I’m detoxing from the U.S. As a result, I have periods of great highs and depressing lows. Just about every night (despite what the day held for me), when I lay down to go to sleep, I feel a little sad, a little deflated, and a little homesick.
I thought because we’d already lived in Belize for six months that I would slide right back into life here in Central America without a hitch. I didn’t think the lifestyle here would throw me as much as it seems to have.
But I am an American and a particularly active one. Even though we lived in Belize for some time, that was a little while ago. We just came from a real estate project in Florida, where we spent three months fixing, cleaning, and shopping to get a vacation rental house up and running. Then… Christmas (which can be quite the opposite of peace). Then… just living with and teaching our four active, homeschooling children.
Beyond the typical chaos of work, school, and family, just living in the U.S. means a faster pace of life than some places in the world. We have a wide range of retail choices, huge highways with heavy traffic, a burgeoning entertainment and media industry, homogeneity, and a nationwide attention deficit disorder. It’s hard to escape these parts of our culture even with the best of intentions.
So our plane landed. We arrived at our rental house, huffing and puffing with our backpacks slung to our backs. We sat down on the sofa. And we exhaled a great whooooosh of air.
Well, here we are, we said to each other. In Costa Rica.
The clock ticked.
In our regular lives back home, we don’t sit down very often. It’s all hands on deck to get things accomplished, to have something to show for our day. During the last 15 years of our life, we have been in an acquiring phase of finding jobs, starting businesses, setting up a household, having children, and building connections. At this phase, we are done building. Now we are in the developing and perfecting of what we already have. Do we have what we want? How do we maximize what we have? Now that we have enough, we are left considering what we need.
It’s a good life back at home. Most days we find some reason to be elated. But there’s not a whole lot of time for reflection, as I remember. We keep our feet moving.
Here in Costa Rica, so far, we are either on or off. We’ve either decided to embark on a great journey of buses traveling far distances over great mountains to magical places, or we sit on our butts in our house, reading and working quietly. So far, there hasn’t been much of an in-between.
The Ticos will just sit in the park near the red church and watch the world go by. Sunday is a special day for this. We sat in the park this last Sunday, watching the dogs chase each other, the children play, and the families sit and laugh together.
My initial knee-jerk to this quietude is complete and utter dismay. What have I to show for my day?! Who have I talked to? What have I seen? I’m in Costa Rica, and I’m not doing “Costa Rica” things, I think. Like… zip lining, and deep sea fishing, and surfing.
Instead, I’m just sitting!
(Side note: The thought has slowly dawned on me that these things are not typical of Costa Rican living. The people who are from this mountain town of Grecia in the Central Valley may not have ever even been to the coast for fishing or surfing. And zip lining is a tourist activity—it’s not something most locals have ever done. So who am I to come to someone else’s country and live in it in a more exciting way than they do?)
It’s a quiet life here. Tranquilo. This means calm, quiet, peaceful, and untroubled.
Some people here in Costa Rica may have caught the modern disease of rush and waste and split attention, but my feeling is that this isn’t everyone. The traditional way here is to enjoy every moment, to slide peacefully into “Tico time” and to calm down. Tranquilo.
This lesson from the Ticos comes at the right time for us in our lives, now that we’re moving into our next phase. The question is, are we ready to heed it? The sun rises every morning and sets every evening, despite what we’ve “accomplished” in our own little lives. So, in the total scheme of things, does it really matter whether or not we’ve accomplished our daily goals?
In a quiet, soul-driven life, it’s not a matter of I Am Successful or I Am Motivated or I Am Getting It Done. Instead, it’s a matter of I Am.
Simply that. I AM.
As I finish this post, I exhale once again. The sunlight shines brightly in a swatch on the tiles of the back patio, where I sit with my laptop. My son is reading his science book next to me, and I can hear the girls squabbling in the next room. The world swirls around me no matter what coordinates my body is on the globe. Intellectually, I know that true happiness comes from within and has nothing to do with the view outside. And now it’s time to put that knowledge into action. It’s time to learn what tranquilo truly means.