What is life? Firsthand insight into the life and death on the farm…

I just witnessed the giving of four lives — two rabbits and two roosters. It was powerful, peaceful, and intentional.

Everything is cyclical, and therefore where all things begin, all things must end. We’re given a life from the earth and then we’ll give our lives back to the earth. We animals have a heartbeat, and then breath… Then the heart stops beating and the breath ceases.

We’re all energy forms and we all require the sharing and exchanging of energy — humans give energy to the plants and to the animals, and in return the plants and animals give energy back to humans and to each other. The earth has its own natural energy forces — water, wind, air, soil, fire. Each of those are also powerful and purposeful. And oh so very beautiful. Without one element, none of this world can exist in harmony, with beauty.

We’re all one. And we’re all beautiful.

Watching what I witnessed this morning was incredible. Before the animals were killed, I made a morning round to visit all of the rabbits and chickens (the ones that had a potential for death), and I was conscious and aware of their actions. Maybe it was myself projecting calm thoughts toward the animals, but maybe it was an energy in the air. Something was different today.

The rabbits were much more calm, and seemed to move with more direction. The male rabbits were very focused on me. Houdini (the big macho male) was jumping from side to side — a little dance to beg for his life? (Maybe that’s my overthinking lol…) And then the rabbits in the pen were much less frantic than usual and I was even able to spend a few moments with some of them — one of which gave his life only minutes later. The chickens were also less aggressive.

There was almost an air of anticipation surrounding everyone — even us humans.

When the act took place it was done with intention and knowledge. Douwe knew what he was doing and was direct and purposeful in his actions. Two large chickens were collected. Douwe held the breast and body firmly with his left arm and body, and with his right hand he twisted the chickens neck and pulled the head clean off. Then he put the animal down on the ground and held it as still as he could. My tears started to flow. With tightly clenched hands protecting my heart I cried.

Then, Marie placed her hands on the animal and gave thanks for its life and let the world know the life was not given in vain — there was and is purpose for its life and we were/are grateful for the energy provided. …This was so beautiful.

The same was done with the other chicken, except the other chicken’s head did not come off directly and therefore a machete was used to ensure the neck was broken and the animal was dead.

Then, the large white rabbit I’d just been loving on was picked up, and with two strong hands, Douwe held the rabbit’s legs with one hand and the rabbit’s head with the other. From there, all he had to do was stretch the animal. Doing it this way separates the spinal column and breaks the neck. Then, the animal was laid on the ground with care and Marie placed her hands on the animal and pet the fur and gave blessings and words of gratitude.

This is where things got tough for me. The rabbit started flailing – almost as if it was running in mid-air… leaping. Hopping.

Instantly the tears flowed. I was bawling and sobbing and forgetting to breathe. I had to turn away and let it out. I didn’t want to make a scene or spread my energy to the others witnessing the act or even worse, to those who had to help take the lives… I turned away and walked to the edge of the stable area, covered my face with my hands, and cried. I let it all out. I was overwhelmed with emotion — gratitude, understanding, hope, strength, but also pain.

I know now, without doubt, that I will live my life without taking animal flesh. I can live my life fully, in good health and spirit, without eating an animal. These animals lived their lives in peace. They were taken care of with positive energies, by people who love and respect them, with food that is neither chemically treated nor unsustainable… But still, seeing the animal offer its life for us, when I know full well I (and all of us who choose to do so) can live without that energy, makes me realize that I do not want to take in the life of another breathing, sentient being.

But I’m grateful that I witnessed the giving of life. The respect that went into it, and the respect that will carry throughout the full process of cleaning, cooking, eating, and then in turn that will provide strength and more positive energy for this circle of life we live… Beauty.

…Then I went to the waterfall and cried, and gave thanks, and prayed for a blanket of love for all of the beings on this farm and throughout the world.

…Then I sent lots of love directly to Douwe and Marie.

…Then I came back to the house area, and straight to Douwe (who was boiling the birds and cleaning the rabbits) and hugged him as tight and powerfully as I could. I respect that man so very much. And I appreciate the strength and focus he has to do what he must, to provide for others on this farm, and to respect the animals and ourselves.

What a morning. And what a way to end 2012.

Fairy in the Middle

A few months ago, this farm started a tradition called “Fairy in the Middle,” which I think may be one of the greatest traditions ever. It promotes unity and openness, while also helping each person relax and feel more comfortable in their own skin. So what is it? A massive… group… massage 🙂

I was the “Fairy” for the first time last night, and I can’t even explain how freaking amazing it was. But I’ll do my best 🙂

The process

Every other night, one to three people (depending on the amount of people on the farm) prepare a bowl of either coconut or sunflower oil and then choose some essential oils to mix in, like coffee and peppermint (which are the oils I chose). Then, select a playlist, like some soothing Ray Lamontagne (again, my choice), and lay out the massage table and mattress in the yoga studio. Then set a timer for 15 minutes (or don’t, like I chose to do in hopes of extending the goodness), and relax…

Before you know it, there will be a dozen or so hands massaging your entire body… From the crown of your head to the tips of your toes, your stomach, your chest, your back, upper legs, forearms… everything! Talk about an experience to remember… Even the baby, Kaya, helped out on me last night. His baby claws (or um… nails) were a bit much at times, but by having all parts of this place involved really made it special.

There were times I was tempted to open my eyes and see whose hands were where, but then I reminded myself to get lost in the experience and let Ray’s voice and my new family’s hands do all the work. And my what glorious work it was.

I reminded myself to get lost in the experience.

For a couple months leading up to this experience, I’d been saying that I really needed (and wanted) a massage. I kept my eyes open for local massage deals and checked into some newer places that may offer specials because I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the big bucks for a nice massage… But then, FAIRY happened and it was exactly what I’d been craving.

I was a bit nervous about it because how very strange it is to have near-strangers touching your entire body, but as soon as I laid down and the first hand touched my head, all was well. It was amazing — a flurry of love and happiness and compassion surging through my entire body. Blissful, joyous… Truly wonderful.

Experiences like this really bring us together. We’re meant to live in community with one another, and to be open and connected with everyone else. On the farm, we take care of the animals and plants, and they take care of us. We cook food and clean for everyone else, just as everyone else does for us. It’s hard work and takes a lot of time and energy to do these things, so the Fairy in the Middle process helps to revive and refresh our physical bodies, but also our minds and our hearts.

Fairy in the Middle is wonderful. Big smiles in this place. 🙂

The travelers…

How dare I let four years go by without doing some solo traveling! Never again.

For those of you who haven’t strapped on a backpack for at least a few weeks, please, do yourself (and the planet) a favor and do it! It may seem a bit daunting, but really, if you can open your mind and say “yes” a few more times than you say “no,” you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of memories and new perspectives.

When spending a few days away from the farm this week, I met several travelers who were either making their way through San Jose toward one of Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches, or coming here in search of something bigger than themselves and using San Jose as the launch point. Each time I’ve traveled, especially in Costa Rica, I’ve found there are more people like me elsewhere than back home. There’s a different attitude with travelers, especially with the kind of travelers who aren’t exactly sure where they’re going or when they’ll be there. There’s this openness and excitement and curiosity that mimics what I’ve always had inside of me… a drive to know and do and see more! And I love that part about travelers, and about myself.

In the past 24 hours I’ve shared breakfast with an Englishman who just left an orphanage in Norway where he’d been volunteering for the past couple months, who is now headed to a northern Costa Rican yoga and permaculture center for a few months (he’s hoping to do some cleansing and re-setting of his mind… sounds familiar). I also hung out with an American/Israeli duo who did the 9-5 thing while somehow also working the Burning Man festival for the past nine years, and are now hoping to learn how to start their very own organic farm complete with earthships and communal living… And a Canadian gal working for the UN in New York City who came to Costa Rica to surf for Christmas. And a Swiss girl working reception at a Costa Rican hotel. And a Mexican fella who hasn’t seen his family in nearly three years because he can’t force himself to leave Costa Rica… There are so many types here! And this isn’t abnormal — the diversity of travelers on this amazing planet is huge! And I’m one of them. I have my own experiences and stories to help color the traveling world, and I intend to do just that.

So now… how to do just that, with a golden retriever, and no paycheck… Hmm… Ideas welcome 🙂

Isolation or the opposite?

What is isolation? Maybe I’ve had it wrong all along.

One of the toughest things of farm life so far has been coming to terms with the isolation. The farm is so far from everything “first world”. I’m so far from everything I’ve ever known. The lifestyle is so far from the lifestyles of my loved ones… So far away. So “isolated”. Which is a bad thing. Right?

Maybe not.

What is isolation? To isolate is to, by definition, to be or remain apart from others.

So that means… Farm life is the furthest thing from isolation I’ve ever experienced! This is community living. This is being one with everyone and everything around you. This is being immersed in the natural flow of life: the sun and moon, the animal kingdom, the weather, the plants, the people, and all of the needs of each piece. This is not about isolation, it’s about connecting with the most real pieces of our existence.

Yes, it may be physically far from western comforts like a hospital, laundromat, an Apple store… But it’s so very close to the natural way we were all meant to live… With nature.

The farm is about never taking more than we need and also giving as much as we can. It’s connecting with people on an intimate level and using natural talents and learned skills to create a way of life which is sustainable and balanced for all creatures involved. It’s really pretty great.

If it weren’t for the anxiety and panic attacks which have plagued my life for the past 5 years, the physical distance probably wouldn’t seem so daunting. But, I know panic attacks aren’t going to kill me and aren’t going to require hospitalization, so really, the distance should be fine. Letting this realization set in will probably be quite the key to creating true comfort in this new jungle paradise… So I’ll try to welcome the reality of everything that is, and open myself to the potential power that comes when living this life. This real, natural life.

Some things are always the same… Like homesickness and joy.

Knowing yourself and all your quirks is an important part of living a fulfilled life.

My mom brought up an interesting point about me today. Despite always having a strong inner urge to explore and to learn and experience new things, I also have a very tender heart which needs the affection of my loved ones to feel complete. And therefore, thinking I can have one without the other and still create a full, content life is foolish. I need both!

In each of my several extended stints away from home (Italy for a year, Israel for several months, Italy again for a few months, and now Central America), I always reach a point where I’m reminded just how much I love my family and my friends, and just how much it means to me to feel their love. Sometimes this happens sooner rather than later… Which has already been the case now. I started having a homesick moment where I really missed my dog, togetherness with my ex-boyfriend/whatever he is now (long story – I’m bad at clean breakups remember?), and chilling on my parents’ couch with the hectic busy-ness that inevitably accompanies a large family like ours. It’s the little things that can really pull you toward home.

I’m realizing, though, that yes I do need to feel the love of those most dear to me, but that doesn’t mean I have to physically be with them. In today’s technological pervasive age, I can find ways to swap the love. And then once that happens, I can continue living life day by day and learning as much as I can, and my loved ones back home can still know I’m here for them just as they’re here for me.

Best friends, never apart. Maybe in distance, never in heart.

I also know that there are times when I need to feel joy, and wonder, and giddiness! It’s hard for my emotions to fully release when I’m with others (especially dozens of new “others” who’ve yet to see me without walls), so therefore I need to find comfort alone.

I’m currently sitting in an air-conditioned auditorium in the bottom level of San Jose’s Museo de Oro below Plaza de la Cultura. Simply being in this museum filled with ancient Central American artifacts, a full art gallery of Lola Fernandez, and a big exhibit on cats (fuck yeah for cats!), I feel joy. I feel content and I feel like Robin. Really back to the Robin I am deep down, without the pressure of fitting into farm life, or the confliction of trying to figure ME out and what’s next… Just me. Relaxed. Open. Confident. Content.

In any city, if there’s a museum and an extra few hours, sign me up. Stepping away from the hustle and bustle and into a calm, quiet home for learning definitely revives me. Art. History. Textiles. Anything!

So, I’m glad I’m here. And I’m glad I’m taking my time.

Day by day. Breathe it all in, and love it all out.

This is a Jaguarundi -- one of the few native wild cats still in Costa Rica.

This is a Jaguarundi — one of the few native wild cats still in Costa Rica. I saw an all black version of this crossing the path on my way to the farm. Lucky!

picture of me talking on the phone.

Talking on the phone with a great friend. There won’t be many calls, but the few I can make are so very special 🙂

A painting done by Costa Rican artist Lola Fernandez.

A painting done by Costa Rican artist Lola Fernandez. This was one of my favorites.

Picture of me wearing a cat mask.

I decided to wear a cat mask 🙂

Learning patience, whether I like it or not.

It’s a Tuesday night. And I’m not getting ready for work. And I’m not making myself dinner. And I’m not doing laundry. Or paying bills. Or bathing the dog (which rarely happened anyway, what am I talking about…) And I’m not stressing about what’s next.

Instead what am I doing? I’m sitting on a patio (seemingly built for one) enjoying a fresh organic banana milkshake. I’m waiting for my vegetarian lasagna and caprese salad, and watching the hustle and bustle of San Jose’s rush hour traffic go by. …and there’s a Burger King next door, but let us forget about that 🙂

What’s important is that I am taking time for me. By myself. To really reflect on the past week of farm life. I came to San Jose to fix my computer (which doesn’t seem like it shall be fixed — but should I buy a new one?), and I’m deciding to stay a couple days to do ME.

The farm is tough work. Physically and mentally, a lot of strength goes into this process. The first couple of days were quite stressful and bewildering with always so much going on and it’s difficult to feel like it’s ok to NOT be moving when there’s always work to be done. But, I’ve had to remind myself, I’m here to learn and push myself, but I’m also here to focus on me and what it is I want out of life. Where do I fit in the big scheme of things?

In these past couple of days I was able to do more of the less labor-intensive work like cleaning and watering plants and checking to make sure everything is in working order… And shredding coconuts for three hours (seriously — what a new thing that was haha). But, I was still helping to keep the farm running and the people fed and happy, but I wasn’t kicking my own ass and wearing down my mind in the meantime. It’s been better. And I’ve been happier. And I love that.

But for me, for now, I’m still trying to put all the pieces together of the life I’ve lived until now and use that puzzle to hopefully make some sense of what I want to continue with and what I want to cut out and replace with better things.

For one, patience. I’ve realized in just one week that in the states we live in a very fast paced, high-production world. I’ve asked several times when learning a new thing, “Ok so how long should it take to do this?” Or “can we do this faster?” And, I’ve always been responded to with a simple, “however long it takes to do the best you can,” and “all we have is time.”  Such a different view, and one that I think we could all benefit from if we kept that in mind.

“however long it takes to do the best you can.”

Also, going from a remote farm in the middle of a jungle to a city like San Jose takes time. A lot of time. First, get a ride or walk (seriously) the 10-15 kilometers to the closest bus stop. Then take a bus about 1 hour to another bus stop. Then another bus to San Jose. Then walk to find a bus stop or a taxi. Then good luck finding your destination because addresses really don’t exist here. But… If there’s a will then there’s a way. And there’s no sense in rushing a process that requires its own pace… So, I’m learning and living patience.

I’ll be writing a couple more posts soon, so stay tuned. And let me know what you think I should do about writing (as in.. should I purchase a way to do that?).

A few of my favorite recent shots

Best friend - the basil plant.

Best friend – the basil plant.

The nicest produce stock picture.

The nicest produce stock picture.

beautiful costa rican view near puriscal

This is what the view was today. Amazing.

The simple things are the best. Like this "crema" I had today.

The simple things are the best. Like this “crema” I had today.

Jungle food

Today I really felt at home in the jungle. I was able to cook, and I ate some really yummy variations of the typical rice and beans Costa Rican diet.

Recently everyone has really been into cooking ‘dosa’ which is basically fermented rice and beans (2:1). This is a big deal and quite the treat for everyone living on the farm because you can turn dosa into a bread-like dough… and there isn’t bread here 🙂 No wheat or wheat products because wheat isn’t produced in Costa Rica.

all local. all the time.

I’ve learned how to make butter, kefir yogurt, kefir soda, dosa (of course), fried yuca patties (this was delicious last night), and twice-fried plantanos. This morning we made crepe-like dosa pancakes with dosa, milk, bananas, sugar, salt, and cinammon, with fresh papaya jam. Yum!

My computer is still out of service so for now I can’t blog as planned, but I’m still writing everything I’m learning and will blog when I can. So stay tuned 🙂

Cheese

  • Fresh cow milk. Heat to a light froth, then remove from heat and add a type of acid really slowly (stir and pour really slowly) — lemon or vinegar used here —  you must play around with this to get the right amount of milk/acid. In the jungle with kefir vinegar and milk, it’s about 6ish cups of milk to 1 cup kefir vinegar/lemon. If you’re using white vinegar, it’s much stronger than kefir vinegar and you will therefore need much less.
  • The curds will naturally separate from the whey as you stir. Scoop out the curds.
  • Hang curds in cheese cloth to naturally drain the remaining whey.
  • Add herbs or other flavors to the cheese.
  • Voila!

Kefir Yogurt

  • Mix live kefir grains with fresh cow milk (about 1 tbsp live grains to 1 liter of milk).
  • Let this mixture sit for 2 days.
  • Strain the kefir from yogurt. (Add fresh cow milk to kefir grains to restart yogurt process.)
  • Let the yogurt sit for a few hours.
  • Skim off all the whey from the top. Discard (or try to find something to do with whey!).
  • What’s left is fresh, pro-biotic, good-for-you, organic, and delicious yogurt!

Dosa

  • 2:1 white rice to garbanzo beans.
  • Soak in water for 1 day.
  • Grind the mixture really fine — almost like flour.
  • Stir and let ferment for three days.
  • Mix with whatever you would like (bananas/sugar/salt/milk for a sweet crepe-like consistency, salt/pepper, etc).
  • Fry, bake, add to bottom of casserole, etc