Sunday, February 26, 2012

Report From Panama

By Judith England

From the lush, green appearance of a jungle you would think anything would grow there. I learned firsthand that this isn’t so.

In Panana's dense jungle known as the Darien Peninsula -- a vast protected wilderness habitat for rare and endangered species -- there are trees the size of cell towers, and palms with leaves as big as a man. Yet, to coax a modest crop of vegetables from the land requires tremendous effort.

The soil, if you want to call it that, is rock-hard in the dry season. A pick-ax and hours of labor are needed to even begin the process of working it to a planting-ready state. Deep fissures criss-cross the surface of the land – so deep in fact that I was told baby chicks sometimes fall in and perish. In the rainy season, tropical downpours create mudslides and slow walking and travel by horseback to a crawl.

At Centro Pastorale in Sante Fe, Darien the focus is on living in communion with the land.* Every effort is made to work the land, and raise livestock in ways that are sustainable and kind to both human and animal.

During this year’s visit, our small band of visitors were asked to help improve a plot of land on the granja (farm). Armed with axes, hoes, and good intentions we set to the task.

The temperature was 90 plus by 10 am, and despite efforts to stay hydrated, within two hours my body could take no more. My head was screaming, my stomach churning, and I blamed my nordic heritage for the inability to perspire enough to cool my core temperature. I surrendered and found other work at the Center better suited to my genetics and experience.

It took three long days before the garden work was done. Soil yielded, enriched with humus and lighted with sand from the river. It was a thing of beauty and the women who did the work were justified in savoring their accomplishment.

Melinda Roper is one of two Maryknoll Sisters who manage Centro Pastorale. For about a quarter of a century she has devoted her life to the land and people of the Darien. She holds nature in deep respect, and understands that sometimes, all the effort and will in the world is not enough to change what is. As she told me: “This land has the vocation to be a forest – not a farm.”

The analogy, of course, is that each person is unique, and has gifts that can make life better for themselves and those around them when recognized, developed and shared.

I’ve always counted myself as one of the lucky ones. My work life, and my personal life are all of one piece. Each is an extension of the other. What a gift it is when making a life and making a living are the same thing.

But, even if what you do to get the bills paid isn’t your heart’s calling, maybe there’s a way to give expression to what is authentically you through a hobby or service work. Take the time to find out what gives you joy, what you do well and want to do better, what you look back on at the end of the day with a smile of satisfaction.

A vocation is a calling. What is it that’s calling you?

Writer Judi England, is a yoga Instructor and massage therapist in Albany, New York. She can be reached at This piece -- and the one she wrote before leaving on her trip -- appeared first on the Holistic Health blog, which she keeps at the Albany Times Union.

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