits of my comfort zone, by extending the period of uncertainty instead of hurriedly trying to settle into a new life.

I decide to go on a long trip, visiting all those people I have met over the past 13 years of living on the island and stayed in touch with. I only know them as tourists, and another bunch of them I’ve even only met online in a writer’s group. None of them are close friends, but they are all good people.

I will be moving every few days, living out of my suitcase, constantly having to adjust to other people’s schedules, lifestyles, diets and other habits. I’ll be depending on their hospitality, their willingness to house me, feed me and shuttle me to and from bus stations and airports.

I will be pushed to live without any permanent comfort zone of my own for months.

Leaning into discomfort big time.

Now that I’m on the road, I find that in every place where I stay, I am trying to create a temporary little comfort zone, by unpacking my bag, finding a spot in the house where I can sit to meditate and write, and — always — make my tea. A few days later I pack up again and remove myself from that temporary comfort cocoon, to start the process all over again at the next address.

I’m stepping out of my comfort zone repeatedly.

Practice makes perfect, they say.

It feels like I’m getting very good at it; I’m making not being in my comfort zone into a lifestyle of its own.

While this practice is very much focused on the (relatively small and quite practical) discomforts of adjusting to different places and not having any kind of personal routines in place, I find that it helps me to be comfortable with that massive uncertainty of not having a home any time soon, and no job or business to provide me with basic personal and financial security.

Just like we start training for a marathon by running a couple of miles, it’s the small steps of progress that will get us there.

As I wrote in another episode: I’m dwelling at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid, not even meeting the most basic needs of existence by myself.

But I’m learning to be comfortable down here.

The interesting thing is, that in dealing with that bottom realm of Maslow’s pyramid, I’m going through some tremendous personal growth that would do well at the top of his hierarchy, in the self-realisation department.

Revolutions might be ugly, they are good for something anyway.

Oh, and while I’m doing all the hard work of leaning into discomfort, I’m actually having an amazing trip, meeting up with all these wonderful people that are all generous enough to take this homeless refugee in for a few days and pamper me with their loving care.

Revolutions are great for fortifying relationships, too.

Writing in gratitude, leaving from a country in chaos, trying to make sense of my own mind.

This is part 16 in the series My (R)evolution. Find all earlier episodes here: