Friday, May 15, 2009

Reflections on Costa Rica

As previously mentioned, our January visit to Costa Rica had a real impact on us. Looking back now, I realize our trip came at just the right time; having been retired for about two-and-a-half years by that point, and having built a routine of volunteer work, reading, home renovation and crossword puzzles, it was just the balm for the complacency I had fallen into; while not exactly stagnation, a certain predictability had developed that in some ways was beginning to resemble the routines and structures I had followed in my working life.

The general theme of this blog has been education, and while it originally started out as observations and criticisms of conventional education, I realize that much of what I have been writing about for some time now is about my on-going education as life progresses.

So what did I really learn, or maybe relearn in Costa Rica? I have previously discussed a renewed awareness of the interconnectedness of nature, and I think what reinforced it for me was the immediacy of nature, both on the tours and where we were staying. Frankly, it got to the point where I was happy just to lie on a hammock overlooking the inlet abutting the resort, completely content to feel the gentle breezes, watch the pelicans diving for fish, and the Costa Ricans angling in the shallow waters. While this might not sound remarkable, for me it was a real departure from my standard modus operandi when ‘relaxing’. Usually, without a book or a crossword puzzle to accompany my leisure, I become quickly bored. This connection that I felt with my immediate environment even extended to a tarantula that our next-door neighbours at the resort discovered in their closet and then showed us (safely ensconced under a glass, thankfully!) In fact, we even accompanied them the next day when they released it. I guess that what I am trying to say is that everything seemed new again, and, in fact, I felt once more like a kid, with the same sense of awe that comes naturally to children. Indeed, Costa Rica proved to be a real tonic to my spirit.

The other ability the country seemed to confer on me was the capacity to live in the moment. I am one of those people who, in a sense, are ‘temporally challenged,’ more at home living in the past and future than in the present. When I was teaching, there was always the next class, the next lesson, the next assignment to get ready for, followed by looking to the time when I would have a set of essays marked, a weekend free, a holiday pending. Rarely did I simply exist in the moment, which, when you think about it, reduces the chances of a person experiencing the immediate richness of life. In Costa Rica, I thought little of the past or the future, savoring each moment as it unfolded.

A related effect was the desire for unmediated experience. While in the country, we watched almost no television, despite the fact that it was the week leading up to Obama’s inauguration, and media coverage was extensive. It was as if that world existed only on a distant periphery, and all of the chatter, political analyses and punditry were just so much background noise. Indeed, even though our lobby offered Internet access, I really used it only to check and send email, only once checking out the website of The Globe and Mail, a newspaper I am addicted to a home. It was as if I had discovered another, more authentic world, where all of the important things in life were at hand, making everything else redundant. Indeed, that sense lasted for several weeks upon our return, as I think we both felt a certain disenchantment and impatience with the pervasiveness of interpreted reality that we seem to rely on in our electronics-dominated society. In fact, perhaps the best way to describe our perception is to say that returning to Canada in the dead of winter seemed to bleed all of the colour and vitality out of life. It was this disenchantment that led us to plan a return to Costa Rica in March, a trip that was to show us an entirely different side of Costa Rica which was to leave us with a less romanticized and more realistic understanding of this fascinating yet contradictory country.

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