Reflections on life from Guna Yala

December 22, 2018

I have found myself living on a sailboat in the ultimate paradise after the unexpected death of my precious Granny leading to a major deviation in my plans to spend my year helping her.

Tropical islands with white sandy beaches and palm trees surround me, water of the most amazing shades of blue and turquoise nourish my soul.  Tonight during my yoga session on the bow of MIlagro (Miracle) under an almost full moon, a dolphin surfaces to breathe just off the starboard side. It’s just us and about a dozen other cruisers anchored in their sailboats and a small sprinkling of Kunas who live on some of the tiny islands here. The wind blows at a steady cooling pace, just enough to keep the no-see-ems at bay and the sea laps gently against the side of the boat as the waves break in the distance. I am constantly in awe of the beauty that abounds, both above and below the water here in the San Blas Archipelago, known to the Kuna that reside here as Guna Yala. Often in the past few days, I have moments where I am totally blown away that this magical pocket of paradise exists and that I am fortunate enough to be existing in it.

And here I find myself, untethered, floating out in the big world once again with all that I identify with pulled out from under me. I am no longer anyone’s granddaughter, or anyone’s partner or lover. I am not a teacher. I am not a mother with her children to go home to. Barely a property manager and dog owner. And I am not contributing to my community or even really have much of one right now.

This time of being untethered is different though. I am still filled with grief, but it is gentle and steady now, like the way the wind moves through me on the bow of this ship. Always there, occasionally it slows, but with a predictable return. Now I walk hand-in-hand with the gratitude and joy on one side and the grief on the other; they have become my constant companions.

I am learning to move in new ways – at a pace so slow I hardly recognize myself. The inner pressure to do and accomplish and the judgment about not being productive is subsiding after several weeks of this. Daily maintenance is my main job: maintaining my physical body with yoga, pilates, meditation, sleep, swimming, body rolling, self-massage, and searching for and preparing healthy, whole foods. Secondary is contributing to Milagro & Charlie, in the form of cooking, cleaning, sewing repairs, going on field trips, socializing and a little sailing assistance. When I’m inspired and not in too much body pain, I sit at my computer and add chapters to my book and check in on things at home when internet is also available. The order in which I do things is often governed by the ever-changing weather; rainstorms blow through quickly, the sun can be brutal if the wind subsides and the cloud cover vanishes.

Coming from a culture that celebrates my over-productive and hyper-driven work ethic, fueled by a lack of sleep and caffeine, it’s highly challenging to slow down this much – and also necessary to begin to unravel this lifetime of overdoing; of being admired and cheered on while I hurt myself physically time and time again by pushing through stress and body pains and living in an unsustainable, out-of-balanced way.

Yes, I was a pillar in my community, with a lifetime over-giver award, until Jameson’s suicide, when my whole world imploded and I had very little left to give. Often in the first year I would walk around muttering, “I can’t care about caring.” Just finding the strength to get out of bed, to love myself and exercise or eat was often a challenge during the first year.

Slowly, over the last 3 ½ years, I have found my way to some semblance of balance, with the pendulum swinging from one side to the other, occasionally stopping to rest in the center where work, self-care, and play are all in moderation. I still have a long way to go to finding the key to maintaining balance in my life ‘s daily rhythms. Sometimes this experience of floating in a tiny home on the sea feels like I am still too far from the other side of being a contributing member of society. Then I remind myself it is ok to just experience living a life that is not so complicated and big. There is plenty to do on a boat each day and I’m exhausted like I did physical labor all day long when the sun drops below the watery horizon.

I’m in a time of learning to reframe how I view my self-worth. Is it based on my contributions to those around me, to my job, to my family, to my own self-care? I’m realizing how often I’ve created a value scale based on how hard I can work, how much I can earn, how much I can give to my students and children, and the amount of tasks I can get done in the physical realm in a single day.  Out here in this great, big sea I often feel like a tiny drop of water in a rainstorm. There isn’t always a need to find self-worth as such a tiny little speck on a huge planet.  Yes, I still need a purpose and a reason to wake up each day, and for now that can just be to experience the beauty of this amazing Earth, to contribute to this boat called Miracle and captain Charlie’s generous spirit that is allowing me to be here, and taking care of myself as I recover from a life-time of too much.


  1. Jennifer on January 22, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    I love you so much, you are a truly beautiful and amazing being.

  2. Lara Lwin Treadaway on February 4, 2019 at 7:48 am

    I am so happy to know that you are caring for your body and nourishing your soul dear sweet Kelly. You need do nothing at all to be a precious gift to this earth. Love you. xx

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