From the Cement Jungle of Manhattan to the Tropics of Costa Rica
A Transformational Journey to Natural Living
by Amy Schrift
What inspired a dedicated New York City jazz trumpeter and music teacher to put her horn in its case and set up a homestead in the rugged jungles of Costa Rica?
Perhaps it was the one decisive evening when, after observing the ill-effects of eating typical restaurant food on a gig, I decided to switch to a healthy simple diet of foods from nature in their unprocessed and uncooked state. I felt deep within that this was my path and I haven’t looked back since.
As my body began to cleanse and purify, so did my thoughts. I soon began to max out my New York City library card with books on spirituality, nature, permaculture, and, gardening. Through my investigations, I began the practice of sun-gazing at sunrise or sunset with bare feet on the earth. I then took a natural vision course and let go of 25 years of corrective vision by “embracing the blur” and allowing my natural vision to determine what I needed and didn’t need to see.
Combine that with barefoot walking and foraging for wild foods through New York City parks and it wasn’t long before I realized that I truly desired only three things which I considered to be my natural birthrights: fresh air, pure water and fertile land.
Fast-forward to the beginning of my fourth year living solo in a lush starry-skied oasis I now call home; a 17–acre piece of land in southern pacific Costa Rica, nestled in the mountains between the city of San Isidro del General and the surfers’ town of Dominical, four hours south by car from the capital, San Jose.
Here where everything is so vibrant and alive that linear time seems to all but vanish in the unending ebb and flow of life cycles that surround me, I have assumed a lifestyle that is simple, rustic and free of such modern conveniences as a car, (one can only enter the land by foot) refrigerator, oven, stove, furniture, lights, flush-toilet, washing machine, hot water heater, television, radio, and even a bed (I sleep on a mat on the floor). I thrive on the newfound creativity and resourcefulness inspired by the concept of “less is more.” I feel empowered by no longer giving my life-force over to machines that eagerly do our work for us while our bodies deteriorate from disuse.
I live amongst two simple structures made of nature’s provisions: a wooden storage shed with a dirt floor for my personal belongings and a round thatched-roof structure with no walls and a wooden floor called a rancho, also known as a palapa in Mexico, where I sleep during the rainy months. During the dry season, I sleep on a small yoga platform under the open sky, allowing cosmic radiation to freely penetrate my body while enjoying some of my most peaceful and deep nights of sleep. Not to mention the delicious feeling of waking up with morning dew in my hair!
I grow, harvest and recycle my own food, consisting of tropical fruits, citrus, low-sweet vine fruits, heart of palm and some wild greens. By returning them to the earth in their digested state, I joyfully complete the food cycle, as all other life forms do. I generate almost no trash—as there is no trash collection here, one is painfully aware of what can’t be reused or recycled.
I often bathe in the cold, flowing waters of the creek that runs through the property and always feel deeply cleansed and recharged afterwards. I live chemical-free: sans shampoo, soap, detergents, toothpaste, crèmes or lotions. If I can’t swallow it, then I won’t put it on my semi-permeable skin! All that is natural can be cleansed by nature. And pure living water, the ultimate cleanser, is abundant in this part of the earth.
A typical day on the land looks like this. In the morning, I am awoken by the “surround-sound” of howler monkeys greeting the first light of dawn, as I begin a daily practice of meditation, yoga, air and sunbathing—my true breakfast of the day.
I prefer to eat between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is at its strongest and my digestive system is correspondingly most alert and active. Meals require no preparation and usually consist of one thing eaten until satiated: a pineapple, a few mangos, a handful of bananas, or the liquid and jelly-like meat of a few baby coconuts. I experience each fruit as a beautifully and uniquely wrapped gift complete in its own dish, containing a perfect balance of sun-charged nutrients that my body needs. In nature, food combining and indigestion are seemingly non-existent and an added advantage of consuming mono-meals is that it is difficult to overeat. Your body will definitely tell you when you’ve had enough.
Spending most of my time outdoors, I find myself following the relative position of the sun throughout the day and relishing its warmth, its aid in healing my wounds, and its limitless capacity to energize my entire being.
After a day’s work, I eat my last meal and retreat to the spiritually charged hours of dusk for repose, reflection and renewed focus on the breath before retiring for the night. As darkness descends, much of Costa Rica’s wildlife comes out to hunt and feed. I am both grateful and awed by their graceful, silent movements. Without the use of artificial lighting, I feel much more attuned to my body’s natural rhythms.
The other days of the week may include a trip to town for supplies, teaching English classes in the nearby village, overseeing farms of friends who are away in the U.S., an occasional social gathering, or a trip to the warm Pacific Ocean.
But perhaps most of all, I value the many hours in silence that I spend here, accompanied only by the sounds of flowing water, birds and insects. It is in these moments of deep undisturbed thought and heightened awareness that I feel my deepest connection to all that is. I am filled with gratitude and the unconditional love that surrounds me. One of my favorite pastimes is to lie on my back and gaze up at the ever-changing sky, a true metaphor for our lives.
As I wander silently amongst the flowers and trees, I feel open and receptive to their needs, as I have watched many of them grow from seedlings. When such a flower blooms in its splendor, you can’t help but feel nature’s loving embrace.
I have surrendered to the mosquitoes and other insects who faithfully bring me back to the present. And yes, I have come within very close range of snakes, scorpions and large spiders who will almost always retreat if given right of way. Most of the snakes here are non-venomous and to avoid those that are dangerous, I stay on clear-cut trails. As I slowly release my ingrained fear of them, I am instead mesmerized by their rapid, slithering, undulating movements, unique to their species.
The only thing to really worry about in nature is our unfamiliarity with it. As members of the animal kingdom, it is designed so that all of our needs can be met here.
On a recent visit to San Diego, CA, I was reminded of how concepts that I have come to take for granted in the tropics could be much more readily applied in an urban setting. For example, we can reduce up to half of our trash volume by installing animal-proof compost bins in every household or apartment complex, recycling food scraps and garden clippings into fertilizer for gardening and landscaping use. We can reduce water use by diverting grey water from sinks and faucets to a collective storage unit where it would be filtered and used for landscaping and gardening needs. Additionally, we can urge our representatives to adopt a system similar to the one used in Germany where trash is paid for by weight. This leads to much more efficient composting, recycling, and the removal of packages at the stores where you buy the products—a signal to manufacturers that they need to share in the burden and provide packaging that is recyclable and/or returnable. If you accumulate plastic bags, reuse them by rinsing them and hanging them on a line to dry. You’d be surprised at how long they last! Lastly, seek out fresh, local organic produce growing on trees in your neighborhood. If you have your own, foster community spirit by sharing your abundance or ask neighbors if they will share theirs. You can offer to pick fruit for both of you, a win-win, especially for the elderly or for those who simply don’t have time. You may even find yourself eating more fruit when you taste the difference between locally sun-ripened vs. store-bought fruit.
Ultimately, each of us must create the changes we want to see, one empowering step at a time. May all who yearn to break free from the mold discover a lifestyle that is more in harmony with our natural rhythms, Mother Earth and our higher calling.
And as they say in Costa Rica, pura vida!
Contact Amy Schrift at firstname.lastname@example.org.