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(Photo borrowed from Society of Biology)

As a young girl, I used to go to a horse camp during the summer. Occasionally, I would receive mail, and as part of camp fun, those who received letters or packages would have to do embarrassing things like sing in front of everybody before they would be given their mail. One thing you might be asked to do is lie on your back and pretend to be a dying cockroach. I was often asked to do this never really knowing what a cockroach looked like or how it died, only observing others and doing the same. Here in Honduras, I have witnessed not only cockroaches dying, but several different varieties of beetles. These insects all dying with their legs in the air that used to terrify me have now become a source of fascination to me, especially the dung beetle.

I see dung beetles’ too heavy bodies trying to fly through the air, running into walls, without any clear destination, often crash landing in the most dangerous and inconvenient locations, their bodies too heavy to fly efficiently. They struggle to move from one area to another, completely chaotic in their journey. Most often, I will see the beetle a day later lying on its back in the dying cockroach form, legs frantically scrambling, hopelessly trying to flip back on its feet. As the hours pass, eventually the movement slows, the beetle too tired to make any further effort, but if you just nudge it, again the legs will be moving as though that touch rekindled a sense of hope.

At first, I used to sweep these bugs out the door, but after watching them on a daily basis, I have begun to see how they struggle, sometimes taking days to die, and I have developed empathy for them. Yes, empathy. These hard-shelled bugs that look so tough seem to be rendered helpless so easily. Several times I have flipped them back over on their stomachs hoping they would crawl away, but once they have been vulnerable and on their back their chances of survival are slim. No matter how many times I flip them over, sometimes every few seconds, they will eventually fall onto their backs again, legs in the air struggling. Yet, I cannot help but try to flip them over again even knowing their fate. Sometimes I wonder if it would be kinder to kill them knowing they will inevitably die, but I cannot bring myself to do it, so I just keep flipping them over, hoping one of them will walk away.

It is amazing to me that the dung beetle, which can pull 1,141 times its own weight, making it the strongest insect and animal on earth in comparison to body weight, can be so incredibly weak. It makes it hard to believe they can live for a year or more as I look at them in this state. Supposedly, they are so vulnerable in a house because of the lack of things to grab onto. In the wild, with plants surrounding them, they can right themselves by grabbing on to leaves and branches, so I have started returning them back to their natural habitat hoping then they might have a chance.

I see their struggle very human. I feel we too, once damaged or set back, flail with our feet in the air, maybe not literally, but definitely figuratively. We flounder about trying to balance ourselves. A beetle may take several days to die in this state, but we as humans take years, decades, sometimes recovering, but very often slowly dying, unable to see a way out. Once back on our feet, we then have to rebuild the muscles and learn again how to walk, sometimes making embarrassing mistakes, feeling like a child, vulnerable. I often wonder if I turned a beetle onto its feet again enough times if it would eventually regain the strength to hold itself up and walk away, or if I am too late and the lack of effective leg use while on its back has rendered the dung beetle helpless.

Observing the dung beetle makes me think of humans and their own suffering thresholds, their own living and dying. I believe there is a threshold of human suffering for each individual which if reached can render them helpless and dead spiritually, emotionally and/or physically, but there is always that last minute spark that can save them as well. Each person is different, but I feel we all have this threshold, and so I ask myself several questions which I now propose to you. What is that threshold that renders you helpless? How many times must people be supported after rendered helpless before they can stand on their own again? How many people will observe someone suffering and do nothing? Who will be the one to do something? What is that threshold where empathy and compassion turn to effective action and the people of the world truly live out their full potential? I think of these questions as I look at the dung beetle, and I wonder what my own thresholds are and how much support I need to regain my strength once I fall. Life’s struggles and its purpose are a mystery to me, but I feel the answers lie in reconnecting with the nature that surrounds us which humans so often claim to be above or better than. When you look deeply at the nature around you, you will find honest reflections of yourself.

Other blog post on suffering threshold I found interesting: The Value of Suffering and the Importance of Suffering Thresholds

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Feeling a deep frustration today with the world. I am quickly realizing how lucky I am to be able to travel and discovering how little opportunity Hondurans have to do so. For the average Honduran, it is difficult to leave Honduras to visit another country for fun, let alone work. Immigration laws and VISA and passport requirements are so easy for Americans but so complicated for others. I like to imagine a world where people can come and go as they please, if anything, just to be able to explore. Maybe then humanity would have some understanding and compassion when it could see we are more similar than the differences that keep us at war.

Americans can do things so easily, but their government constricts the rest of the world. The people of the USA have no clue just how lucky they are to have the opportunities they do. Instead, they sit in front of their TVs watching the world go by and judging it without ever exploring it. Some Americans give themselves a pat on the back for donating $20 a month to a child in some third world country, and these programs do help. But what is the root of the problems in these countries? It might be worth it to look a little deeper at the history of America and find out, to see how willful ignorance is causing much of the suffering in the world. Programs like this make Americans feel they are so generous but don’t give them the perspective they need to see what is at the base of true and positive change for the world. If anything these programs give Americans the sense they are somehow better than the rest of the world because they are so giving with their money to those less fortunate. This results in an “Oh those poor starving children in Africa.” mentality instead of a “How can this be happening?” and “Why?” mentality.

The USA’s immigration laws keep families separated and punishes desperate people who need understanding and opportunity to follow their dreams. The US government spends about 5 billion dollars per year detaining and deporting immigrants, most who want the same opportunity American ancestors had just one hundred years ago. If undocumented immigrants who needed work were allowed to enter legally and easily, that is 5 billion per year the USA could be putting into more jobs and using to pay off it’s outrageous debt. Three months of minimum wage work in the USA would be about what a Honduran makes in a whole year. The USA could be helping these people, who typically have families, feed their children, build a house, get an education and have the basic things Americans take for granted. Meanwhile, that money could be taxed if these immigrants were legal, adding to the cash flow for the economy. The truth is big businesses and farmers in the USA don’t want immigrants to get legal status because that would mean they would have to pay them minimum wage and/or benefits. Obama has given large sums of money to the Honduran government and the USA is training its military. If the Honduran government is so intertwined with drug trafficking in Honduras, why would the USA be supporting them under the guise of fighting the war against drugs. It is contradictory no? Shouldn’t that money be going directly to the people of Honduras to help improve their education system and living conditions giving Hondurans the opportunity to make their own country better for all their friends and family? The truth is keeping Hondurans uneducated and poor benefits the Honduran government and its few rich landowners who can take advantage of powerless people while also allowing the USA to have a stronghold in Central America and a place where American businesses can take advantage of cheap labor. American foreign policy continues to rape poorer countries so that the USA can take advantage of these people while Americans live rich lives disconnected from the rest of the world. This only drives more immigrants to the United States where the cycle of abuse continues with poor working conditions and separation from family, living every day in fear of deportation.

Many immigrants have no desire to stay in the USA. They want to return to their families and culture, but they don’t have the resources to have the future they dream of in their country so come without papers to the USA. Often, undocumented immigrants end up staying instead of returning to their families because the risk of being caught is too great to return to Honduras. If lucky enough to get in, people try to stay in the USA as long as they can to save as much as possible for their families back home. But families can only survive so long when separated, and they are destroyed by this system. Undocumented workers in the USA find themselves lost in a new culture and language, never fully able to absorb into the culture because there is always a level of fear of deportation or jail. They are away from those they love and often lonely. When they return to Honduras, sometimes it is to divorce, death, and heart break.

I challenge others to look at the process for a work or visitors VISA from Honduras and see for yourself why people come illegally. Imagine if you had limited funds to travel to a big city to visit an embassy or limited access to internet, how would you apply, especially if you can only apply in English? If you made on average of $3000-4000 a year, working six or seven days a week, and had a family to support, when would you find time? If all your parents could afford was a high school education for you, and for a VISA, a person needed to have a skilled job requiring a university degree, how could you even begin to imagine leaving Honduras legally? If most of the work illegal immigrants do isn’t even work that requires a university degree, why is the US government keeping these people out who are doing jobs educated Americans don’t want to do? This year is an opportunity for immigration reform in the USA. I challenge people for just one day to put on the shoes of an undocumented immigrant and see how your perspective might change. I am amazed every day at how my ideas of the USA and the world transform while being here in Honduras. It is a lot harder to judge people when you are sitting right across from them at your dinner table.

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The Road Less Traveled

On the road less traveled
There are no footprints to guide
Transcending the typical human experience
We can create.

There are no footprints on this beach
Before light touches the sky
No memories to remind us
Washed away in the night
The past cannot be transferred to the present
There is only now.

Find inspiration in the solitude
In this moment
We are one.

Love is when you can say
I know you are suffering
That is why I am here for you
I am no longer I
You are no longer you
He is no longer he
She is no longer she
It is no longer it.

One.

When all is one
We will truly be something
We will truly be nothing
In that moment
We are.

Love.

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I have been doing a lot of thinking about my travels this past year as it is almost my one year anniversary after leaving my job in the states to start a new path within my life journey. I wrote this poem before my travels contemplating the duality and complexity we create as humans that makes everything so muddy. Clarity seems to come when we finally decide to sit still and let the mud settle to the bottom, an image I will always remember from meditations at Dzogchen Beara in Ireland. I have come back to daily yoga and meditation practice, and it is amazing how much it helps me focus myself in such a way that life just flows easier allowing me to see things as they come together instead of separate. In life, humans are constantly defining and categorizing things, myself included, all in an attempt to better understand them, but it is interesting how this black and white way of looking at the world that is supposed to provide clarity only actually does if things fit into the black and white mold. When they don’t, people get upset because they don’t feel they have the tools to understand these foreign models of life that don’t mirror what life is supposed to look like. As a result, instead of reaching beyond the black and white, people have a tendency to dismiss what they can’t understand based on their standards of right and wrong. Whether the standards of black and white and right or wrong are religious, race related, familial, cultural, political, or superstitious, they very apparently separate people from understanding the truth and beauty in those people and things they cannot understand or define. It becomes very clear to me that desire to have everything fit into a mold is one of the biggest factors in our suffering as human beings.

The Obvious Choice

“He was unacceptable to the infinite bright blankness, the clarity without edge which only selfishness fears.” ~ Lanark

Restless in calm stability
Confused amongst endless possibility
Is freedom to choose
Only a barrier to simple truth
Is the obvious choice
Really the right one
What makes it obvious?

If I am restless,
It is obvious I must free myself from that which holds me back.
If I am confused,
It is obvious I must ground myself.

Perhaps, I should do the opposite
Obvious choice is subjective to situation
Will going against the flow
Choosing what appears less obvious
Bring peace.
Hold answers.
Will the less obvious become obvious once the path is chosen?

Perhaps, I am restless because I am confused
I am confused because I am restless
The dissatisfaction comes from the desire to be satisfied
Are they not all one
How do I choose an obvious path when indeed it is not obvious?

Laughable this life we try to lead
The complexity we create out of simplicity
The grass is always greener.

The beauty will be found when it can be seen in the ugly
Peace will find us when we can see it waiting amongst the war within
Destiny is found when choice becomes fate
The obvious choice becomes the less obvious.

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I recently was discussing with a friend in Copan the word culture and how we both thought it was often misused to make excuses for unacceptable treatment of women and children. Until she had brought it up, I didn’t realize that I myself had used it as an excuse in my writing and conversation. The word “machismo” could very easily be exchanged for the American idiom “boys will be boys,” both placing the unacceptable acts of men in the category of “culture.” When these words are used, somehow rape, domestic violence, and cheating become more acceptable because they are part of the “culture.”

I am frequently asked by friends and family, how can you live in Honduras where men treat women like they do? This question makes me upset when people ask it, and for some time, I did not understand why. I now see that the root of my irritation is that not so long ago America’s “culture” was one of female oppression, and the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” was used frequently to ignore the voices of the innocent.

It was strong people, that’s right, PEOPLE, not just women, who helped make the freedoms of women and children possible in the U.S. Americans seem to forget that this change only really happened in the last 100 years, and we lived in a similar world as women and children do here. While the unacceptable behaviours of men in Honduras are ignored on a regular basis, and that is termed machismo, I believe that way of thinking is changing, not just here, but in the world.

I see strong children and females all around me. I am reminded, that while many battles have been won, it is an on-going war to change the mindset of a world that has been primarily patriarchal, with women and children seen as possessions, not human beings of equal standing, for most of its history.

I look at the male children around me, and I ask myself where and how can they learn to be different than their fathers? How will they learn to be champions of women and children and call themselves feminists too? So often, I see men pushed to the side in the feminist movement, but they can be just as much a part of it and are necessary to it’s progress. They can show what true culture is.

By definition, culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” True culture is when people come together with all their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and history to create a statement of who they are as a people and what they have achieved together. As a cultural statement of the world, I hope someday at the base of all our achievements will be equality and respect.

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Lonely Moon

Soul sunken moon
Dying orb
Distant shadow
You cry as though you lost
Do you ache for love as humans do?

Dust ridden cold surface
An opening with no sound
Dark raccoons
Circling empty pits
They once were windows.

I long to warm your heart
Knowing how it hurts to be cold.

A silent scream
Francis Bacon
He knew it well
A helpless longing
To understand love
The realization that we are surrounded by so much hate.

One cannot love on empty
How does one who gives
Learn to receive?

In the darkness,
You shine brightest
But, when it is light,
No warmth reaches you.

Is this the price you pay?
Emitting your last light
Slipping away from life unnoticed.

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Last week my housemate and I lost a friend…a crazy friend. A friend I sometimes wanted to kill myself, but a friend none the less. The home feels empty without our little dog, full of spirit, chasing screaming children. There is no more scratching at the door in the morning, no more frantic jumping on and humping of people who enter our home. But I find the quiet boring, unsettling. I find myself wishing that as I was reading my book outside, he would be prancing about, barking at everything that passed by. I miss laughing at his crazy antics, his endless energy. I miss racing in and out of doors before he charged in; it doesn’t feel right to leave the door open. I find I want to close the door just to imagine he is on the other side. I know he was a truly terrible dog and never listened, but I know he had a good heart, a happy heart, and that the whole world around him was an adventure, was exciting, and he couldn’t resist enjoying every minute. There was no time for rules, only endless pleasure and frolicking about. I love him for this, that he truly saw the beauty in everything around him like it was new. And it is for this reason, I feel a part of my home here in Copan is missing, and I wish he were here. We found a perfect spot for him overlooking a field and mountains, near a bubbling river. I imagine him chasing children and butterflies through the field, and I chuckle inside.

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